A while ago in the corner of Facebook where I hang out a wave of "25
random things about me" passed through. People posted a list of things
about themselves as a means of getting to know their Facebook friends.
Among my 25 things I wrote:
That triggered some reactions, so I promised to expand on the thought.
In my personal epistemology I make a distinction between knowledge known by the rational mind and truths known by the spirit. The former is the scope of the science and logic, the latter falls outside the scope of science and logic. For science, spiritual truths are irrational beliefs. So it is difficult to have a dialogue between science and faith.
Since the Scientific Revolution our knowledge of the universe has been exploding through application of the scientific method, logic, reasoning and mathematics. So we can explain more and more about how the universe works and we have applied that knowledge to the development of all kinds of technologies that have been both improving and destroying the way of life of millions of people.
I am not a scientist. But I have a basic understanding of how this approach is applied to do research, gain knowledge and apply that knowledge. Related approaches to gaining knowledge are also applied in the study of history, human culture, language and many other fields.
I have no reason to doubt the knowledge that has been gained and validated by scientists and scholars over the years. So I believe planet Earth is approximately spherical and it is in a orbit around the sun. I believe the Romans invaded this part of Europe about 2,000 years ago and they spoke and wrote Latin. I believe my computer is formed of chips manufactured by etching minute electrical circuits into layers of semiconducting silicon and it is communicating with other computers in the wide world by means of TCP/IP.
So, when the same system of scientific research shows that Earth is many millions of years old and during that period life forms have been changing according to a system of evolution, why should I doubt this information? Of course, I understand that knowledge is not complete in this area. Just as when I have symptoms of some kind of disease, I understand that the doctors may not be able to give me a complete explanation of what is wrong with me and why. And they may not have a treatment that will provide a certain cure, because medical knowledge is not complete. But that is no reason for me not to place reliance on the advice of my doctor.
I do think it is important to understand properly what science does say about how evolution works. There was an interesting article in de Volkskrant a while ago summarising several common misunderstandings. I have listed them here
The theory of evolution is just a theory
- actually the scientific position is that it is almost as solid as Pythagoras' theorem
The origin of life? Evolution theory does not explain that
- actually evolution theory does not intend to explain the origin of life, only its development over time
Evolution ensures that plants and animals continually improve
- it is a persistent misunderstanding that evolution results in continuous improvement in life forms. Actually, there is no specific direction to evolutionary change. Life forms undergo small random changes and the changes that best match the changing environment are the most persistent.
People are descended from apes
- this is not true. It is true that evolution theory proposes that people and apes have a common ancestor. But people also share a common ancestor with tigers, snails and ferns.
Evolution is survival of the fittest
- The phrase "survival of the fittest" was not used by Darwin in the first edition of On the Origin of Species. It is a concept introduced by the philosopher Herbert Spencer before Darwin's publication. 'Fittest' may suggest the one in the best condition. Whereas evolution theory proposes that the creature best suited to its environment has the best chance of survival. So there are two different meanings of 'fit' that cause confusion.
Something as complex as the eye could not have come into existence by a simple process like evolution
- this is commonly heard argument used against evolution theory. Evolution is a simple undirected process, how could it create such a complex system? Well, the fact is it can.
We should not help the weak, it is contrary to the principles of Darwinism
- this is a well known misconception of Social Darwinism in the first half of the 20th century. The rationale is: evolution is good and helping the weak is counter-productive in the evolutionary process. However, evolution is neither good or bad. It just happens. So there is really no relationship with the moral question of helping the weak.
Belief and faith are matters of the spirit. For Christians the Bible is an authoritative collection of documents. When reading the Bible we have to distinguish between the different types of documents of which it is comprised.
The New Testament texts are among the most reliable texts from that period of history. We know who wrote them and when and why. They are verifiable historical documents. Genesis and other books of the Pentateuch are different. It is much older than the NT. Tradition teaches that it was written by Moses, but we cannot substantiate that. Textual analysis seems to show that it is a merger of more than one document.
Genesis tells about many things:
- the nature of God
- His relationship with His creation
- His intention
- the position of man in relation to God and in relation to the rest of creation
These are all things in the realm of the spirit and the realm of faith. They are truths beyond the realm of science. And I believe them in my spirit and use them in my rational mind to relate them to other biblical truths.
I know there are many Christians who take the view that we should believe that Genesis provides a literal account of the creation of the universe by God and that such a position is incompatible with evolution theory. Then, as part of their defence of that position they attack the validity of the scientific account of evolution. I think it makes no sense to do that. Science has its logical methods of investigating and validating the truths within its scope. If science says evolution is the way lifeforms change over long periods of time, then there is no point in trying to argue against that from a spiritual position. The only way to approach it is the way the scientific method approaches validation of theories - with good evidence and good logic.
I also hear the challenge that I am 'picking and choosing' among which parts of the Bible I hold to be true. I believe we have to approach the interpretation of the books of the Bible recognising the differences among them and using all the relevant data about the texts. I also think it is not possible to pick and choose among the parts of scientific knowledge that we accept.
So when I wrote "I think that someday we will understand how evolution and Genesis fit together." I was expressing the expectation that someday we will understand how God came to create a universe including life forms that evolve over long periods of time and how that does not contradict the spiritual truths of Genesis and maybe even maps onto it.