The “Divine Selection”

17-08-2022

Introduction

One of the most famous works of art is what Michelangelo painted on the vault of the Sistine Chapel,  called The Creation of Adam.  In it, it is the hands of God and Adam – who just don’t touch each other  yet – that spontaneously  attract our attention. While Adam’s hand is still quite weak reaching God, we see that God’s index finger is firmly pointed at Adam.  Michelangelo thus suggests the election of man, something other than a direct creation. It is said that Michelangelo was inspired by the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus”, in which there is mention of the paternal right hand, but it could also be that Michelangelo had a vision of creation or the origin of man that extended beyond the largely literal Genesisinterpretations of his time. The other hand of God points to a child looking straight at the viewer. The child is interpreted as Jesus, the second Adam, already provided by God to make up for the mistakes of the first.

Stretching the index finger to indicate something or someone is something typically human, which can already be observed in very small children as innate behavior (which is usually unlearned at a later age as “impolite”). We also see that leaders or idols tend to point at someone in their audience, thus giving themselves a “selecting” status. Whoever selects takes a sovereign position, from which it is determined who or what is important, interesting, useful, or right. Pointing is in fact a primal human language with which one distinguishes and creates, makes decisions, or attracts attention. In this portrayal, this emphasizes even more that God created man in his image and likeness and appointed him as “master” – or perhaps better as “guardian” – of his creation.

The Darwinian “selections”

What we call selecting is not something that happens “randomly”, blindly or accidentally, but an action that is based on criteria or thought processes that lead us to a choice. For example, we can select animals with certain characteristics and breed them until we obtain a breed that meets our wishes to the maximum. The naturalist Darwin, himself a breeder, extrapolated the artificial selection process to “nature”, when he laid the foundation of his theory of evolution with his book On the origin of species. The problem with “natural selection”, however, is that this theory only provides a good explanation for secondary changes within a species, but much less for the emergence of new species. In sexual reproduction, such an incident is effectively counteracted by the necessary sexual selection and the almost inevitable racial mixing.  A whole other problem – of an ideological nature this time – is the fact that this hypothesis presents the evolution of life and the origin of the human species as the result of mere chance. It is used as a basis to demonstrate the non-existence of any purpose in the history of earthly life. In this way, the whole idea of a possible creative or intervening authority can be nipped in the bud.

For the emergence of a new sexually reproducing species, one must have a pair with approximately the same new characteristics, which  make successful crossing with other members of the same group impossible. In addition, that pair must be able to produce a viable offspring of their own and have done so effectively. This is an extremely exceptional event. The geneticist Prof. Jérôme Lejeune († 1994) has analyzed in detail this important issue of the Darwinian theory of evolution (1). One way to solve this problem is to extend the biological concept of “species”, so that – for the sake of the cause – it also refers to races or “subspecies”. Geographical isolation of certain breeds only temporarily or partially circumvents the problem. A good example of this shows us Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, an easily recognizable race or “subspecies” of Homo sapiens, whose physique and skull shape display a number of “primitive” features. DNA research confirms that after several hundred thousand years of isolation, in Europe and the Near East, a small portion of this has mixed with immigrants of our present modern human species, with the ultimate result that the average European also became a little bit Neanderthal. Of course, that does not mean that he belongs to a different “human species” than, for example, the average Asian.  We see a similar situation with the well-known Darwin’s finches and other endemic animals of the Galapagos Islands.  Most of these “new species” can still perfectly  interbreed among themselves and other related species and produce fertile offspring.  What’s in a name?

Of course, “nature” is involved in the creation of new species since they are an integral part of it. But that doesn’t happen through external so-called “selecting” influences, but through inner processes based on gene mutations, driven by the basic characteristic of all life: the creative will to survive (2).  The blind and random natural conditions and the “survival of the fittest” lead to adaptive changes, but do not “select”.  Rather, they hinder upward evolution and have caused many large-scale extinctions.  “Nature” consists largely of a haphazard interplay of forces, in which only life shows an independent purposeful orientation and an information processing and selecting capacity. The uncontrolled forces of nature, on the other hand, are usually dangerous and can even be “cruel” in human eyes. Prof. dr. Lejeune once expressed it succinctly and didactically in this way: “God always forgives, man sometimes and nature never” (3).

