Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Evolution of Christ

It's been nearly 150 years since Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species and the debate rages on between those convinced of the fact of evolution (not necessarily the Darwinian vision of it, per se, but 'evolution' in the grand sense of a scientific principle that all present biology is founded upon) and those still convinced that a literal reading of the bible gives them all the answers they need about human origins. You could make a fine argument that because the debate has stormed on, unchecked for all these years, that it will continue ad infinitum - that there will never be a time when all parties are convinced about the truth of our evolutionary past. It will be argued here that this is far from true and that the only way for any church to maintain credibility (and parishioners) will be to come to some sort of accommodation of the biological fact of evolution.

Two great past examples of science in conflict with theological teachings are instructive. They are the "flat earth" assumption and the "geocentric" (earth as center of universe) belief. It's hard today for any church-going, bible believing person to grasp the fact, but hundreds of years ago these principles were strictly taught by the Christian church and all followers believed it as the god-given truth. People who speculated otherwise were ostracized by society and even, in some cases, condemned to death for such theorizing. Of course, we have advanced enough as a society (at least in the West) that we don't kill people any more for teaching things that are contrary to biblical canon. But people are still free to believe the biblical version over scientific evidence, and they do. They "condemn", in modern ways, those who would dare to teach version of life other than those that are literally taken from biblical texts.

150 years is nothing in the grand scheme. And if you look just at the biological, paleontological and genetic evidences that have been uncovered in the past 2 decades, it is clear that there will be a continued, exponential rate of scientific evidence ensuing from the next 50 years. The tools available now, and in the near future, permit the guarantee of this with great conviction. The reason that the holders of orthodoxy-past finally accepted the scientific revelations is clear. They could do nothing else. They fought as long and hard as they could and when the overwhelming truth was too much to deny they embraced it, as if they had been the ones to propose it!

They did so because to do otherwise would have been spiritual suicide. They would have seen a constant and increasing attrition of followers, so they simply did what they had to do to survive as institutions. The suggestion here is that it's time for them to begin again. Science will never disprove god. What the fact of evolution brings into question is not god, but a literal reading of any biblical text that holds such truths as the story of Adam and Eve or of Noah's Ark. The sooner that churches portray these stories as parables to teach early man how to live life in harmony with nature and fellow man, and not as literal truth, the sooner they can get back to the business they know best - tending to the spiritual needs of their flocks.

This brings up an interesting point - how to view those presently in the Creationist or I.D. (Intelligent Design) camps. They are not, as popularly portrayed, the enemies of science. They are fellow humans, frightened by a changing world and hopeful of a better life, here on earth, but also after death. They perceive the evolutionary sciences as a threat to that. Those in the lower ranks will find their comfort with this side of science as soon as their elders teach them how to come to terms with it. So it's the "elders" that really need to be talked about here. And when those elders are themselves highly educated, possibly even with scientific degrees, the fight will continue. It's easy to become frustrated with their intransigence. But rather than see the negative in it, I will suggest that we embrace them. The questions and "problems in theory" that they bring to the table are simply things that need further study and clarification. They are gadflies that have the ability to make the science stronger. And I believe that this is what often happens in practical terms. Every problem they push forward is a problem that either has not been solved, or perhaps has been solved, but there is still an inability to clearly demonstrate the evidence of it. It is the job of science to take this challenge up, and do so.