Evolution for Christians

This little guy is a mudskipper.  He lives on tidal mud shoals that, depending on the tide, are above or below water.  He has modified his pectoral fins so that they can drag him across the mud, at low tide.  For his dwelling place he burrows into the

Mudskipper

mud and creates a U-shaped cavity; one arm of the U exits to the outside, while at the end of the other U he fashions a chamber which will not fill with water.  In this very protected chamber the female will lay her eggs.  Although the eggs and developing embryos are perfectly safe from predators, the chamber, with no communication to the outside, has limited oxygen, a gas vital to the survival of the embryos.  So the mudskipper swims from the chamber to the water’s surface, takes in a gulp of air, swims back down then up to the nursery chamber, where he exhales and blows air into it.  In this manner he laboriously supplies oxygen to his developing progeny.  How in the world did this creature arrive at this adaptation?  Is this behavior genetic?  If so, how did the genes get so smart?  Did God create the mudskipper whole cloth (creationism)?  Are his lungs and pectoral fins/legs irreducibly complex, and therefore created by God (intelligent design)?  Is he a product of random mutations that led to variations in his behavior, with the optimal behavior selected for (NeoDarwinism)?  Is this creature to some extent sentient and capable of making educated guesses to enhance his adaptations (MetaDarwinism)?

Welcome to a site exploring how through close readings of evolutionary science, generic Christianity, and science we can gain new insights into life, our Faith, and ourselves.  The number of websites with titles such as “evolution vs Christianity,” “Christianity and evolution,” “creation science vs evolution,” “Intelligent Design and evolution,” and so on attests to the conflict over the validity of evolutionary science and Christianity. A  recent Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans reject the validity of evolution.

Science, particularly evolutionary biology, and Christianity seem to present two dissimilar descriptions of reality, two very different worldviews, two seemingly incompatible books.  At the extremes, there are creationists who devalue evolutionary science, and, at the other pole, atheistic scientists who discredit the truth of Christianity.  I shall argue that both Christianity and evolution are valid.  The picture below nicely depicts, in my opinion, reality, and suggests that the two parties need each other; the two camps are incomplete without each other.

 

Specifically, Christianity, evolution, and science in general inform each other.  They have contours of meeting; together, they form a complete picture.  The figure to the left represents Heaven, the domain of reality inhabited by the Godhead, Adam and Eve, and the devil, a spiritual domain whose time is Kairos time, and whose language is analogic.  On the right is Earth; she is inhabited by life, which has a long history.  Life is Adam and Eve’s counterpart. Earth’s time is Chronos, and its language digital. Heaven and Earth are dissimilar poles of a single reality, and are full of God’s glory.

The history of life on Earth, i.e. evolution, is our first focus.  The Evolution Controversy: A Survey of Competing Theories (Fowler and Kuebler, 2007) describes five theories of evolution: Creationism, Intelligent Design (ID), Theistic Evolution (TE), NeoDarwinism, and MetaDarwinism.  Creationism and ID consider life to be clay, with God the potter.  NeoDarwinism holds that life has evolved through random mutation followed by natural selection (NS), the latter considered the efficient cause of the formation of species, i.e. life is clay, and NS the potter.  TE is a collection of scientists and theologians who ascribe validity to both evolution  and Christianity, but don’t speculate exactly on how they mesh.

MetaDarwinism is a naturalistic system of thought espoused by scientists such as Lynn Margulis, Lynn Caporale, Eva Jablonka, Marion Lamb, Sean Carroll, Franklin Harold, Anthony Trewavas, Stuart Kauffman, and others.  Beyond NeoDarwinism and strict reliance on random changes and NS, they look to such areas as endosymbiosis, self-organization, epigenetics, developmental mutations, and molecular tinkering to try to explain the incredible order and eerie plasticity that life exhibits.  It is from this school that I draw what I find is life’s most remarkable trait: its agency.  It is life as agent that can most harmoniously meld with Christianity.

My model is this: We and all creatures are agents in life.  God has breathed into selected organic molecules the Breath of Life and is in constant dialog with life through his Word.  The Breath is on loan to a life now utterly free to develop in the directions needed for survival.  Life, animated by the loan of the Breath and instructed by the Word, is now distinctly separate and free to optimize itself.  Life has been licensed to modify itself.  It is agentive.  Its freedom is drastic and includes the freedom to conflict within itself and to die.

A close study of life and its history show, however, that all of life is riven with conflict.  From viruses preying on bacteria, to the wars of humankind, conflict prevails all the way back, all the way across every specie, and all the way down to the molecules.  Indeed, even genes can conflict with one another.  Any theory of evolution, and any attempt to meld Christianity and evolution, must explain conflict.

Cover 3A

In my first book Christianity in Evolution–Discovering the Harmony of Science and Faith, I discuss the following topics and the evidence to support the model of life as agent:

  1. What is Life?
  2. Life is Intelligent.
  3. Life Learns.
  4. Life Modifies Itself.
  5. Life is Community.
  6. Life is Self Conflictual.

Having established these characteristics of life in the first six chapters of Christianity in Evolution, I go on to look afresh at the Scriptures, the practice of prayer, and the question of theodicy.  Finally, I examine some of the latest research out of psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience to speculate on the future of Christianity.

