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God and Evolution

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Evolution and Theism

“ ....Science without religion is lame religion without science is blind -Albert Einstien ”

Evolution is a naturalistic mechanism describing the progression of life and the change in species. It does not require a divine hand in order to work with, but it does not exclude one either. That is to say, it is theistically-neutral, neither promoting theism nor atheism.

Evolution is often criticised as being an anti-purpose doctrine. Certainly evolution does not work with a purpose in mind, but that does not mean there is no purpose behind it at all. The roundabout way of making species only to arrive at mankind billions of years later may be surprising to some, but this is only matched by the situation of Planet Earth in the midst of a vast space of stars and galaxies. The choice to see purpose or not is individual, and indeed, what is a few million years to a timeless/infinite supernatural entity?

"Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." -- Richard Dawkins

Dawkins' statement has no doubt drawn fire from those who wish to maintain compatibility between faith and science. But in fact, all Dawkins said was that evolution allows for atheism, not that it requires it. One has the choice of being an atheistic evolutionist and seeing no divine hand behind evolution, or being a theistic evolutionist and seeing evolution as the work of God.

Atheistic interpretations of evolution are similarly unwarranted. For example: "Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear ... There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That's the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either." -- William Provine

This is William Provine's view. It is not a scientific view, and it is not an inevitable outcome of evolution. It is the metaphysical view of one person on this matter. Evolution does not mean there is no life after death; if there is an impact on traditional ideas of life after death, perhaps the most difficult would be the possibility of animals other than humans sharing in the afterlife. As for ethics and an ultimate meaning to life, they are not contradicted by the theory of evolution. And free will, again, is a metaphysical debate having nothing to do with evolution. Provine is entitled to his views, but it seems he has made evolution into something it is not.

Reconciling Evolution and Scripture

“ ....creationism has come to mean some fundamentalistic, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis. Judaic-Christian faith is radically creationist, but in a totally different sense. It is rooted in a belief that everything depends upon God, or better, all is a gift from God. ”

—Fr George Coyne, Director, Vatican Observatory, 1978-2006

Evolution contradicts a fundamentalist/literal interpretation of Genesis; however, according to the two oldest branches of Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism; and most Protestant Churches, these days), Biblical Literalism is not mandatory. The largest misundertanding with regard to this is that seeing Genesis as a myth (this is emphatically not synonymous with being "false"; a myth is a truth in unfamiliar clothing; c.f. Tolkien, CS Lewis, Barfield et al.) or as an allegory has been considered a "cop-out", and that it was always interpreted literally until Evolution came and disproved it. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Biblical literalism only came about with the rise of Protestantism, before that the whole Bible simply wasn't interpreted like that. The "metaphorical/literal" distinction is something very modern which only arose with the rise of the Scientific Revolution (but its source dates back further; see Herodotus); it was considered heretical to interpret the Bible literally at times (c.f. Origen, St. Jerome), and St. Augustine -- one of the greatest theologians of the Christian Church -- himself was in fact the first person to propose a proper theory of Evolution of species. There is little room for expansion here, but the key point is that in ancient times, certainly around the times of Genesis, no-one would have understood what you meant by "literal"; everything was neither purely literal nor purely metaphorical, but a conflation between the two, and this is why the myths were so important. They were explanations of natural phenomena; the myths weren't "false", but on the contrary they were true descriptions. Many examples can be brought in here, such as the myth of Persephone's abduction by Hades, which serves as an explanation of the origin of the seasons. Perhaps the best read on this topic, in general, is one Owen Barfield, on the examination of the evolution of consciousness (see bottom of page for reference).

It is thought, on the contrary, that Genesis refers to creation in general, of which the Big Bang and evolution are methods; and that Genesis refers to the human condition in general, without there having to be a literal eating of the forbidden fruit. The key concepts are taken from Genesis, as any child could tell you; that is, it clarifies the issues of free moral agency (freedom), clarifies that man (Adam) sinned, and that God created the World. This does, of course, retain the theological inerrancy of the Bible without having to cling to a disproved literalist reading; inerrancy isn't, by any means, synoymous with literalism.

The worldwide flood can be accommodated by adopting a less restrictive definition of "worldwide". The New Testament, for example, says the gospel has been preached to the whole world, when in fact, by "the whole world" it means the Roman Empire. Similarly a "worldwide" flood is worldwide to the Biblical extent. We must remember that the Bible does not mention Scandinavia, China, the Americas or Australia; therefore the Biblical "world" is much smaller than we know today, and a "worldwide" flood does not have to be to our extent of worldwide. An objection to this may be that this precludes a really worldwide judgement in future tense; the answer to this is that the less than worldwide extent of the past flood was all that was necessary to mete judgement in the past, and there is no need for a future judgement to be so restricted.

Ever since the 19th century, with the advent of the geological discoveries of deep time, believers in the Bible have made attempts to reconcile Scripture with long ages. Old Earth Creationists still employ either of the Day-Age or Gap Creation theories to reconcile the Age of the Earth with the Bible. The Day-Age interpretation, for example, interprets the six creation days of Genesis 1 as six long periods corresponding to millions of years; granted, since the Biblical order and the scientific order are different (such as plants before the sun in Genesis 1), the standard interpretation is that only the order of declaration, not the order of creation itself, is sequential. Old Earth Creationists see the adoption of long ages as a bargain: trading away a literal reading of the Bible, they have gained the apologetic of the Big Bang, according to which the universe had a beginning, which points to a First Cause who began it. The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Anthropic Coincidences Argument are thus a staple of Old Earth Creationism.

Theistic evolutionists have, for their own part, seen evolution in the Bible. For example, Genesis saying "Let the land produce living creatures" (Gen 1:24), with emphasis on "let the land produce", is interpreted as a mediated act of creation: God commands the earth to produce living organisms, just as evolution says it happened, instead of doing it Himself as an act of magic. John Haught and Howard J Van Till see evolution as the hallmark of the generosity of God, in that He decided to give the creation a share in the creative process. Young-earth creationists, since their whole worldview is dependent on equating evolution with atheism, frown upon such reconciliation attempts. The varied methods of reconciliation show that if there is a will there is a way, and the extrabiblical accounts of long ages and evolution are no threat, and in fact can even be elevated to part of the arsenal of apologetics for the belief systems.

In any case, the problem of geological and biological evidence for long ages and evolution has no bearing on such claims as the Revelation of Torah at Sinai, the Resurrection of Jesus or the giving of the Qur'an to Muhammad by an angel. Those are historical claims, having to do with the study of human history, and scepticism or acceptance of them is independent of studies of the natural world. He who wishes to be an atheist has many other reasons for it besides evolution.

Of course, evolution is only a problem for those with very narrow interpretations of the Bible. If one reads the Bible as the mixture of history, myth, legend and theology that it is (explained above), then we have less difficulty in seeing where things must be read literally and where one should interpret metaphorically.

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