Lesson 94- A Different View of Evolution
I hope that my analysis of evolution and the Bible has not upset you because, as I said, for many Christians, evolution is a scary word because they think that if they allow it to enter their mind, it will undermine their entire faith in the Church and in the Bible. Let me assure you that it won’t. First of all remember that, although micro evolution, or evolution within a specie is true, maco evolution, or evolution between species, is a theory and there are many objections to it both in the scientific and religious fields.
Second, even if it is eventually proven to be true, it is compatible with our Christian beliefs so long as we understand what those beliefs are. Remember the Bible does not say that God created the universe magically, as the Special Creation version that we learned as children said. Rather, he created it logically, as St. John says at the beginning of his gospel when he writes, “In the beginning was God’s Word or Logos or Logic, and God’s Logic was with God and God’s Logic was God. And everything was created by God’s Logic.” Therefore, our belief system can and does encompass the theory of evolution since logic always builds step-by-step, moving from the simple to the complex and that is exactly what the word evolution means. Thus, evolution, when looked at from this point of view, is more consistent with the Bible than Special Creation. The reason that many Christians have trouble seeing this is because of their strict interpretation and misinterpretation of the Bible. The Bible is the written Word of God but the Church is the living Word. Let me explain.
My brother, for whom I have great respect, is a Bible toting, Bible believing evangelical Christian in California and I mean this is the best sense of the word. I admire him for his knowledge of the Bible and for his commitment to the Lord. His faith puts me and a lot of other Christians to shame. Every time we meet, the conversation always turns to religion and the Bible and I have learned a great deal from these conversations. However, I find that we often come to the same conclusions` but from different directions. His approach is strictly from the Bible that he knows better than anyone I ever met. My approach is from the Bible, the Church, and from the insights of philosophers, both Christian and non-Christian.. At one of these meetings, my brother stopped and said, “Alright, before we can go any further there is something that I have to know and, if you don’t answer it correctly, then our conversation is over. Do you believe that every word in the Bible is infallible?” I was stunned and taken back because I knew the answer that he wanted from me and I also knew that I had to answer it truthfully. It was a question that I had not considered and I wasn’t sure how I would answer it. After a slight pause I said, “No! because I know that there are statements in the Bible that contradict themselves. For example, in one section of the Old Testament it tells of an event that took place at a certain well and, as a result, the well was named for that event. Later, we read of the same well that has received a different name for a different reason.”
Then I asked him a question, “Do you believe that the Church that put the Bible together is infallible? Because, if it isn’t then we can’t be sure that the books that it included in the Bible are really the inspired word of God.” Well, that ended our conversation but only for a while because neither one of us can remain silent for too long. My point was that he had an infallible book that he had to interpret and I had an infallible Church to interpret it for me.
However, as often happens, his challenges often get me thinking about questions that I had never considered. Thus, I began to explore my own position on the Bible. I certainly believed that it was the inspired word of God but my approach to it was not the same as my brother’s. The result of my thought processes is pretty much what I have expressed in these talks.
Anytime anyone asks me to agree that “every word” in any document as large as the Bible is infallible, the common sense answer is “No!” because mixed in with deep and infallible truths are common place events that may or may not be accurate. I have already mentioned that the ancients believed that there was a revolving dome over the earth containing the stars and that this dome is mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Also, as I have mentioned, there are other minor and unimportant contradictions involving the naming of places. And, finally there is an evolving understanding of the nature of God as we move from the Old to the New Testament. Thus, in all truth, I had to say “No!”
I would give the same answer to the question “Do you believe that every word the Pope ever said is infallible?” “No!” because his infallibility is limited to those things that he utter “ex cathedra” which occurs only in rare conditions when he has to define or settle some issue that is facing the Church. Most non-Catholics and some Catholics misunderstand the issue of infallibility because they think that it applies to everything that he says. Just as the statements of Supreme Court justices only carry legal weight when they are expressed as a decision made in their official capacity, so the statements made by the Pope, although important for guidance, reach the level of infallibility only when they are proclaimed as official Church doctrine.
