Peter Parker’s Metamorphosis into Spider-Man: Genetics or God?

This study is a speculative thought experiment into what caused Peter Parker and Cindy Moon to metamorphose into spidery people after an irradiated spider’s bite. This is an ontological thought experiment as to the origins of the acquisitions of their spiderpowers, not how they would eventually use or abuse them. This thought experiment uses both existing science and well-established Roman Catholic Christian theory to explore how and why Parker and Moon were transformed. It is a speculation as to possibilities, given what we know about Parker and Moon’s ontological transformation, using the emerging tools of epigenetic science to consider rational explanations for how two humans could become spidery creatures so quickly and thoroughly. This study is a thought experiment because epigenetic evidence would need to be found that can definitively say whether humans have dormant dragline silk producing genes that can be re-activated. Far-fetched as this possibility might seem, we are just beginning to learn what our myriad of individual genes do or no longer do. This study leaves it to others to discover whether we have such transformative genes.

As we have done for many years, when science cannot fully explain miracles like Parker and Moon’s transformation, we look to theology. This thought experiment turns to two famed Christian theologians, Augustine, and Aquinas for theological explanations of Parker and Moon’s ontological transformation to perform some important service for God. Such a transformation was required for Mary to prepare to bear the Christ child. Though the ontological transformations differ, Mary provides a blueprint to consider whether Parker and Moon were similarly transformed by God to perform an important mission. Just what that mission might be is also subject of speculation by this study.

This investigation considers only the ontological (not epistemological) transformation of Peter Parker into Spider-Man. While Moon is similarly transformed, this paper principally considers Spider-Man. First it engages the science of epigenetics, then through the efforts of Augustine an explanation for original sin, and then the later Aquinas who explores this human original sin in the context of the transformation of Mary to bear the Christ child. Even though both Augustine and Aquinas provide logical and metaphysical explanations for original sin and Mary’s transformation, we cannot ignore the possibility there are modern epigenetic scientific explanations for each, of which, neither Augustine nor Aquinas had any knowledge. How Parker learns to use and how he uses his power are not in the scope of this study. First, we explore how the comics explain Parker and Moon’s transformation and why the writers have given us permission through omission to speculate as to how both were transformed.

It Begins with a Spider Bite

The myth of Spider-Man begins when Peter Parker, with other students, attends a demonstration of the safe handling of clean nuclear waste that goes wrong and irradiates a spider who bites both Peter Parker and Cindy Moon; he becomes Spider-Man and she Silk (Amazing Fantasy 15).[1] We are given no explanation for how irradiated spider venom can cause such transformations. Therefore, we have been given license to speculate as to how such a transformation might occur. First is the question of whether either transformation can be explained through strict scientific terms from biology and genetics. Specifically, this study considers their transformations through the relatively new subset of genetics, epigenetics, where certain outside stressors change the expression of genes without changing the chromosome order. The human genome evolved over billions of years and contains DNA from plants (light sensing genes) and who knows what other ancestral species. Suppose that one of our distant ancestors was a venomous spider who left behind dragline silk spinning genes that have been dormant for millions of years because the right environmental stressor was not available to activate them. If such genes had epigenetic capabilities, then it is possible, just possible, that the irradiated spider somehow engaged a process, whether epigenetic or chemical change in the spider venom, that produced such a stressor in humans. We can say with some minimal credibility that this might be the case because two non-related humans were presumably identically transformed by the same spider’s bite. Nor is this so far-fetched in the superverse, because Deadpool was given a serum that activated dormant genes in his body that put his cancer into remission and gained him his superpowers. While the science of epigenetics offers promising clues to Parker and Moon’s metamorphosis, it is likely not enough to explain either transformation. Neither Parker nor Moon suffered the radiation that the spider endured. We cannot, therefore, explain their transformation like we can with the Hulk whose mutations were the result of gamma rays. Evolution that involves natural mutation over many generations could not have possibly caused Parker and Moon’s transformation. If epigenetics is a possibility but is likely inadequate to explain these transformations, can we turn to religion for some assistance?

There are only a few clues in the Spider-Verse literature that gain us understanding of Parker’s relationship to religion. For example, we know from our first introductions to Spider-Man, his Aunt May was a devout Protestant, so likely he was familiar with Christian precepts. In the Goddess Series, the Goddess recruits Parker to become a member of her religious heroes force.[2] Parker, however, does not transform himself into an evangelical or hyper-religious superhero. Later, when his Uncle Ben returns from the afterlife, Parker has a crisis of faith, which presumably he retained from his days living with his aunt and uncle, and is persuaded to confess at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, not a Protestant, but a Catholic Church.[3]

Ezekiel Simms in the Spider-Man series claims that he went through a ritual to obtain spidery powers, and perhaps the spider that bit Parker and Moon was sent on a mission to do the same. Said Simms, “Did the radiation enable the spider to give you those powers? Or was the spider trying to give you those powers before the radiation killed it? Which came first? The radiation? Or the power? The chicken or the egg or the power?”[4] Simms explains to Parker that The Great Web of Destinies, a multiverse hub that permits transit through different universes, is maintained by totemic spiders.[5] He informs Peter Parker that, indeed, he has genes from those totemic spiders. [6] Therefore, Marvel Comics gives us both the myth of the possibility for spidery God(s) and permission to explore that myth theologically.

