Tag Archives: Christianity and Evolution

Understanding the message of Christianity in the context of Evolution.

Spirit of Consciousness: A Brief Summary

MC Escher Hand Reflecting SphereTo wrap up this series of posts, I just want to add a few words to indicate the direction my thoughts are going on this matter.

In the first post I discussed the idea that when the Bible refers to human “spirit”, what its talking about is self-aware consciousness, which is a level of consciousness that differentiates humans from all other animals.  “…and the dust [the body] returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).  Genesis spoke of God creating man “from the dust of the ground”, and then giving him the “breath of life.”  This breath wasn’t air into the lungs, all animals breathe but only man got this gift.  In the story in Genesis, what this breath gave man was the only thing that truly differentiates us from other animals: self-aware conscious intelligence.

The second post talked about how our conscious minds create “schemas”, or mental maps of the world as we perceive it, and it is these schemas that determine what events and experiences mean to us, and therefore how we react to them. Schemas reflect our “core beliefs” about the world, and these can be changed or replaced.  Christianity’s emphasis on belief, “believe and you will be saved”, is an ancient means of replacing an unhealthy schema (in Biblical terminology, “sin”) with one that by-passes ego by surrendering the schema’s maladaptive behaviors and defenses to God.

In the third post I discussed the two primary authorities that have held dominion over humanity for as far back as we have historical records: the church and the state.  These two forces have often worked together, but since the Enlightenment and the introduction of secular democracies, especially in the Western world, spirituality has been liberated from state control and has blossomed as a direct result.  As stated elsewhere, the Christianity that sent Crusaders to the Middle East, supported slavery, and gave us the term “Inquisition” no longer exists precisely because Christianity is no longer a tool of the state.

And with that liberation, our concept of God himself has been freed from the chains of human authority. He is, finally, a personal God. One who loves and does not condemn, one whose only request of us is that we love others with the same selfless love with which he loves us.

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Spirit of Consciousness, Part 3: Church and State

church-state-stopI want to start with a couple of quotes:

“They have cut man in two, setting one half against the other. They have taught him that his body and his consciousness are two enemies engaged in deadly conflict, two antagonists of opposite natures, contradictory claims, incompatible needs, that to benefit one is to injure the other, that his soul belongs to a supernatural realm, but his body is an evil prison holding it in bondage to this earth—and that the good is to defeat his body, to undermine it by years of patient struggle, digging his way to that glorious jail-break which leads into the freedom of the grave.

They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost—yet such is their image of man’s nature: the battleground of a struggle between a corpse and a ghost, a corpse endowed with some evil volition of its own and a ghost endowed with the knowledge that everything known to man is non-existent, that only the unknowable exists.

Do you observe what human faculty that doctrine was designed to ignore? It was man’s mind that had to be negated in order to make him fall apart. Once he surrendered reason, he was left at the mercy of two monsters whom he could not fathom or control: of a body moved by unaccountable instincts and of a soul moved by mystic revelations—he was left as the passively ravaged victim of a battle between a robot and a dictaphone.”   -John Galt

The second quote was published the same year:

The churches stand for traditional and collective convictions which in the case of many of their adherents are no longer based on their inner experience but on unreflecting belief, which is notoriously apt to disappear as soon as one begins thinking about it.  The content of belief then comes into collision with knowledge, and it often turns out that the irrationality of the former is no match for the ratiocinations of the latter.  Belief is no adequate subsitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously.  -Carl Jung

Both of these were published in 1957, which was a perilous time for the world. The Cold War was reaching terrifying new heights, the Soviet Empire was in bloody, merciless expansion in Europe, Asia, and Latin America with the volatile Nikita Khrushchev at the helm.  President Eisenhower was warning Americans to build nuclear fallout shelters and prepare for the worst, and our children were watching for flashes in the sky and practicing duck and cover in grade-school classrooms.   The two countries were fully capable of nuking each other into oblivion, and were playing a game of brinksmanship that would have erased all the gains of the Enlightenment and set Western Civilization back hundreds of years if either side had blinked.

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Cosmic Perception

FlammarionA few days ago I was driving with my 6-year old grandson and we could see the moon in the sky.  It was late afternoon, and the moon was somewhat behind the car.  When I made a turn the moon was still visible behind us, but now from the other side of the car.  My grandson, who is beginning to transition from Piaget’s pre-operational to concrete-operational thinking, and whose worldview is still embedded in the belief that his immediate perceptions accurately reflect reality, concluded that this perceptual phenomenon could only mean one thing: the moon must be following us.

