Introduction

The Bible is a conglomeration of contradictions. Not only openly but boastfully cruel (Ps 137:9) on the one hand but on the other sprinkled with poetry and wisdom of immense beauty and depth (Gal 5:14). Any attempt at interpreting the Bible, that fails to reconcile these contradictions by pointing to difficult passages and claiming those to be of a different, tribal era that simply do not apply anymore today is engaging in self-serving cherry picking at best and cynical sophism at worst. In addition it is being shallow and disrespectful to religious tradition to arbitrarily dismissing certain parts and emphasising others. Attempting to interpret the ‘easy’ passages alone while explaining away or ignoring the hard ones is to interpreting the Bible as taking a cab to work is to completing an Ironman triathlon. The same obviously applies to cherry picking the difficult passages while ignoring or glossing over the palpable.

In my interpretation I will neither be pointing out how the Bible contradicts Science nor will I be pondering various internal contradiction in the text of the Bible. Questions such as: Who did Cain and Able marry? Who really killed Goliath? And numerous others are painfully missing the point and I will leave it to others to waste their time and yours harping on about them. It is time to drop the stick and back slowly away from the horse carcass (1 Cor 1:20-24, 1 Cor 2:14, Col 2:8, 2 Pet 3:16). Instead I will be putting forward what I believe to be a unique and totally fresh and surprising perspective on interpreting the biblical texts. Massively controversial I am sure, but definitely fresh, new and most importantly in line with evolutionary dynamics and therefore of course life-giving and most enlightening. At the end of this article reading the Bible with an evolutionary mindset will open a whole new world of meaning, of depth and of evolutionary wisdom that otherwise would lie hidden away in obscure, metaphors that are millenia old and occult mysticism.

On top of all that I would like to point out that I am neither a Christian, nor am I religious in any appreciable way. However I do see the wisdom in scripture and fully agree with scholar of religions Reza Aslan, who’s recent comment during a Reddit AMA pretty much hit the nail on the head for me:

“I think the Buddha said it right: If you want to draw water you do not dig six one foot wells. You dig one six-foot well. Islam is my six-foot well. I like the symbols and metaphors it uses to describe the relationship between God and humanity. But I recognize that the water I am drawing is the same water that every other well around me is drawing. And no matter the well, the water is just as sweet!”

The evolutionary world view is my 6 foot well.

The Basics of Evolutionary Hermeneutics

The core of the evolutionary worldview is that existence is preferable over non-existence. This means that anything that leads to continued existence is ‘good’ while whatever course of action leads to death, destruction and extinction is ‘bad’. Extending the desire for continued existence to the other in general, yields a utility function that when objected to by any agent leads to the opposing agent’s own eventual yet inevitable demise while at the same time minimizing other agents opposition and therefore detrimental effects on staying in the existential game. By adherence to this utility function of ‘ensure continued co-existence’ concern for the self literally becomes concern for the other providing an a priori argument for the equation of the self with the other or ‘oneness’ in spiritual terms. Over time, spiritual belief systems that happen to have striken on and enforce these core evolutionary truths in their followers would ever more closely approximate these evolutionary ideals in line with the logic of spiritual evolution.

Consequently one would predict to find them reflected in scripture and practice of major world religions who have precisely because they more closely reflect, instill and sanctify alignment with these evolutionary dynamics than other belief systems that happen to do so to a lesser degree or not at all, managed to become so widely successful. The fact that there are literally thousands of minor cults and belief systems out there that do not closely align themselves with these evolutionary dynamics does not matter precisely because these groups do not matter in the sense they have a relatively small impact in terms of their size and sociopolitical impact.

An evolutionary interpretation of the Bible scrutinizes the text of the Bible for the reflection of these exact insights.

