Monday, August 2, 2004

Evolution and Christianity

As a young Christian I figured that the challenge of atheism would be challenging in the beginning, but that as my faith grew and as I drew closer to God the doubts would diminish to a quiet whisper as my spiritual years accumulated. Perhaps I imagined it somewhat like hurdles in a race; as a young boy each one is a daunting obstacle that requires a focused leap with both feet. As the boy grows, the hurdles become less intimidating and become easier to cross. Eventually a good runner is able to take each hurdle in a stride that is indistinguishable from one running on flat ground.

These days I imagine it a bit more like a rugged uphill mountain course. At first the terrain is challenging, but negotiable as the boy becomes more agile. But though the runner grows in his skills, the challenges of the race grow to continue the test.

I never considered atheism a very credible idea; I subscribed closely to C. S. Lewis' idea that atheism is just too simple (from Mere Christianity, I believe). Briefly, one of his main premises is that everyone inherently knows a sense of right and wrong; therefore there must be some absolute standard that all of our moral compasses are hinting at. This idea seemed to make a lot of sense.

A conversation with my father challenged this thought though, and I did not have any reasonable response. His argument was that certainly, everyone has a sense of right and wrong, but that this is only with respect to the community. And as an illustration he noted the fact that, if a man is alone on a desert island, is there really such a thing as a "right and wrong" for this man? Um, hm. *shrug* Good point. Perhaps I am not recalling C. S. Lewis' arguments accurately. My feeling, though, is that I am left without any argument against atheism that can be gleaned simply from observation.

The other subtle leaning I have felt over the years is that towards evolution. What I mean is, the possibilty that the bible simply happens to describe those practices that promote survival of the fitest most effectively, but there really is no omnipotent benifactor. Consider the Parable of the Weeds:

Matthew 13:28-30 - "...The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

I could be way off (it's getting late), but this sounds a little like natural selection to me.


Victor said...

The following is from Dan:

Hey Vic, I really enjoy yourr new "deep thoughts" blog. Can I get a free subscription since Im coming in on the ground floor? Just a comment: The parable of the wheat and the tares is an example of "selection". A person is selecting between wheat and tares. Natural selection would be if there was no person involved. There are a couple of different issues about evolution, but the existence of natural selection isn't a major one (I think that there's no question that natural selection exists). The possibility of speciation via natural selection is where it starts getting more sticky. Then definitions of species are a more major factor in my mind. I think that the general definition of a species is the ability to mate with another of the same species and have offspring that are not sterile. Like a horse and a donkey are different species because though they can reproduce, the mule is sterile. But I think that that's still pretty small potatoes. I have no problem believing that donkeys and horses and zebra are all from some equine progenitor, the real deal is the jump that the horse and a strain of bacteria have the same progenitor. Or how that first cell came about at all.

Victor said...

Kip said...

Hey Vic,

If you are interested in reconciliation of science and religion, here are a few good books I have read:

The Science of God (Schroeder)- this is by far my favorite; very astonishing concepts
The Language of God (Collins)- I'm reading right now; very good; written by the scientist who headed mapping of the human genome
Darwin's Black Box (Behe)- good book, but don't hang your hat completely on his logic

Victor said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I think I had actually considered getting Schroeder's book a while back but never got around to it for some reason; I'll definitely look into it.

It's interesting that you mention those other works too. I spent the night at a friend's the other night and his roommate had Darwin's Black Box, so I skimmed it a bit. My take was, Behe basically asserts that life is ultimately too complex to think that something other than an intelligent being initiated the events that sprang life into being. If this is indeed he approach, I have a couple of opinions about this line of reasoning, which I'll probably put in another post. But of course, I didn't read the book so I don't know.

Did you see the article of a discussion between Collins and Richard Dawkins in TIME magazine? The piece as a whole was a very interesting, but I found that Collins' remark about Occam's razor to be completely flawed logically. Beyond that though, I felt like both of their perspectives were quite compatible.