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Letters from Proxima Thule

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Yes, Virginia, Religion Can Peacefully Co-Exist With Evolution
Green Wind
catvalente

A young reader emailed me last week with a question about Fairyland. My answer grew a bit long, and I thought the exchange was interesting and fruitful, so I asked their permission to post it here. Religion is always a strange issue in my books, in that I find it fascinating and faith is something I find deeply valuable, even though my own journey has not mixed well with organized religion. I’m no longer Catholic or Christian Scientist nor a Pagan (but that’s the closest), on the other hand, I’m not a Reddit Atheist, either. I sometimes joke that I’m a non-practicing agnostic. When asked for a religion in forms, I usually put down “Lost.”

So I can’t bring myself to pin it down and say: in this universe, God means X. I can’t say: there’s no god. I can’t say: these gods are real. I can’t even say: Pookas believe in the Great Shapeless Puddle and Nalegoblins believe in the Prime Purler, because no one race believes one thing in the real world. Mythology, faith, and folklore are three fell sisters, and their ways are rich and strange.

So here’s my Yes, Virginia letter–only in this case it’s Cameron. Thanks for writing me, Cameron!

Dear Mrs. Valente,

First off, I just finished “Girl who” last night and loved it! I had a question about the mythology of it: is there a god figure? You mentioned Pan and the Dragon-but not-fish-but not, but you also mentioned evolution. It’s hard to wrap my 8th grade mind , that even with a blossoming love of mythology and is a bit rusty, around . Could you please explain this to me? Also, could you please come to Portland, Or someday or, if they have it again: BookFest in Seattle? Thank you very much and have a wonderful day!

Your fan,
Cameron

Hi Cameron!

I deliberately left the religion of Fairyland vague. Most countries have lots of religions and that’s how I figure it goes there–spriggans have different notions of how the universe works than fairies or wyverns. Swearing by Pan is kind of like how we say “oh my god” even if we’re not religious–Pan is the god of nature in Greek myth. It’s also a little bit of a reference to The Wind in the Willows, in which Pan features.

Evolution and religion are not mutually exclusive, though. There is no reason a god or gods could not have created a universe that evolved–in fact, it would be stranger if he or she or they created a universe that never changed at all. If you boil evolution down to its simplest idea it’s that things change. What’s around you changes you mentally and emotionally: if you’re loved you behave differently than if you are hated, if you’re hungry you behave differently than if you never have to worry about where your next meal will come from. And a much bigger and longer scale, what’s around you changes, very slowly, the body, too. It doesn’t mean that you personally will develop wings if you live at a high altitude, but that your children’s children’s children might be able to process oxygen more efficiently, like the Sherpas of the Himalayas. That kind of change can be as divine as a resurrection or a moon goddess if you choose to see it that way.

The fairies in Fairyland take an aggressive approach to evolution, doing it quickly and consciously as a kind of hobby, which is not how it works in our world and September says so. But like many things in Fairyland, it’s just a speeded up, “on purpose” version of something in our world. Instead of it being a long, slow, unpredictable process, it’s something fairies do on purpose because it’s fun to change. For them, it doesn’t have anything to do with religion–and it doesn’t really have anything to do with religion here in our world either, no matter what you hear on the news. It’s something we observe happening in the world. If a god or gods can make the whole world and everything else we observe in it, he/she/they can allow that world to change when it needs to.

Same goes in Fairyland.

So I can’t answer what the religion of Fairyland is because there are many, just like in the real world. No one has a “right” religion over there, even if they swear by Pan sometimes. As I do in real life, I let the people of Fairyland have their beliefs and I don’t trouble them much about it.

I was in Portland, OR last year and I hope I’ll get to come back when the sequel comes out–and maybe BookFest, too, you never know! Seattle is my hometown, after all.

Cat

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


I only recently came to realize that microevolution worked and as for evidence of vernacular: nope, can't prove it, but it's what I have heard all around me from atheists, agnostics, Christians who believe in theistic evolution (or a host of other varieties), and Christians who believe in NO natural selection.

As for the definitions themselves:

Natural Selection:
the process by which forms of life having traits that better enable them to adapt to specific environmental pressures, as predators, changes in climate, or competition for food or mates, will tend to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than others of their kind, thus ensuring the perpetuation of those favorable traits in succeeding generations.
Dictionary.com

In short, genetically heritable traits by Mendelian genetics, not Lamarkian.

Evolution:
1. biology See also natural selection a gradual change in the characteristics of a population of animals or plants over successive generations: accounts for the origin of existing species from ancestors unlike them
Dictionary.com

In short, becoming something noticeably different and no longer the same. (that whole "unlike them" bit)

I believe this way because of the Galapagos finches, bacteria, etc. The finches' beaks change rapidly around a median, but they never stop being obviously and genetically finches. Bacteria "evolve" rapidly, but around a median point. They never become a different family of bacteria. Punctuated evolution is a theory that tries to account for the fact that the fossil record shows a new species arriving pretty much as it's going to be, then disappearing the same way. The changes we see within the species are fairly minor.

I tried to avoid the word species because it IS scientific and means interbreedable. I don't know how finely to apply that definition, so I don't apply it unless I know it fits, so I stuck with kinds or types (not as a taxonomical evaluation, but as opting out of one).

So there you have it, I think fairly completely, why I believe the way I do based on (lack of) evidence and my own figurings, not just because of a belief system. I don't actually interpret nature in light of Scripture; I interpret in the way that looks logical to me.

And it does appear pretty logical to me that most genetic mutations go so far and no farther, unless it kills the creature. I AM looking at the evidence, but maybe I'd have to read deep, jargon-laden scientific papers that I may or may not understand. But in lay stuff, I'm not seeing it, but I don't hardline to one side or to the other, which was my only point in the beginning.