The only place there really seems to be a controversy about evolution theory is in the minds of Christian folks looking for a literal reading of the Bible. In the last blog post I talked about the ways in which a literal reading of the Bible simply does not hold up, even if your only reference is the Bible itself. I’d like to build on that theme this week. Generally speaking, when someone puts the words “science” and “Bible” in the same sentence many Christians assume the next key word is going to be “evolution.” Let’s start there. But bear in mind that the parallels between Science and Religion can go much deeper.
As I mentioned last time, in the Bible’s reading, the idea of seven days of creation just does not hold up. By the time you’ve gotten to Chapter 6 of Genesis you either have to ignore half of what you’ve read or come up with an alternate explanation. I also wonder why God would choose a single rotation of a minute planet as a time standard. Now if it took the Universe two billion Earth years to spin on its axis and God called that a day — seven days times two billion Earth years is fourteen billion years — OK, I like that number. At fourteen billion years we have had enough time for the Universe to expand and cool, and enough time for molecular complexity to develop. (I’ll save a discussion about the Big Bang for a later time.)
We have about us an abundance of evidence for incredible levels of change in these past few billion years. In the Universe at large stars and other features have come and gone, and we can see evidence of that in the peculiar movements and color shifts of some celestial bodies. On Earth, the geological and archaeological records tell a similar story, even in just the past couple of thousand years. The one thing we can be certain of is that everything is going to change, even the rocks.
In Science, the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) says that isolated systems move in the direction of chaos. As long as energy is being applied to a system it is stable or gaining in complexity. When external energy is removed the system will move towards chaos. Think of it like a battery. The only way something will not change is if it is using and gaining energy in equal measures. Even then systems are generally fluid and so they may be stable but ever changing. We tend to think that anything moving towards complexity is evolving. Moving towards chaos, it is dying. As energy is applied and taken away from a system it can go through cycles of growth, decay, and regeneration. Often the pattern goes like this: energy in > growth/organization > stability/order > over-organization/energy depletion/moving towards chaos > infusion of new energy > reordering/evolution. You can probably find examples of this in your life. You start working on something and have a great burst of creative energy at the start and as you are working on the project it gets more complex and maybe even a little overwhelming. At some point you reach what seems to be a roadblock. Then suddenly a solution to the roadblock appears, and with a new burst of creative energy you finish the project and it is better than you had imagined. This happens with humans in a number of different ways — physically, intellectually, and spiritually. In recorded history we can see examples of physical human evolution as people’s diets and migration habits have changed. No one can dismiss human intellectual evolution.
Spiritual evolution is less evident. However we can get an example of man’s spiritual evolution as recounted in the Biblical narrative. That spiritual change has been reflected in the way that people have interacted with and treated each other down through the years. Whether you take this Biblical story literally or figuratively does not matter. It is interesting how relatively abruptly the reported changes have come.
Before Abraham’s time in the Middle East, roughly 2000 BCE, it was commonplace for people to sacrifice children to God or to the gods. Abraham’s decision not to sacrifice Isaac based on a spiritual experience reflects sudden changes in that spiritual practice and the new practice was carried on by his descendants. Still there was little or no organized law enforcement in Abraham’s day. Leaders and prominent figures had their armies and militias, but those were there for the protection of the leader and his followers. Highway robbery and murder were not uncommon, nor were rape and incest.
In that same time period codes of law dealing largely with contracts, such as Hammurabi’s code, began to appear. Six hundred years later the Law of Moses added a layer of complexity by including a spiritual dimension to those codes. Moses attributed the source of this code to a higher power rather than a regional leader, so it was universal. A rabbi once explained to me that Mosaic Law was to insure that peoples’ interactions were not based on the power that one person had or one person lacked, but on a system of mutual respect. [We are talking about the Bible narrative, but it is interesting to note that the Hindu Vedas appeared about the same time as the Law of Moses and gave similar instructions.] The Biblical Law started with the Ten Commandments, but increased in complexity to over six hundred recorded laws.
Over the next fifteen hundred years this written law became increasingly complex as the scribes and rabbis debated how the laws should be applied in certain specific instances. The New Testament version of this history tells us that the spiritual significance of the Law had eroded to an unwieldy core of legalistic interpretation by the time that Jesus arrived on the scene.
Jesus added new energy by refocusing attention onto personal interactions implying that there was a less obvious dimension to life in the form of a spiritual dimension that we should aspire towards and become part of. Now, suddenly, everyone had access to spiritual experiences, not just priests and prophets. Jesus identified the new target experience by telling the Samaritan woman at the well, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
This is just one of the places where Jesus speaks of a spiritual evolution. The teachings of the Bible are not static any more than our knowledge of the physical world is. The door to spiritual experiences is wide open for everyone. The Bible doesn’t just support, it exemplifies evolution in a spiritual sense. If spiritual experiences become more a part of religious practice, who knows where we might evolve next? It may be that spiritual experiences influence our future intellectual and physical evolution.
Many writers are pointing to what seems to be an increasing level of chaos in the world today and draw the conclusion that we are on the verge of a new surge of creative energy and a shift in human consciousness. References to this are not found just in Christian literature, but in Hindu and other traditions as well. That would certainly fit the entropy pattern we noticed earlier. Perhaps we can follow that train of thought in future posts.