Last night I went to a lecture at Carleton by Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead. As is evident in her fiction, Robinson is a deeply religious person, deeply influenced by Calvinism, but she is also a self-described humanist. She protests against the heavy-handed Darwinism of Richard Dawkins, which denies the spark of the divine in human beings, but she would also reject heavy-handed religious fundamentalism that denies nuance and imagination in the human relationship to the divine. It was revealing to learn that she came to the works of John Calvin through Melville's Moby Dick. Having caught the unmistakable theological inflections of that novel, she decided to read it side-by-side with Calvin's Institutes, as if Melville and Calvin were engaged in a kind of theological conversation about whales and predestination.
Darwinian evolution can tell us quite a bit about whales—that they evolved from land mammals, for example—and about human beings as well. Perhaps science can even explain the obsession of a man like Captain Ahab. But for Robinson, such explanations are insufficient—not so much, I suspect, because they deny the hand of the Creator, but because they deny the profound mystery and beauty of life as it is lived and apprehended by the creative human mind. She pointed out that written language can't be accounted for by evolution; it only appeared about 4,000 years ago, after the evolution of modern homo sapiens. If anything gives evidence of a divine spark, it is the ability of humans to write.
Of course, I accept the theory of evolution as scientific truth. It offers the best description of the physical world. It may be that human consciousness—what we call the human soul—is simply a byproduct of evolutionary processes, as Richard Dawkins would claim. But I think Marilynne Robinson is right: we cannot live our lives as if that were the case, as if everything we think and feel and are capable of doing is simply the result of a successful accident. Pascal, hedging his metaphysical bets, concluded that human beings are better off living as if God exists. Although I accept evolution and no longer attend church regularly, I tend to accept Pascal's wager. For purely selfish reasons: not so much because I need to believe in God, but because I need to believe in human beings, and in myself.
It was lovely to wake up this morning to the first snow of the winter. Each snowflake falling from the sky was unique and transient. The earth was as white as an imaginary whale against the gray sea of the sky. This evening I'll sit in front of the woodstove and read about fictional characters in an imagined world, and I will surrender completely to a belief in something that exists only in the human mind.