February 20, 2005

The evolution will be blogged.

Friday night, Jen and I had a really long phone conversation with a good friend on the topic of evolution. Our friend, like us, comes from a Christian and creationist background, and he seemed most concerned about the impact of evolution on his faith. I promised to try blogging something about that, and this (for better or worse) is what you get:

I suppose the first thing that I would want to say is that, yes, there are huge theological ramifications for evolution. I'm not a theologian, so if you want an educated enumeration of the issues, you'll either need to read a book, or talk to Jen. My current favorite book on the subject is by the theologian, John Haught, called Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution (yours for about $10 at Amazon). In Responses, Haught lists six reasons why Darwinian evolution is shocking to religious people:

"Because (1) it offers a whole new story of creation, one that seems to conflict with the biblical accounts; (2) Darwin's notion of natural selection appears to diminish, if not eliminate, the role of God in creating the diverse forms of life; (3) Darwin's theory of human descent from "lower" forms of life appears to question age-old beliefs in human uniqueness and ethical distinctiveness; (4) his emphasis on the prominent role of chance in evolution seems to destroy the notion of divine providence; (5) Darwinian evolution seems to rob the universe of purpose, and human life of any permanent significance; (6) and, at least for many Christians, Darwin's account of human origins seems to conflict with the notion of original sin, of the "Fall," and therefore remove any need for a savior." (p. 5)

Haught's Responses goes on to address these concerns, quite elegantly, I think, and in an easy-to-read format. He also deals with the theology of evolution in his book God After Darwin, but that one required more mental heavy lifting than I'm capable of, and he lost me in the first chapter.

It is important to point out that I don't believe that evolution implies atheism! In another excellent book on the subject, Finding Darwin's God, Kenneth Miller points out that creationists have "taken the bait" in accepting this conclusion. There ARE outspoken evolutionists who also advocate atheism, and I'm sure they're delighted that Christians have painted themselves into a corner on this point.

There are other concerns that are important to acknowledge besides theology. One is ME-ology. Never mind what evolution says about God, what does it say about ME? Am I unimportant? Is there meaning to life beyond propagating my DNA? Some may think those are selfish questions, but I don't.

Tradition and belonging are big concerns too. You're not likely to embrace evolution if your family and friends will call you crazy and accuse you of forsaking holy scripture and embracing atheism. Evolution may look like the top of a slippery slope that ends at the bottom with you wearing Birkenstocks and dreads and calling yourself a, gulp, liberal!

For someone starting from a six-day creationist world view, there will be concerns about the science too. It's tough to get satisfactory answers. The fact is, the science community moved on from the creation vs. evolution debate many, many years ago. Observations about dating techniques, geological layers, etc. aren't defended against young-earth theories, because those theories have already been laid to rest. This is not to say that scientists take a ho-hum, we've-got-this-figured-out attitude to their subject! On the contrary, I think that people familiar with the science are in a much better position to marvel at the intricate beauty of Life, and appreciate our blessings!

[Update: If you're interested in the science, the Talk.Origins Archive is a great place to get started. Thanks, Josh, for asking.]

So, being a Christian, and having been raised to believe in a six-day creation and a young earth, how did I become this raving evolutionist? Well, I wish that I could tell you that I had the personal integrity to embrace Truth at the very beginning, no matter where it took me. In reality, the transition took several years. I had ALL of the concerns about evolution that I've listed above and held them quite stubbornly. For long periods of time, I simply chose to ignore the issue. I could write several long entries about events along the way.

What do I believe in now? I'm not given to instrospection, so this may not make any sense to you! I still believe in God, but certainly a God about whom I know much less (I don't think that's a bad thing though). And I must say that God looks bigger from here. Believing in God still requires faith -- more faith than evolution actually. (People talk about faith a lot, but I'm realizing that they often don't mean faith, but something else. That's a great topic for another day.) A really loud source of cognitive dissonance is gone, and I really groove on science like never before. When hobbit-sized hominid remains are discovered on an Indonesian island, I don't need to rapidly reshuffle a crumbling conspiracy theory. It's all good. Science is cool, and I wish I'd gone for a hard science degree when I first went to college! The fact that I didn't is a major regret.

What about you?

Posted February 20, 2005 10:53 PM

Ugh, this evolution thing has rocked my theology for the past few years. I believe evolution exists and the science of it makes so much sense to me. However, shocks #2 and 4 above are issues for me.

I saw/heard John Haught give a presentation at Cedar Ridge a few years ago and while I felt like I understood his points well by the end of the talk, it left me with more theological questions than I could fathom any answers for. I have not read Responses and it sounds like maybe I should if for no other reason than to bring these big issues to the forefront of my mind once again.

I haven't been able to reconcile my previous theology with my understanding of evolution and so I put the problem aside only to find that even when it's at the bottom of the trash can, I can still smell it.

