Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Shocker to My Friends – my new perspective on the question of origins

I wanted so badly for Young-Earth Creationism to be right. That was the fundamentalism with which I was raised. And my childhood wasn’t so bad. My mother and father were great people. You would’ve liked them. But the Earth is too old for that to work and the whole movement was anti-science – like science was somehow the enemy. That didn’t even seem Biblical to me (Romans 1:18-20).

Then, I wanted so much for Intelligent Design (ID) to be right. I mean, I really wanted it. At least this group seemed to be dealing with real science. Behe was demonstrating complexity in biology. Dembski was demonstrating the mathematical odds against the seeming randomness of evolution. Johnson was attacking the presuppositions and carving what was to become the Discovery Institute strategy. It sounded like an open dialogue in the liberal tradition. But alas, all they were offering was a spiffed up version of “the God of the gaps.”

It appears to this simple observer that both approaches are very flawed.

Evolution is the best theory we’ve got to explain, scientifically, our natural history.

Yes, I still believe in God and in Jesus as my Savior. Richard Dawkins is wrong to insinuate (with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer) that evolution suggests there’s no God. It does no such thing.

Genesis 1 doesn’t even seem to preclude an evolutionary approach. The question is really one of interpretation. Funny – it seems every other doctrine on the planet seems to hinge on interpretation method as well.

The dirty secret of Young Earthers in particular is that they don’t allow Scripture to speak for itself and they confine it to a vacuum (Sola Scriptura on Science). In this instance they ignore the very Author of Reality who explicitly intended for those who didn’t have His Scriptures to see the evidence of His existence in nature itself (again, Romans 1:18-20).

I’ve been left to wonder, how did Abraham make it to the Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11)? Even the most ardent fundamentalist knows he didn’t have a single book of the Bible. But somehow, he saw and heard God who is the same; yesterday, today and forever.

Now, I was stalled in my journey because I noticed the overuse of ad hominem employed by the evolutionists. Usually, when you resort to name-calling, or even suggesting that your opponent is dragging his knuckles on the ground, you’ve conceded that you’ve already lost the argument – that this is the best you can muster. And the fury with which you evolutionists swarmed to attack the ID’ers, well, me was beginning to think ya’ll doth protest too much!

Alas, I “saw the light.” It didn’t help their case that the ID gang use a system of quoting their opponents that appears less than forthright – an approach that if honest (as they claim), could still be classified below-the-belt. And that made the fury on the evolutionist’s part more understandable.

Now, my pal Ed Brayton will be bothered by this next statement – at least I hope he is. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be joining his drive to have Evolution (notice the capital “E”) taught in public schools as our natural history. Because Ed loves science and is a libertarian, his campaign to protect the teaching of evolution in public schools is disturbing to me.

Ahh, I must wrap up. This is too long for a blog post.

I’d like to offer some advice to my new friends. Having just “come over,” now I can teach you something. In public at least… Stop yelling. Stop name calling. Stop poking fun. Start persuading; the facts are on your side.

And don’t make this a religious question – not if you really want to persuade people about SCIENCE. If philosophy and theology is your ax to grind, or you just hate God, then don’t expect people to let go of their hopes that the Discovery Institute or Answers in Genesis are the answer.

The straw that broke this camel’s back came in a Ronald Bailey blog entry about a Jerry Falwell Creation Conference in Lynchburg, VA. I’ve come to learn, again to my chagrin, that the central cast of the Christian Right leadership cares little about what the Bible actually says and more about being able to dine at Caesar’s table. All I need to know about Rev. Fallwell is the Justice O’Connor story, as told by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson in their book, Blinded by Might and the unjust and fraudulent smear he made against the Life Extension Foundation. I believe he would’ve succumbed to the third temptation our Lord faced, and done so in a New York minute (and given his svelte figure, probably the first temptation as well: see Matthew 4), had he been so confronted and had it within his power to satisfy the devil’s wishes.

