Adam, Eve and Evolution

A recent facebook exchange has inspired me to try and put words to some things I have been feeling for a really long time, some things I have been wanting to post for a while.
I believe thoroughly that The Bible expresses a deep truth. I also think science is an incredibly powerful tool of humanity. And I think most of the apparent tensions between science and faith are man-made, silly, and politically motivated.
The big question, it seems, for Christians like myself, is around the beginning of humanity. The test case in how to navigate the science/spirituality question is about the meaning of the book of Genesis and the implications of the Neodarwinian understanding of evolution.
Some people claim that they science and Christian faith can be understood to be compatible. I take a more radical (I think) stance. I believe that the book of Genesis is a pretty amazing confirmation of truths we have arrived at through science. And so, I am going to ponder this idea for this blog post: in what ways does The Book of Genesis confirm the scientific view.
It is tempting to get hung up on a wide variety of chronologies. Others have written about how the universe came to be, and eventually we get things like a planet Earth. There is first an ocean, and then land arises. First there are sea creatures and then there are land creatures.
These developments coincide with the scientific understanding. But they are not as interesting as what happens when people arrive on the scene.

Pretty late in the creation story (and in the evolutionary one) humans arise.
God breathes into these first humans. In the intitial account, it appears that Adam came first. (Later, though, in Genesis 10, comes the implication that both were created at the same time)

Ascent_of_Man_3
The question that people get hung up on is this:
Was there a single beginning to the human race? Was there an Adam?
It seems that most people think if the answer to either of the above is ‘yes’ then we have given up the scientific account.
But I think it’s trickier than that.

What if God set the world up at the beginning of time? What if he tweaked the big bang? What if he fine tuned the universe to give rise to pre-human hominids?

And at some point, these hominids passed a critical point. God had wired the universe such that evolution gave rise to an organism which bore his likeness. And these very first humans could have lived in obedience to God.
But they decided that Wisdom of good and evil was preferable to submission to The Creator. In some sense, those early humans ate of that tree that they had been told not to eat.
Could it have been only two people who had come to resemble God? Two people who might be called Adam, and Eve?
Sure. Why not?

There is so much more to be said here. But I think this is a good place to end for now.

Is Efficiency Godly?

While at the airport yesterday, I was watching the systems and procedures and protocols.  And I realized something.

There are many areas that the airport can be incredibly efficient.  But the more efficient it is, the more dehumanizing it is.  It got me to wondering: is this a strict, almost mathematical relationship?  As we grow in efficiency do we necessarily shrink in how much we make each other feel like real people? 

More importantly, what ramifications does all this have for the church?  I have this fear that we’ve made an idol of efficiency.  Brought it in to a place where it doesn’t belong.  In order to make this point though, consider the airport:

I arrived and stood in the first incredible line.  One person directed me the clueless about where to go.  At the end of that line a second person printed out boarding passes.  He sent me to a third person who sent my bag through the x-ray machine.  If something had looked funny a different person would have searched my bag or put it one of those Jimmy Neutron chemical-sniffing devices.

On my way to another a line: the next worker surveyed my I.D. and boarding pass.  One set of eyes watched the screen that x-rayed my bag and shoes.  Another person watched the metal detector I walked under.  At the gate one attendant makes announcements, another takes my boarding pass, another stands in the plane pointing me to my seat.

Something like 7 people in less than an hour.  Each person had this little tiny job to do: checking ID’s over and over again all day long.  Screening bags all day long.  Each person only dealt with me for a matter of seconds.

It occured to me that the airport is effectively a massive conveyer belt.  It is an enomourous factory.  It churns out travelers who appear safe and pointed in the direction of their destination.  The job of getting people to their destinations has been dissected into impossibly small bits.  People engage in only one of these bits all day long.  Like a worker, tightening the same lug nut on an endless line of cars all day long.