Metaphysics in the Abrahamic religion Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, may help better explain just what is required for God to transform individuals like Parker and Moon into people capable of serving God’s purposes. Neither Stan Lee nor Steve Ditko (in the 1960s), Spider-Man’s creators, nor the biblical scholars Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, who will be consulted in context of religious origin, gave any epigenetic explanations for what they wrote. However, God does, and always did understand epigenetics because God is all knowing. William of Ockham penned what is now called Ockham’s Razor that parenthetically says that the simplest complete explanation is likely the best explanation.[7] Using Ockham’s Razor in this exploration of metamorphoses, we must explore why God would perform a more complex transformation of either Parker or Moon utilizing mystical or transcendental means when God had already created the epigenetic tools to engender the metamorphosis. God took time to create an orderly universe made from rules that avoid inexplicable surprises—why change strategies now just to create two spidery humans?

While epigenetics has always been available to God to perform the mechanics of the transformations, both Augustine and Aquinas suggest that there may be other processes God engages to help change those who are tasked with service to God. This study considers just one Christian biblical transformation and that is the human born with the Augustine coined ‘original sin’, Blessed Mary, who is tasked with taking to term the son of God, or the Christ, without transferring this active original sin to the child. The arguments for how the transformation of Mary occurred can help but not completely explain the transformation of Parker and Moon. Mary was tasked with an important office, and, therefore, God took the time to prepare her to get it right. The Bible explores only a few who are tasked with serving God directly, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Mary. Mary is one of the few who is physically transformed to perform her service. That there is one physical transformation suggests there could be more in the future. However, we must then ask why Parker and Moon and why Spider-Man and Silk? What important service are they performing for God? Before we broach that question, we will speculate what epigenetic processes may have been involved with Parker and Moon’s transformation.

Epigenetics and Peter Parker’s Transformation into Spider-Man

Charles Darwin studied an island in the Pacific where finches had become different species through changes in their beak sizes and shapes.[8] Each beak served as a perfect tool to harvest specific seeds or berries of the local flora. Speciation helped each finch species not only find a niche, but also lessened competition for scarce resources between finch species. However, such adaptations like beak shape require many generations to take hold in a population.

Peter Parker, however, does not fit into the natural selection scheme. He is bitten by a spider who has just been irradiated. It is well understood that high doses of radiation (sun’s rays, natural uranium deposits, and nuclear radiation from human technology) can produce cancer and other genetic anomalies. However, this (and evolution) take time to modify chromosomes. While Parker and Moon do not immediately gain knowledge of their metamorphoses, it appears that the transformation occurred quite soon after the spider bite. There must be another explanation.

When Spider-Man was created in the early 1960s, genetic engineering was not yet possible and, while we knew about adverse bomb radiation effects from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we did not have the tools to explain how Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man might have occurred. Stan Lee exploited the cold war fear that science fiction movies and texts had embraced—the sudden creation of superpowered or super-large creatures from nuclear tests and post-nuclear-war dystopia. We have not yet seen such transformations in places where excess radiation abounds and will do so for tens of thousands of years. For example, more than thirty years on in the exclusion zones surrounding the doomed Chernobyl reactor, we have not seen wild local animal populations mutate in ways that produce gigantism or hybrid monsters.

We have long bred domestic animals to suit our purposes. We made wild cattle more docile, bred horses for farming and war, and our companion dogs have been slotted into breeds for different tasks. We have now learned how to skip generational breeding and artificially manipulate genes to produce hybrid plants that are cold or pest resistant.

Spider dragline silk is stronger and lighter than steel, but we do not have a mechanical means to produce it in any quantity. Enter genetic manipulation. The notion of mammals producing dragline silk protein is no longer far-fetched. Goats and mice have had spider silk genes spliced into their DNA to produce spider dragline silk in their milk.[9] We need to be clear that goats and mice do not shoot streams of dragline silk like the spider or Spider-Man, they only were given the genes to produce the silk protein in milk, not to use it to spin webs or spring from building to building.

            We have no evidence from any version of the story that Peter Parker in his embryonic state was genetically re-engineered. The Marvel myth of the spider bite rules out that he was given dragline silk genes through invitro or other means. However, we are not yet at the limits of understanding genetic processes. We are the product of billions of years of genetic evolution. We have the same light-sensing genes that plants use to regulate their circadian rhythm, when they begin photosynthesis, become dormant in winter, etc.[10] We use these same genes to regulate our own biological clock. We also carry genes that have purposes (extant or vestigial) we have not yet identified. These may be permanently dormant reptilian genes from our ancient past, or there may be arachnid genes that could be activated at some point in the future with the right change.

The radiation kills the spider before the work of evolutionary genetics could possibly have changed its chromosome order in a way that could have introduced functional silk producing and other spidery genes into either ‘victim’. Genetic science has come a long way since 1962 when Spider-Man Amazing Fantasy #15 was published. The emerging science of epigenetics is discovering that some genes can express themselves differently when put under environmental or emotional stress. Some genes can turn on, off, or express themselves in other ways without changing the chromosome order.[11] This genetic feature is called epigenetics—above genetics. Epigenetics sits between mutation where genes and the chromosome order are permanently changed, and the other extreme, called behavior, that is immediate but produces no genetic change in and of itself. Nature has constructed epigenetic processes to switch genes on when needed and switch off when not. Environmental stress such as disease, trauma, or other existential conditions can serve to produce epigenetic change.

