Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

I woke up with a bad case of pride

Posted by Chris on July 7, 2010

The last week and a half I’ve had some “spiritual sickness.”  A dryness in my throat instead of streams of living water; heart arrythmia instead of a strong heart united with Christ; a ragged body bearing poor fruit failing to live up to the promise that a good tree bears only good fruit– it cannot bear bad fruit.

My brief time in the scriptures had been good, and I came here to meditate further on what I’d read.  I don’t want this to be another time in my life that I look back on shamefully, disappointed with what I did do and didn’t do.

You see, this is a period of dryness in my external circumstances.  My wife of one year has moved 6 hours away.  10 days before I will move, she left.  She took with her my heart and my passions.  Rather than ask the Lord for more passion– passion for him, for life, for friends– I have been happy when talking to her but just existent at other times.  I’m not moping around, but there is no visible presence of Jesus Christ in my life beyond the grace of God which persists unfairly in my actions probably because of habit.  Sometimes (thankfully) I can’t help but do the right thing.  That’s my Wednesday morning 7am definition of sanctification.

But it need not be a time of spiritual dryness.  Would the Lord return to me and bless me and reconcile himself to me today?  The answer I knew would be yes if I only allowed it to be so!  Why did I wait so long?  Why, when in other similar times of dryness on the outside I’ve witnessed the same failures rise within me?

The Lord spoke to me an answer the other day when I did open the scriptures:

[23] Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, [24] but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24

Boasting.  It’s not a problem.  The object of our boasting; that’s the problem.  Not in our wisdom, strength, or riches– that’s pride.  That’s what I’ve had.  It’s not walking around with a sense of superiority, or looking down on others.  My pride found itself in the foolish thought that my righteousness this week would be found in the amount of packing and cleaning I got done around our apartment, cultivating an environment of work and busybodiness that left no room for God.

In meditating on this verse this morning, I followed the verse references in my Bible to a few other gems.  First, some verses that expounded on the consequences of boasting in the wrong things.

Proverbs 11:28: Whoever trusts in his riches will fall.

Jer 48:7: because you trusted in your works and your treasures, you also shall be taken and… go into exile

Jer 49:4-5: Why do you boast of your valleys… saying, ‘Who will come against me?’   Behold, I will bring terror upon you,

Ezekiel 24:4-7: your heart has become proud in your wealth… therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you

Trusting in your own things leads one to fall, be taken captive, under terror.  Because you own heart is proud.  The antidote is found in v24 above, boasting about knowing God.  Some verses to expand that include:

Psalm 34:2: My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad

Gal 6:14: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How do I keep falling in this trap?  A really interesting verse in 1 Kings told me what I already knew but failed to remember lately.

And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’” 1 Kings 20:11

What does this even mean?  The ESV study note says

It is unwise to boast about one’s exploits before the battle has even begun; there is time enough for boasting when the battle is won.

That’s my problem.  I keep acting like the battle is over.  It’s not.  On Friday, 5 days in to my time without my wife, a dangerous thought came to me: “I’m doing pretty well.”  Instead, that was the sign that I was losing the battle.  Lord, help me to boast in you and not in my own strength; remind me that the battle is not yet over.

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Darwin stokes the evolution v. creation debate

Posted by Chris on May 2, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related post

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Chapter 5 was not very interesting to me on the scientific level.  It is titled “Laws of Variation” and covers topics like: Acclimatisation, Correlation of Growth, Analogous variations between different species in the same genus, & Reversions to long lost characters.  Essentially, Darwin provides anecdotes of what he sees as different types of variation he has observed in nature and attempts to explain why these categories are seen repeatedly and why certain variations might come about.

Of course, this is all done with two constant “But’s”: 1) But there really is no way to know exactly why this happens and 2)But the view that all species were created individually would have to then believe x and y and thus isn’t very accurate.  An example of #1:

I have hitherto sometimes spoken as if the variations–so common and multiform in organic beings under domestication, and in a lesser degree in those in a state of nature–had been due to chance.  This, of course, is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation.

An example of #2:

He who believes that each equine species was independently created, will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary… [mumbo jumbo about horses getting stripes]… to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus.  To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown, cause.

I am going to address each of these in 2 separate points.