If we had been living in a society that knew nothing of science, with nobody to tell him any differently about the behavior of moon and sun and stars, who’s to say what impressions he would have carried with him into adulthood about the way the universe operates.  Without adults around who have transcended pre-operational thinking, without people to explain things to him until he develops a more accurate worldview, would he grow into adulthood without ever maturing any further in his beliefs?  Very likely his adult view of the world would be every bit as simplistic as the viewpoint he had in childhood.

Now imagine humanity’s view of the universe 50,000 years ago, before we developed mathematics, before we had instruments like microscopes or telescopes or electronics for observing and measuring beyond what could be seen with our naked eyes, before we established any scientific methodology or principles for the rigorous study of natural phenomenon, before we had science journals to record the findings of other scientists and communicate those findings around the world to be replicated and verified and confirmed or rejected, in a time when all knowledge had as its starting point, as its most basic foundation, whatever our local priest/elder/witch-doctor/shaman told us about the gods and our place in the universe.

50,000 years ago? What am I saying, how about 500 years ago, when the Copernican Revolution was just getting underway?  How about now for much of the world?  It has taken hundreds of millenia for humanity to begin transcending that ancient view of the universe.  That worldview was all that was needed for hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies to thrive and prosper, but from the perspective we have now it seems childish.  From our modern vantage point it is easy to forget that for the 2 million years of our existence as upright apes with growing intelligence, humanity has spent at least 1,999,500 of those years seeing the universe the way my grandson does.

How must it have been to be on your way back from a hunt or a foraging trip or a raid on a neighboring tribe, carrying your spear in a treacherous world, and realize that the moon is following you home?

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Sinner!

Traditional Christian teaching about sin goes something like this:

Through no choice of your own you’re born into this world a sinner (“original sin” doctrine), and if you are unfortunate enough to have been born into the 99%-plus portion of humanity who lived and died over earth’s long history without converting or even hearing about Christianity, your ultimate destiny is to spend eternity burning in hell.

Very nice, eh?  We’re supposed to talk about a God of Love after that nonsense?

I covered ‘hell’ in an earlier post, here I’ll just reiterate that there is no such place.  Hell represents endless suffering without hope of relief, which is the way all spiritual traditions describe a life without God.  It is a powerful metaphor used even by Jesus himself in his parables (which were likewise metaphors and allegories), but when my fellow Christians take it as a literal, physical place they contradict and deny everything that Spirit’s incarnation onto this earth came here to teach us about God.

So regarding sin I’ll get straight to the point: evolution bred into us instincts that have been honed and perfected over millions of years.  These instincts are about self-preservation and self-advancement within the tribe.  They’re about fight or flight, food and sex.  We’re a pack species, a social species, so cooperative instincts are also built in to us.  These instincts are experienced as the twin drives to get ahead and to get along.  To find your place within the hierarchy of the group, and as with everything else in evolution, to use the skills and attributes you were born with to rise in power and influence.

These instincts know nothing of Spirit.  If there is an “original sin” it is being born into the ape family, with all the evolutionary drives and instincts we inherited as a result.  Many passages in the New Testament discuss the differences between being “born of the flesh” and being born “of the Spirit”, and from this perspective its a perfect analogy.  We’re born as apes, highly intelligent but embedded in ape instincts.  By using our species’ capacity for intelligence and conscious awareness we can establish a bond with Spirit and be born again, reborn into union with Spirit, liberating ourselves from embeddedness in animal instinct, and begin living, working, and evolving toward something much higher.

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Salvation, Pt. 3: Going Home

Thanks to modern medical technology we have a huge number of reports from people who have died and been brought back to life.  I am one of them, although my near-death experience (“NDE”) happened when I was very young and I didn’t get the deluxe tour like others did.

