[Note: This is one of several articles that I am archiving here as I phase out an old website, The Four Precepts Web Portal & Spiritual Search Page. While these articles reflect a formative period in my life and thought, they do not necessarily reflect my current opinions.]
by Wayne Ferguson 11.12.2005, changed 07.10.2007
While it seems rather obvious that the objections raised by some Christian groups against the theory of evolution have less to do with scientific evidence than with what they perceive to be its moral and theological implications, their belief in intelligent design, nevertheless, is not at all unreasonable.
With regard to their theological concerns, most conservative Christians opt for a literal interpretation of scripture wherever possible. To accept the theory of evolution would seem to require that they abandon that approach with regard to the creation story, in general, and with respect to the story of Adam and Eve, in particular. But to do so would seem to have profound implications for a number of deeply held beliefs from original sin to the virgin birth.
With regard to their moral concerns, if human beings are merely the result of the random adaptations of a carbon based life form that exists by sheer happen-stance, then it is hard to argue that our individual behavior has any significance for us, personally, beyond its practical impact on the course of our individual existence which— from all appearances —will come to an end with our physical demise. Faced with these implications, it is not hard to understand why conservative Christians have opposed Darwin’s theory, tooth and nail.
As a young bible school student in the early 80’s, I was exposed to the rather crude versions of “creation science” that were then current. But my impression is that today’s “Intelligent Design” (ID) approach is more sophisticated. What is still lacking, it seems to me, is a willingness on the part of ID proponents to really engage evolutionary biology on it’s own terms. Evolutionary biology attempts to account for a certain set of empirical facts. ID attempts to call that account into question at every opportunity with a view to making more plausible their alternative account which implies, at least, some sort of special creation and which also better accommodates their understanding of morality as a set of objective demands that the creator places on his creatures. The problem with this is that it is difficult for the skeptic to take their biology seriously—driven, as it is, by their theological and moral concerns.
For my part, I don’t question for a moment the role of intelligent design in the creation of the universe. On the other hand, I don’t feel at all threatened by the possibility that the human species evolved, over time, from some other, non-human species. I consider the latter possibility to be a strictly empirical question, while any satisfactory answer to questions of creation and morality will necessarily include a number of metaphysical components. And in my opinion, the ultimate concern of conservative Christians would be better addressed, not by stubbornly insisting on a literal interpretation of Genesis or by doggedly attacking evolution a priori, but by maintaining the primary ontological distinction between Reality (which is Transcendent and noumenal) and appearances (which are empirical phenomena). Darwin’s theory of evolution— whatever it’s shortcomings —still represents the best attempt to date to describe the natural history of life on our planet in purely empirical terms. But true or false, it tells us nothing at all about the ultimate source, meaning, and purpose of our existence. For it is only an awareness of our Transcendent source which can ultimately account for our sense of morality and which can also provide our life with a profound sense of meaning and purpose. Apart from that transcendent source, our existence will always appear to be absurd and morality an illusion.
Briefly put, the Divine power which created the universe also sustains it.1 But the very structure of human consciousness both reveals and conceals that power. Those structures re-present the Divine Reality— which is eternal —as a dynamic universe experienced from the perspective of an empirical subject existing in space and time. On the one hand, we can honestly say that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1), but on the other hand, “he hath set the world [the veil of time] in [our] heart, so that [we cannot] find out the work that God maketh from the beginning…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).2 As such, it is easy for us to forget the One with Whom we have to do and to conceive of ourselves merely as discrete individuals whose truth and being is coextensive with the duration of our physical existence. Instead, we should really think of ourselves as incarnations of God—spiritual beings having a human experience, as is sometimes said, and not vise-versa. This approach both explains and enhances our sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as our sense of moral obligation to one-another (though we appear separate and distinct in space and time, we are ultimately joined together in the One with Whom we have to do—in Him we live and move and have our being). These truths are revealed to us in the life and passion of Jesus—and in the lives of others who, Christ-like, exemplify an extraordinarily intimate relationship with God and a sacrificial love for their fellow human beings.
Finally, it should be pointed out that from this standpoint, anything that exists in time and space will quite naturally appear to be the result of a series of complex causes which brought it into existence—and will quite naturally dis-appear as result of another series of complex causes which will inevitably destroy it. The human body is one example of this and so, too— perhaps —is the human species.3 But the One with Whom we have to do remains eternally—and we, too, insofar as we recollect that Divine Reality as our ultimate source and destiny. Remember—there’s more to You than meets the eye!
1. Of course, to the skeptical mind, the question may quickly arise, Why? Why does God choose to create— or somehow permit —this slaughter-bench of history, this veil of tears? The answer would seem to be that God is intrinsically incarnate—Christ is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Somehow, it is part of the perfection of the Divine Reality, which is ultimately One and eternal, to re-present itself as an empirical reality (i.e. to appear as many in time and space). Depending on your point of view, the process of representation can also be thought of as creation, emanation, incarnation, and/or revelation. Perhaps it is by virtue of this incarnation in space and time— which necessarily entails suffering and death —that God is present to himself in eternity. However that may be, each of us, as individuals, are free to follow Christ’s example and begin participating in His life Divine.
2. The Hebrew word that is translated world in this verse is o-lawm’. While it is often translated eternity, it is elsewhere translated time and it seems to me that the veil of time might be a better rendering in this instance (cf. aw-lam’ which means to veil from sight or conceal). Whether or not this is ultimately justified on linguistic grounds, the point remains that there is something about human cognition that prevents or distracts us from a deeper ontological awareness. Additional Research: Since posting this article, I have discovered what may be the definitive study of this scripture and it would seem that my interpretation, though speculative, is well within the bounds of reason. See Brian Gault’s Exegetical Analysis of Ecclesiastes 3:11.
3. No doubt this idea will still seem untenable to many believers, but consider, if you will, that we have no compunction about attributing our birth and death— as individuals —both to natural processes and to God. For example, when a child is conceived and born in the usual manner, we may still sincerely say that “God gave us a beautiful baby.” And when a loved one dies of cancer, we may still sincerely believe that “the Lord took him home.” Why, then— insofar as the evidence warrants it —should we hesitate to attribute the origin of our species both to God and to evolutionary processes?
[Editor’s Note: The top image— illustrating evolutionary ascent —is from www.mondolithic.com and is used with permission. Special thanks to Alan Kazlev at Kheper.Net for his feedback on this article.]