Thursday, 24 January 2013

Evolution and the Theory of Evolution

I want to speak about the theory of evolution in the main, here, and the fact that it can be recognized as a viable creationist theory... mostly because people keep asking me to do so. The whole purpose for doing so is that in the land of fundamentalism, Protestantism, and Puritanical fearmongering, a.k.a. the United States of America, the word (evolution) has become anathema, even amongst Catholics and the Orthodox. Further, any benefit that Christians of every stripe might have gained from peering into the mysteries of evolution is corban (given to God), and if that is so, what benefit could possibly be gotten by taking up the query again since it has been laid at the foot of faith? They would take St. Thomas Aquinas out of context and use him as a buckler and say,"To one who has faith, no explanation (of creation) is necessary. To the one without faith, no explanation is possible (about how God did it)." Just let it roll. Stand your ground! Don't be ashamed to insist upon a literal translation of what the bible says in Genesis (because that is the same as taking the rest of it literally, right?)! It is the word of God! Well, I would suggest the exact opposite of that nonsense.

So, first things first. I want to give you a few quotes that are not out of context from dear St. Thomas Aquinas. Now, understand that I am not trying to prove evolution on St. Thomas' authority. I'm not making an ad verecundiam argument for, not by any means. But hear what he has to say," The truth of our faith becomes a matter of RIDICULE among the infidels (NON-BELIEVER) if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false." Well, what does that sound like? It's awfully familiar isn't it? That sounds exactly like the environment in America, doesn't it? And when the creationist gets ridiculed for his rejection of scientific fact, and for his hackneyed offerings he learned from one of the so-called 'Christian' pseudo-scientists, who is really often a sophist, he reckons himself a martyr. It truly is a cause for ridicule. It's sad, verging on pathetic.

Here's another quote from St. Thomas Aquinas," Beware the person of one book." That's rather ominous. Who does that sound like? It sounds precisely like the people who have fomented the divide between science and Christianity. It sounds like the children of the man who said," Reason is the enemy of faith." Martin Luther said that. In the recent years many Americans have given themselves to hating Islam, because Islam is unreasonable. Why is it unreasonable? Because they are a people of one book, a divine book, an eternal book: The Quran. When the Muslim looks at his life, or at the world, or the lives of others, and what he ought to do and believe his question is one," What does the Quran say?" or more exactly," What do I interpret the Quran to be telling me?" Do you know what the American Christian often says to himself, or herself, inflated with their individualism, intimidated by the authority of puritanical fundamentalism," What does the Bible say?" or more exactly," What do I interpret the Bible to be telling me?"

Understand this: Fundamentalism is the enemy of humanity. Man is a rational animal. Without reason he is merely an animal. His reason is part of the image of God in which he was created. His reason gives him dignity. Without it he cannot live. Man does not have claws, or fur, or a powerful sense of smell, nor does he have any peculiar strength, to survive by. It is reason by which man lives and thrives. Man literally could not survive without reason. So, isn't it a sign of the diabolical when the highest expression of man's dignity, his faith, excludes what makes him a man? Let me say that better: Isn't it evil if someone's religion destroys their humanity? And I'm not talking about holy mortification. I'm talking about a fundamental negation and ban on the exercise of what gives dignity to the hand-crafted creation, the only hand-crafted creation, which is man. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a child (Jesus), she replied back to him not in doubt, but in wonder (which is the desire for knowledge)," How can this be???" In a fundamentalist religion like Islam, that would be received a bit like this," How dare she! She is a woman! How dare she question the holy angel who is only permitted to speak by the will of Allah!" But in Christianity, true Christianity, her inquisitiveness is honored and recognized as an extension and expression of the dignity God gives humans, and the angel Gabriel gives her the reply she seeks. One is hateful to reason, the other embraces, encourages, and satisfies it. And I bring all this up because the general attitude is something like that there is an inherent impiety about evolutionary science. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, I want to talk about what evolution is not. It is not a possibility. It is a fact. We know that evolution happened. There is no question. No matter what any creationist snake oil salesman says, no matter if Billy Graham himself objects, we know that evolution happened. We know this with the same degree of certitude that we know we live in a heliocentric universe. We know that evolution happened with the same degree of certitude that we know the moon travels around the earth and not visa versa. It is a scientific fact. And this must be clearly understood. There is positively no question, whatsoever, that evolution is a fact in the teleology of the present. It is as fiduciary as the sunshine.

 What is not scientific fact is exactly how, or why, and sometimes when, evolution occurred. This is the theory. And there is nothing Godless about the theory. Unless you think that a theory that lacks a 'Far Side' character God walking around with a loud speaker calling things into existence and making man out of play-dough  circa 7,000 b.c. The theory of evolution is a forensic effort to put together the pieces of a puzzle 4.5 billion years in the making (the span of life on earth). Sometimes we make mistakes concerning this step or that, and an amendment in the theory is required. The theory of evolution is evolving itself as more comes to light. We've a lot to learn, to discover. It's really not so different from archaeology. All it is, ALL IT IS, is bringing the past to light, and nothing more. It is not some global scientific conspiracy to push God and his followers out of society and off the reservation. And neither is saying that there is no ocean above our heads, or that the world doesn't stand on pillars, which is the opposite of the fundamentalist-creationist assertion which insists upon a literal translation of Genesis. You don't dishonor God or stop being a "real" Christian because you believe in evolution, any more than you would cease to be one for denying that we have oceans over our heads and pillars under our feet.

