I have tried for years to reconcile the concepts of god and evolution, and its seems natural for there to be a tension anytime there is a duality like this. I have spent time trying to live in both camps, dividing my attention between the two. Maybe you never thought much about this issue, or maybe you just positioned yourself with your friends on one side or the other. If so, I’ll apologize for being either boring or disturbing. I think I have finally realized there is a grand theory that unites evolution/science and religion. To consider this communion requires carefully defining God and demoting the authority of many biblical texts.
When I grasped the full meaning of evolution, it was akin to a conversion. Let me summarize. Evolution explains with physical evidence where man came from and how he came to be like he is, in detail, with proof. Once genetic evidence was discovered, it became clear that we contain the historical evidence of all of life from it’s beginning. The Bible goes back about 5000 years; my genes have chapters written 3 million or more years ago. All living things share a genetic essence, just as all matter shares atoms. So there is transcendence in nature as in religion. Sadly, evolution cannot console the individual. There is no one looking out for me in it. Evolution doesn’t care about my welfare only about my contribution to the gene pool by reproducing. Considering mankind in evolution, there is a rarely acknowedged reality that man and all creation are still in the process of evolving. Logically, man will not be the same in the future. The definition of a new species is “one that can no longer reporduce with it’s ancestor”.
Turning to religion, there are common themes in religions which include ideas of eternity and one’s place in it. Also there is a creator who is everywhere, including dwelling in each person in some form. There is right and wrong behavior which doesn’t reference an individual’s will but some higher good. It is commonly believed that one continues a life after death. And just to show you how even-handed I am, I also had a relgious conversion, became born-again, heard voices. Much of it was connected to a realization that I was part of something grand as opposed to banging around on my own. So it is possible to line up the tenets of religion and evolution and find some striking similarities, similar ideas under different names. They are both seeking some higher good for mankind, some common mission and suggest some tranformation is in the works. Where it gets difficult is when considering specific doctrines of individual religions; for example miracles, walking on water, virgin birth, emaculate conception, disappearing/reappearing, and all those claims where the laws of nature are violated. I’m afraid I have to let most of them them go as exaggerations for a good effect, like in the movies.
To reconcile science and religion, one must reinterpret these miracuclous events as metaphors. And under the sacred principle of science, one should also be willing to conceive that some day an explanation for these miracles may be proven. One must also relinquish the idea that God will intervene in my life in a specific way according to my known needs and wishes. This is not altogether foreign to religion as one may be advised that sometimes God answers prayer with “no”. But this also resolves the dilemma about god allowing bad things to happen, one of the rocks on which many faithful have been shipwrecked. One reading of the old testament, makes it clear that god makes the rules and does not break them for individuals. To reconcile one must also consider that man may not aways be the favored species in the universe or that our will may not please god.
Getting to my main point, there is a set of priciples that evolution is founded on. First, evolution abides by all the known physical laws of nature. One of the debates in evolutionary thinking is whether evolution has a direction or is truly random. I chose to say there is a direction because when you analyse the outcomes of evolution it clearly favors certain qualities such as prolific reproduction, efficient use of resources, inspired behavior, resilliance to disease or harm, complex organizations, and creation of new forms. So if you extrapolate from the present into the future, you can imagine how a more perfect being might look. If evolution includes the creation of the inanimate physical universe, which I believe, then the laws which constructed the universe also predestined life and all life forms. This sounds like a grand plan or intelligent design.
Plato suggested that there is an ultimate “form” or “idea” toward which we are attracted and that form is perfect, where we are not. He said we only have vague notions of this higher reality. I have to stop here as I don’t know much Plato. A more recent psychologist, Abraham Maslow, taught that “self actualization” was a higher priciple that drew men through various stages of development to a higher plain. He described this state as being free from worldly concerns, acting beyond the normal laws of society, the absense of striving, dedication to universal good. This idea is present in all religions and all people. Even those who strive for fame and fortune at the expense of others often reach a point of rededicating their energy to universal goals such as art, education, hunger. This doesn’t mean that science and religion are going to be comfortable in bed together; but they are joined at the heart and it is a great joy to embrace them both.
