How Does Evolution Fit In With The Bible?
Are you IN or are you OUT?
Folks, we have a problem. Let's introduce the elephant in the middle of the room.
Our biological past has strongly shaped us into tribal creatures. There are mental and emotional pressures to conform to your identity group. It's painful to break away from that group, intentionally or otherwise.
For whatever metaphorical tribes exist in our present environment, there will be tribal boundaries that define whether we are naturally inclined towards cooperation or antipathy. Once we identify with one group, against another, there are deep, instinctive impulses that insulate us against bridging any gaps between.
Another way to say that is, once an individual identifies with a particular ideology, there is a tendency towards confirmation bias that is difficult to counteract. If you are a young earth creationist, do you go out of your way to read up on evolutionary biology with a sympathetic eye? On the flip side, if you are established in your agnostic or atheistic world view, how often do you attend a worship service or evangelism seminars?
Even consciously attempting to avoid it, I still find myself trending towards material that reinforces my current point of view. That is confirmation bias in a nutshell.
My point is that we have a number of commonalities, not least of which is our biological makeup. If we make the effort to find the common ground, we all gain in sharing our stories and bearing each others' burdens.
Growing pains and open minds
The conflict between science and religion is not easily summarized. Contrary to what's implied by public debates, there is no single representative to speak categorically for the whole on either side of the issue.
Even so, I offer this contemplation from my single point of view. My goal is not to convince anyone to "change sides" but to offer a perspective on building bridges in an age of polarized opposites.
How did things get so contentious? Perhaps we have arrived here because it's difficult to resist oversimplification in the Age of Twitter and SMS. If your sound-bite doesn't fit into 140 characters or less, it's tossed aside like so much TL;DR. (I know, right?)
It's worth a deeper dive into both sides of the debate.
As difficult as it is to depart from group identity, individuals with the perspective to see valid points from each side of the debate need to step up and make themselves heard. But as is true with any ideological impasse in today's environment, the difficulties of bridging these camps are amplified by social media and mass media working together as megaphones, endlessly repeating the soundbites of the party line.
By contrast, bridge-building is best done on a personal level, one to one.
One of the first discoveries I made on this journey of mine is that emotional pain disrupts rational thought. It wasn't until I learned to wrestle with my own pain that I could begin to see past certain intellectual roadblocks.
At the risk of oversimplifying, let's attempt to reduce this conflict using emotional terms: religion looks at science through the lens of fear, while science looks at religion through the lens of anger.
Thoroughly researched, Joshua Greene's "Moral Tribes" explores the dynamics of social groupings in modern culture through the lens of our tribal heritage from hunter-gatherer origins. Once you pick up this fascinating read, you won't be able to put it down!
Find Your Place on the Continuum
How would you describe yourself?
Moving towards the middle
If you are interested in sharing your views of science with a person of faith, first become their friend. Establish trustworthiness and demonstrate respect. No one wants a lecture, but a lively conversation over lunch or coffee is a welcome treat.
On the other hand, if you struggle to reconcile your faith with your scientific discoveries, I encourage you to continue to follow your curiosity. What a breath of relief when I began to realize that God is bigger than I ever imagined. Regardless of how he chose to make all that we see around us, he is able to hold us through any paradigm shift. He is beyond description, so naturally we must learn to relate to him via incomplete and clumsy metaphors. Although he stays the same, we outgrow the metaphors. Rest assured, he is waiting for you on the other side of this struggle. And he walks patiently with you through the process. Pursue a deeper connection with your science-minded friends, and start asking questions.
As you grow in these thoughts, stay humble. Regardless of who wears it, a superiority complex stinks. None of us is able to grasp the entire reality of the material universe, nor the Eternal Creator. We are all blind men describing an elephant. Stay open to sharing truth with anyone you meet.
Update: just discovered Colbert using this same elephant metaphor. Cool!
After receiving his PhD in nuclear physics from MIT, Gerald Schroeder pursued rigorous study of his Jewish heritage under theologians Rabbi Herman Pollack, Rabbi Chaim Brovender and Rabbi Noah Weinberg. Combining his unique perspective of the myth and lore of Jewish scripture with his insights into our physical reality, Schroeder brings an intellectual yet approachable presentation of how to integrate Biblical faith with scientific integrity. Highly recommended.
Approaching science without fear
My upbringing was on the vast plains of the central U.S., surrounded by good people who farmed for a living. Working the land is a tireless endeavor of constant activity: plowing, planting, spraying, watering, harvesting.
There's something undeniably authentic I learned from this loving community of farmers: if you don't work, you don't eat. In fact, if they ever took a break from their efforts, we'd all starve. In this community, I learned Bible-based faith.
As any parent knows, children learn more from the behavior modeled for them than they do from any lecture. I watched this community surround my family after the birth of my sister, and later gather around us after the death of my brother.
These same wonderful folks also taught me that if the Bible says it, that settles it, I believe it. Although "inerrant" never entered my vocabulary, I felt its effect.
Consequently, any time I had a choice, I skipped out on biology because I didn't want to learn evilution (sic). I even chose a college degree in engineering over following my father's steps into medicine to avoid the biology requirements.
In retrospect, I realize that I had internalized my community's fear of change.
After getting married, having kids, and settling into a satisfying career, I got to know a biologist who taught at the university where I work. He got me interested in biology as the result of our sustained friendship. I never felt pressured to accept his point of view, but in the process of conversation, he patiently answered my questions. Around that same time, I found Gerald Schroeder's The Science of God and read through it voraciously.
