Evolution.Epip6C.2010

Epiphany 6C, 2010/2013
Proverbs 8:1-7a, 8-9

A Liturgy is also available

THE GIFT OF WISDOM AND MYSTERY: EVOLUTION

"Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs
must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.
Whether it is our view of the world, our image of ourselves, or our beliefs about God - everything
must be rethought in response to our knowledge of how deeply we are rooted
in natural processes" (Philip Hefner 2008:x).

"God is not a being but a process: God does not create the universe;
God is the process of creation (Karl Peters 1989: 481).


This weekend we celebrate Darwin Day.  And as a colleague reminds me:
"Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around February 12, the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809.  Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin - the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor.  More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity" (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog site).

And to honour his birth, in much of the progressive religion network
throughout the world, this day is once again being recognised liturgically as ‘Evolution Sunday’

The compatibility of science and religion.
Not the pseudo-science of intelligent design - ID,
or its earlier incarnation called ‘creationism’.

But real science.

The church, historically, has had a hard time with evolution.
It is the church - or perhaps more accurately - it is religious people who go to church,
who build Creation Museums (in the USA and Queensland) and fund authors
to write books to attack evolution.

And attack ministers who embrace evolution.

Now I have never been attacked over this issue (other issues - yes, usually in Letters to the Editor),
but a colleague friend in the USA has.  And by another minister (of a different denomination).
And all because he signed 'The Clergy Letter' (which I too have signed), and said he had.

The attacking (Baptist) minister wrote: 
"What you have espoused and embraced and have now taught others is nothing short of outright apostasy.  The signatories of the 'Open Letter Considering Religion and Science' have affixed their names to an apostate document.  It is a damnable denial of the biblical gospel."

Not finished, his attack goes on:
"If Genesis is not true and accurate as to its account of special creation, then the gospel is entirely irrelevant; for death did not, as the Bible says, enter as the result of human sin (Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12).  In that case death was entirely natural and normal, something from which no person needs saving.  The Bible declares death to be an intruder and the immediate result of sin; it entered human experience through Adam's one act of disobedience and was defeated by Christ's obedience (Romans 5:18).  Theistic evolution is an apostate compromise; it utterly denies the Bible's teaching about both man, sin, and salvation from sin and death” (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog site).

How they love that word 'apostasy'.  A glove fit for any occasion!
It really makes you wonder sometimes... what some people call 'theology'
is nothing more than ignorance and superstition!

oo0oo

Charles Darwin,
who gave us his most famous major work on random variation
and natural selection, called  On the Origin of Species,
which he published on 24 November 1859.

Charles Darwin,
who, as resident naturalist, sailed to the Galapagos Islands
on the HMS Beagle, where he encountered evidence
“of great diversity between animals of the distant past and those of the present”
(www.progressivetheology.org).

Charles Darwin,
who first studied medicine at Edinburgh University, but left after only 18 months
and went to Christ’s College, Cambridge, because
“his father determined that he should... become a clergyman” (Wilson 1998).

Charles Darwin,
who graduated in 1831 from Cambridge
"a conventional Anglican... a good by not outstanding student, [he] declared his formal assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, as was required of every Cambridge man" (Frame 2009:128, 130).

It also appears he "put his ordination plans on hold to join the Beagle" (Fame 2009:130).

Darwin’s book quickly became the topic on conversation in both scientific and church circles.
Indeed, one of the more persistent tales of the relations between science and religion
is the story of Thomas Huxley's encounter with Samuel 'Soapy Sam' Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford.

In June 1860, following one particular presentation at the British Association for the
Advancement of Science, Wilberforce was, so the story goes, invited to make a response.
“Addressing a crowded meeting, the bishop paused during his monologue, turned to Huxley and asked whether it was on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’ side that he was descended from an ape.  Huxley was ready with a reply... that he would prefer a miserable ape to a man who employs his great faculties and influence for the purpose of ridicule”
(Wilson 1998:44).

"It is a story", writes Karen Armstrong, "that brilliantly encapsulates the 'warfare' myth in its depiction of intrepid Science victoriously triumphing over complacent Religion" (Armstrong 2009:243).