1. Man’s ignorance

This reminds me of an article I read in a popular science magazine (I think it was Discover) when I was in college (sometime between 2004-2006).  A professor at an esteemed university was attempting to “create life” from non-living things.  They had a lab set-up and were applying external stimuli (like electricity) to inorganic matter.  If successful, it would “prove” that life could indeed arise in a way that had no need of any intelligent design or creator.

Two things occurred to me: First, that it would be pretty amazing evidence that life can be created from inorganic matter in such a manner.  Second, that it wasn’t very good evidence that this could happen without an external force!  What was the researcher after all?  An intelligent designer; a creator of life, attempting (unsuccessfully up to that point) to use the correct methodology to produce life from non-life.

What’s the connection?  First, that both this article and Darwin’s admitted ignorance should be considered at least to raise a shred of doubt about their theories.  Second, the importance of intelligence and purpose in the creation and development of life.

Darwin wrote that natural selection far exceeded the capabilities of Man’s selection for the reasons I outlined here. Even though man, in selecting animals, acts with purpose and applies intelligence that has been learned over time, his selection lags behind natural selection.  I don’t know if Darwin is inferring that nature has greater intelligence, but it appears as an implication to me.  But is “nature” intelligent?

The researchers are certainly acting with intelligence and purpose.  They have very clear scientific goals grounded in not only biological thought but a philosophical viewpoint.  They seem to understand that if they just put the inorganic materials in a box outside, or in a fridge, or a vacuum, that nothing would happen.  I’m sure that they would say that it is because nature had limitless time and conditions to apply to inorganic material that life was spawned, but they can’t deny that what they are purposing to do is substitute intelligence and purpose, by applying an external stimulus, for time.  In other words, what nature might theoretically be able to do if allowed enough time, they attempt to effect through intelligence and purpose.

If that can happen for them, why not for God through whatever means He deemed desirous or necessary?

Job 37-39 contain many rheotorical questions for the man who seeks wisdom apart from God.  How would Darwin answer Job 38:4-5?

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

2. Darwin asserts that Creationism must be wrong based on the evidence.

This statement is too strong to draw from Darwin’s numerous musings concerning alternate explanations for variations that would accomodate Creationism.  Fortunately for people like me who like to make things black and white, his last paragraph of the chapter before the summary removes all doubt about where he stands:

It [the quote above about horses] makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore.

What does he mean that the works of God would be a mockery?  Works of God could either be creation or the scriptures.  To make them a mockery could either mean that Darwin believes that there is some good and truth about God in creation, but the popular beliefs were wrong, or that creation and/or the scriptures are not truly the work of a god.

Of the 4 possibilities, I “feel” that it is one of the two that does not ascribe any credit to God.  In either case, if Darwin somehow gave God credit, it is clear that the purpose of his life and work was not to gently correct theology in order to give God glory, but to advance a humanist point of view.  Rather, from reading this book alone and knowing nothing else about Darwin’s life, my conclusion is that he is with some purpose and full awareness proposing a view that undermines Christian theology.


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Bonhoeffer on Darwinism

Posted by Chris on April 18, 2010

As I just finished writing two posts that are somewhat critical of Darwin, I thought it would be appropriate to get all my “picking on him” out of the way at once.  This is from a book by Bonhoeffer that I am reading (other quotes and details on it here.)  And of course, feel free to check out the rest of this blog series and the introduction of reading Darwin’s Origin of Species.

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Man shall proceed from God as his ultimate, his new work, and as the image of God in his creation… This has nothing to do with Darwinism: quite independently of this man remains the new, free, undetermined work of God… In our concern with the origin and nature of man, it is hopeless to attempt to make a gigantic leap back into the world of the lost beginning.  It is hopeless to want to know for ourselves what man was originally…

This chapter is Bonhoeffer’s mediation on Genesis 1:26, about God making man in his image.

I believe that Creation Theology comprises much more than the argument of Six-Day-Creation v. Darwinian Evolution.  How God created, how long it took– this is just a small part of something much bigger.  Creation Theology is bigger than that discussion just as the world we live in, and our current concerns, don’t revolve around this debate.  Creation Theology should set the table for a discussion about all facets of the world and God and life and history.  Evolution is like the butter tray.  Sure, it’s important and I wouldn’t deny its presence– but it ain’t the bread, and if the bread is good I could just eat my roll plain.