The Nature of God – YHWH as Anthropomorphized Evolutionary Dynamics

I am starting my interpretation with an examination of the proper name of God in the form of the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH). To understand what is in a name we may examine the naming practises of American Indian tribes to choose names in naming ceremonies that reflect a particular characteristic of the child. Likewise as the child grows into an adult “[…] another name might be granted, but this name would reflect expectations or something for the person to live up to” (source). Analogously examples of context based names are abundant in the Old Testament. To give but 5 of an abundant set of examples:

  • Adam is Hebrew for ‘man
  • Eve sounds like the Hebrew for ‘life-giver’ (Gen 3:20)
  • Cain sounds like the Hebrew for ‘gotten’ (Gen 4:1)
  • Noah sounds like the Hebrew for ‘rest’ (Gen 5:28-29)
  • Babel sounds like the Hebrew for ‘confused’ (Gen 11:9)

It is therefore safe to assume that analogously the characteristics of YHWH can be deduced from the meaning of the Hebrew word:

“Like other Hebrew proper names, the name of God is more than a mere distinguishing title. It represents the Hebrew conception of the divine nature or character and of the relation of God to His people. It represents the Deity as He is known to His worshipers, and stands for all those attributes which He bears in relation to them and which are revealed to them through His activity on their behalf. A new manifestation of His interest or care may give rise to a new name. So, also, an old name may acquire new content and significance through new and varied experience of these sacred relations.” (from the unedited 1906 version of the Jewish Encyclopaedia, Names of God, my emphasis)

The same entry goes on as follows:

“In appearance, Yhwh is the third person singular imperfect “ḳal” of the verb  (“to be”), meaning, therefore, “He is,” or “He will be,” or, perhaps, “He lives,” […]. There is no doubt that the idea of life was intimately connected with the name Yhwh from early times.“

as well as:

“Various explanations of the meaning of the name, differing from that given above, have been proposed: e.g., (1) that it is derived from  (“to fall”), and originally designated some sacred object, such as a stone, possibly an acrolite, which was believed to have fallen from heaven; (2) or from  (“to blow”), a name for the god of wind and storm; (3) or from the “hif’il” form of  (“to be”), meaning, “He who causes to be,” “the Creator” […]

From ‘He who causes to be’ in conjunction with the doubtless connection between the idea of life and the proper name of God, it is but a small step towards recognizing an anthropomorphization of evolutionary dynamics as a convincing interpretation of YHWH. In addition to this there are numerous examples in the Bible reinforcing this idea. To aid the flow of the argument I will be expounding on only 8 examples. The rest of my non-exhaustive list can be found here for the interested reader.

  • “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” – Gen 1:1
    This one is almost superfluous for being too obvious. However, I nevertheless wanted to highlight it for two reasons. Firstly it is probably one of the few verses of the Bible that is universally recognized and secondly when read with an evolutionary mindset it sets the stage for an understanding YHWH as anthropomorphized evolutionary dynamics for the entire length of the book. See also John 1:3, Col 1:16, and Heb 3:4 as further examples.
  • “The LORD is my shepherd […]” – Ps 23
    Another very well-known passage with an abundance of evolutionary imagery. Firstly the LORD as the shepherd, not only the one whom when one aligns oneself with preserves ones life today but also into the future when selecting the breeding stock for the next generation. A strong evolutionary symbol that when one walks “through the valley of the shadow of death” the path through the “perilously threatening environment” (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 754) of the evolutionary landscape between extinction and continued existence one is guided by the LORD. ‘I will fear no evil, for you are with me’ meaning Gods law is revealing the evolutionary pitfalls and thus guide through the labyrinth of natural selection towards life; ‘your rod and your staff’ are in this context God’s commandments and guidance.
  • “Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land.” – Ps 25:12-13
    This passage expresses it literally: align yourself with evolutionary dynamics and your offspring will inherit the land. The same sentiment is repeated for example in Ps 89:3-4, Ps 89:29-33 and Ps 107:38.
  • “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” Prov 8:35-36
    Here the same principle is expressed a little differently. Whomever finds the principles of evolutionary dynamics will find life, however those that do not will suffer and those that hate or go against evolutionary dynamics ‘love death’ and will find nothing but death. See also Ps 145:20, Prov 7:2, Prov 14:27, Isa 45:22, Nah 1:14, as well as Luke 20:38.
  • “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Eccl 12:13-14
    The notion that God is all-knowing and that no deed will go unexamined in his judgment of man is widely known. In conjunction with my earlier argument above, God becomes the omniscient judge over life and death in line with his laws. Or put in other words: there are no secret sins. This idea is directly parallel to Darwin’s understanding of evolutionary dynamics:

    “It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.”, Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Chp 4

    There are abundant passages in the Bible reinforcing the same general concept. See for example Ps 33:13-15, Ps 139:23, Prov 5:21, Prov 21:2, Deut 29:29, 1 Sam 2:3, Heb 4:13, Job 34:21, Jer 23:24, and 1 Chr 28:9.