The impact of Darwin’s thesis, which 12 years later he called ‘evolution’,
was felt in most parts of the world.

Most scientists today still accept Darwin’s theory
as foundational to the modern scientific study of biology.

oo0oo

Charles Darwin eventually jettisoned any notion of a God
"let alone one that might be involved in the process of evolution" writes Canadian Bruce Sanguin (Sanguin 2007:120).

But who or what was the 'God' Darwin rejected?  Sanguin continues:
"Clearly, Darwin rejected a designed God, who was in absolute control of the universe; in other words, the God of supernatural theism... This continues to be the God and the 'Christian faith' most atheists and agnostics reject" (Sanguin 2007:121).

Prior to modern science, most christians, following a literal
interpretation of the Genesis stories, believed the flat earth was created
only about 4000 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazara.

Or, if they followed Archbishop Ussher literally: at 9.00am on 3 October 4004 BCE.

Today, based on many controlled observations
combined with rational theory, we have mentally constructed another universe.

The most widely accepted modern estimate of the earth’s age
is approximately 4.5 billion years.  While the universe - that whole
“complex, interrelated and interacting... matter-energy in space-time... of which humans are an integral part...”
(Gillette 2006:1), is approximately 14 billion years old.

And: “[i]f we put our fourteen-billion-year universe on a clock of one hour, humanity appears in only the last few seconds” (Peters 2002:127).

So, modern science is saying and has been saying, again and again:
the universe must be regarded as a whole;
it is of intrinsic value, and each part,
galaxy,
organism,
individual atom,
participates in that intrinsic value as each part
participates in this wonderful web of life.

Each part, rather than one species or organism
separating itself out as more important than the rest.

Which is why a growing number of people around the world
are beginning to recognise that our modern life-style is:
harming other creatures,
diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and
altering global climate patterns.

We can no longer think and feel that humans
are separate from the ‘environment’...
“[w]e must think and feel that we are part of and at one with the whole holy system we call the global ecosystem”
(Gillette 2006:4).

Progressive religious thought calls each and every one of us to ‘dance with’,
to live in harmony with, nature.  For such is to live inspired (in-spirited, in-the-Spirit) lives.

And progressive religious thought names that creativity
which indwells and sustains all life forms...
Galaxy.
Organism.
Individual atom...  ‘G-o-d’ or ‘the sacred’ or ‘serendipitous creativity’.

oo0oo

There is a beautiful poem which some of us discovered in one of the books
I brought back from America in 2005.  Let me share it will you
along with a couple of other comments or reflections

The poem is called: “A short but true story of you”.

You are made of star-stuff.
You are related to every other living thing on
You breathe out a gas that gives life to plants,
and plants breathe out a gas that gives life to you.
You are part of a wonderful web of life on a planet spinning in space.

When you die, someday, the elements of your body
will become a part of clouds and crystals,
seas and new living things.

You can think and wonder, love and learn.
You have the gift of life (Anderson & Brotman 2004).

Likewise, environmentalist John Muir has also offered this comment:
"Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another" (Quoted in Peters 1989:478).

Finally, returning to the more poetic/reflective...
American progressive Jim Burklo has a reflection called ‘Sign for a Tree’:

“As I rounded the bend on the trail up Sonoma Mountain, I read the sign: ‘TRAIL CLOSED AHEAD DUE TO TREE FAILURE’.  I stood and meditated on its implications.

“By its logic, the gracefully shaped brown nuts scattered on the trail must have resulted from acorn stem failure.  The lovely medallions of yellow and orange on the ground were the result of leaf atrophy.  The blue feather of a Stellar’s Jay, lying on a bed of fallen redwood needles, was the consequence of plumage dislocation.  The bleached bones of the opossum lying in the dry grass of the meadow were the result of insufficient coyote evasion.  And the mountain upon whose flanks I walked was the result of a fault.

