Lesson 92- Darwins Theory of Evolution
In my last program I had begun my analysis of the theory of evolution that has become the greatest stumbling block between the churches and secular forces who are competing with each other for the hearts and minds of men. At the present time, the churches are losing the cultural war because they have been painted by their opponents as anti-intellectuals whose explanation for reality relies more on Biblical fables rather than scientific facts.
As a result, as more and more of us received high school diplomas and went on to colleges and universities, we became embarrassed by our faith and either abandoned it or gave it “lip service” that was totally lacking in any sincere conviction. And the major reason for this was that our faith never moved from the “milk based faith” of our childhood to the “meat and potatoes based faith” of adulthood. Many of us are still grounded in unexamined rules and laws based on authority rather than on the more mature foundation of acceptance and understanding. The Church wanted us to develop “informed consciences” based on rational reflection and intellectual understanding but too many of us either wanted to remain mindless children who accepted everything on “blind faith”, or else we became rebellious adolescents who, feeling our “intellectual oats”, became smarter than the Church. Thus, on one hand we have sincere devotional Catholics who have little or no ability to defend their beliefs other than to say that “faith is a gift” and needs no explanation or we have arrogant intellectual Catholics who challenge the Church on major moral issues.
This, of course, is the natural reaction that I spoke about in previous programs that occurs in history whenever new ideas or theories begin to impact a culture. On the one hand, we have the conservatives who, as the defenders of the Thesis or “what is”, plug up their ears and cover their eyes and refuse to even consider that their might be anything of value in the new ideas. This is their job and if they didn’t do it, we would go chasing after every “crackpot” idea that the human mind is capable of conceiving. Therefore, we should be glad when they perform this valuable function because they represent the forces of stability and order. Their attitude concerning the theory of evolution is “ The Bible or the Church said it; I believe it; and that ends the discussion.” It is a very uncompromising stance and should be admired for its firmness but it suffers from a lack of flexibility.
On the other hand, we have the liberals who, as the perpetrators of the Antithesis or “what could or should be”, are constantly chasing new theories or pushing for change or reform. This is their job and if they didn’t do it, we would be locked in cultural and intellectual patterns that were incapable of growing and developing. Therefore, we should be glad when they perform their valuable function of “pushing the envelope” because they represent the forces of change and freedom. Their attitude towards the theory of evolution is “Forget what the Bible or the Church said; science said differently; and that is the end of the discussion.”
Both of these positions can be compared to the two types of strengths that architects and engineers put into the tall structures that they build. One type of strength has to do with rigidness and firmness. Without it, the structures would topple over. The second type has to do with flexibility and sway. Without it, the structure would crack whenever they were impacted by a high wind or an outside force. You might remember that I made reference to these two types of strengths when I was discussing the Normal Curve and laws. Laws, like physical structures, must have enough firmness to be effective and enough flexibility to allow for some sway. For example, any deviation above a 35 mph speed limit is speeding and, if it were enforced too rigidly, the police would be issuing tickets for 35.1 mph. Fortunately, most policemen tolerate a certain amount of “sway” and this could be compared to the need for flexibility in all structures. On the other hand, doing 90 mph in a 35 mph speed zone it too flexible and policemen who tolerate this threaten the very purpose of the law. We might refer to this as the “Laws of tolerance and intolerance” and restate it as “Too little tolerance leads to rigidity and too much tolerance leads to collapse.” By the same token we could say “ Too much conservativeness leads to rigidity and too much liberalness leads to collapse.” Obviously what is needed is the proper balance between the two. We need to be conservative enough to preserve what is good in the past and liberal enough to make the changes necessary to move forward into the future. What we are talking about here is not only the laws for structures and norms but also the laws for stability and change, order and freedom, intolerance and tolerance, and the classic batter between conservatives and liberals. And, with a little imagination, we might even see that we are talking about the laws for “organic growth” that involves changes that are necessary for growth and development without changing the essential nature of the person or thing that is changing. And, with even a little more imagination, we might see that we are talking about the Hegelian Dialectic in which the conservative Thesis is challenged by the Liberal Antithesis and finally resolves the conflict by incorporating those elements of the Antithesis that are compatible with the Thesis into a new and moderate Synthesis. And, in the final analysis, we might be talking about the laws of God who is responsible for the natural laws that govern all things and events.
