Science

Ellerbrock: Easter and the science of new life

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What do evolution and global warming share in common? Both are contentious issues that challenge skeptics’ worldviews and ignite political debates. Yet, in reality, they are not worthy of such angst. Unfortunately, the pseudo-debates distract us from more important issues.

For example, the lengthy process of evolution raises a deeply philosophical and religious question: why did God wait so long to bring about us humans? The problem of global warming challenges our lifestyles. Both phenomena invoke the credibility of science and call us to be true stewards of creation.

Anti-evolution skeptics struggle to refute overwhelming scientific evidence. Some assert that, though micro-evolution obviously occurs within species – hence emerging strains of flu, there is no evidence of macro-evolution of new species because the fossil record contains no specimens of transitional species. Not true.

Paleontologists have discovered and documented many examples of transitional species leading up to us homo sapiens. The fossils of “Lucy” and “Ardy” are 3-4 million year old Africans whose skeletons suggest that from the waist up they were tree-dwellers whose shoulder joints, long arms, thumb and strong fingers were for climbing, but their pelvic structure, legs, ankles and feet were bipedal for walking erect. In evolutionary terms, Lucy and Ardy were half-ape and half-human.

Other skeptics assert that since 99 percent of mutations are harmful to organisms, the mathematical odds of generating resilient humans is remote, thus evolution is allegedly debunked. Ironically, their argument ignores the parallel fact that 98 percent of all creatures on earth have historically gone extinct, as evolution occurs via those harmful mutations. The science is clear: thanks to a few helpful mutations, we are blessed survivors. Logic and faith accept the process of natural selection, designed by the Creator.

How can we reconcile the recent origin of homo sapiens (30,000 years ago) with the age of the earth (4.6 billion years)? If we did not evolve from earlier hominids, then were there multiple creation events after the initial Big Bang (14 billion years ago)? The problem for Biblical literalists is that the Bible has no such accounts. In other words, when and how did Adam and Eve arrive and why did God wait so long to bring us about?

The laws of physics and chemistry and Catholic theology suggest an image of an infinite God who is novel and personal, continually emptying (kenosis) Godself into finite creation. Chaos and Complexity Theories are consistent with a creator God whose spirit and energy are continually injected into a cosmos becoming ever anew.

Regarding global warming, skeptics struggle to invalidate the scientific consensus by pointing out that climate models are not perfect or that the sun’s energy cycles are the main culprit, freeing us from guilt about our carbon-based lifestyles. Despite the clear message of the Hockey Stick Graph charting distinct rises in global temperature in the past 500 years, a slim minority of analysts reject the consensus of thousands of their national and global peers. To whom should we entrust our grandchildren’s planet?

In its official position on climate change, the American Physical Society acknowledges “incontrovertible evidence of non-negligible increases in global warming due to rising levels of anthropocentric causes.” The American Chemical Society states that “climate change is real and serious, largely influenced by humans, and international cooperation is crucial.” The American Meteorological Society asserts that “the vast weight of scientific understanding supports global warming beyond natural variations in climate cycles.” A distinguished umbrella organization, the National Academy of Sciences believes that “climate change is happening and primarily due to rapidly increasing releases of Green House Gases from human activities.” For our grandchildren’s future, the scientific consensus is scary.

Lent draws us into the desert to confront life’s essentials. Purged of ego and graced with wisdom, we are awestruck by the reality of our linkage with the eternal cosmos. No more or less important than every other human life past, present and future, we are “called out” (ecclesia = church) of our self-centeredness to steward creation. A divine gift, science is a tool to enlighten our job.

Easter draws us into the empty tomb to glimpse the other dimension. Purged of fear and graced with courage, we are confronted by the invitation to eternal life. Humbled by our Savior’s sacrifice, when the sky darkened and the angry earth quaked, we are transformed by the power of love over hate. A divine gift, science pauses when the Author of Life breathes again.

Resurrection brings redemption. Redemption brings responsibility for understanding, celebrating and stewarding all life.

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