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Is evolution compatible with a belief in God?

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by spnadmin, Jun 19, 2010.

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    BALPREET SINGH BOPARAI works in legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

    Evolution, or the change over time in the genetic composition of populations, is a scientific reality. The process has been observed and studied and there is no doubt it occurs. For people of faith, God is also an undeniable reality that is felt and observed every day. For Sikhs, science is a way of celebrating and appreciating the magnificence of God and no conflict need exist between the two. Therefore, a belief in God and a belief in evolution can be completely compatible.


    In the Sikh faith, God is the ultimate creator and all creation is through his will. The Sikh faith, although having respect for people of all faiths, does not accept or subscribe to the Semitic story of creation and does not believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans. The process by which God creates is exclusively his will and therefore evolution is compatible with Sikh beliefs. Evolution is a process that can be understood to be a part of God’s divine will.

    The Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, speaks specifically about the process of creation. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, wrote, “from the True One came the air, from the air came water. From water, the three worlds (sea, earth and sky) were formed, with God’s light placed in every being.” (ang 18). Sri Guru Granth Sahib also states that there are countless galaxies and planets and only God can know the extent of his creation.
    So beyond a belief that God is the creator and resides within his creation, Sikhs are open to scientific inquiries into the specific processes through which creation has evolved and exists now. Evolution and a belief in God are not incompatible for Sikhs.

    RADHIKA SEKAR has a PhD in Religious Studies and taught Hinduism at Carleton University for several years. She is a disciple of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.

    Religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are primarily concerned with achieving enlightenment. Therefore belief in a creator god is a non-issue and discussions regarding origins fall under the 14 unanswerable questions, which, as the Buddha maintained, do not help achieve enlightenment. They are therefore not particularly meaningful or relevant.

    A philosophical speculation on the origin of the universe first occurs in an early Rig Vedic verse. First there was neither existence or non-existence. No realm of air, or sky beyond it. What covered it, and where? Who knows whence it first came into being? He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, Verily he knows, or perhaps he too knows not. (Rig Veda: Book 10 v 129).

    Later Upanishad literature identifies Purusha (or Brahman) as the primordial “intelligence” (citta) from which arises matter (Prakriti or Shakti). The result of their reunion results in genesis, and creation proceeds in continuous cycles of birth, life and death.

    The process is personified in the Puranas. Lord Brahma is the Creator, who, with his consort the goddess Saraswati, propagates the universe in its myriad forms. Lord Vishnu oversees progression from birth to death and the final dissolution is represented by Lord Shiva. The process then begins again.

    Creation is thus seen, not as a single linear event, but rather as a dynamic and cyclical process, which Swami Vivekananda found compatible with Darwinian evolution. But with one essential difference.

    While modern scientists argue that matter evolves before intelligence, Indian philosophy puts intelligence first, and then goes on to suggest that all intelligence is derived or borrowed from a single source, regarded by Hindus as divine. Hence the Vedantic claim that all beings are divine and interconnected.

    Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

    Why not? Leaving aside whether evolution really holds up under scientific scrutiny, the question can be rephrased in the following way — is it possible that God created the world in an evolutionary pattern? This question has an entirely different ring and spin.

    And of course, once we accept that God created the world, then the “how” of creation is a relatively minor issue. God can create in any way that God sees fit, and assuming that the way of creation follows an evolutionary path, there is no problem with attributing this manner of creation to God.

    There is a significant difference between evolutionary creation and creative evolution; the first admits God into the picture, the second eliminates God from the picture.

    So, assuming evolution is a “fact,” it is certainly compatible with belief in God, even if you find people whose belief in evolution precludes their believing in God. This impacts on the biblical chronicle of creation. We can see an evolutionary pattern in creation, culminating in the creation of the human being. What science presumes to be evolution is biblically presented as God’s way of developing the world and its inhabitants, animal and human. Even the age of the world is not necessarily a problem. The six days of creation are God days, as is clear from Genesis. Human days start after the human is created. And God’s days are not of the hard-and-fast, 24-hour variety. They could very well be epochs, long epochs.

