October 3, 2004/Edited in November-December 2007
Evolution seems to be one of the ultimate battlegrounds between science and religion, despite its overwhelming support from the scientific community, science itself, and acceptance of by most religious denominations—with the glaring exception of fundamentalism. In ancient times, when people needed explanations, religion offered something far more often than science. Too often, religious explanations either took the style of the horrible monarchs that ruled their countries and broke their own laws or simply gave fanciful myths or miracles. Unfortunately, the benign early chapters of Genesis gave way to doctrines of humans as fallen creatures in need of atonement and rescue.
However, the reader could accept evolution and still believe in a Savior God rescuing the world from the sin. Religious evolutionists still admit that humans are quite selfish, if not fallen, the result of being big-time winners in the evolutionary struggle. I want this revised Evolution service to be accessible to more faiths than Unitarians, liberal Christians and whatnot. So there are three issues here: the start and continuation of life together with the events surrounding the first people, and the nature of mankind. Even that first australopithecine couple may have really gotten God mad. I doubt it, but there’s a lot of cultural baggage that threatens us into believing it. The fall of Adam and Eve may remind me of the North Korean policy of imprisoning the grandchildren and children of political prisoners, but so what?
Today, many can throw out radioactive dating or that stars have a life and death as if these weren’t part of natural law. Others feel that they’re too good to have cavemen as distant ancestors but cling to original sin beliefs while the war machine and terrorists grind on with torture coming out of our closet.
I hope we can proclaim evolution as more than the integrator of the sciences but as a glorious account of what has really happened on Planet Earth. However, evolution offers a model of reality that’s value-free; we still need a system of ethics. Certainly we don’t need to praise “survival of the fittest” like the Social Darwinists of old. Yet we can praise God as that spark of life—moving creation onward. Getting away from the special creation in Genesis doesn’t mean renouncing God whatsoever. In fact, through an acceptance and understanding of evolution, we should be able to praise God in a more coherent and up-to-date fashion.
Let’s remember two key facts: (1) Theory in science is far more conclusive than the use of the term “theory” in everyday life, (2) Evolution refers to changes in populations not individuals; furthermore, this change is inheritable through genetic material. Unfortunately, some dictionaries even offer faulty definitions of evolution. No wonder the layman often has a confused notion of evolution. Indeed, I’m going to gamble later on discussing evolution in language and food, despite that these can’t be genetic changes but do explain culture changes in populations.
When biologists say that humans and chimpanzees evolved from the same common ancestor, it means that “heritable changes in the two separated populations have occurred since they became isolated, according to an article at http://www.talkorigins.org. But evolution is like a branching bush, not a ladder. Only one of the nineteen three-toed horses evolved into Equus, the one-toed horse of today.
First Reading: Keynote Statement for Religious Naturalism
“We find our sources of meaning within the natural world, where humans are understood to be emergent from and hence a part of nature. Our religious quest is informed and guided by the deepening and evolving understandings fostered by scientific inquiry. It is also informed and guided by mindful understandings inherent in our human traditions, including art, literature, philosophy, and the religions of the world.
The natural world and its emergent manifestations in human creativity ad community are the focus of our immersion, wonder, and reverence. We may describe our religious sensibilities using various words that have various connotations—like the sacred, or the source, or god—but it is our common naturalistic orientation that generates our shared sense of place, gratitude, and joy.
We acknowledge as well a shared set of values and concerns pertaining to peace, justice, dignity, cultural and ecological diversity, and planetary sustainability. We may differ on how these concerns are best addressed, but we re committed to participating in their resolution.” http://www.religiousnaturalism.org This statement doesn’t have to be a call to praise the creation instead of the creator but a call that acknowledges we’re reminded of the Divine when we see the creation.
Exploring, Part One: Evidence for Evolution
Charles Darwin and Archaeopteryx
Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, was jolted into developing the theory by way of a trip to South America and the Galapagos Islands—off the coast of Ecuador. Darwin, a naturalist, noticed that the animals on the mainland differed from related animals on the islands. Moreover, there were even different species on the different islands of the Galapagos: finches, tortoises, and iguanas to name a few. Finally, Darwin asked himself, “Why did recent fossils like glyptodonts and ground sloths resemble current species, but still were different? Darwin realized that life must have evolved and wasn’t created all at once. Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species in 1859.
