Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The miracle of evolution

     I've been staying with my parents in Boulder for the past few days. And one of the joys of such visits is rambling through the library of my father, a retired NASA scientist. For some reason I pulled down Aristotle to Zoos: A Philosophical Dictionary of Biology, by P.B. Medawar and J.S. Medawar (Harvard: 1983) and have been browsing happily.
     The entry on barnacles includes the fact that "Aristotle understood the special reproductive problems of creatures which do not move." The essay for "Man's Place in Nature" touches upon humanity's gradual realization that the Lords of the Earth are actually animals ourselves, a cousin to the gorilla with delusions of grandeur.
    Leading us to the entry under "creationism," which contains an idea that, for all the debate over the subject, I had never heard expressed before, and it's potent enough that I thought it merits sharing:
     We are surprised at the obstinacy with which creationists cleave to literal creationism. So doing, they fail to realize that the evolutionary concept is a much grander and more awe-inspiring conception—in keeping with what C.S. Lewis referred to as rational piety, and for many people conducive to reverence.
     Of course. Not only is the "And then God made everything, end of story" of the Bible wrong, but like so many untruths, it's a gross impoverishment of the reality that it supposedly describes. The religious fairy tale pales in the sense of awe and wonder that one would expect the actual creation of everything that exists in the universe would evoke, and does, when you grasp the actuality of it. Any deity worthy of the name would prefer credit for the vast, interconnected, incremental clockwork progress of evolution, its patience, subtlety and beauty playing out over billions of years, to the tossed-off because-I-say-so of the Bible. Comparing Darwinian and Biblical notions of the origins of life is like comparing our DNA blueprint to a crayon stick figure.
    But no need for much elaboration. I'd rather you re-read the quote by the Medewars (a British couple; Peter, a biologist, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1960; Jean approached him over the meaning of "heuristic" and love ensued) than listen to me extemporize upon it. Just as faith so often serves up hatred when it's supposed to encourage love, so its view of creation as a dusty desert whim of theological fascism viewed through a keyhole crumbles next to the magnificent real miracle of evolution.


  1. And of course the first few books of the old Testament are part of the Torah as well.

  2. We also ofttimes prefer the simple (and simplistic) morality tales of the triumph of good over evil displayed in elementary history textbooks than the more nuanced and interesting tales told by scholars. Except of course when the facts appear scandalous and shocking.


  3. I was always agnostic, but in learning the scientific facts about the creation of the universe and everything in it while studying for my degree in Earth Science, I discovered a deep reverence for the miracle of Creation beyond anything the church had ever provided.

  4. The column rings very true, especially when you consider that Genesis has God making man out of dust, which is very undistinguished. Creating man from dust, dirt or mud is a common religious myth.

    Bitter Scribe

  5. I think that’s pretty much what the catholic theologian teilhard de Chardin posited many years ago.

  6. Humans have been toying with creationism since the concept of God first occured to us. We created God because we couldn't understand life. If we take a step back and look at what we've created -- a shallow, conceptual reflection of ourselves -- we might stop worshipping our creation, and begin to worship life.


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