Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monkeyshines

posted Tue, 09 Nov 2004

Oy gevalt. The evolution/creationism fight raises its ugly head again. According to cnn.com, the schools in Cobb County, Georgia, attach these stickers to their science textbooks: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

A “theory” in this case is more than a hunch. It’s not something you look at, think about, and vote on. It’s like saying “gravity is a theory.” For now, the evidence indicates that evolution is what happened. We may find evidence later proving us wrong, but for now, that’s the best we have to go with. This is not a contest between creationism and evolution, with equal evidence to support both sides. It’s not a matter of opinion.

The ACLU is bringing suit, saying that these stickers constitute a religion being taught in a public school.

The article I linked to is brief. I saw the longer story on CNN at the gym in which the reporter referred to the famous Scopes trial. Who would have thought that 80 years later, we would be fighting the same battle?

I am not a scientist, but I do know enough about the bible and about translating between languages to know that there are some big problems in thinking that everything in the bible is literally true. (I use “literally” in the literal sense, not in the way it is usually used, as in “It was literally raining cats and dogs!” If it were literally raining cats and dogs, cats and dogs would be coming out of the sky.)

Before I discuss inerrancy and translation, let me address this. Why are believing in God and believing in evolution mutually exclusive propositions? Is it so hard to believe that God might have worked through evolution? I tried to figure out what el Papa had said about this one, but the best I could get from the Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences was that evolution wasn’t necessarily wrong. It might explain our bodies but it definitely does not explain our souls. Not that what JP has to say would matter to those who want creationism taught in the schools – sometimes they include those who think the pope is the antichrist.

Back to the bible, inerrancy and translation. Just in Genesis alone there are enough internal contradictions to make a close reader blanche. So what? Does the bible have to be literally true for it to reveal truths to us about God’s love, the meaning of life and the nature of the universe?

And translation. I speak two modern languages fluently. There are many times when I want to translate an idea that I understand and can say in Spanish into English, my native tongue – and cannot. These are two contemporaneous, live languages. Can you imagine what it’s like translating from languages that are not spoken any more – or at least dialects that are not spoken any more – into modern English from a context that no longer exists?

A favorite passage of those who would keep women in their place is in one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, I believe – the famous, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Paul then goes on to say, “Husbands, love your wives.” The way I have heard this passage interpreted in the Catholic church is that Paul was elevating the status of women, who were considered nothing more than chattel in those days. But taken out of context, many a preacher has adroitly told women that men are the boss of them in all things and God said so and that’s that.

Who says God doesn’t work through science? I see most of modern medicine as a series of miracles. I am not keen on women having litters of babies, but you can’t make people do the right thing all the time. And evolution? I see it as a beautiful, logical way for God to have gotten everything working, although I think he could have given me a bigger bladder. Maybe in another thousand years, human beings will have perfect bodies.

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