I conclude by inference that there is definitly “something out/in there” and we haven’t arrived there yet, may never. How can there be proof of god, if we can only partly observe him/it? Probably no proof of god in our present state of being. Even science needs imagination to hypothesize the next theory. Looking at the theories of physics and astronomy, I am startled by their wild explanations. Many feel the same about evolution, beyond my comprehension. It’s probable that on this earth only humans have the cognitive power to have religion and science. I that case evolution has created a state where our species can contemplate something higher, more abstract, universal, eternal. Does our cognition hold the key to the advancement of evolution? Humans have to a great extent conquered and manipulated nature to where our beliefs and intentions may be guiding the next evolutionary process. What we believe, affects our behavior (maybe) and then we change the environment, which in turn alters the conditions of the next evolutionary adaptation. Starting to sound like “Will the circle be unbroken?”
Scientifically the vote is still out whether our species will propagate further or will wither away as a blind alley. Science predicts catastroophe; business/politics fight back with keep it the same. It’s possible that rats and cockroaches are closer to that higher form which evolution seeks and which resembles god. The strictly random evolutionary position would say that we may just be an oddity in the great mess and all our beliefs to the contrary are just mutual admiration, that nature doesn’t need our philosophy, our self contemplation. Some even argue that there is no choice or free will, that those notions are simply ways our minds entertain us. I don’t think the random evolution view is valid, although many things seem random, This issue goes deeper than I’m prepared to go. I feel and believe there is a direction because of the progress I perceive over history,
I started this writing thinking I could explain the unity of religion and science. Hope I did. Now I realize that I’ve arrived at the existential revelation. One can only chose what to believe. Most people chose to believe in the “higher power” form. Most people continue to strive for more of something. Evolution shows evidence of progress. But why are things so hard? If we have all these talents and resources and 2000 years of practice, why are things still so screwed up?
Well, looking deep enough at self or others, reveals there’s something terribly wrong with the human race. We all have it but don’t know it. Like having HIV before they discovered the culprit, like sitting in Plato’s cave and watching the world as shadows on the wall. Many of us chose to ignore the flaw. Ignoring doesn’t make it go away; it just means that the causes of one’s problems would be unknown. Others name it and blame some group or system. In so doing they give different facets of the devil, but are unable to find it’s core. Many boogymen come to mind–The Devil, corporate greed, socialism, child abusers, criminals, my childhood.
It’s like a genetic flaw,or original sin. I’ll call it “the flaw”. Can we individually or as a species, fix this flaw? First, our perception of it is warped by its active presense; like the virus in a computer, it lurks unknown in the memory and tweeks the ongoing processes. Secondly, each of us, seeing only a piece of the taget, we flail out against it in many directions, causing a fair amount of collateral damage.
So, can it be fixed? Can mankind engineer or evolve or attain a higher form that would rise above our sin? Here’s where religion reeps a great harvest by giving an air tight answer to that question. The answer is “NO”, not wihout sustantially altering the laws of physics or by dying. Now, wow!, religion and science are finally heading in the same direction, but different languages. Maybe god IS trying to tell us something.
The scientist is saying we could genetically or bionically alter ourselves and enhance the species. So we would engineer or cultivate our successor, and “human” as we know it would be a sub-spiecies, or an ancestor. So the flaw would be reduced or eliminated in successive generations. Religion says salvation happens at the end of the (known) world, or when someone assends to a transcendental plane. Either by science of religion, there would need to be a “singularity”, an unpredicted transcendental event.
How does one live with the awareness of the flaw which I can’t see but am confronted with it’s effects quite frequently. It’s like boxing in the pitchdark with and opponent with night vision. One can live in hope that someday a solution will be found; meanwhile muddle through. As said before, one can ignore the issue. One can also do knightly battle with those windmills, thinking them to be giants. Indeed it is impossible to not-find someone who is unrewardedly driven toward/away to/from something they perceive as prescious or contemptable.
So, I have looked into the existence of something that draws us to it’s perfection and something that repulses us by it’s chaos. Both “somethings” have one meaning, that the answer is in transformation. Transform our genes. Transform our culture. Transform our consciousness. Transform our planet. The scientist is altering in one dimension and the religious is altering another. In the end they will both survive together and continue to live on in the new transformed state. (This is getting pretty abstract and ho hum, how does this affecet me?)
So break it down, “Don’t worry so much about the rewards and punishments”; they’re just keeping each other company. “Treat everyone as you would be treated”. That’s a hard enough job.