Gerson on evolution, naturalism and faith

Michael Gerson, who worships at Falls Church, offers some very thoughtful observations in his Washington Post column on the conflict over evolution. First, he offers reasons why the faithful should not be afraid of the scientific evidence of evolution:

But whatever the scientific objections, it is the theological objections to evolution that are weakest. Critics seem to argue that the laws of nature are somehow less miraculous than their divine suspension. But the elegant formulas of physics, and the complex mechanisms of evolution, strike me as an equal tribute to the Creator.

Critics also assume that humble evolutionary origins undermine human dignity. But the Bible’s description — creation from the “dust of the earth” — is no less humiliating than descent from primates. Men and women have an elevated value because they are known and loved by God, not because of their genetic pedigree.

Historically, it is usually an error for religious people to fill scientific holes with supernatural explanations, because those holes often are filled eventually by the progress of knowledge. A “god of the gaps” is weaker and less compelling than the God of all creation.

And there is little need for such explanations, even for those who take the Bible seriously. Leon Kass, in his masterful work “The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis,” observes, “The biblical account is perfectly compatible with the fact of a slowly evolving cosmos, with life arriving late, beginning in the sea and only later emerging on earth, progressively distinguished into a variety of separated kinds.”

But Gerson also warns us not to accept the view that evolution and other science supports a belief that God does not exist:

Some scientists claim that a belief in evolution and orderly material laws somehow disproves the existence of immaterial things such as God and the soul — as if biology or physics could refute concepts they don’t even examine. There is no telescope that reveals the absence of the divine; no MRI that yields a negative test for the soul. G.K. Chesterton summarizes this naive theory as follows: “Because science has not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore something entirely different . . . is untrue. . . . To me it is all wild and whirling; as if a man said — ‘The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so I suppose that my wife does love me.’ ”

There is a large distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and naturalism. Naturalism — the belief that the material world is all that is or ever will be — is a philosophy, and a dangerous one. As C.S. Lewis points out, this belief system begins by denying the existence of God, but it cannot end there. “The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed ‘souls’ or ‘selves’ or ‘minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. . . . Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they.”

. . .

The belief in an orderly universe does not require belief in an empty universe. And science does not even address the most important questions about human destiny.

“Let us assume that creation is evolution,” argues Leon Kass, “and proceeds solely by natural processes. What is responsible for this natural process? . . . Can a dumb process, ruled by strict necessity and chance mutation, having no rhyme or reason, ultimately answer sufficiently for life, for man, for the whole? . . . And when we finally allow ourselves to come face-to-face with the mystery that there is anything at all rather than nothing, can we evolutionists confidently reject the first claim of the Bible — ‘In [the] beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’?”

Read it all here.

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