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Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons

Evolution and Christianity From Darwin To I.D.

Peter Bowler

Clash of views - that science reflects the freedom of the human intellect to challenge religious dogma, with Creationism portrayed as blind dogma incapable of standing up to rational argument.

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If Christians accepted that humanity was the product of evo, even if it was started and/or guided by a Creator, then the whole idea of Original Sin would have to be reinterpreted. far from falling from an original state of grace in Garden of Eden, humanity has risen gradually from animal origins. And if there were no Original Sin from which we needed salvation, what was the point of Christ dying on the Cross?

But presenting evo as unfolding of a divine plan toward its intended goal does not satisfy those who saw Christian message as one of salvation for a sinful humanity, an idea which doesn't reconcile with the ideology of progress.

Stephen Jay Gould tried to argue that science only concerned with facts; religion only with human values, so there should be no conflict. But religion is more than just a value system - it is an explanation of origin and nature of mankind.

Galileo was one of the first to suggest that the original Bible was not a scientific textbook - expressed things in ways that contemporary people could understand.

Literalists disturbed by evidence of life and death prior to man because their explanation is result of Original Sin and the Fall.

By 1800's even Paley was admitting that the evidence clearly showed multiple creations over extended periods of time. Geology clearly showed layers of rock which had changed both in texture and earth movements, and intrusions of volcanic rock. And the small fossil inclusions had an obvious patter (a) they were organisms which didn't exist in modern world (b) simplest at the bottom; more complexity further up the column.

Problem with Paley's watchmaker analogy was that Nature looks much more like a gigantic living organism than a huge machine. We can see watchmakers building watches, but never seen a species created by a miracle.

In 1800's the rising middle classes sympathetic to concept of evo. The inventors and innovators who built the Industrial Revolution used the latest scientific advances and innovations - all things which challenged the old conservative ideas that everything immutable.

Darwin's theory threw out design altogether - evo by trial and error, not guided design. No drive towards perfection, with humans as pinnacle and goal of Creation. impossible to reconcile with traditional idea of men being completely separate to animals.

Darwin made (a) general case for evo and (b) specific case for natural selection as the mechanism.

Darwin witnessed an earthquake in Chile, seeing whole land mass lifted up several feet, establishing a new shoreline along the coast Stretching up the sides of the Andes were a series of ancient beaches, showing that the mountain range had been built up by a series of earthquakes similar to those which were still occurring. No need to invoke a violent catastrophe to explain the uplift of mountains.

The existence of separate species of finches on Galapagos meant that God had performed a separate miracle for each different type.

Darwin challenged the Design argument - Nature clearly a brutal, relentless struggle that didn't match idea of a kind benevolent God, poor design features in humans, and fact that had apparently started 'designing' new species out of old ones, rather than start with a clean slate.

Common descent explains why the natural world can be split into family groups. The only way a Creationist can explain the similarities is to abandon idea of perfect design and accept that God has chosen to work to a plan which generates exactly the same relationships as predicted by common descent.

As Thomas Huxley pointed out, there is no visible evidence anywhere of a supernatural creation. Can explain Nature purely in terms of observable scientific facts and laws.

Early C20 most thinkers, both religious and secular, took it for granted that Genesis was metaphorical. Only literalists were Seventh Day Adventists. But then 1950's onwards, religious conservatives formed idea that only way to salvation was through the Second Coming of Christ, and so important to defend the literal truth of Genesis.So deny not just evo but also geology and paleontology.

Modern sociobiology suggests evo explains how we are programmed to accept beliefs which cement us to our social group, and religion flourishes because of this instinct.

Concept of a benevolent God not just superfluous, it is patently incapable of explaining Nature - why does world hold parasites that cause immense suffering to their prey?

Creationists crude idea of a 'whirlwind through a junkyard making a 747' or 'monkeys writing Shakespeare' - easy to demonstrate that if you reiterate a random process over many generations, saving the best results each time, you very quickly get Shakespeare. And the harshness of the world we live in quite obviously supplies the competitive pressure to eliminate the failures.

Religious groups have become the biggest danger to humanity. They breed dogmatism and intolerance and have once again become the driving force of war and terrorism. Few of the world's believers belong to the intellectual elite which preaches tolerance - far more of them are extreme groups convinced that their beliefs alone offer the sole route to God.

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