Thus, we should not be surprised that the theory of evolution has invoked the same natural responses in our culture. The conservatives among us are going to fight the theory with their last ounce of strength, because that is what conservatives are suppose to do. The liberals among us are going to push the theory to the point where it is undermining everything that is sacred in the “status quo” because that is what liberals are suppose to do. However, neither of them knows the “laws of organic growth”. The conservatives who, like Newton’s First Law of Motion that says “ a body at rest will remain at rest until it is acted upon by an outside force”, will never move or change. The liberals, who like Newton’s Second Law of Motion that says “ a body in motion will remain in motion until it meets an opposing force”, will never stop and thus, the real preservers of society are the moderates, who like Hegel’s Synthesis, follow the “laws of organic growth” by incorporating what is good in the “old” with what is good in the “new.” It is the moderates, when they fail to do their job, who are responsible for the collapse of any society. This is what the poet Yeats was referring to when he wrote during revolutionary times that :
Things fall apart…the center can not hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the earth
The best lack all conviction..
And the worst are full of passionate intensity…
The center, of course, is the moderates who are the “best who lacked all conviction.” The “worst” are the extreme conservatives and liberals who are “full of passionate intensity.”
And that is an accurate description of where we are today as both conservative and liberal forces fight each other in the courts and in the schools to have their interpretation of reality mandated as the only officially accepted one. For example, at the time of this writing, The American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU, which is the major legal arm of the Secular Humanistic forces that are trying to destroy our Judeo/Christian heritage, are battling Christian legal forces in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania over the teaching of the theory of evolution in the schools. It is just one of the many battles in the Cultural War of which, unfortunately, so many Christians seem to be unaware. The winner in this and other battles will determine how future generations will view reality.
On one hand, we have conservative religious forces arguing a literal Biblical description of creation and putting forth arguments like the one used by one minister that “ the devil planted the ancient fossil bones to mislead us about the age of creation” or that the creation is only six thousand years old. Arguments like this can only hurt the Christian cause.
On the other hand, we will have atheistic, secular humanistic forces, who will argue that the universe and everything in it is the result of accidental forces and that any reference to a Divine Creator is a violation of the “separation of Church and state.” This is equally ridiculous, as I will demonstrate later, because it pushes our faith to the level of absurdity by asking us to believe that accidental forces created and maintained the complex living structures that inhabit our earth. Compared to this, religious faith is nothing.
Thus what is needed is that “middle position” that combines the new evidence for evolution with the older theory of Divine Creation into a new theory that accommodates both. The name for this new theory is “intelligent design” and, if argued properly, it should provide an answer that is satisfactory to both sides. However, before approaching this newer theory, which, by the way, is the Catholic position, let me first explore with you Darwin’s theory and how it impacted his world of the 1800’s when it was first proposed.
The Thesis concerning the creation of the universe and all of its life forms at the time of Darwin was called Special Creation. This theory held that an all-powerful God when He wanted to create an elephant, or giraffe, or a human being had to only snap his finger and they would appear instantaneously and complete. And, since an all-powerful God could do it this way, it is one of the possibilities. However, the issue is whether this is the way that He chose to do it. Most people believe that this is what the Bible says.
However, upon further analysis, it may be that this is not what the Bible really says. The theory of Special Creation basically says that God is a magician who created everything by magic and therefore was not required to follow any logical progression. For example, if I am building a house by magic, I can create the windows first and have them suspended in air. Then I can do the same things with the doors, floors, cabinets, toilets etc… and lastly create the walls and foundation. In other words, magic can create in any order that it pleases.
