Evolution does not deny the genius of Genesis
Evolution does not deny the genius of Genesis
Sherri Byrand column, 1/29/06 - original
Because of his Asperger's Syndrome, a neurological condition, my son has great difficulty with figurative language: He takes things literally. Rather than just leaving him confused, it also leaves him incredibly stressed.

Recently, his gym teacher said, "No pain, no gain." That's an innocuous rhyme, but my first-grader saw it as suggesting this overwhelming worldview where absolutely nothing good could happen without grief as its partner! That made him edgy, to say the least.

I have a long list of phrases he took so literally that it caused hysterical laughter on our part and sometimes tearful hysteria on his. Fortunately, since we've come to understand this aspect of his Aspie-ness, he's been dealing with the issue better. "It's just an expression" is usually enough to head off his distress until we can walk him through the underlying meaning.

I can't help but see his struggle in the light of those who demand that Genesis be taken literally, with the admonition that any other interpretation is an affront to God. I've heard so many express that there are only two choices it's either literal fact or a lie. They choose the first and insist that anyone who disagrees with them is calling the Bible a lie.

What about the middle ground? Yes, there is one, which includes the idea that the Bible should be taken seriously rather than literally, as theologians like Paul Tillich have expressed.

"An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science" has been circulating through a project started by the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Michael Zimmerman. It offers, "Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark convey timeless truths about God, human beings and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts."

Figurative language is so much more capable of transforming hearts than literal terms could ever be, for how clearly and powerfully metaphors and their cousins can reach right into the soul. So much so that Christ taught through parables.

While Zimmerman had originally intended the clergy letter for just Wisconsin, the overwhelming positive response he received led him to take it nationally. Thus far, 10,195 clergy members from all 50 states and U.S. territories have signed on to it.

The letter continues, "We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God's loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."

Zimmerman recently asked congregations to take part in Evolution Sunday on Feb. 12, the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Already, 320 congregations from 48 states have signed on, "to make the statement that religion and science are not adversaries," as Zimmerman wrote.

The First Congregational Church here in Sheboygan is one that has already enrolled.

I wish I could write more on this important subject, as so many have expressed unfounded fears. The most common I've heard is how evolution not only denies the genuineness of Genesis but also rejects redemption through Christ. Theologians like John F. Haught from Georgetown University handle this so much better than I can, especially in just the few words I have left. But actually, reading the Bible with an accurate understanding of evolution and a high esteem for figurative language does not do as they fear.

Instead, one is left with what Haught called, in "Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution," an understanding of not only "our shared estrangement from our true Origin and Destiny, but also our human incapacity to save ourselves." Rather than shrinking God into a capricious, coercive magician, we can provide a fuller reverence and better recognize our responsibilities and potential in a "natural world (still in the process of being created) pregnant with promise, allowing us daily to renew our hope."

And thus I hold hope in my heart, reinforced by the progress my son is making in understanding language. I hope others will open their minds as well and see the limitations of literalism when it comes to trying to convey the infinite from our finite viewpoint.