Considering we have a lot of ‘junk’ DNA left over from millions of years of evolution, there is the remotest of possibility that the radiation caused the spider to express genes common to its species that produced a venom that caused certain human genes to express themselves differently. This presumes that we humans have vestigial dragline silk spinning genes that indeed can become activated epigenetically in the manner set forth in the comics. Just as science is skeptical of the genetic mutation claim from the Marvel myth, rightly you should be skeptical of this more plausible but remote possibility that we have dormant dragline silk spinning genes, and these can be activated epigenetically. However, epigenetics is a powerful tool of nature that we are just beginning to understand. Certain plants exposed to pathogens develop epigenetic immunity strategies that can be passed along to their progeny.[12] We cannot discount epigenetics entirely from the story of Spider-Man.

Epigenetic science is applicable to humans. The mother’s experience while the child is in the womb, and the upbringing of children (supportive v. abusive, etc.) have epigenetic implications in later life. Propensity towards certain debilitative diseases, cancer, and other existential problems can be associated with stressors that change the expression of certain genes.[13] For example, a recent study of US Civil War (1861-1865) veteran offspring found that those Union soldiers who were interred in the infamously cruel Confederate POW camps, after the war produced male children who were more likely to die younger than those Union soldiers who were not in Confederate camps.[14] This increased mortality was not found in female children nor male children born before the war. While researchers could not rule out nurture as a factor in this increased mortality (despite the lack of mortality change in female children), they suspect that something epigenetically had occurred in the father’s genes from war stressors that affected the mortality of male offspring. It is therefore plausible that a radioactive spider bite could cause enough stress in Peter Parker to change the expression of certain genes that might give him more capabilities than before. If…humans have dormant dragline silk spinning genes.

It would stretch credulity to argue that epigenetic processes alone transformed Parker and Moon. If God created the universe and its processes, God does understand epigenetics is a tool that could be used to transform Parker and Moon to serve God’s purposes. The model to compare to Parker and Moon is God’s transformation of Mary (born human with original sin inherited from the line stretching back to Adam) into the vessel to bear the son of God, the Christ. Mary was given a great responsibility by God to be a part of the process to save the lost. If we are to trundle down this path where God has a hand in their transformation, we must also ask what great tasks has God assigned Spider-Man and Silk?

Metaphysics and Peter Parker’s Transformation into Spider-Man

Is there a spider-God who, like the Abrahamic God, gifts powers to select people to carry out the spider god’s missions? Ezekiel Simms suggested to Parker that indeed this could be possible. The Abrahamic monotheists will cringe at this suggestion, but what if these spider totems were, in fact, servants of God? The Bible speaks of angels, why not spider totems as similar functionaries? The Bible records instances where humans were given responsibilities beyond normal human capabilities, and this includes Moses parting the Red Sea, and the very human and mortal Mary who gave birth to the son of God, the Christ.[15]

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) introduced the notion of original sin to early Christian doctrine.[16] He reasoned that Adam committed the sin of disobedience and all descended from him will be born with original sin. It is possible to consider the original sin genetically, as something that is uniquely human, and is passed down from generation to generation without fail. However, this is a problem when we are asked to also believe that Mary, a descendent from the line of Adam and thus born with original sin, could bear the sinless and divine Christ. Augustine did not invent the Virgin Mary; he inherited the story from Christian scripture. The problem, as we will see, is that he gave a biological explanation to original sin that it is paternally handed down through the line that runs from Adam. This provides some explanation for how the Christ could be born without active original sin because his father is God who is not descended from Adam. However, Augustine provides a metaphysical explanation for how original sin is absolved—baptism. Yet, even those who are baptized will pass down the original sin to their offspring. Baptism, to the scientist sounds like an epigenetic change that cannot be passed down. On the other hand, the baptism ritual does not produce the kind of environmental stress that normally triggers epigenetic change. Could baptism be both epigenetic and metaphysical?

The later Roman Catholic scholar, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), set about to discover how Mary, descended from Adam, born with original sin, could take to term the son of God without transferring active original sin to the Christ. He says, “For Christ did not contract the original sin in any way but was holy in his very conception according to Luke 1:35.”[17]

In the struggle to find an answer to this question, Aquinas goes through a series of arguments in his Summa Theologica and ultimately arrives at an answer: “I answer that, God so prepares and endows whom He chooses for some particular office, that they are rendered capable of fulfilling it.”[18] Unfortunately, Aquinas cannot explain just how God prepares Mary for fulfilling her office. Baptism absolves the original sin. Baptism is a process performed by a priest that includes sprinkling water on the head. Mary was not baptized by any cleric prior to the conception of the Christ. However, her preparation for the office of bearing the Christ could have included a baptism by God.

If there is a God, what science and theology contribute to their intersecting discourse is the nature of God. The God-believing scientist likely sees a God who created the laws of physics, genetics, and epigenetics to run smoothly without God’s direct intervention. This might suggest an absent God, perhaps an ancient alien species who seeded life on earth and let it run by itself. However, the Bible shows us a meddlesome God, with examples like Adam and Eve, Noah, and Sodom and Gomorrah, who has frequently become frustrated with humanity’s antics and refusal to obey divine laws and directives. Such a God cannot be both absent and meddlesome at the same time. Nor could there be two Gods, one absent and one meddlesome, in any of the Abrahamic religions. What we now see is that God created genetics and epigenetic processes that work quite well. Assume for a moment that these God-designed processes produced evolution and eventually humans. We can then say that the creation myth of Genesis is a (compressed in time) metaphor for the processes set in motion by God that created the earth and life that eventually begat the human.

