Species of Dogma

This Sunday there was a bold attempt at organizing an event titled Evolution and God: Complementary or Conflicting Worldviews?. What was interesting was that it was held outside the university in a space shared as a church and a Jewish temple. In the opening talk, quite tactfully, David Mindell, Professor of U-M Ecology and Evolutionary Biology stayed clear of controversy and spoke about evolution from a biologist's perspective. At the end he said that evolution is the study of history and its methods can be applied to subjects far removed from biology. He showed how even the Bible has evolved over the years and how meanings have changed and have kept changing. Contrast the famous King James version(1611) of Psalm 23 in Wycliff's(1382) rendering:

"The Lord gouerneth me, and no thing to me shal lacke; in the place of leswe where he me ful sette. Ouer watir of fulfilling he nurshide me; my soule he conuertide. He bro[z]te doun me vpon the sties of ri[z]twisnesse; for his name. For whi and if I shal go in the myddel of the shadewe of deth; I shal not dreden euelis, for thou art with me. Thi [z]erde and they staf; tho han confortid me.

This was followed by discussions in small groups. The subtle irony about the different versions of the Bible seemed to have been lost on some of the audience. I sat next to a grandfather, who was well-read and well-informed and who proudly told all of us that he has been an atheist for 45 years. (Are the two correlated?) Directly across from him sat a grandmother who takes comfort in the fact that every rock, fish, bird and human being has a place in God's scheme and evolution is just another one of his wondrous processes. Then there were people in the middle who are a little less credulous, but still seemed to harbour anthropocentric views about evolution. The discussion went back and forth quite amicably and everyone aired their thoughts. Nothing was resolved. I do not think that anyone had switched sides when the left the room, but everyone felt that such gatherings were useful. Most people, if you asked them, would consider themselves liberal, scientific and free from prejudice and dogma. I left the room thinking - "My own opinions are dogmatic? Am I a fundamentalist scientist? Am I just like them?"

Despite all my optimism, I have to admit that it's going to take a lot more outreach and education. Most people in the discussion group had read The Beak of The Finch and had attended a few lectures on evolution, yet were still not willing to examine/change their core beliefs. The Origin of Species was published in 1859 and we are still trying to explain it. Explaining evolution is hard enough, but trying to change beliefs about religion and God is hard, very hard. Evolution and God: Complementary or Conflicting Worldviews? In my opinion, it all depends on what your view of God is. Evolution and God have both stated their opinions.

1 comment:

Ashutosh said...

Good that they did not come to blows.