It went like this: I was six years old. Someone was cleaning grease off of some ball bearings from a car using gasoline as a solvent, and he had the gasoline next to him in a Coke bottle.  For some reason I thought it was lemonade. When he turned his back I grabbed it and gulped some down quickly before I could get caught, and got plenty down my throat before I could stop myself. I vaguely remember him shaking me in horror, “Did you drink that?!” The next thing I remember I was floating above a young boy in a hospital room, the boy had an apparatus attached to his face, and I presume it was me having a close encounter with a stomach pump. Then suddenly a bunch of people surrounded him and started making a fuss and I drifted down a passageway like a cavern with a flat floor and textured walls.  The passage made a gentle bend to the right and I could see a beautiful milky-white light shining against the walls. I drifted to the other end of the tunnel and out to the edge of the light, and hung around near the entrance to the passage. There were several other “beings” there, and among them I felt the kind of comfortable feeling one has among close friends when plans have been temporarily interrupted and everyone is just hanging around waiting to get on with it. No words were spoken that I can recall, and my memory of being in the light is little more than a snapshot.

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Salvation, Pt. 2

In Salvation Pt. 1 I talked about the transformative power of Spirit in our everyday lives.  In this post I want to get into my take on the bigger picture, and on how this perspective views the events surrounding Jesus’ death.

To me the distinction between consciousness and conscious self-awareness is captured in the expression, “Animals know, humans know that we know.”  My dog is conscious, but my dog is bound entirely by the rules of Behaviorism.  Of course we humans are also subject to the principles of behaviorism, it remains a very successful discipline of Psychology for treating a number of common complaints.  But the self-referential nature of human consciousness, the fact that we can think about what we think about, gives us the ability to examine our “animal” consciousness from the outside.  We are no longer embedded in our own perceptions, we can step outside of our perceptions (step outside our natural ape selves, in a way) and objectively examine thoughts and perception that other animals are only subject to.

So if humans are capable of examining the contents and processes of our own minds, capable of  (for example) observing ourselves as we read a webpage on the internet and thinking about what we’re reading, who is that observer?  And what realm of consciousness is that observer tapping into?

This is actually an old Buddhist point, used to get new students to understand that there are other levels of consciousness and that we use them every day without ever realizing the enormity of what we are doing.  No other creature in Earth’s long history can do that, and we take it completely for granted.  This capability is fundamental to intelligence, it is fundamental to perception, and it is the foundation of any understanding of spirit.

I have been connecting self-aware consciousness with human “spirit” in my posts, and I want to point out that this connection has a Biblical basis.  It is seen in the comparison of two verses, one in the Creation story in Genesis, the other in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes.

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Salvation, Pt. 1

The perspective I’m trying to develop in this blog is twofold.  First, that Spirit and God are real and actively involved with Earth, humanity, and in individual lives; secondly, that the process of Creation is exactly that: a process.  The process got under way with the natural interaction of elements to form the physical foundations of the universe, and from that came the evolutionary development of life, up to and including humanity.  The Creation story recounted in the Old Testament was given to a specific group of people who were at a rather “young” level of social and cultural maturity.  It was intended to lay an historical foundation to both bind them together as a group, and to provide a basis for the laws, customs, and rituals that would be established later.  The target audience for that story was still sacrificing their children to statues of farm animals, they were in no way ready for anything more complicated than the tale told in Genesis.  It was never intended to be God’s personal lab notebook describing how the universe and the life within it came into being

Several thousand years later we’ve figured much of that out on our own.  Creation started with the Big Bang, and It has grown from whatever that initial life form looked like 3.8 billion years ago all the way through all these ages to this species of Ape that is us.  What is special about us is that we have the capacity of conscious awareness and abstract thought and, at long last, the capacity to perceive and interact with Spirit.

So evolution is the process of Creation.  It didn’t start and end in six days, it started with the Big Bang and is still underway.  Evolution is the means by which conscious awareness was created in this physical reality, and we don’t know if its finished yet.  We have no idea if we’re the ultimate end-product of Creation or if the development of conscious awareness in modern humanity is only the beginning.  For all we know we may only be the ground floor of a noospheric edifice of conscious awareness that will continue to grow into the far future as evolution trundles along on its merry course.

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Notes from an Old Battlefield

“Spirit is indeed never at rest but always engaged in moving forward.” -G.W.F. Hegel

The Industrial Revolution brought radical changes to humanity in a short period of time, and traditional and once-dominant religious institutions were feeling the need to assert themselves.  In the mid- to late-1800s came Darwin, the “godless” Marx & Engels Communist Manifesto, the early attempts to study Psychology objectively (i.e. secularly), a united Germany and the Second Reich, and an up-and-coming engine of power and prosperity in the secular democracy of the United States, in which every backwoods preacher and every farmer with a Bible and a vision and a burning mission from God Almighty could start his own religion and preach whatever he wanted.

