The Light Burden
Apropos of our discussion of religion and evolution, a story from the Second Book of Kings comes to mind.
Naaman is a foreign military commander, valiant and respected, who has become inflicted with leprosy. A military campaign brings a captured Israelite girl into his house as a servant, and she suggests that he seek out the prophet Elisha. When the leper follows her advice and travels all the way to Elisha’s door, the prophet doesn’t even make an appearance — merely sending a message that the inflicted man should wash seven times in the Jordan River. Disappointed at the lack of import to the event, Naaman prepares to head for home; there are rivers in which to wash there, after all.
But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”
So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
The counsel that Naaman’s servants offer is a repeating theme in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments: God is reality, and those who expect Him to express Himself more in the form of pagan mystics — behaving in ways strange and unfamiliar — are apt to be disappointed. Instead, He’ll take an ordinary act, such as bathing in the Jordan, and by way of a prophet or, perchance, a messiah, invest it with divine proclamation and in that way express miracles.
Thus do we see the hand of God: not in that which oughtn’t be, but in that which is. The showmanship is in the Truth, not in the deliberate oddity.
They are wrong who insist that God’s direction of reality’s progression must be bizarre and in contradiction to the natural order. It’s nearly an absurdity; that which God does is the natural order. In the accounts of Elijah’s and Elisha’s miracles of sustenance, as in Jesus’, there is no strange alchemy when they generate food. The prophets don’t scatter sand in bowls, twirl it with their fingers, and pour out stew. They say, “pour the oil into all the vessels, and as each is filled, set it aside.” They gather up the food and simply feed those in need. Indeed, it is among the temptations of the Devil for Jesus to “command that these stones become loaves of bread.” God acts via what is, not what is not.
Therefore, Andrew’s qualification when arguing on the side of science in the evolution/intelligent design debate makes all the difference: evolutionary processes “may appear from the perspective of mere mortals to be driven by random processes.” This is the heart of all disagreement on this issue. By what authority does one even proclaim the appearance of randomness at the existential level? The fact that species A apparently developed attribute 471 in response to stimulus theta offers no information on the question of whether theta or A’s thetal environment was random. It illustrates only that species may be influenced by their surroundings. Randomness — which we may, for this limited purpose, treat as synonymous with a lack of intention — is entirely a presumptuous human superimposition.
Yeah, a fly might have a longer proboscis if it had evolved in a different hemisphere, but it did not. Yeah, a capacity for rational thought may have led evolution down its path with another phylum, but it did not.
Yet, when advocates at the state level, or lower, seek to make this particular message available to school children — that, whatever the science finds, their parents aren’t necessarily deluded in their beliefs — opposing advocates the nation over behave as if interrupting the science education of distant tweens for a philosophical qualification is equivalent to recrucifying Galileo. At the end of our grown-up arguments, we can often agree that “science ends here,” but to insist that children receive such a message as part of their science education is treated as tantamount to the imposition of dogma.
In the irreducible element of the fight, John West is entirely correct: “If it really is a ‘fact’ that the evolution of life was an unplanned process of chance and necessity (as Neo-Darwinism asserts), then that fact has consequences for how we view life.” Consider last week’s doom-and-gloom reportage du jour:
Even folks in the Optimist Club are having a tough time toeing an upbeat line these days. Eighteen members of the volunteer organization’s Gilbert, Ariz., chapter have gathered, a few days before this nation’s 232nd birthday, to focus on the positive: Their book drive for schoolchildren and an Independence Day project to place American flags along the streets of one neighborhood. …
But then talk turns to the state of the Union, and the Optimists become decidedly bleak.
They use words such as “terrified,” “disgusted” and “scary” to describe what one calls “this mess” we Americans find ourselves in. Then comes the list of problems constituting the mess: a protracted war, $4-a-gallon gas, soaring food prices, uncertainty about jobs, an erratic stock market, a tougher housing market, and so on and so forth.
It is necessary, for such leanings to be sensible, that the mess of the modern day be seen to constitute the aggregation of random circumstances. The “list of problems,” in this view, didn’t have to be the case, and the “uncertainty” is a consequence of faith in randomness. Contrast this with last week’s Gospel reading in the Roman Catholic Church:
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
The “wise and learned” may not know it, but our yoke is easy and our burden light. The hand of God is obvious to those who will see, and His existence makes playthings of our anxieties and concerns. I’ll vote every time for children to have at least the sense that such a reality is plausible, and I submit that a society that insists that children receive only the cold, hard lessons of the skeptics would be doomed. And that it would probably be a good thing, in the end.