Myths, Meaning and Evolution

Meaning and Evolution

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, a key proponent of the theory of evolution in the 19th century

Michael Gerson, a writer for the Washington Post, wrote an article reviewing the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari.

Both share a secular evolutionary worldview, but what’s particularly interesting is where they diverge. In his book, Harari highlights a particular aspect of our cognitive ability – the stories we tell about ourselves. He believes this “mythic glue” is what allows humans to create large communities, from religion to nations to corporations.

But Harari takes the conclusions of his secularism a step further than Gerson is comfortable with.

Harari consigns all those myths to the realm of fiction — not only religions but the whole enterprise of humanistic, rights-based liberalism: “There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.” With a kind of courageous consistency, he argues that the life sciences reveal sapiens as nothing more than a bundle of neurons, blood and bile. And that, he concedes, destroys the whole basis for ethics, law and democracy.

Harari shrugs where he should shudder. It is not a minor thing to assert that the main evolutionary advantage of sapiens — their capacity to produce meaning — is a cruel and pointless joke. There is at least one other alternative: that the best of our stories are not frauds but hints, and that the whole unlikely story has led sapiens to a justified belief in their own dignity and purpose.

Harari recognizes something that Gerson can’t bring himself to admit. If humans are essentially just a complicated bio-chemical reaction, then there can be no such thing as “dignity” or “purpose.” The electro-chemical firing of neurons isn’t a basis for ethics any more than the fizzing of a can of Coke.

Yet Gerson knows that humans do have both dignity and purpose. He sees the image of God in man, even though it doesn’t fit with his worldview. He struggles to avoid the meaninglessness of evolution, but doesn’t know what he’s looking for.

We do, of course.

The Meaning of Life

The Bible says that man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Because of this, man has dignity and an inherent worth (Genesis 9:6).

But admitting that God created man means admitting that man is responsible to obey Him. For many people, it’s easier to pretend He doesn’t exist than to acknowledge their sin, humble themselves, and repent (Romans 1:18-21). But this leads inevitably to intellectual suicide (Romans 1:22) and then moral suicide (Romans 1:24-32), just as we see in our culture today.

Meaning and evolution are incompatible. True meaning, dignity, and happiness can come only from Christ. When He is rejected, they fall by the wayside as well.

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