However, logic is a different story. Logic has to build according to a logical progression beginning with a foundation and working its way to the roof. Therefore, I always ask my students, some of whom are Bible-toting born-again Christians, whether God, according to the Bible, created the universe through magic or logic. At first, they say magic, which is what the theory of Special Creation implies. Then I direct them to the Gospel of John that begins with the words:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and
everything was created by the Word…”
Of course, this is referring to Jesus in his role of Wisdom, the craftsman that, according to Proverbs 8, God used to create the universe. However, as I have pointed out in previous programs, this gospel was written in Greek and in that language “WORD” is spelled “LOGOS” from which we get the world Logic. Thus, we could re-translate this passage to read…
“In the beginning was God’s Logic and God’s Logic was with God and God’s Logic was God, and everything was created by God’s Logic…”
Obviously, according to the Bible, God’s Wisdom, God’s Word, God’s Logic, and Jesus are all the same thing. And, in light of recent discoveries concerning the lobes of our brain, we could add to the list, God’s left lobe, which, in us, is the source of logic, science, math, technology, and linear step-by-step planning and organization.
Thus one of the characteristics of logic is linear, step-by-step planning and organization and, if it were to build a universe, it would begin with atoms, unite them to form molecules, combine them to form elements and compounds etc… In other words, it would begin at the Alpha point and build towards an Omega Point.
In doing this, it would be following a “Law of Complexification” through which things would move from the simple to the complex. It would require that all things be built in a logical order with each step being dependent on the steps that preceded it. The non-living chemical level would have to precede the living organic level and one-cell creatures would precede multi-cell creatures. Plants, which have the power to change the non-living chemicals in the ground into living tissue through photosynthesis, would have to come before animals, and plant-eating animals would have to precede meat eating ones. And where magic creates instantaneously, logic might take billions of years, depending on the size of the job.
Even in the story of creation in Genesis, we see that God followed a type of logical progression that took place over a period of time. It says that in the beginning was the “void, or emptiness, or chaos” depending on what translation you are reading. Then, God spoke and there was light. In other words, his Word, or Logic, or Wisdom, or Jesus took the chaos of the subatomic world and began, as logic is inclined to do, to organize it into the stabilized energy of an atom.
Thus, to the question “Did God create the universe through magic or logic?, the obvious answer from both the Bible and reality is “Logic!” If this is so, then “Special Creation” is a misinterpretation of the meaning of the Bible. God could certainly have created it through magic if He wanted to but it appears that He chose rather to create it through logic. And since logic follows a linear, developmental path moving from the simple to the complex, it must have been an evolutionary process.
If this is so, then why do Christians have a problem with the theory of evolution? The answer is found, I believe, in an incident that happened between me and a foreign-exchange student from Belgium who told me that he was no longer a Catholic because his teacher in Belgium told him that if evolution is true then there is no God. “Wrong!” I said. Your teacher was totally wrong. Evolution does not address the question of “ Who made the universe?” but rather “How was it made?” Even if the theory is proven to be true, you still have to ask the question “Who, if anybody, created the laws of evolution?”
Thus if Christians have misinterpreted the meaning of the Bible, the evolutionist have misinterpreted the meaning of evolution. However, before we investigate this any further, let me first explain how Charles Darwin came to propose an antithesis to the theory of Special Creation.
In 1831, Darwin, an English naturalist who accepted the existing theory of Special Creation, went on an expedition to the Galapogos Islands off the western coast of South America. While there he witnessed evidence of variations within species that suggested that they were due to natural selection in the competition for survival. In other words, there were creatures who belong to the same species on those islands that differed in ways that were related to their survival. For example, there were large lizard, known as iguanas, who, although they belong to the same species had adapted to different methods of survival. Those that lived on the rocks near the ocean were greenish blue in color and had webs between their toes that allowed them to swim rapidly. Further inland, were another group of iguanas that were brownish in color who had no webs between their toes. Also, there was a specie of bird that in England were known as finches. Where in England, different species of birds, such as woodpeckers, had adapted to survive according to different environmental conditions, on the Galapogos Islands, this one species of bird had adapted different types of beaks that allowed them to survive in the same way. Also, there were giant tortoises, weighing hundreds of pounds, that lived on the islands. On one island where the vegetation that they ate was high off the ground they had long necks with a cut out in their shells that allowed them raise their heads to reach their food. On an adjoining island, where the vegetation was close to the ground, were another group of giant tortoises that had short necks and no cut out in their shell.
