Searching through some old emails for reflections on the topic of absurdity.. I found a wonderfully topical article from Dec 2001 edition of the London Review of Books. Jerry Coyne was reviewing one of Michael Ruse‘s convulted attempts to reconcile science and religion.
Needless to say, Coyne’s not convinced by Ruse’s ruses.
Not surprisingly, Ruse has to work hard to convince us, for it’s not immediately obvious how evolution could produce souls or original sin. He has to muster all his rhetorical and intellectual skills to herd every stray Christian belief into the Darwinian fold. Indeed, the book is a splendid example of how a trained academic can extract himself from a philosophical thicket through the relentless chopping of logic. For example, in a chapter on ‘Extraterrestrials’, Ruse wrestles with the implications for Christianity of life having evolved elsewhere in the Universe. Would this life be human-like and blighted with original sin? If so, who would save the fallen aliens? Ruse floats the possibility of an ‘X-Christ’, who could redeem sinners throughout the Universe – an intergalactic Jesus shuttling between planets and suffering successive crucifixions. ‘One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that,’ George Orwell wrote (in a quite different context). ‘No ordinary man could be such a fool.’
And Ruse isn’t the only one:
A recent Radio Four programme had a distinguished retired geneticist, who is also a devout Christian, pondering the virgin birth. Jesus, it turned out, is something of a biological conundrum. As a male, he must have carried a Y-chromosome, which can be transmitted only by the father’s sperm, yet apparently he had no corporeal father. Where, then, did his Y-chromosome come from? The geneticist suggested that one of Mary’s two X-chromosomes might have carried a piece of the Y. Asked whether this would make Mary abnormal, the geneticist changed the subject. He did so for good reason: this condition, sometimes seen in humans, would make Mary a sterile male and the virgin birth thus triply miraculous.
As Emily Dickinson said
THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.
The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.
The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.
If she wants to call that God, I’m fine with that because it clearly isn’t the tiny minded parochial God of Michael Ruse. But by the same reasoning, the universe is bigger than the brain, and so it’s somewhat arrogant to always search inside for answers and attempt to bind up the world in an anthropomorphic package.