I don’t need to have a strong opinion on evolution or Creationism in order to make sense of the world.  Creation Theology tells me that just as God created light in Genesis 1, he shines the light of the gospel in our hearts.  I am much more concerned with that light!  That’s what it’s about!  That’s the entree!

And I think Bonhoeffer agrees.  He’s not rejecting Darwinism– he says that the theological significance of God creating man has nothing to do with it.  He’s not interested in relatively trivial historical facts.  That God created man in his image has huge implications on the rest of life.

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Darwin rejects traditional Creationism view

Posted by Chris on April 18, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related post

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On the view that each species has been independently created, I can see no explanation of this great fact in the classifcation of all organic beings; but, to the best of my judgment, it is explained through inheritance and the complex action of natural selection… as we have seen illustrated in the diagram.

This quote comes from the summary to the Natural Selection chapter and right after the last quote from my last post on the diagram mention.

The literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is the backbone of “the view” he leaves unnamed– at least, of the Judeo-Christian view– there may be other historical Creation myths from other faiths/cultures.  Here’s how Genesis describes the individual creation of plants and animals.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds… the third day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind…the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.

The assumption with a literal reading is that each animal was made individually– without reading any biographical info on Darwin, I will assume that he was aware of Genesis 1 and infer that his statement refers to the prevalent Creationist worldview and seeks to refute it.

As I said in the introduction, I don’t adhere to the literal Creationist view so his assertion doesn’t bother me.  But I also don’t adhere to the opposite extreme in which he believes, that natural selection is completely the answer.  There seems to be no room for middle ground in his opinion, and many today on both sides have an all-or-nothing view as well.

At this point, I feel some intellectual annoyance with Darwin.  First, his discussion of natural selection highlights man’s ignorance (see this post).  Yet he’s confident in asserting a theory that he has only “proved” in small sub-sections, grounded in the very limitations of time, scope, and perspective that he includes when talking about how natural selection is more powerful than man’s selection!  Second, unless I’m missing something, he is glossing over a lot of detail that I would think would be expected– at least, I’m expecting it if I’m supposed to consider his theory!

My annoyance has almost turned into antipathy though, with the last sentence of the summary.  This is probably what happens when you spend way too much time psycho-analyzing what a scientist wrote 150 years ago, but I think he’s being a smart-ass about all of it!

As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the sruface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.

I am sure he was not trying to use the Tree of Life as an analogy to reproach Christians– but it felt that way.  And his faux eloquence struck me as satirical poetry.

Anyway, I’m moving on to Chapter 5- Laws of Variation- where I will begin afresh with an open mind.  According to my Kindle, I’m only 26% of the way through the book!  After taking a week or two off, I will attempt to read the next 24% or so by the end of April.

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Darwin’s Tree of Life Diagram

Posted by Chris on April 18, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related posts.

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The accompanying diagram will aid us in understanding this rather perplexing subject.  Let A to L represent the species of a genus large in its own country; these species are supposed to resemble each other in unequal degrees, as is so generally the case in nature… The little fan of diverging dotted lines of unequal lengths proceeding from (A) may represent its varying offspring [Chris' note: those going from bottom to top of the diagram]… When a dotted line reaches one of the horizontal lines, and is there marked by a small numbered letter, a sufficient amount of variation is supposed to have been accumulated to have formed a fairly well-marked variety.

OK.  This post is going to be all technical, not philosophical, because one of my primary intellectual reasons for reading the book was addressed by Darwin in this section and diagram.  This diagram shows how 11 unique species, over time, would evolve into 15 species (all different from the first 11).  Darwin believed extinction was an inevitable byproduct of natural selection.

In my introduction, I said that one of my intellectual obstacles with macro-evolution is how life evolved not within a genus into different species but within kingdoms and even the development from one-celled organisms to more complex creatures.  This chart and Darwin’s writing sort of helped answer that question.  The visual was helpful for grasping inter-genus evolution… but I already said that I could buy that– now I could explain it better.

Darwin says that scale is the key.  Let each horizontal line equal 1000 generations and at each line perhaps you have new varieties of a species, or even new species. After 14,000 generations “species are multiplied and genera are formed.”

Darwin also believes that the most distinct varieties survive.  Thus, it is not a coincidence that he chose the species that were at the extreme ends of the diagram to have the most evolved descendants.  If the extremes are selected and then their extremes selected and etc… that would speed up evolution and help explain incomprehensible changes.  These new species at the end of 14,000 generations differ much more from one another than the original 11, therefore meriting classification as more than one genus.

