Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Evolution, Debate and Faith

Based upon articles and media reports, the debate over evolution---or the lack thereof---still rages around the world. This morning, National Public Radio broadcasted a short piece on the “Turkana Boy”, the complete skeletal remains of a 9-year-old boy discovered on the shores of Lake Turkana, Kenya in 1984. These remains, at 1.6 million years old, are the oldest-known specimen of Homo Erectus, and are poised to be publicly displayed for the first time at Kenya's national museum in Nairobi.

It appears that the evangelical Christian communities in Africa---specifically in Kenya---are afire with opposition to the theory of evolution, requesting that the Turkana Boy's remains be relegated to a back room of the museum with a posted caveat that evolution is still only considered a theory. As reported on CNN.com via a report from the Associated Press, Bishop Boniface Adoyo, the leader of millions of African Christians from 35 denominations, has stated that exhibits and scientific reports which support the theory of evolution undermine the church and its teachings. Stating recently that "these sorts of silly views are killing our faith," the bishop clearly verbalizes the perceived attack on faith which the religious community feels is being waged by the proponents of evolution, as well as the church's adamant refusal to consider evolution as even remotely possible within the Christian cosmology.

I'm not entirely certain why I was compelled to write about this issue this morning, but it sparked within me a curiosity regarding the intersection---or rather, collision---of science and religion, which frequently pose difficult moral questions. Whether it be evolution, stem cell research, abortion, or family planning and contraception, these hot-button issues test the waters of our culture and its ability to withstand apparently untenable moral dilemmas. Of course, politics plays a role when the government intervenes (take the case of Terry Schiavo, for example), or when political candidates are forced to take a stand on a timely and contentious "moral" issue. (Just what isn't "moral", anyway? And in terms of those "value voters" that are ubiquitously discussed at election time, don't we all cast votes based upon our "values"?)

When discussing evolution and the Turkana Boy, it will be interesting to see how this debate evolves (pun originally not intended). Being neither a scientist nor a theologian, the potential for compromise appears slim from my viewpoint. If the religious community refuses to allow for even the possibility of truth behind a widely accepted and validated theory, compromise and understanding appear beyond reach. And when the scientific community openly derides or mocks the beliefs and faith of the pious, agreement or understanding is further debilitated.

Boycotts of exhibits serve little to inform the public, rather simply fueling further ignorance and division. When children are denied the teaching of evolution---or are encouraged to discount its scientific basis entirely with complete absence of critical thinking---who is truly served? From the point of view of an individual without religious affiliation and raised in a devoutly secular household devoid of all notions of faith (except for Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, that is), I am honestly often perplexed by organized religion in terms of its dogmatically held tenets.

Seeing the violence and carnage often waged ostensibly in the name of religious belief or affilation (think Shiite versus Sunni, for instance, or perhaps the Spanish Inquisition), one may be led to believe that religious thought and belief have indeed precluded reason during countless human societies, both modern and historical. I try not to lose my faith in human kind and its ability to embrace dialectically opposed belief systems wherein faith and science can live relatively peacefully, perhaps even with some cross-pollination and intermingling concepts. There is room for both subjectivity and objectivity in most every realm of thought and inquiry, and I'm sure many authors and thinkers have already done a great deal to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation between the two seemingly disparate camps.

Albert Einstein once wrote in a letter dated February 10, 1954: "If God has created the world, his primary worry was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us". I think his statement still holds true, and I wonder if he would feel that any advancement has been made since his death, or rather that we humans still exist in a miasma of ignorance and mistrust of both one another and the universe at large. As for the Turkana Boy, I have no doubt that the ire his exhibition is creating in Kenya is not about to be dissipated by calls for understanding and acceptance, but I still hope that some incremental change---mind by mind, heart by heart---can contribute to a quiet groundswell of cooperative understanding, even amidst these ages-old questions still begging for answers which will undoubtedly always leave someone disappointed.
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