Central to the model is the Fall.  Reality, as stated above, is composed of two domains, Heaven and Earth.  Adam and Eve are of Heaven; they are not historical figures.  It is in the realm of Heaven that they move against God; their actions constitute “Original Conflict,” a more graphic and operation term than “Original Sin.”  Their contrary action immediately precipitates shame, the original self-conflict.  Original internecine conflict quickly follows, as Cain moves against God and murders Abel. Historical life, the inhabitants of Earth, mirror the actions of Adam and Eve.  In a sense, life is the incarnation of Adam and Eve.  Christianity in Evolution details the Lord’s interventions, and shows that God is not responsible for life’s and our suffering, disease, and trauma.

The Old and New Testaments describe the actions God has taken to restore life, to bring life back to Him, and to initiate the end of all of life’s conflicts. 

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In my second book, Christianity, Evolution and the Breath of Life, I focus more closely on the issue of the nature of life.  After discussing the salient characteristics of life, I review James Shapiro’s recent book Evolution: a View from the 21st Century. Shapiro is the most recent MetaDarwinist to show experimental evidence that life is an agent in its adaptations.  I go on to explore explanatory gaps, then propose a Judeo-Christian model incorporating the biblical idea of the Breath of Life.  Since this model can be challenged by creation of life in the laboratory, I explore origin of life experiments.  I conclude that if scientists can indeed coax selected molecules to form a living cell, the issue of life’s animation will be pushed to matter itself.  Thus, it would appear that the matter of the universe is penetrated with the Breath, which becomes the basis for life’s ability to modify itself.  After contrasting this idea with Intelligent Design, I go on to offer an original and fresh interpretation of the miracles of Jesus, then a new and unique and highly plausible view of the resurrection.

Agentive life’s salient characteristic is intelligence.  Life forms have progressively developed intelligence, animals by increasing elaborate nervous systems, plants by decentralized intelligence.  Homo sapiens has perfected intelligence, in fact developing multiple intelligences.  Our chief intelligence is social, the capacity to relate constructively to one another.  In other words, we have nascent within us the ability to love. This ability is in turn undergirded by mentalization, the capacity to read each other, to discern and respect each other’s mental states, and to do so with compassion and the willingness to act on another’s behalf.  We have a long way to go to fully realize this capacity. The explication of mentalization and its meanings and uses for the future of Christianity will be the subject of a third book.

The relationship of Christianity to science is ongoing.  There is always more to learn, particularly with science growing at ever more explosive rates.  A major purpose of this blog is to be a forum to speculate on Christianity’s relationship to science,  examine and develop various aspects of spirituality, critique the ideas put forth in Christianity in Evolution, and most importantly, to develop friendships and have some fun.




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5 thoughts on “Evolution for Christians”

  1. I want to thank you for your kind review of “Reinventing the Sacred”. I feel a pathway must be found to span the billion of us, including myself, who do not believe in a Creator God, the three billion who are in the Abrahamic traditions, and three billion more Buddhists, Hindus, Daost, and other traditions that can help bind an emerging interwoven, and I hope forever diverse, set of interacting global civilizations. You are on a similar path, from your book outline. I wish you success. Sincerely, Stuart Kauffman

  2. Dear Dr. Kauffman,
    Dear Dr. Kauffman,

    I am delighted with your comment. Yes, I developed a similar worldview to yours. Another with an almost identical worldview is Anthony Trewavas (Aspects of Plant Intelligence). I am an addictionist, and prior to reading your book, I espoused the model to addicts who had to go to AA if they were to survive, yet could not swallow the Higher Power idea. I have since recommended your book to several with the education to take it in. It is a small beginning toward forming the bridge between the diverse peoples, religions, and philosophies that you speak of. I’ve looked at this interpretation over and over to see if I have it right, and I am now confident that the worldview of life as agent is accurate. It is very interesting to experience just how ingrained the reductionistic science and religious fundamentalist views of life are.

    I heartily agree with your hope that this worldview can unite different religions, or at least create a common vision. And people are coming along. The Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles is thrilled with the view, and it is the publishing arm of his diocese that is publishing my book. He has consented to write the Foreward to it. When I discovered “Reinventing the Sacred,” I had a copy sent to him. The book review I published on my blog was first of all for his benefit.

    Thank you again for your comment. Let’s keep in touch as to different ways we can move this vision forward.

    Ralph Armstrong

  3. Larry,
    Your first four questions are religious questions, to be debated from the Scriptures and the scientific data. The last question is directed to science. Some are directed, for sure, as in the immune system, some are random, as in insects, but the majority we just don’t know, there is no direct evidence.
    Ralph

  4. Dear Stuart,

    I’ve been thinking about your vision of finding common ground upon which everyone can agree, thus creating a uniting influence on very disparate religious and non-religious beliefs. You start with Life as agent, and then, in your discussion of mind, you define mind as a meaning-making system. In my last chapter, “The Future of Christianity,” I quote you to open my discussion of the importance of John Bowlby’s attachment theory, the subsequent elucidation of attachment styles (secure and insecure), and the still later definition of “mentalization” as the mental and interpersonal set that leads to secure attachment. Mentalization is exactly as you define mind, the making of meaning of another person’s mental state at a given moment. It is a construct from psychotherapy, and is the brainchild of 2 UK researchers and clinicians, Anthony Bateman and Peter Fonagy. It is extremely useful, and the process leads to the very rapprochements that you envision. I would be glad to send you my last chapter, where I describe and summarize the applicability of their work. I’m writing to Christians, but these extremely useful concepts belong to all of humankind. Forgive me if you are familiar with Bateman and Fonagy’s work. If you are not, you are in for a real treat. Let me know.

    Ralph

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Exploring how evolution, Christianity, and the sciences inform each other, and us.