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About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Darwin?

It was with a touch of sadness that I read a pair of letters printed recently in the newspaper. The first was written by a man who was upset at a local natural history museum for hosting a “Darwin Day” celebration. The poor fellow claimed that the theory of evolution is an affront to the Bible and Christianity and should not be taught.

About a week later a response from a local atheist was published. It started out by attacking the previous letter. Not content with this, however, the author went on to launch a assault on all religion, decrying it as dangerous and intolerant. By the end of the piece it was clear that this person thought that all people of faith are filled with hatred and violent impulses. He also expressed his disdain for spiritual approaches to discovering life’s meaning and purpose.

Those two letter writers are far from a couple of isolated cranks. They are combatants in a much larger conflict. Like warring mobs of blood thirsty school kids, folks on both sides of the Evolution/Creation controversy have been trying to provoke their champions into mixing it up for well over a century now.

On one side are the perennially insecure Christian fundamentalists, cheering for Jesus to knock Darwin out once and for all. On the other are hysterical, xenophobic anti-Christian atheists and agnostics, who swing the theory of natural selection like a club, hoping it will deal a fatal blow to the Almighty and clear the way for materialism to reign unopposed.

Sometimes I picture Christ and Darwin standing side by side, looking down from heaven and shaking their heads, wondering what all the furor is over. In all of the attempts to destroy religion or to censor science a simple and most profound principle has been overlooked: that all truth is God’s truth. Believers have nothing to fear from scientific insight. And science has nothing to fear from spiritual beliefs.

I say this with confidence, having studied both the theory of evolution and the creation accounts in Genesis over the past twenty years. I have read books by scientists both critical and supportive of Darwin’s claims, and studied the positions of biblical scholars of all persuasions.

In this debate there are two small and very vocal groups of extremists. On one side are the Young Earth Creationists, represented by the likes of Ken Ham and Duane Gish. These people claim that the Earth is no more than ten thousand years old, and anyone who says otherwise is either deceived by the Devil or an outright liar. They interpret Genesis ultra-literally and try to force science to support their untenable worldview.

In the other camp are militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. They claim that evolution destroys all rational basis for belief in God. Dawkins is especially fanatical in his beliefs, saying that religion is not only false but evil. His recent book The God Delusion, which I read with some amusement, paints a caricature of believers as ignorant Bible thumpers, anxious to burn all free thinking persons at the stake.

The tragic part of this silly pissing war is how it drowns out the voices of countless others, those who respect both religion and science, and are trying to find areas of common ground between the two disciplines. Some of the more prominent persons in this group include geneticist Francis Collins, whose book The Language of God finds signs of God’s handiwork in the marvelous things which science has discovered, including the evolutionary process.

Another person of note is Brown University Professor Ken Miller, who wrote the outstanding volume Finding Darwin’s God. Brown defends evolution against the Creationists and Christianity against the off the wall polemics of Dawkins and his ilk. Approaching the subject from a different perspective, physicist and author Paul Davies finds grounds for belief in a Higher Power in the marvelous way the Universe displays a sense of order and rationality.

These men, and others like them, have no quarrel with either Darwin or Jesus. Collins and Miller find in Genesis a beautiful narrative about how God is the ultimate cause for creation. In stories like that of Adam and Eve they see profound commentaries on how humanity is led astray both by pride and the lust of the eye. Davies, while not a member of any organized religion, finds in his studies of the heavens ample proof that there is a Purpose underlying everything we see.

Reflecting once more on the aforementioned letter writers, I see that both of them missed the mark. The Christian fundamentalist is anxious to put God in a box, lest the Almighty and his ways prove too wondrous to comprehend. On the other hand the militant atheist is a bigot, and a small minded one at that. He sees religion through a filter clouded by his own arrogance and closed-mindedness. Both men have my pity. And, looking down from some corner of God’s vast and marvelous universe, I suspect that two other pairs of eyes regard them in the same way, while they wait patiently for the human race to grow up.

2 comments:

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