Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What is man? Psalm 8

What is Man? I remember fifty years ago as a young man being asked to lead a Bible Study on Psalm 8 and regaling my audience with a description of evolution cribbed from my Grove and Newell Biology textbook. In those days I saw mankind involved in a sort of brilliant progress from ape-man to superman. Everyday, in every way, things are getting better and better. It was a terrific time to be alive. On every front there was progress. Average life expectancy was increasing as the great infectious scourges of the past were defeated. Penicillin had only lately become available and the difference it had made was miraculous. Even more important, TB, ‘the captain of the men of death’, was being driven back by streptomycin. Infantile paralysis was being abolished by the Salk vaccine. Nuclear power, had not only ended a long and bitter war, but would now keep the peace and what’s more provide a cheap, safe and endless supply of electricity. Francis Crick and James Watson had unlocked the secret of DNA, and this would be the clue we needed to destroy the terror of cancer. Jet airplanes had made their appearance. The Comet made successful flights across the Atlantic and to Australia, holding out the promise of cheap travel. Science was the solution to all our fears and woes. There would be a better tomorrow. Poverty would be wiped out. Hunger would be no more. Insecticides like DDT were killing the mosquitoes that transmitted malaria, so that even in Africa people would be able to live healthy productive lives.

This was the hubristic view that I had of the world and Man’s place in it. Nemesis was to follow.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria appeared so that infectious diseases like MRSA and clostridium difficile run rampant through our hospitals. AIDS has killed millions, especially in Africa where malaria is unabated. TB, far from being defeated has returned in a yet more virulent form. While smallpox (vaccine available since 1796) has been wiped from the planet, polio remains; vaccinators frustrated by imams in Nigeria who teach their followers that vaccines are the work of the Devil. Nuclear power is no longer the savior of mankind, but another spawn of Satan (Chernobyl means wormwood). The Comet crashed because of metal fatigue and though Jet planes do circle the world they are now damned as CO2 polluters. And nobody dares use DDT. As for cancer, it (and DNA) appear much more complex than we ever contemplated. Our biggest success has come from epidemiologists who proved James the first right in hating tobacco smoke.

To think of evolution as a progressive force would be to be laughed out of court, nowadays. There is no progress, just ecological niches filled by chance and the survival of the fittest.

In 1916 James Leuba asked the question of scientists, “Do you believe in a God who actively communicates with humanity, to whom one may pray and expect an answer?”
40% of scientists said they did, 20% said they weren’t sure and 40% said they did not (a mixture of deists and atheists). Leuba predicted that over time as education improved, the proportion of scientists not believing in God would increase significantly.

The survey was repeated in 1997. The results then were 40% believed, 15% were agnostic and 45% were atheists or deists.

In 2006 Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion a polemical attack on religion that is largely a reworking of 19th Century atheistic arguments culled from the internet which also betrays the author’s ignorance of the subject of his attack. In the same year Owen Gingerich, a noted Harvard astronomer, published God’s Universe, declaring that ‘the universe has been created with intention and purpose, and this belief does not interfere with the scientific enterprise’. Francis Collins, Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, and one of those who helped to sequence the human genome, published The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Collins, an atheist when young was converted to Christianity after observing the faith of his critically ill patients and reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. A few months later, Cosmologist and former atheist, Paul Davies published The Goldilocks Enigma in which he argues that the existence of ‘fine-tuning’ in the universe that militates against it being a chance event.

None of these three would necessarily describe themselves as the sort of Christian that I am, but it does tend to blow holes in the Dawkins theory that science is a superhighway to atheism.

Psalm 8 is not about the hubris of mankind, nor about Man’s progress towards Superman. Still less is about the futility of life – it does not inform us that we are creatures of chance and necessity. In Psalm 8 we are told that God made us a little lower than the angels and that he put the world under our feet. We are to be custodians of the Earth.

What went wrong? Rousseau said, “Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains.” It is difficult to argue with him. Marx blames capitalism. Humanists blame lack of education. Existentialists say that Man cannot come to terms with the fact that life is pointless. But the Bible has a different explanation. In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew ch 13) Jesus says, “An enemy has done this.” In the beginning of Genesis we learn that Eve and Adam were tempted by Satan, and believed him rather than God. This rebellion against God had disastrous consequences. There is something corrupt in the heart of man – Jesus, in Mark ch 7, says “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.

If that is the diagnosis is there any remedy? In Hebrews Ch 2 there are echoes of Psalm 8. We read of Jesus, “He was made a little lower than the angels,” in other words he was made man, subject to the same pain and temptations that we are, and like us, mortal, so that ‘by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For this reason … he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ v 18.

What can we learn? First, you are not a fool for believing in God, despite what Richard Dawkins and other media darlings say. Very learned men, with exactly the same access to the evidence as Dawkins, conclude that there is a God, and moreover one who interacts with humanity and answers prayer. Second, my fifty-year old ideas of mankind on an upward path are clearly wrong; the facts fit better with the Bible’s idea that we have gone in the opposite direction – we were created perfect but have fallen into corruption. Third, God has not left us there. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.


Debbie Light said...

Right On Dr. Terry!!You have evolved alot in 50 years!!
I enjoyed reading about this transformation!

God Bless and Thanks for all you do and taking the time to answer questions on our Christian CLL Site!

Debbie Light

Manu Manickvel said...

The topic of science & spirituality is very close to my heart - as i began to learn, in school, about our solar system, the Milky Way and the Universe - the more i could see that random chance (no matter what the 'experts' say) just could not account for the wondrous miracles of life. Any episode of Attenborough's tv series on all the teeming species of life fills me with amazement. The violent goings-on and the constant stream of accidents / un-natural deaths /crime makes us treat this world as mundane and godless - but who are we to claim unbounded knowledge? True science always says we are just beginning to see and the unknown is much much greater than the known - and science is never a given but open to new inputs /discoveries...it is so sad how badly science is interpreted...