Robert M. Price, a theologian, atheist and critic of religious apologetics, teamed up with electrical engineer and doubting Christian Edwin Suominen (now an atheist) to take a critical look at the attempts to reconcile Christianity with the theory of evolution, and the result is the book Evolving out of Eden.
Edwin Suominen became acquainted with evolutionary biology through his own field of electrical engineering in a most surprising way: the process of evolution by natural selection is now being used in his field to come up with solutions to engineering problems. The way it works is simple: a computer simulates an electrical or mechanical device, and simulates that the device has the ability to reproduce, just like a bacteria or any other living thing. There is heredity (the “child” device tends to strongly resemble its “parent) and there is also a tiny bit of variation (the “children,” tend to resemble there parents, but are also a tiny little bit different from them, and from each other). In every generation the computer picks out the units that function the best (resembling the role of natural selection in the wild). Some variations produce a better functioning system, and these variations are always kept in the population and are inherited from generation to generation. Variations that screw up the system simply aren’t allowed to have “children,” in much the same way that deformed monsters and disadvantaged offspring tend to die in the wild and don’t pass on their bad genes (or at least, they don’t have children nearly as often as better fitted individuals). When random changes produce a good variation, it becomes common in the population, and all future generations inherit it. When another random change produces another good variation, it too becomes common, and so the population does nothing but get better and better at performing. Such a process often comes up with devices that work just as well or better as what humans create, as Richard Dawkins discussed in his documentary The Blind Watchmaker. Edwin’s own discussion of this from his personal experience is well worth quoting:
“Imagine the irony of a scene that has probably played out all too many times in recent years: some creationist lecturer asking for directions to the church where he is planning to spew his nonsense, calling the pastor with a cell phone whose antenna was designed by an evolutionary algorithm.” (pg. 18).
The footnote to this sentence reads: “Mobile phone antenna design is one of the major engineering success stories for genetic algorithms. Google scholar (scholar.google.com) reports over 5000 hits for the search query ‘genetic algorithm cellular antenna.’ Despite a hundred years of engineering work on radio antennas, it turns out that unguided evolution does a better job of meeting the challenges of hiding them inside the tiny, sleek cases of mobile phones than ‘intelligent designers’ do.”
Betcha didn’t know that!
Robert M. Price puts his encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible to excellent use by informing us that there is actually an alternative story of creation hidden within Biblical texts:
“As in Babylonian myth, the gods were frightened by the menace of the chaos dragon, seven-headed Leviathan, mentioned in Job 26: 12-13, as well as in Psalm 74: 14 and Isaiah 27: 1… Yahweh volunteered to destroy the dragons if the gods would make him king. They agreed, and he did destroy (as in Pss. 74: 13-14, 89: 10; Job 26: 10-13; Isa. 27: 1, 51: 9) or subdue and tame (Job 41: 1-5) the monster( s). Then he took the throne (Pss. 74: 12, 89: 13-14, 93: 2a, 95: 3, 97: 1-2) alongside El Elyon, perhaps as co-regent (as in Dan. 7: 2-7, 9-10, 12a, 13-14). From the remains of the dragon( s) he created the world, a feat for which he is praised in Psalms 74: 15-17; 89: 11-12; and 93: 1b.” (pgs. 78-79_
[Side bar: creationists often point to the Leviathan as an example of where the Bible mentions dinosaurs. Unfortunately for them, Psalm 74:14 refers to thing as having multiple heads, which no dinosaur did, and this makes the Leviathan a purely mythical creature, not a dinosaur.]
Though I was skeptical of Price’s analysis of these texts at first (Price often speculates quite a bit about the origins of biblical texts in way which is rejected or deemed unsupportable by other biblical scholars), it seems that other Biblical scholars who study ancient myths agree with him. The more you know! Price uses this text, and others within the bible (such as those that imply the Earth is flat) to demonstrate that the book of Genesis simply cannot be taken as a believable portrait of ancient history, wholly apart from considerations about the evolution/creation debate. So what? Dissolving the attempts to read Genesis as history leave Christians with only one option: to read it as a symbolic story. However, reading Genesis in a symbolic manner likewise has its difficulties: if Adam was not an historical person, we cannot make sense of St. Paul’s assertion that, “Through one man (Adam) came sin and death through sin,” (Romans 5:12). If Adam were a character intended to represent “everyman,” as some people have speculated, we would have to interpret Paul’s assertion as, ‘Through “everyman” came sin and death to all people.’ Nonsense.
Worse yet, “Traditional theology has told us that the Fall put the taint of sin and corruption into man from Adam and Eve’s screw-up. An understanding of evolutionary human origins dispenses with such nonsense… [T]hose actions that have been labeled as “sin” do not arise from any subsequent corruption of our nature, but from our very nature itself as the descendants of reproductive survivors in a harsh and brutal world.” (pg. 190).
Evolutionary psychology has uncovered that many human behaviors and emotions, including the violent and the sexual, are an outgrowth of our genetics which was created by the evolutionary process and which certainly existed in pre-human ancestors (look at the violent and morally contentious behavior of chimps, gorillas, and other animals!). Evil did not enter the nature of man, as Genesis would have it, but the nature of man has always contained evil.
If there’s one gripe I have about the book, it is this: Price and Suominen are far too scornful of the Christians who attempted to reconcile evolution with Christianity. These Christians, are, I believe, completely wrong. However, they deserve to be criticized far more gently than their Christian peers who engage in out-of-context quotations and plain, flat-out lies about the science of biology to subvert evolutionary theory for their own religious persuasion agenda. Christians who seek to reconcile evolution with their faith are more deserving of pity than ridicule.
This book is a welcome addition to the growing library on evolution and religion, and I think it belongs on the bookshelf of everyone interested in the subject.
While I’m at it, let me say that I think Price and Suominen may have hit upon a far more persuasive way to reach the creationists than we evolutionists usually try: instead of showing creationists fossils or genetics, which usually creates all kinds of denial or rationalization, why not simply show them the deep mythology ingrained in the Genesis accounts? Once they’ve seen how unbelievable the myths of the bible really are, they might be a little more open to following the evidence wherever it leads, instead of explaining away all the evidence for evolution to preserve belief in a book, that, unbeknownst to them, is no more believable than the Greek or Aztec myths.