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Christian Biblical Studies

 

PURSUING PERFECTION

Part II

By A. Prentice

 

(Part I can be found here)

 

MANY CHRISTIANS attempt to refute Evolution and its intimate companion, Atheism, by pointing to what they regard as the evidence of intelligent design in Nature. But their antagonists have turned the tables, highlighting what they, in turn, regard as tell-tale signs of imperfection.

 

This ‛if-then’ approach of the Atheist assumes that ‛if’ a perfect creator exists, ‛then’ this being would make only perfect things, and that since not all things in nature are perfect, ‛then’ . . . . They maintain that the appearance of purposeful engineering in nature is an illusion, merely the result of an opportunistic modification based simply on what combinations work best.[fn1]

 

The general mode of existence in the plant and animal world is one of predation and rough competition, a struggle to stay on top, or at least survive. The initial impression, then, is at odds with the qualities of peace and liberality associated with the Biblical virtues. To put it another way, Nature itself is an unlikely source of the Christian philosophy. So there is a sharp contrast between what Christians hold to be true and what the natural order suggests is true.

 

Who trusted God was love indeed
            And love Creation’s final law
            Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed.
[fn2]

 

This Darwinian-style warfare is not a model which sits comfortably with such Scriptural injunctions as ‛in honour prefer one another’ or ‛bear ye one another’s burdens’(Romans 12: 10; Galatians 6: 2). Christian theology exudes submission, not domination.

Layers of doubt, then, populate the chasm between what we as Christians believe and what we witness in the real world. In an ideal world such doubts should be addressed only by evidence. But as to what constitutes ‛evidence’ is itself open to question. That much-bandied-about term, ‛objectivity’ exists in a philosophical vacuum. In reality, people of all stripes arrive at conclusions which are forged through a melding of observation and interpretation, with a dash of biased supposition thrown in.

 

Nature’s Flaws

Nonetheless, there is truth in the assertion that nature is imperfect and is in some ways dysfunctional. Day-to-day observation teaches us that, as grand and beautiful as the natural order appears to be, it leaves something to be desired – for each rose there’s a thorn.

At the climatic level, catastrophes abound – typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, excess heat, cold, wet, or dry conditions. In their turn, these distressing conditions adversely affect all life, from flora and fauna to mankind at large, disrupting habitat and complex social structures, leaving death and unhappiness in their wake.

 

At the anatomical level, physical beings, both animal and human – do not function without some degree of error or mistake – from the squirrel who misses his jump and falls off the tree, to the man who trips on the pavement and breaks a leg. Such miscalculations occur when the organism is presented with an array of variables, including speed, distance, local weather conditions, rough or smooth surfaces, shifting levels of illumination, and so forth. Inattention at any juncture can lead to a failure to execute a jump or take a safe step. Some blunders are universal, such as stubbing one’s toe, a painful miscalculation which everyone has made.[fn3]

 

The potential for mistakes in judgement accompanies freedom of will or action. But it goes deeper than this, for the human organism itself is riddled with imperfection at the genetic level. The likelihood of error and the anticipation of it is demonstrated by the function of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA has the ability to detect and correct errors when duplicating its information. That it is a system of information first and foremost, suggests intelligent forethought. And its ‛proof-reading’ function, while not perfect, also suggests a precautionary acknowledgement that error will inevitably crop up in the system. In the same way the human immune system hints at an anticipation of disease. Such defensive deployments not only display engineering foresight, but provide a clue as to the capabilities and limitations of the human being.

 

What Is Man?

Imperfection at the cellular level, far from scuttling Christian faith in an omnipotent Creator, confirms what students of Christian doctrine ought to expect, based on the Biblical exposition of Man’s fall. Flaws at the micro level are the reason man is flawed at the macro level.

Man is not, and possibly may never be, perfect in the precise, technical, machine-like sense. For example, he cannot draw a perfect circle free-hand, nor scribe an absolutely straight line without mechanical aid. He cannot stand stock still without a tremor, however slight. (Try looking through 10x50-power binoculars and holding them steady!) His physical abilities are in some ways inferior to those of many of the lower animals: he runs slower than a gazelle, and cannot leap as high; nor can he detect the vast number of scents picked up by the nose of a dog; he cannot see with pin-point precision a rabbit in a field five miles off, as can the eagle. And, of course, a fall off even a short step-ladder might kill him, not to mention his skin freezing in the extreme cold, unlike that of the polar bear.

 

So what makes him unique?

 

To be continued

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[fn1] Many advocates of human evolution do believe in a Creator, arguing that Evolution is the method He employed. But it’s probably safe to say that the philosophy behind the teaching of Evolution trends inevitably toward the atheistic: it is an alternative explanation for the origin(s) of Man, contrary to that presented in the Scriptures. A belief in the Biblical narrative on the special creation of Man is, in important details, incompatible with the teaching that he evolved from lower forms of life.

 

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[fn2] Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). Verse from, In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850), canto 56. (Ravine means ‛violence’.)

 

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[fn3] See Psalm 91: 11, 12: ‛For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.’ This text applies to Jesus (Matthew 4: 6). Inherent in the promise is the implication that every human toe has at some time been stubbed. A plain reading of the text suggests that this type of minor collision was a possibility for Jesus, the perfect man, as well.

 

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