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Muzi on Evolution
“Man is entering a new phase in his and her self-consciousness, planetary, pluralist and historical; and human society a new phase of global conflict or community. The ideas of our new life together must themselves be new”,
W. Cantwell Smith.
I need to start by making a confession. I always thought that the idea that human beings came from apes was brought about by evolutionary scientists until Professor Richard Dawkins made me aware that no scientist has ever said that. This is what Preachers tell us ‘scientist say’. I thought back at how I first heard the story and realized that the propaganda has always been spread by preachers opposed to scientists. I guess this was an attempt to cynically exploit our ignorance. I had to do my own research then. Today I know that human beings are not descendents from monkeys. We did not evolve from monkeys, as preachers have always managed, successfully I must say to misconstrue this. We share a common ancestor with monkeys. This statement makes all the difference. There are currently five theories (all are theories) of interpreting Genesis 1-2:
- The literal theory – a theory that many of us who grew under the influence of United States fundamentalists knew very well.
- Gap theory – this is a slight modification of number one. Creation scientists (mostly from the US again) promote the theory of a gap between verse 1 and two in Genesis 1.
- Day-age theory – that the “days” of Genesis 1 could have been a million or billions of years.
- Superstition theory – the Biblical accounts are just superstition of no value beyond showing the ignorance of ancient people.
- Contextual theory – this is the theory I support and this article is based on this theory. The creation narratives were never intended to provide a scientific account of creation and should not be interpreted literally but should be interpreted literarily. I hold my position and respect Christians who hold other positions and hope they will respect my position.
Of all the fights the Church has ever fought, the evolution and homosexuality ones must be and has to be the most acrimonious ones. Once these two battles are lost/won, it is finished. There are no more battles left, I hope by the year 2050 this battle will be over. We will look in our rear view mirror of our Christian past and count evolution and homosexuality amongst the - has been battles - like women emancipation, slavery, racism, and ethnocentrism. The evolution battle will still be bitter though, because of its implications. If the Bible is found wanting in its account of creation (genesis of everything), how could we be sure of it anywhere? There is however a difference between the truth of the Bible and literal truth. As long as we seek the literal truth of the Bible we will miss the truth of the Bible. The Bible is not true because of its literal truth, it is true because of the truth that is deeper than literal (Thanks to Marcus Borg for this insight). I did a lot of research and personal soul searching before I decided to write on this subject. I am aware of the rejection and anger that this will bring. I decided to write this and get done with this issue so that there will be no more issues to be fought on my side. I am writing this chapter for the many who have asked me to contribute as a Christian, on a topic that is getting popular faster than the Church can cope. For those who desire to explore faith in the 21st century I will continue and give my piece of what I have researched so far. It is not finite nor is it absolute truth. The reality of God is not dependent on the validity of creation Science; it is misleading to say that the evolution debate within the scientific community is over. The debate is far from over. Some within the scientific community now say that evolution is so problematic that it cannot be believed. They are not prepared to embrace a creation story, but neither can they believe evolution – the faith required is simply too great. There is far too little data to support either theory. Until we get a theory more convincing than the evolution one we will stick with evolution as most western institutions have done. I hope I can write about the relationship between Christian faith and the natural sciences without being divisive. Obviously, many people within the evangelical tradition, which I claim as my own, including some friends and family members, hold strong views that differ from mine. I don’t write to dismiss those people, whose fellowship I greatly value.
I truly believe that we Christians should drastically change the way in which we tell our story. The idea of evolution seems like a deadly challenge to the Bible, and to such fundamental Christian beliefs as the existence of God and the creation of the world by God. We may doubt the reality of God but we can never doubt the reality of evolution. We are today in a better position to understand that human languages, cultures, cities, countries and religious doctrines have evolved and are still evolving. Our languages are no longer original; they have evolved into something our ancestors could never understand. I have had the opportunity of observing whole empty hectares of land slowly evolve into a fully fledged city with industries, houses, freeways, feeders, etc. We have evolved from egg and sperm combinations and are still evolving. All languages, concepts, and doctrines are human inventions. If all fails, we can then relax in saying that God is Evolution and Evolution is God. I make a distinction between God and Evolution. Bear with me and be tolerant with me as I tell my story of God through the theory of evolution. I understand and am tolerant of the fact that this may not be your way of telling the story of God.