  • “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Ezek 33:11
    Evolutionary dynamics are dispassionate about the fate of that which violates the conditions for its existence. While there is no pleasure in the destruction of the ‘wicked’ the fundamental principle that continued existence is far better than death and extinction is reinforced. Numerous verses could be cited to support this perspective but to name just a few compare 1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pet 3:9, Eccl 9:4-6Matt 22:32, as well as John 11:50.
  • “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Prov 24:17
    Every fallen enemy was a potential ally in the struggle for existence and should be mourned accordingly. Judgement as well as punishment is with the LORD who extinguishes those not following his commandments. Allegorically the struggle for existence has been fierce in the times of he Old Testament. The Hebrews often faced the choice between exterminating a competing people or being themselves utterly destroyed. In terms of evolutionary dynamics at play at that time, those people who happened to follow a system of beliefs that more closely resembled evolutionary dynamics were those people who outcompeted and yes, destroyed rivaling tribes. That process however was not a matter of sadistic cruelty but rather perceived as executing God’s will in the form of persisting and triumphing over other groups violating God’s law i.e. the laws of evolutionary dynamics. Hence the terminology of ‘devoting something to destruction’, meaning in this context hastening the inevitable perishing of those that had sown in their belief systems the seeds of their own eventual destruction by not only happened to having more closely realized evolutionary dynamics but at the same time threatening the very existence of other groups that have. An unfortunate and grim duty, not unlike that of a gardener pruning back unproductive branches so that the most promising ones can flourish (John 15:2), but a necessary one if continued co-existence more closely aligned with evolutionary dynamics and thus more long-term potential was to be assured. This is the principle behind passages resonate with, that deal with the ‘devoted for destruction’ theme.
  • “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” Rom 12:19
    As time progressed and the constant struggle for existence became less fierce, so could the verbiage be toned down and God became more mellow. For an excellent account of this evolution of God see Robert Wright’s book of the same name. In this stage of spiritual sentiment, the destruction of those not aligned with evolutionary dynamics could be left to the slow process of self-destruction or the mending of their ways. Destruction is replaced with dissociation (Titus 3:10) and other, gentler forms of resistance (Titus 3:2) having faith in the effectiveness of evolutionary dynamics alone to weed out those diverting from the ‘path’ over time without having to lay hand oneself. This notion is already present in the Old Testament (Prov 20:22) but reaches a whole new level in the New Testament. See also  2 Tim 2:24, 2 Tim 4:14, and 2 Pet 3:9.

The Nature of Sin – You Sin, You Die

Understanding the Abrahamic God as an anthropomorphization of evolutionary dynamics would imply that acting against God’s will or in other words to ‘sin’ i.e. acting against evolutionary dynamics, would lead to death and destruction. That is precisely what one finds when examining the biblical concept of ‘sinning’ more closely.

It is widely known that in the Abrahamic tradition death has entered the world (Gen 3:19) through Adam’s original sin (Gen 3). Death through the disobedience of Adam and Eve towards God or in the evolutionary reading: by running counter to evolutionary dynamics violating the conditions of life (Rom 5:12). The evolutionary imagery present in the verses of the Bible describing creation as well as the fall of man (Gen 2-3) is striking. Be that as Adam being created from inorganic matter by God or in our reading through the processes of evolutionary dynamics. As well as in the form of the tree of life that can be understood to be closely related if not identical with the tree of knowledge of good an evil (source) presenting a very intimate, if not direct link between the concepts of understanding good, evil and thereby what leads to life and correspondingly to death. Death in this context is to be understood not just of the individual but failure to attain eternal life – another recurring and well-known theme of the Bible – in the sense of failing to become a direct ancestor of an eternally succeeding chain of progeny be they genetic or spiritual. Or in the more general sense: not having made a sum positive contribution to the continuing of the existential game itself.

