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Friday, June 16, 2006

Birds, Evolution, and God

While religion and politics are two subjects that can easily shut down polite conversation, the previous post and the following image (bottom of post) sparked a moment of reflection.

I grew up in a conservative religious household and was taught that evolution was wrong and that God created the world 7,000 years ago. While I'm still an active member of my childhood religion, I've long since moderated my views. I'm now a card carrying evolutionist. I still believe in God, but I believe that the world is very, very old and that all life forms on the planet are related through familial relationships that go back hundreds of millions of years.

To me, that makes the world a richer place. Bigger. Older. More amazing. Rather than believing in a God who waved a magic wand and ushered the creation into being 7,000 years ago, I now see a God working out a plan of eternal progression through the choices and life experiences of billions of creatures over billions of years.

My views about God are personal, but my views about evolution are public. They are based on facts that are readily accessible to anyone. They are based on years of studying those facts. When I graduated from college, with my doubt about evolution intact, I enrolled in another university to study genetics, evolution, and ecology. I studied, and prayed, and tried to open myself up to the facts. And while we still have a lot to learn about how evolution actually happens, there are no facts available to discredit the observable reality that evolution has taken place, and continues to take place, here on earth.

With all due respect to the Bible, its an old book with an ancient understanding of humans and our relationship to the rest of nature. While there is much good to be derived from that book, and I value the depiction of Adam and Eve as stewards of nature, the Bible does not even begin to compare to modern science in its ability to describe, predict, and interpret the origins and continuation of the physical and biological world around us.

I rarely go birding on Sunday. That's my day of rest and I spend it at church and with my family. Sometimes I'll take my kids on a nature walk. And when my nine year old asks me about God, science, and the Bible, I explain that science is a great tool to help us understand the origins and workings of the world and its creatures, but that prayer and the scriptures help us understand how we should relate to that world, other people, and our more distant relatives--all the other creatures on earth. I'm a big genealogy nut (something else I picked up from my religion), and for me, birding is a family reunion with distant cousins. While that may sound strange to my traditional Christian friends (just as my belief in God is a puzzlement to many of my scientific colleagues), that's just part of the joy and mystery that I experience living with birds.


BTW, for more info on keeping discussions about God--which can only be experienced subjectively or from within a religious community--out of science classrooms dedicated to teaching of publicly observable truths, see here.

6 comments:

Kim said...

I like this post. I've always thought that if God is all about a "house of order," wouldn't it make sense that he would use a really organized, meticulous way of putting it all together? That's what I think anyway.

Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers said...

You wrote: "...for me, birding is a family reunion with distant cousins."

I second that emotion! Henry Beston wrote that other species "are not brothers," but I feel a closer kinship to the birds I see every day than to some members of my own family.

Dave said...

science is a great tool to help us understand the origins and workings of the world and its creatures, but that prayer and the scriptures help us understand how we should relate to that world, other people, and our more distant relatives--all the other creatures on earth.
A wonderful sentiment, that could easily be adopted, with slight modifications, by people of all faiths. I have grown rather tired of some of the big science blogs for their frequent, strident attacks on religion, and it's not as if I'm that religious (I'm more agnostic than anything), just that I don't see the necessity of a conflict. Science teaches us nothing about how we should live, and the speculative side of religion has almost always been a fairly minor and malleable part of it. Thanks for this great post!

rob said...

Dave, thanks for the comment. I was going to post more on this, but think I'll let it be for now. I've seen eternity in my religious experiences, as well as in the eye of a baby turtle, the call of Upland Sandpipers migrating overhead, or the fangs of a jumping spider.

wolf21m said...

Thanks for the article. I enjoyed the perspective and would have to agree on every count. Thanks for sharing this personal subject and for supporting I and the Bird.

Flogistix said...

wow... cool post.. thanks a lot for showing it to me...keep it up... really much appreciated....
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