Friday, February 08, 2008

[THO] The Evolution of Man

Spent the morning at the Museum of Nature with Dr. Stephen Cumbaa, a palaeontologist at the museum. It was really amazing to have such a detailed tour. I was completely blown away by the giant turtle skeleton, it was seriously big, I think I could almost crawl inside it (except it was hung from the ceiling). I hadn't been to the museum in quite a while and they have done a lot to fix the place up. The whole thing should be open by 2010, but you can bet I'll be taking the kids there lots before then.

We were there as part of our class on the dialogue between religion and science. We are actually getting quite comfortable with the issues around evolution. And we've spent a lot of time discussing the problems with approaches like Creationism. Creationists, and by that I mean the folks who hold to a young earth, literal reading of Genesis, are really not interested in having a conversation with science. But I can appreciate that these folks have a lot at stake, their beliefs (or should I say their idols) are inflexible propositions and really their priviliged place in the cosmos is at stake. Rather than face reality on its own terms they would rather superimpose a more acceptable vision despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Intelligent Design (ID) is a bit more compelling, but it also has some serious methodological problems. The primary argument, that of irriducable complexity, is not based on anything concrete. Yes it is a reading of the world we find, but in essence it is really a game that says we will permit the data as long as it is read from these presuppositions. That is not good science and it is actually not good theology either. Theology should wrestle with reality as it presents itself, not try to bend the rules to make it work. Besides that speciation, the evolution of one species into another, is quite widely accepted as fact (not theory) in the scientific community. ID isn't happy with speciation because once again our place of privilege is at stake.

So here if the issue of our privileged place is dependent on our species being something other than animal, yes we have a problem. But if our privileged place is the emergence of self-reflection then I fail to see the problem with embracing reality as it presents itself, especially in terms of the amazing process by which Creation has unfolded since the Big Bang. There are implications if we are to take this seriously. First of all we must face the fact that we are not necessarily the sum of all creation. Where we go is largely in our hands. Our treatment of the environment out of an arrogant sense that this is ours to dominate is proof to me that we have a lot to learn yet about responsibility. And this carries over to our relationship to the natural world. Are we willing to see this world as the arena of God's activity or are we holding out for some Platonic otherworld? But more to the point are we willing to see an intrinsic value in the whole realm of creation? I am convinced that the commodification of nature has led directly to the commodification of humans - we need to find a better way to relate to the natural world.

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