Faith in the Age of Darwin
And it occurred to me that while we postmoderns say we detest all-explaining narratives, in fact a newish grand narrative has crept upon us willy-nilly and is now all around. Once the Bible shaped all conversation, then Marx, then Freud, but today Darwin is everywhere.
Scarcely a month goes by when Time or Newsweek doesn’t have a cover article on how our genes shape everything from our exercise habits to our moods. Science sections are filled with articles on how brain structure influences things like lust and learning. Neuroscientists debate the existence of God on the best-seller lists, while evolutionary theory reshapes psychology, dieting and literary criticism. Confident and exhilarated, evolutionary theorists believe they have a universal framework to explain human behavior.
. . .
According to this view, human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along genetic code. We are driven primarily by a desire to perpetuate ourselves and our species.
The logic of evolution explains why people vie for status, form groups, fall in love and cherish their young. It holds that most everything that exists does so for a purpose. If some trait, like emotion, can cause big problems, then it must also provide bigger benefits, because nature will not expend energy on things that don’t enhance the chance of survival.
Human beings, in our current understanding, are jerry-built creatures, in which new, sophisticated faculties are piled on top of primitive earlier ones. Our genes were formed during the vast stretches when people were hunters and gatherers, and we are now only semi-adapted to the age of nuclear weapons and fast food.
Furthermore, reason is not separate from emotion and the soul cannot be detached from the electrical and chemical pulses of the body. There isn’t even a single seat of authority in the brain. The mind emerges (somehow) from a complex light show of neural firings without a center or executive. We are tools of mental processes we are not even aware of.
I think that Brooks has captured, in very clear terms, the prevalent world view in our culture. And I also think that Brooks offers a challenge to those of us who profess to accept both Christ and Darwin: do we really leave much room for the Divine? As Brooks concludes::
The cosmologies of the societies represented in the Rockefeller Museum looked up toward the transcendent. Their descendants still fight over sacred spots like the Holy of Holies a short walk away. But the evolutionary society is built low to the ground. God may exist and may have set the process in motion, but he’s not active. Evolution doesn’t really lead to anything outside itself. Individuals are predisposed not by innate sinfulness or virtue, but by the epigenetic rules encoded in their cells.
So how do those of us who accept Darwin and modern science answer Brooks' challenge? Have we really reduced God to a passive role? Are we forced to believe in a God that merely set the rules, started the process and then stepped aside?
Absolutely not. First and foremost, I believe in the resurrection as a real historical event. It is hard to think of a more profound action by God in history. And I believe that through out history, God has called on real human beings to act as his agents of change in the world. Whether it is slavery, apartheid, Jim Crow laws or other forms of Justice, there are many stories of devout Christians who took decisive action based on what they themselves described as a call from God. And in many smaller ways, others of us are Christians because we feel the real presence of God in our own laws.