Christian Evolution by Means of Unnatural Selection

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I am a Christian, a follower of Christ and his teachings, and subscribe to the sometimes radical idea that love, truth, fairness, non-violence and forgiveness are more effective tools in affecting social change in the world – in service to what some Christians refer to, as the Kingdom of God. I’m also a rational, reasonable, educated, and relatively intelligent man, with what some conservative believers might call “doubt,” that I prefer to characterize as a healthy and robust measure of inquiry and skepticism. I believe in Evolution, and its foundations in science, and have never considered that belief to be contradictory to my spiritual faith – and here’s why.

Most religious objections I hear from my fellow Christians to Evolution seem to revolve around their interpretation of an ancient Hebrew text still found in most of our Bibles, in the Old Testament, as the Book of Genesis (often punctuated by the absurdity that we didn’t come from monkeys). In it, creation is described in some detail, including an account of the creation of man, animals, and of course, the Earth itself. Most scholars agree that our earliest texts for Genesis seem to have been written in the 5th or 6th centuries BCE, during the time of the Babylonian exile. Even if you maintain that the account was provided to us during the time of Moses himself, who lived by most accounts around the time between 1391-1271 BCE, the earliest the story could have been composed, it pales in comparison to far more ancient evidence available to us that speaks to creation (and its evolution) – found not in scrolls or scripture, but in ourselves, written in God’s second language, nature. The entire Bible contains 3,566,480 letters. Evidence from the fossil record, from the DNA contained in every one of our living cells (shared with every other living thing) tells a different story. Human DNA, which is by no means the most complex, contains over three billion letters – that’s 3,000,000,000,000. I suspect that if God really didn’t want you to know about it, He probably wouldn’t have written the message on every single cell in your body. And yes, Evolution contradicts, entirely, what Genesis says to us, in the absence of crude attempts to interpret Genesis as a parable mirroring scientific discovery.

Frankly, I’m not surprised that Moses, or any ancient living over 3,000 years ago, got it wrong, despite the intuitive sequence used by the author that at least recognized that stars preceded planets in the over all scheme of development. Even Genesis itself does not maintain that all of creation happened simultaneously, but rather, over a period of time (albeit quite dramatically condensed) and in stages. I’m pretty sure Jesus read, or at least knew, of the story Himself, but frankly, He seems to me to have had more important priorities on His mind – most of them far more dangerous and seditious, like revolution and social change, paradigm shifts advocating non-violence and love as alternatives to brute force and violence, inclusive and fair distribution of both societal and spiritual rights and privileges, and salvation from sin, paramount among them. Debating creation and Evolution simply didn’t seem to be a part of His agenda, not least by virtue of the fact that Darwin hadn’t discerned it yet – at least that’s not how I read my New Testament account of Him.

Moses got it wrong. So what? That has nothing to do with Jesus’ message, or salvation for that matter. I’m fine with it, perfectly comfortable actually, and I don’t view an alternative creation account as being particularly threatening to my faith. If anything, Evolution, and its implications, seem to suggest to me, personally, that God is far “bigger” than Moses or any of the patriarchs could have ever imagined. After all, we were just starting to get acquainted with Yahweh back then. I’m cool with that. Really.

As a Christian, I think a lot of us waste a lot of time resisting this uncomfortable nemesis of Evolution we’ve inherited from science – everything from worrying about whether it’s being taught in our schools, to building Disney like theme parks displaying absurdities that depict humans walking with dinosaurs in a desperate attempt to hold onto a myth, and demonstrate the degree to which our ignorance is prepared to support it and reconcile contrary evidence within it. That’s not what my Jesus is, or ever was, about – at all. He was a champion of truth, and an agent provacateur who inspired us to think outside of the box, and to question authority. Personally, I think He’d be thrilled with Evolution, and quite possibly would find an even richer backdrop for His famous parables within it. He reminded us, through His sacrifice, that we are all connected to God. Evolution reminds us that we are all connected to each other, and all living things.

Evolution is not some trick of the devil, it’s not a blasphemy, and it’s not some scientific heretical attack on Christian beliefs, values, or doctrine. It shouldn’t be treated as a form of intellectual leprosy within our churches either. As Christians, we’re called into the light, of both wisdom and knowledge, spiritually and otherwise, and to simply ignore God’s message as expressed through the heavens, and life itself, is nothing short of an insult to the beauty and wonder of it all. If that scares you while you’re sitting in the pew, then I would suggest that you re-examine your faith – because if it doesn’t support truth, it may not be as close to God as you think.

I know I’m not going to get a lot of “Amens!” from my brothers and sisters on this one, and frankly, that’s ok. I love you anyway. I do hope however, that you’ll understand that not every Evolutionist is the anti-Christ trying to tear down your church. If you’re really afraid that you might be descended from a monkey, stop thinking like one, and find out for yourself. I promise you, you won’t lose your soul.

