Monday, January 12, 2009

Darwin and Religion

I tuned into an interesting discussion on Radio 3 the other day in which representatives of the three Abrahamic traditions explained how they had managed to achieve an accommodation with Darwin and natural selection.

Listening to them it's not hard to see the appeal of the head in the sand, "not listening" approach favoured by the majority of American Pentecostals.

The barriers that the three have erected against the agnosticism implicit in modern scientific theory had the superficial appeal of appearing watertight, but it's really not hard to see in each instance how the baby is inclined to go out with the bathwater. For example...

- The bells and smells Christian said that Creation used to be an act, but now it's a process and surely that makes it even more wonderful?

- The evangelical Christian observed that science provides the how while religion provides the why and he couldn't personally see any reason why the two should run into conflict. (He did also point out however that he has been denied full membership of his own church because this requires a statement of faith in the inerrant nature of the Bible on matters like history and science.)

- The Rabbi, predictably enough was the canniest; Jews have a long history of working within a secular tradition. She noted that the Reformation had created a serious breach between physics and metaphysics, but that now things were starting to come together again. (Was the evangelical listening and wondering what this could mean for his tidy separation?)

- The Islamic scholar (and scientist) stated proudly that medieval Muslims — the sort that actually lived in the middle ages — had anticipated evolution in their own thinking, but then went on to admit that the dominant theology within contemporary Sunni Islam is committed to atomism i.e. a pre-Newtonian take on causality. He then added that 'Science' originally meant knowledge in the widest sense, not just the kind you get from the empirical method...we do actually have other faculties for acquiring knowledge, such as Revelation.

My new chums the Zoroastrians are in better shape really, because they claim to believe in a fundamental conflict between the truth and order of Creation with background forces of chaos and disorder. It's an eschatology which allowed for process from the outset.

The others can't change the fundamental tenets of their system, so instead they resort to all kinds of specious nonsense to convince us that the theological ship hasn't really been holed beneath the water-line: i.e. there's a difference between believing in and believing that, opined the Rabbi. You don't have to believe in the literal truth of Genesis, but you need to believe that it more or less encapsulates your value system.

Perhaps Evolution as Darwin explained it isn't fully incompatible with an uncreated creator. What;s certain however, is that's it's incompatible with the type of uncreated creator described in the revealed texts of the three main monotheistic religions.

No comments: