Such a Great Cloud of Witnesses (in my DNA)

Hey friends. First of all, thank you so much to all of you who shared my first post last week and gave me such kind words of encouragement. I often feel like I’m the only one who cares about this stuff, but I guess that’s not true! So I’ve been thinking about where I want to start with this blog. I have about 50 ideas floating around in my head, but there was one nagging idea that kept coming back. “Don’t you dare write about that as your first real post! You’ll spark a flame war and never have another reader again!”, said one part of my brain to another part of my brain. “You need to ease them into the idea of seeing the divine in the world of science. Talk about something unoffensive like stars, flowers, or electrons. Whatever you do, don’t talk about evolution!”. Oops. Too late. I already started. I guess I can’t stop now…

Let me once again reiterate what I said in my first post. God does not live in the clouds, God does not exist in an alternate dimension, God did not leave his signature on the bottom of a rock in the Amazon for us to find, and we will never “find” God in His creation. God is not a thing as we experience “thingness”. At its current pace and with the exponential burst in computer technology, humans will probably understand the universe if we don’t destroy ourselves first. They will not find God there. They will also not find out things about God by just looking at the way the universe works, and evolution is a great example of this. We learn from the life of Jesus that God loves us more than anything. Jesus told us that God is even watching out for the sparrow and the lily, and he cares about us enough to come and die for us. Wonderful. I’m a big fan of this. Unlike God, the universe that God created is BRUTAL! Black holes are ripping universes apart, asteroids are pulverizing planets, and lions are eating babies. In fact, 99.9% of all species of plants and animals are extinct. Nature is wasteful, heartless, and cruel.

So why am I writing about it? It sounds terrible.

I’m so glad you asked!

It’s also wild, uncontrollable, and awe-inspiring. Darwin’s theory of evolution was one of those revolutionary, world-changing ideas that shook the foundations of academia and forced the Church to decide whether it would accept that it didn’t know everything about everything or reject Darwin as the Anti-Christ. I think we all have experience with the repercussions. There’s an enormous group of people who were non-religious who finally had the permission to become atheists and legions of Christians who were raised to check their brains at the door to keep their faith. They’re probably all wrong. I’m probably wrong too. However, I am willing to be wrong, and that is something that plenty of people can’t seem to figure out.

If you don’t really know what evolution is all about, check out this wonderful NOVA special…
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/darwin-never-knew.html

For those of you who didn’t watch the video and who don’t really know what evolution is all about, evolution basically works like this. Every once and awhile, random genetic mutations are helpful for a species in a particular place (color-changing chameleons, birds with long beaks, extra thick blubber, etc.) and that creature becomes more likely to survive and pass on their genetic information. Over time, those with the mutation that allowed it to thrive will take over. Darwin saw this in the Galapagos Islands when he discovered that the finches on each different island had beaks that were uniquely adapted to the available food source on that island. Now take this principle and apply it to billions of years and you have all of life on Earth!

Ok, it’s not that simple, but this isn’t just a science blog, and I don’t have the time to get into it all.

Suffice it to say, evolution is not some half-cocked atheist plot to kick Jesus out of schools. It is one of the best tested theories that we have in all of science. The plain reality is that evolution is happening and while we don’t understand it fully, it is still happening. It’s happening right here in the good ol US of A. When we colonized Hawaii, we also accidentally introduced crickets and flies. like any introduced species, things are not balanced, so it can get crazy (see: the rabbit population of Australia). So the crickets would chirp to attract a mate but the flies would buzz in first and kill them, laying their eggs in their bodies. This was perfect for the flies, but the crickets were not that happy about it. Imagine if you rang your girlfriend’s doorbell but a giant monster injected its eggs into your chest instead. Worst. date. ever. Anyway, at some point in the last decade, some cricket was born without the ability to chirp. Normally, that would mean that it would be doomed because it couldn’t attract a mate. However, this cricket waited in the wings while normal crickets chirped, were eaten, and then took the females that came as their own. Brilliant! Within a decade, a huge amount of the cricket population of Hawaii was unable to chirp even if they wanted to. Eventually, all the normal crickets will die and then the new crickets will have to figure out how to get females without chirping. If they can’t they will die off too! Evolution is not always friendly.

Hebrews 12:1 talks about being surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses”, and that is the beauty that I see in our evolutionary history. The creation narrative in Genesis 1-2 tell us that we all came from Eve who came from Adam who came from dirt. We all came from the same place. Evolution teaches us the same thing. You still have a tail bone! Chickens still have the same genes that their dinosaur ancestors did. They’re just turned off. There are scientists who are working to create Jurassic Park by isolating the genes in birds which are turned off now and switching them back on. They’ve already created chickens with teeth, scales, and a tail. Our DNA tells the story of where we were and who we were. The DNA of Humans and Chimps are 99% similar, and the majority of the differences do not come from the genes that tell the body what to make, but the genes which are known as “switches” that turn certain genes on and off. Written into our very being are all of the genes that made our primitive ancestors who they were. The “missing link” is written in our genes. (see this wonderful article here) There is a species of whiptail lizard that has evolved to be only female. They reproduce within themselves, but they are still hard-wired to think they need a man in their life, so in order to conceive, they have to first be mounted by another female even though all the magic is happening inside itself. Evolution can be sexy too.

No matter how vastly different living creatures look, we all came from the same source. I share a common ancestor with the tuna. If that doesn’t change the way that you look at the world, you might be monster. Not only that, but the “stuff” that makes up your body used to belong to something else. Nothing in you is new. You are part of something MUCH bigger than any one ideology or national identity can claim. We can build all the artificial materials, chemicals, and climate-controlled buildings that we want, but as both the Bible and science teach us, we’re earth. The whales that are being hunted to extinction are our cousins and the animals that we are killing to build our cities are our family. We need to take care of the Earth because we ARE the Earth.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “That’s all fine and good, but this is a post about evolution and you didn’t even talk about the intelligent design debate!”

To that, all I have to say is that if you are reading Genesis as if it were a history text book instead of an ancient book of compiled oral histories about the origins of an ancient people, then you are doing it wrong. It is insulting to the Scriptures and to the God that gave them to us to make them say anything more than they were written to say. Do I think that creation happened in 6 days? Nope. Genesis 1 is poetry, not science. How could God have created light on the first day but the sun on the fourth? I also don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve who ate the fruit that a talking snake gave them. It’s insulting to the text and to the entire scope of what we know about life on Earth. Do I think that God created everything? Certainly. Do I believe that humans sinned against Him and brought all kinds of terrible things into this world? I live in Philadelphia and I see signs of it every single day that I walk past refineries, trash heaps, drug addicts, and death. The whole evolution vs creationism debate is WAY too highly politicized and is not something I am terribly interested in. Here’s what I am interested in…

Life is amazing. God is so creative that He created his creation to keep creating! How much more awesome can you get? We live in a world that has the freedom to develop, improve, and make mistakes. What is good will last and what is not good will die off. The sheer diversity of life on this planet is awe-inspiring enough, but when I think about how connected to everything I am, I am absolutely brought to my knees. I’m not filled with a sense of smallness. I am consumed by the overwhelming “cloud of witnesses” around me and that have existed throughout the millions of years of Earth’s history. I am a part of something MUCH bigger than myself. In fact, living inside of my digestive tract are over 100 trillion different, living bacteria. That’s more bacteria than there have ever been humans. Life is everywhere! Make sure you pet a dog today, say hi to a squirrel, and do something to help your cousins in the ocean. We gotta look out for each other. God only gave us one Earth!

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