Throughout my life, I have often considered the controversy which simmers between evolutionists and creationists. Much like the polarization and posturing witnessed in American politics and social policy, when it comes to creation vs evolution, it can be difficult to avoid the trap of choosing a side and digging in. It’s funny how often we find that issues which act as “lightning rods” in the modern age, are those which have neatly packaged a complex subject into polar viewpoints. If we step back for just a moment and examine society's most divisive topics, false dichotomies emerge: controversies fueled by inaccurate paradigms which offer one of two choices, neither of which provide a satisfying option. For my part, the issue of “creation vs. evolution” is just such a controversy.
In considering the matter of reality’s ultimate origin, it seems of fundamental importance to separate the notion of creation from that of creationism. In speaking of creation, we engage in an expansive discussion of the nature of our universe and how it proceeds. By contrast, creationism finds its roots in orthodoxy, taking the form of a fixed story.
For my part, I was raised within an orthodox belief system, and therefore, indoctrinated into creationism. As years passed, however, I ruminated on those beliefs, and eventually found it impossible to ignore a thread of irrational thought which permeates orthodox thinking by its very nature. This “thread of thought” to which I refer represents a fundamental flaw in orthodox thinking, and it is this flaw that drove me away from the religion of my upbringing.
In observing orthodox belief systems, we see that they are inflexible by nature and reliant on static thinking. Within the religion of my upbringing, for example, it is accepted that at some point in the distant past humanity was able to communicate openly with God, but that the channel has long since been closed. This perspective gave rise to the canonization of holy scriptures which have remained unaltered for hundreds or thousands of years. As far as these belief systems are concerned, there are no more prophets, nor any circumstances under which scripture may be altered - save translations.
Similarly, many belief systems view creation as having taken place within a fixed window, once upon a time. In holding this view, the world is seen as an unchanging environment, one in which humanity exists separate from the deity of “God”, who is set apart, playing the role of a master clockmaker. From high upon his judgement seat, God tugs at strings and humankind’s fate is decided, or so the story goes.
This type of thinking may seem innocuous at first blush, but over months, years, and centuries, it reveals itself to be a pervasive disease which expresses dangerous symptoms. The disease proceeds quite predictably: over time an indoctrinated mind becomes either unwilling or unable to process reality apart from orthodoxy. Furthermore, when reality is perceived to be in disagreement with orthodoxy, the mind in question disposes with reality in favor of orthodoxy.
Predictably, trouble arises when orthodoxy seeks to canonize dynamic processes, such as evolution, stating that such things shall now and forever remain as they once were. Over time, the issues inherent in such canonization become self-evident, as great masses of the population engage in destructive behavior aimed at staving off the fear associated with admitting such belief systems to be falsehoods. Wars break out, neighbors are distrusted, and heretics are birthed. In this case, the word “heretic” may be considered as synonymous with one who openly speaks about aspects of reality which disagree with orthodoxy.
This type of thinking is prevalent throughout modern-day America, not only within the citizenry, but within our “leadership” as well. Consider what representative Tim Walberg said in regards to his lack of interest in environmental matters, “... I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
In reading this quote, we see the symptoms of humanity’s central malady laid bare: the belief that something greater than us performed a kind of "magic" long, long ago, leaving us all here, helpless but to consider that fact. Should the need for further magic arise, surely this being will return and perform it once again.
From this vantage point, we see that orthodoxy leaves us in a kind of jam: once a matter has been closed, so to speak, what is left for humanity to do but wait and see? However, if one views creation less literally, considering it not as an event that happened eons ago, but rather, as a process which has never stopped taking place, the picture changes dramatically.
The failing of certain widely-held belief systems is that they have sought to put creation - a word that some consider as synonymous with “God” - in a time-capsule, assigning static attributes and traits to a force that, from all we observe, proceeds dynamically. In just a few centuries, science has revealed a great deal about this dynamic flow, a reality which is undeniable and on full display within our fossil record. Viewed more soberly, what science calls evolution is nothing more than creation with the strings of creationism severed, and expressed over infinity, rather than in seven literal days.
The further we evolve as a species, the more we learn, and hence, the more care we are able to exercise in tweaking and tuning the belief systems which aid us in defining our values. As we seek to improve the values we hope to express in the world, so too must we improve the belief systems which support them. Reason requires that we ask ourselves how humanity, an evolving species, can be properly served by belief systems which do not themselves evolve?
