Iron-Clad Behaviors

One of the pieces of cheap wisdom that I have collected is this adage:

A man will change his beliefs before he will change his behaviors.

The fundamental measure of biological existence is Darwinian survival, which validates behaviors through access to resources and reproductive opportunity. This is built deep into the physical mechanisms of our being, in hormonal emissions that generate powerful feelings that guide our brains. It is entirely natural, then, that behaviors should Trump beliefs.

While the unexamined life reacts to those feelings, indulging them, every wisdom tradition tells us that those feelings must be understood and moderated. This is the essence of Stoicism, Daoism, Buddhism, Great Spirit and Christian teachings.

A friend of mine pointed me at an analysis of the active resurgence of American nativism by Neal Gabler. Neal’s view is pessimistic. He notes that Republican Party has displaced religion by providing a cosmological justification for nativist resistance to equalization of social opportunity. In this interpretation, we are engaged in a second civil war, similar to the first in that a political elite seeks to retain the privileges of its behaviors.

Conversely, all great religions – including Christianity – teach that our empathy should be universal. The abandonment of Christian principles for nativist ideology is proof of the opening adage.

America is not isolated in this choice, however, for the confrontation appears throughout human history. I was present in the struggles between the nobility and the priests in Europe, between the princes and Brahmins of India, between the Caliphs and Imams of Persia. It is the struggle between biological expedience and spiritual empathy.

It is not a straight-line path: the institutions of religion also succumb to expediency. The only hope, as Gabler wisely exhorts, is for us as individuals to act ethically. As Trump and the Republican Congress are demonstrating, there is no honor among thieves. They will tear each other apart, and those of us that share will be left holding the reigns of power.

Gabler, being a global media personality, isn’t an easy person to reach. However, for those that sympathize with his sense that religion should be about spiritual awakening, it might be worth juxtaposing his piece with the commentary on Revelation 12, 13, and 14 out at Love Returns. John was “woke”, so to speak, and foresaw this confrontation and its resolution.

Evolution of Love

I have signed up for the Zacharias Trust’s e-pulse feed, produced by the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. The foremost member of that community is John Lennox, who has engaged Richard Dawkins and other militant atheists in debate on whether evolution disproves the Bible.

The conflict arises from the way that Genesis describes creation as occurring in six “days.” The term is vague, and long prior to Darwin we had Christian scholars cautioning that it shouldn’t be taken literally. But without any science to help interpret the book, the tendency was to take the common translation as cause to celebrate the glory and power of the Creator.

In the New Testament, that glory and power is manifested in a different way – it is through Jesus’s parables that explain that no matter how big a mess we make of things, it doesn’t affect God. He is going to love us anyways. Even more, when we turn our will and intelligence to caring for the world we live in, great power comes to us – power that is inaccessible through any other means. Power that gave Jesus authority even over death.

I met a family whose daughter studied with Lennox, and they shared his perception that the people he debates have a deep hunger for the love that God brings. They have just convinced themselves that the evil done by men proves that God doesn’t exist. In their quest to support their conviction, they use the conflict between the translation of Genesis and the fossil record to argue that the whole of the Bible should be discarded.

The apologists use a number of techniques to try to defend their faith. One is intelligent design – the idea that we can use evolution to prove the existence of God by demonstrating the infinitesimal probability that evolution could merge single-celled organisms into something as complex as a human being. Others shut their eyes and insist that if evolution is advanced as proof against God, then evolution must be wrong. And a final group insists that we should just stop arguing about it, and prove God’s existence through the works of our love.

But what of this: what if there was no contradiction? What if God prepared the way for reconciliation between naïve faith and sophisticated scientific understanding by writing evolution into the Bible long before it was formulated by Darwin? Would that not be a magnificent demonstration of his power and love for us?

For this is what I read. Genesis records that light allowed photosynthetic organisms to escape the dark depths of the ocean. From there they migrated from salt waters below to fresh waters above. Next they learned to survive outside of water, becoming plants that spread across the face of the earth. Then sight arose, resolving the light into the sun and the moon, and supporting seasonal migration. After the extinction of the dinosaurs, the fish and birds dominated the earth until the rise of the mammals. And finally we have man, whose flexible brain liberated life from the Darwinian struggle, to the point today that we can design simple creatures ourselves.

