Friday, July 13, 2012

Darwin is Dispensable

Jesus is to Christianity what ___________ is to Islam.

How do you fill in this blank? The easiest answer is probably Muhammad the prophet-statesman founder of Islam. But the analogy between Jesus and Muhammad is misleading. Jesus in historically-orthodox Christianity is an incarnation of God, a sinless redeemer, and a vicarious sufferer on behalf of sinners. Muhammad in Islam is the fully human, not divine, final prophet and revealer of God’s doctrines or teachings. Sure, Jesus was also a prophet-teacher as presented in the canonical Gospels, but the pedagogical aspects of Jesus in the Gospels are hardly the focus of historical Christianity. Christianity is focused on the person of Jesus: his membership in the Trinity, his kenotic incarnation as a man, his soteriological and conventionally other-worldly escape plan. Islam, in contrast, esteems Muhammad as the last and final prophet who was entirely human and a sinner.

As illustrated above, to make an analogy between Jesus and Muhammad as progenitors of the religions that claim them as their founders makes an asymmetrical comparison that is often taken advantage of by Christian apologists. Many a Christian apologist will stack up the creedally-orthodox attributes of Jesus (God, miracle worker, demon slayer, sin-bearer, death-conqueror, heaven-seated, etc.) against the prophetic-pedagogical ministry of the entirely human Muhammad, and when Muhammad is compared to the creedally-orthodox Jesus, he looks rather flaccid. However, the comparison is arbitrary. Muslims do not claim that Muhammad is God. In contrast, Muslims boast that, unlike historically-orthodox Christianity, they haven’t subjected their progenitor to apotheosis. A better, more fruitful analogy would be between Muhammad and Moses – both law-giving, prophetic statesmen.

Jesus is to Christianity what ___________ is to evolution.

Much like the misleading analogy given above between Jesus and Muhammad, the analogy above is fraught with difficulties. One’s incline might be to supply the answer “Darwin,” and, like with the examples of Muhammad above, supplying such an answer becomes a hotbed of supposed criticisms against evolution. Ben Stein, Ken Ham, Richard Weikart, William Dembski, et. al. will point out that Darwin was a racist and made racist assertions and that Social Darwinism was related to a sociological application of natural selection.

Judging evolution by Darwin is dishonest. Evolution would be exactly what it is today if Charles Darwin had never lived. Ten years before the publishing of the Origin of Species, Wallace had developed the idea of natural selection. Before Darwin and Wallace, the study of geology had come to recognize the variegation of plant and animal species in the fossil record, and the idea of the fixity of species was already in question. Bio-geographical observations had recognized that animal and plant species varied around the world even in similar or nearly identical habitats. Biology was ripe for evolution. The theories of evolution would have come into being had Darwin never lived. Further, evolution has developed far beyond what Darwin and his peers conceived. Darwin and his peers lived before the breadth and scope of what is available in the fossil record today, before the discovery of genes and DNA, and before the technologies and tools that are currently at our disposal. Darwin is dispensable. Criticisms of Darwin are irrelevant to evolution.

A more honest analogy might be:

Christianity is to Jesus what evolution is to Darwin.

How so? Christianity constructed Jesus into what he is today. The correspondences between the Christ of Christian orthodoxy and the Jesus of history are undetermined. Was there an historical Jesus? What did Jesus actually say? Whatever we have in the Jesus traditions of the canonical Gospels survived or exists because it was useful in the context of the church (a sitz-im-leben kirche versus sitz-im-leben Jesu) – none of the deeds or sayings of Jesus need be historical to be present in the canonical Gospels. Christianity thus formed the Christ of canonical and creedal orthodoxy. Similarly, evolution constructed Darwin. How so? The comparison is imperfect, but Darwin wouldn’t have discovered natural selection if evolution hadn’t happened. This is true on two levels. First, Darwin like all life on this planet, evolved from earlier forms. Second, it was because evolution was demonstrably true that Darwin, working within scientific assumptions was able to identify it.

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