Monday, February 18, 2013

Everything Evolves

Around 150 years ago, a scientist by the name of Charles Darwin proposed the idea of evolution of animals both within a species and from species to species. 150 years later, everything evolves. The philosophical notion of evolution totally permeates society. There is no discipline of academia, no model for business, no psychological methodology, no theological position, and no philosophy of life, which is not defined in some way by the idea of evolution. Whether something is totally for evolution, entirely against evolution, or at some middle point, everything has interacted with the notion of evolution.

It may be clear that what I am talking about is not the theory of evolution—the idea that all life evolved from some original source. I’m talking about the general philosophical notion that things evolve—that things constantly move from one state to another in an upward trend by a given process, and if we can figure out how that process works, we can replicate it to our own benefit. (There may be more to this idea in the educated world and particularly in science, but in the general populace, this is the idea.)

For a moment with me, rewind 2000 years to the Greco-Roman world. This is a world that is characterized by dualism, an idea coming from Platonic philosophy. Most simply, this is the idea that spirit is good and matter is evil. For most people’s purposes, the ‘matter is evil’ part was the important part. They treated everything physical and tangible as evil. This idea permeated the entire culture, affecting every system of belief, every political structure, every social setting, every aspect of trade—its effect was holistic. Some accepted it whole-heartedly, denying all comforts of the world: the Cynics. Others took it another direction: if matter is evil, then what happens to our bodies is irrelevant, so eat, drink, party, be merry—live a wild life! Some took it in a religious direction when Christianity came on the scene: the Gnostics. (They were condemned as heretics for a number of reasons I won’t get into here). In short, dualism was a philosophical mindset which ruled the day for centuries.

A professor of mine, one Sinclair Buchanan Ferguson—a respected theologian and author, a great Christian, and a great man with a great Scottish accent—spoke once of how evolution is in many ways to our world today as Platonic dualism was to the Greco-Roman world of 2000 years ago, and I, as you may guess, believe that he is right. The idea of evolution as a philosophical notion pervades our society. Everything evolves: animals evolve. Thinking evolves. Businesses evolve. Politics evolve. Relationships evolve. Science evolves. Buildings evolve. Cars evolve. Products evolve. Coffee evolves. If you can consider it, you can consider a way in which it can be or is thought to evolve or have evolved.

Now this may not seem like much of an impact. After all, evolution is just a fancy way of saying that things change, right? And of course things change—why wouldn’t they? Or maybe you simply see it as development; of course things develop—nothing stays static. But the philosophical notion of evolution does have some things which should be regarded with caution by Christians, to say the least.

1. Change as for the better
The theory of evolution necessarily implies that in the evolutionary process, despite some—or many—downs, things are generally on an upward swing. If something exists, it is evolving and it will get better. And the processes in it, even if there is some up-down swing, will take it ultimately to a better place. This is beautiful optimism. It’s also sadly wrong. Scripture is abundantly clear that things are going to get much worse before they get better, and that things are, from a moral standpoint, heading constantly downwards until all things are fulfilled (read Matthew 24 to see this clearly, also all of Revelation and the last chapters of Daniel). So while the inherent ultimate optimism of philosophical evolution is nice—it’s wrong. And it’s dangerous. If we as Christians start to think that things will constantly get better and better until we get to heaven, we will be sorely disappointed. And we may be na├»ve and inactive about the state of the world. True Christian maturity will see past the optimism of philosophical evolution and realize that things will get worse and worse. But then at the end of times things will rapidly get better.

2. Change as we can effect it
There is a distinct interest in our world figuring out the way in which things evolve—the way in which thought, businesses, animals, or cars evolve. The idea is that if we can simply figure out how things evolve, we can use that knowledge to create and guide evolution as we see fit, using it to our own ends to better the world. This is classic Enlightenment humanism. It is the very basic idea that we as human beings possess the knowledge, capabilities, etc. to make the world a better place. That is a lie. No matter how much of the evolution of something you can figure out, no matter how much you can use that for good, you cannot, under your own power, make the world a better place. Even if all humans work at it all together, it won’t work. Making the world a better place is always, only, ever, done by the power of God in the world. Period. We are not the ones who effect an ultimate bettering of the world—God is. God chooses to work through us, but it is not within our own human power to make the world perfect.

3. Change as the randomness of the world
Generally speaking, although science seeks to determine how it is that everything works, even down to the very smallest parts, there is still a randomness present in the system. For instance, the phrase “it happened” sums things up fairly well. Evolution just “happened.” Christians do not believe that. We believe in a God who has planned out the world, who made it, and who controls it. And it IS NOT random. Evolution as a mindset leads us to believe that things simply “happen.” Things do not simply happen. Everything, good or bad, happens as part of God’s plan, and if we think that things just happen then we’ll miss how God is guiding our lives and shaping us for his glory and our benefit.

4. Change as the salvation of the human race
Although in secular circles there is no real sense of an ‘end’ to all things, there is still a general belief that evolution in its varied forms is the ultimate hope of humanity. This belief is not new to philosophical evolution, but has been the characteristic of many ruling philosophies in history. Many philosophies have been understood as the means of the ‘salvation’ for humans. This, not surprisingly, is the biggest danger of philosophical evolution. Anything that takes the place of Christ as the ultimate hope of humanity is an idol, and violates the first and greatest commandment: “I am YHWH your God…you must have no others Gods before me. You must not bow down to them or worship them.” Evolution, if not properly understood, can lead us to place our hope there, rather than where it belongs—in God.

This is not to say that philosophical evolution is wholly evil. Nor is it to say that evolutionary theory is necessarily wrong. Like many other philosophies which ruled a certain day or days and still have sway, there is truth present in philosophical evolution which will never leave (and some untruth which will never leave). However, we as Christians must be very cautious that we do not accept wholesale the principles of philosophical evolution and that we do not give quarter to the most dangerous aspects. But most of all, we must be certain that we do not seek our ultimate hope in the optimistic, humanist ideals of philosophical evolution but rather in the person and work of Christ.

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