Simon Conway Morris is a professor of evolutionary paleo-biology at Cambridge University and Fellow of the Royal Society of England. He is said to be the world’s leading living palaeontologist. In his book Life’s Solutions He opens it with this disclaimer, “If you happen to be a creation scientist’ (or something of that kind) and have read this far, may I politely suggests that you put this book back on the shelf. It will do you no good. Evolution is true, it happens, it is the way the world is, and we are one of its products. This does not mean that evolution does not have metaphysical implications; I remain convinced that this is the case”. I concur with Morris and believe the metaphysical has been active in the orchestration of the evolutionary process. I am not aware of any other parallel theory so far. There is an inherent metaphysical plan in the evolutionary development of life. The two are not mutually exclusive. They can co-exist. The God of evolution is the one inviting us to participate in the ongoing creation of the universe. It is only when we change our God concept that evolution becomes a possibility. If the Church is failing to live up to some of the cultural challenges presented to it, or is not engaging questions of truth with integrity, I believe it’s part of my calling to offer whatever small contribution I can, relating to areas God has prompted and enabled me to study, towards reforming how we as the Church contextualize the gospel and represent truth. I hasten to say that I will be the first to dump this truth once a new or more convincing worldview emerges. We as believers may differ on many things, but what we should respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of new information. I do not hold my evolution convictions dogmatically. I am aware of the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, amongst other scientists, concerning "punctuated evolution" and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory. It is quite wide as well as quite deep, but I am convinced it will be resolved by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication and name calling. Gerald L Schroeder is a Jewish physicist and theologian who do not believe in the New Testament and its Messiah. In his book The Science of God, he raises different models of evolution. His theories would be very interesting if it was not for the many Old Testament verses (extrapolated from ancient Hebrew) that He uses to support these scientific theories.
We need to understand that the origins of our modern science are rooted in scientists like Darwin, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Einstein, Bacon, Newton, Leibnitz, etc who were also religious believers and visionaries who just wanted to do what they were born to do. 500 years after the Catholic Church forced Galileo to recant his findings that the earth revolved around the sun, Pope John Paul II, apologized on behalf of the Church. These scientists have been attacked and even killed for doing what they were born to do. It was only in 1991 (40 years after space travel began) that the Catholic Church apologized for the way Galileo was treated. The church has truly entered the 21st century in its consciousness. Many Christians do not even know who Darwin was let alone reading Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but they are very vocal in their opposition to evolution. In the closing lines of the final edition published during his lifetime, 1872, Darwin wrote, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms of one”. The fact that Darwin’s theory of evolution has been embraced by an avid, hard core atheist par excellence, like Professor Dawkins does not remove the fact of Darwin’ religious upbringing. We’re hard on our scientists, we, doctrine and dogma-driven Christians–we who sometimes use religion as a form guilt, fear, and control. We who parrot the party line without stopping to think what we’re saying or why. Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin, and a host of other scientists felt the wrath of our kind in their time. Quick to condemn, slow apologizing for getting it wrong. The Christian church has so often has been visibly afraid of contending with new thought. When our faith condemns Galileo and Copernicus, resists Darwin; it is seen to be encouraging a ghetto religious mentality. We have to understand the twenty first century as place where the search for truth and justice is held to be the highest virtue. It not an age for a religious tradition that hides and resists with passion and anger the world's emerging new consciousness that relegates the prejudices of yesterday, like racism, sexism and homophobia, to the dustbin of history. We need to consciously give our world a glimpse of what the church of tomorrow might be like.
