Legacy and Perspective

I recently read an article that asserted that Charles Darwin left a legacy of hate, evil and genocide owing to his theory of descent by natural selection.  If I read the article correctly, it even asserted that there was an influence of “social Darwinism” three years before the publication of the Origin of Species!  That is an utterly illogical argument. That so many people latched onto such ideas for the purpose of advancing their own agendas is not unexpected: people have done that for as long as there have been people.

If we examine a few other embarrassing issues in human history, we can see other connections that may not be quite as palatable as demonizing a scientific theory.  For example, during the era of slave trade in the United States, Christian proponents of slavery appealed to the Bible for support.  Surely, if Paul told slaves to obey their masters, God approved of the institution.  Who are we to go against God?

During the Middle Ages, the bloody (and largely unsuccessful) Crusades were launched ostensibly to rout the Muslim infidels from the Holy Land and reclaim Jerusalem for Christendom.  Likely as not, the real reason was a lust for treasure.  The Spanish Inquisition was perpetrated in the name of religion.  During the Reformation, Catholics persecuted Protestants, Protestants fought wars with other Protestants, because each side thought it had all truth and the blessing of Heaven.

More recently, Einstein’s famous equation relating matter and energy, E=mc2, was part of the foundation for developing the atomic bomb, a weapon used to end the greatest war in history—but at the cost of thousands of civilians’ lives in the short term and the threat of global annihilation for on-going generations.

I mention these examples to pose a question:  If so much death and destruction and uncertainty and insecurity have resulted from Einstein’s work on a fundamental principle of physics, was he evil to propose it?  Should he have kept it to himself?  Should we expunge all knowledge of that principle from our libraries?  Are atoms evil for possessing their fundamental properties?  More to the deeper point, if so much evil has been perpetrated in the name of God, does that make God or faith in God evil?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that the devil’s game is not in creation, but rather in abstraction.  Thus, we can see that nature, declared by God himself to be “very good,” cannot lie, obfuscate, or deceive, but by that principle of abstraction, it can be misinterpreted.  Of itself, it cannot conspire to any evil plot.  It simply exists.  How we use nature and our knowledge of it makes the difference.  If we choose to ignore the better angels of our nature, we have no-one to blame but ourselves.  If we determine to sink to the level of sheerest animal survival by remaining “red in tooth and claw,” we neglect those better angels that remind us we are made in God’s image, despite our earthy nature.

The image of God is not physical.  The image of God is goodness and mercy, love and kindness, justice and peace.  It is reason in the service of humanity and all of creation.  It is everything that baser nature cannot be, because it is contrary to the motives of individual, self-centered survival and selfish advancement.

Evolution and natural selection cannot be demonized any more than the propagation of a nerve impulse or the movement of water in a plant or the action of a predator in feeding its young can be construed as inherently evil.  These things exist as neither good nor evil.  If we ignore the evidence that evolution can and does occur, and that natural selection is a plausible and observable mechanism to drive such changes, then we are willfully blind to a truth of nature. To ignore them is to disrespect their ultimate author.  To deny them is to limit the ongoing creative power and work of the God that we profess to honor and serve.

When we arbitrarily determine what God can or cannot do, we dance perilously close to the precipice of hubris.  We succumb to the ultimate expression of pride in that we make God in our own image.  In doing so, we make him weak and powerless and of limited intelligence and creativity.

But the creature can never be greater than its creator, nor can it be his equal.  The ultimate teacher can never be bested by his pupil. When we make God in our image, we see only our own feeble limitations amplified.  It is not our place to put God in a box.  The infinite is beyond our reach but it is God’s playground.  When we finally begin to focus on what God has done, on what he is doing now, and on what he can continue to do in both the realm of nature and the realm of spirit, we will begin to appreciate wisdom beyond comprehension and unlimited horizons.  Ours is a God of infinite possibilities.  Be still and know that he is God.

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