Common Thoughts 19a

 

Empiricism.

Empiricism is the theory that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience. It emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory perception, in the formation of ideas, and argues that the only knowledge humans can have is a posteriori (i.e. based on experience). Most empiricists also discount the notion of innate ideas or innatism (the idea that the mind is born with ideas or knowledge and is not a “blank slate” at birth).” (The Basics of Philosophy: “Empiricism”.)

Our first knowledge, does it come from innate ideas within us (reason) or through experience we learn things? Let’s put this in terms of origins. What can we learn about biological origins?

Lucas Mix, in his book, Thinking Fair: Rules for Reason in Science and Religion (pg. 100). Kindle Edition,) writes: “From the time of Aristotle (384–322 BCE) until the time of Darwin (1809–1882 CE), species were often considered to be immutable chunks of reality. Just as nothing comes from nothing, so dogs come from dogs and cats from cats. This was an a priori statement about the way the world works. . . Species might go extinct, but new ones could not be formed. Darwin’s notion of speciation – when one species splits into two – allowed for a radical change. Species became part of a continuous string of populations stretching from past to future, with intermediate kinds everywhere. The a priori assertion that species are permanent gave way to the observation that species change and divide (Underlining mine.)

The last sentence in this quote gives us a false dichotomy between a priori and a posteriori, or reason and experience. It sets up a false either/or. “Immutable chunks of reality,” and “species are permanent” by definition close off new species coming into existence. In this view everything that “is”, “was”. Every kind of species was here from the beginning and is the reason why species, like dinosaurs, can go into extinction and nothing new come into being. There are a lot of questions being begged here, like how do we know that all that ever will be already was?  Because it is a false either/or we don’t have to draw that conclusion.

Charles Darwin, in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, believed he found that speciation was not the way of the world. He questioned that if breeders could create variations within a species couldn’t nature do the same thing. Note that while there was variations being created it was always within species, not cross species. Rather than God creating variations Darwin argued that natural selection did the job without the need of God. But he throws a wrench into the gears of life by concluding (without verifications) that biological life in all its varied forms came from one single source and this process was on-going. This has kept the teapot boiling ever since.

As a Christian, one who believes the Bible, what do we do with these phrases found in Genesis: “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind.”(Genesis 1: 11-12. And in Genesis 1: 21:  “So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind.” And in Genesis 1: 24-25: “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind.”

These were words Moses penned more than 2,000 years before Darwin. Why did God, or Moses (whoever you accept as author of Genesis) feel it necessary to make these statements of “after their kind?” Was it a preemptive strike against the theory of evolution that was two millennial away? Hardly. Those few verses in Genesis can’t be an argument against evolution, though evolution became an argument against Genesis. Christians who bought into Darwinian evolution had to resolve the absolute differences between it and these three beginning chapters in Genesis. Because they believe science is more true (having greater veracity than the Bible) they had to make Genesis an allegory, a made-up story to make people feel good in their ignorance of origins looking for religious answers to answer all of life’s question. Then there are those wanting religious answers to all of life and made these three chapters strict history so each day must be a twenty-four hour historical time period and we have step 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 exactly as stated leaving us with a young earth. I personally do not believe this is an allegorical story nor 24-hour periods of absolutism. The three chapters are in poetic form with each chapter taking a different look at the same event from different perspectives. That it is poetic doesn’t make it less true. What it doesn’t make it is a systematic treatise on the science of origins, though it says something about origins. More is not said than is said. Why would God do that?

My answer is found in the nature of the Bible: it is a story of man’s sin and God’s redemption and the great length God goes to bring us back into fellowship with him. For this we don’t need to know origins, all we need for this purpose is to know that God is, and that all things are created by him. All that’s outside this purpose is up to us to discover.

What we do have in these few verses is a glimpse into God’s wonderful artistry of creating. He didn’t create something from nothing, some kind of magician’s trick. “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.” God had on his artist’s palate the blues and reds and yellows and from these raw, pure pigments he began shaping the universe. Ah, but how did he do it? Don’t really know for sure, we weren’t there. If we get too cocky about what we think we do know listen again to God speaking to Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
“Tell Me, if you have understanding.
“Who determined its measurements?
“Surely you know!
“Or who stretched the line upon it?
“To what were its foundations fastened?
“Or who laid its cornerstone,
“When the morning stars sang together,
“And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” 
(Job 38: 4-7.)

This doesn’t exclude a Big Bang theory. But what about “after their kind”? We need to be careful with scripture and not try to make it too detailed, too literal in our interpretations with simple statements.

Science has given me a profound distrust for a priori claims, but philosophy has convinced me that we cannot live without them. Modern science relies heavily on (objective) realism, symmetry and parsimony, none of which is necessarily “true.” The idea of reason itself has little empirical precedent. Rather, it rests on an a priori belief that the universe can be understood, that I can understand it (at least partially), and that we can understand it better together than alone. Science needs a priori beliefs to operate at all. It can, however, seek to identify them clearly and challenge them whenever possible. (Mix, Lucas. Thinking Fair: Rules for Reason in Science and Religion (pg. 101). Kindle Edition.)

From the beginning of time (and time here begins for us the first moment of our consciousness) we begin seeking an answer to the meaning of life as we see it. If you follow Jewish and Christian scriptures that moment begins with Adam and Eve, and those outside the Garden who God also created. When Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden they took with them not just the knowledge of God, but God went with them, however they would have a different relationship.

What about those who weren’t the test subjects like Adam and Eve, what happened to their knowledge and experience of God? Cain went into this land filled with other people taking his bitterness toward God with him. He went without God’s presence in his life as his father and mother had and would remain in God’s presence. We are told Cain took one of the women in this land, made her his wife, and had a son. And then Cain changed what he felt was his curse—“I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth”—and built the first city that would both protect him and a place he could hide from God. Was this the beginning of the first civilization?

The first civilization, which would have begun around this time, we know as the Mesopotamian/Sumerian that began in the general location of the Garden of Eden. What idyllic life they would have had prior to the fall of humanity, the fall would have disrupted both that and their relationship with God. Having a bitter Cain come into their presence, his anger and hate against God most likely clouded what they knew to be true. Eventually they would have created new meanings for what they saw around them and created stories to explain the meaning of life, replacing these new stories with what they knew in their past. One of their great stories would be the Epic of Gilgamesh. It has a Great Flood story and some want to believe the story of Noah came from the Epic of Gilgamesh rather than the other way around.

Mythologies take on the stories of origins, of how things came to be, of how things work, and how we are to relate to all this.