Bill Irwin and Evolution for ∞ Years

Sisyphus_by_von_Stuck
Sisyphus by Franz von Stuck

Bill Irwin thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail blind, with the help of his German shepherd Orient. Irwin’s book, Blind Courage, narrates his journey.

An auto-immune disease cost him his sight. At first, his doctors misdiagnosed it as terminal cancer. They removed one eye to try to buy him a few months of life. Then he lived for many more years. The disease cost him his sight in the other eye.

This got me thinking about the origins of the human race.

If “fundamentalism” means: God made the world as we know it in the amount of time it takes for Sunday Mass to come around again, then the Bible itself refutes fundamentalism. As we reckon things, a week involves seven sunrises and seven sunsets. But in Genesis, God made the sun on the fourth day.

Blind-Courage-Bill-IrwinSeems to me that Christian doctrine about our origin starts with the fact that the Blessed Mother and her Son currently live in heaven, body and soul. Then we read Genesis by the light of that truth.

God put Adam and Eve in a garden, with a choice in front of them. Before they chose to disobey the Law of the Lord and Giver of Life, the First Parents of the human race lived a kind of life which we can only begin to imagine. The “state of innocence,” or “prelapsarian” state.

Adam and Eve had perfect integrity of body before the Fall. They enjoyed a super-natural gift which would have preserved them from disease and death. Since we do not believe in magic, we can only propose, then, that this super-natural gift carried with it a natural state of material balance in their bodies. Perpetual health.

Now, we ourselves only experience the passage of time as fallen human beings. We don’t know what the passage of time was like for Adam and Eve before the Fall. Nonetheless, we can say this: Adam and Eve could have obeyed; human nature could have continued in the state of innocence. We would have progressed through a pilgrim life through time, without disease or death, to the fulfillment of heavenly life with God.

In other words, the perfect material balance of the human body would have endured for some period of time on earth, without any corruption of the elements. Perfect health, with no mortality.

(I believe that everything I have asserted so far stands on solid theological ground. But please correct me if something strikes you otherwise.)

Our Christian faith does not, of itself, preclude our accepting the theory of the evolution of species. But IMHO: the theory of evolution does not stand to reason.

No one has ever observed the evolution of one species into another. For peppered moths to evolve darker wings due to a more-sooty environment does not involve the kind of mutations that would result in a different species.

Asserting the evolution of one species from another involves no more empirical observation than the assertion of an original Paradise for the human race. Does the fossil record provide more conclusive evidence of the evolution of one species from another than Sacred Scripture provides proof of the existence of the Garden of Eden? When a scientist interprets the fossil record (as we currently have it) according to the theory of evolution, s/he brings no more certitude to the task than a Christian does to the task of understanding our infallible Scriptures.

The evolutionist brings less certitude, in fact. The idea that God exists, and can create the cosmos, and can reveal Himself to His creatures—this idea explains much more than the idea that God does not exist, or the idea that He cannot (or does not) reveal Himself.

Now, a pure materialist (I think) would deny that “species” as such even exist. A “species” is a concept only. What really exists is: DNA.

But if species as such do not exist, then what is the theory of evolution? The theory presupposes the progress of organisms from an origin, to the current state of affairs, toward some future state. Even if we understand “species” solely as the steps along that arc of progression, they must exist, in order for the arc of progress itself to exist.

Anyway… The ancient gods of Greece condemned Sisyphus to roll a stone up a hill. But every time he got the stone near the top, something happened, and it fell back down to the bottom again.

This strikes me as the most-fitting illustration of the probability of one species evolving into another by way of random genetic mutations and “natural selection.” With every few feet gained in the ascent of the hill, the “gravity” of death and oblivion will keep pulling the rock down. Sisyphus has more chance of clearing the crest of the hill than random mutations have of producing a whole new species, it seems to me.

Ancient as our biosphere may be, can it possibly be old enough to accommodate all the endless changes that would be necessary for evolution by mutation and natural selection to produce all the species that we now observe? Modern physics and Christianity have this in common: We propose that the universe began. We do not think the cosmos has always been. It has an age.

But if the universe has less than an infinite number of years on its odometer, has enough time elapsed for all the random chemical reactions that the theory of evolution requires?

Into the middle of that question, dear reader, I would like to throw this wrench: Bill Irwin lost his sight because his own body destroyed its own eyes. People die of cancer because their own cells grow in a destructive manner.

Yes, people have died because bears have eaten them, or enemies have shot them dead in battle, or because the chemical equilibrium of the fallen human body (without the supernatural gift of integrity) cannot endure indefinitely. But also: an awful lot of people have died, or become incapacitated, because elements of their own bodies have attacked them in some way.

The evolutionary biologist would respond (I believe) like this: The immune defense system exists because of its evolutionary benefit. Its imperfection now indicates the need for further evolution, and it indicates the fact that evolution proceeds in fits and starts, rather than in a straight, orderly way.

Granted: our immune defenses, and our cellular growth, do us a lot more good than harm.

But: doesn’t it make more sense; doesn’t it seem more likely that the human organism sometimes harms—and even destroys—itself because: a perfect balance that existed originally has been lost?

The alternative explanation would require us to concede the passage of time not only for the “forward” evolution of species through random mutation and natural selection, but also the overcoming of all the setbacks which auto-immune diseases and cancers would introduce into the process.

That looks like ∞ years plus ∞ years to me. The Christian doctrine about the Garden of Eden and the Fall seem more reasonable. But I would love to hear rebuttals from more-qualified interlocutors!

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2 thoughts on “Bill Irwin and Evolution for ∞ Years

  1. Beloved Teacher, how can I refute what I whole heartedly agree with in your observations? Such as you put forth made the only sense to me from way back down the mountain. An “intellectual” can accept many things with understanding that he can not necessarily articulate with concise clarity to another. It takes “a higher pay grade” to collate it all and present in an orderly manner; you know, a Teacher. By the way, I got to know Sisyphus rather well back in the early 90’s trying to push my own pride-rock. Every whip-stitch, I go try it again but by Grace not so frequently. Thanks for being here for me.

  2. Natural Selection – nature selection- creation selection- Creator selection – God selection. The Great Author of Life, the Great Artist of the Universe can change as He sees fit as he loves life, loves to create. How we explain that through genetics is our limited ability to understand an unfathomable God to our limited intellect. Not the best example, but how difficult would it be for a talented mortal artist to change the painting of a dog with a few brush strokes of elongating the muzzle and widening the foot pads into a picture of a wolf. How simple then for the designer of all life to manipulate a ‘genetic code’ to create new life, as the lover of creation would, in my opinion, have a tendency to do. As for obstacles to bring us closer to God, who are we to question God not allowing all things to click on in sequence while a child is developing in the womb so that he has limited lung capacity and will pass shortly after birth. God had a purpose for that child and when the purpose was complete, he was called home- “well done, my faithful servant”, that being the means by which it was accomplished, his purpose being fulfilled.

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