“Origin” and “selection”, as well as “selection” and “coincidence”, are contradictory concepts, and for this reason alone Darwinian-inspired ideology that uses the term “natural selection” is based on confusion. Sexual selection, on the other hand, is not something contradictory, for it is the outward expression of an internal process which is part of the said strategy of preserving life. Darwin thought that with this he would find the solution to the problems with his original theory. But on closer inspection He was wrong about this too. Sexual selection also only leads to gradual accentuating detail changes, such as the length of a tail, the color pattern of a fur, the call of a bird, the mating dance of flamingos, …  Basically, this involves a kind of fitness test and the optimization of specific species characteristics. However, structural species changes are counteracted by it. As explained above, sexual selection can only give rise to a new species in important mutations, in circumstances with a very minimal frequency.

Both phenomena, the continuous genetic adaptations and the rare species-forming macromutations, are two completely distinct and independent basic processes. Together they accounted for a significant part of biological diversity, one largely within the same species and the other entirely between genetically definitively separated species. Another mode of speciation (logically the original, underlying the large taxa) we find in asexual reproduction, as a result of successive mutations. It can be faster and more frequent, as it does not require any form of isolation. In these cases, too, the external conditions can  determine the chances of survival of the new species, but they usually have no  influence on their emergence.  From the extensive literature on this very complex and controversial subject, we learn that there is still a lot  to be clarified or corrected.

The Divine Selections

If one considers the whole of creation, evolution, and human history, then there are other decisive “selections” in it.  From a believing Christian view, we can speak unvarnished of “divine selections” in the genesis and further course of the realities that carry and surround us. This assumption constitutes as it were the counterpart to the atheistically inspired contradiction that has infected biological science with the almost ubiquitous “law of natural selection.”  Now let’s  consider which selections qualify as decisive and can be associated with divine decisions.

As we know, the known universe is made up of a set of very precise and inviolable laws of nature. A minuscule change in the mathematical data of these basic rules makes our universe impossible (4). These ground rules have been scientifically established for a long time. Yet it is impossible  for  science to find an explanation for it, because it would put it in a metaphysical field that is no longer hers. Man’s innate religious intuition does offer us the satisfactory answer: the Creator has selected these laws for the formation of a multidimensional reality of which we are a part. He did this with a result that He found “good,” as the first Genesis story teaches. Creation was good because it fulfilled God’s ultimate purpose: the emergence of beings endowed with a free selecting will, as a reflection of God’s own being. They will have  the opportunity to enter into his creative perfection, which we call “Divine Love.”

In that universe, the known part of which consists mainly of an enormous number of solar systems at distances far beyond our human imagination, there is a single, blue-colored minor planet that we know for sure has life in it. There is an intense search for other life-producing space spheres, but for the time being we still only have to make do with ours. We already know fairly well the preconditions in which life is possible, but we do not yet know  how that unimaginably complicated life arose, despite all the scientific pretensions. The preconditions of life and its complexity already teach us that life is such an exceptional thing that we can safely use the word “miraculous”. Whether such a miracle has occurred elsewhere may one day be determined or definitively classified as science fiction, but it may as well remain a scientific point of controversy forever (5).

Even if the first were to happen, it is far from certain that we can ever find out to what extent that extraterrestrial life “evolved” into beings with which we can communicate. Despite all the mega telescopes, space stations and continuous filtering of cosmic noise, that chance does not seem much greater than this to ever be able to scan the thoughts that have flashed through a fossil skull. Besides, why would those “beings” necessarily want to communicate with us? Maybe they’re too smart for that? The only thing we know with complete certainty is that our earth is in a privileged situation, which is very delicate and for which we as “guardians” bear a great responsibility. In religious terms, therefore, we can safely say that our earth was selected by God as a “womb” that gave birth to the mysterious life.  In Quechua it is called “Pachamama” or “Mother earth”.