Why, Darwin wondered, would God create a woodpecker in England to survive by pecking insect from the barks of trees and then create a finch with a specialized beak to do the same thing in the Galapogos Island. Also, why would he create two tortoises of the same species with different length of necks that corresponded to the availability of food in their environment.
Finally, there were a group of humans who lived at the southern tip of South America in a place called Tierra del Fuego who slept naked in the snow without any ill effects. Later it was discovered that their heart beat and metabolic rate was almost twice that of other humans.
All this suggested that the variations were due to some type of adaptive mechanism that helped living things to survive in their competition for survival. Later this would be expressed under the title of two theories: Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest.
Natural Selection referred to the idea that whenever any change in the natural world threatens a creature’s chances for survival, a natural selective process would take place involving those that could adapt to the change and those that couldn’t. Those that adapted survived and those that didn’t diminished or became extinct. Thus, the fit survived and passed on to their offsprings the qualities that helped them survive and the unfit didn’t. As time passed, the species itself was made up those who had adapted.
When Darwin published his findings and theories in his book, The Origin of Species, in 1859, it was received with mixed reviews. Many of the scientists and naturalists found it to be a fascinating explanation of the natural world while many of the priests, ministers, and theologians saw it as a direct attack on the creation stories in Genesis.
Before long the arguments began to focus on the speculation that we were descended from apes and, till this day, it remains one of the most touchy aspects of the theory. However, the theory of evolution says something that is even more astounding than that. Taken to its logical conclusion, it says that we and everything else are descended from the same source. Thus, the definition that I use in my class is:
“Evolution is a theory which says that all living things are descended from the same source and that the different kinds of creatures are the result of their successful attempt to survive by adapting to the changing conditions in their environment.”
Let me break the definition down for you as I do for my students. First, “evolution is a theory.” This means that it is not a completely established fact because there are still parts of it that are disputed among the scientists themselves. Micro evolution, which refers to changes within a specie, is an established fact because we can see many examples of it. For instance, according to the scientists, all of the various breeds of dogs are descended from one common ancestor and many of them have been genetically developed to serve some purpose or whim of human beings. In one sense, we could say that God created them because He placed the potential within the original dog but in another sense we could say that we created them because we actualized that potential through selective breeding. Thus we caused an evolutionary process to take place on the micro level of evolution by selecting traits that we needed or admired in sheep dogs, poodles, daschunds, and show dogs of every kind. Even the most ardent opponent to the theory of evolution has to admit that an evolutionary process is possible on this level through natural or human selection.
However, it is on the level of macro-evolution that the theory faces most of its problems. Although we can see how over a long period of time various genetic potentials can be actualized through genetic selections, it is harder to see and the evidence is more scanty when it comes to having one species change into another species. For example, a hippopotamus becoming a horse or a horse becoming a cow, or a cow becoming a dog. Yet, according to the theory, when it is taken to its logical conclusion, all life sprung from the same source and has evolved over billion of years into the various forms that we see today. How this happened is still a mystery that remains a theory rather than a fact. It supporters say that it was all due to the process of Natural Selection when environmental changes forced living things to adapt by changing or else become extinct. However, although this can explain changes within a species, it is hard to imagine any change that causes one species to become another and, the opponent of the theory, demand that those who favor it produce the evidence by showing some fossils that are transitional forms caught half-way between one species and another.
In recent years, the focus of the argument has shifted as those who oppose the theory are starting to realize that the real argument in terms of how it should be taught in the schools is not evolution itself but the type of evolution. We are past the point where we can deny the legitimacy of the theory. It is too widespread and entrenched in our intellectual culture to be rejected or ignored as it was in the Scopes Trial in the 1920’s.