It is a tragedy that the Church officially resisted Darwin for the last 150 years, but that is quite typical of church leaders' behaviour. I repeat that, we need to remember that it was in December of 1991 that the Vatican finally admitted that Galileo was correct. This was about 40 years after space travel had begun. If Galileo had not been correct, our spacecraft would have collided with the sky that separated heaven from earth. I know the reason for this resistance; Charles Darwin attacks the basic Christian myth of a perfect creation, the fall into sin, the divine rescue carried out by Jesus and the restoration through faith to our status as those created in the image of God. If we evolved from single cells into complex self-conscious creatures then there was no perfection from which to fall, no fall into sin, no need for a divine rescue and no capacity to be restored to something which we have never been. This means that we need to rethink the whole way of telling the Jesus story, and this reformulation will threaten church leaders deeply. Clergy on Sunday mornings can no longer address "fallen sinners." The mantra that "Jesus died for my sins" will have to be retired. The traditional meaning of the Lord’s Supper will have to be revised. We will have to recognize that we are now addressing not those who need to be rescued from a fall but those who have not yet achieved the status of being fully human. Jesus must then empower us to be fully human.
Christian people can no longer live in denial. Religious objections to evolution are telling. Evolution forces us to entertain a new definition of what it means to be human. Human beings are in fact part of an unfolding unity called life. We are deeply connected with all living things, from the apes to cabbages. The unique thing about human beings is that in us this reality called life has entered full self-consciousness. The theory of evolution can scarcely be questioned today. There are attempts within Christian circles that have finally accepted this reality and are trying to let it co-exist with creation theology. Humanity is not just a product of evolution but has become an agent of evolution, as we have discussed before. Charles Darwin’s thesis is now accepted academically across the world. Evolution is taught in fourth-grade science books. Medical science assumes its truth and the discovery of DNA took away the last vestige of the suggestion that it was still "an unproved theory." The fact that there are some benighted souls in the world, who believe that quoting the book of Genesis can somehow counter the insights of Charles Darwin, or that it is their Christian duty to resist Darwin, is hardly determinative in the debate. Today the discovery of DNA and the subsequent recognition of the interrelatedness of all living things has fairly well clinched the argument in Darwin's favour. There is universal acceptance of his theory in intellectual circles. The study of genetics assumes it. The fields of biochemistry and biophysics have it as their prerequisite. Evolution has won the day. Religious opposition is now little more than a minor skirmish fought on the battlefield along the major retreat routes of religious thinking. Darwin had signalled the fact that religion would have to change dramatically, perhaps even die, before human beings would understand the very meaning of life.
Evolution and faith collide ONLY when there is a strict anthropomorphic sky God of theism involved. If we allow our image of God to move past the ancient superstitious ideas of a “person who created nature” or a sky God as an object living outside the earth who came to take a stroll at the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, then the conflict between evolution and faith goes way. A belief in literal Adam and Eve, literal six day creation, literal God living on the earth himself and even taking a literal rest in the garden, - these presuppose a delusion so profound that no reasoning can possibly break it. It would be a futile attempt to even continue with this chapter if you believe these are not just symbolic myths but things that happened literally. So, now to touch on the religious aspects of this thought; the Bible says that God took six days to create heaven and earth. So, if taken “literally”, then creation wouldn’t be able to co-exist with evolution. But, there “literally” wasn’t any such thing as “time” before the earth was created, at least in the sense that we are familiar with time. In that case, God had plenty of “time” to create the heaven and earth; you could even say that God “created” evolution. It seems to me, that the evolution of science is creating the proof that the universe did have a “Creator”. Science is simply explaining the process of evolution that the “Creator” used to create. That makes sense, right? The German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) was the first person see the whole reality as a unity where both the physical and the spiritual world are affirmed as one evolving process. Another heresy! This one is called panentheistic monism. Human self-consciousness was not to be thought of as something apart from God (or Ultimate Reality) but as its manifestation in a finite form. In other words, the One who was traditionally conceived as the Author of change had become identified with the process of change itself. Hegel suggested these fifty years before Darwin’s theory of evolution began to grip the European mind.