    And if they could be epochs, why not welcome that possibility and avoid an unwelcome clash between religion and science? Each gains much from working together in a co-operative spirit. Science gains a much needed humility as it strives to understand existence. And religion is more likely to be respected if it accepts the wisdom of science, both looking back and going forward.

    Father JOHN JILLIONS is a professor in the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University.

    Of course. Increasing numbers of prominent scientists are working with full scientific integrity, following the trail of the evidence, while being faithful believers at the same time.

    Among them is Dr. Gayle Woloschak, an Orthodox Christian who specializes in molecular and cell biology at Northwestern University in Chicago. She also directs the Zygon Center, which seeks to relate religious traditions and the best scientific knowledge in order to gain insight into the origins, nature, and destiny of humans and their environment.

    According to Woloschak, evolution is “a logically self-consistent theory that explains observable facts.” She stresses that a scientific theory is not just a hunch. Gravity is also a “theory,” but like evolution it is backed up by vast amounts of evidence. For her, the DNA evidence, comparing the genomic maps of various species, shows that evolution does occur. In fact, evolution is now the unifying theory of biology. Christianity is committed to true descriptions of reality and denying evolution is just not truthful, she says. It is also a misunderstanding of God. Science is limited to the study of nature, but God is beyond nature. To read the book of Genesis, for example, as a scientific textbook on nature is to miss its main point.

    But scientists who ignore the spiritual dimension of creation are similarly closing themselves off from a huge arena of reality. Science can describe how we got here (evolution), but it can’t say much about what it means to be human or why we exist. What a tiny slice of the universe we human beings inhabit, yet what a creative legacy we have of culture, art, music, language and “hunger for the infinite” (Dostoevsky). There is so much more to the wonder of the cosmos and life than science can describe.

    Paradoxically, believers who oppose evolution also keep the conversation from going beyond biology. This much the creationists and atheists have in common.

    Rev. KEVIN FLYNN is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.

    Anglicans understand the Scriptures to “contain all things necessary to salvation.” This does not mean that we understand them to be a compendium of scientific facts. Christians who oppose the theory of evolution hold that it is contrary to the opening book of the Bible.
    Anglicans take the Scriptures so seriously that we take them as they are, not as we might wish them to be. In large measure, chapter one of Genesis, with its account of the seven days of creation, is more a liturgy than a text book, with its repeated refrain “God saw that it was good.”
    Interestingly, its vision of development and species differentiation does share some commonalities with contemporary cosmologies.

    Genesis 1 was likely written during the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon. Their captors worshipped sun, moon, stars and so forth as deities in their own right. Genesis 1 is a great hymn that declares that all those heavenly bodies are not gods, but rather creatures of the one true God. Further, it affirms that the created order is neither random nor indifferent, but is ordered to its author and maker. Genesis goes on to describe the role of humankind in relation to God and to the created order: that we are its stewards, intended to serve and tend it.

    From this perspective, Anglicans by and large did not have a great deal of difficulty in receiving the insights of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

    With increasing precision, good science can make clear the how. Genesis is about the why.

    The worldwide Anglican communion takes as its motto Jesus’ words from the gospel of John: “The truth shall make you free.” This is a bold motto for a Church to hold since it challenges us to receive truth from any source as coming ultimately from God.

    Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.

    For Catholic Christians, the short answer to this question is: yes. The longer answer looks like this: there is not a conflict between faith and reason (or science).

    Three years ago Pope Benedict’s book on Creation and Evolution was published in Germany and in the subsequent stories in the secular press the Holy Father was quoted several times. What seemed to surprise many people was his assertion about the false dichotomy some people have made between evolution and faith.

    He said: “The question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science.”

    He went on to add: “I find it important to underline that the theory of evolution implies questions that must be assigned to philosophy and which themselves lead beyond the realms of science.” (CTV News, April 11, 2007)
    Science is very good at investigating “how” questions — how does life change and evolve over time —, for example, but it is unable to answer many important “why” or “what” questions — why are we here and what is the meaning of life? But faith and reason, working together, help us to come to a more complete understanding of not only the origins of human life, but also its meaning and ultimate purpose and we cannot exclude either one of them from the investigation.

    Rev. RICK REED is senior pastor at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa.
    The word evolution refers to change. Specifically to “change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual” (Douglas Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology). Change within a species is sometimes called microevolution. Change that results in an entirely new species could be classified as macroevolution.

    Microevolution is both observable and uncontested; species do change over time. Macroevolution, however, is not universally accepted. The scientific evidence for this kind of change is still debated.

    Most proponents of macroevolution also hold to a naturalistic world view. They believe the world is a closed system. As a result, they conclude that belief in God is either unnecessary or untenable. There are some Christians who subscribe to macroevolution but reject a naturalistic worldview. They maintain God was involved in starting the evolutionary process. This viewpoint, called theistic evolution, argues that believing in macroevolution is compatible with faith in God.

    All Christians agree that naturalistic evolution is incompatible with faith and with true scientific inquiry. After all, naturalistic evolution begins with the unproven, a priori assumption that all events have a purely natural explanation. This understanding arbitrarily excludes the possibility of God’s involvement in the world.
    My view is that microevolution (changes within a species) is a proven reality but macroevolution is an unproven theory. Further, I see theistic evolution as standing on shaky scientific and theological ground. Scientifically, the ample evidence of design in our world points to the existence of a wise Designer. Theologically, it’s difficult to align theories of macroevolution with the teachings of Scripture. For example, Romans 5:12 asserts that that death entered the world only after Adam’s sin.
    The opening line of the Bible points Christians to the most reliable explanation of life’s origins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
    KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the Centre for Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.
    With his discovery of natural selection, Charles Darwin effectively tore out the first chapter of his Christian Bible, leaving the belief system of millions of people in shreds.

    This evolution revolution caused many to contemplate that perhaps the rationalization of gods to explain our beginnings was false — the simplest explanation is the most accurate.

    Darwin had his own personal evolution. He had achieved a degree in divinity, but by the time his book, The Origin of Species, was written, he claimed to be agnostic.

    While 22 per cent of Canadians still have their heads buried in the Garden of Eden, most accept that evolution is a fact — with or without a designer God. Some have been able to adapt their faith to believe that the hands of God molded us out of primordial ooze but I disagree — humanity’s creation story, our cosmic evolutionary genesis, is a majestic poetry of life. Evolution without God is not just more credible, it is incredible.

    The seed that created the tree of life began in the warm ocean waters thousands of millions of years ago. It developed many branches, producing billions of species that have existed on Earth. Everything that lived before us or shares our planet today is special in its own right — yet we are all connected by our shared ancestry. Darwin so clearly articulated that “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful have been, and are being, evolved.”

    We can thank evolution for the improbable gift of being alive. All who inhabit the Earth, each with their unique qualities, are part of one brief phase within the evolutionary process. Our collective destiny is infinite, we are from the past and of the future.


    JACK MCLEAN is a Baha’i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Baha’i theology and poetry.

    The Bahá’í sacred writings endorse a qualified “evolution” as being compatible with belief in God, but important distinctions are made with current evolutionary theory, which generally excludes God and divine endowment.

    It should be noted that this question is debated mainly between literal-fundamentalists and more “liberal” symbolic readers of the Bible, causing deep divisions. Regrettably, it has also put science and religion at odds. The Bahá’í sacred writings aim to harmonize religious beliefs with scientific knowledge.

    Here is the gist of the answer: while Bahá’í scripture recognizes that the human species did evolve over millions of years, adapting to and changing the environment, the distinctive, divine nature of our race cannot be explained by Darwinian natural selection. The divine endowments of intellect, soul, imagination, faith, reason, insight, and the beautiful human form itself, were all designed potentially and originally by God, but these capacities appeared gradually over eons, from more primitive to more sophisticated forms.

