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God or Science is not a Choice

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Darwin never said that God was dead. He did suppose that we didn’t know as much about how God does things as we thought, which ticked a number of pious folk off, threatening their tidy little vision of the planet and all the creatures and plants thereon.

I just finally got around to reading The Origin of Species, Darwin’s abstract of his theory of natural selection. So, I’m late bloomer. I found Philip Appleman’s abridged edition last summer at a library book sale. It was free. How much better can the price be for a classic?

Appleman, in his introduction, reveals himself as brilliant and somewhat disgusted with twelve years of pre-college education that never mentioned the name Darwin or the word “evolution.” He was born in 1925, a contemporary of my mother. It wasn’t until he was age 22, back from World War II and in college, that the concept of natural selection was presented to him in the same way that I acquired his presentation of Darwin’s work: by happy accident. After reading Origin in its original form nearly 90 years after its 1859 publication, Appleman dedicated his life to spreading what he considered the good news of Darwinism.

“I remember that experience vividly,” he writes, “the exhilaration I felt reading Darwin’s clear and persuasive observations; the relief at finally being released from a constrained childhood allegiance to the primitive creationist myths of Genesis; the profound satisfaction of understanding the facts of biological evolution and knowing that I was truly and altogether a part of nature.”

Appleman points out that the reason for his own late blooming was the absolute resistance of Christian religious institutions, both reformed and Catholic, to the thought that the Bible and all the doctrine, dogma and tradition built upon it might be in error.

Perhaps the reason it took me so long to find and read my copy of Origin is personal disinterest, and I don’t mean to say that I’m not interested in evolution, because I am. What I’m not interested in is the argument. It’s moot, as far as I’m concerned, even though my own faith walk (here I am co-opting Gary’s and Kathy’s editorial space) has been along the lines of Christian thought. I’ve never been a fundamentalist Christian, but one who tries to understand what Christ had to say to us, acknowledging that centuries of picking and choosing which versions of which gospels belong or don’t, the vagaries of translation and human perspective, and the tendency of human institutions to become self-serving and bogged down in rules and regulations designed to protect the institution even over the needs of its humans have filtered and often obscured what Jesus came to tell us. (Darwin could have written that sentence himself.)

To me, it’s not a matter of choosing Darwin over God or God over Darwin. They are not mutually exclusive. Darwin himself talks of the Creator in The Origin of Species, and not disrespectfully or dismissively. He writes about the eye, “... and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as those of the Creator are to those of man?”

This is not a man who doesn’t believe in God, but a man more awed by creation than the garden-variety creationist.

My agreement with Darwin—and Appleman—doesn’t stop my belief in God. It convinces me, though, that the next level of theological thought must stand on Darwin’s evidence, that his idea of natural selection points not away from God, but toward God.

I’ve had too many encounters with Spirit to think there is not some Force that cares about me—about us—outside my ken. My evidence is of a nature that science might call coincidental, but my own logic sees that experiences I’ve had are not logical at all, on any level I can understand. Still, they exist. Where many advocates of pure science fail us, in my belief, is insisting that nothing is real that can’t be verified by empirical proof. In that, they take the same hard line that creationism does, which is a line of alienation.

Darwin didn’t feel that way, nor did Einstein or Hawking or many of our most brilliant minds. It is never about one or the other, about choosing between God and science, but more about humbly accepting that we don’t know exactly what God is up to, or exactly how and why we got here. Maybe, as I sometimes theorize, it’s really none of our business; that our business should be about taking care of this marvelous place where we live and those that live in it, animate and not. As Appleman said, I am happy to know that I am truly and altogether a part of nature. Praise be to God.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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faith, The Scenic Route, Darwin, evolution, science, belief

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