I believe that we Christian make a big mistake when we attribute to the Bible the type of infallibility that my brother was talking about because it opens us and the Bible up to a lot of unnecessary attacks that are almost impossible to defend. All scripture, as St. Paul said, is valuable for edification and instruction but it is not necessary that every word be infallible. It is “meaning” or the big picture that we should focus on, not every word. In fact, it is our misunderstanding of the term “word”, as it is used in the Bible, that is part of the problem. “Word”, as I have explained in previous programs, as it is used in the Bible, was spelled Logos, from which we get the word Logic. Thus, when, after reading any scripture at Mass, it ends with the phrase, “This is the Word of the Lord,” we should train ourselves to say, “This is the Logic or Mind of God .” In that way we would remind ourselves that we are listening to how the mind of God thinks and, thereby, stay focused on its overall meaning rather than on each word. And, in its overall meaning, I would agree with my brother, that the Bible is infallible.
We could even take this a step further when we realize that Jesus, in John 1, is referred to as the Word or Logos of God. Thus, in Genesis, when God spoke and brought light out of darkness, or order out of chaos, it was Jesus that he spoke. The significance of this is at least two fold. First, whenever God speaks, he speaks Wisdom and thus Jesus is rightly referred to as the “Wisdom of God.” Second, logic is the organizing principle in our own minds that bring order and harmony out of the chaotic events in the world and it is found in the left hemisphere of our brains. Thus, it is the ever searching, ever seeking, ever questioning, left hemisphere of our brains that is patterned on Jesus, God’s own left hemisphere. This should indicate to us that the Word of the Lord is a living, moving, unfolding revelation that is dynamic in nature rather than static.
Thus, the Bible is the “written Word of the Lord” that is set in type but the Church is the “living Word of the Lord” that through its insights and re-reading of the written word comes to a deeper understanding of the mind of God. Even Protestants, like my brother, can’t let the Bible be simply what it says because they are constantly seeking new principles and insights that are not explicitly stated in the text. Ministers are constantly talking about the “seven steps to this…” or the “five principles of that…” which, as they find greater acceptance with others, become part of the dogma of their faith. Thus, the “written Word”, which never changes, becomes a catalyst for the development of the ”living Word”, which is always changing, and that is how it was meant to be.
The only difference between the Catholic and Protestant approach is that Catholics are locked into the history and traditions of the Church as interpreted and guarded by the Magisterium and Protestants are free to roam where they will according to their own private interpretation of the scriptures. And that, I think, helps to explain their different “take” on the theory of evolution.
Protestants have either taken a fundamentalistic approach that completely rejects the theory of evolution as contradictory to their literal interpretation of the Bible or a liberal approach in which they discard the Bible completely and accept the theory in its entirety. The Church’s approach, as always, is the middle position of remaining faithful to its own deposit of faith while it explores the new concepts for new insights that are compatible with its own identity. So, with this in mind, let us explore the theory of evolution to see the different ways in which it can be viewed.
The first way is that evolution is a totally accidental process that is the result of “chaos theory.” This is the implicit theory of most secularists and is probably the approach used by most schools. According to this approach, whenever a large number of chaotic atoms come together they start to “clump together” and begin to organize themselves into more complex units. Why do they do this? The answer is “because they do!” Of course this is a non-answer because it “begs the question” by giving a circular answer. It asks us to accept that an accidental process, of it own accord, just naturally will begin form more complex units. However, even if we could believe this, the theory asks even more of us. It asks us to believe that these “clumps of atom” came together to form even larger “clumps” that eventually became molecules, elements, inorganic compounds, organic compounds, and then leapt over into life. And then life started to form its own “clumps” of cells that formed themselves into multi-cell creatures that eventually developed into multi-organ beings, that developed into different species. And “wonders of wonders”, this accidental process seems to be goal-directed toward higher expressions of life that ultimately resulted in a rational human being. And even more wonderful, these accidental “clumping” of organs, composed of accidental clumping of cells, made up of accidental clumping of compounds… etc… etc… not only maintain their accidental form over the span of their lives but are also capable of reproducing themselves either asexually by themselves or bisexually through their interaction with other accidental members of their species who, accidentally developed an orifice, known as a vagina, to match another organ, known as a penis, that, when they interact, produce a new member of the specie.
Now mind you, this is a theory, not a fact, and, like all theories, calls for an act of faith for those who accept it. It is comparable to an example that I use with my students. I say, “Suppose I told you that the building that we are now in came about in the following way. This used to be an empty lot and for many years the people in this neighborhood threw their trash here. There were old doors, windows, sinks, toilets, bricks etc… And one day, a representative of the Board of Education, who was looking for a place to build a new school, rode past this site and said, “My God! That looks exactly like the school that we are looking for. We’ll buy it just as it is and start moving students in!” My students look at me with disbelief. “But how did all that trash come together to form a school?” they ask. “It just did!” I answer. “But how?” they ask again. “Well I call it “chaos theory” and it states that if you throw enough trash on to a lot, it will eventually form itself into something.” My students respond by saying “Yeaaaah!” indicating that I must take them for fools. Yet, there are prominent scientists who believe that this is how our universe came about. Is it any wonder that the Bible says, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.”
This illustrates the major reason why I never became an atheist. I just don’t have enough faith. Why believing the miracles of Jesus and His Passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven is “child’s play” compared to the “leap of faith” required to believe that our universe with all of its complex, interdependent relationships came about through an accidental process.
To symbolize this accidental model for the universe, I have my students scribble a line that goes right, then left, then forward, then backwards, the sidewards etc… until what they are looking at is a discombobulated ball of non-directional lines. And that is what accidental evolution would look like.
But if this is so, why are so many intelligent people so vehement in pushing it as “the theory of choice?” The answer seems to be that they prefer a universe without a God and are willing to accept any explanation that excludes Him. But why would they want to exclude God? Because, as one sage put it, “If there is no God, everything is possible.” In other words, there would be no external restrictions on human behavior because if there is no God, there are no primary purposes that flow from a Creator. And since the word “sin” means to “miss the mark or target”, there would be no sin because without a goal there is no right way or wrong way. Thus, all purposes would be secondary and would flow from ourselves. And since each of us would be free to invent his own purposes, then it would be “different strokes for different folks!” In effect, we would have eliminated all concepts of objective morality, based on logic and fact, and replaced it with subjective morality, based on personal choice and feelings. Right and wrong would be a matter of “personal choice” and would varying according to the person and the situation. The only thing that would matter is whether the person freely chose whatever he did. In other words, the key issue would be “Choice!” The emphasis in this version of reality is on freedom: “total freedom” to do whatever you want.
Don’t you recognize all of these concepts from some of my previous programs? They are the premises of John Paul Sartre’s philosophy of Existentialism and, it moral counter-part, Situational Ethics. And the reason that accidental evolution is the “theory of choice” is because, in today’s world, these are the “philosophies of choice.” Sartre said that the universe is accidental and absurd and he was partially right. His version of the universe is certainly absurd. Well, what’s the alternative?
For many Christians it is the totally rational universe. According to this model, a rational God made a rational universe with a rational goal, using rational means. Like a mechanical clock with springs and gears, God created a universe in which every thing was set in place and was destined to act out its part according to a pre-determined plan. Whatever movement took place in it, it was the pre-set, and circular motion that one sees in the springs and gears of a mechanical clock. It was functional movement, not developmental movement. It was not moving from an Alpha to an Omega in any linear fashion because it was a totally actual universe with no hidden or unexpected potentials. Everything was and had to be moving according to some pre-ordained plan.
Unlike the accidental universe, this model contains a God but He is a dictator who makes it impossible to deviate from His Will. As a result, this universe, like the accidental one, is also sinless but not because there are no “marks, target, or goals” to hit but rather because its Creator removed any possibility for “free choice.” And, in doing so, He also removed any possibility for love since love and freedom are intrinsically connected. If there is no freedom there is no love because “forced love” is an oxymoron.
In fact, this version of the universe is more consistent with Hinduism than it is with Christianity. In Hinduism, the wheel rather than the line is the symbol for reality and Karma, or Fate, is honored over “freedom” or “choice.” In fact, according to Hinduism, freedom is an illusion since everyone is controlled by forces outside of themselves. That is why astrology is such a big item with them.
As I said, the symbol for this universe is the repeating circle representing completeness. All movement is self-contained like that of a mechanical clock and is not headed in any direction.
However, there is a second way of representing a totally rational universe that has a linear direction. In this case, it would be moving from an Alpha to an Omega but it would be a totally straight, undeviating line. There would be no deviations from the plan. In lock-step fashion, atoms would form molecules, molecules elements, elements compounds, which would divide into inorganic and organic compounds. Life would appear and each species would become the stepping stone to the next one in the line of progression. There would be no dead-ends and no specie would ever become extinct because it would be a necessary step to everything that came after it. It would be totally logical and, whereas, the accidental universe emphasized “freedom and choice”, this universe would emphasize “order and compliance.”
Neither of these two versions of the totally rational universe can be the universe that the God we believe in created because according to our scriptures, “God is Love.” The “Song of Thanksgiving” written by four Catholic priests known as The Dameans puts it this way:
“Love that freely given wants to freely be received…” and obviously any universe that lacks freedom would be incompatible with these sentiments.
Well, if both “totally accidental” and “totally rational” evolution aren’t the answer, what is? The third choice is an “accidental/rational” theory of evolution. The reason for this choice is that those who believe in “totally accidental evolution” can legitimately point to aspects of our universe that are accidental. However, at the same time, those who believe in “totally rational evolution” can point to aspects that are rational. Therefore, it seems reasonable to surmise that both accidents and rational choice are involved in its operation. But how is it possible for an accidental process to reach a rational end?
To answer this question I give the following example in my class. I say to the students, “ I’ll bet you that I can take a handful of those little colored stones found in fish tanks and, after throwing them up in the air fifty times, have them spell out my name on the floor.” Their eyes light up and I am inundated with students who want to bet me their last dollar. “No way,” they say, “can you spell your name simply by throwing stone in the air and allowing them to fall in an accidental pattern on the floor. We don’t care if you throw them up hundreds of time, it ain’t gonna happen!” Then I proceed to tell them how I am going to do it. I say, “First, I’ll throw them up and when they land, my rational mind, which knows the pattern that will form my name, starts to look for pieces of the pattern. There’s the top of the “J” for Joseph; there part of the “e”; there’s the beginning of the “R” for Reilly.” Then, I inform them that I will cement each stone into place that fits the pattern that I’m looking for and gather up those that don’t.
The students faces start to grow grim because they are beginning to realize that what they thought was a “sure bet” was no longer “sure.” They realize that in fifty tries, I very well could fill in more of the pattern until by the last try I had spelled my name. Of course, I didn’t hold them to their bets because my real intent was to show them that an “accidental process that is judged by a rational mind can attain a rational end.” Let me repeat that. “An accidental process- for example the falling stones- that is judged by a rational mind – my mind that knew the pattern that I was looking for – could reach or attain a rational end- the spelling of my name. And that is exactly how an accidental/rational model for evolution would work and it fits perfectly with the Christian’s view of his God because it contain the two concepts of freedom and order.
Since our God is Love, His universe must contain freedom and “accidental happenings” are embryonic forms of freedom because they deviate from any pre-ordained pattern. I believe that it was Werner Heisenberg, in his Theory of Indeterminacy, that saw that indeterminacy in the atom was the original and most basic form of the principle of freedom. You might remember from a previous program that when Sir Isaac Newton described a universe based on absolute laws, some philosophers came up with the theory of determinism which said, “if the atoms that composed matter were not free than anything composed of those atoms could not be free. Therefore, everything must do what their atoms have been pre-determined to do.” Obviously, this “flew in the face” of Christian moral philosophy that was based on the concept of “free will.” In doing so, it undermined the entire concept of personal responsibility.
Heisenberg realized that the physical world, composed of atoms and molecules, did not follow absolute laws but, instead, like social beings, it followed the laws of statistical probability. In other words, in groups you could demonstrate that atoms followed the natural laws of physics but you could not demonstrate that the individual atom was following the group. However, so long as the group obeyed the laws, the universe continued to function properly because the deviation of an individual or small group of individuals did not affect the final outcome. In other words, freedom does not destroy order, deviations might slow the reaching of the goal but do not prevent it; and sin might oppose God’s will but they will not stop it. And this is possibly because the universe is self-correcting because whenever it drifts away from its appointed course, there are forces that will pull it back on track.
Thus Will Durant, a famous historian, concluded, after a lifetime of studying history, that when freedom destroys order the need for order will destroy freedom. In other words, deviations from the set order may survive we in the short term but, in the long term, they will either result in a dead-end in the general flow of evolution or else become extinct. The same is true on the spiritual level. A society may take the path of vice in the short term but unless it returns to the path of virtue in the long term it has signed its own death warrant. The reason is obvious. Sin, by its very definition, is a violation of Wisdom. In other words, it is stupid behavior and, as such, it will always reap stupid consequences. Arnold Toynbee, another famous historian, said that no great civilization was ever murdered. They all committed suicide because when the end came they were already rotten from the inside. Their conquerors merely pushed over a hollow shell of what that civilization had formerly been.
So how should we symbolize accidental/rational evolution. Well if accidental evolution is symbolized by a mass of non-directional lines and rational evolution is a single straight line, then accidental/rational evolution is a straight line with deviations on either side of the line. The result is that the general movement is forward and upwards but the whole process is slowed by the deviations. In this context, you might remember my description of the Rag Tag Army of God in which a Scout Master, who was trying for weeks to lead the troop to Camp Happy Happy, was constantly delayed when after a few steps forward the troop broke rank. When it was suggested that the Scout Master should tie them together so that they couldn’t get out of line, he responded that the Head Scout Master insisted that the scouts had to go there freely or not at all. In similar fashion, the evolutionary process towards the Kingdom of God or the “fullness of life” is delayed by our sins or deviations. While we have been waiting for Jesus to bring it, He’s been waiting for us to create it by following Him.
Obviously, accidental evolution, being non-directional, isn’t going anywhere; rational evolution, being totally directional, is going to reach its goal quickly; whereas accidental/rational evolution will eventually reach its goal but will be delayed by the freedom that is inherent in the system. However, even this system can’t move forward unless there is a rational judging agent that is selecting “in” those trends that are consistent with the final objective while selecting “out” those that are not. In other words, you need a system that contains two principle: Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest.
Now any system that contains these two principles implies the existence of a value structure since some actions are valued over others. And any system containing a value structure implies a direction. And any system that is directional implies rational intent. And since this is independent of us, the mind directing it has to be a Supreme Being or God. Let me state that again but this time more slowly.
“any system that contains these two principles of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest implies the existence of a value structure since some actions are valued over others And any system containing a value structure implies a direction. And any system that is directional implies rational intent. And since this is independent of us, the mind directing it has to be a Supreme Being or God.”
Now let me add one more observation. The judging agent in this type of system would be the logical dimension of this rational being’s mind. In other words, it would be His Logos or Logic. And since as Christians we believe that Jesus is the Logos or Logic or God, he would be the Natural Selector who is selecting in those things that are part of His Father’s Plan and selecting out those that are not. In other words, He would control whose names would be written in the Book of Life.
Well, I see that my time is up. In my next program I will try to describe the Catholic version of evolution which is best describe as evolution based on “rational intent.” Here’s Dom!