Am I a monkey? Part 1

Science.  Religion.  Dread enemies (or sleeping with the enemy)?  An unlikely marriage?  In direct opposition or complementary?

Scientists are the new priests of the day, I heard recently on a radio broadcast (or something).  Historically (like, way back pre-Reformation), the Bible was written only in Latin (because that was holier than Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, apparently) and priests alone could understand, interpret, and teach it.  Through a priest, the common man learned how best to get to heaven.  It was sort of an ugly situation.

Nowadays, scientists wield the same kind of clout.  That is, we see them as the way to absolute (relative) truth, through facts, observation, hypothesis and inference and proof and theories.  Religious people are viewed by many in the scientific community as blind and voluntarily ignorant at best and evil at worst (there’s irony for you).

In recent months, I’ve been engaging with a respected (atheist) cousin in debate.  Or, to be honest, in discussion – because I cannot say I was entirely certain in what I actually believed anymore.

Brief personal history:

I “asked Jesus into my heart” at about age 5
proceeded to attempt to convert my neighbours’ kids
encountered God through solitary prayer beneath the outside staircase at primary school
met Jesus again in junior high
was baptized
knelt nightly by my bed, devoured Scripture, desired missions
studied at Capernwray Bible School on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany
found challenge to my faith and yet a deeper faith while studying in university in Winnipeg
became a spiritual mentor at a Bible school explored ourselves, our world, and God – in South Africa
proceeded to “work out my salvation,” sometimes with fear and trembling, as I dated, married, began a career, and had babies
And then met Science.

Whew.  Okay, so, enter Cousin.  I already had a few questions about things.  I was eager to explore and felt I was strong enough in my faith, in spite of said questions.

And then, enter Cystinosis.  Now my questions ballooned.  Those few with whom I shared my questions wondered if I was one of those “I always trusted God but now I’m in pain so where is he?” kind of questioners, but I don’t think that was the case: I don’t wonder why us/me/Aliyah, or think it’s unfair, or any of that.  But I started seeing people in the hospital differently, and feeling skeptical about “oh your faith is so strong” comments when I saw people surviving far worse diagnoses with far less faith (there’s question numero uno in my books – still have yet to answer that one).

Over the last few months, I have started picking out library books (and losing them, which is rather costly) to explore some of my questions.  Currently, I have read a biographical account of the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin (fascinating), selections of Dawkins’ The God Delusion (oh my word, aggressive and antagonistic much), the first three chapters of David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion (which, unfortunately, hasn’t totally impressed me), A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism (Ravi Zacharias), and Am I a Monkey: Six Big Questions about Evolution (Francisco Ayala), as well as numerous websites that include Dawkins’ responses to the responses to his book and a Biologos website.

For a long time (okay, 3 or 4 months), this exploration has been somewhat emotionally and spiritually devastating.  Everything I read discredited any scientist who was a Christian (as opposed to Christian Scientists), any creationist ideas, any Intelligent Design theorists.  My biggest fears seemed to be becoming somewhat of a reality.

And yet.

The thought of no God is equally unbelievable to me.  No God equals no meaning, no hope, no future, no purpose.  It equals no world where Aliyah can live cystinosis-free.  It equals purposeless Christmases, moral relativism, total aloneness (in the universe and in our individual circumstances because, let’s face it, no one truly walks your journey with you – not even those closest to you).

This incredible conflict makes me feel, and often, like a hypocrite.  I go to church on Sundays and sing praise and worship songs.  I nod when people tell me about their experiences with God.  I teach my children to pray, read them Bible stories and sing them God-songs – in fact, I desperately want them to love God, obey him, pursue an adventurous life with him, find their solid foundation in him.

Anyway, to the point.   I was browsing (and I mean, really barely skimming) titles in the shelf – actually, only looking at the covers that actually faced me – as I looked for a Stephen Hawkings biography in the science section.  My eyes grazed over the skinniest, oldest-looking little book binding on the shelf as I headed away from that section.  A little voice (imagine that) urged me to return, and so I did and pulled Am I A Monkey off the shelf.  Francisco Ayala, an eminent scientist, prolific scientific author, and Templeton Prize winner, wrote this in 2010 to address basic questions about evolution – including chapter 6: Can One Believe in Evolution and God?.  (Because, by now, I could not deny evolution, especially in light of my new understanding of it).

The passage that “got me”:

Science is a way of knowing, but it is not the only way.  Knowledge also derives from other sources.  Common experience, imaginative literature, art, and history provide valid knowledge about the world, and so do revelation and religion for people of faith.  The significance of the world and human life, as well as matters concerning moral or religious values, transcend science.  Yet these matters are important; for most of us, they are at least as important as scientific knowledge per se (Ayala, 74).

He said a lot more than that.  He explained evolution (no, evolution does not say we came from monkeys but rather from a common ancestor) and discussed, of all things, its compatibility with a deity (specifically the Christian God).  I do realize that a lot of writing has been done about how evolution is incompatible with the need for salvation, among many other things, and I haven’t read those things at length (I do intend to some day in the near future, hopefully), but Ayala’s arguments were very compelling.

With all of those things said (and really, it’s only barely touching all of my thinking and reading on the topic), I have come to agree with the above quote, that science does not address all of the questions we have, and therefore Something else is needed for the discussion.  We have questions not just of origins but also of meaning and purpose – the why are we here anyway question that, if it has indeed pervaded so much of historical philosophical thought, must indeed be a valid question.  Science that denies the purpose of faith/spirituality/religion is equally as ignorant and arrogant as the faith that ignores the findings of science.

There is so much to say on this subject.  I am still so incredibly ignorant of all of the thinking out there.  But I am so hopeful that we are not alone in the universe, that there is a purpose beyond just daily life, and that we have a future beyond this desperately painful and endlessly beautiful earth on which we dwell together.

More another day.  If you read this, kudos to you, I’m sure it was confusing and unresolved, much like our lives often are.  Bear with me.  As a friend says,  “I am but dirt – and sometimes I do (say) something good.”  Hopefully there was something good in here.

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