The etymology of the original hebrew term for ‘sin’ (hata) is very interesting in this context as well since ‘hata’ originally means to miss a target or to fail to reach it (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ISBN 978-0-19-504645-8, p. 696). This target is of course continued co-existence as shall become abundantly clear when examining the nature of sin more closely using various passages of Biblical scripture. A particular gold mine in this context is the book Proverbs as explained by the MacArthur Study Bible as following:

“The recurring promise of Proverbs is that generally the wise (the righteous who obey God) live longer (Prov. 9:11), prosper (2:20-22), experience joy (3:13-18) and goodness of God temporally (12:21), while fools suffer shame (3:35) and death (10:21). On the other hand, it must be remembered that this general principle is balanced by the reality that the wicked sometimes prosper (Ps. 73:3,12), though only temporarily (Ps. 73:17-19). Job illustrates that there are occasions when the godly wise are struck with disaster and suffering.” MacArthur Study Bible, p. 864

Other examples characterizing sin as leading to death or as failing to survive as well as the temporary nature and eventual demise of evil are absolutely abundant in the Bible.

  • “The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin. Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” Prov 10:16-17
  • “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” Prov 13:14
  • “For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.” Eccl 7:12
  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 6:23

and

  • “But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.” Ps 37:20
  • “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise [the wicked] as phantoms.” Ps 73:20
  • “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment?” Job 20:4-5
  • “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” Ecc 9:11

Even Matthew’s narrow gate allegory is hauntingly similar to Darwin’s passage on the struggle for existence drawing on the Malthusian premise when placed side by side:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matt 7:13-14

“A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. […] There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair.” Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Chp 3

The Quintessential Biblical Wisdom – Treating all of Existence as One

By now it should have become abundantly clear that according to the Bible sin leads to death, the wicked will triumph only temporarily and that the righteous will inherit the earth by winning ‘eternal life’. We so far have however not covered what the essence of righteous behaviour is. The Bible contains a long list of often obscure injunctions. Throwing a dart at Leviticus will provide ample examples of such laws. However one can discern a general pattern that can be discerned: the idea that the evolutionary destiny of all of existence is connected – the spiritual concept of oneness or nonduality. And again demands on brevity dictate that I only give a few examples of this general principle that is present as a very distinct red thread throughout the entire Bible:

  • “The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught. The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah” Ps 9:15-16
    Since all of existence is One, the evil deeds hurt the evildoer just as much, if not more than the victim. This general principle is expressed numerous times in other verses such as Ps 64:8, Prov 1:18-19, Prov 11:5, Prov 26:27, Ezek 35:6, Gal 6:7-8, and Obad 1:15.
  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Mat 7:12-13
    Here the Bible expresses the Golden Rule right next to Matthew’s narrow gate metaphor, one of the most significant passages of the Bible. The injunction to treat others as one wants to be treated is rooted in the insight that there is in fact no difference between the self and the other. In various other places this beautiful idea is repeated several times. See for example Mat 25:40, Mat 25:45-46 and Luke 6:31.
  • “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Gal 5:14
    Love is put on a pedestal in numerous Bible verses. The reason is the circumstance that love and compassion is ideally suited to blur the boundaries between the self and the other as well as acting as a social glue between individuals letting them act as one. This reinforces the idea of oneness by utilizing this most powerful of tools to ‘bind everyone together in perfect harmony’ (Col 3:12-14): love. For the same general message see for example Rom 13:8, 1 Cor 13:1-3, 1 Cor 13:13, Col 2:2-3, 1 Pet 4:8, as well as 1 John 3:14-15.
  • “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Mark 3:24-25
    Here the quintessential idea of oneness as a condition for continued co-existence is highlighted black on white. A nation, a house, a group that is divided can not persist in the struggle for existence against groups that stand in unity – ‘like one man’. E pluribus unum! United we stand – divided we fall. Unless individuals band together into a coherent whole, they are easy to destroy. A remarkably easy concept that lies at the heart of the spiritual concept of ‘oneness’ or ‘nonduality’. In a similar tone this principle is repeated in several other passages as well, such as John 17:11, John 17:22, Eph 1:10, and Jas 2:19.

