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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The God of Evolution

In July of 2011, John Shook wrote a piece entitled "God and Evolution Don't Mix." (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/god_and_evolution_dont_mix/) In the article, he states that there is "zero scientific support" for the notion that God could be involved in the process of evolution. Mr. Shook goes on to suggest that any theists who attempt to link the two have probably not given much thought to the implications of such a view. He then proceeds to enumerate some of the disturbing things that such a connection would imply about God's character. He suggests that an Evolutionary God would: 1) favor diversity over intelligence and self-awareness, 2) favor struggle and suffering, 3) be indifferent to or favor death, 4) have plans for life that probably don't involve humans, and 5) be using us to achieve God's ultimate goal/purpose. Dr. Shook concludes with: "What sort of God prefers to rely on natural evolution? It may not be a God that anyone could really worship." Fellow atheist, John Loftus apparently concurred with this view as he excerpted a large portion of the article onto his blog about a week later.

As a theist who accepts evolution as the most plausible explanation for the diversity of life on this planet, it seemed appropriate to me to provide my own rationale for being comfortable with a God who has used such a process to create life. In short, does such a mixture (God and Evolution) imply the type of God suggested by Shook and Loftus? Moreover, wherever the evidence takes us, would such a God be worthy of my worship?

First, the Shook/Loftus view makes a good many assumptions about both God and evolution that are not necessarily true. Dr. Shook appears to suggest that God should only want creatures that can know and praise him. His argument also appears to assume the immorality of evolution (he characterizes the process as "heartless" in his article). Indeed, the doctor is apparently suggesting that struggle and suffering are inherently bad or wicked things. Although he purports to believe that mankind is not special, he seems to take exception to the fact that there may be some life form that is superior to us in the future.

In his first point, Dr. Shook implied that the evolutionary evidence suggests a God who favors diversity over intelligence and self-awareness. Assume for a moment that this is true, so what? Who said that God only wants creatures that are capable of knowing and worshiping him? In previous posts on this blog, I have stated my belief that the overwhelming weight of the evidence (both inside and outside of Scripture) suggests that God is not the one who benefits from worship. Moreover, if there is a God (as I believe), then "His" existence is not dependent on my (or Dr. Shook's) acceptance or awareness of the fact.

However, does the evidence provided by the evolutionary process really suggest that God favors diversity over intelligence? I would say that the evidence suggests a Divinity that likes both. Oh sure, if you're equating "intelligence" with what mankind has then you could legitimately say that it is rare. However, if we're defining it as "the ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations" (Merriam-Webster), then we can readily acknowledge that this applies to a great deal of the life on this planet. Worms, slugs, ants, grasshoppers, cockroaches, spiders, frogs, octopi and birds all have functioning brains and thus have some degree of intelligence. If we confine ourselves to animals with a cerebral cortex, the number and diversity of species is still astounding (e.g. mouse, dog, cat, cow, horse, dolphin, whale, monkey, chimp, gorilla, elephant, etc.).

Who are we to characterize struggling and suffering as bad or evil things? Doesn't Scripture suggest that we are made better and stronger by the trials, struggles and suffering that we face in this life? What would happen if these things were eliminated? What would happen if God handed us everything on a silver platter? Look at the world around you. What often happens to people who inherit wealth or good looks? What kinds of things usually happen to people who are suddenly thrust into fame and fortune? What does the product of a life of ease and comfort look like? Is pain an inherently bad thing? Doesn't the knowledge or awareness of it sometimes keep us from touching a hot stove or jumping off a cliff? Does struggling and suffering ever result in a positive outcome? And if it does, doesn't that suggest that these things are not inherently bad or evil?

To suggest that God is indifferent to death (or somehow likes it) because there is so much of it in the world defies logic and common sense. My life is filled with things that I tolerate because they are a necessary part of life - part of living in this society and/or on this planet (working, paying taxes, brushing my teeth, bathing, resting and sleeping, wearing clothing, washing dishes, taking out the trash, etc.) Sometimes I enjoy some of these things, and sometimes I dread or hate them. Nevertheless, if we look at the big picture, we would have to acknowledge that death is not the aim of evolution or life. All of the life on this planet consciously or unconsciously seeks to perpetuate itself through the reproduction of its kind. Life is not about death, it's entire focus and purpose is about living. Moreover, even though the individual never makes it out of this life alive, each and every one of them contributes through this process to the perpetuation of life on this planet (regardless of whether or not it passes on its DNA to future generations).

Dr. Shook looks at the evidence of the evolutionary process and concludes that any Divinity involved in such a process must have plans that don't involve mankind. As many atheists are fond of telling their theistic counterparts, you can't have it both ways. If mankind really isn't at the center of everything, then why do we expect God to treat us as such? Why is it so repulsive to imagine that God could have plans that don't involve us? What if God is using the evolutionary process to arrive at something else? What if we are only a step in the process? What if there is something better than us waiting at the finish line? What if there is no finish line? Couldn't one legitimately take pride in the fact that he/she has participated in (or contributed to) some purpose grander than him or her self? What if that purpose is to produce a life form superior to us? If we truly are going to be more cognizant of our place in the grander scheme of things and less egocentric, shouldn't such an awareness be a source of pride and comfort to us?

In other words, move over Shook and Loftus - there's room at the scientific table for theists too. An acceptance of evolution doesn't necessarily imply the kind of God that you've suggested. For some of us, God and evolution do mix.

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