This is not a blog about how annoying airports are.  I am not saying that I want somebody to be my airline-provided friend who walks me through every step of the way.  The truth is, I can’t imagine how you would make airports work other than by turning passengers into a product, dehumanizing them.  There are simply too many people with too many things to do.

There are some unfortunate pieces of fall out from all this, though.

How many of us have been lied to because people know we’ll never see them again?  I remember this nightmarish day several years ago of traveling with my three young children and my wife.  We ended up with boarding passes all of the plane for the five of us.  The guy at the ticket counter smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it.  They’ll get it all straightened out on the plane.” Once on the plane as they split us up from our young kids they smiled and said “This should have been straightened out at the ticket counter.”

Two days ago I was supposed to fly home.  Our flight was cancelled.  Surprisingly, the airport was going to put us up for the night and provide some meals for us.  Because (this time) I was flying without kids, this was not particularly a big deal.  It was more annoying than exciting, but the idea of being put up in a hotel in a strange city is kind-of exciting.

My fellow-travelers pushed for everything they could get.  At the end, the lady promised them rooms that were suites and 24 hour hotel restaurants that they could eat at as soon as they arrived.  Coincendtally, these people ended up at the same hotel as me.  Niether suites nor 24 hour restaurants.  I smiled wryly: my fellow travelers treated the airline worker like a commodity.  In my opinion they were unreasonably pushy.  The worker pushed back: made promises she probably new (or atleast suspected) were bald-faced lies.  But it wasn’t people she was lying to.  It was just the product that she was responsible for moving down the metaphorical conveyer belt.  The belt wouldn’t be likely to bring them back to her, so she did what she needed to do in order to move them along.  She couldn’t care less about the right thing to do, or about how these people felt about her.  The whole action was a-moral, personality-less, dehumanizing, on both ends.

Churches and ministries that are succesful by a variety of different measuring sticks have adapted methods that popular in the business world.  I think maybe at the sizes they’ve reached this is unavoidable… Or perhaps they reached these sizes by adapting these practices.

At any rate, we have mission statements, wins, organizational flow charts… maybe I’m niave and these have always been around.  Certainly the Catholic Church can look more like an organization than an organism.  But it seems like we ought to be careful. 

It might not be good that business turn everything into a commodity, but at least it’s consistent with what they are supposed to be doing.  In the very act of dehumanizing people, the church sells out it’s very reason for existence.

How do we balance efficiency and humanizing people?  Is it even possible on a grand scale to mantain a focus on the fact that others are human beings, not products?  I know that it is for God: scripture tells us that we’re not headed back to a Garden but that we will enter into this amazing city.  It seems like imagining how this city is going to work is a much better model to imitate than the current business models…

The truth

If somebody claimed “I am the Queelebegooten” or “The queelebegooten will set you free” It would be natural to want to know just what the word “Qeelebegooten” means… Even if we had a tenative, working definition of the word, we’d probably be quite curious, especially if one (or both) of these statements didn’t really connect with what we thought it was supposed to mean.

Jesus, of course, did not say “I am the Queelebegooten.”  Nor did he claim that the queelebegooten would set us free.  He claimed that he was the truth, though, and that the truth would set us free.

When we look at these claims with fresh eyes the first thing that we notice is that they are bold, striking, and provocative.  The seond thing is that he seems to be using the word “truth” in an unusual way.  Whole books have been written, whole courses have been taught, whole academic careers have been built on the question that was asked by a man who didn’t know what to do with Jesus.  “What is truth?”

I want to sidestep some of those questions.  I don’t think that I’ll establish some sort of noncontroversial epistemology right here and now.  Instead, I’d like to take a look at what we seem to generally mean by the word “truth” in our everyday lives.  I’d like to then compare this view with what Jesus said about it.