    Early in the first trimester of human embryonic development, an individual seems to resemble a fish or a seahorse. But the species was distinctly human from conception. A human being is born nine months later, not an animal. Our species is distinct and divine in origin. Likewise, although we may have resembled and behaved like animals throughout the earlier stages of our development, we were destined to acquire our present form.
    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is clear on this point. In a talk on evolution he said: “To recapitulate: as man in the womb of the mother passes from form to form, from shape to shape, changes and develops, and is still the human species from the beginning of the embryonic period — in the same way man, from the beginning of his existence in the matrix of the world, is also a distinct species, that is, man, and has gradually evolved from one form to another” (Some Answered Questions, p. 192). By accepting this reasonable explanation, religion does not stand in opposition to science and reason, nor is the divine endowment of humans denied.

    RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.
    There are a couple of questions here, I think. The first is one about science, proof and an alleged “irrationality” of religious belief. The second deals with creationism, especially the kind endorsed in certain Abrahamic faiths, as a theory.

    First off, unlike Western faiths, Buddhism does not depend on any coherent historical narrative. The Buddha would say, “I come to teach the fact of suffering, its cause and cessation.” This is not a matter of belief, it is a proposal about our existential plight and how to escape it. One need not believe, one only needs to test it out with discipline and sincerity. To borrow a phrase, “the proof is in the pudding.”

    Buddhism is not so much interested in explaining the origins of humanity as it is in exposing the mechanisms that keep us bound in cycles of dissatisfaction and suffering. This allows the presentation of the means of ending suffering, the Eightfold Path. Buddhists don’t need to align our teaching with any religious text, on the one hand, or scientific principles, on the other. The priority is always on religious practices rather than religious beliefs.

    The second question here is the relationship between evolution and creationism, the so-called competing theory that proposes that the universe was created in ways that support the Christian Bible narrative. Buddhism is not in any way concerned with theories of creation, the origin of the world or the role of any deity. Shakyamuni Buddha always declined such questions as irrelevant, maintaining his “noble silence.” He would suggest that if a soldier were struck with a poisonous arrow in battle, there is no value in debating what kind of feathers were on the arrow, the type of tree that produced the arrow shaft, the nationality or motive of the shooter, and so on. He insisted what we need to know is how to remove the arrow and reclaim life. Such debate, while captivating, is far from useful.
    ABDUL RASHID is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council.

    If by “evolution” you mean that humanity is the result of a series of natural events without an intelligent design, it is entirely incompatible to a belief in God.

    A learned Muslim once said that the first time he truly believed in God Almighty was when he witnessed an open-heart surgery. He marvelled at the design and efficiency of that small piece of flesh that pumped many times its own weight with regularity every minute of every hour of every day for many years of a person’s life.

    There are scores of references in the Muslim scripture, the Holy Koran, that draw our attention to the law and order in the universe. The objective of these references is not to teach us “science” but to guide us to the belief in Our Merciful Creator. “Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day are indeed Signs for people of understanding” (3:190).

    Islam asks us to study these and many other signs in the universe to strengthen our faith in our Unique Creator. It is awe-inspiring to realize that a small reduction in the earth’s orbit around the sun will burn our world and a small increase in it would freeze it solid (36:40). Again, any random changes in the orbits of various planets would lead to destructive collisions and end of the known world. That this mind-boggling order is without design by a Designer is unbelievable. The development of human life itself in successive stages from conception to birth, childhood, adulthood, old age and death point to the glorious creation of Almighty (22:5, 23:12-14).
    The proposition that the origin of life was an accident that occurred without any preconception, plan or purpose defies ordinary reason.

    Ask the Religion Experts is compiled by Stephanie Murphy. Write to Ask the Religion Experts, c/o The Ottawa Citizen, 1101 Baxter Rd., Ottawa, Ont., K2C 3M4. E-mail submissions to experts@thecitizen.canwest.com
     
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