Other Evolutionary Language in the Bible

The Bible incessantly talks about the ‘chosen people’, ‘salvation’, ‘being saved by the Lord’ etc. The conceptual gap between the biblical idea of ‘chosen’ to the evolutionary concept of ‘selection’ is a narrow one. Correspondingly ‘salvation’ here clearly has the connotation of ‘preservation’ and perpetuation into future generation. This understanding becomes particularly appealing given the discussed background of God as anthropomorphized evolutionary dynamics and sin leading to death while following God’s injunctions leading to life and the multiplication of offspring.

Not exactly evolutionary language per se but still approximating an evolutionarily advantageous strategy is the Apoditic Law:

“eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” Exod 21:24

This biblical injunction is easily recognised as the ‘tit-for-tat’ strategy which has long been thought to be the optimal strategy in iterative prisoner dilemma scenarios that could only be defeated by – what else? a group of cooperating programs recognising each other. Additional work in the area published in 2012 on so-called zero determinant (ZD) strategies said to always outcompete non-ZD players made it look like the self-serving optimizers had gained the upper hand. Later work however showed that while ZD strategies worked well against non-ZD co-operators they fared poorly against other ZD players requiring the evolution towards more co-operative strategies over evolutionary timeframes once only ZD players where left in the game. This does constitute an interesting parallel with Matthews abolishment of Apodictic Law in the New Testament (Matt 5:38-39).

Blessed infanticide?

At the outset of my article I posed the challenge of reconciling so vastly disparate verses such as:

“Blessed shall he be who takes your little one and dashes them against the rock!” Ps 137:9

and

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Gal 5:14

Doing so appears to be boiling down to a number of questions that I shall address one by one.

  • What is the context in which the Psalmist makes this statement?
    The context of Psalm 137 is the Babylonian captivity during which the Babylonians committed the most outrageous atrocities against the Jews.
  • Does this justify the Psalmist’s anticipation of killing Babylonian children?
    The specifics are scant, but it is not too outlandish to assume that the Babylonians actually killed Jewish babies and considering that the Psalmist was aware of this fact and in conjunction with an understanding of Apoditic Law (Exod 21:24) now anticipates the time when these atrocities return back onto the perpetrator (Prov 26:27) seeing it as a fulfillment of God’s prophecy and therefore blessing it.
  • Is the Psalmist in fact rallying the Jews to kill Babylonian children?
    The Psalmist is not calling for his fellow Jews to repay ‘an eye for an eye’. That would be violating the injunction given in Prov 20:22. No – the Psalmist is expressing an anticipation of when the Lord i.e. evolutionary dynamics will have their effect and punish the Babylonian perpetrators according to their deeds by causing their destruction Prov 11:5.
  • Is Psalms 137 a beacon of the beauty of Christian wisdom?
    Clearly not, and Matthew later repeals Apoditic Law (Matt 5:38) making statements like those in Psalm 137 even more outlandish.

Conclusion

Reading the Bible with an evolutionary eye uncovers the often obscure meaning and wisdom of that thousands year old text. Religion “as survival enabling meaning making” in the sense of Roy Rappaport becomes obvious when evolutionary dynamics are understood and biblical scripture interpreted accordingly. I could show that the God of the Bible is in fact an anthropomorphization of evolutionary dynamics, who’s injunctions one is well advised to take to heart in order to stay in the existential game. The essential spiritual notion of oneness or nonduality – a seemingly nonsensical concept – could be shown to make perfect evolutionary sense in maximizing the survival of a group when instilled in its members through the social glue of love and the idea of the perpetrator becoming one with the victim. Difficult passages could be shown to be reconcilable when these concepts are rigorously applied to the context of particular, seemingly cruel and particularly hateful passages.

One comment on “The Bible read with Evolutionary Eyes

  1. Pingback: Rational Morality » Evolutionary, Deconstructing, Constructive

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