Usually, we use the word “truth” to point to some form of knowledge that is objective.  Something that can be verified outside of us, something that is independent of us.  If I was trying to determine which student cheated on a test where two kids came up with identical answers, I would tell them “I want the truth.”  Either Fred or Barney looked on the other’s paper.  This reality– this truth– wouldn’t change regardless of what I thought or said.  Truth, according to the way we normally use the word, is not something invented by us.  Nor is it something dependent on us.  Two plus two equals four.  That is the truth.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t normally say “What is the true interpretation of that poem” Because there may be more than one.  In framing the question that way, it implies that I think there is only one correct interpretation, and that this interpretation is not dependent on what I bring to the poem.

People who know more about sociology and history than I do say that this is a fairly new development.  We did not always define truth so narrowly.  Goings on in science and culture have lead us to where we are now.

Science has been incredibly succesful in the last couple hundred years in ways that are really easy to see.  We can now do things that we could never do before.  The every day lives of people in the first world today does not much resemble the lives of their grand parents.  It’s easy to see how we can go from “Scientific truth is one sort-of truth” to “Scientific knowledge is the best kind of truth” to “Scientific knowledge is the only kind of truth.”

Though science might have changed our lives, and though some of these are for the better, they don’t use the word “truth” the same way Jesus did.  No scientist can say “I am the truth.” He has only discovered it.  No idea can say “I am the truth” because, of course, ideas can not talk.  The best a scientist could do is to speak about her discoveries.  She might say “I have discovered a truth.”

And though a scientific idea might set us free from one thing, it will nearly inevitably enslave us to do something else.  Elictricity set us free from from depending on gas-based lamps but enslaved us to power plants and oil dependence and green houses gasses.  Lawn mowers and washing machines set us free from some types of household work but enslaved us to laziness. 

In setting us free from everything else Jesus (in Paul’s words) enslaves us to Him.  And this is as it should be. 

 Jesus view of truth is incredibly personal.  We can only find it in terms of relationship.  This is the very heart of why I think the post moderns are on to something.   Christianity has been living with this disconnect for atleast a couple hundred years.  Truth is not only objective and outside of us.  A relationship is not something that can be proven.  We can’t justify our faith as if it were some sort of geometric proof.

 

How I came to Christ IV: Your turn

In 3 posts below, I explore my spiritual journey.

What about yours?
Post a comment below. Share where you’re at now, spiritually. Explore how you got there. Whatever faith commitment you’ve made, how has it changed you?
Come on, do it. All the cool kids are doing it.

If you’re interested in my story, check the posts on this blog “How I came to Christ, I” “How I came to Christ II” and “How I came to Christ III”

A bunch of reasons why I’m voting for Barack Obama

For whatever it’s worth, here’s the reasons that I think it’s worthwhile to vote for Obama.  I’m putting a special focus on reasons that put to rest the narrative that Obama is a starry-eyed idealist with no real experience of specific plans.

(The following reasons are in no particular order.)

#1) He’s basically the only candidate who has the record to claim that he was opposed not only to the specific execution but also the general theory of invading Iraq. 

#2) He can move from sweeping, philosophical generalizations to down-in-the dirt, nitty gritty plans.  Because nitty-gritty doesn’t play well in our sound bite culture, people miss this… He has mind-numbingly detailed plans on issues like health care.  See his website (http://www.mybarackobama.com) The site gives you the option to see his views on outlines in either broad strokes or specific reports.  The one on health care, for example, is enomorous.  Frankly, I got lost in places.  I think it’s fair to say you don’t agree with him.   But to claim that he doesn’t have a specific view is foolish.

#3) He gets education.  One of his strengths in general is to see that many debates which get played as either/or are really both/and.  For example, the debate about education gets played as “accountabality or support for needy students/ districts.” Obama gets that real accountabality (not pseudodata from inapropriately interpreted standardized tests) AND support are necessary.

#4) He is a supporter of real diplomacy, international engagement, and recovering America’s ruined repuation around the world.

