This week: Evolution of FaithEdited by: Sophy
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Hi, I'm Sophy ~ your editor for this edition of the Spiritual Newsletter.
The Rev. Scotty McLennan, author of the book Finding Your Religion, compares humanity's innate need for spiritual searching to climbing a mountain. In his view, we are all endeavoring to climb the same figurative mountain in our search for the divine, we just may take different ways to get there. In other words, there is one "God," but many paths. I honor whatever path or paths you have chosen to climb that mountain in your quest for the Sacred.
Evolution of Faith
“To accomplish anything bold and beautiful in the firmament of time we must learn to change direction and fall gracefully.” Sam Keen
Temple of Nature (Erasmus Darwin – 1802)
Organic life beneath the shoreless waves was born and nurs’d in ocean’s pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom, new powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, and breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.
Charles Darwin’s birthday is on February 12 and many congregations around the world commemorate it by observing Evolution Weekend. The observance was created by Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project, whose endeavor is designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue. My church has participated most years since its inception in 2006, when it was first called Evolution Sunday – it has since evolved into a whole weekend. The Clergy Letter Project web site tells us: “Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions. Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.”
Darwin was a pretty interesting man. Like many of us, it took Charles Darwin a while to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. He entered the University of Edinburgh in the fall of 1825 to study medicine, at the insistence of his father, but he didn’t like the blood and gore involved with being a doctor, nor could he bear human suffering. Thus, after a few forks in his education road, he graduated six years later with a degree in divinity from Christ’s College at Cambridge University. While there, in addition to studying theology and learning Greek, Darwin maintained a keen interest in botany. It is said that he was often out collecting and studying beetles when he should have been parsing Greek verbs. Still, he expected to become a clergyman and serve a parish somewhere in the English countryside – until an unexpected opportunity arose for him to set sail on the now infamous voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. He was invited primarily to be the dining companion of the ship’s captain, Robert FitzRoy. At the time of the sailing, FitzRoy was 23 years old, Darwin just 22. The trip lasted five years, during which time Darwin collected the specimens which would later become the foundation of his scientific inquiry. He returned home in 1836, and never left England again.
Charles Darwin did not invent the concept of evolution, nor did he set out to prove a theory of evolution on his voyage. The notion of evolution was being kicked around within the scientific community well before the 1830’s. In fact, Darwin’s own grandfather paid tribute to evolutionary principles in a poem, “The Temple of Nature,” before Charles was even born. It wasn’t until after Darwin’s voyage, once he was back home and later read Thomas Malthus’s “Essay on the Principle of Population,” that the idea began to percolate within his mind that life is a perpetual struggle, and natural selection was the means by which some species prospered and others failed. So his ultimate contribution was to proffer natural selection as the mechanism for how and why evolution occurred. And the rest, as they say, is history, with publication of “On the Origin of the Species” in 1859, some 23 years after returning from his voyage. Interestingly, findings similar to Darwin’s, including the process of natural selection, were close to being published around the same time by Alfred Russel Wallace, which confirms that his conclusions were already being realized by others.
Darwin’s observations are often misconstrued by the statement “survival of the fittest,” a term not even coined by him. A better summary of his thesis would be “survival of the most adaptable.” The biggest, strongest and/or fastest creatures are not necessarily the ones most likely to procreate the next generation of their species, or to compete with other species in the same environment. Rather, it is the creature who can best take advantage of current circumstances, and be flexible enough over a relatively small number of generations (perhaps even a single life time) to roll with the changes in environmental challenges that inevitably come along. Changes in climate, competition for food, predation, and so on all put pressure on the physical design of species moving them toward obsolescence. Those who can make changes in survival strategy by physical design and/or intelligence have the best chance to carry on with the new opportunities and challenges of the world around them.
A common misconception about Darwin is that he was a "godless heathen." He was actually a very religious man growing up, with a pretty obvious affinity for religion because of his choice to go to seminary. Darwin chronicled his spiritual journey in a section on religion in his autobiography, from which I’ll read a few selections because they shed some light on the evolutionary process of Darwin’s own faith journey.
“Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow at sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindus, or the beliefs of any barbarian.
By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported — that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become — that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us — that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneous with the events — that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; — by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight on me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.
But I was very unwilling to give up my belief — I feel sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.” (“Religious Belief” by Charles Darwin, from his autobiography.)
What really strikes me is that Darwin experienced an evolution in his spirituality that resembled the biological processes he inferred from his observations. That is to say, he allowed his spirituality to adapt to a changing intellectual environment which included new and more complicated information, just as successful species evolve by adapting to changes in the physical environment. One of the strongest taboos present in most societies is to challenge the conventions of religious orthodoxy, and I admire Darwin’s courage in publishing a thesis he knew would be very upsetting to the church-dominated culture of his time. But the best ideas have often been the ones that were most threatening to religious sensibilities and authorities, and Darwin was able to acknowledge by the end of his life that a religious orientation unable to adapt to uncertainty and new perspectives is not worth keeping. That kind of narrow, black-and-white faith just can’t survive in an environment constantly changing with new ideas and information. Thus, Darwin’s evolution as a spiritual creature teaches us that “I don’t know” can be part of a wise statement of faith, and makes his own spiritual journey, and his honesty with himself and the rest of us, a powerful legacy alongside his more well-known contributions to the world of evolutionary science.
Like Darwin, how has your faith evolved? In other words, what adaptations have you made to your faith in response to the changing world view offered to us by science and other sources of knowledge and perspective? I invite you to write about this - creating a static item you can share with me in the comments section, which I can share next month.
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Here are some responses to my last newsletter "Spiritual Newsletter (January 7, 2015)" about "Happiness:"
From Steve adding writing to ntbk. :
For me; Sophy; the one thing that I put at the top of my list is:
1. Serving Him by serving others.
When Jesus was upon this earth, His mission was to serve, heal, and deliver people from their strife. To me; serving Him is doing exactly what He leaves as an example for us.
It's truly the purest form of love and I've dedicated my days to serving others so in the end they will know that someone cares about them.
Grateful for your list;
Thankful for your involvement in the WdC;
and encouraging you to write on!
Serving Him by serving you,
Copenator out! BA, M Div
Thanks so much for sharing!
From Ida_Matilda_Wright Help :
I see many newbie cases in this newsletter. I am so glad to be reading new people. I always find these newsletters a great way to build my reviews.
Glad you enjoy reading the newbies - I try to include a few in each newsletter I do.
From Guru Valmiki Aristotle Scriber :
Tips for Living a Content or Happy or Pleased or Contented and Fulfilled Life are humanistic, moral and psychological and inspirational indeed.
Number 1. Don't make lists. Remember, God does not work with lists, He's sooooo not impressed with lists. Instead, yield your members and be humbled and surrendered. He does His finest work with this kind of heart.
Appreciate your opinion - don't necessarily agree with you about lists.
Good points made, I enjoyed the News Letter.
Glad to hear it!
Elfin Dragon - poetry fiend
Thank you for sharing this "Top 10 things for a healthier life". It's definitely a good way to reflect upon oneself and see where you've not only been but where you want to go. I've always been told that if you want to know who you are right now, look at the people around you. This could probably be said about this particular list. It's not only what we view as a healthy lifestyle but where we see ourselves, what we wish to accomplish not just in our own lives but others as well (what we hope for the future). I'm not Catholic but I can relate to what a lot of what the Pope wants to accomplish. Here's to a hopeful new year.
And to you as well!
Thanks for all your comments - keep them coming! Until next time, Sophy
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