Thursday, May 21, 2009

The incredible shrinking God

This week, they found the missing link.

The missing link has long been a major problem with the theory of evolution. Darwin himself acknowledged that fossil evidence of transitional forms between species had not been found, but assumed they would be, in time. However, while many have been found, many others have not. Biologists have proposed a number of solutions, one of the most promising being “punctuated equilibrium”, in which a species stays rather static for a long time and then undergoes rapid evolution in a relatively brief time in response to dramatic environmental changes.

Religious fundamentalists have long pointed to these gaps as evidence that evolution is untrue. But science & Torah reconciliators (or their corresponding thinkers in other religions) have been more than happy to see God in the missing places. This is sometimes referred to as the “God of the gaps” concept. Where science can’t explain something, that is evidence for God.

I’ve never been happy with inserting God as an explanation where science falls short. That’s not to say that I don’t see God’s hand behind all of creation and its infinite complexity. But I don’t feel the need to glean “proof” for God’s existence from those presently inexplicable scientific gaps. Emunah shouldn’t need science to back it up. Emunah shouldn’t be empirical – it’s belief on a spiritual, intangible plane. And when empiricism is mixed with spirituality, both suffer.

But it’s more than that. With the “God of the gaps” concept, God’s existence is made susceptible to the progress of science. What happens when science fills one of those gaps? God is immediately less remarkable, less all-powerful.

That’s precisely what happened this week, when scientists announced they had found the missing link that “bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs” in a 47 million year old fossil nicknamed “Ida”. With that discovery, it’s yet another weakening of the argument that we could not have evolved naturally from apes.

So for all those science & Torah reconciliators who insist on seeing God in every nook & cranny of science, I ask, doesn’t this diminish God? Doesn’t this make Him smaller and less significant? What happens when science explains everything? Will you discard God as yesterday’s news?

As for me, my faith will remain strong, because I never saw Hashem in the questions of science. He just is.

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