In this chapter, Darwin does not yet make the jump to large-scale evolution apologetics which I am expecting.  If this is it, I will be disappointed– I understand that he believes it’s the same idea, just taken to scale– but it’s so hard to believe!  I mean, seriously– it takes a lot of imagination.  Not in the sense that evolution is “made up”, but it is so beyond the human mind.  It would take faith for me at this point, something I’m not willing to give to this theory.

Yet in the summary following the chapter, Darwin sort of makes the jump– but with little explanation.  From a literary perspective, I was really surprised– had I missed something in his argument? From the summary:

It is a truly wonderful fact… that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other in group subordinate to group.

Wwww-wh-what?  He is very confident.  I expected a lot of sincere appeal and intellectual argumentation to precede this assertion in the book.  After all, wouldn’t most people at that time have rejected his findings?  Didn’t he expect intellectual attack?  I’ll have to assume that more explanation follows.

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How plants’ fertilization relates to Christian Morality

Posted by Chris on April 3, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related posts.

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How strange that the pollen and stigmatic surface of the same flower, though placed so close together, as if for the very purpose of self-fertilisation, should in so many cases be mutually useless to each other!  How simply are these facts explained on the view of an occasional cross with a distinct individual being advantageous or indispensable.

This passage from Origin requires some contextual explanation.  Darwin is discussing sexual selection, the idea that the strongest or best evolved will produce the more offspring and perpetuate their advantageous characteristics.  He believes that plants, though many have the ability to self-fertilize (in that on the same plant it would be common to find both male and female organs among its flowers), are better off by cross-fertilizing with other distinct plants.  But it takes some luck, because in theory it would be easiest to self-fertilize (as a bee hops from flower to flower on the same plant).  He observes that some plants, though equipped with the theoretical ability to self-fertilize, in practice do not always– and the example which precedes the above quote discusses a plant whose male and female organs get “ready” at different times, rendering them “mutually useless to each other.”

That is a pretty cool idea and nature never ceases to surprise and amaze even people like me who are not very interested in gardening, botany, or biology but love animal shows.  It also reminded me of an important moral biblical principle, taken from 1 Corinthians 6:12

“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial.

This simple statement encompasses much about how we should and should not interact with what God has created– be it other people, drugs, food, cars, or anything.  In the letter to Corinth, Paul covers myraid topics like suing people; marriage; sex; eating meat; and participating in non-Christian religious events.  Except for a few things that the New Testament clearly forbids or prescribes, most of our moral choices involve wrestling with (or ignoring) this advice.

To slightly tweak Paul’s language, “There are many possible uses for any part of creation; but a limited number of purposes.”  Can you see a parallel to plants’ fertilization now?  Sure, most plants have the two components necessary for reproduction, but in the long-run the species is healthier by cross-fertilizing.  To make the direct comparison, any male and female person can in theory reproduce, but it doesn’t make it a good idea.  Everyone could form a list of who should and shouldn’t be allowed to make babies– this isn’t a practice limited to draconian conservative religious types.  Some would wish to exclude the religious, the poor, the unmarried, the “unenlightened”, the clergy, etc…

I do not think that there is moral overlapping between plants’ fertilization and this moral principle.  Think of it as analogy.  I’m not trying to deconstruct darwinism, but simply compare or contrast what Darwin writes with Creation Theology.  Unless I’m given no alternative, I will always assume that purported “facts” (scientific, historical, etc…) harmonize with scripture because I believe that scripture contains the words of God, used to communicate to man the truths of God. So as I’m reading Origin, I would like to point out not only where his ideas harmonize with Creation Theology, but where his observations of nature harmonize with the moral order of Creation as presented by the Bible.

As I said in this post on Man’s power of selection, Creation, as originally created, is good.  1 Corinthians 6:12 is guidance of how to keep it that way.  Are you in a situation where you don’t know what to do?  James 1:5 instructs us to ask God for wisdom, “who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  We’re not supposed to have all the answers.  I don’t have all the answers, Charles Darwin doesn’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the answers.

