Friday, July 26, 2013


No Contradiction between Genesis and Darwin

Note: The text below uses "true" and "false" in a manner that perhaps provides a useful illustration of Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of Sprachspiel or language-game. However, in positing the Genesis account as an example of "other practices than dividing truth from falsehood" it incorrectly implies that true and false are concepts which belong particularly in the realm of science. This does not do justice to Wittgenstein's complex understanding of truth.

Most of us wonder about our origins.

There have been two apparently contradictory accounts of it.

There is the account in Genesis of how God created heaven and earth and all living things in six days. And there is Darwin's account of how things evolved over enormously long periods, the mechanism of which is genetic variation and natural selection.

To many there is a hopeless contradiction between these two accounts.

The notion of language games helps us here, for it focuses on action rather than truth and falsehood.

We use the terms "true" and "false" in certain contexts.

Chiefly when we are investigating whether something is so or not, as in a scientific investigation.

Darwin was imbued with the methods of science, observing, sorting the true from the false; using the methods of scientific inquiry to give an account of the origins of things.

But why can't there be other ways of accounting for the origin of things, using other language games, ones that focus on other practices than dividing truth from falsehood?

A person for whom the practices of worship and prayer are central to his or her life might respond to fundamental questions in a different way and might find the account of origins in Genesis more real.

His search would be conducted differently from a scientist's. He might pray for guidance. This would not necessarily produce an answer in the scientific sense, for he would be seeking different satisfactions.

So there need be no contradiction between Genesis and Darwin, but what is important is to be clear on the nature of one's commitments.

Source: John M. Heaton & Judy Groves. Introducing Wittgenstein: a Graphic Guide. (Icon Books, 2009) pp. 120-122.

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There is a flaw here. The statement "To many there is a hopeless contradiction between these two accounts" apparently dismisses all of the other creation myths, when in fact if Genesis is given any credibility at all, every other cultures creation story has to be given equal validity.
I don't think there is a flaw. To assert that many see a contradiction between x and y does not imply a, b, ... z do not exist. To focus on Genesis is not to deny the existence or validity of the Enuma Elish or the belief that it was Svayambhu who created the world. Likewise, the invocation of Darwin does not say anything about other naturalistic accounts of evolution such as Lamarckism or saltation.
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