Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Series: Devotions from Darwin

Posted by Chris on March 7, 2010

I’m going to start another series of posts (perhaps I’ll even finish it?) inspired by reading The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin’s famous work that at least popularly is considered the introduction of the theory of evolution.  First, I want to explain a) my beliefs about evolution, that is, my biases and preconceived ideas apart from reading the book, because I know that people expect one to approach a book like his either as a huge fan or critic, and b) to explain why I decided to read this book in the first place.  I would assume that very few people read it these days, in fact, that many proponents of evolution have never read it.  And I think that’s okay.

My beliefs about Evolution

  1. Micro-evolution: I believe in.  I’m not aware of anyone who does not.  As far as I understand it, micro-evolution is the idea that species evolve and adapt over time while remaining one species.
  2. Intermediate evolution (a term I’m making up) I believe.  I would not have thought of this without reading the first part of the book.  Darwin spends a lot of ink talking about the debates that naturalists had about defining variations v. different species.  Take a breeder of pigeons.  He is likely to provide a list with many species of pigeons, because small differences are very acute to his perception, whereas a general naturalist might only define a few species of pigeons but with each having sub-variations.  Ultimately, Darwin says, whether something is called a species or variation is immaterial to his greater argument about the origin of species, because he is after what causes these variations. I don’t think anyone should argue with this idea either, because Darwin writes extensively about domesticated animals, and we have seen all around us that man can do much to determine the characteristics of animals just by selective breeding.  (incidentally, this is how Darwin came up with the term “Natural” selection for the process behind evolution).  Thus, intermediate evolution results in the development of new species but within the same genus (category).
  3. Macro-evolution, generally (not of people).  I am unsure.  My answer is that it depends on some historical and theological answers that I also don’t have (see below).  If I was putting money on it, here’s what I’d say.  I would say yes, that animals have evolved beyond small variations, but on this taxonomic chart,
    Biological classification chart

    Thanks to whoever stole this from a textbook.

    it would not be at the not-life to life or kingdom levels, but perhaps somewhere in the class to family levels.  In other words, the pigeon and condor may share a common ancestor, but not the jellyfish and the robin.  Maybe that’s really stupid intellectually and faithless theologically, but I’m just being honest.  And as I said, I’m unsure– this is a guess, placing odds in the middle.   It’s not something I’m very interested in.

  4. Macro-evolution (as the source of human life & the greater universe).  On one hand I’m unsure, but I also feel stronger about it.  Furthermore, there’s a large dose of agnosticism in my view on human evolution.  I’m going to break my answer down into two parts: one scientific/practical (what I think actually happened), one theological (what it means).  You may not care that much about my long-winded answers.  Feel free to scroll to the next bold heading to see why I decided to read the book.  I do give a summary of each view in italics at the end of each section.

a) SCIENTIFIC ANSWER . For starters, I know relatively little about evolution– I’ll know more after I finish this book.  Nothing is off the table to me.  I will entertain anything from “young-earthers” (the idea that God created the earth in a literal 6-day period ~6000 years ago) to more moderate Creationists, to backers of Intelligent Design, to evolutionary biologists that say we came from monkeys.  My theological view could fit with all of them.  Well, except that I don’t know the differences between ID and Evolution all that well– if the only difference for some is whether or not God is guiding it, then I’d stop at ID.  Neither my scientific nor theological view would consider a scenario that leaves God out.  Because of my theological view, I am agnostic as the scientific answer wouldn’t affect me that much.  My agnosticism is not naivety or snobbery or fear.   Again, I’ll give what I find most likely– once again, the middle ground.  I’ll take an earth older than 6,000 years, more like millions or billions or however old the universe is.  I’ll take the Big Bang because of the ever-expanding universe.  And if I was being really crazy, I suppose that there were two kinds of human beings: There were some that were chosen/created directly by God as the ancestors of his covenant people (Adam), and others that were created either simultaneously or pre-existed Adam.  Adam did not evolve from monkeys.  Concerning other potential people, I cannot and will not hazard a guess as to whether they evolved from other primates.  So to summarize: The universe has a finite life; the earth was created as part of the creation/expansion of the universe; people were not necessarily created physically through one man, Adam, from dust (though I don’t rule it out).

b) THEOLOGICAL ANSWER. I know and care a lot more about creation theology than evolutionary biology.  I’ll admit to some snobbery here: I think it’s more important and more interesting.  I think that Creation Theology is a really big circle, of which evolutionary biology is a small part.  Creation theology comprises much more about human life, existence, and the future than just “how we got here.”  And no, I’m not talking about the Bible v. Evolution.  I’m talking only about what Genesis 1-2 teach vs. the theory of evolution.  Simply, Genesis 1-2 would be like a book, and the theory of evolution would be a section in a short chapter in that book.  Maybe it would get a bold heading.  What do I do with the Creation story (the six days)?  I don’t read it literally or allegorically.  I think the way that would best describe how I read it would be as a cross between a parable and a myth– each of those terms properly understood.  We think of parables as illustrations that teach a lesson, but the Greek word means comparison.  Thus, if Jesus tells a parable about types of soil, the point of the story is that Jesus is comparing soil to something (people) and the way seed grows in the soil to the way the Gospel grows in different types of people.  One would miss much of what is being taught if the lesson was thought to be simply: “Be good soil.”  Myths are not just made up stories about Greek gods.  Merriam Webster defines a myth as: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”  Therefore, the word myth could just as rightly applied to a story of historical events that serves to explain a natural phenomenon, as a story about made up gods and how they judge people.  Before you send your hate mail, please re-read that definition.  Thus, myths are common in many traditional cultures and there are many similar myths because everyone has asked the same questions about life: Where do we come from?  Is there a God? etc…

So I believe that Genesis 1-2 is a myth in that it tells us what God wants us to know about creation.  A literal explanation alone would lack the richness of what we have.  Perhaps we do have a literal story, but that’s a BONUS, not the heart of the matter.  As a myth, it should be the source of our worldview about creation, mine which I will explain shortly.  I also call it a parable, because it is a passage of the Bible that comes alive along with other scripture through an amazing synergistic process.  I will give some examples of this as well.