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Bonhoeffer on Creation Theology

Posted by Chris on April 1, 2010

I just began reading a book title Creation and Fall–Temptation, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The material was adapted from a series of lectures he gave in 1933-1934 and the two topics are separate studies.  Bonhoeffer is known for his role during WWII of helping Jews, for which he was killed.  He did not leave the country, like many others, but actually left American and traveled to Germany in order to denounce the Nazis.  His most famous work is The Cost of Discipleship (sitting on my shelf but I haven’t read it).

In the Creation and Fall study, DB begins by meditation on the beginning of Genesis 1:1: In the Beginning, God created… He writes that there is frustration in humans because we live in the middle (meaning we cannot extend to the true beginning of time)– this section somewhat confused me.  However, it started making more sense when he discusses the vanity of trying to ask and answer questions about what happened before and during Genesis 1.  I will post a large section of it here because a)it’s eloquent and interesting to me, and b)it relates to what I wrote about what I believe in this post which introduces a blog series on reading through Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Briefly, I recognized the debates between evolutionists and creationists but stated that I don’t have a strong opinion about who is right because I think that Genesis 1 is about a lot more than the scientific facts of creation; and that a true Creation Theology of Genesis 1 and 2 comprises much more than simply evolution v. creation.  The “other stuff” is much more interesting and significant.  This is how Bonhoeffer explains it (all bold emphasis added is mine):

The twofold question arises: Is this beginning God’s beginning or is it God’s beginning with the world?  But the fact that this question is asked is proof that we no longer know what “beginning means. The beginning can only be spoken of by those who are in the middle and are anxious about the beginning and the end, by those tearing at their chains… If this is so, we can no longer ask whether this is God’s beginning or God’s beginning with the world.  Luther was once asked what Gopd was doing before the creation of the world.  His answer was that he was cutting canes for people who ask such useless questions.  This not only stopped the questioner short but also implied that where God is not recognized as the merciful Creator he must needs be known only as the wrathful judge, i.e. always in relation to the situation of the middle, between beginning and end.  There is no possible question which could go back beyond this “middle” to the beginning, to God as creator.  Thus it is impossible to ask why the world was created, about God’s plan or about the necessity of creation. These questions are finally answered and disposed of as godless questions by the sentence, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Not “in the beginning God had this or that idea about the purpose of the world which we now only have to explore further,” but “In the beginning God created.”  No question can penetrate behind God creating, because it is impossible to go behind the beginning…

This quite unrepeatable, unique, free event in the beginning, which must not be confused in any way with the year 4004 or any similar particular date, is the creation.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That means that the Creator, in freedom, creates the creature… Creator and creature cannot be said to have a relation of cause and effect, for between Creator and creature there is neither a law of motive nor a law of effect nor anything else.  Between Creator and creature there is simply nothing: the void. For freedom happens in and through the void.  There is no necessity that can be shown in God which can or must ensue in creation.  There is nothing that causes him to create.  Creation comes out of this void.

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The fleeting desires and efforts of Man

Posted by Chris on March 29, 2010

This is a continuation of this post in my blog series on reading Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

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The most spiritual of Darwin’s criticisms of Man: Short-sighted desires

How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man!  how short his time! and consequently how poor will his products be… ~ Charles Darwin

I am tempted to check if Darwin plagiarized one of the great puritan theologians.  I mean, seriously.  This is an eloquent, passionate statement about… oh wait– “…compared with those accumluated by nature during whole geological periods.”  That’s the rest of that sentence.  Well, still– take Darwin’s statement out of contrast and you could sneak it into a sermon.

As I said in this post, I am intentionally avoiding biographical information about Darwin.  However, I am becoming convinced even just 20% of the way through the book that he was not someone who was oblivious, indifferent, or dismissing of philosophical/theological issues.  Perhaps he read the following scriptures at some point?

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Ps 39:4

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Rom 3:20

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  Matt 6:19-20

According to Darwin, Man’s efforts and desires concerning the selection of animals are towards things that are temporary.  There are much better things after which to attain.  But our efforts are slaves of our desires.  Christian theology teaches that our efforts to pile up stuff on earth is in vain; and our efforts to seek our own salvation so that we can have eternal treasures is not only in vain but condemns us.

Darwin saw that Nature, on the other hand, could work through many generations and geological eras in forming its selection of species.  Similarly, Christians believe that God’s working is much larger than the scope of any individual’s life.