“It seemed to me that the tree’s passing merited a different sign:  ‘At the kink in the trail ahead, you will circumambulate the remains of a tall tanbark oak which from a pretty acorn grew, many decades ago.  For years of seasons, wet and dry, it lifted branches and serrated leaves skyward, communing with sun and wind.  Old and full of days, it died with flourish, dropping in one grand whoosh to the ground.  Walk around it and wonder.  May your footsteps be prayers of thanksgiving for its life.  And may this kink in the trail remain as a memorial to it, long after its trunk crumbles into rich forest soil’” (Burklo December, 2009. eMail from the author). (Reprinted In Hunt & Smith 2013)

This weekend is the 201st anniversary celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin.
And to honour his birth, today is recognised as ‘Evolution Sunday’.

Thanks be to Creativity - ‘God’, for the life-affirming gift
of wisdom and mystery which under girds
our human existence in all its complexity and diversity!

PS:
Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist many religious folk like to berate,
has written a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth.  The Evidence for Evolution.

In it he says evolution is a fact.  He writes:
“Our present beliefs about many things may be disproved, but we can with complete confidence make a list of certain facts that will never be disproved.  Evolution and the heliocentric theory weren’t always among them, but they are now” (Dawkins 2009:17).

He then goes on to say:
“In the rest of this book, I shall determine that evolution is an inescapable fact, and celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty”
(Dawkins 2009:18).

Evolution is the greatest show on Earth.  “Perhaps the greatest story ever told”.  And as an American colleague goes on to say:
“we should be teaching it and celebrating it in school and in church with religious fervor.  We need to sing hymns to the glory of natural selection”
(Shuck&Jive, blog site, 1/2010).

Recently Dawkins and number of scientists and theologians wrote a letter
to the British Prime Minister regarding teaching evolution in school.
Great Britain, it seems, is being hounded by the superstitious – ‘creationism’ and ‘intellegent design’
as is other parts of the world.

For instance:
• 44 % of Americans believe that God created Earth as it is 10,000 years ago;
• while only 42% of Australians ‘believe in evolution’.

Now while Dawkins is happy that enlightened bishops and theologians
are writing letters, they need to do more.  He says:
“To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they’d put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore.  All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed!  If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely ‘symbolic’ meaning, perhaps something to do with ‘original sin’, or the virtues of innocence.  They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally.  But do their congregations know that?  How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, which symbolically?  Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess?  In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused”.

Dawkins isn’t finished.  He pushes his point:
“Think about it, Bishop.  Be careful, Vicar.  You are playing with dynamite, fooling around with a misunderstanding that’s waiting to happen—one might even say almost bound to happen if not forestalled.  Shouldn’t you take greater care, when speaking in public, to let your yea be yea and your nay be nay?  Lest ye fall into condemnation, shouldn’t you be going out of your way to counter that already extremely widespread popular misunderstanding and lend active and enthusiastic support to scientists and science teachers?”
(Dawkins 2009: 7-8).

Dawkins, R. 2009. The Greatest Show on Earth.  The Evidence for Evolution. NY: New York. Free Press.

Notes:
Anderson, L. & C. Brotman. 2004. Kid’s Book of Awesome Stuff. Biddeford: Brotman Marsh-Field Curriculums.
Armstrong, K. 2009. The Case for God. What religion really means. London: The Bodley Head.
Frame, T. 2009. Evolution in the Antipodes: Charles Darwin and Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Gillett, P. R. 2006. “Theology of, by, and for religious naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal).
Hefner, P. 2008. "Forward" in J. A. Stone. Religious Naturalism Today. The Rebirth of a forgotten alternative. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hunt, R. A. E. & J. W. H. Smith. (ed) Why Weren't We Told? A Handbook on progressive Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2013.
Peters, K. E. 2002.  Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology and God. Harrisburg: Trinity International Press
Peters, K. E. 1989. "Humanity in nature: Conserving yet creating" in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 24, 4, 469-485. 
Sanguin, B. 2007. Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos. An ecological christianity. Kelowna: CopperHouse/Wood Lake Publishing.
Wilson, Louise. (ed) 1998. Charles Darwin at Down House. Britain. English Heritage.

rexae74@gmail.com