The New Testament warns Christians time after time against the distortions that come when churches forget that their purpose is not to conquer, to dominate or even to shape the world. The New Testament assumes that Christians will never be more than a determining minority. Christians are to be the saving remnant, light in the darkness, salt in the soup and leaven in the loaf. The age of Christian domination of the western world has long passed, yet institutional Christianity still pretends to have vast power and it still assumes that people listen to its medieval pronouncements, holding steadfastly to these illusions even when death surrounds it. No Christian future is to be found there. In February this year the Vatican sponsored a five-day conference on evolution, marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin's "Origin of Species." The current Pope is a German professional theologian (a first in the Catholic Church’s history). The Pope believes that Christianity and Evolution can co-exist. It is a tragedy that the Church officially resisted Darwin for the last 150 years, but that is quite typical of church leaders' behaviour. The Vatican finally admitted that Galileo was correct even though Galileo was killed by the Church for his scientific discovery. No wonder self confessed atheist, Christopher Hitchens asked, “How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then—after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty—to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas?”
The Evolution Story
Every world we humans construct is based on a story. The old Christian story has come to be questioned by the evolution of a new world and has to be replaced by a new story. We do not have to throw the bible away in the new story. The Bible will continue to be the means through which we interact with the Word of God. The words of the Bible are not the words of God. There is a difference. We need to deliberately and consciously walk the narrow edge as we read the Bible for our generation. We need to find divine wisdom to have the bible read into our new story as opposed to reading our new story into the bible. This chapter will attempt to do just that. It is no accident that the first serious signs of the crisis now faced by the Christian world appeared in the nineteenth century, for it was then that biblical criticism began to cause the erosion of the biblical story, and the Darwinian theory of biological evolution opened the way for the new story of the earth and human origins. Let us look at this new story. It is important to begin this inquiry by moving as close as we can to that which was the literal beginning of life as told by those who have researched these things. How did human beings become so different from animals? What makes them fight and develop nuclear weapons capable of destroying the whole of humanity in moments?
The theologian Paul Tillich called it “the shock of nonbeing”. The father of psychology, Sigmund Freud, called it “the trauma of self-consciousness.” It is the human capacity to be fully self-conscious that marks us human beings as different from any other form of life in the natural world. That separating difference is what fills human beings with a sense of dread. Anxiety, says Paul Tillich, is born in the human recognition of finitude. To be human is to experience self-consciousness, to know separation, to be made aware of limits, and to contemplate ends. One cannot be human, therefore, without being filled with chronic anxiety. It sounds depressing, but it is true.
The universe is estimated to be no less than 15 billion years old.The tiny planet we call earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. The universe is in fact, billions of times bigger and more complex than people have previously thought. Our sun is a small star among the billion or more which make up our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of more than a billion such galaxies. The planet earth is but the tiniest speck within a vast cosmic sea of nebulae. This planet is of supreme importance to us, but to the rest of the universe it is largely insignificant and irrelevant. The earliest form of life appeared on this planet as a single cell within the first billion years of this planet’s history. Three billion years later a move from mono-cellular to multi-cellular life was accomplished. Five hundred million years ago animals began appearing in the oceans and plant life began to edge in the rivers and finally onto the land itself. Fifty million years later amphibian creatures with lungs and gills appeared. 250 million years ago what is now known as “the age of dinosaurs” came into existence. 60 million years ago mammalian creatures started appearing near the grasslands of eastern Africa. Human life was still a long from arriving 60 million years ago when most of the living creatures that inhabited this planet were born, lived, and died with no consciousness of themselves. They had no conscious awareness of who they were or what they were doing. These living creatures were apparently content simply to follow the natural path of being born, growing to maturity, meeting basic needs for food and water, mating or at least reproducing themselves, and dying. They defended their turf instinctively when it was invaded, or they fled, if necessary, from whatever apparent danger they perceived. This was long, long before the dawn of a human being or Homo sapiens on the planet earth. Actually, the word G-o-d entered the human vocabulary only six (6) thousand years ago when human being’s evolution developed language. God was not called God then but that is another story. The symbol of God changed to God the Father when Jesus further took this evolution to another level.
