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Monday, June 13, 2011

Attempts At Reconciling Creation(ism) and Evolution

I’ve never been much for blogging on the relationship between religion and science, mostly because I’m more interested in the topics of belief and nonbelief and the interaction between the faithful and faithless, but that’s more a future book topic than my wider range of blog topics. I’ve decided to broaden my horizons to an article whose subject I dismissed at first glance, but rethought it and am now trying to cover a wider range of topics, including some that really stand out from my usual fare, such as my recent piece on the varying Catholic perspective on IVF.

I’ve always been aware of attempts to bring peace to a commonly embittered relationship of the natural sciences on the stricter end of evidential standards and monotheistic religions on the other end. There are atheists that are creationists in some sense, such as the Raelians, who believe we were genetically engineered by an advanced race of aliens, from what I recall, but for the most part, creationists and intelligent design advocates are most commonly believers in “God” as the so called “creator”, whatever that might mean. There are two out of three major scientific theories related to physics and biology Christians are more commonly opposed to: Big Bang and abiogenesis. The first is an answer to the philosophical quandary of why something came from nothing that Christians find unacceptable because it doesn’t involve their creator. The second tries to solve the question of where life originates on the earth, yet again not satisfying the devout because instead of God creating and breathing life into proverbial clay, the “clay” becomes living on its own through time. The issue of chronology is always pertinent, moreso to Young Earth creationists than to Old Earth Creationists or Intelligent Design advocates. With the literal belief in Genesis and the span of time supposedly entailed therein, a blockade of strong mental resistance is made against believing in Big Bang, abiogenesis or evolutionary theory. The ability to even compartmentalize the most pertinent and everyday of these three is a miracle in itself. But the notion that science and religion are separated into non-overlapping magisteria; an idea advocated by Stephen Jay Gould, a famous agnostic biologist; which states religion and science occupy distinct unrelated areas of concern, morals and nature respectively; is not only unjustified, but a result of blinders similar to biblical literalism and fundamentalism, along with idealistic ideas of science and religion. They can overlap at ethical considerations, but their methods tend to conflict by design, further negating the idea that they are separate, since they butt heads almost necessarily.

The author of the article is in a reluctant minority within Christianity, from my experience, limited as it is. However, any notion of science being correct is tempered by even these thinkers with a transcendent consciousness behind the world, which created the world as we know it with a purpose, usually understood in Christianity as redemption from sin in a narrative modeled in the Bible. There is some good that exists in this line of thinking of compatibility between science and religion. The claim that the Bible itself doesn’t hold the answers of scientific importance; about how nature works, the mathematics or formulae behind gravity, etc; is a step towards healthy skepticism. Anyone trying to read those ideas into the Bible’s anecdotal, historical and otherwise more interpretative concerns within the humanities is, according to this splinter of Christian thought, missing the point. It’s actually connected to the division of believers between biblical inerrancy and infallibility. The former suggests that the Bible holds all the answers humans will ever need, while the latter is realistic enough to limit the Bible’s scope of validity to spiritual/religious issues of faith and the Church.

The fixation upon Genesis’ need to be taken literally exists on a few levels, the most obvious one being that its relation to evolution is not realized by a person who thinks God conjured all the varied creatures “according to their kind” along with humans and they never diversified by species, etc as biological organisms tend towards. This seems especially odd when you consider that a worldwide flood is also a belief from a literal Genesis, something that would’ve radically changed the environment. That seems to create a situation for adaptation and natural selection, if I understand evolutionary theory at all. The literal interpretation of Genesis also insists on a point that many Christians, however conservative they might be on other issues, are more flexible on here, excluding extremists like Ken Ham. Augustine of Hippo, overall respected theologian in Christian thought, was fairly conservative on issues such as appreciating holy music. There are Christians these days who’d share the initial sentiments he seemed to support: that is, music leads people into sin because of our love of the sounds it presents to our ears, just as revealing clothes and the skin they show “tempts” our eyes. But Augustine, as much as he admitted that he tended towards strictness on those areas, was a non literalist about Genesis being a 7 day event, and no doubt also about the chronology of the Bible amounting to the entire history of the world compressed into six to ten thousand years.
The importance of the Genesis narrative, according to any Christian you’d come across, isn’t that God created the world in some strict timeframe, but that God created it (and initiated the evolutionary process over time?). Which would most believers in God find more important: the nitpicking details or the tenets of faith, such as “God exists and created the world”?

The Bible, to most believers, is not something strict and precise about every detail. Many things have to be worked out indirectly, such as the accounts we have of angels and demons. People who take it too seriously are the start of this phenomenon of literalism. No one’s telling people they can’t believe the Bible as a religious text, but claiming it’s a scientific source betrays any sense of what the Bible is at its core; a series of revelations from God, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts never to be violated or adjusted to circumstance and eras. The Old Testament enumerates 600+ commandments, most of which the average Christian has no idea are even in the Bible, let alone takes seriously as a believer in a spawn of the Jewish religion. Like I subtly implied in my “Religion and Secularism’s Questions and Answers” post, the more we begin to understand things, like the Bible, from a believer’s perspective, the more we can understand the diversity in any believer’s worldview about the Bible and its relation, or lack thereof, to scientific pursuits, such as evolutionary theory. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

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