After over 1000 years of religious domination, suddenly organized religions that were centuries old were being jostled and bumped.  The world was changing, and it wasn’t about them anymore.  Catholicism reacted by holding the First Vatican Council which resulted in the doctrine of Papal infallibility.  Evangelical Protestantism went back to basics and the Fundamentalist movement was the result.  If the Pope wanted to claim infallibility for himself, then the Protestant response was that it is the Bible and the Bible alone that is infallible.

Infallible, inerrant, and accurate in every way.  I was raised to read the Bible in fine fundamentalist tradition: you don’t play around with the words in the Bible, they came from God.  You respect that, and if the Bible says women aren’t to be permitted to speak in church, then women aren’t supposed to be preachers.  If it says homosexuality is wrong, then you have to believe that, too.  If you see that these things were written in a particular time and place in history and reflected the values of a specific culture rather than anything actually taught by Jesus, then you keep that to yourself because its in the Bible, see?  Don’t argue!  And if it says that earth was created in six days a few thousand years ago, you don’t argue with that either.

This is how I was taught to read the Bible.  But reading it is one thing.  What if you want to understand the Bible?

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Making Sense of Love and Law

Part of the enlightenment that Jesus brought to mankind was to center everything around love, including laws written by God the Father back in the Old Testament. The heart and soul of Hebrew Law was the ten commandments: Four about duty to God, and six about duty to each other (“Honor your parents, don’t lie, steal, covet, etc.)

Part of Jesus’ message was to change the focus, the perspective, of Old Testament law.  He did this in two ways.  The first was to get at the very essence of those ten commandments by refocusing them from something driven from the outside (Thou shalt not!) to something driven from within: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).  Verse 40 emphasizes,  “On this hangs the law and the prophets.”

This is a major transformation. It parallels an individual’s years-long transformation from child to adult during which children must internalize lessons taught by their parents.  When we’re young we just have to obey: Don’t touch the stove!  Put on your seat belt!  Brush your teeth!

As we mature we understand the reasons for these things, and we’re no longer confused by the contradiction that mom or dad can cross the street but I can’t.  With more maturity, more is expected of us, but along with that comes more freedom.

So the emphasis is now on Love, but what about “Law”?  The New Testament continues to speak of it.  Paul discusses the law at length.  The commandments might have been changed to “love”, but are we legally bound to love?  The same way the ancient Hebrews were bound to follow the ten commandments and all the other 600-plus Hebrew laws?  Did Jesus just switch one set of laws that had to be followed on pain of death for a greatly simplified version that also has to be legally followed on pain of death?

How does THAT work?

Actually it does not work at all, and it never could.  Love comes from the inside, it is spontaneous and natural, and no outside force can make you genuinely feel and express an emotion like love.  Love is not experienced on demand.

So here’s us Christians saying, “Love God, or you’re going to roast in hell for eternity.”

To love under such conditions, under such a threat, is impossible.  Absolutely impossible.  The way we’re trying to bring people to Christ seems better modeled after the Stockholm Syndrome than on anything like genuine, spontaneous love.  So what’s this all about?  And could we Christians do a better job of making our case if we took a second look at it?  Continue reading

Teilhard de Chardin: the Outcast Reformer

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”   -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Check out the American Teilhard Association for lots more info on Teilhard than I’ll be able to squeeze into this post.

Most of Teilhard’s writings can be downloaded for free from Archive.org.  The essay “How I Believe” is an excellent introduction to Teilhard’s thinking, and is found in a collection of short works called “Christianity and Evolution” which is available here.

The quote below is from “How I Believe”:

I believe that the universe is an evolution; I believe that evolution proceeds toward Spirit; I believe that in man, Spirit is fully realized in person; I believe that the supremely personal is the universal Christ

One of the goals of this blog is to put to rest the idea that one cannot believe in both God and evolution by explaining this worldview and its consistency with the teachings of the New Testament.

And by the way none of this has anything to do with “Intelligent Design”.  I will write a full post on that at some point, but that concept is nothing like what Teilhard envisioned and I hesitate to even bring it up.  But I know that it will come up at some point, so I’ll talk about it in another post.

The essay “How I Believe” begins by describing how Teilhard arrived at his position regarding evolution.  It may seem like two conflicting worldviews to many, but for those of us who do not believe that Genesis 1 must taken literally in order for us to believe in God and in the salvation of Jesus, there is no conflict at all.  The difference between the two views is not one of essence, but of perspective.

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