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.

Imagine a World Without Imagination

Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, has joined the cawing voices of academic atheists with the publication of his new book Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. I haven’t read the book, and don’t see any reason to support the author’s rise to bestseller stardom. The supporting reviews on the book’s brag sheet are enough for me. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker all celebrate the book as another sledgehammer blow against the project that has occupied humanity’s greatest thinkers for millennia: how to get people to work together for the common good.

Is science a catalyst in that regard? I didn’t see that in evidence at the Skeptics Conference last year. In a panel discussion with an advocate for CERN and an advocate for advancement of space exploration, Leonard Krauss responded with “That’s just a stupid idea” to the latter’s appeal for money to clear the space junk that threatens our low-earth-orbit satellites.  Krauss’s statement came without technical analysis – it was a baldly political statement meant to ensure that the community represented by Krauss kept its stranglehold on the money that flows through CERN.

And then we have the double-edged sword of global climate research and toxicology studies. We cannot consider as a statistical anomaly the trifecta among the technical communities that advised the tobacco, fossil fuel and chemicals industries. Drawing upon the science of economics, they invested their resources for the benefit of their shareholders. Each of them, confronted with irrefutable scientific evidence of harm to the public, chose to invest in contrarian science and secrecy to secure their access to profitable markets.

Obviously, the contention that science in of itself disproves faith is supportable only if we discard the long history of spiritual experience. Fundamental physics has no explanation for that history, and as it has become clear that there is no explanation for spirituality in current theory, the position of rejection has hardened because to accept the need to explain spirituality is to cast into doubt the entire body of particle physics.

But the men listed in my introduction are not physicists, they are evolutionary biologists. They have waged a long war against scriptural literalists, and appear eager to crucify religion for the prejudices of its ugliest zealots. That zealotry arose in an era that lacked the evidence of the fossil record, and so had no means for explaining the obscure record of the Bible except to assert the power of the Almighty. With the fossil record, however, the story of Genesis is readily interpreted as the occupation of ecosystems by living things. Even more, the trumpets of Revelation are clearly correlated with the billion-year history of mass extinctions that occurred along the way.

Of course, how could the writers of the Bible have known all that without the benefit of modern paleontology? The program of destruction pursued by Coyne and his cronies would be completely undermined by that consideration.

What they would be left with is to pursue a proof, such as I have outlined here, that love is the most powerful force in the universe. This is the conclusion reached by all the great religious avatars, not-with-standing the hateful rhetoric of the zealots. What is really wrong with attempting to prove that conclusion?

Surely not something more wrong than lacking the imagination to believe that it is possible.