Adam and Eve were immortals in Eden. When they sinned and were removed from Eden, they became mortal, and all human progeny thereafter are destined to be cursed with original sin. Mary did not become immortal, nor did she become a God in her office of bearing and raising the Christ. Nor was the active original sin passed down to the Christ. Augustine maintains that:

And God was not ignorant that man would sin, and that, being himself made subject now to death, he would propagate men doomed to die, and that these mortals would run to such enormities in sin, that even the beasts devoid of rational will, and who were created in numbers from the waters and the earth, would live more securely and peaceably with their own kind than men, who had been propagated from one individual for the very purpose of commending concord.[19]

Jesse Couenhoven explains that Augustine understood that concupiscence was also a constitutional part of Adam and Eve that was not activated until they thought about and then sinned against God, “Carnal concupiscence is desire for things forbidden, and thus, the desire for sin.”[20] Even in Eden, there existed evil and the possibility for desire for the forbidden and its fulfillment. Augustine explains why, “But evils are so thoroughly overcome by good, that though they are permitted to exist, for the sake of demonstrating how the most righteous foresight of God can make a good use even of them…”[21] This is the theodicy argument that God can make good use even of evil. Therefore, concupiscence followed Adam and Eve into their descent from Eden. Adam and Eve always already had the propensity to sin even while in Eden.

Making Mary a virgin does two things. First, even though Mary could have had forbidden sexual desires prior to God’s intervention, these were not consummated. Did God also switch off ‘concupiscence genes’ so that Mary would not have the sexual desires that would make it not possible to serve the office God required of her? Breaking the chains of original sin and concupiscence serve Roman Catholic theology well in explaining how Mary became capable of bearing the Christ. Epigenetics could turn off a gene like an original sin gene. While some epigenetic changes can be passed to offspring (plants, perhaps Civil War POW’s children), other epigenetic processes do not. Therefore, it is possible that an original sin gene could be epigenetically absolved during life, but the active gene passes to all offspring. We know that Mary was a virgin and the father of the Christ was God, not in the genetic line descended from Adam. Implanting the Christ embryo without any genes from Mary solves this problem but, on the surface, requires God to abrogate God’s own carefully crafted genetic process. Augustine maintains that Adam, the male, is the carrier of the original sin gene. Mary did not have the benefit of a descendent from Adam in the gestation of the Christ in her womb. If we stay with the strict rules of genetics, Mary had the original sin gene and would have to pass the singular gene to her child, but it would not be active without the companion male original sin gene. This means that while the Christ did not have an active original sin gene, he still carried genes from his mother’s side. However, Luke informs us that Jesus did not contract the original sin in any way. The word ‘contract’ suggests that original sin did not manifest in him after gestation. Presumably, Christ had no children which would have complicated things. Female children would have children with descendants of Adam, meaning that grandchildren of Christ would be born with the original sin gene. It is best then that the Christ refrain from all acts of carnal concupiscence.

The birth of the Christ as the son of God, without original sin rightly suggests that while born of human form and substance, the Christ was not entirely human—God made flesh. If the original sin can be absolved only through a priest-conducted baptism, there is no need to suggest that God made flesh was an epigenetic transformation. Christ is the God made flesh. He is not the successor to humanity. In his human form, however, he could take on the sins of humanity, and this is in part because sin was present in humanity from the beginning and is passed along because both human partners carry the sin gene, while only the male can pass down the active original sin. Baptism completes a metaphysical compact with God. The paternal descendent explanation from the line of Adam requires an epigenetic explanation for baptism. What if it is both, a metaphysical covenant with God—an epi-epigenetics—that does not violate the laws of genetics because it also produces an epigenetic change to mute the original sin gene, but only for those who are baptized? All subsequent children will still be born with original sin even if both parents were baptized.  

Even without all the answers, we now can say it is possible that epigenetics, along with God’s intervention using epi-epigenetic processes (which we may never completely understand), transformed Mary to serve her office as required by God. While Christ was born without original sin, his mother was. A speculative Godly baptism would only absolve original sin, not eliminate it. Once again, the metaphysical confronts the theological. Both male and female descendants inherit the original sin, passed along through the male side. While Christ did not manifest the original sin in any way, he would have had to have his mother’s genes. Otherwise, how could he become God made flesh?

Theology, through a paternal explanation of the inheritance of original sin, has made it difficult to reject the notion that the original sin is genetic, even though baptism likely does not produce the existential stress that alters genes epigenetically. This would also mean that the original sin was likely present as an epigenetically modifiable gene in Adam and Eve even before they sinned against God.

What about Spider-Man? If we are to offer an underlying epigenetic explanation for the transformation of Parker and Moon, we must assume that God knows that the spider and the human contain silk spinning genes, but these are normally active in the spider but not in the human. Therefore, the suggestion by Ezekiel Simms that the spider was on a mission to bite Parker and Moon to effect such a transformation is not out of the question. Certainly, God would have such powers to do this without the spider, but why the spider as intermediary? This, like many other theological questions, may not yield anything more than a metaphysical answer. However, in the least we can suggest, using Ockham’s Razor, that the simplest accurate explanation is likely the best explanation—the radiated spider was a ready vessel to epigenetically activate the dormant spider genes in humans. This, however, is pure speculation unless or until we can find such dormant genes.

What is the Nature of God’s Office that Spider-Man Is to Fulfill?

God gave the Blessed Mary a significant responsibility. What about Peter Parker and Cindy Moon? The 1960s were a time of upheaval and momentous change. The Cold War, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and a cultural revolution roiled the decade. There was an increase in violence, and civil rights rioting burned many large cities. The emergence of superheroes began in earnest with Superman and Captain America during the great depression and World War II. Neither could rid the world of evil. Batman, Iron Man, and Spider-Man, to name a few, came on the scene and each had different ontological or technological (Batman) skills to fight evil in the world. We can make the usual dismissive statement, ‘God works in mysterious ways’ to explain the divine origin of any or all of these superheroes. However, if we look at the underlying message, say for example with Moses, God was not only freeing a people but making the statement that human bondage is not a good thing. God gave Jesus to the world to help save the lost.[22] God gave Noah advanced warning that there would be a great flood, and if he would build the ark and fill it with animal pairs, the creatures of the world could be saved to build the world anew. With Parker, Moon, and the irradiated spider, could God have been sending a message that humanity was messing with a force of nature that could easily overwhelm the world? This is not the apocalypse of global thermonuclear war, but the intergenerational problem of safely storing spent nuclear waste for tens of thousands of years. The effects and messages of the efforts of Moses and Mary remain with us today through robust teaching of the Abrahamic religions. Truthfully, Spider-Man has not been a crusader for clean nuclear waste disposal, even though his transformation occurred during a flawed demonstration of the same. However, and tangentially, Spider-Man’s effort has been to thwart the efforts of sociopathic scientists and inventors, specifically the Green Goblin and later, Dr. Octopus and many others, from their efforts to use technology for evil, greed, or destructive purposes that could span many generations and may permanently change earth’s biome. The technological explosion that began during World War II did not peak in the 1960s but began to increase in breadth and depth. Rather than just countries deploying engines of destruction, as was the case during WW II and the Cold War, today individual scientists working from a rogue lab can produce genetically engineered organisms and nanobots that could wreak havoc on the world. This is the kind of office for which God could have prepared Spider-Man, to render impotent these ethically challenged scientists. Therefore, it is not implausible to suggest, along with Aquinas, that somehow God has prepared Peter Parker and his transformation into Spider-Man for a mission to rid the earth of badly conceived technological wizardry and its consequence.

Parker, however, was no Virgin Mary. Rather, he came to understand his obligations slowly. He at first was arrogant, using his superpowers for show on television. Given an opportunity to restrain a robber at a warehouse, he does nothing and claims it to be the responsibility of the warehouse security guard. This same robber later killed his Uncle Ben. Even after he realizes his own error, he persists with his vaudevillian efforts to turn his powers into profit. He then associates with persons who he finds out later are criminals. Finally, he begins to turn himself around, first by taking on small-time criminals, and then expanding his responsibility to bigger demons like the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus. Parker emerges from immaturity having left some wreckage behind, a flawed superhero indeed. God is not above testing his human creations. He found Adam and Eve lacking and banished them from Eden. He tested, but found Abraham and Job’s faith to be strong and made Abraham the patriarch of humanity. God threw a lot at Parker: too much power for his maturity, suffering and loss with the death of his uncle, a troubled love life, and a shifting press who adore Spider-Man one minute, and call him out for his transgressions the next. Perhaps God had become more patient than in the days when all it took was a bite into a certain fruit to send him into punishment mode. Which leads us into the next question that is just as relevant to Parker as to ourselves. Specifically, just what is our relationship to God? Who, ultimately, serves who?

We have long been asked to believe in certain things for which we can and probably will not ever have first-hand or empirical knowledge. God is one of these things for which we are asked to trust in faith to believe. Immanuel Kant coined the neologism ontotheology to, as he explains, differentiate that which we can logically deduce without experience from that which we can deduce from experience:

Transcendental theology either thinks that the existence of an original being is to be derived from an experience in general (without more closely determining anything about the world to which this experience belongs), and is called cosmotheology; or it believes that it can cognize that existence through mere concepts, without the aid of even the least experience, and is called ontotheology.[23]

If no human has ever seen God, then how could we ever describe God in phenomenological or experiential terms? We cannot. However, the question that ontotheology poses for critique is the notion that somehow, we created God for our personal use. Merold Westphal’s critique of ontotheology can inform us in our quest to find answers for Parker and Moon’s transformation:

It is also a critique, by extension, not of theistic discourses as such, but of those that have sold their soul to philosophy’s project of rendering the whole of reality intelligible to human understanding. Their fault does not consist in affirming that there is a Highest Being who is the clue to the meaning of the whole of being. It consists in the chutzpa of permitting this God to enter the scene only in the service of their project, human mastery of the real.[24]

 God as a tool of humanity? Escape from this quagmire requires what Jean Luc Marion Called God Without Being:

God Gives Himself to be known insofar as He gives Himself—according to the horizon of the gift itself. The gift constitutes at once the mode and the body of his revelation. In the end the gift gives only itself, but in the way that this is absolutely everything.[25]

 I suggest that the ‘absolutely everything’ that constitutes the mode and the body of God’s revelation to humanity begins in the genius of genetics: the genius of mutation, evolution, epigenetics, and the capability of parents to epigenetically prepare children for the exigencies of the world. Keeping with Ockham’s Razor and Marion’s gift, God developed epigenetics to serve a purpose for life in general. Epigenetics sits between the permanence of mutation and the momentariness of behavior, providing intermediate temporal changes to our genes to serve specific purposes that we are only beginning to understand. Life could not have asked for greater gifts than these.

Augustine maintained that evil and the seeds for Adam and Eve to disobey God were present in Eden. Concupiscence precipitated the fall, and the fallen are destined to produce generations of children endowed with original sin. Baptism serves as an article of faith, and this faith produces metaphysical change that absolves the original sin. What vexes the scientist is that while baptism looks like it produces an epigenetic change, it lacks the stress that is associated with many epigenetic changes. However, we are just beginning to discover that there are many epigenetic processes that require different triggers. We cannot rule out the physical aspect of baptism producing epigenetic changes.

What nags in the mind is that God is infallible and omniscient—all seeing. If God were also omnipotent there would be no free will. John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), a Catholic scholar, said that there must be some free will. Duns Scotus explained that, “God has immutable knowledge of our contingent future.”[26] When God installed Adam and Eve in Eden, God knew that one possibility was that they would fall to concupiscence and another that they would cherish Eden so much they would continue to obey God’s commands. The former occurred, producing such stress it could have activated an original sin gene. Parker and Moon did not require the absolving of original sin nor the mitigation of concupiscence. However, as this study suggests, they may have been prepared by God for the office they would assume. They required two things to metamorphose. First, spider genes in the human chromosome that can be epigenetically turned on to produce and deploy dragline silk. However, a normal spider bite would not have changed either Parker or Moon. It is possible that the irradiation produced stressors that epigenetically, or otherwise, changed the spider’s venom to where it could activate the human vestigial dragline silk spinning genes. Radiation alone can break down molecules that can recombine into different substances. Second, Ezekiel Simms gives us the insight we need to conclude that there was an intervention by God (perhaps in the guise of spider totems) to transform the spider venom into something that would epigenetically activate the spider genes in Parker and Moon. God did not need to perform an elaborate transcendental process. God just needed to make sure that the experiment on safe storage of nuclear waste would go wrong, which God knew would alter the spider venom to epigenetically change Parker and Moon’s genes. Whether God intervened through the spider totems, making the spider target Parker and Moon as Simms suggests, is uncertain. However this may have occurred, we can speculate that Parker and Moon may have been prepared ontologically to serve an office for God. That office is to not only ontotheologically serve humanity, but also life itself by preventing the wholesale transmogrification of the world by unscrupulous scientists working alone or in rogue operation.

Therefore, to answer the question proposed by the title of this paper, both science and theology can be used to fill in the gaps in the spidery literature to explain how Parker and Moon metamorphosed into Spider-Man and Silk. We need the science of genetics to propose the re-activation of spider silk spinning dormant genes, and epigenetics to propose their stressful reactivation through the spider’s venom. Second, the spider totems that rule at the nexus of the multiverse offer us insight into possible metaphysical reasons for why Parker and Moon were transformed—to serve someone—if not the spider totems, then the God who created them.

Perhaps you remain skeptical. Express your incredulity! It is the right thing to do. When Ludwig Wittgenstein finished his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he said:

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.[27]

Wittgenstein maintained that there are things that defy explanation and therefore any explanation we might try to offer is senseless. It is therefore appropriate that you be skeptical of this paper’s effort to explain the transformation of Peter Parker into Spider-Man using both epigenetic and theological means. It is the task of those who read this to surmount these propositions, which is the way of the world of both science and theology, neither of which is a static discourse.


Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Perrysburg Ohio: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1265-1274.

Augustine. The Complete Works of Augustine. Translated by Marcus Dodds. Edited by Philip Schaff. Public Domain, Kindle Edition, 2011.

Bernal, Autumn J., and Randy L. Jirtle. “Epigenomic Disruption: The Effects of Early Developmental Exposures.” Birth Defects Research Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology 88, no. 10 (2010): 938-44.

Bird, Adrian. “Perceptions of Epigenetics.” Nature 477, no. 24 (2007): 396-98.

Costa, Dora L., Noelle Yetter, and Heather DeSomer. “Intergenerational Transmission of Paternal Trauma among Us Civil War Ex-Pows.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 44 (2018): 11215-20.

Couenhoven, Jesse. “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin.” Augustine Studies 36, no. 2 (2005): 359-96.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: P. F. Collier and Sons, 1909

Fransquet, Peter D., Jo Wrigglesworth, Robyn L. Woods, Michael E. Ernst, and Joanne Ryan. “The Epigenetic Clock as a Predictor of Disease and Mortality Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” journal article. Clinical Epigenetics 11, no. 1 (April 11 2019): 1-17.

Heard, Edith, and Robert A. Martienssen. “Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance: Myths and Mechanisms.” Cell 157 (2014): 95-109.

Janusek, Linda Witek, Dina Tell, and Herbert L. Mathews. “Epigenetic Perpetuation of the Impact of Early Life Stress on Behavior.” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 28 (2019/08/01/ 2019): 1-7.

Kaati, G., L. O. Bygren, and S. Edvinsson. “Cardiovascular and Diabetes Mortality Determined by Nutrition During Parents’ and Grandparents’ Slow Growth Period.” European Journal of Human Genetics 10, no. 11 (2002/11/01 2002): 682-88.

Kaati, Gunnar, Lars O Bygren, and Soren Edvinsson. “Cardiovascular and Diabetes Mortality Determined by Nutrition During Parents’ and Grandparents’ Slow Growth Period.” European journal of human genetics 10, no. 11 (2002): 682.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. Boston, New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2007.

Ketcham, Christopher. “Towards a Biological Explanation of Sin in Walter M. Miller, Jr.’S” a Canticle for Leibowitz”.” Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy 3 (2020): 1-25.

Lee, Stan. Spider Man. Amazing Fantasy 15. Edited by Stan Lee. New York: Marvel Comics, August 1962.

Lin, C. “Blue Light Receptors and Signal Transduction.” 10.1105/tpc.000646. Plant Cell 14 Suppl, no. suppl 1 (2002): S207-25.

Longo, Dan L., and Andrew P. Feinberg. “The Key Role of Epigenetics in Human Disease Prevention and Mitigation.” The New England Journal of Medicine 378, no. 14 (2018): 1323-34.

Marion, Jean-Luc. God without Being: Hors-Texte. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Miryeganeh, Matin, and Hidetoshi Saze. “Epigenetic Inheritance and Plant Evolution.” Population Ecology, no. Special Feature: Review (2019): 1-11.

Molina, Jose. Amazing Grace Part 6: Lead Me Home. Amazing Spider Man. Edited by Axel Alonso. Vol. 4 #1.6, New York: Marvel Comics, 2016.

Ramo-Fernández, Laura, Christina Boeck, Alexandra M. Koenig, Katharina Schury, Elisabeth B. Binder, Harald Gündel, Jöerg M. Fegert, Alexander Karabatsiakis, and Iris-Tatjana Kolassa. “The Effects of Childhood Maltreatment on Epigenetic Regulation of Stress-Response Associated Genes: An Intergenerational Approach.” Scientific Reports 9, no. 1 (2019/04/18 2019): 1-12.

Scotus, John Duns. Contingency and Freedom: John Duns Scotus Lectura I 39. Translated by A. Voss; H. Veldhuis; A. H. Looman-Graaskamp; R. Dekker Jaczn, N. W. Dem Bpl. Vol. 42 Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994.

Slaughter, Ana, Xavier Daniel, Victor Flors, Estrella Luna, Barbara Hohn, and Brigitte Mauch-Mani. “Descendants of Primed Arabidopsis Plants Exhibit Resistance to Biotic Stress.” Plant Physiology 158, no. 2 (2012): 835-43.

Spade, Paul Vincent and Panaccio, Claude. “William of Ockham.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University, 2011

Starlin, Jim. Infinity Crusade. Edited by Tom DeFalco. Vol. 1 #1, New York: Marvel Comics, 1993.

Straczynski, J. Michael. A Spider’s Tale. The Amazing Spider Man. Edited by Joe Quesada. Vol. 2 #48, New York: Marvel Comics, 2003.

———. “Transformations, Literal & Otherwise.“. In The Amazing Spider Man Volume 2 # 30, edited by Axel Alonso. New York: Marvel Comics, 2001.

Various. King James Bible with Versesearch, Red Letter Edition, Kindle Edition. Seattle, Wa.: Amazon, 2019.

Veenendaal, M. V. E., R. C. Painter, S. R. de Rooij, P. M. M. Bossuyt, J. A. M. van der Post, P. D. Gluckman, M. A. Hanson, and T. J. Roseboom. “Transgenerational Effects of Prenatal Exposure to the 1944–45 Dutch Famine.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 120, no. 5 (2013/04/01 2013): 548-54.

Westphal, Merold. “Overcoming onto-Theology.“. In Overcoming onto-Theology. Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith, 1-28: Fordham University, 2001.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Translated by C.K. Ogden. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co. Ltd., 1922.

Xu, Hong-Tao, Bao-Liang Fan, Shu-Yang Yu, Yin-Hua Huang, Zhi-Hui Zhao, Zheng-Xing Lian, Yun-Ping Dai, et al. “Construct Synthetic Gene Encoding Artificial Spider Dragline Silk Protein and Its Expression in Milk of Transgenic Mice.” Animal Biotechnology 18, no. 1 (2007): 1-12.

[1] Stan Lee, Spider Man, ed. Stan Lee, Amazing Fantasy 15, (New York: Marvel Comics, August 1962).

[2] Goddess Series beginning with: Jim Starlin, Infinity Crusade, ed. Tom DeFalco, vol. 1 #1 (New York: Marvel Comics, 1993).

[3] Jose Molina, Amazing Grace Part 6: Lead Me home, ed. Axel Alonso, vol. 4 #1.6, Amazing Spider Man, (New York: Marvel Comics, 2016).

[4] J. Michael Straczynski, “Transformations, Literal & Otherwise,” in The Amazing Spider Man Volume 2 # 30, ed. Axel Alonso (New York: Marvel Comics, 2001).

[5] J. Michael Straczynski, A Spider’s Tale, ed. Joe Quesada, vol. 2 #48, The Amazing Spider Man, (New York: Marvel Comics, 2003).

[6] Straczynski, A Spider’s Tale, 2 #48. In a series of comics, Parker finds out that he has totemic spider genes (Man 2 #18 and #20) and in the Spider Island Series of comics (beginning with Amazing Spider-Man: Infested Vol 1 #1), these are used to build serums to create spider monsters that wreak havoc on the earth.

[7] See: Paul Vincent and Panaccio Spade, Claude, “William of Ockham,” ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2011 ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University, 2011),

[8] See: Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York: P. F. Collier and Sons, 1909 ), 38.

[9] Hong-Tao Xu et al., “Construct Synthetic Gene Encoding Artificial Spider Dragline Silk Protein and its Expression in Milk of Transgenic Mice,” Animal Biotechnology 18, no. 1 (2007)”.