Just two years later, the first missing link was discovered: Archaeopteryx. Archaeopteryx was half bird and half small theropod dinosaur, a creature like Velociraptor of fame from the Jurassic Park movie. And it too lived during the Jurassic Period, roughly 140 million years ago. Since 1861, seven more Archaeopteryx have been discovered. Furthermore, paleontologists discovered seven more dinosaur-like birds that are 30-40 million years more recent than Archaeopteryx.
More Missing Links
Missing link abounds in the fossil record. The path from fish to amphibian is the route of coelacanths like Eusthenopteron to a strong-tailed amphibian named Ichthyostega. How about the path from amphibian to reptile? We got Seymouria, discovered right near Wichita Falls, Texas. How about reptile to mammal? We have quite a fossil record there. Pelycosaurs, like the famous finback, Dimetrodon, were followed by therapsids, like the husky Moschops, and finally cynodonts, or mammal-like reptiles, like Cynognathus.
What skeletal changes do we see from reptile to mammal? The five-piece reptilian jaw streamlines to a one-piece mammalian jaw bone. Meanwhile, reptiles only have one simple ear bone, but that evolved to three ear bones in mammals.
Certain elements like Uranium 238, Potassium/Argon, and Carbon 14 are radioactive. Uranium changes to lead, potassium changes to argon, and carbon 14 changes to carbon 12. These three isotopes can be found in rock of varying ages with uranium good for dating the oldest and carbon 14 best for dating the youngest.
It “takes a certain length of time for half of the atoms to decay, and it will take the same amount of time for half of the remaining atoms, or a fourth of the original total, to decay. In the next interval, with only a fourth remaining only one eighth of the original total will decay” and so forth. Moreover, these rates of radioactive decay don’t vary even
when subjected to extreme heat, cold and pressure. Are we ready to accept that formulas in math and science are as much a part of God’s laws as not lying or stealing? How about shouting a “Praise God!” for radioactive formulas?
Younger layers of rock are deposited on top of older layers of rock. Old fossils are never found with younger fossils. The only way an older rock formation can be found on top is through an occurrence like the Llano Uplift near Austin, Texas. Forces pushing from below made the older rocks go to the earth’s surface. Really famous fossils are called index fossils because you can use the fossil to date the rock in which it was found.
DNA and RNA
Since 1960, we’ve had another scientific proof for evolution: DNA and RNA, the degree of difference between proteins is proportional to the time since they split apart. Thus all living things on earth, from viruses to people, share this DNA code of life, protein synthesis machinery, and the ATP system of energy transfer.
Andrew Peacock, a biochemist and Anglican priest, pioneered the early DNA research. Peacock sees the remarkable sharing of all life forms in DNA sequencing and proteins as strong evidence for a “common origin of all living organisms and evolution.” Reverend Peacock hails the epic of evolution from the “Hot Big Bang” to Homo sapiens as an illumination of how the creator God has really been creating. “We witness an increase in complexity and a capacity to be self-conscious and relate the Creator,” according to the theistic naturalism of Reverend Peacock.
Evolution as a Model in Language Development
I will conclude offering evidence for evolution from science through using evolution as a model in cultural change: language and national cuisines. Thus this is certainly not evolution in a genetic change sense, but we can see a change in populations beyond the individual. In addition, these changes take place in a historical perspective not the millions of years to see something like fish evolve to amphibian.
First, I’m going to start with a linguistics professor from Zaire (now Congo again) who teaches at the University of Chicago, Salikoko Mufwene. Dr. Mufwene speaks the king’s English, French, and whatever African languages, and he does it while analyzing the evolution of language, whether standard or somewhat slang. “Competition and Selection in Language Evolution” is one of his many scholarly articles.
An easy way to understand language evolution is to see that Latin evolved into the Romance languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Romanian. Language splintering follows colonization. Before the evolution of Latin, we had the splintering of the Indo-European languages from a common proto-Indo-European language. Bantu languages in southern Africa diversified too.
Importantly for evolutionist, language is like a species, a construct extrapolated by individual idiolects. Each language learner integrates what (s) he has heard in a manner like gene recombination. Languages change simply through the efforts of speakers to accommodate each other, “Watchale Border Spanish” changed from “Mirale el espanol de la frontera.”
