Darwin is no threat to religion
Feb. 12 is Charles Darwin's birthday.
He's the one credited with starting the whole flap over evolution with his publication of "Origin of Species." This book became the focus of the debate over the alleged conflict between science and religion.
This debate still rages 148 years since it was first published.
Is it true that science and religion are in conflict? Does evolution contradict the biblical account of creation?
I love the poem that begins the book of Genesis. A poem? Yes, it is classical Hebrew poetry. The literary style is like that you see in Psalms and by much of the Old Testament prophets. Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme, and it isn't like the iambic pentameter of a Shakespearean couplet; but it has a distinctive line and a pattern of repetition, elaboration and contrast from line to line. Some Hebrew Bible translations actually print it that way; some do not. But Genesis One is a classical Hebrew poem.
We even know from linguistic analysis roughly when it was written. Just as you can tell Elizabethan English from modern English, it is possible to date the language style of a text in Hebrew as distinguished from an older or a more recent one. By that method, the poem dates from the late fifth century or early sixth century B.C., or 450-550 years before Christ.
In 586 B.C., the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the children of Israel were carried off to captivity in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. The religion they encountered there said that earth was created by the demi-urge, the bad god. Only the spiritual realm was created by the good god. And the bad god had trapped a spark of the good god in evil matter. Matter was evil and to be overcome, freeing that divine spark to be reunited with the good god.
The Hebrew poet's joyous account of creation, "And, behold, God saw that it was good," was a rebuttal of that Babylonian creation story. The earth is good. Matter is not evil. I suppose that God could have told the poet about DNA, mitochondria and differential population pressures, but no one would have known what he was talking about and it would have ruined the poem.
Two thousand, 500 years later, we try to interpret him as a geologist and biologist. But he was a poet! It was the beautiful, life- and matter-affirming image that he was after.
Go read Genesis One once again. It is the expression of a poet in love with life, in love with the beauty of the natural world, affirming the interconnectedness of the human and the natural world.
In conflict with science? Not as I read it. Not unless we refuse to let the great poets of our sacred literature be the poets that they were, giving us the feel of what it is like to be these fragile skin-bound creatures trying to make meaning of our fascinatingly ambiguous lives.
Justly so, I will celebrate Darwin's birthday, and all of those who search out the wonderful interconnectedness of this most marvelous world we live in. They, too, often write like poets, moving me to awe.
Science and religion in conflict? No, I read them both regularly and avidly. And more than 500 congregations of many denominations across the country and in every state will be celebrating evolution on Sunday, Feb. 11, in just this spirit.
The Rev. Mike Young, minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, is one of 10,000 U.S. Christian clergy members who have joined the Clergy Letter Project affirming that "the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist."