1. These are the generations of man. In the beginning was deoxyribonucleic acid which begat more deoxyribonucleic acid, like unto itself.

  2. And Lo, there were rays from the heavens, and mutation came to pass. And the deoxyribonucleic acid begat unicellular organisms, which we call prokaryotes. And there was variation amongst them, and competition, so that some thrived; but others vanished from the earth, which we call natural selection.

  3. And prokaryotes multiplied upon the face of the earth: the true bacteria and also the mitochondria and the chloroplasts; and the archaebacteria. And the mitochondria and chloroplasts knew the prokaryotes, and they cleaved to one another. And together they begat the eukaryotes, which were nucleated cells. But the prokaryotes are the inheritors of the earth to this day.

  4. Now the eukaryotes multiplied greatly, and they begat sixty or more lineages of protozoans, red algae, flagellates, ciliates, diatoms, brown algae, giardia, slime moulds, slime nets, red seaweeds and other wonderful creatures; but also they begat the opisthokonts, which is the name of the begetter of the creature that begat the plants, and which also begat the microsporidia and the fungi, and the choanoflagellates, and the metazoa, which we call animals.

  5. And the plants and animals and fungi are close kin, and together they have departed from the other lineages.

  6. The animals also knew each other in their day. Over the generations they divided amongst themselves and begat sponges and placozoa, and also the eumetazoa who are the comb-jellies, as well as the cnidarians that we call jellyfish, sea anemones, corals and hydra. And the eumetazoa had tissues and organs. And they also begat the bilateria, which are the same on the left and on the right and have three layers of cells, and among these are many worms, and we too are the children of worms.

  7. Now the bilateria begat two great nations of worms who were the protostomes. These were the lophotrochozoa, which begat the molluscs, earthworms, leeches and their many kindred; and the ecdysozoa, which begat the roundworms and also the arthropods or insects, who are in number like the stars in the heavens. Among them too are spiders and crabs and their many kindred.

  8. But also the bilateria begat the deuterostomes, whose anus is created through gastrulation before its mouth. And the deuterostomes are also in the likeness of worms. And we are of the deuterostomes, because when we are newly formed in our mothers’ wombs, yea, our anuses are open even before our mouths.

  9. After some time, the deuterostomes begat the echinoderms which are the sea urchins and starfish and many others too; also the hemichordates; and the chordates, whose back is stiffened by a rod and who have a dorsal nerve. The chordates begat the generations of the urochordates and the amphioxus and lancelet; but also the chordates begat the vertebrates who have a spine.

  10. And among the vertebrates are all the fishes: the hagfish and ostracoderms, which have neither skulls nor jaws, and the lamprey, which has a skull but no jaws. And there are many other creatures among the vertebrates, but also the gnathastomata, which have both a skull and jaws, as we do, being of a kin with such fish.

  11. Now the gnathastomata begat many more fishes: the rays and sharks were of this kind. And after the generations some begat sarcopterygii, or lobe-finned fishes. The lobe-finned fishes divided too: some begat coelacanths and other creatures of the deep, but also there were terrestrial vertebrates, which were a miracle to behold, as they had limbs with digits and they could walk on land, verily as we do.

  12. Among the terrestrial vertebrates were many stegocephalians, who have lungs and can hear; and also tetrapods, who have no inner gills, and also five fingers and toes on each limb. And the tetrapods begat the amphibians and reptilomorphs. As for ourselves, we are the children of the reptilomorphs.

  13. The reptilomorphs divided among themselves and some begat amniotes. And of the amniotes there were reptilia, among whom were many of the dinosaurs, who later begat the birds. And a great rock came from the heavens, and a dark cloud passed over the earth. This was not the first great rock from the heavens, neither was it the last. And the dinosaurs passed away from the face of the earth, even as we shall.

  14. But also among the reptilia were lizards, crocodiles and turtles. Moreover there were also amniotes called synapsids, who begat many creatures that sprawled like reptiles but were not of their kind. The synapsids in their day also begat the therapsids, who were like mammals but their young did not suckle. Yet therapsids also begat the mammals, whose young did suckle, and of such are we.

  15. Of the mammals some begat monotremes, but others begat marsupials and placental mammals. The placental mammals were the eutheria and some begat anteaters and pangolins, hares and squirrels, pigs, and also whales who are close kin of the hippopotami, and others of their kind. Also they begat hedgehogs and tigers, and the ungulates, which we call boars and dolphins, aardvarks and rhinoceri, elephants and manatees, and great numbers of other creatures.

  16. And some others of the eutheria went their way and begat bats, colugos and tree shrews. And we are among these, being very like tree shrews in our form and spirit, even unto this day.

  17. Now the tree shrews begat primates, and the primates begat the lemurs and bush babies, who have nostrils like dogs, and the haplorhines, who do not. And the haplorhines begat the tarsiers and the anthropoids. And these anthropoids begat the new world monkeys and the catarrhines, who have narrow nostrils facing downwards. And the cattarhines begat the old world monkeys and the hominoids, and the hominoids begat the gibbons and the great apes.

  18. Behold, the great apes begat the orang-utan and the begetter of chimpanzees, gorillas and hominids. And then the begetter of gorillas departed from the begetter of chimpanzees and hominids. After this time, the begetter of chimpanzees also departed, and left the begetter of hominids alone.

  19. And the begetter of hominids, said unto herself and unto her mate (for she could speak): let us beget more hominids. And they begat homo erectus who begat homo sapiens, which is to say humankind.

I have been trying to find a short contemporary narrative of human descent. As I could not, I decided to write one myself, in Biblical style. I will not be surprised if readers now inform me of other, similar versions already in existence. I have drawn on three sources: The Variety of Life by Colin Tudge (Oxford University Press, 2000), The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2005) and the Tree of Life website [http://tolweb.org/tree]. Inevitably, only a tiny number of our ancestors or cousins, alive or extinct, are represented here. Some of the evolutionary lines are controversial. I have omitted others because they are unnamed or unknown. I hope that professional cladists will forgive me, even if scriptural fundamentalists do not.