Sunday, November 27, 2005

Evolution and ID

Peace be with you! I am back after a hiatus caused in part by an exploding computer in the Prior's office. Thanks to the generosity of a friend who helped set up a new machine, I am able to write again.

There is a good deal of controversy regarding evolution these days. This happens to be a topic that interests me greatly, but not for the reasons normally discussed. I don't much see it as an issue by which religion stands or falls. God is all-powerful but not capricious. He can arrange life however He wishes, but He tends to run the universe, even the living things within it, according to laws. This means that we sapient humans can assist in the governance of the universe by respecting these laws. That this particular issue has to do with religion derives in great part from a series of historical and contingent events in the history of Europe and the United States.

The term 'evolution' is quite unfortunate. It is clear that living things evolve. However, Darwin's theory is described by the title of his book: The Origin of Species. I took a course on this book in college and it utterly convinced me that the differentiation of species by natural selection is a false theory. Horses have evolved from dog-sized animals with toes and claws to the majestic hooved animals we have now, but they have remained horses. The truth is that the more complex a species is, the more pairs of chromosomes it has in its genetics structure. So if a member of one species 'advances' to a higher form of life, it is unable to reproduce itself.

Unfortunately, when one tries to explain this, it is assumed that one must be either a creationist or a proponent of Intelligent Design. I must confess to being uninformed about ID; it has become an issue since I entered the cloister and is not the sort of thing I follow as a monk. However, it is clear to me that either the theory is not strictly scientific (and therefore a matter properly for philosophy or theology, both of which include information from science); either that, or it is a call for a radical rethinking of what science is, since it postulates or tries to reason to a Creator who by definition is outside of what can be described by the scientific method. This last I would welcome, but it is a shame, I believe, that proponents of 'evolution' won't listen to genuine scientific critiques of their theory. One of the ways in which science advances is by recognizing that all scientific knowledge is theoretical and therefore is open to further refinement and even revocation.

Which brings me to a final point about evolution. Strictly speaking again, even the theory itself is not scientific. Scientific theories are testable (as I understand it, by this standard ID is not scientific either, as I wrote above). When Einstein proposed his theory of relativity, he included certain experiments and predicted their results based on his theory. Therefore it could be tested. But evolution by definition is something that requires millions of years to work. We simply can't come up with an experiment that would demonstrate the theory false because we don't have the time.

Let me end by saying how beautiful is this world, however mysterious God's hidden ways of building it. I hope in heaven to have the opportunity in contemplating God's majesty to learn these secrets. For now, it is Advent, and my present job is repentance.

Peace to you all in Christ Jesus, Lord of the Cosmos.
Fr. Peter

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