And so, if Jerry Falwell and other Christopublicans are riding the hobby horse of creationism and intelligent design, I instinctively wonder, “What’s wrong with these ideas?”

Here are some other resources that helped me to arrive at my present decision. Scan them and see if there’s some way you can employ them.

"I wanted so much for Intelligent Design (ID) to be right. I mean, I really wanted it. At least this group seemed to be dealing with real science."

This sentiment is the main failing between theists and scientists. Theists believe for emotional reasons, not because they prefer truths to falsehoods. Science, on the other hand, is interested solely in reliable knowledge -- emotions be damned. This fundamental difference in the basis of epostomology is where the discussion is lost.

This fact emerges at a higher level in the "God of the Gaps" arguments, as you pointed out. Religion seeks to hedge our bets where our reliable knowledge is lacking. It tries to fill in the holes with explanations which best fit our emotions, including fear, insecurity, and hubris. It seeks to justify our existance and allay our fears with supernatural purpose, goals, consequences, and rewards. I always wonder though why an intelligent designer would craft such a weak, slow, awkward, smelly, and otherwise flawed species as his masterpiece. Surely, we cannot be the image of a perfect being, when so many other creatures on this Earth are so much more beautiful and well-adapted. But I guess humility and curiosity are not a part of the Intelligent Design curriculum.

Science simply cannot deal with these assertions though, as they provide no predictions which would allow for validation or falsification. They are therefore unreliable and unjustified. And scientists naturally get angry when theists call their assertions "science", when the foremost elements of the scientific method are clearly missing from them.

Science is contingent on three basic philosophies: using empirical evidence, employing logical reasoning, and remaining skeptical about all claims. Religion flies in the face of all of these -- it uses a priori assertions, tends to contradict itself with little excuse, and demands faith in all claims. Clearly there are scientists who are religious, but they walk a fine line in seperating these two worlds, and they must ignore certain levels of hypocracy in their views, since science and religion are polar opposites in how they approach the world.

I commend your acknowledgement that science will likely fill the holes which religion currently tries to occupy, and it will do so with reliable, verifiable knowledge. This is what science does, relentlessly and unapologetically. But this leaves little room for "the God of the Gaps" in the future. And this is squarely why certain theistic elements in our country are trying to use government to prevent the teaching of scientific knowledge, and force the teaching of religion. These people want desperately to perpetuate the fantasy they've created. So, they must guard tenaciously against reality, and that includes preventing others from believing differently.

Scientific theories such as evolution, on the other hand, make predictions capable of being tested through repeatable experiments. They do not require faith, but rather demand skepticism and verification. For instance, if you have a population of wolves, and you breed the ones with floppy ears and a favorable disposition, but not the others, your next generation will largely contain floppy-eared well-tempered wolves. In fact, evolution has been born out with this very experiment -- the domestication of animals and plants over the past several thousand years, including dogs from wolves. The fact that evolution occurs is beyond reproach... we've witnessed it for generations, we continue to witness it, and anyone is capable of reproducing it easily. The very fact that one has similar features to their parents and expects their children to have similar features to themselves is a validation of evolutionary theory. Furthermore, we know the exact mechanisms of evolution through the study of genetics. All living creatures on this planet evolve as surely as they tend to fall toward the center of the Earth, as the Theory of Evolution is at least as well verified and understood as the Theory of Gravity.

While science does not have all of the answers to all possible questions people may imagine, and arguably never can, it is the only method we know of that produces reliable knowledge about nature. If we as a society value believing truths and disbelieving falsehoods, we will educate our children about science, and not confuse it with religion.
You're okay, guy. I was raised an Epicopalian and rejected it for geology. I, too, believe in evolution and an old earth, but I'm not smart enough to reject all religious teaching. I wouldn't say I'm a Christian, but I'm far from being an atheist. There is a lot I don't know. I respect you for having the guts to discuss this stuff. Keep plugging away.
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