I guess that some people rejoice in the vision of Nature as an inevitable force of evolutionary progress.  A return to existence-less dust isn’t very exciting, but I can see how this is encouraging: We suck.  A book about breeding animals and survival of the fittest has a digression about the fallibility of man.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s a reminder that we are not good.

But, if we are merely cogs in the impersonal gears of the evolutionary machine of Nature, there will be no consequences.  A lack of eternal life doesn’t sound fun, but it’s very non-threatening!

All joking aside, it really caught me off guard to read this in Origin.  I was expecting to try and draw out theological issues but in this case it required no extra effort.  This is obviously not the crux nor even a main point of Darwin’s tome, but I wanted to highlight it.  I’ve arrived at the end of the section on Man’s selection and next is a section on Sexual Selection.  Will it be full of spice or dullness?  We’ll see…

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The inferior scrutiny of man

Posted by Chris on March 28, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related posts.

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It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being…

In my Kindle version of the Origin of Species I highlighted several pages consecutively comparing the scrutiny and effectiveness of Natural Selection vs Man’s Selection.  Darwin clearly believes that Man’s selection is inferior not only in its results, and not only in its abilities (as stated above), but that the methodology of Man’s selection suffers several fatal flaws.  In theory, we could do a better job, that is, the result of human selective breeding of animals could end up with animal stock far better equipped for survival than what was actually produced.  What are these weaknesses?  And what parallels do I see with some aspect of Christian theology?

1. Man focuses too much on external appearances.

Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being.  She can act on every internal organ… on the whole machinery of life. ~Darwin

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.  1 Sam 16:7

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. Jn 7:24

The Bible, the source of Christian theology, and Darwin agree that Man generally focuses only on the external.  This method of judgment is in error, as a different kind of judgment is called “right” in John 7.  What is the right judgment?  1 Sam 16 says it is the judgment of the heart– an internal organ, the superior characteristic of Darwin.  There is a whole machinery of life that exists beyond the external.

2.  Man is only worried about himself.

Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends… the being is placed under well-suited conditions of life.  ~Darwin

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. Rom 8:28

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jer 29:11

Our selfishness only promotes our own good.  Generally, one’s self-promotion comes at the expense of something or someone else.  Yet the promotion of the good of another tends to result in universal benefit.  There are numerous secular examples of this principle in human society.  Darwin saw nature as an invisible hand, guiding its subjects to their greatest good.  Christian theology teaches that God works all things together for the good of his subjects and that he has a plan set in advance of how he will do this.  This is called the “Sovereignty” of God.

This point of Darwin creates a tangent to this post about how Darwin’s writing shows a rejection and rebellion against some common ideas that were grounded in a Christian, theistic view of the world.  Darwin calls the invisible force nature– I call it God.

3. Man lacks discernment & wisdom

Man keeps the natives of many climates in the same country; he feeds a long and short beaked pigeon on the same food; he exposes sheep with long and short wool to the same climate… nature is scrutinising every variation. ~Darwin

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14

It’s not that man knows nothing about breeding animals, or true religion.  We are more educated than ever.  Darwin affirms that man, in his power of selection, has “produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means.”  But there’s so much he’s missing!  Man’s selection is quite inferior when compared to natural selection.  There are two problems.  First there’s an error of discernment, which I’ll define as the application of wisdom.  Darwin, as an unbiased observer, can see how some of the breeder’s methods led to inferior results.  There was wisdom available not being used– an error of discernment.  But, there was also wisdom lacking– my reading of Darwin is that neither he nor the breeder’s would know exactly what food to give different kinds of pigeons.  Man fails because of lack of wisdom.

Similarly, humans lack discernment and wisdom spiritually.  In Romans 1, Paul writes that God’s nature has been clearly seen and revealed but people, though they knew God, thought they claimed to be wise, embraced foolishness by ignoring this knowledge.  This is an error of spiritual discernment.  Furthermore, in Corinthians we see that there are some things that are not seen because one can only see them with spiritual eyes.  This ties in with the reference from the previous point about judging the heart.