"So then, apart from the fundamentalist fearmongering, which everyone else does, but not me and my friends/church... what's the problem with evolution? What's the big deal? Because I don't know anyone like you've described." Yeah. Okay, so the big deal is when this otherwise neutral science gets used in a charged way. Because of their intransigently anti-intellectual posture, America Christians have pigeon-holed themselves as idiots. There, I said it. And for a minority like atheists, your opponent is going to be the majority. In America, that means Protestant-Evangelicals. The argument over evolution is the nut-shot, the sucker punch. "Hit'em hard, hit'em fast. Things will get better from there." There is no way to recover from this once employed. There is no way for the traditional creationist to come away from the argument without looking like an idiot when it comes to the empirical. It automatically lumps you into the category of people who believe the earth is flat, or moon landing deniers. That is why the next thing you see in such debates is the Creationist trying to take the moral high-ground. What follows then is the atheist presents the problem of evil, theodicy... which the creationist cannot answer satisfactorily by any means. This leads to equivocation, which gives way to absurd abstraction and analogies being hurled against each other. The creationist starts quoting from the bible, which is like quoting Santa Claus to an Atheist, and therefore an exercise in stupidity. The atheist, starts demanding empirical, quantitative, evidence of God, which is stupid because God is said to be immeasurable, because he is not a creation in space-time. And the lowest common denominator reveals itself... the disagreement over whether or not God really exists. The debate was never about the veracity of evolutionary theory. It turns into a feud between people, who quite frankly deserve each other, and it all gets out of hand really fast.

So, set that aside, because that isn't part of the big deal. All that is mere drama, between two groups of fundamentalists who hate each other. There is really only one thing for a Christian to be on guard about, one question, one assertion: Polygenesis. Poly meaning many, and genesis meaning beginning: Many beginnings. That is the only thing that a Christian cannot budge on, that the human race has one origin: the hand of God. And that man has one set of parents: Adam and Eve. All other things in evolutionary theory may pass, but if any theory arises about humanity having many origins, it cannot be accepted. Well, what luck! because the science states just what the Christian professes to believe. Evolutionary science has narrowed down our beginnings to a single family. How about that! The handiwork of God, which is the evidence evolutionary science looks at, and His word agree. Science and faith in harmony. Who would have guessed it? There is literally no good reason not to believe in evolutionary theory apart from that one person or another might posit that they think polygenesis is viable. But that assertion doesn't make or brake the theory. You can reject that part. But there is absolutely NO reason to reject evolution itself.

I want to go a step further and talk about the difference between form and essence. The essence of man is that he is a rational being with a spiritual soul. When we hear that man is made in the image of God what do we think that means? Do we imagine that God has need of food, or that he grows, or that he needs to relieve himself from time to time, or that he sleeps? By getting offended at the notion our physical forms come from some evolutionary process, because our design comes from God's own image... well it's a thoroughly pagan concept. We are making out God to be like us. On the other hand it is quite the opposite if we speak so about the essence of man. We are merely affirming that man is like God, and not that God is like man.

Interesting to note that God breathes life into the man after his form is made. God is Life, Itself. "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life." He is Love, Itself. Now, you think about that. If we are willing to concede that  the sky isn't a separation between two oceans, or that the world was made in seven 24 hour days, or that the  dry land isn't standing on pillars, and adopt what science has proven concerning those things, perhaps we can  afford to not be so intransigent on man's origins. There seems no reason at all to not accept that the form of humankind is a kind given by evolution and therefore nature, and therefore by God... and that at a later time when that form had become what He intended it to be He vested it with a spiritual soul. Or where did Cain find his wife? How is it that he was able to found a city, when it was explicit in his curse that he would never settle amongst men (his own kind)? How is it that he was afraid that whomever he should meet would slay him (because he was without a people) unless there were other people? How do we account for the fossil record unless there were others? But the true fact of all of it is that we don't know precisely what happened. What we do know is that the genealogy which begins with Adam does not go back as far as the fossil record does. Further, we know that there is a distinction in evolution between homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens, viz. wise man, vs. wise wise man. It is not a genetic distinction, it is an artifact distinction. It is a distinction made between mans ability to use his problem solving and tool making at one point and another. It's the difference between cavemen, and modern man. It's the difference between man surviving, amongst the animals, and man thriving due to an actualization of his reason.

I want to point out again that it is all a mystery, an unfathomably big story, one that was being told 5,000 years ago. Remember the words of St. Thomas Aquinas," A thing (in this case a story) is received according to the nature of the recipient." How would they receive the literal account? It would be unintelligible. What sort of creation account would make sense to them? Perhaps one like we see in Genesis? It is the job of science to unpack the Genesis account as far as it can be unpacked. That does nothing against faith. For all that, remember the shame the whole Church got because a few anti-intellectual loud mouths denied the heliocentric universe because the bible says in a poetic psalm that the center of the universe is earth. Remember the shame the Church got because a few hotheads destroyed the library of Alexandria. And recall the glory the Church got itself by devising the 'Big-Bang Theory.' And keep in mind that Fideism is a heresy, before you let your proclivity to be loyal to the bible imprudently overpower the actualization of your reason which is your God given dignity. In learning as much as we can about creation, we can understand something about the Creator and His plan for us. And that is a pleasant thought.

Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. ~Aristotle~