Because many of our belief systems exhibit such inflexibility, humans subscribing to such systems are often forced to live in bubbles of their own making, going so far as to create their own media and news sources aimed at filtering out a reality less and less in keeping with their orthodox beliefs. It is this kind of thinking - or rather, unwillingness to think freely - which causes a person such as Tim Walberg to say such reckless things from the pulpit of power, or indeed, to reach elected office in the first place. I don’t think Mr. Walberg is a bad guy, only that he demonstrates irresponsibility in portraying himself as a thought-leader while openly subscribing to millenia-old thinking, and recommending we look to the sky for deliverance.
Yet, science does indoctrinated believers no favors in its evolutionary stance, often offering dogma as a substitute for dogma, and painting the miracle of creation as a process of randomness, rather than one dogged in its adherence to finding elegance and design within chaos and disorder. We live in a fractal universe, after all, one which proceeds in ordered fashion by its very nature. However, science’s loudest voices routinely paint a cold and unwelcoming picture of nature and the creative process, defining it as one which proceeds via brutal competition: “nature, red in tooth and claw.” Science, at its most dogmatic, begins to feel like a religion, and the pursuit of science in this fashion is sometimes referred to as Scientism. Given its offerings, it is no wonder that humanity clings to belief systems which resist evolution, both literally and figuratively.
In describing science, I often refer to it as a discipline which deals with a cross-section of reality: that which may be measured. We commonly refer to this cross-section as physicality. In placing its focus on physicality, science has accomplished amazing things, and it is clear enough why some scientists argue that what cannot be measured does not matter. However, this appears to be an immature stance, a dogma that cheapens science and gives it an air of small-mindedness. After all, for science, having reached its own limitations, to declare anything beyond those limits to be irrelevant, seems self-serving.
As humans, we lose ourselves in the fragrance of a flowering plant, we fight to maintain our balance during fits of uncontrolled laughter, and we tear-up in the presence of selfless acts of love and charity. In truth, while we value physical comfort and safety, it is those things which resist measurement that we value most - it is the intangible which gives meaning to our lives. When seen from this perspective, science is understood to be an important partner on the journey, rather than a means to ultimate truth. Like the mind, science is an instrument which facilitates survival, yet, life is about much more than survival.
In determining what role belief plays in our lives, it is a helpful exercise to contrast belief systems with systems of belief. Belief systems exist as static structures which name certain things as sacred, then seek to maintain a fixed, unchanging relationship with those things. A system of belief, by contrast, is dynamic and constitutes a set of modalities that may be reliably used to test reality, akin to the sonar ping on a submarine.
While belief systems allow large numbers of people to agree on shared values, systems of belief assist individuals in curating personal ones. By employing systems of belief, we inhabit a pattern of “reality testing”, consistently seeking a more informed perspective as to whether or not what we believe still serves us. Such modalities allow the expression of our values to evolve along with us, assisting us in better understanding ourselves, and tailoring our viewpoints to better address present day needs.
I am not a person who is bothered by belief in God, although I see the word as one which has been “charged” by centuries of debate and dogma, and therefore choose to use it cautiously. I consider myself to be a person of reason as well as faith, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a person more sold on the notion of “higher power” than I am. Yet, for me this does not take the form of adherence to belief systems, but rather, exists as faith in a creative process that did not terminate some time in the distant past, but continues ad infinitum. In this sense, God is not a being who built a clock and set it into motion, but a process that slowly unfolds, one which we inhabit, one which opens into and through us. In this sense, we are creation.
For this reason, I don’t subscribe to the idea that God is a greater power poised to save humanity. Traditional wisdom states that, “the universe will never take you anywhere you’re not willing to go yourself”, and I resonate with such sentiments. Looked at in this way, God is not more powerful than humankind, but exactly as powerful as humankind. In other words, God can only express towards humanity that which humanity will express towards itself, as is the very nature of free will. This may seem a defeating notion given the current state of humankind on the planet, but I do not see it as such, but rather as a hopeful reminder of the potential inherent in each and every one of us, should we choose to set dogmas aside and embrace our creative role.
Humanity is but a child in evolutionary terms, a young species that has only recently appeared on the scene. As such, we should go easy on ourselves and one another, viewing our failings not as evil, but as immaturity: the predictable fits and starts of adolescence. Modern day humans are confused, and as such, the world is mired in infighting and irrational behavior. Yet, is it really so surprising to find ourselves in such a confused state, considering the options currently offered to humanity? On the one hand, religion offers values without reason, while on the other, science offers reason without values. Surely, there is a larger story we may eventually find together. Who knows, we may even surprise ourselves as to how well we get along when given the opportunity to align with a more satisfying, inclusive story. Till next time!
Americana Singer Songwriter Ed Dupas’ lived-in melodies unwind with reflective lyrics that speak to the current state of the human condition. Soothing where possible, agitating where necessary, and calling for change where appropriate. Ed Dupas creates and shares well worn wide awake music.
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