Friday, March 20, 2009

Scientists, Jesus, and freaks.

Yesterday I was in a doctors office and I noticed the February 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine. Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin were on the cover; this year being the 200 anniversary of the birth of both men, who were actually born on the same day. I had quite a wait and got through two fairly long articles. The article on Darwin got me thinking about the whole Science vs. Religion thing, particularly as it has played out over the subject of Darwin's so called "Theory of Evolution".

Many people think this is a simple "science in one corner, religion in the other" type of debate. While this is how it plays out in many circles there are notable exceptions. One of the most fascinating and instructive is the case of Teilhard De Chardin. He was a Roman Catholic priest who wrote convincingly in the first half of the 20th century on the subject of the compatabilty of Evolution with his Christian faith. He was both a scientist (Geologist and Paleontologist) and a member of a religious order (The Jesuits). In nutshell, Teilhard believed that Evolution was the one theory to which all others must bow. Science had taught him this fact. And it was indeed a fact, with a capital F, and thus could not be ignored. (note: the Smithsonian article, while not mentioning Teilhard, or even the subject of religion, did point out that although there were "gaps" in Darwin's theory, which Darwin himself readily acknowledged, that all science since, and I mean ALL science since, has only proven Darwin's initial theory utterly correct).

So then, how does a priest, whose "traditional" religious inheritance is obviously challenged by this Theory of Evolution, deal with what appears to be (on the surface at least) two incompatable world views? Well here, in a slightly oversimplified form, is how Teilhard answered this question. In the physical world, before a species "evolves" there are what Teilhard called "progenitors" or "sports". These are freaks of nature so to speak who have jumped out ahead of the pack and evolved before the rest of the species. He believed that there was also, humanly speaking, an evolutionary component on the spirtiual plane. Christ was an example of this type of"progenitor". He was a human who had made this leap ahead of the existing consciousness. He was a freak. So far ahead in fact that people came to use words like "Divine" when describing him. The Buddha would be an obvious second example of this type of individual. Think about this for minute...okay now take another minute...

Pretty good news I'd say.

Now go and look yourself in the mirror and say "Hello you cute little future Buddha" or something like that.


LD Peace Gal said...

I too believe that we are evolving spiritually as well as physically. It seems though that those who read the bible literally could agree that humans are evolving spiritually and still not believe in Darwin’s evolution.

Tom said...

Mike, I think you've hit it right on the nose. So many people (faithful Christians at that) are caught up by this notion that "either Creationism is true or the Bible is false". What people not realize is that the Genesis creation story is ultimately about relationships. What is the relationship of God to the Created universe? What is the nature of man's relationship to the universe? what is man to God? These are the questions I believe we need to ask when reading Genesis. Ultimately, in terms of Biblical Criticism, it's about genre, which determines how it is to be understood.
Now that said, I do have one point point of "clarification" perhaps is the best word. I would agree that Jesus had (and not all XP's would agree, such as N.T. Wright for instance) a very developed awareness of who he was. I read you as saying this is what made him divine, and I would argue this is not the case. Ultimately, I think we have to take seriously the Incarnation as an actuality of history. Jesus' ultimate reality is Divinity Incarnate, made flesh, which is not dependant on his awareness of his origins. I'm thinking of the Prologue of John - The Word (Logos) made flesh. While others claim a certain amount of wisdom, none claim to be the fullness (pleroma) of God's Wisdom, and that has implications which I think most Christian don't even begin to understand (or could we ever?)
Have a good Holy Week see you on Easter. TJ

talandisjr said...

Interesting thoughts, Mike! Very thought provoking...

JacobFeldman said...

I think this is an interesting point, and one that ties in with an issue I've had with the Creationism/evolution debate. Creationism does not have to be a religious notion by any means and, in fact, can tie in with evolution.
My favorite thought experiment on this matter, first told to me in a class entitled "Does God Exist?", is as follows:
One morning, you wake up and there is a nativity scene, or what looks very much like one, formed in ice on your kitchen window. Now being the skeptic that you are you bring in a team of scientists who give you a very detailed analysis of wind currents, the effect of sunlight through the trees, and icicles melting to explain why this phenomena has come about. You also bring in a group of religious men and women who tell you, well it's a sign from one god or another.

This scenario of the ice nativity scene is not a logical impossibility. (re: Grilled cheese with Jesus' face on it).

I bring this thought experiment up because it relates to issues such as the evolution of the eye, and creatures such as the Bombardier beetle.

The issue at hand, to me, is Occam's Razor.

...Not that proving the existence of a god is necessary the simplest explanation.

...and not to say that I'm at all decided on the matter.

...But I do like the idea of the divine nature of evolution.

BAXTER'S said...

Gently, Gently as we say. My opinion is that there is some truth in every religion and probably no true truth in any. Unfortunately, religion is a dangerous thing. Spirituality, however, need not be,