As mainly a teacher of English writing and grammar, I want to get to the bottom of the reasons for the mutilated subject-verb agreement and irregular verb usage that I live with daily. Importantly, many a scholarly black speaker will deliberately use the dialect vernacular on occasion for aesthetic preference as well as a persuasive rhetorical tool. Dialect in this instance has to be verbal, not visual. How can you have an Ebonics run-on sentence?
When I heard that Black English is rooted in African language grammar rules, I answered, “Which one?” There are roughly one hundred languages spoken in each of the three regions of the Sudan alone. So some Internet surfing revealed that Dr. Mufwene found that the Niger-Congo language family had somehow surpassed the other African languages as a viable cluster of grammar rules for the creolization process of English.
I finally communicated with Dr. Mufwene by email in Summer 2007, and he told me that a full-blown Black English couldn’t have developed before 1877 until the end of Reconstruction when segregation was strictly enforced. Paradoxically, a Black English couldn’t have evolved during slavery since southern blacks and whites still interacted, albeit in a tragic way. Creole languages, like the Gullah, evolved on the islands off South Carolina in a way that reminds me of those Galapagos species much earlier.
Evolution of Cuisines (added in 2007)
Did you know that Soul Food is basically British food jazzed up with black and Native American spices, along with extra vegetables like okra and yams? Hmmm.
We could look at changes in food over the centuries as a type of evolution in cultures that we can see historically. It may not produce changes in one’s genetic code, but it surely produces change in populations. The Spanish Conquest of Latin America brought tomatoes to Italy, potatoes to Ireland, and more. Later those potatoes were made into vodka in Russia. The Americas got rice and wheat out of the deal. All of this happened after 1520.
The French conquered Southeast Asia in the mid 1800’s. The French bread roll is the start of the Vietnamese sandwich; moreover, the word for bread in Vietnamese, banh, is almost the same as the Spanish and French word—pan. Pate, French goose liver, is spread on the bread, and the Vietnamese like the French vegetable trilogy of celery, carrots, and onions too. We could go on-and-on about food, but I bet that you watch the Food Channel anyway.
Agriculture produces change in all kinds of domestic animals and plants; moreover, we witness that type of evolution historically—a real genetic change seen in populations.
Evolution Sermon: Part 2
John Shelby Spong
Let’s start the more religious component of this service with some thoughts from John Shelby Spong, a famous retired Episcopal bishop. Spong writes “The Bishop’s Voice.” (e-publication) and at least once, he wrote about his strong support for evolution.
First, Spong defines anthropology as “the study of human nature, human institutions and the interpretative myths of human beings.” Spong’s thesis asserts that Christian anthropology is very negative in describing humans as wicked and fallen from perfection. The human race even supposedly inherits the first sin of Adam eating a fruit because Eve tempted him after the Devil as Snake tempted her. Importantly, Spong observes that no parental training could produce healthy children with such rhetoric. “Original sin is pre-modern mythology and post-modern nonsense,” declares Spong. Spong clearly represents the extreme revisionist side concerning evolution. Like I wrote earlier, you can believe in evolution and a need for humans to be saved from sin through choosing the right theological belief.
But Darwin’s evolution implies God isn’t finished with us yet notes Spong. The intense struggle to survive has led to victory for human but admittedly as radically self-centered. Spong defines salvation as a “call to go beyond our limits” and enter a new spirituality.”Spong doesn’t see Jesus as the one who died for our sins but still as “Christ
and a defining God presence.” Thus Spong offers a positive theology that still accounts for human evil’s real root.
PBS: Scientists who are Christian and Pro-Evolution
Francisco Ayala cites Pope John Paul II (1996) who observed that the “conclusions reached by scientific disciplines can’t be in contradiction with divine revelation,” thereby accepting the scientific conclusion that evolution is a well-established theory. Religious scientists are quick to assert that neither science nor religion is the only way to know about God’s laws or reality.
Mark Noll expresses his belief as God speaking to us through two books—Scripture and Nature. The Bible isn’t threatened by responsible scientific investigation. Don’t read early Genesis as if it “were written by a fact-checker at the New York Times,” jests Noll. Already I inserted the section by DNA researcher/Anglican priest, Arthur Peacock in the first half of this service in that biochemistry section.