At that time, the theory of evolution was forbidden by law to be taught in the public schools of Tennessee. The American Civil Liberty Union advertised for a high school teacher who would be willing to create a test case by breaking the law. A young, part-time teacher by the name of Scopes agreed to do it and it led to a famous trial that drew national attention when Clarence Darrow, a famous agnostic trial lawyer, agreed to represent the defense, and William Jennings Bryant, a five-time candidate for the presidency of the U.S. and fundamentalist Christian , agreed to support the prosecution. The climax of the trial came when Darrow called Bryant as a witness and began to grill him on his fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.
We must remember that the Bible is a religious book that tells of the growing relationship and understanding of the Hebrew or Jewish people of their God. It is not a science book and whenever we misuse it by trying to make it one, the result is that we embarrass ourselves and we give our opponents an opportunity to discredit the Bible. For example, the ancients believed that the sky above the earth was a revolving dome on which were implanted the stars. In Genesis, the writer uses this interpretation to describe the heavens. We now know that this is not true. The Bible also refers to the sun as rising and setting, which it appears to do in our common experience. Thus when Galileo proposed that the earth was revolving on its own axis while it circled the sun, both common experience and the Bible seemed to contradict it, and we are all too familiar with how secular forces constantly throw this error into the face of Christians as an example of our naiveté and lack of scientific knowledge. We should learn from these experiences and form our arguments in the proper way. Let me mention just a few suggestions about how arguments should be formed.
First, we should never argue that “if your theory is proven correct then our theory must be false”. We should always argue that “even if your theory is proven correct, our theory is able to encompass your theory.” In other words, your theory is capable of being synthesized into our theory and, thus, when the argument is over, our theory is still standing. In debate they call this a “minor repair to the status quo.” It simply means that we can preserve the existing theory simply by making some minor adjustments to it so that it deals with the problems that are raised.
Second, it is a rule of logic that “you can’t compare unlike things”. The reason is because things are judged according to their nature or purpose and things that have a different natures or purposes can’t be compared. For example, you can’t say that shoes are better than pencils. You can compare one shoe to another or one pencil to another pencil but you can’t compare footwear to a writing instrument. By the same token, you can’t argue against a scientific theory with a religious revelation. The first derives its information through experimental facts while the second one derives it from Divine revelation. Thus, one has to oppose a scientific theory with another scientific theory or a religious revelation with another religious revelation.
Thus, it was futile for the churches to argue against the theory of evolution from the Bible. What they needed was an opposing scientific theory and that is what they are starting to do now with an argument called “intelligent design.” What this argument states is that the theory of evolution requires the presence of an “intelligent designer” to move from a hydrogen atom to a human being. In other words, the heart of the argument between the humanist and the churches is, and has always been, whether there is a God behind evolutionary development or whether it can be explained simply through accidental forces. Now we have a real argument because “intelligent design” is a far better theory than “accidental forces” because it is more consistent with logic and the facts.
Finally, the theory of evolution should not frighten us as Christians because, even if it is true, it is a more impressive theory than Special Creation. To illustrate this I say to my students, “I am the world’s greatest magician and to prove it I will perform the world’s greatest trick.” I then proceed to pretend that there is an empty million-gallon glass tank beside me. I then pretend to take a gallon bottle and with a wave of my hand fill it with water that I then pour into the tank. After I repeat this a million times, the tank is full. However, just as I am about to take my bow and receive their applause as the “world’s greatest magician” a humble little man walks on to the stage and says, “I’m sorry. But I’m the world’s greatest magician.” And to prove it he has the million gallon tank emptied and then takes a thimble from his pocket. With one wave of his hand the thimble fills and he begins to pour, and pour, and pour, and pour until, out of that thimble he pours a million gallons. When I ask my students who was the greatest magician, without hesitation they say the second one.
Special Creation is like the first magician where God creates each species individually while evolution is like the second magician where God creates the hydrogen atom consisting of one proton and one electron and contained within it is the potential for everything that ever was, ever will be, and ever could be. It boggles the mind!
When I first contemplated this possibility, a spontaneous rush of praise rose within me and I wanted to shout, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory!!! How does it affect you? Who do you consider to be the more impressive God. The God of Special Creation or the God of Evolutionary Development?
Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom