Evolution

Part 1 of the Sermon Series: “The Seven Words You Can’t Say in Church
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
September 28, 2008
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Matthew 22:34-40

Genesis 1:1-2:4; “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Matthew 22:34-40 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.””

I. BEGINNING

There’s a war going on out there. I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m not even talking about the War on Drugs I am talking about the war being waged on bumpers throughout this nation: the war between the Jesus fish and the Darwin fish (it usually has feet). Perhaps you’ve even seen the one where the Darwin fish is being eaten by an even bigger fish with the word “truth” written inside of it.

Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859. This issues has been one that has inspired a lot of controversy. And there has been a lot of passion on both sides.

On the religion side, the rhetoric about evolution has been strong. Many religious leaders decry it as godless, the very idea demonic, designed to lead people away from faith in God. Still others will talk about things like “irreducible complexity” and point out that evolution is a fundamentally flawed idea. Others will talk about the folly of imagining that a random process could yield something complex: tornadoes don’t assemble bicycles randomly, nor do the waves of the beach assemble sandcastles. The very idea of the process of natural selection “winding up” with something as complex as a hummingbird, let alone a human being, is in the words of one local religious leader “ridiculous.”

At the same time, the rhetoric on the other side has often been as pointed. There is almost a snide, smug tone in those who would challenge the religious worldview. I will admit, at times, it can be particularly entertaining.

As in one of my favorite scenes from the play Inherit the Wind , a dramatization based on the Scopes-Monkey trial. Having been denied any expert witnesses to testify about evolution, the defense attorney Henry Drummond is forced to examine the only witness he can, the opposing counsel, Col. Matthew Brady. Drummond says: “Listen to this: Genesis 4:16. ‘And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the East of Eden. And Cain knew his wife !’ Where the hell did she come from?”

Brady: “Who?”

Drummond: “Mrs. Cain. Cain’s wife… Where’d this extra woman spring from?… Figure somebody pulled off another creation, over in the next county?”

Indeed, it seems that there has been a great deal of conflict between science and faith, between evolution and Christian belief.

II. A LONG HISTORY OF FAITH AND REASON

Which is curious, since there has been a long tradition in Christianity, and in Judaism before it, of uniting faith and reason. As far back as Philo of Alexandria, there was a tradition of reconciling Greek philosophy and faith. And then we have Jesus’ presentation of the Great Commandment we read in Matthew’s gospel:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. The version of the commandment as found in the Book of Deuteronomy, from which Jesus is quoting, says “heart, soul, and strength”, but it should be noted that in Hebrew thinking, the heart was the seat of reason, not emotion. And so Matthew perhaps makes Jesus’ point all the clearer by adding in “mind”.

Christian faith is not a simple emotional faith. It is a faith that requires loving God with one’s reason as well as one’s very being. Indeed it is a firm belief in the marriage of the rational with the spiritual that formed the basis of the great thinkers of Christian theology. Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas–all of them appealed to reason. Aquinas, the great thinker of the medieval age made the most impressive use of Aristotelian philosophy in his own masterpiece the Summa Theologica .

John Wesley affirmed four sources of Christian moral insight: Scripture, tradition, reason , and experience. His brother Charles wrote about uniting “the pair so long disjoin’d, knowledge and vital piety.”

The idea that one worships God not only with heart but with mind, has long been a part of Christian thought–from Jesus up till today. It is a way of thinking that is not afraid of the explorations of reason, affirming the idea that “all truth is God’s truth.” It is an idea wonderfully captured by Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said, “The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God” and by Galileo when he said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

This is not to say that the Christian church has always been particularly welcoming of new scientific information. That same Galileo was persecuted because of his experiments that would have proved that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. I don’t want to paint the picture any rosier than it should be. But at the same time, faith and reason have long been tied together by the Church’s greatest thinkers.

III. WHY SUCH RESISTANCE

And yet, in spite of that, evolution is still one of those scientific ideas that has not really taken hold among the faithful. Nearly half of the people in this country do not believe in evolution. Is it because the science is shaky?

Four years ago, the National Geographic ran this cover: “Was Darwin Wrong?” When you opened up to the article, there in 216 point type is the word “NO.” “The evidence for evolution is overwhelming ,” the article continues. The article addresses the misunderstanding around the world “theory”. It provides ample summaries of evolutionary science and the process of natural selection. The article talks about the vestigial DNA that humans and other species carry from earlier stages in their development, in addition to vestigial parts of the anatomy that no longer have any use. There is evidence from the fossil record, genome research, and even evolution that can be demonstrated in the laboratory. We can even see evolution happening today as some bacteria are evolving to be antibiotic resistant. Indeed, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.

And yet, as the National Geographic article itself points out, no less than 45% of responding U.S. adults agreed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” [1]

So, why, if the evidence is so clear and convincing, published by such reputable and respected sources as the National Geographic Society, is there such resistance to the idea? Why don’t those little Jesus and Darwin fish seem to get along?

A. The Authority of Scripture

Part of it, I suppose comes from our Protestantism. See, Protestants ground authority in the Scripture. Martin Luther affirmed the doctrine of Sola Scriptura : scripture alone, as the guide to Christian faith. A doctrine Calvin affirmed. And so many people feel that the accuracy of the scriptures in every detail is essential to the integrity of the faith. This is the house of cards theory of faith. One card removed and the whole thing falls apart. One brick removed from the wall and the whole wall collapses. To say that the Bible got something wrong is to impugn God’s authorship of the text and therefore the authority which it represents. I suppose that’s part of it. Maybe a big part.

B. On Being Special

But I suppose a bigger part is our need to be special. If we just emerged as the result of a billion-year process of adaptation and natural selection, that hardly makes us special. Why, if that asteroid hadn’t come along and wiped out the dinosaurs, our ancestors wouldn’t have even gotten a chance to get going. We’re not special. We were not created separate and apart from the other animals. We’re just the ape that got smart. And that is an unsatisfying and in some ways frightening prospect to many.

IV. WONDER & THE CONTINUING CREATION

But that’s not what makes us special, folks. Even according to the scriptures, we don’t even get a day to ourselves in the Creation story–we share day six with the animals. What makes us special is not that we can speak. (Even in the Bible, snakes and donkeys speak). What makes us special is not that we walk upright. Or that we can use tools. Or even that we were created separately from everything else. What makes us special, is that we are beloved children of a loving and gracious God. What makes us special is notwho or what we are, but whose we are.

The Creation story in the first chapter of Genesis (the first of two creation stories in the Bible by the way–the world gets made twicein Genesis, not a lot of people notice that) is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever written. It would be a mistake to read it as a science textbook. It is meant to convey some very important truths to us: God is the Creator. The Creation is good. God is the source of the Light. We are made in the Image of God. We are ourselves good. Chapter Two has its own messages: we are formed from the dust of the earth, we have solidarity with all living things and are of the earth itself.

Not one of those ideas is inconsistent with evolution. Indeed, evolution helps to bring those ideas out even more clearly.

For, if we are the result of evolution and are made in the image of God, then what does that mean to us? It means that we are part of an ongoing creative process . That we are made in the image of a Creating God whose creation is still continuing and of which we are still a part.

If anything, our deepening knowledge of science, both biological, astronomical, physical, and otherwise should be grounds for wonder and adoration. Evolution is not inimical to our faith, it helps to give a rich depth to our faith. Grounds for wonder.

In preparing this sermon I came across a quote that sums this up nicely: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” [2] The author of that quote was Charles Darwin.

And he is exactly right. If there is one thing that science teaches us, it is that the world is far more wondrous that we could ever have imagined. The Psalmist says, ” The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19). He didn’t know the half of it. The more we gaze into the heavens the more we marvel at the universe we encounter. As much as critics of evolution like to mock its randomness, evolution is not random. The mutations may be, but whether they are useful adaptations is not. The universe is governed by rules that are wondrous and a source of inspiration and awe.

We have become so hard of heart as Christians. We have lost our sense of wonder and awe. But the wondrous is all around us. It was in that waterfall at White Oak Canyon on our retreat. It was in the sunrise last year at the Sunrise service. It is in the quantum fluctuations of sub-atomic particles. It is in the paradoxes of relativity. It is in the double-helix of our DNA. And it is in the diversity and ongoing creativity that we see at work in the process of evolution.

V. END

There is one other scene in the play Inherit the Wind that I have always found compelling. At the very end of the play, the defendant and his fiancée head out of the courtroom for the train station. Their attorney Henry Drummond is left alone in the courtroom when he notices his client’s copy of The Origin of Species sitting on the table. He calls after his client, but he’s already out of earshot.

Drummond ponders the book for a moment. Then he notices the Bible sitting on the Judge’s bench. He picks that volume up too and he holds them, almost as if he’s weighing them as a scale. Then he smiles and slaps them together and places them in his briefcase, side by side, before heading out.

And so can we.

[1] “Was Darwin Wrong?” National Geographic, Vol 206, No. 5, November 2004, p. 6.
[2] Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution , New York: Viking Press, 2007, p. 40.

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