Notes from Seven Great Post-Biblical Revelations
I bet this service subtitle would appear as an oxymoron to most fundamentalists. It’s sad that old biblical story-telling can be viewed as a substitute for science anymore than someone attempt to rationalize coveting, stealing, or killing—whether it’s from evolutionary science, politics, or psychology. Survival of the fittest was twisted in Social Darwinism and its justification for racism. But evolution can reconcile science and religion in a positive way—clearly the opposite of evolution posing a threat. Moreover, evolution can serve as a bridge to other religions not a prelude to ideological invasion. This worldview should inspire us to “ensure a good future by co-creating evolution (God’s) next adventure in cooperation and complexity.” Humans can live in symbiosis with nature and technology too. Is this positive or what?
Meaning changes over time and there is never only one right interpretation of anything. Meanings vary according to being useful, inspiring, and empowering. Traditional religious values still remain at the heart of individuals maturing and fulfilling our evolutionary potential. Sure nobody has a chance of becoming perfect, but we can make a comeback after a setback. Beliefs like the level of oxygen gas needed for life on earth evolve with time. Vital, life-giving beliefs can become counterproductive and stifling later.
As a species, we’re expanding in communication, thought processes, and technologies of discovery like n God can be viewed as the largest nesting doll—transcendent yet including the other levels of reality. In contrast, the devil personifies entropy: violent, chaotic, and destructive. The cosmos tends toward greater differentiation, complexity, and self-awareness.
Evolution, as a cultural phenomenon, leads to cooperation at an ever-increasing scale. But the fundamental barrier to cooperation is self-interest, often revealed through freeloading and cheating.
Come to think of it; not all cooperation is good when we examine warfare. Warfare seems to look unfair to the previous age. The terrorists blow up civilians and themselves without warning, which goes beyond kamikaze pilots blowing up fellow warriors and themselves. Likewise, the Japanese had to get used to the 13th century Mongols not introducing themselves before combat. Our American revolutionaries wore camouflage and hid among the trees rather than marching into the prairie to battle the British redcoats.
Yet we have leaders like Norman Schwarzkopf do research on friendly fire, soldiers accidentally shooting their own comrades, so it won’t happen again. We try to restrain chemical and atomic warfare. Therefore, all that expanding and differentiation can lead to good or evil.
Connie Barlow: Is This Not Divine?—a UU and missionary for evolution
The death of stars leads to its recycling, so new stars are born. This would have been impossible to witness before advanced telescopes. Belief that stars have a life and death mysteriously can interfere with some folks’ religious doctrines. Copernicus got in trouble for the transition phase of replacing the earth as the center of the universe with the sun. Religious figures just didn’t mind their own business.
Let’s examine the thought of Connie Barlow, a UU who focuses on the divinity of evolution. One of her services notes various facts found during the modern age. We know that the squirrel buries the acorn, leading to more oak and hickory trees. Gymnosperms used to be the dominant trees. We know that plants give off oxygen and animals breathe oxygen. Meanwhile animals exhale carbon dioxide while plants take it in. Finally, Barlow concludes that our notions of the self must expand, or evolve, to include other creatures and our planet—a religious value shift that is under way for many of us.
We started our service on Evolution as Integrator of the Sciences and Spiritual Inspiration through the scientific evidence together with the cultural and spiritual ramifications. The range of back-up from science ties so many disciplines together that evolution literally unifies the sciences. We have chemistry tell us about radioactive dating; biochemistry tells us about DNA and proteins; stratigraphy explains that older rocks are deposited before younger rocks; paleontology shows us transitional species, and so forth. Much of agriculture is based on making evolution happen through manipulating the genetics of domesticated animals and plants for food. Evolution works as a cultural model also. Languages evolve with time as does cuisine.
And a belief in a divinely guided evolution is spiritually inspiring through offering a grounding—a blueprint– for respecting creation and leads to ethical thought on a larger, less tribal scale. We’re making progress even though sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back. Above all, don’t make a false idol out of survival of the fittest. We shouldn’t bully those, physically or psychologically, that aren’t as strong as us nor given to bad-hearted schemes.
Consider stop looking at divine law as humans inheriting a fallen nature requiring saving from damnation through belief in one creed., but you don’t have to leave orthodox Christianity to believe in evolution. We’re inclined to be selfish but generally are pretty good creatures.
In fact, good humans are probably getting better at praising God through more denominations from which to choose and improved technology to transmit the message. Moreover, a divinely guided acceptance of evolution gives us a more coherent way to view God’s creation as well as God too.