Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Creation, ID, Evolution, and some thoughts

It seems that Creationism has been a hot topic lately in LSU's campus paper. I didn't discover this until after I decided to tackle this topic on through the wardrobe, so I suppose the timing is Providential, and I'll avail myself of the ruckus in the paper as a nice springboard into the topic.

So let's paint a quick picture of the hot debate.
Apparently the first word was in the form of an opinion column written on why ID(intelligent design) should not be taught in schools. OK, seems like a common topic. Bring on the responses.
One such response caught my eye in a recent paper(my first glimpse of the paper's discussion) wherein the letter was sighting Lee Strobel in their defense of ID. Now, in all fairness, I admit that I've not read Strobel's The Case for a Creator, and I do not intend to. I'm simply assuming that taking this journalist's opinions on science will not behoove you much more than taking another journalist's, namely, Christopher Hitchens's, opinions on religion.

The one thing that's particularly evident in the discourses in our Daily Reveille, though certainly a common occurence, that I must note is this odd amalgam of Creationism and ID that everyone seems to be talking about: the conservative Christians are trying to defend it and the liberal thinkers are attacking it. For my part, I don't know the thing that they're talking about. While Creationism has its roots in the book of Genesis of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, ID is founded in Evolutionary science, building on a sort of "God-of-the-gaps" theory. These two concepts are not the same. At all.

At any rate, I see this discussion forming, and I fear for the worst, i.e., Christians battling for falsehoods and ending up looking pretty dumb.

I am a Christian and I affirm biology's theories on Evolution.

Why? Simple, I understand them to be true, or at least nearly so.
Bigger question: how do I go about reconciling the two things(evolution and Christianity), considering most seem to see this as a sort of either/or, line in the sand sort of issue? This answer is many-faceted.

reconciling worldviews?

How many aspects of these two concepts--broadly, Christianity and Evolutionary theory--actually must be reconciled? Perhaps fewer than one would at first expect. I think that there are a hand-full of major oversights role-playing in the great, divisive debate amongst the Christian community concerning evolution.

C. S. Lewis well deliniated one such point is his probably-most-technical book, Miracles.
Now everyone knows that I am a fan of Jack Lewis, and I could probably trace a lot of my own thinking to roots planted in some work or other of his. Everyone should also know that much of Mr. Lewis's non-fiction work is pretty weak. Fascinating, thought-provoking, but certainly not the end-all that he sometimes felt he was producing. He offers 'absolute' proofs of the existence of God in several of his works. To this, I can best respond in the voice of Austin Farrer(Lewis's confessor, actually): "An ‘inescapable demonstration’ must be a fallacy. For if a proof of this kind could be produced it would have been produced."
That being said, there are several, very good, I think, extraneous points made in Miracles, among which this is numbered.
Among this conjecture or that one in Miracles, one theme in consistently present that we should consider. This is the real divide between "nature" and "supernature"(Lewis's terminology). The essential point for our topic is this: science, biological, physical, natural science, is a systematic study of the natural existence. God is, according to Christian belief at any rate, supernatural, that is, not a part of the natural reality. He is, rather, related to it most basically in two ways, 1, as its Creator, and 2, through the Incarnation. Religion as a schema is talking about all things supernatural, entirely removed from the authority of science. I'm not at all trying to down-play that authority, but, as Voegelin would say, "different objects require different methods", and the supernatural existents of religious value are certainly different objects of study than any physical thing subject to natural being.
In layman's terms, science has no theological implications. It can't say anything about God, simply because it doesn't have the tools to study and thus authority to regard a supernatural existent.
Thus the scientific implications of Evolution say nothing of the supernatural Creator, save perhaps an explication of His methodology. Sadly, I've only ever had one science professor who seemed to understand this.
Some thoughtful Christians have offered different ideas on the theological implications of Evolutionary theory. Lately-blogged-on John Polkinghorne suggests that "from a theological perspective, evolution is simply the way in which creatures are allowed to explore and bring to birth the fruitfulness with which the Creator has endowed creation." This would be an interesting idea to pursue, but for my part I've read little on it and haven't considered the thing enough.

Regardless, I think that obviously the major issues to be taken with Evolutionary thought aren't really a scientific nature at all, but rather are with the supplementary, philosophical aspects of it that have been championed by materialists over the years.

Now some, of course, would hotly disagree with me here, holding that Evolution is still so problematic simply because it is in direct contradiction to scripture. Obviously they'd be primarily referring to the Book of Genesis's creation account(s).
One word on this matter: genre.

Genre is one of the most basic tools in literary criticism, yet it is most often disregarded by conservative Christians in Biblical criticism.
The Bible is a hodgepodge when it comes to the types of works it contains. We have histories, proverbs, poetry(and all sorts of subcategories there), prophecy, epistles, and myths, among other things. What it doesn't contain are scientific treatisies. While "myth" seems to carry a very negative connotation when speaking about the Bible, the account in Genesis does perfectly fit the bill. It has all sorts of mythological elements and is very similar to other creation myths of that area from that time.
That's not to say that Genesis's account lacks truth or meaning, it's just not presuming to carry the sort that literalists demand it have. There's still much to be learned about God and His relationship to man from the tale, but it just wasn't ever intended to convey scientific meaning.


As for why I think it is so important for Christians to affirm the theory of Evolution, I think Dr. Witherington said it well on his blog:
Christians should be leading the search for the truth. Christians should be committed to finding out the truth, however uncomfortable and however much it makes us adjust our political or even religious views.

Our God is Truth, and so naturally we should affirm, fight for, truth of all kinds.
The scholars and researchers of the biological-scientific community are best suited, I think, for identifying what the truths of biology are... and they are almost unanimously affirming Evolution.
There may be a handful of scientists who dissent, but they're certainly in the minority here. If they're researching unbiasedly and everything that they see truly points them towards, say, Intelligent Design, well great. But when the minds are seeking truth through science with intellectual integrity, as we should think they are, and are with one voice saying "Evolution!"... why argue with them?
There's no heresy in agreeing. There's no apparent falshood with agreeing.
Christians should affirm truth.

If, years down the road, some new theory arises from all sorts of evidence and is supported by the majority of the scientific community, I'll probably support that. This is their area of expertise, not mine.

What we as the Church must keep in mind is Truth, and we need to be more critical of what we do and do not--what we should and should not--label as such.

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are noble, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any worthy--meditate on these things.


Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I need to go back and read this more thoroughly, but did you know that Ben Stein has a movie coming out in a couple months called "Expelled" about the alleged persecution of ID scientists in American Academia?

I tend to lean toward the acceptance of contemporary theories of evolution as well, with the caveat that of course they could not have happened without the guiding hand of Providence. Though, I do want to maintain a healthy level of skepticism toward any and all scientific theories - there was a time after all when "all the best scientists" thought very different things about the world than contemporaries do - and it could happen again...

Nance said...

Very true; it's been less than a century since only the delineation of quantum physics, and all of the reformed scientific thought that it brought about. 'Modern science' is always at the mercy of the next great discovery.
Of course I also see the arrival at creation qua creation as Providential, I'm just not in a position to postulate on what role our LORD chose to play in the physical, natural development of all things.

I had not heard of the movie, though it sounds interesting. And everyone knows that Ben Stein is ridiculously intelligent.