Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I just overheard a surprising conversation, between two gentlemen. One of them, obviously a fundamentalist, made the flat statement that “Allah is NOT the triune God of the Bible, and I dare you to say otherwise."

I hate to burst your bubble, sir … but you should be careful about daring others. Because Christianity, Judaism and Islam are far more closely related than most of their individual adherents wish to admit. They are all three, in fact, directly descended from the same patriarch, Abraham (circa 2000 BC). The One “God of Abraham,” whom we Christians read about in Genesis, is now worshipped by Christians as “Jehovah,” by Jews as “Yahweh,” and by Muslims as “Allah.” Of course, there are distinct and emotional levels of tolerance/intolerance for ideas, regional beliefs, and detail incongruities outside each orthodox, but we do all share a common ancestry … father Abraham (or Ibrahim!).

The Muslims, who are Abraham's descendants through his secondary son Ishmael, did not just “dream up” a whole new idolatrous god “from scratch” … that’s a ludicrous idea. They and the Jews (Abraham's descendents through his primary son Isaac) started with the exact same unchanging “I AM that I AM” whom we Christians worship.

All three religions consider God to be eternal and unchanging (perfection itself). Humans are the changeable factor in the equation. Over history, the three major trunks of religious believers developed (“split off” from each other), and each has its own (admittedly finite) description of the one Deity they specifically worship. Each trunk has its own unique definition of the Creator and His attributes. Regardless of the fact that they do not agree on all the details, regardless of the fact that they have hated and fought each other -- for four thousand years -- over those exact differences in “details” … it’s inarguably the same monotheistic entity!

Historically, the first two branches (Israelites and Arabs) have also had serious territorial disputes, fighting over land for the last four millennia. But they fully acknowledge their common genealogy (kinship) and their worship of the very same God. Only after the publication of the Q’ran (about 900 AD) did specific differences in their religious rituals -- not in the history -- show up. But in direct opposition to Christianity, both sides are so adamantly and narrowly monotheistic that they take the exact same viewpoint … that there cannot be a Trinity (as Christians call it) since there is only one God (and the concept of a Trinity is certainly not an easily grasped idea, in the first place). Christian denominations insist that it is impossible to make the flat statement that “Allah (or Yahweh) is not a triune god” (that is, unless you’re willing to admit that God exists only as He is defined by His believers, which is an entirely separate can of worms).

Except for that (admittedly important) concept of the Trinity, in which God manifests Himself in three characteristics, there is no other truly significant difference in the basic (one God of Creation) beliefs between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Yet despite being so closely related, each of the three religious trunks is brim-filled with small-minded individuals who first are absolutely certain that they -- and they alone -- have all “Truth” sewn up in their hip pocket. Second, they hatefully insist that each of the other two trunks is thoroughly evil, and therefore destined for eternal hellfire and damnation. Third, they claim that the differences between all three of them are irreconcilable.

As for this common attitude -- what is it supposed to teach, exactly? Think how that religious strife affects non-believers (especially the ones who honestly need and seek God). You know … the lost ones who (while sincerely seeking help) are exposed to all that religious intolerance, nitpicking animosity, fear, and outright hatred exhibited by the three fine upstanding examples of God’s People … everywhere they look! And -- in case you hadn't noticed -- yes, I am irate about that sheer, abject stupidity. Not surprisingly, however, I am somehow convinced that whatever our finite little human minds may think about God does not actually limit Him too much …


The “evolution vs. creationism” issue

The Catholic Church now holds the position that one can indeed believe in both evolution and God. Evolution is a scientific theory (backed up by mountains of evidence) about how it happened, and faith in God is a religious conviction about why it happened. The difference between a scientific theory and a religious belief is significant, and every student should be taught the difference.

Creationism is a religious belief. It is based on a literal interpretation of the second account of creation in Genesis (there are actually two biblical accounts, and the first account poses no problem for evolutionists). Grounded in biblical literalism - as are all religious battles - Creationism moves deductively (from a general belief in a sudden creation of human beings about 6,000 years ago) to specific supposed “evidence”, however artificial, to support such an a priori position.

Evolution is a scientific theory. It concerns the origin of the various species, and is built on strong evidence that points to a rational theory about how life developed over time. Evolutionists study fossils and carbon dating information, as well as the documented changes over time in species (including our human ancestors) and arrive inductively at a theory to explain it. The evidence suggests the theory, rather than being driven by it.

Scientific method is not a religion. Nor is it anti-religious. It is only a methodology. As such, it poses no threat to religious belief. Nothing in the theory of evolution denies the existence of God. There are people (of deep religious conviction) who believe that the process of evolution is merely the way God created human beings ... a more marvelous and mysterious method than simply placing them suddenly in the midst of a garden – a garden more precisely symbolizing innocence than geography.

Educating students involves exposing them to theories, which they are subsequently free to reject. All students should know what ninety-nine percent of the world’s scientists believe, and why those scientists hold to it. If the students then choose to believe something else, they will know exactly what they rejected, and will clearly understand the enormity of the task of proposing an alternative theory.

Students need to learn about the theory of evolution, and they need to know that many people hold a religious belief called creationism. They need to know that the two are not mutually exclusive. But most importantly, the students need to understand the difference between a scientific theory and a religious belief. If they don't, they shouldn't graduate.