I've been thinking about an article that was shared by my twitter friend Conor McClure a few days ago about evolution, biology and religion. The article God, Darwin and my Biology Class was written by David P. Barash who is an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington.
I'm not a scientist. Let me just get that out of the way up front. I took a few requisite college courses on geology, and biology in my first couple years, but that was 20 years ago. I've been a Christian for longer than that and don't remember a time when I felt particularly conflicted about the idea of (and belief in) a creator and the evidence and idea of biological evolution.
Over the years I've seen other scientists point out potential logical conflicts between religion and evolutionary biology and/or geological evidence, but it hasn't given me pause in my faith.
Why is that?
Because I don't think that my religious beliefs explain how or why biology works any more than biology and science explain spirituality, emotion and consciousness. Religion generally deals with the stuff that doesn't make scientific sense. Love, hate, altruism, selflessness, selfishness. Morality. Yes, the natural world seems to operate in an amoral way with no concern for any of these things, but humans (at least most of us) recognize things as inherently right or wrong, as tragic or triumphant.
Whenever someone points out that religion and evolutionary theories are mutually exclusive, they are funadamentally saying that religion and therefore spirituality are bound by the physical laws of the universe as observable by the scientific method. This doesn't make any sense.
Perhaps this confusion comes when the old stories from religion begin to clash with the ever-increasing detail which is discovered about the way things work. Some people with religious beliefs would call these factual stories. Some call them complete myth, or allegory and then (from my anecdotal view) most religious people are somewhere in the middle. The stories are filled with imagery, colloquialisms and cultural bits that are hard to identify with now, but to write them off simply because they don't deal with the technical details of how biological life works seems shortsighted.
Instead of saying that these non-technical stories conflict with a scientific explanation of where we and our world came from, religious people believe that these stories of faith explain the unexplainable. Great stories throughout history deal with the crux of being human. They center on the stuff I already mentioned. Love, hate, altruism, selflessness, selfishness. Morality. They don't often contain technical details because that isn't the reason stories exist.
What I find almost universal amongst religions is the understanding that God- or whatever you choose to call the creator - operates outside of the rules of our natural world. In fact, any interaction with a solely spiritual being necessarily requires a supernatural encounter.
If you wanted to think about how both the idea of a supernatural creator and the physical world can both be true, it really isn't that hard. The physical world is full of evidence of a long biological history, and a mature geological process, but that's also the condition in which we are introduced to the first man. In the Judeo-Christian creation story, man is first created as an adult. Since he and the first woman were able to procreate, we can also assume that they are biologically functional. Why would you assume that all of creation didn't also began already mature.
I don't find it hard to believe that an evolutionary process is part of how our natural world works. I just happen to believe that a creator from outside of our physical reality started it. Perhaps the best way to simplify it is this- Humans are more than just a biological process. We are spiritual beings with physical bodies. We can analyze the way our bodies operate and learn a lot about a biological process, but the soul - the spirit - isn't something we can hold in our hands.
It feels like art. I can fully understand the medium, the supplies, the chemical composition of paint, clay, pigment and canvas, but it doesn't explain the beauty. It isn't just greater than the sum of its parts, it takes on a life of its own.