One unexpected outcome of this shift in my thinking is that my faith grew. If the mystery of God is deep enough to cover billions of years and countless light years of height, width, and depth ... he must be even further beyond comprehension than I first imagined!
Leading New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop, Tom Wright earned his doctorate from Oxford after graduating Exeter with an emphasis in classic literature. With such deep knowledge of the ancients, Wright excels at establishing context for the message of Christ as revealed in the Gospels. While I have no interest in studying theology, I was drawn in by Wright's compelling argument of what the purpose and ministry of Jesus was all about - given the context of first century Israel.
Forgiving the institutions of faith
Leaving behind the cotton fields of my youth, I pursued electrical engineering, only to leave it behind for a career in information technology. In my hundreds of interactions with other professionals at conferences, vendor fairs, and professional consultations, many recounted their stories of disappointment (if not disgust) at the failings of religious institutions.
Ever curious, and struggling to keep up with my biologist buddy, I devour any science blog I find. I'm fascinated by all the discoveries across many disciplines: physics, astronomy, neuroscience, and my new favorite, evolutionary biology. How can you not be enthralled by the various ways that life adapts to the many challenges of life on this planet!? In these writings, too, it saddens me to encounter anti-religious bias as often as I do. Why the cheap shots?
I want to understand, but I can only guess. My hunch is to put on the emotional lens of righteous indignation, or more simply, anger. What would it be like to look in from the outside?
Pardon my speculation, but these questions come to mind:
- If religion offers the key to salvation, then why do religious communities exist for nothing but the purpose of controlling the lives of the simple-minded?
- Why do religious communities get so twisted up by the non-conformists, the artists, the scientists, the free thinkers, or just about anyone on the margins?
- Shouldn't religions be more concerned with feeding and clothing the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and setting the captives free?
These all raise valid points. However, I can't help but notice that each issue is taken up with a human institution.
Where does God fit into this picture? What if God is not just an invention of man? I found it helpful to read N. T. Wright's book on what it would look like if God arrives on the scene: Simply Jesus. In every domain, whether space, time, or matter, the life of Jesus demonstrates that God has compassion for the needs of man. I have no other word for that but good. God is good.
Religious communities are human institutions with the purpose of following God. But they are human, and thus fall short of perfectly meeting the goal. Can you see past the failings of his followers, to embrace his love for you?
I return to my earlier point:
It wasn't until I learned to wrestle with my own pain that I could begin to see past certain intellectual roadblocks.
Are you sure of your basis on logic and reason? If your pulse races or your breath quickens at the idea of embracing the tenets of faith, then you have some unresolved history to deal with.
Are you willing to form a friendship with someone from outside your tribe? Try this experiment: prove or disprove my hypothesis that conversations and relationship can build a bridge between opposing camps. Be civil, be vulnerable, make a new friend.
James Warren may be better known as a performing magician than as a theologian. Perhaps that explains the magic trick of introducing the library of Rene Girard's life works in a single volume, "Compassion or Apocalypse." Girard's works have brought a unique clarity to the study of human nature with commentary on a broad range of literature, from modern classics all the way back to Jewish and Christian scripture. Girard reaches the conclusion that God reveals himself to be inherently non-violent, and that the source of human violence is mimetic desire (copied from one another) and the resulting rivalries. In fact, religion itself is a human invention to mitigate the effects of these violent rivalries. After reading Warren's book, I find myself looking at the world through different eyes. (For having no interest in studying theology, I have lots of questions about the theory of relating to God!)
Radio Free Babylon
- Facebook page for "Coffee with Jesus" - This is my Father's world!
"Coffee with Jesus" pokes light-hearted fun at Sunday morning church junkies. Why do you think the way you do? Is your Sunday morning subculture out of touch? This particular episode deals with the age of the Earth. I chuckled!
How does evolution fit with the Bible?
I find beauty in the story of evolutionary biology. I see the work of an infinitely creative God, from when he set in motion the fiery explosion of Big Bang, to the cooling of the stars into the building blocks of life. He saw fit to fashion this biosphere and our mortal bodies from star dust. Then he breathed an immortal spirit into our ancestors, and invited them into a relationship with himself.
After writing this hub, I finished reading James Warren's introduction to the writings of Rene Girard, Compassion or Apocalypse. Girard speaks of the evolution of primitive religion as a fortunate accident that served to contain the violence endemic to early peoples. Sacrificial cults arose as a sanctioned expression of violence, so that interpersonal violence did not erupt, man against man. From within the context of these cults, God began to reveal himself as "other" from the violent gods of man's creation. The Bible is a collection of these revelations to the tribes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their culmination in the life of Jesus.
The Bible is not a monolithic text, but a library of prehistoric oral traditions captured over different generations of scribes. Later writers contributed from the context of faith relevant to their era.
If God can derive the fullness of life and beauty we observe in the universe around us, then surely he is able to deliver a message through the tapestry of stories woven together in the Bible, even as it passed orally from generation to generation, and perhaps imperfectly transcribed from oral to written, and again from ancient writings to modern language.
Just as life evolved from molecules into single cells, then to the biodiversity of today, so the Bible evolved from ancient traditions into a formal list of rules and regulations, to two simple truths: love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Alternate Perspectives on How to Read the Bible
Too long, didn't read
In a nutshell, here's my point. We're all human. None of us has all the answers. If we keep a list of all the wrongs done by our opponents, we will continue in a cycle of retribution that will never result in peace.
Step out of the cycle. Take a risk and seek friendship with someone who thinks differently than you. Learn to appreciate a different point of view with respect and humility. Seek and you will find. The truth is out there.
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't.
- Bill Nye