Back after the Republican debate “moderated” by Chris Matthews, I started thinking about the whole stupid “do you believe in evolution” question. That single moment of dumbness started a line of thought in me that kept growing. It seems appropriate, considering that “bullshit” is both a rhetorical term of meaninglessness and a potent fertilizer.
I’ve often described myself as an agnostic. I clearly distinguish my status as a “doubter,” not a “disbeliever.” I hold no great hostility for religion; it simply “doesn’t work” for me.
But I don’t reject it.
I’ve always been a believer in science. It doesn’t always come up with the answers right away, but it has a consistent record of finding the right answers — eventually — that no other approach comes close to. It’s tangible, it’s logical (if often counterintuitive), and it’s verifiable.
Some have taken science to be their substitute for religion. They sink all their faith and belief in science, and hold the devout (and their beliefs) in contempt. It’s mysticism, it’s self-delusion, it’s fantasy.
On the other side, there are those to whom their faith is all they need. Scientists are godless heretics, meddling in matters Man was not to trifle with and playing God.
Then there’s the middle, where the vast majority of Americans live.
At its core, I don’t think there is anything fundamentally incompatible with Christianity and science, between the Bible and natural history. All it takes is a little application of common sense and logic.
In the Bible, God is most often described paternalistically. “Holy Father,” “Our Father who art in Heaven,” even in the old drunken priest joke of “Daddy, Junior, and the Spook.” He is our creator, our father, and we are His children.
I don’t have any children of my own, but I’m very close to some people who are — in my opinion — excellent parents. And one element they all have in common is they teach their children what they need to know in terms the child can comprehend.
With that in mind, and considering the social and technological development of the people at the time the Bible was written (or handed down by God), there is no problem with accepting the Bible as history — written in a way that the intended audience can grasp it.
I find myself inspired by Bill Cosby’s “Noah” routine. I see God dictating the Bible to some poor schlub:
“Then I saw that things weren’t going so well, so I figured I’d pretty much wipe the slate clean and start over. I arranged for nearly all life on the planet to be wiped out.”
“Wow, that’s big. How’d You do that?”
“I steered an asteroid to…”
“A big rock. I had a big rock fall from the sky.”
“Just one big rock?”
“It was a very big rock.”
“And it landed on everything?”
“No, it was so large that it blasted enough debris into the air and blotted out the sun.”
“And they all died because it was dark?”
“No, because the dust changed the climate so severely, almost no plants and animals could survive.”
(Sigh) “Never mind. You know what a flood is?”
“Yes, last year my cousin’s village got wiped out by one.”
“OK, then. Just write down that I made it rain so hard and so long that the whole world flooded.”
That resolves pretty much all of the problems in the Bible. God once stopped the sun in the sky at Joshua’s request, but that flies in the face of the fact that the sun doesn’t move through the sky, the Earth revolves around the sun.
Or to simply add, parenthetically, a bit of clarifying detail: for example, in Genesis, that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (with a big bang).”
Science, to the devout, is not about disproving God or replacing Him. It’s about seeing how He did what He did, discovering the laws and rules that He set down and then followed. It’s about learning the laws of God that He didn’t spell out in the Bible, but had it written down by Newton and Einstein and Edison and Galileo and Copernicus and Brahe and Tesla and Watson and Crick and Hawking and Ptolemy and Archimedes and uncounted other seekers of truth.
But back to the original point: is there anything heretical in believing in evolution? No. It, like pretty much every other scientific theory or principle, is simply a study of how God works, learning the rules that He set up for His creation. Or it’s simply the way things developed, because it was the most efficient way.
There’s an old aphorism that inverts the Biblical phrase and says that “Man created God in his own image,” and there’s a strong element of truth to that. Each person’s perception of God is, largely, based on his perception of himself.
I think of myself as a writer. And one of the goals of any writer — hell, any artist — is to be invisible. To create our art in such a way that the art itself stands on its own, seemingly independent of any creator, to totally captivate the audience that they don’t see it as a creation, a construct, a work of fiction, but as a reality all its own. To erase the puppet strings that tie us to our works.
From one writer to another, I salute God (if He exists). For he has done what I aspire to: to craft a creation that literally stands on its own without His constant attention, without Him having to show His hand on a regular basis to maintain things, to engineer an entire universe where it is not only possible to overlook His role in the creation, but even fashionable to deny His very existence. This entire universe, in that sense, can be considered the ultimate achievement in the Creative Arts.
And all those who play little “gotcha games” with oranges and platypuses and dinosaurs — grow up. You’re the modern-day equivalent of the medieval theologians who argued about angels dancing on heads of pins — and the last thing this world needs is more pinheads.
I’d like to thank two dear friends of mine (who are both outstanding parents, in nearly opposite ways) for helping me come to these conclusions. I’ve mentioned Candy many times, but the other is an irregular presence here who always changes his name in a little game to see if he can “sneak” comments past me. I’ll just refer to him by the name I gave him last summer — “Jay Paparazzo.”