4. Man does not value purity

He does not rigidly destroy all inferior animals, but protects during each varying season, as far as lies in his power, all his productions… Can we wonder that nature’s productions should be… infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship? ~Darwin

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.  Lk 5:8

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘TheLord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Ex 33:18-20

Inferior animals still hold value to man, as his objective is selfish (to feed his family, sell for money, etc…) rather than the permanent improvement of a species.  For this reason, nature’s results are infinitely better.  My point here is not that Man should kill weak animals, just as it is not true that God kills weak men (if that were true, this blog would not exist).  Rather, to again focus on principles– in this case, the holiness of God.  Holiness is attributed to God as a description of the separation between God because of his high moral character and sinful people.  Thus Peter, recognizing God in flesh, asks him to leave!  His concern is justified.  And the Lord compromises with Moses in order to grant his request but also protect Moses from the brilliance of his holiness.

We no more value purity in animals than we do in our own lives.  Some value purity in their food, eating only organic.  Some value purity of lifelong chastity or not owning a television.  But no one neither desires purity nor attains it in very many aspects of life.  Nature, however, is not distracted by its desires and promotes purity of life in the eyes of Darwin.  God in his holiness does not expose himself to impure things, thus our need for Jesus in order to enter the presence of God.

Summary

Because of these four characteristics of man as a natural breeder and spiritual being, we fall short of the standards of Nature in its selective ability according to Darwin, and according to God’s standards according to the Bible.  The Bible and Darwin harmonize in their accounts of the flaws of man and the superiority of an invisible force accomplishing what man cannot.  In fact, Darwin gives a beautiful summary in the excerpt I italicized above, that nature’s work is of higher workmanship.  That sentence would find good company in many volumes of theology.

No one should mistake this book for good theology, however, again I see Darwin touching on similar themes to scripture and correctly identifying philosophical attributes of man.  Regardless of the scientific facts about evolution, I believe this points to greater theological questions ultimately answered by Christian theology.

In the next post, I will comment on one more shortcoming of Man presented by Darwin in this section that deserved its own space.

Posted in Devotions from Darwin | 3 Comments »

Man’s power of selection

Posted by Chris on March 10, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related posts.

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We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature.  But Natural Selection… is a power incessantly ready for action…

Darwin spends quite a bit of time on man’s power of selection, though, as you see in the last part of the above quote, only to compare it to (what he considers to be) the superior power of Natural Selection.

Darwin gives many examples of breeders of different types of domesticated species and their ability to affect changes in a breed within a few generations.  Talented breeders bragged that they could create any physical trait if they tried.

That was a simpler world.  Today, when we speak of modified animals and food, very complicated ethical and practical questions arise.  I am going to discuss man’s power of selection to modify a stock of animals, but ask the reader to suspend modern worries and criticism of the practice and consider a pre-agricultural and pre-industrial revolution period.  The only tool for modification of species was selective breeding.

In this post, I will simply present an argument from scripture that what Darwin calls Man’s power of selection is in accord with Christian theology.  This may not surprise anyone, but my point is not to make an ethical argument, but to continue a study comparing Christian Creation theology with what I’m reading about in The Origin of Species.

In Genesis 1, God creates all things, and all are called good.  Occurring before the Fall in chapter 3, Christians believe that all things in creation are therefore inherently good.  That being said, products of God’s creation can be used for evil purposes; used with impure motives; etc… and defiled from their inherent goodness.  But if we interact with Creation as intended by God, we not only do not sin, but we do something good– we glorify God and enjoy what He made enjoyable.

In Genesis 30, Jacob puts into practice “man’s power of selection.”  He identifies strong and weak animals, and through selective mating, ensures that he gets the strongest.  (The methodology borrows from the supernatural, and Jacob is able to accomplish the feat without breeding for several generations).  The principle is the same.

I deduce that Jacob’s actions were good, and therefore “man’s power of selection” for two reasons.  First, God was with Jacob.  In fact, God enables this blessing by supernaturally aiding Jacob.  God would not aid him in sinning.  Second, because God made creation good, with the capability to be bred, and gave Adam the mandate to rule over it, man has the unique role as steward of animals.  And one way man stewards domesticated animals is by selective breeding.  In and of itself, Man’s power of selection is good.

As a summary: Man’s power of selection, that is to selectively breed animals in order to create the best stock, is good, because it is an ability that comes from God.  Furthermore, this is affirmed by the biblical precedent of Jacob in Genesis 30.

Things that come from God are good, as long as we don’t abuse them.

So far, Darwin’s theories and Creation Theology are in perfect harmony.

Posted in Devotions from Darwin | 1 Comment »

 
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