1. Any time I consider such a controversial and profound question as the question about the origin of life, I am reminded of the fable of the blind men and the elephant. In this familiar fable, each blind man inferred some notion of the nature of the elephant based on a limited experience with a localized part of the beast. All were technically correct in their understanding, but none grasped the bigger, more correct picture.
2. I think this fable applies to a good many of the world's religions and doctrines that have come to us down through the ages.
3. I remember a conversation with my dad late one night when I was a boy, in which he was trying to explain that there need not be any conflict between religion and science. In particular, he was reconciling the story of creation with the theory of evolution. His explanation was that God used the Darwinian processes to do some of the work, and that the biblical description of how the creation was accomplished was allegorical and not literal.
4. That conversation struck a deep chord somewhere within me. I have always felt a deep ‘need' for things to make sense. I have a feeling of unease if there is anything that is supposedly true, but yet seems to be nonsense. My early religious experience was full of this unease. In my own personal ‘search for truth', I have always tried to make sense of everything, and using the conversation with my dad as a paradigm, I have tried to develop a construct in my mind that makes all religious and scientific doctrines "true", or if not true, at least to make sense..
5. And, believe it or not, I have always been able to do so. Not that I have a grasp on any truth, or that I have an explanation for anything, much less everything, but my basic assumption is that, like the blind man's description, there is an element of truth in all doctrines. These doctrines all came from somewhere in the complex and mysterious course of human thought, but unfortunately, they became clouded with all kinds of contamination, abuse, and misunderstanding as a result of being passed down from person to person down through the centuries. I think we can dust this contamination off, and get down to the gem of truth buried beneath any doctrine.
6. Now, with those generalities out of the way, let me address the specific subject of this essay. On the question of evolution vs. creation, I am really in neither camp. I think the bible story may be allegorically correct, but it is certainly literally wrong. I also think that the theory of evolution goes a long way toward explaining biological diversity and change, but that it does not satisfactorily explain origins, morphology, or development, among other things.
7. Maybe the easiest way to explain my views is to use a fable of my own. Suppose people disappeared from Earth and some alien archaeologists landed and tried to figure out what had gone on here. They might discover automobiles, study them, figure out how they worked, and maybe even get one of them running. Let's say that it didn't dawn on them that an auto needed a driver to do anything useful, but nevertheless, they came up with a complete theory of operation about how the car started, ran, and moved and they could explain every detail of ignition, carburetion, power transmission, etc.
8. They also excavated the junk yards and put together a ‘fossil record', albeit incomplete, that led them to believe that autos evolved from model T's to the latest models in a smooth unbroken succession. The seeming jumps between model years was simply due to the incompleteness of the fossil record.
9. So, too, I think science misses the mark in explaining what has been going on here on Earth. Science completely overlooks or ignores the ‘drivers' responsible for the behavior of organisms. Furthermore, the relatively recent idea of Punctuated Equilibrium not only implies a sort of a ‘model year' for organisms, but it dramatically reduces the time available for the random mutation and natural selection processes to work. It seems that God must have had a hand in creation. On the other hand, the religious teachings about creation, in light of the evidence, are simply wrong.
10. So to sum up my position, I think that both science and religion are like the blind men. Their explanations are more or less correct as far as they go, but science is missing a lot, and religion needs a lot of interpretation and stretching in order to fit the facts.
11. At this point, it would be reasonable to raise the profound and important question: "Why did God do this?" or, as Einstein phrased it "Why is there something instead of nothing?"
12. Let me hazard a wild guess as to the answer to this question which seems to make sense to me. First of all, I believe that the consciousness that I experience, and that each person experiences is somehow directly connected to the consciousness that God experiences. There is, however, a vast, VAST, difference in the degree of complexity, or richness, of my conscious experience compared to God's. The difference is far beyond the order of the difference between a flying jumbo jet and the shadow it casts on the ground. Those two things are connected and they are part of a single physical system, but the shadow is a lot less complex than the airplane.
13. So to answer the question about why God created the universe, I think we can look inward and ask about our own motivations for doing things. Why do people create? I think those people who do create would answer that the creativity sort of wells up from within them and they just ‘want' to create. They take pleasure in creating something novel, or beautiful, or interesting. Now, mindful of the silliness of drawing conclusions about the airplane from seeing its shadow, let me guess that God has similar feelings of curiosity, interest, or appreciation of beauty. If there were a God in the presence of nothingness, it seems reasonable to me that he/she would be curious about the possibility of there being something, and if he/she had the ability, he/she would create something just to satisfy the curiosity and see what could be done. I think what we see is the result.
14. Even though you might agree with me so far on the reality and existence of a God, I am not sure it would be prudent to venture too far in being very specific about the nature, or for that matter, about the number, of any Gods. I think there is the possibility that inhabitants of the ‘spirit world' where this God (or Gods) are to be found, might try to communicate some kind of information to people from time to time. It might be on tablets of stone to Moses, inspirational dreams in Gospel authors, golden plates to Joseph Smith, telepathic readings to Edgar Cayce, through Ouija boards, or who knows how else. But since the possibility exists, I think we should dust the contamination off of all such stories and try to see if there are some underlying nuggets of truth in them.
15. I would agree with the common notion that God is love. To me, the best definition of love is M. Scott Peck's: love is putting yourself out in order to help the one you love to grow. I think this is a very workable definition and I think it would apply to God's relationship to us. I don't know how much God is ‘put out' in helping us grow, but the physical universe sure seems to be stacked in unlikely ways to make it possible for life to exist and grow. It also seems that the progression from energy, to matter, to life, to consciousness represents growth in understanding on a large scale.
16. All of these opinions are tempered by my belief that God is limited. This particular belief is probably not shared by many other believers in the existence of God. However, from my point of view, the difficult questions about the evident injustice in the world are easy to answer. Since God is limited, his creation has just as many bugs, weaknesses, and failures as our human creations do as a result of our limitations.Please send me an email with your comments.
©1999, 2003 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.