#5) He’s the first presidential candidate that could be fairly seen as a representative of the Christian Left.  His speech in June to an audience of evangelicals was more than brilliant, it was also courageous.  The man didn’t simply spout platitidues he knew that audience wanted to hear.  He fairly assessed the good and bad news about politics and religion.  He proclaimed the truths he sees and admitted the ambiguity and struggles he feels.

#6) He hasn’t accepted any interest groups money.  Is there any other “top tier” candidate who can claim the same thing?

#7) He’s a bazillion times more electable than Hillary Clinton.  He’s also three times as charismatic and  eight point five times more charactered.  (By the way, how does Hilary get to play the experience card over Obama?  Are they allowing us to put our spouses information on our resumes now?)

This of course could go on… and if anybody sees things differently I invite them to share there perspectives. 

Evolution, Creation, and the emergent church

I don’t think that most people on either extreme of the evolution/creation debate have seriously considered the evidence for the middle ground.

In most cases, when people disagree with me, I think it’s likely that they’ve considered the evidence I’ve looked at.  I think they understand where I’m coming from.  I think they simply come to a different analysis of the evidence.  And I’m fine with that.

But the evolution/creation debate is different.  The middle ground– the idea that God works through the evolutionary process, and that this is described in the biblical creation account– doesn’t seem to even merit serious consideration from either biblical literalists or secular fundamentalists.  These radicals have dominated the discussion and robbed a viable, living position that might otherwise have enriched the lives and faiths of millions.

My faith is deepened by understanding that Genesis is a poetic description of now-understood scientific processes.  I am filled with awe that thousands of years ago the ancient Hebrews were able to provide an account that is so consistent with the scientific understanding.   The only explanation, as far as I can see, for how right-on Genesis is, is a divine one.

Lots could be said about the creation of the cosmos, the earth, and prehuman life.  But for me, the most compelling parallels occur once Adam has entered the scene.

Adam and co. explicitly invent language, discover good and evil,  develops nudity taboos, and engage in the first murders resulting from passion not necessity.  Genesis less explicitly implies the discovery of monogomy, the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming society, the transition from being ruled by instinct and living in harmony with nature and God to looking for dominion and being guided by rationality.

It took the secular world thousands of years to come to grips with these developments being key in what it is to be human.  It’s so ironic that the bible gets so misinterpreted as old-fashioned.  It is so radical revolutionary and progressive when we look carefully at it. 

I recognize that understanding these process metaphorically leads to theological challenges… But failing to understand them leads to an equal number of internal challenges and a tremendous number of external challenges from the scientific world view. 

I guess my closing thought on the subject is that taking this view of scripture is not an invitation to a luke-warm faith, to comprimising that which is critical.  My prayer is that adopting a view of scripture that allows us to operate in the 21st century calls us out to even greater levels of faith, dedication, and service.

Wounds

I entered The World through the holes in your hands.The Wholes in Your Hands.

I swam like a blood cell in Your Love.

And I was healed where you washed me.

And I was saved, skin-deep;

As deep as I allowed myself to be redeemed.

I have wounds, too.

I have wounds like you.

I have hidden them away.

You know they are there.

But you will not minister

Where you have not been welcomed…

You must not know

(and of course you know)

You must not see

(except you see everything)

I lie over my wounds

Fight you away from my wounds

and then I am angry

that you will not heal my wounds

Lord I know

that you’ll only go

into those places we invite you

I’ve kept you away

from the places inside me you wanted to stay

My stupid shame, my foolish pride

You saw me

when I couldn’t see you

You wept with me

when I thought I was hurt and alone

You’ve invited me

into your wounds

Why can’t I

do the same for you?

I will open up

the door to my heart

Half way

I will invite you in

but only so far

I have these secret rooms

You are not welcome there.

Perhaps you were sleeping

perhaps you looked away

I hold onto a shred of hope

That you already don’t know

That hope against your wisdom

that hope against your power

that hope against

your love

On that tiny chance

that you don’t know

I’d hate, God,

for you to find

That broken place

inside of me

That part of me

that must never show.