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Christian Evolution by Means of Unnatural Selection

The Gospel According to Darwin

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From time to time, I have the pleasure of engaging in conversation with my Christian brothers and sisters on the subject of evolution. “On the Origin of Species” hasn’t made it into canonical scripture (much to Darwin’s dismay I would imagine), but about as many Christians who have read their Bibles (and understand its origin) seems to be about the same as the faithful’s readership with regard to the good news of Darwin – not very many.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a Christian that went something like this. It started off with a discussion centred on contradictions in the Bible, and very quickly narrowed towards a debate on whether or not God really did create man (in this case, Adam – which by the way, wasn’t really the guy’s name, but rather turns out to mean, figuratively, “made from the red,” in Hebrew – as in mud, or clay – no doubt an attempt by God to employ the pun as one of his original literary devices), as told in the Genesis account, and that if you believed that, reconciling yourself to the assertion that man descended somehow from monkeys obviously couldn’t be true. Well, Darwin didn’t really claim that man evolved directly from monkeys, or any other animal for that matter, but that over time, original life (which, much to our disappointment, despite God’s obvious favouritism, doesn’t appear, by all accounts, likely to be us) adapted to the environment and changed in a process he called natural selection. It’s the same unnatural process we humans used to “evolve” toy poodles from the wild wolf (some may be surprised to learn that Noah didn’t include the family Shih Tzu in his ark’s cargo manifest), the primary difference being that the selection process in nature arises from a species ability to change, or evolve, in order to adapt and survive in the environment in which it lives, and occurs over a much longer expanse of time through many successive generations. (To my scientific friends, I apologize now for the pitifully presented, but pithy, attempt to oversimplify the concept – and to my canine friend who truly does see me as God, I’m sorry to burst your bubble pup). The objection to this idea is sometimes based on the authority of the Bible, and how it addresses the question of origin of the species. After all, if it truly IS the inspired word of God, the creator Himself, it’s got to have the story right. Right?

Evolutionists (usually pronounced with an inflective sneer), as proponents of Darwin’s explanation have come to be called, understandably find themselves frustrated – their gospel being just as misunderstood in many cases as those of their brothers of the faith. Who wants to argue with God, after all? If the Bible is the unchanging, unalterable and authoritative divine source many Christians believe it is (and sometimes desperately hope to be so, unless on occasion it happens to inconveniently run counter to one’s desired interpretation), it should be the last word on the matter (or the first, depending on how you look at it), right?

Scientific evidence, observation, experiment, analysis, and knowledge aside, and assuming that Darwin’s gospel is nothing more than a trick of the devil in disguise (those funny monkeys), if you’re going to rely on Biblical authority to denounce the theory, you’d think that the concept of an evolving, adaptive, changing process capable of producing distinct species shouldn’t apply to it either. The fact is that what we call our Bible, is a modern day species of scripture that has indeed undergone an evolutionary process. It’s changed over time, undergone mutations, adapted to society, knowledge, language and the medium of its existence and preservation. It’s transformed itself from single celled scriptures to complex arrangements, and it’s diversified and reproduced generations of sophisticated, complex systems of theology that we have today. It’s left behind its own fossil trail. Compared to our “modern” Bible species, its ancient ancestors appear primitive, almost as though they could have been written by monkeys – in its earliest forms, fragile scribbles of archaic Greek written on animal skins or papyrus, the Bible wasn’t available with evolved features like chapters, verses, and even punctuation, noticeably absent from its structure. The story has changed as well, in small incremental ways, and sometimes in dramatic and far more significant ways – under selective pressures ranging from the skill of a scribe’s hand to decisions made by more intentional human interventions that radically shaped the canon we bring to church with us on Sundays in the modern age, arriving not like it says we humans did, instantly from the dust of the earth, but over time, and many, many changes. The Bible, though it may well be the inspired Word, is itself, a product of an evolutionary process. If you’re still in doubt, try reading your grandmother’s King James version of the book, or better yet, the Latin edition of the Codex Vaticanus if you prefer a more continental flavour.

I hear Christians, and sometimes Pastors and preachers, insisting, and using, the Bible as a ready made hand me down that came to us directly by way of God’s Amazon account – sort of like how God downloaded the Ten Commandments directly to Moses’ tablet at the time (which no doubt worked as well as my iPad). The fact is that what we know and love as our Bible was constructed, painfully, over centuries, from an assortment of fragments, scattered across much of the European and Asian continent, which had to be stitched together, translated, and copied by hand in cold dark monasteries in secluded parts of remote Ireland when the Vikings weren’t pillaging, middle eastern caves and Roman sewers. During much of the time they were written, having a copy laying around on your coffee table might have landed you a swift execution for treason. The real miracle is that any of it survived to the modern day at all. It’s a miracle shared with mankind, and the species we call human.

Regardless of your faith, or what you believe, or don’t, I encourage you to seek out the reasons for what you believe, to understand the lens that you use to magnify and illuminate your beliefs, the context in which they evolved, and most importantly, to enjoy and develop a passion for inquiry and the true freedom of faith that arises from the truth.

It will set you free.

The Gospel According to Darwin