Depending on how one defines human life, this creature could be as old as two million years, if Homo erectus is considered human, or as young as 50 to 100 thousand years, if full self-conscious and language form our definition of humanity. On the time scale of the earth, we emerged on this planet very late indeed. We human beings have evolved from the earth to the ocean life, from the ocean life to the animal kingdom thousands of years ago and are still evolving. I know and understand that our dignity is hurt when we find ourselves described as animals. This evolution has not been without pain for the human race. The Apostle Paul attests to this in Romans 8: 26 “the whole of creation groans in pain”. We’ve seen this pain in the world wars, the holocaust, the civil wars, colonization, the tsunamis, earthquakes etc. The concept of a God who could have prevented these calamities but didn’t is changing as our perception of God evolves. There has been more change in the last 400 years than in the previous 1500 years. There has been more change in the last 100 years of the twentieth century than in the previous 60 years. There has been faster change in the last 30 years than in the whole twentieth century. Since 1994 when cell phones and the internet were introduced the networking environment has taken gigantic leaps that are even hard to track. What is coming by 2050 will be much more than the change of the past 100 years. Those who will be living in the year 5000 will look back at us and think how barbaric we were in the language we use today. They will be reading in the media of their time about people who lived 3000 years ago and who believed in the literal virgin birth, the literal resurrection and expected a literal return of Jesus Christ. How barbaric were these people, they will ask?
In the year 8000 those who will be living will see the once who lived in the year 5000 as barbaric and we will be seen as real medieval stone-age people. The cars we drive today and the technology we use will be similar to camels and dove communication in the olden days. What kind of life will be here on earth 250 million years from today? Cloned Robots only maybe! Maybe the universe will look back in wonder that millions and millions of years ago, there lived creatures called human beings (like we wonder about dinosaurs), these creatures turned themselves into suicide bombers, flew planes filled with other creatures into buildings full of their own, killed millions of their own, all in reverence to some books they called ‘holy books’. They believed in a deity they used to call God. This God of their holy books ordered them to kill. They killed their own scientists who came with discoveries contradicting these holy books. They killed laymen who were found with these holy books in their possession. They killed their own who translated these holy books. They punished anyone who disagreed with their holy books. They killed those who read ‘wrong’ holy books. They killed those who ate food not prescribed in the holy books. They killed those whose behaviour did not align with the holy books. They killed their own scientists who came with discoveries contradicting these holy books. They killed their own who translated these holy books. They punished anyone who disagreed with their holy books. They killed those whose behaviour did not align with the holy books. Human beings will have long disappeared from the face of the earth then. Human beings will have long, long disappeared from the face of the earth, just like dinosaurs, then. Did the writer of Ecclesiastes think about the above when He coined these words, ‘Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity’ (Eccl. 1:1) Translated in today’s language, ‘Emptiness, emptiness, everything is empty! ‘So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. ‘Everything is meaningless – like chasing the wind (Eccl. 2:7)’
‘What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can......I also thought about the human condition – how God proves to people that they are like animals. For people and animals share the same fate – both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place – they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down to earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here! No one will bring us back from death to enjoy life after we die. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12; 18 -22)
Contrast what you have just read here with these facts: we today make the world we live in, we live in the houses we build, we dress in the clothes we make, and much of the food we eat is processed by human hands. We identify the objects and phenomena in the world by the names we have created. The scientific laws by which we explain the world are all largely the construction of the human mind. And the world which occupies our attention day by day – business, work, sport, entertainment, the arts, books, television, radio, space ships, luxury ships, aeroplanes, internet, wireless phones and so on – is part of a culture created by our species. We see and understand the world through the lens of spectacles we have made. These human beings who have this ability emerged in their present form no later than 40 thousand years ago from pre-human species. We say God created the world through human hands. We human beings are partners with God even though we are transitory and disappear so quick from the universe.