So I don’t ask how the earth was created.  I find theological truths.  The origin of earth? Gen 1:1- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  That fits with the Big Bang.  It fits with young-earthers.  It fits with the macro-evolution of species.  I won’t restate these points, but it’s the same for all the theology I’ll include below.  In verse 3, we get more specificity that leads people to speculate “how” or “how fast” God does creation: ” ‘And God said, Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  This is my best and favorite example of parable, and why Creation Theology is bigger than evolution.  In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we are reminded of the mythological explanation, and given the comparison: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  What’s the better miracle: Jesus healing a blind man and giving him sight, or the salvation of John Newton, a former trouble-maker and captain of a slave ship who never lacked physical vision but wrote “I once was blind, but now I SEE”??  The light of the gospel is like the ceiling light of your bedroom, which gives you the ability to make sense of your surroundings, compared to our solar star which is like a book light that illuminates a paragraph or two in front of your face.  I better appreciate and understand the process by which God plants the gospel in my heart through this parabolic connection of Gen 1 and 2 Cor 4.  I worry less about whether God literally spoke english words, or caused a big bang, or whatever to make the sun, and how long it took, because when I’m reading Gen 1:3 I’m re-checking all the references to scripture that have nothing to do with the practical act.  Spend some time in the six days of creation, Genesis chapter 1.  Follow it all over your Bible.

Rather than give other examples, I’ll trust that the above is the best I can do to explain why I read Gen 1 as myth and parable.  Having that view enables me to worry less about the scientific and makes the scientific facts, whatever they may be, jive with my theological beliefs about creation.  However, I want to come back to the original topic, which is Evolution.  It cannot be addressed without addressing creation, because the two are inseparable in traditional Christian belief.  There are two versions of the creation of humans in Genesis 1-2.  The first, in Genesis 1, is very similar to the picture I drew about creation of light.  We learn that God creates man “in his own image”, commands him to be fruitful, etc… Genesis 2 gives the account about God creating man from the dust of the ground, and woman from his rib.

This second story is less like the first, than the first is a reflection of the other days of creation in Genesis 1.  However, I read it similarly.  The description of how God created man and woman is contained in 3 verses: 8, 21, 22.  But we get a lot of other good stuff: Mandates to care for creation; A tree that serves as a parable of our struggle between good and evil, sin and righteousness; the goodness of God to provide woman for man; and a theology of marriage.  My take away from the two creation events is that not only did God create man (or serve as the cause of the creation of man), but that it is a personal event.  Adam was personally known and cared for by God.  Thus, if people evolved from monkeys, there was at least a person chosen by God to be in communion with him, and God had to supernaturally act in this man’s life in some way to do it.  (I don’t consider this set of circumstances likely, remember).  In my practical belief, I explained that I thought there may have been other peoples on the earth that did not descend from Adam.  This is a scientific belief that I draw from the historicity of scripture– simply that Cain left the area where his parents lived, and feared that he might be treated with hostility elsewhere by other people.  To my knowledge, the Bible never says that all men literally descended from Adam.  However, the line of descent of God’s people in the Old Testament, and more generally, the point at which we begin tracing a spiritual heart of man is with Adam.  Thus, Adam introduces sin in the world, and condemnation (Romans 5:12).

So to summarize, I think that the Creation account of Gen 1-2 shouldn’t be limited to an alternate or complementary narrative to the theory of evolution.  It explains much more about us, the Bible, and God.  Therefore, theology matters to me a lot more than evolutionary biology.  But, in order to make an attempt to explain my beliefs, I asserted the view of scripture that God created the universe and the heavens, and everything else.  This is stated as fact.  Furthermore, other parts of creation, such as light, can be viewed as a myth that explains the source while acting as a parable to give us a greater significance.  The greatest light God speaks into being appears in the darkness of our hearts, rather than over the darkness of the earth.  Finally, I view the 2 accounts of the creation of man with some uncertainty as to how God acted, but with certainty that God was responsible and again, that we learn many other things far superior to the methodology of creating man.

Why I decided to read the book

  1. Intellectual Curiosity.  I like to read some of these famous, influential books for myself.  Recently, I read The Prince by Machiavelli for similar reasons.  Not because I care that much about political or war strategies in Italy hundreds of years ago.
  2. To learn more about Evolution, but more specifically to learn more about the attitude of those who feel strongly about evolution.
  3. To have more credibility when talking to people who believe in Evolution.  And to be honest and self-centered, so that I could say to someone who is trying to cram it down my throat as a reason God doesn’t exist, “I’ve read The Origin of Species, have you?”  Not that it makes me smarter, or more interested in it, but to show that I’m not afraid of it and to give reason for the other person to stop and be as considerate and open-minded as I try to be.
  4. I got it for really cheap on the Amazon Kindle.  I would’ve never paid retail.  It’s important to note that I pay retail for very few books- most books I purchase come used from thrift stores or amazon.com.

All that being said, I had no intentions to blog about the book or all of this, until I read a passage in it tonight.  So now I’ll blog about that passage in the next post.  Click on the Devotions from Darwin category link for all posts under this topic.

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5 Responses to “Series: Devotions from Darwin”

  1. […] Series: Devotions from Darwin […]

  2. […] power of selection 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 […]

  3. […] 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, […]

  4. […] 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, […]

  5. […] 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, […]

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