The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
August 2012 – Vol. 15 Issue 6
How do believers reconcile scientific theories and facts with their scriptures? And God Said: "Let There Be Evolution!" edited by Charles M. Wynn, Sr., and Arthur W. Wiggins (2011) brings together three scientists, one from each of the Abrahamic faiths, who explain the scientific evidence that convinces them to accept evolution and also detail how they reconcile scientific evolution with their faiths’ scriptures.
Astrophysicist Dr. Howard J. Van Till describes his long journey from conservative to liberal Christianity and how his view of the Bible has changed and deepened. He poses thought-provoking questions, such as: Why do you think so many people prefer the concept of special creation over evolving creation? How do you tell the difference between comforting illusions and what is true? Is it important for religious beliefs to be true? Is there anything wrong with saying "I don't know" sometimes? What beliefs (true or not) do you hold that enrich your life, or your neighbor's life?
In his statement, Rabbi David E. Kay, who holds a BS in Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution, writes: "While Jews certainly believe that there are clear and unambiguous statements in our sacred literature, we also recognize that many passages simply do not and cannot have one single meaning. What we do believe is that there is an acceptable process of exegesis (interpretation and explanation to draw layers of meaning out of a text) that is authentically Jewish." (p. 108). He holds that the ancient Israelites were not naïve, primitive people taking literally such easily refuted claims as that yearly rainfall correlates with a people’s religious piety: "I can only conclude that they did not take the text of the Torah literally, but rather sought the deeper lesson. Here, at Judaism's deepest and most ancient foundations, is established a crucial and fundamental principle in Jewish exegesis: If reality doesn't conform to Scripture, don't assume either is wrong: the problem isn't reality or Scripture; the problem is your own understanding of one, the other, or most likely both" (p. 111), and he goes on to give intriguing insights into Genesis.
Dr. T. O. Shanavas, a Muslim physician, shows that evolutionary theory and natural selection appeared under classical Islam and do not conflict with the account of the Qur'an. Modern Islamic fundamentalists who attack scientific evolution have forgotten their own intellectual history. As an example, he quotes Muhammed ibn-Khaldun (1331-1406):
“the world of creation. . . . started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs, and seedless plants. The last stage of plants … is connected with the first stage of animals … The word 'connection' with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group. The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man. This is as far as our observation extends.”
– Muqaddimah (An Introduction to History), quoted on p. 150
According to Dr. Shanavas, the Qur’an holds that all animate and inanimate units have a self and sense of subjectivity. God does not determine the universe but gives every entity opportunities to freely choose from proposals that God presents continuously, every passing moment representing a divine option or message. From all these choices made manifest by individuals the universe evolves. He sums up his views:
“Although many contemporary Muslims believe that God instantaneously created the human species, science has shown that life on Earth evolved over billions of years. Similarly, many Muslims in their classical period believed that creation is a process that occurred over a long period of earthly time. Based upon the Qur'an, all separately identifiable animate and inanimate entities in the material world are God's creatures. All have self, subjectivity and feelings. When creatures experience divine proposals brought by the arriving messenger moments of the future and selectively transcribe them into material media, the future becomes visible monuments of divine creation. Yet, stunningly, in this potentially chaotic universe, which evolves through the practice of free choice by an infinite number of creatures, order emerges. Such order results from the interplay between the organization of proposals that God makes within messenger moments and the choices creatures make, based on their self-interest. Our miraculous universe, that blends creation, an infinite number of creatures with feelings, messenger moments, and the cumulative moment-by-moment transcriptions of the chosen divine proposals into material media by entire creatures together, appears to be evolving as described by the theories of evolution of life and the universe. What an amazing intelligent construction of the universe by the One and Only Amazing Compassionate God!” – pp. 165-6
When solid information contradicts our understanding of the spiritual authorities we’re committed to, it’s hard not to reflexively defend our beliefs by rejecting the data. These stimulating discussions show ways to explore and perhaps accept new insights without rejecting our spiritual anchors
Our difficulties have their inception in wrong ideals, and before any real headway can be made in bettering human conditions these illusions must be replaced by a wholesome and satisfying philosophy of life. Entirely too much stress has been put upon educating our youth how to get rather than to be, and character building has been made a secondary consideration. In fact, it would seem impossible to attain a spirit of kinship as long as each individual from childhood is taught and drilled in the principles of predatory success.
Too many people, however, contend that it is impractical to conceive an order of society embodying the principles of world brotherhood without first changing the economic and political system. May I ask how any such change is to be brought about except through the moral and ethical evolution of individuals? By what miraculous process of nature will a relatively perfected system be thrust upon mankind while its individuals are creating the very opposite conditions? And were it possible, how long would such a condition endure while selfishness is so ingrained in human nature? The best systems imaginable would quickly be corrupted if the ideals, ethics and morals of the individual units of mankind were not evolved to the level of such a system. There simply would be nothing to sustain it. If we will look somewhat beyond the field of political and economic reform, we will find that these in themselves are but external results rather than causes, and can at best but reflect the level, high or low, which the mass consciousness of humanity has attained.
Unfortunately, human nature in its present state of evolution is not easily susceptible to idealistic tendencies. Was there any noticeable leaning toward brotherhood when the "sun of prosperity" was apparently in its midheaven? Quite the opposite. It is not when we are surrounded by the most favorable circumstances that we are concerned about others. It is these very conditions which, when lacking the necessary spiritual counterbalance, create a glorified materialism dressed in all the glamour human ingenuity can devise. We begin to think and talk of compassion for others only after we have learned the lessons adversity administers – and this we are doing seriously now. For the spiritual health of mankind, we need to look into this idea of brotherhood, and see if it isn't practical. Idealistic? Certainly, and why not? Will it do the human race any harm to work toward a common ideal? Impractical? No. Universal kinship is and always has been a super-law in nature, but the human family has not been willing to abide by it, but has looked upon it as an experiment to be tried out by future generations.
I do not wish to be understood as being in any way indifferent to the wrongs in our present economic and social systems, nor opposed to any improvements which can be made. But in the last analysis these problems have their origin in the imperfections of human nature. Trace every evil to its origin, and it will be found to have been bred in the morass of human ignorance and selfishness. While these germs linger and multiply in human consciousness, their effects must be felt in the body politic in spite of all the political and economic bandages under which we may attempt to hide them.
Human evolution is the gradual unfolding of intellectual and spiritual faculties, and brotherhood can become a work-able reality only as these higher qualities are brought into manifestation. This will not come about by mass production through some political or economic system, but is a matter of individual initiative and responsibility. No political or economic system, however excellently conceived in itself, can ever fulfill the function of genuine spiritual aspiration, for such deals only with the material aspect of our existence. Human beings, however, do not live by bread alone, and hearts and minds must have a philosophy of life that can fulfill their inner needs to meet and surmount the difficulties which humanity itself generates.
Likewise, in the field of religion, articles of faith, man-made dogmas and theological speculation can never success-fully be substituted for a love of collective humanity, regard-less of race, color or creed. The former are the fertile fields in which misunderstanding and the idea of separateness flourish, while the latter sweeps before it all class hatreds, spiritual isolation, and their resultant train of evils. Brotherhood has been a keynote of every religion worthy of the name, a basic teaching of Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad, Lao-tzu, and the host of world-teachers who have sought to show the way to a happier existence