Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Thoughts on Evolution

700 years ago, the Catholic Church was had total power over the entire European world. It mandated that its religious views be followed by everyone, and among these beliefs was an unquestioning, literal, word-for-word acceptance of every word of the Bible as it was written (or, rather, as the Pope interpreted it). Some of these passages read as follows:
"The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved." -- Psalms 93:1
"Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved." -- 1 Chronicles 16:30
There were several other passages as well which seemed to insinuate, if not state directly, that the Earth did not move. Since this theory seemed to be supported at the time by the Ancient works of Ptolemy, the Church happily adopted the view that the Earth was, in fact, the center of the universe. Anyone who claimed otherwise was either forced to recant or burned as a heretic.

Only guess what? It’s not. The earth is not the center of the universe, it’s not even the center of our solar system. And when a guy named Copernicus came along with with a telescope, a brain, and a basic knowledge of math and astronomy and figured out that the sun was the center of the solar system, and that the earth and all the planets are in orbit around it, nobody believed him. And when Galileo found out the same thing, he was placed under house arrest and forced to shut up. No matter how much evidence amounted saying that the Church was wrong, it insisted on a narrow, literal interpretation of those Biblical passages, because it viewed Science and Religion as contrasting forces.

It took several hundred years for the church, faced with mathematical proof they were wrong, to concede that Earth is not fixed and does move around the sun.  To not do so would be to deny math’s validity, to deny that 2 + 2 = 4, to deny logic and reason and the very nature of truth. They recognized that asking people to have faith, or to believe something without any proof, is one thing; asking them to believe something which has been proven false, is another. An ideology which fights a war against that which is right in front of people's eyes is fighting a losing battle. For this reason, the church was forced to expand it's interpretation of those passages beyond the literal, and instead interpret them figuratively.

And it is for this same reason that sooner or later, the church must do the same regarding evolution. Unlike gravity, evolution is not a law. But like gravity, it has a ridiculous amount of empirical and observational evidence behind it, and that evidence is growing every day. No serious, respected scientist or archaeologist contests it's veracity. What's more, it is logical. It makes sense. It is a perfectly reasonable and plausible explanation for how animals adapt to their environments over time, one which any moderately intelligent person might recognize as valid were it not for the church.

But once again, fundamentalist Christians have made the mistake of portraying science as an enemy of the church. Once again they insist on interpreting the words of a 2,000 year old book in their literal, 21st century connotation. And when you read the book of Genesis literally, it says that the Earth was created in 6 days, and that all of Earth's animals were created as they exist today within a week of each other. Once again, they are simply wrong.

Every scrap of evidence we have, in fossil records, archaeological digs, brain studies, even pictures and drawings of animals as recently as a few decades or centuries ago, suggest that animals did not always look as they do now. And it doesn't stop with evolution. Fundamentalist Christians insist the Earth is only 6,000 years old, because that's how old it is if you trace all the Biblical family trees back to Adam and Eve. But we have geological records, tree rings carbon dating, and every other kind of proof to say that's not true. The earth it isn't thousands of years old, but 4.5 BILLION years old! Full museums, not to mention textbooks, are filled with mountains of evidence contradicting what these people are saying.

But contrary to what atheists would have you believe, none of this evidence, not a single scrap, disproves the Bible. It merely disproves a narrow-minded, uninformed interpretation of the Bible, which insists that the book can teach us science instead of spirituality. It is perfectly possible to believe in evolution and the Bible, to be a Christian scientist, because these two concepts are in no way contradictory.

It is a tragedy that so many people have been put off by religion because they view it as anti-science. If we Christians  want to woo these people back, we must change the way we present God's word. We must not tell people they must choose between logic and faith, because faith is not about ignoring the truth. We must instead clear up for them what the Bible truly is: a beautiful testament to Christ's life and teachings, a wonderful description of God and God's promise, and a historically verifiable collection of documents, but not a science textbook. We must recognize that much of the Bible is written figuratively, that just as "the world cannot be moved" doesn't actually mean the world does not revolve around the sun, "the world was created in six days" does not refer to six 24-hour intervals of time. We must focus more on the true essence of God, the elements of our religion which unite people from across the globe and which constitute the basis for human morality, and less on the literal scientific connotations of the scriptures.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect, has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo

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