[10] See: C. Lin, “Blue light receptors and signal transduction,” 10.1105/tpc.000646, Plant Cell 14 Suppl, no. suppl 1 (2002): S207”.

[11] Adrian Bird offers a technical definition of epigenetics, “[t]he structural adaptation of chromosomal regions so as to register, signal or perpetuate altered activity states…An implicit feature of this proposed definition is that it portrays epigenetic marks as responsive, not proactive. In other words, epigenetic systems of this kind would not, under normal circumstances, initiate a change of state at a particular locus but would register a change already imposed by other events” Adrian Bird, “Perceptions of Epigenetics,” Nature 477, no. 24 (2007): 398”.

[12] See: Ana Slaughter et al., “Descendants of Primed Arabidopsis Plants Exhibit Resistance to Biotic Stress,” Plant Physiology 158, no. 2 (2012)”; Matin Miryeganeh and Hidetoshi Saze, “Epigenetic Inheritance And Plant Evolution,” Population Ecology, no. Special Feature: Review (2019)”.

[13] These are just a few of the recent studies that show epigenetic changes as the result of pre-natal and post-natal actions of parents and offspring: Dan L. Longo and Andrew P. Feinberg, “The Key Role of Epigenetics in Human Disease Prevention and Mitigation,” The New England Journal of Medicine 378, no. 14 (2018)”; Edith Heard and Robert A. Martienssen, “Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance: Myths and Mechanisms,” Cell 157 (2014)”; Dora L. Costa, Noelle Yetter, and Heather DeSomer, “Intergenerational Transmission Of Paternal Trauma Among US Civil War ex-POWs,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 44 (2018)”; Linda Witek Janusek, Dina Tell, and Herbert L. Mathews, “Epigenetic Perpetuation Of The Impact Of Early Life Stress On Behavior,” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 28 (2019/08/01/ 2019)”; Laura Ramo-Fernández et al., “The Effects Of Childhood Maltreatment On Epigenetic Regulation Of Stress-Response Associated Genes: An Intergenerational Approach,” Scientific Reports 9, no. 1 (2019/04/18 2019)”; M. V. E. Veenendaal et al., “Transgenerational Effects Of Prenatal Exposure To The 1944–45 Dutch Famine,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 120, no. 5 (2013/04/01 2013)”; G. Kaati, L. O. Bygren, and S. Edvinsson, “Cardiovascular And Diabetes Mortality Determined By Nutrition During Parents’ And Grandparents’ Slow Growth Period,” European Journal of Human Genetics 10, no. 11 (2002/11/01 2002)”; Gunnar Kaati, Lars O Bygren, and Soren Edvinsson, “Cardiovascular And Diabetes Mortality Determined By Nutrition During Parents’ And Grandparents’ Slow Growth Period,” European journal of human genetics 10, no. 11 (2002)”; Autumn J. Bernal and Randy L. Jirtle, “Epigenomic Disruption: The Effects Of Early Developmental Exposures,” Birth Defects Research Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology 88, no. 10 (2010)”; Peter D. Fransquet et al., “The Epigenetic Clock As A Predictor Of Disease And Mortality Risk: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis,” journal article, Clinical Epigenetics 11, no. 1 (April 11 2019)”.

[14] Costa, Yetter, and DeSomer, “Intergenerational Transmission Of Paternal Trauma Among US Civil War ex-POWs.”

[15] Christopher Ketcham first considered the question of original sin, epigenetics, and the Blessed Mary in association with the immaculate emergence of Rachel in A Canticle for Leibowitz: Christopher Ketcham, “Towards a Biological Explanation of Sin in Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s” A Canticle for Leibowitz”,” Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy 3 (2020): 13-15”.

[16] “[t]he doctrine of original sin cannot be traced back beyond Augustine” Jesse Couenhoven, “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin,” Augustine Studies 36, no. 2 (2005): 359”.

[17] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Perrysburg Ohio: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1265-1274).Part III, Question 27, Of the Sanctification of the Blessed Virgin, Second Article, Objection 2

[18] Aquinas, Summa Theologica.Part III, Question 27, Of The Sanctification of the Blessed Virgin, Fourth Article, Answer 2.3, Emphasis in original.

[19] Augustine, The Complete Works of Augustine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Marcus Dodds (Public Domain, Kindle Edition, 2011).Summa Theologica, Book XII, Chapter 22.

[20] Couenhoven, “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin,” 373.

[21] Augustine, The Complete Works of Augustine.City of God, Book XIV, Chapter 11.

[22] Luke 19:10 “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

God.” Various, King James Bible with VerseSearch, Red Letter Edition, Kindle Edition (Seattle, Wa.: Amazon, 2019).

[23] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (Boston, New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2007), 584 A 632 B 660 Emphasis in original.

[24] Merold Westphal, “Overcoming Onto-theology,” in Overcoming Onto-Theology, Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith (Fordham University, 2001), 4, .emphasis in original.

[25] Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being: Hors-texte (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1995), xxvi.

[26] John Duns Scotus, Contingency and Freedom: John Duns Scotus Lectura I 39, trans. A. Voss; H. Veldhuis; A. H. Looman-Graaskamp; R. Dekker Jaczn, N. W. Dem Bpl, vol. 42 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994).

[27] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus trans. C.K. Ogden (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co. Ltd., 1922), 6.54, .Ogden translation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s