Evolution does not contradict the Bible; rather the elaboration of Darwin’s theory has substantiated the Bible. The Bible contains the history revealed by paleontology written thousands of years before science gave us the tools to interpret the fossil record.

So Christians, take heart: there is absolutely nothing to apologize for.

And let’s just put the argument aside and get around to the business of applying our intelligence to the restoration of the planet that God provided to sustain us on our journey to understanding.

Reconciling Scripture and Evolution

Posted in a discussion of our symbiotic relationship with mites, this summarizes my position succinctly:

The biologists that rely upon strictly biochemical processes of evolution will never be able to calculate rates, because the forcing conditions have been lost in prehistory. I found it interesting to ask “why does every civilization develop the concept of a soul”, and eventually concluded that Darwin was half right: life is the co-evolution of spirit with biological form. The addition of spirit influences the choices made by living creatures, and so changes the rates.

Given this, I went back to Genesis and interpreted it as an incarnation (“The SPIRIT of God hovered over the waters” – and then became God for the rest of the book), with the “days” of creation reflecting the evolution of senses and forms that enabled Spirit to populate and explore the material conditions of its survival (photosensitivity, accommodation of hypotonic “waters above”, accommodation of arid conditions on the “land”, accommodation of seasons with sight (resolving specific sources of light), intelligent species in the waters and air, and mammals on earth (along with man)).

Couple this with the trumpets in the Book of Revelation, which pretty clearly parallel the extinction episodes identified by paleontology – including injection of the era of giant insects – and it looks like science and scripture actually support each other.

The only point of significant disagreement is spirit itself. Given my knowledge of the weaknesses of modern theories of cosmology and particle physics, I found myself considering the possibility of structure inside of the recognized “fundamental” particles. It became apparent to me that it wouldn’t be too difficult to bring spiritual experience into particle physics. To my surprise and delight, I became convinced that this reality is constructed so that love inexorably becomes the most powerful spiritual force.

Authority in Scriptural Interpretation: The Value of Science

I keep on getting caught up in debates on other sites (The River Walk and There’s a Thing Called Biology come to mind) that tend to end with charges against my intellectual integrity. The progression goes something like:

  1. I observe that the people that wrote the Bible were recording experiences that they lacked the scientific understanding to describe accurately.
  2. I propose alternative interpretations of the events in modern scientific terms.
  3. I am told that the events recorded in the Bible could not have happened because they violate scientific knowledge.
  4. I suggest that science is not as iron-clad as many believe, and direct the conversation to my “New Physics” page.
  5. The responder offers the unsophisticated interpretation of the Biblical record (i.e. – Creation occurred in seven days) as evidence that people that believe in God do not understand science, and accuses me of being a poor scientist.
  6. I offer that my personal experience of God contradicts their science, and re-iterate that that I have offered models that integrate science and spirituality for their consideration.
  7. I am accused of intellectual dishonesty and ignoring scientific truth.
  8. I break off the discussion.

This may seem like just whining, but there’s a really fundamental point that nobody seems to have grasped just yet: the reason that religious authorities offered an “unscientific” understanding of scripture was because they didn’t have enough science to interpret scripture. Receiving a document through a long chain of translation from dead languages, they interpreted the words as literal truth because they had nothing else to guide their understanding.

But we do have science as our guide. So why not make use of it?

Given what we know about paleontology, for example, we can clearly interpret the days of creation as the history of biological development, running from single-celled organisms that learned to use light as a source of energy, and ending with the mammals and man on “day” six. Along the way, the development of eyesight replaces “light” with the more specific sun and moon.

Similarly, the trumpets of Revelation are seen to correspond almost exactly with the ancient mass extinctions. The era of giant insects is noted, and the final extinction episode (involving a meteor strike, volcanic vents and egg-eating mammals) describes distinctly the mechanisms that terminated the age of the dinosaurs.

Scripture and Darwin don’t contradict each other, they support each other. In the other direction, I think that the most powerful tool we have to advance our understanding of fundamental science is not the billion-dollar satellites and particle accelerators, but rather the well-documented record of spiritual experience.

Really, I would think that we’d be getting together to shake hands and pat each other on the back, not trading barbs.