Saturday, December 10, 2005

So I Flunked Science And I Need Your Help

I am starting my sermon on Intelligent Design and Evolution with the phrase, "In the beginning..."

In the beginning was the heaven and earth.
In the beginning was the great Turtle.
In the beginning was the first world, and it was red.

These are some phrases from creation myths. If you were writing a creation myth based on Darwin's insights, how would it begin?

In the beginning was the first .....

I'm so afraid of doing this wrong and having every science-brain in the congregation immediately tune me out as being a huge, uneducated moron.

I swear I understand the principles of evolutionary biology. I've been reading. I don't need help with that. I need help telling the beginnings of the story in language a child could understand.

Comment away!!


Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

There may be some overlap with evolution and life origins, but Darwinian evolution and life origins are two separate science questions.

Here's a quote from a NASA biologist answering a question about recent technology developments and their impact on understanding the origins of life and evolution:

"Life's origin and evolution are two different issues. Evolution underlies all studies of biology, and constant advances are being made. Recently, deep drilling technology to access ancient rock, 3D imaging of microfossils, and analysis of relationships among lifeforms using gene sequence comparisons have contributed a great deal to our understanding of the evolution of the ancient biosphere. The origin of life is less well understood, because it happened a very long time ago on Earth, and there are no fossil records to guide us."

Evolutionary theory in general and Darwinian theory in particular speaks more to how life changed over time and not about origins. Here's a brief summary of Darwinian theory from Stephen J. Gould:

"Natural selection is an immensely powerful yet beautifully simple theory that has held up remarkably well, under intense and unrelenting scrutiny and testing, for 135 years. In essence, natural selection locates the mechanism of evolutionary change in a "struggle" among organisms for reproductive success, leading to improved fit of populations to changing environments. ( Struggle is often a metaphorical description and need not be viewed as overt combat, guns blazing. Tactics for reproductive success include a variety of non-martial activities such as earlier and more frequent mating or better cooperation with partners in raising offspring.) Natural selection is therefore a principle of local adaptation, not of general advance or progress."

In short, Darwinian theory speaks more to how life has changed over time after life began. As a theory, it doesn't speak to how life began.

I'm sorry that this doesn't offer a simple version of a creation story based on Darwin's insights.

Good luck.

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

There's a very big theological implication in this statement from Gould:

"Natural selection is therefore a principle of local adaptation, not of general advance or progress."

This suggests that humanity isn't the obvious outcome of a "evolutionary progress" but rather the unforseen end result of many random local varations throughout the history of life on earth.

Gould's Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History addresses the role of chance and contingency in the history of life. The dinosaur extinction theories that involve asteroid impact effects also speak to the role of chance and contingency as well.

If Earth didn't experience a major asteroid impact 65 million years ago, would we be here blogging or would present day life look entirely different?

Blogger Clyde Grubbs said...

Steve is right...which doesn't help your story....

life origins theory from a random spark in the water theory (or the dumb luck cosmology)

in the beginning there was a pond with some dirt floating in it, and the dirt was made up of all sorts of interesting stuff... really interesting...(show a carbon smear from a match book)

and the water was restless and its energy became part of the dirt.....and it got all mixed up.....

and living things came out of the dirt in the water....

now you don't believe that! Let me tell you another story...once upon a time there was a turtle....

Blogger Roger Kuhrt, PhD said...

PB: you might still find some clues you can use by looking at the work of Connie Barlow (&Michale Dowd); I think their materials can be found at:

They are dear friends--say hi from me if you wish. You could call Connie on the phone (use Michael's phone if it is the only one listed.) And yes, I put ya up to it.

Cheerfully, Roger Kuhrt

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

Maybe you could release a dove. . .

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Or perhaps a falcon. . .

That should get their full attention!

You might want to browse through this rather stagnant old web site to see if their is any material that might help you.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

BTW Creation began long before the first lifeform ever came into being. You seem to be starting off with the Universe, galaxies, stars and planets already created. . .

The Cosmic Egg was a very common Creation myth. You might want to work that into your sermon somehow. There is also a passage in the Koran that sounds rather like the "Big Bang" which goes on to speak of God creating all living things from water. . . Maybe a variation on the Water Communion might be a good idea. I prefer Beer Communion myself. I look forward to engaging in some Beer Communion with a genuinely Ethical Humanist, who still retains a reasonable amount of good old Catholic guilt. . . next week.

Allah prochaine,

The Dagger of Sweet Reason

Blogger fausto said...

How about, "In the beginning everything exploded"?

Or you could start with a song:

On a sleepy endless ocean,
When the world lay in a dream,
There was rhythm in the slosh and roll, but not a voice to sing,
Till the moon shone on the breakers
And the sunlight warmed the waves
And a single cell did jump and hum with joy, as though to say:
"This is my home!
This is my only home!
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known,
And should I stray
Into the dark night alone,
Rock me, Goddess, in the gentle arms of Eden."

[From "Gentle Arms of Eden" by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. On their album, "Drum Hat Buddha".]

Blogger PeaceBang said...

I appreciate all of this, and am aware that Darwin's theory doesn't really lend itself to a "creation story," but thanks for clarifying that for me, Steve. I was sensing it but not thinking explicitly about it. The reason I tended to think that way was because you always hear about creationism vs. Darwinianism, and the creationists go back to the dawn of time, not just to human origins (which, in fact, they barely mention in the ID stuff that I've seen).

I think they're biggest bugaboo is, indeed, the randomness of random selection, and the reality that humans are not the cosmic Big Cheese as the Biblical account would have us.

I don't like this sermon much. Too much E.O. Wilson and not enough PeaceBang, but a friend and I are performing a rip-roaring scene from "Inherit the Wind."

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Well ... one could sing "It's a Long Way from Amphioxus" by Sam Hinton. You can hear a clip of the song on the Smithsonian Folkways record site:

You can find the lyrics here:

The tune is the same as "It's a Long Way to Tipperary.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

In the beginning was life, tiny and silent, drifting in the water. But as things do, life got more complex...


Blogger Roger Kuhrt, PhD said...

In the long run; I do believe that you owe an explanation as to how PeaceBang is related to the BigBang!???? Tis a question that begs an answer.

Blogger Kim said...

As I understand the Big Bang theory, in the beginning was only energy. Energy was infinitely compressed, but it started to expand. As it expanded, it was still energy, no matter -- Until--taDah -- there was a Perturbation! this Perturbation caused the energy to start to condense into matter -- and the Universe was born.
The phD in physics who explained this story to me used the word "Perturbation". What it means, I believe, is "imperfection". This means that imperfection is the creator of the Universe. Therefore God is not perfect.

Blogger ogre said...

There's a good childrens' book which we heard read while in search...

"The Everything Seed".

And that's a tangent to your question.

I'd start out...

"In the beginning there was... almost nothing, nothing at all--nothing we'd recognize, nothing we'd recognize as something.

But there were complications..."

Kids know about complications. So do adults. Dealing with them... things get far more involved. Evolution is, after all, complications. A mistake was made. Most mistakes are just mistakes. But hey, some mistakes are really cool looking, or useful....


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