For the next selection, we make a great geological leap of several billion years and turn our attention to the Genesis story, so magnificently illustrated by Michelangelo for his contemporaries and their descendants. Among all human individuals God has chosen Adam, while He, together with Jesus, holds Eve behind his arm.  (It could also be Mary, but that iconographic discussion is not so important here). We can describe this event as a divine selection, which will be confirmed and “accomplished” by the mutual sexual selection of the human couple from which present-day humanity descends. The fundamental difference with which the members of this “primordial family” distinguished themselves from all other more or less related poputions is that their lives were no longer dictated in the first place by instinctive needs, but by their relationship with the One they recognized as their Creator. They introduced  to the earth a completely new and spiritually inspired lifestyle. In doing so, they took an exceptional evolutionary step into the unknown. In paleoanthropological terms, that step was the beginning of the “cultural evolution”. This enabled their offspring to eventually populate the whole world and to control their environment as well as possible everywhere.

The Bible teaches that from then on God has been intensely involved with his chosen creatures and has regularly acted “selecting.” For example, He punished much of it with a Flood and chose Noah to continue the religious tradition of our human ancestors  in an obedient relationship with Him. After the family of Noah, we see that Abraham and Sarah are commissioned to continue this task and at their turn became the progenitors of an offspring that will be as numerous “as the stars in the sky.” Afterwards Moses was appointed. He will deliver his people and become their spiritual father by teaching them to live according to God’s will, summarized in the 10 commandments. Then came the age of the biblical prophets, appointed by God to prepare for the coming of the second Adam.  A simple young virgin, who had devoted her life entirely to God, was chosen among all women and blessed as the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.  In order to continue his work of redemption, this Son of God and men appointed twelve apostles, chosen from among the common people, to become the pillars on which He built his Church. In summary, the Bible can be described as the story of the relationship between God and man, with many details about the ups and downs of that eventful history. A richer literature that opens our eyes more deeply to what is really important in our lives will be difficult or impossible to find.

Annunciation. Image by Antoni Gaudí, in the east façade of the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona

Does God still select today?

Yet many will think that those biblical times are far behind us and that since then there has not been much evidence of divine selections or interventions. They wonder what relevance these stories can still have for a humanity that believes it is well on its way to discovering the scientific keys  that  will open the gates of a world paradise. In doing so, they make some serious fallacies. First, they associate material wealth with true happiness, based on internal harmony, the basic condition for speaking of paradise. Second, they are blinded by the mass of knowledge that man has amassed and his technological achievements. They forget that this material progress also has less beautiful sides and that life wisdom and ethical awareness are more important than knowing or being able to do as much as possible. They have so many possibilities, which rulers of earlier times could not even dream of, but in the deluge of materialism that they get over themselves, they lose sight of the meaning of their existence. Unfortunately, they do not realize that God is still at work in human history today, punishing, rewarding, inviting, and selecting.

Even in our time, people hear his voice, which calls them to be “prophetic” in their own way. Even today, there are many “saints” among us who, usually unnoticed, live a life that God judges to be “good” (not in a material sense, of course, but from a supernatural point of view). God selects them as the continuators of the “spiritual evolution” that the human ancestors set in motion. They failed in their relationship with God and consequently fell to a more animal level. The Child depicted on the vault of the Sistine Chapel has come to teach us how to rise from that fallen state. More than twenty centuries later, He still invites us, to bear by our attitude to life the prophetic witness for which God has chosen us and thus to take our own evolutionary “avant-garde” position.

To this end, we are inspired by examples of people from fairly recent times who proved themselves worthy of God’s selection (6). They lived a life based on love for God + fellow man + truth + justice, the ideal formula to create a small “heaven on earth”.

IVH

(1) More about this in the Dutch article https://forumcatholicum.com/een-test-case-de-adamische-hypothese/ . In French: https://forumcatholicum.com/un-cas-test-lhypothese-adamique/ .

(2) This proposition is defended and elaborated in our section “Creative Evolution”. See i.a.: https://forumcatholicum.com/introduction-2/ .

(3) This is an anecdote that comes from Father Daniël Maes, living in the Syrian Mar Yakub monastery, of which we regularly publish pieces from his contact letters.

(4) More about this in our Dutch article https://forumcatholicum.com/god-en-de-wetenschap/

(5) Cf. https://forumcatholicum.com/alone-in-the-universe-the-how-and-why-of-life-on-earth/

(6) Examples can be found in our section “Hagiography”.

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