Thanks for posting on this. I'm going to check my local library's website right now for the book.

Posted by: Dianne at February 21, 2005 9:05 PM

It's about time you brought this back up. although the evolution may have minor impact on the spiritual process for some, for me it seems to expand god and diminish our understanding of the whole picture.

you should bring this topic up more. what site(s) do you recommend to keep up to date on all this science stuff?


Posted by: The Beagle at February 21, 2005 11:17 PM

Dianne, thanks for commenting! #4 is particularly disturbing. Creationism joins Bill Bright in saying "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Evolution seems to say, "you might be a dead-ender. Sorry. Good luck with the procreation!"

Josh, the very best resource for getting mainstream scientific views on the creation/evolution debate is the talk.orgins site:

The FAQ is an excellent place to start:

Posted by: Dave Lemen at February 22, 2005 3:56 PM

how does the intelligent design stuff fit in? my basic understanding is that folks who advocate intelligent design are not necessarily defending literal 24-hour, six-day creation, but neither are they saying that evolution explains everything. thanks for blogging on this subject, and your very personal transition in this area. often (nearly always) people who are hot on this subject fail to share what they bring personally into this topic, and i think our discussions suffer for this lack.

Posted by: rudy at February 25, 2005 1:44 PM

You might be interested that the question can arise from another direction. I myself had grown up with evolutionism... with drawings of dinosaurs, the wonderful and hungry tyrannosaurus rex, the diplodicus, dimetridon, triceratops and those fanciful drawings of apes improving to the neanderthal, the homo erectus and finally... OURSELVES (male and hunting with a spear). It was startling to me to encounter another view on evolution (of consciousness) through Owen Barfield in his little book Saving the Appearances.

Basically he tries to be consistant, something extremely hard for us to do these days. We've done away with the theory of verification as the foundation of scientific truth and replaced it with...? Is it Popper's Falsification? I'm not sure that holds. We've also long been dispensing with the notion of truth itself, satisfying ourselves for "models" that work.

If we look to the model theory of science, then our task is to gather in as much data as we can and let our model account for it. But what data? What assumptions? What is the starting point? It is conceivable that a number of models are possible without causing distress to anyone, since truth is not at stake. Why the upset so long as we are clear what we are doing, what we assume?

Barfield then adds another theory, looking at other data and considers evolution in another light... evolution from consciousness to self-consciousness; the transformation of consciousness out-there (God) to consciousness in-here (self) with the step of the incarnation of God as the arch-symbol or expression of that fact.

Anyway, the result of this philosophical challenge to my scientific assumptions was a re-write of my world-view. Science and its practice must be criticized, watched and attended to... because it often says one thing and does another; or we (ordinary people) are years behind actual scientists in their hightest theorizing... yet not always so far off in the way they actually act.

I hope this makes at least a tad of sense. Best wishes to you. I found this discussion via Maggi Dawn.

Posted by: Mark Diebel at February 25, 2005 4:43 PM

Hi Rudy!

Thanks for commenting! I hope life returns to some semblence of normal for you and your family very soon! Hang in there!

I've posted commentary on Intelligent Design here:

I've read Johnson's _Darwin on Trial_ and articles by Behe, and commented on one of those here:

You'll see that I don't regard ID as science. The reasons are numerous. The main one is that ID hasn't contributed anything to our understanding of nature. It doesn't explain why things happen the way they happen, it doesn't help us predict what we might find next, and it certainly doesn't tell us anything useful about The Designer, except perhaps that he/she/it is *extremely* shy and likes to hide his/her/its activities inside of bell curves. Information about The Designer (we mustn't say God!) is the emperor's clothing of ID.

It's my opinion that ID is the last fall-back position for creation science. It is a new creation myth, with an invisible, undetectable, and unnamed creator. It describes the sincere belief of many people, who no longer argue with the science behind evolution, but believe that God is behind the wonder of Life. It is also being used as a political tool to insert creation science into public school curriculum and undermine the teaching of evolution by appealing to tolerance and open-mindedness.

Posted by: Dave Lemen at February 25, 2005 6:58 PM

Mark, thanks for your thoughts. I've often wondered what the creation/evolution issue looks like from the other perspective, of someone who was not raised with a creationist world-view. I am not familiar with Barfield, but will try to rectify that soon (in the midst of *required* reading for school).

Posted by: Dave Lemen at February 25, 2005 7:37 PM

hi, mark! i really appreciate your comment. i love the ways that science works to pursue and understand the realities of our world, but i don't want to assume that the more quantifiable answers are the end of the discussion, especially when we start talking about consciousness. the science (and philosophy) around that subject ensure that mystery is not lost and that wonder remains.

Posted by: your brilliant wife at February 25, 2005 7:43 PM

I had to check to make sure that "your brilliant wife" wasn't mine.

Posted by: Mark Diebel at February 27, 2005 7:28 PM
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