Why Darwin Matters

I finally got around to writing this:

Creationists do annoy us very much. But the idea of evolution by natural selection is not just incompatible with the idea of creation, it also is positively and absolutely irreconcilable with the Bible. I’m not impressed at all, therefore, when Christians tell me they believe in both theories.

It often surprises me that, after nearly a century of insisting that evolution is an evil, ridiculous idea, Christians are finally starting to catch up with the reality that has been described by ordinary, secular science for over a century. Now they insist that evolution and Christian theology make a harmonious whole.

Think of all that had to be established before Darwin could even conceive of his ideas. He not only had to fight against those who insisted in design and special creation and a young earth, but he also faced resistance in areas that we take for granted: extinction, for example, was widely seen as a dangerous, irreligious idea. After all, why would a perfect God (before the arrival of sinful man) create creatures that simply died out?

It’s a very fascinating question that relates to our contemporary understanding of the history of life on Earth. We now know that over 99.8% of the species that have ever lived are no longer in existence. This may or may not be problematic for the Christian apologist; I don’t know. But I do know they are more than willing to turn pretty much any concrete thing into a metaphor.

But what I’m arguing for is much more fundamental, and it strikes at the heart of Christianity, and it’s frankly what many of Darwin’s contemporaries realized: that his ideas didn’t just naturalize creation, they refuted Biblical theology. That’s the legacy of Darwin I want to explain, and that’s why Darwin matters.

1. The Problem of the Creation of the Soul

For Christians, there must have been a point when humans became human, when souls were breathed into our material bodies. But when exactly did those descendants of our ape-ancestor have souls, and when did they not, if there was only gradual evolutionary change and no single moment when we could say we were “human”?

This is very important because the Bible says that humans are supposed to be distinct from animals; we are made in God’s image and have dominion over other life forms on Earth. Evolution, on the other hand, says this distinction is vague and unclear, lies on a spectrum that barely changes over millions of years.

2. Hominids and the Soul

We also know that at least three different human-like species lived with us in our evolutionary past. Some of these creatures buried the dead, were able to make tools and glue, and probably had language and complex thoughts. Not only are these fascinating cousins of ours non-present in the Bible, but we are forced to speculate if they had souls (if they could go to Heaven).

3. Adam and Eve, Another Metaphor

It’s a very sensitive idea that few Christian apologists are willing to answer. Were there two people on Earth at some point in time, or is this whole thing another metaphor/myth? After all, evolution doesn’t completely rule Adam and Eve out, but the probability that the homo sapien population dwindled to only two (one male, one female) is practically zero, and even if it did, it would be incompatible with the idea that Adam and Eve were the first two humans on Earth.

4. The Evolutionary Timeline

The Bible’s history of life on Earth is a very peculiar one because it misses out on the overwhelming majority of the history of “creation”. The bulk of evolutionary history is of micro-organisms, which are so incredibly important to biology and medicine, and whose existence is not even mentioned in the Bible.

5. The Human Timeline

We know that our species has been around for over two hundred thousand years (human-like organisms have been around for much much longer). What the Bible implies is that through all of this time, through all this extinction and struggle for survival, through all the multiple human-like species that lived and died out, through all of their religions and false gods, Heaven didn’t do anything about this condition of human affairs for hundreds of thousands of year until a couple thousand years ago. Only then did it talk to prophets privately on mountain-tops and send a messenger to illiterate parts of the Middle East. And that’s the salvation of mankind. And what if you use your brain that evolution has given you to disbelieve Christian claims? You’ll be sorry after you die.

Well, believe what you will. I hope you had a happy Darwin Day yesterday.

Inspiration:

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Posted on February 13, 2011, in Religion, Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Often in things like this religious people trade one cognitive dissonance for another. Is it really true that people who believe in the Bible and evolution are more conflicted than those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible? After all, fundamentalists already have to ignore a lot of striking contradictions.

    For instance, one who believes in the literal truth of the story of genesis, as pointed out in Inherit the Wind, must also simply not think about where Cain’s wife came from. She is just “there”, and questioning why would damage one’s uneasy truce between human reason and faith.

    Religion, in most forms, comes into conflict with either reality as revealed by science or itself. No matter how much science you know, if you were indoctrinated into a religion you’re likely to come up with some elaborate (or not so elaborate) rationalizations to keep down the metaphysical nausea.

  2. I believe firmly in science. And I am religious. This is very rare, but not nearly as hard as you think it is. The Torah is clearly intended to be taken in large part as metaphorical. I absolutely understand that faith is neither logical nor scientific–please don’t think I’m making that argument–but I’d like to point out the fact that your five points of contention come from the worst of the protestant christians, not from biblical lore or myth. Point 1: The soul doesn’t need to be any more than Aristotle’s sapient soul (as opposed to simply sentient and nutritive, as he defines those of animals and plants.) It’s hard for some to
    reconcile this with increasing evidence that many animals are displaying extraordinary mental and rational faculty in laboratory settings, but I rather think Genesis was never intended to be anything but a myth structure anyway.
    Next, other hominids (or primates, for that matter, since the bible just doesn’t mention any other than us. Oops.)Okay, again, the creation stories in genesis have to be metaphors. There are two different creation stories back to back, for goodness’ sake. The only way to reconcile this is to say that poor Moses was desperately trying to give his people some kind of history to hold them together. Likewise, Adam and Eve. Great little story that seems actually able to metaphorically support some scientific discoveries made much later, with the apple representing the infiltration of mitochondria into our cells. As for timeline, young earth creationism is a just plain stupid idea that actually didn’t gain popularity until after Darwin, likely as a backlash to it. Oh, and that clip from Inherit the Wind? Not how it actually went down. Brady believed, and stated in court, that there was no reason God couldn’t have the days of creation be millions of years. Anyway, it’s definitely hard to reconcile faith with science at times. And personally, if I ever see a conflict science wins. Rationality, after all, is supposed to be what sets us apart, right? Anyway, sorry to ramble, and I hope you don’t mind a comment from a non-atheist.

    • Thank you for commenting on my blog. I greatly appreciate responses from anyone, especially people who have a different viewpoint.

      It’s very nice that you do not take Genesis (and many other parts of the Bible) literally because it conflicts with modern science. However, the fact of the matter is that many people do because the Bible is believed to be the true word of God. If you are willing to conveniently disbelieve and metaphorize any part of the Bible that you don’t agree with, what prevents us from doing the same with the entire Bible?

      As for young-earth creationism being a response to evolution, it just simply isn’t true. A very good read is “The Darwinian Revolution” by Michael Ruse.

      If you watch Inherit the Wind, you’ll also know that there is a scene in which Brady does admit that the days of creation COULD have been millions of years.

      -Mike

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