Evolutionary Thoughts: Where’s Waldo?

One of my students in class jokingly compared God to the famous stripey-shirted figure of Where’s Waldo? fame.  In the funniest rendering of the “God of the gaps” problem, he depicted the divine as constantly reshaping the earth and changing the laws of physics in order to stay hidden from the eyes of humanity.

Not quite plausible, but still hilarious!

Anyway, it reminded me of this passage from Diarmuid O’Murchu:

The universe knows what it’s about.  The fact that it does not make sense to us humans, that it often baffles us to extremes and undermines all our theories and expectations, is not a problem for the universe; it is a problem for us.  We, therefore, impetuously conclude that the universe does not care about us or about anything else; like the selfish genes, it too unfolds along its blind, lifeless path.

But is a blind, lifeless path likely to produce stars and galaxies, supernova explosions and quasars, planets and atoms, bacteria and photosynthesis, and creatures of such enormous diversity?  Instead of viewing it all as mindless, why not work with the opinion that it is mindful?  Not only would that make exploration more productive and hopeful; it would also make it a great deal more exciting, energizing, and engaging.

We also need to transcend this fretful preoccupation with where or how God comes into the whole picture.  Theologians seem to be nervously concerned with keeping God in, while scientists are desperate to keep God out.  I suspect that God is bemusedly puzzled by our human reactions.

Diarmuid O’Murchu, Evolutionary Faith, p. 199

Evolutionary Thoughts: Strange Bedfellows

One of Diarmuid O’Murchu’s primary goals in his book Evolutionary Faith is to move beyond mere “scientific” and “religious” understandings of evolution and embrace the “mythical”.  He writes:

Unfortunately, the dualism between science and religion still stymies our minds and spirits.  It divides things up in a superficial and destructive way.  It often eschews the enveloping sense of mystery.  What is more disturbing is the collusion whereby both sets of wisdom (science and religion) enforce perceptions and values that distort and distract us from the inspiring vision of the evolutionary story.  (p. 51)

O’Murchu borrows a chart from Brian Goodwin to demonstrate the ironic similarity between Darwinian and traditional (Western Christian) religious worldviews.  In short: Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson are basically saying the same thing. If anything, O’Murchu’s exercise demonstrates to me the essential nature of fundamentalism as a late-modern reactionary movement.  It did not and could not have existed in any other milieu.

I’ve tried to reproduce the chart below.  It can be found on page 52 of Evolutionary Faith.

Darwinian Principles Religious Principles
Organisms are constructed by groups of genes whose goal is to leave more copies of themselves. The hereditary material is basically “selfish.” Human beings are born in sin and they perpetuate it in sexual reproduction. Greed and pride are basic elements of that flawed, sinful condition.
The inherently selfish qualities of the hereditary material are reflected in the competitive interactions between organisms, resulting in the survival of the fittest. Humanity, therefore, is condemned to a life of conflict and perpetual toil in the desire to improve one’s lot in life.
Organisms constantly are trying to improve and outdo weaker elements, but the landscape of evolution keeps changing, so the struggle is endless, as in Steven Weinberg’s “hostile universe.” Humanity’s effort at improvement is jeopardized by the imperfect, sinful world in which we have been placed. The struggle never ends.
Paradoxically, human beings can develop altruistic qualities that contradict their inherently selfish nature, by means of educational and other cultural efforts. But by faith and moral effort, humanity can be saved from its fallen, selfish state, normally requiring the intervention of an external, divine influence.

Evolutionary Thoughts: Disbelief

Continuing to enjoy my guided tour through the poetic and mystical mind of Diarmuid O’Murchu in his book: Evolutionary Faith.  Today’s offering comes from the Introduction, just after his ‘Creed’.  Again, I offer neither wholesale endorsement nor denouncement of anyone’s ideas but my own.  The words that follow are O’Murchu’s from Evolutionary Faith (p. 3-4)

My Lack of Faith

  • I find it hard to concur with the rationalism of science, claiming that one day we will uncover the whole rationale of creation and then be able to control the mind of God.
  • I disassociate myself as much as possible from those who claim that humankind is the measure of all things.  I no longer believe that humans are the masters of creation.
  • I no longer accept that the universe consists of dead, inert matter; in fact, I never really believed it.
  • I find it hard to accept that life evolved for the first time about four billion years ago; I suspect that it has been doing so since time immemorial.
  • I do not believe that we are the first intelligent creatures to inhabit creation.  We belong to an intelligent universe that for many millennia has known what it’s about.  It seems to me that our intelligence is derived from the intelligence of the greater whole.
  • I consider the heady debate between “creationists” and “evolutionists” to be so irrelevant and irreverent that I largely ignore it.
  • I no longer believe in the anthropocentric myth of the end of the world.  There is every likelihood that we humans will destroy ourselves, but not creation.  Creation has an infinite capacity to cocreate.
  • I have grave doubts that the story of evolution can be reduced to one cycle, commencing about twelve billion years ago and culminating in a big crunch some five to ten billion years from now.  It’s all too neat for the creativity of divine becoming.