Posts filed under ‘science’
My wife is not a fan of the title track on the new They Might Be Giants album, “Science is Real,” she thinks it is anti-religious (she has a good point). And while she is OK with the message of the song, “My Brother the Ape,” she isn’t real big on it either (me too). But I can heartily agree with her when it comes to “Roy G. Biv” — the song rocks! I also like “Why Does the Sun Shine?”. We’ve been enjoying the album with the kids the past couple of weeks.
Picked up this book at the library, Saving Darwin, How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl Giberson, after searching the card catalog on the words, “christian” and “evolution.” I ended up very impressed with it.
I’ll admit I find studying Christianity fascinating, enjoying learning about it in ways I wasn’t able to before, ways which would have been too unorthodox to consider. And I am past feeling a need to prove or disprove anything, it is great just to learn.
So authors like Giberson interest me in the way they work their faith around issues like evolution without falling prey to the false dichotomy that says one has to believe in a 6,000 year old earth in order to be a Christian. While my church did not make young earth creationism a statement of faith, in practice it was encouraged and is what the majority believed. The power of peer pressure and social influence can easily become the tyranny of the majority, and I always felt out of place believing in an old earth and evolution.
Giberson’s book focuses a lot on the history of fundamentalism and how creationism came to be incorporated in that particular and peculiar variety of beliefs. Which I like, because I am a history nut, and because I really, really don’t like fundamentalism. This book covers the ground between the extremes of theistic creationism and atheistic evolutionary theory. Evolution and belief in God do not need to be mutually exclusive, and there is a lot of room to work the middle ground. And the book does not hold back from criticism directed towards both those views.
It turns out that evangelicalism and fundamentalism were not always inexorably linked to creationism as they can seem to be today. According to the author the idea was asserted later by others (in particular 7th Day Adventists) and was eventually grafted into fundamentalist dogma.
Giberson discusses an early famous (infamous?) series of essays titled The Fundamentals:
What was remarkable about these discussions of evolution, however, was the almost total absence of the six-day creationist viewpoint. Leading “fundamentalist” thinkers spoke approvingly of progressive creationism, historical linkages between species, and an ancient earth.
Clearly, even leaders concerned with defining and protecting the fundamentals of Christianity shared no consensus on what Christians should think about evolution.
Critiques of this middle ground abound. Jerry Coyne, author of the book, Why Evolution is True, offers a review of the book (warning, it’s long). In reviewing this book and another on the same topic by Ken Miller, Coyne states:
“Both of their books are worth reading… yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.”
I can see where Coyne is coming from and why he draws those conclusions. I think his work on presenting the evidence for evolution is important, and I think Giberson’s book in helping Christians view that evidence is important as well. But presenting evidence for evolution wrapped in an atheistic package is not going to be palatable for young earth creationists, and I don’t think it is necessary. I guess Coyne doesn’t feel a dichotomy between science and religion is a false one any more than Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis does. But I am grateful for those seeking common ground in the middle. Even where I don’t agree with them I feel they are trying to reconcile people to more reasonable beliefs one way or another.
For further reading, Giberson’s own brief response to Coyne’s analyses can be read here. Mystery Seeker provides a thoughtful analysis of Coyne’s perspective. And Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine interviewed Giberson, the videos can be viewed viewed here. Giberson described his interaction with Michael Shermer very positively. I find Michael Shermer to be a fantastic interviewer. Here he conducts an amazing interview at the Creation Museum.
And no, I haven’t read all those articles in their entirety or watched the videos!
This is from a textbook we picked up along the way (and are getting rid of). There’s plenty in the book that can be poked fun at as far as science, but I’m including this for the delightful analogy they draw here. From the teachers manual to the textbook, Considering God’s Creation: A Creative Biblical Approach to Natural Science in the section on “Man — Endocrine System and Excretory System:
BIBLE READING: (Have student look up scriptures.) There are certain parts of our body that are private parts. We don’t show them or talk about them with just anyone. And yet they are very important to us. If wastes build up in your body, they can become toxic (poisonous) to you. In the body of Christ, the Church, some people have behind-the-scene type jobs that don’t show and can’t be shared with just anyone (such as counseling, helping people “clean up” their lives, settling arguments, doing spiritual warfare, and confronting evil where ever it is found). These people are vital for the good of the whole body. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and 13 and see how each member of Christ’s body functions together.
So, if you have a behind-the-scene job at your church, maybe you are like someone’s excretory system! Think about that the next time you are trying to “clean up” someone’s life… ;^)
It is really quite an amazing reach. Maybe it is born from the perceived need to connect everything to a bible teaching somehow. I think they could have come up with something a little more helpful than that, but oh well, it wouldn’t have been so funny then.
My 10 year old asked me tonight about how the earth was formed. My next oldest enthusiastically bounded into the room with, “God made it with a big bang!” I thought that was a reasonable syntheses of beliefs for our household. Probably most of their young friends are taught some form of “6,000 years ago” anyway, so a theistic form of 4.5 billion years ago doesn’t sound so bad to me for now.
I googled up a kid’s intranets site on the formation of the earth. A few minutes later I was being asked about what the site meant about evolution. I said, “I think that’s pretty much what happened.” “But Dad, the bible didn’t say Adam and Eve were monkeys.” I explained the bible didn’t necessarily say anything about evolution, maybe Adam and Eve were the first humans, but they evolved that way (I want to take that one back, going to push for a symbolic interpretation to that story). “But Dad, you don’t know that is what happened.” “That’s true son, but…”
Anyway, my point. In conservative Christian circles it is hard for Christians to come out of the closet and say they believe in an old earth. Why? To a large extent, Answers in Genesis (AIG) and their like have been successful in painting their opponents as atheistic, God-hating scientists. Now as a conservative Christian, who are you going to side with, a bunch of god-hating atheists, even if they seem to be speaking good science, or a bunch of maybe pseudo-scientists, but who “love the Lord”? And look, a lot of Christians believed the atheist scientists and fell away from the (conservative) faith…
Picking the lesser of two evils, many at best hedge their bets and say, “Well, we can’t really know what happened. Those are just theories out there. Or they just feel compelled or coerced to believe those godly people who are studying the issues.
I know this is what happens, because I was thinking about this after talking with my kids, and then my wife asked me about what we had been talking about. I told her and, even though she mostly believes in an “old earth”, she proceeded to tell me, “We can’t know who is right, you shouldn’t say you know that.” Funny, that sounded familiar…
I talked a bit about scientists, and statistics in their fields, and peer-reviewed publications, and… and predictably I was politely cut off a few minutes later for making the conversation too intense. “But you brought it up!” Yeah, that didn’t get me anywhere. :^)
Good times! While we won’t have the big and comprehensive conversations I may want, each one is an opportunity to lay a little bit of information out there. Like fitting together puzzle pieces, the picture doesn’t look like much in the beginning, but over time it begins to take shape and starts to look like…something. And there should be a compelling picture over time. We’ll see.