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Fri, 13 Feb 2009
Yesterday was the two hundredth anniversary of the birthdays of two important historic figures: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Lincoln's legacy is stronger than ever today, especially since the election of America's remarkable new president, Barack Obama. While Lincoln's well-deserved fame continues to grow, Darwin's reputation has been tarnished somewhat by the world's failure to understand his theory of evolution.
Two main problems plague the theory of evolution today. One is the persistence of antievolutionist beliefs, with seven-day creationism as the extreme example. The other problem is the stubborn misunderstanding of the meaning of evolution by so-called skeptics and rationalists. Scientists have done a good job trying to address the first problem by explaining the massive evidence for evolution to the public.
In honor of this anniversary of Darwin's birth, I'd like to say a few words about the second problem - the misinterpretation of evolution by those who claim to think rationally. Some of what I will say here has been said before, but it bears repeating because many seem to have ignored it.
The theory of evolution is not a philosophy or a religion. It is a scientific theory that explains how types of living organisms come into being. It is a theory supported by massive and convincing evidence. The theory of evolution shows how new species can develop without the help of supernatural acts of creation. However, the theory of evolution does not contradict the basic religious ideas that there is a supreme being and that the universe is meaningful.
The theory of evolution does NOT say there is no God. It says that natural events, not supernatural miracles, created living things - but that is not the same as saying there is no God.
As I explained in my ebook God and Darwin: Buddies!, there are at least two ways that God could have created the universe even if evolution is true. (I'm talking about the real, scientific, Darwinistic version of evolution - not so-called "intelligent design," which is watered-down creationism.) God could be the creator of the universe even if there are no violations of natural law (not even at the Big Bang!) and no interruptions of the flow of natural causation by divine doodling. Religious believers are free to adopt this alternative view of creation if they wish. Evolution does not rule out the possibility of a creator of the universe. It only rules out certain ancient, literalistic beliefs about that creator.
What is more, there can be a God even if there is no supernatural creator at all! In my online article "God: The Next Version" I presented an idea of God that does without the supernatural. The God I portrayed there is a real God - not just a fancy name for the physical universe (as in some forms of pantheism), but an ideal being who embodies the supreme good. You don't have to believe in any supernatural beings or forces to believe in such a God.
When skeptics claim that evolution rules out God or makes God obsolete, they are talking baloney. The concept of God is a philosophical idea that can take many forms. Not everyone's idea of God is incompatible with evolution!
Evolution also does not imply that humans are "only" animals. Yes, we are animals - but the difference between humans and other animals is so obvious that we don't need God or Darwin to help us see it. Humans are animals, but humans are special. We are special, not because of where we came from, but because of what we are right now - and specifically, because of what our brains are. No discovery about our origins can make us less special. The discovery that our "specialness" resulted from evolution makes us all the more remarkable.
Finally, evolution does not imply that the universe is meaningless. Our experiences of meaning and value may be truthful experiences that reveal real, objective meaning and value in the world. The fact that evolution gave us the ability to have these experiences does not make them any less important. The questions of whether existence has real meaning, and of whether values are objectively real, are philosophical questions that cannot be answered through scientific methods alone.
I hope these remarks will clarify some of the common confusions about the meaning of evolution. Let's celebrate Darwin's two hundredth birthday by finally getting the implications of his theory right!
posted at: 22:45 | path: /religion/science_and_religion | persistent link to this entry
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