Monday, May 4, 2015

Evolution, tradition, reason, faith

To me the Bible is the greatest book never written. Its contents were collected and edited over centuries until finally becoming the self-contained cornerstone of Judeo-Christian tradition that it is today. Like any great institution, the Bible was grown, not designed.

As a result of its history, the Bible carries around it now a sort of magical fence which, Catholic-Protestant debates notwithstanding, prevents any serious changes to be made to its contents. There is a marvelous double effect of the Bible on the community of Christian believers: on the one hand, conservative Bible believers are forced to confront a wealth of confusing, frustrating, and downright bizarre stories and passages which, by their own standard, cannot be erased; and on the other hand, liberals are forced to confront the reality that faith is not the result of pure reason, that rationalistic belief can only be something other than Christianity, and that it is in ancient tradition rather than current that the mind continues to receive its greatest stimulation and challenge.

It's a delicious irony. Conservatives, who hate evolution because they love the idea of God the designer of all things, are in reality relying on an evolved tradition, while liberals, who love evolution because they love the process of reason which discovered evolutionary theory, have in reality found the very principle which destroys their own rationalism.

If you really want to be a rationalist, the logical belief is not that the creation story was too short (thousands of years vs. billions of years) but rather too long, as Origen pointed out. Everyone knows God the great architect really created everything at once. Those seven days are all just metaphors.

Indeed, it's hard to accept that God might just like watching things grow. Evolution requires both patience and spontaneity; that is, one must go into it knowing it will take a very long time but not at all knowing the final outcome. And the really strange thing is that the conservative hates this because he is too impatient, while the liberal hates it because he isn't spontaneous--when it should really be the other way around.

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