The Church must face an unpopular debate within itself and the world at large if it is to become a place where society will seek answers to serious spiritual questions. Debates about evolution and the value of humanity are constant issues in our time and the Church is failing to address these issues satisfactorily. If the Church expects to reach the lost and to enter serious dialogue with society about issues such as personhood and evolution, it must seriously consider the theory of evolution and arguments on dualism and materialism rather than engage in thoughtless, emotionally heated debate. In this paper I will briefly explore the theory of evolution, dualism and materialism and will then explain what positive and negative implications these ideas have on the Church and its view of human nature. I will also explore how the Church should interface with society on these matters.
In 1871 Charles Darwin wrote: “It is, therefore, highly probable that with mankind the intellectual faculties have been gradually perfected through natural selection …” (Stevenson, 164). According to Darwin, natural selection is the process of change and growth for humans and animals in relation to environment. “The lower animals … must have their bodily structure modified in order to survive under greatly changed conditions” (Stevenson, 163). The weak do not survive and the strong thrive, thus creating a stronger species as that species propagates (Pojman, 204-206). The theory of evolution as a scientific explanation for the origin of life branches into Social Darwinism, which essentially holds that “the strong and intelligent survive over the weak and stupid (and that) the infirm or stupid should be sterilized so that their genes are not passed on” (Pojman, 212). Darwin also recognized that compassion was a strong force and that altruism was naturally high toward those close to us. He said that it was humanity’s duty to expand its “circle of concern” to those outside of family and friends (Pojman, 219).
Though not as easily identified as Darwin’s theory, the idea of dualism is also an issue in the Church and society. There are many types of dualism, but because of space, I will simply write about the most common—dualistic interactionism. The term dualism, by itself, means that the body and the mind are separate. The body consists of all that is physical and occupies space. The mind consists of the non-physical—our soul, mind, emotions, consciousness—and does not take up space. These two entities, though separate and different, constantly interact and work together (Pojman, 226). French philosopher Rene Descartes reasoned that the soul could exist apart from the body because of the soul’s ability to think. Descartes wrote: “…(I)f I had merely ceased thinking, even if everything else I had ever imagined had been true, I should have had no reason to believe that I existed. From this I knew I was a substance whose whole essence of nature is simply to think, and which does not require any place, or depend on any material thing, in order to exist” (Stevenson, 86). Dualism holds that the mind can cause physical events and that the body can cause mental events (Pojman, 227).
Materialism is “the theory that matter and the law of physics constitute ultimate reality (Pojman, 228). In other words, everything is physical. There is no division between the mind/soul, and the body. All types of materialism—metaphysical, reductive, and eliminative—basically deny mental events. Beliefs, pains and desires merely happen on a physical level and can be described as brain activity (Pojman, 227). “The mind is simply a function of the body” (Pojman, 227). A division of materialists, called idealists, say that the body, or matter, is purely illusion. “Both idealism and materialism are monisms, (which reduce) all reality to one underlying substance” (Pojman, 227).
In March, 2009, the Vatican will host a conference on the theory of evolution. According to the article Vatican Defends Theory of Evolution, “a spokesman from the Vatican said the theories of evolution and the message of the Bible are not incompatible, and scientists, philosophers and Catholic and Protestant theologians will attend the discussion …” (Religion News). This is good news on the religion front because the Church has treated people who believe in evolution—whether they believe in theistic evolution or not—with utter contempt. I wonder what will be addressed at this conference. Will both sides be presented? It is not beyond my imagination to believe that God could have used evolutionary processes to create the world; however, if we accept evolution, we will have to guard against devaluing fellow human beings by classifying them as “strong” or “weak.” No one apart from God is truly strong, but in human terms it is easy to classify people. The Church will have to make sure that the results of the theory of Social Darwinism are rejected by helping the “weak” (humanly speaking) become part of the “strong.”
Devaluing people is at the crux of the debate of materialism and dualism as well. On the one hand, when Christians adopt strict dualism as their mantra, they devalue the physical and therefore forget that Jesus came to save the entire person. As Christ and the early Christians demonstrated, care for the physical body is just as important as care for the soul, since eternal life begins upon acceptance of Christ (Christian). Yes, one day our physical bodies will die, but they will also one day be resurrected. We are holistic beings (Christian). Because of dualistic interactionism, care for the physical body is essential. Since the mind can cause physical events and vice versa (Pojman, 227), it is necessary to care for the entire person for their spiritual well-being.
To reduce life to a completely physical entity, as materialism does, may lead one to believe that since we are only matter, what value is there to human beings? Those who follow a materialist mindset may struggle with issues about when life begins. They may ask, what is wrong with abortion if the fetus is a blob of cells (Bankard)? They may not think twice about euthanizing a terminally ill patient in order to end suffering.
A disturbing trend of devaluing people who have different opinions has gripped the Church. For this reason, Southern Baptists feel they can remove a magazine that features women clergy from their store shelves because it disagrees with their doctrine, or there may be underlying tension in a church body when groups of people with differing views of ministry and theology coexist. We see evidence of this trend in churches within the same town where believers ignore one another, or when two Christian people who used to get along visibly turn away from each other when out in public. I have witnessed all of this as a journalist who writes about religion and as a church member. My fear is that the Church will not allow itself to embrace those with whom we disagree. Embracing someone does not mean that we have to accept someone’s view; this means that we listen and try to understand life from someone else’s perspective. This act of love will break down barriers that are between Christians and between non-believers and Christians. It will open dialogue so that the Church can discuss issues like evolution, dualism and materialism. Through discussion and a deep commitment to love one another, the Church can develop rational positions in society and gain respect so that people will search for God once again through us.
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