Thursday, November 24, 2005

G-d and Evolution

When most people, at least in America, think about the G-d and evolution debate, if that's what you wanna call it, their mind automatically conjures up this image of a particular religious institution, in America's case, the (Catholic) Church going up against the scientific theories of the theory of evolution. And just like two pit bulls going at each other in a cage, people like to sit back and watch the fight, every once in a while throwing in a wager or a shout. The truth is, however, because it doesn't just involve the Church versus the institution of science. The Church vs. Evolution match doesn't really explain what's going on here, but in reality, humanity is at another one of those junctures in civilization, and the divergent paths are represented by theism (belief in G-d) and atheism.

The November 28th, 2005 issue of Newsweek featured an interesting article about Darwin and "his private views on science and G-d;" it turns out that before delving into the science of biology on his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands, Darwin "planned to enter the ministry."

In this post, I just wanted to point out some interesting things and to share my thoughts on them. The first thing I want to point out is that Darwin, who to some people serves as a guru of sorts, was not the ardent atheist that some point out him out to be. In fact, he went on his expeditions with a Bible at his side, and according to the article, "His own life exemplifies the painful journey from moral certainty to existential doubt that is the defining experience of modernity." The point that I'm trying to make is that the people that see Darwin as an ideologue and enemy of religion miss the fact that his works and research were in large part the works of a man who transitioned from belief in G-d to disbelief, and not that he received some sort of atheistic revelation upon his birth that opened his eyes to the truth. In a similar way, Karl Marx is revered by his modern-day "disciples" as being the sworn enemy of classist power conflict and capitalism, but at the same time ignore that his ideologies were shaped by his being a Jew in Europe, subject to mistreatment and sporadic poverty, and as well as being influenced by the very ideals of Judaism, which desire to see a world where the poor are taken care of by society. Those two are a poignant combination in the creation of Marx's ideology, and it is incredibly ironic that those who claim to know him most have no idea as to his origins or context, and interestingly enough, as a side note, dislike Jews. We must see historical figures in context.

"To a society accustomed to searching for the truth in the pages of the Bible, Darwin introduced the notion of evolution: that the lineages of living things change, diverge and go extinct over time, rather than appear suddenly in immutable form, as Genesis would have it," the article summarizes. Yet Darwin himself is quoted as saying, "One might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends." Here Darwin is giving plausibility to the notion that the abundance of slightly varied species that exist in our world today might have come from "one species" of bird, meaning that birds as such were created and from them came a widely varied form of birds. When referring to the different species of tortoises found on the Galapagos Archipelago, which would indicate that their differences could be explained by their adaptations to the varied environments, the article poses the question, "Did G-d, the supreme intelligence, deign to design distinctive shell patterns for the tortoises of each island?" The answer would be a resounding "yes."

And of course, we can't really get past the notion that although Darwin was eventually dissuaded from belief in G-d, that evolution itself posits the existence of a force of creation, be it morally neutral and disinterested. Could it be that Darwin's theory of evolution was a part and parcel of the struggle of a formerly religious man finding himself with a belief in G-d, yet unable to get a tight grasp on why suffering is so prevalent in this world? Could it be that the theory of evolution, as Darwin explains it, is the "disinterested G-d?" The article says, "To a world taught to see the hand of G-d in every part of Nature, Darwin suggested a different creative force altogether."

"William Howarth, an environmental historian who teaches a course at Princeton called 'Darwin in Our Time,' dates Darwin's doubts about Christianity to his encounters with slave-owning Christians - some of them no doubt citing Scripture as justification - which deeply offended Darwin, an ardent abolitionist." I would add, on my own, that not only would he have been offended as an "ardent abolitionist," but very likely due to his belief in that Scripture, much like a Muslim who ardently opposes the suicide bomber's claim that the Q'uran allows the killing of political opponents.

For instance, "Darwin was troubled by theodicy, the problem of evil; how could a benevolent and omnipotent G-d permit so much suffering in the world h(H)e created?" The truth is that many believers are troubled by the same issue. We are free beings, and if a morally neutral, yet creative, force makes more sense to us in a world of pain, suffering, and strife than a G-d who knows and cares, then we are free to invent one. While not undermining Darwin's pain, much of which was caused by his ten-year old daughter, Annie, who died from tuberculosis in 1851, we can create that god.

Interestingly, "In mainstream Christian seminaries the dominant view according to Holmes Rolston III, a philosopher at Colorado State University and author of 'Genes, Genesis, and G-d,' is that the Biblical creation story is a poetic version of the scientific account, with vegetation and creatures of the sea and land emerging in the same basic order. In this interpretation, G-d gives h(H)is creation a degree of autonomy to develop on its own." Rolston points to Genesis 1:11, where G-d, after creating the heavens and the Earth, says, 'Let the Earth put forth vegetation..." "[But] the account describes a G-d who opens up possibilities in which creatures are generated in an Earth that has these rich capacities."

Furthermore, the writer of the article, Jerry Adler, submits the opinion that human perception of G-d could be a by-product related to a certain point in the development
of the human brain, which biologically speaking, was only made possible at that certain point. If we think about this a bit further, we can come to the empirical standpoint that simpler organisms, such as bacteria, do not have a concept of self, and can say that as an organism becomes more developed and intricate, it eventually forms this perception of self. Once that occurs, the creature can then try to focus on this state of existence, which then allows it to focus on its relationship with beings external to it, those who surround it. Finally, it is able to perceive a pervasive existence that lingers externally to both it and to the other beings; this is G-d.

We know that before Judaism became a religion, people practiced various forms of polytheism. The Talmud (Jewish Oral Law) derives that before this, however, that these people actually perceived and believed in one Being that was defined by complete oneness, but eventually "broke It down" into several. For example, the first generation believed that the One existed, the second believed that they could honor It by honoring its creations, and the third believed that they could cease to direct honor towards It, and began to worship Its creations. Thinking about this, we can conclude that this is precisely the way in which the belief in several deities began; each deity marked and represented a variant force of nature, be it fire, fertility, or death. The traditionally-used analogy is that of light, which appears to the human eye as white light, and when broken by water, for example, appears a wide array of colors, which are pleasing to the eye. Continuing the analogy, each varying color then, is a deity, and the white light, of course, is G-d. This is why deities are so "colorful" and animated, interesting, and alluring; they are more pleasing to the eye than a mere white. Their downfall, however, is that they are a mere representation of the truth, a figment.

The point is that, once humanity was able to perceive this externality, it understood its oneness, but eventually, due to the overwhelming varying nature of nature itself, made the honest mistake of believing that there was an abundance of spiritual existences (or deities) paralleling the abundant existences of nature. Judaism, to compare and contrast, believes that all of the Earth's elements are not separate entities, but invisibly connected, ultimately indicating the oneness of spiritual existence; the One G-d. All, then, is a by-product of this Oneness; Heaven and Earth, and all humanity. Some of these people even believed that there was a father or mother deity whom created all the rest, which is consistent with the belief of the perception of One. According to this view, our biological development itself led to our belief in G-d, and if the theory of evolution that a species survives or dies out according to the usefulness or uselessness of characteristics that it possesses is correct, then the human ablility to perceive G-d is a sign of our evolved state.

*** There is an excellent book about this very topic written by a Jew named "Gerard Schroeder," and it is titled "The Science of G-d." Don't take my word for it, but it is amazing and incredibly rich in acclaimed scientific discoveries and traditional Jewish texts, such as Genesis and the Sage, Nachman(ides), or the "Ramban."