Sunday, May 09, 2010

Science vs Religion - Go Where the Evidence Leads

I Survived the Christian Right
Ten Lessons I Learned on my Journey Home

Lesson 8: Science vs. Religion - Go Where the Evidence Leads
Us vs. them attitudes are in the science vs. religion and creation vs. evolution debates. Typically, the people debating are the extremists, who only see things in black and white. There can be no mixing of their cherished positions. Fundamentalist young-earth creationists who believe in a 10,000 year-old earth based on a literal interpretation of the Bible are pitted against fundamentalist evolutionists, like the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris as opposed to reasonable atheists like Michael Ruse), who mock all theists for believing in the myth of God and the fairytale of religion. Yet 67 percent of Americans say it is possible to believe in both God and evolution. [48] The media often reinforces these polarities by distorting any moderate views. For example, they rarely differentiate non-literalist old-earth creationists (who include reputable scientists and technically, theistic evolutionists who believe God created the first life forms) and lump them together with the antiquated ideas of the Dark Ages. Given these realities, here are the lessons I learned:

Evolution is not the enemy. First, it’s possible to reconcile evolution with a biblical worldview. Francis Collins does it persuasively.[49] Don’t let staunch atheists who have an axe to grind tell you evolution proves there is no God. They delude themselves.[50] Nor should you allow staunch creationists to argue evolution is incompatible with the Bible. They hold to a rigid literalism.

Evolution is not immune to criticism. Evolution is usually portrayed as one specific unified theory held by all reputable scientists. There are in fact several competing theories and many ways to look at the scientific data. Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldridge proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium that critiqued the Darwinian view of continuous gradual evolution. Gould said the absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions of biological design was a nagging problem for gradualistic evolution.[51] Eldredge said the fossil record screams loudly that what Darwin theorized—slow, steady, evolution—is not the case.[52] Molecular Biologist Michael Denton critiqued orthodox Darwinism in his landmark book[53] and subsequently made the case for a form of guided evolution.[54] Biologist Dean Kenyon, who pioneered evolutionary self-organizational theory, later repudiated it and embraced a design hypothesis.[55]

Intelligent design is neither the enemy nor immune to criticism. Intelligent Design (ID) theory is commonly represented as a fundamentalist wolf in sheep’s clothing. The facts don’t warrant this. ID theory is misused by the Christian Right to bolster their exclusivism[56] and therefore deemed guilty by association. It should be examined critically, but remarkably diverse intellectuals support the idea. These include agnostic mathematician and Darwinism-critic David Berlinski[57] and the former most renowned atheist in the world, Antony Flew, who announced to a shocked world that intelligent design must have been involved in the origin of the coded chemistry in DNA.[58] Moreover, ID is not incompatible with evolution. Tenured professor of microbiology Michael Behe, a leading ID proponent, holds to the evolutionary tenet of common descent.[59] Finally, critics who claim ID is not a real scientific theory probably have not carefully evaluated the case.[60]

Question the rhetoric of the extremists and look carefully at the evidence for both theistic evolution and intelligent design. Go where the evidence leads.

48 CBS News poll, October 23, 2005
49 Collins, Francis, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
50 Berlinski, David, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions
51 Gould, Stephen J., Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging? Paleobiology, vol 6 (1), p. 119-130 (1980)
52 Eldredge, Niles, Confessions of a Darwinist, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2006
53 Denton, Michael, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis
54 Denton, Michael, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe
55 I heard Kenyon speak at a Discovery Institute event in Seattle, WA in the summer of 2007
56 The Christian Right-influenced school board of Dover, PA forced teachers to make a pro intelligent-design statement in classrooms, despite the advice of the Discovery Institute not to do so.
57 Berlinski, David, The Deniable Darwin
58 Flew, Antony, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, page 95 and 123
59 Behe, Michael, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, page 182.
60 Meyer, Stephen C., Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, pages 403-415


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Anonymous said...

As a scientist myself, and a fellow 'survivor' of the evangelical right, I am intimately familiar with both the facts and the polemics of the evolution / ID controversy. While I agree with much of your commentary, I have to disagree here. ID as I have understood it has no basis in facts and as such it is not a scientific theory. The basic premise of ID was proposed nearly 2 decades ago by Behe. While ID is discussed in the popular literature, it is not treated in the scientific literature because it does not have plausible, testable hypotheses. It is not even close to being a scientific theory in the way that evolutionary theory is. Now maybe it is an interesting philosophical or religious idea.

The "Dissent from Darwin" signature list that you referenced is also very misleading. In fact, I was a signer of this list! When I signed it, however, I did not realize what I was signing was going to be called 'Dissent from Darwin' and used to discredit legitimate science. I was asked to sign this in 2001, when it was an Amicus Curiae briefing (sp?) used in a local (county) court case involving stickers on a textbook. In that limited context I agreed with the basic statement, that scientific theories should be open to questioning. At the time, I and the other signers had no way of knowing that the list would years later be posted on the internet site of a major creationist organization as 'evidence' of evolutionary theory being in crisis. I would have never signed a document titled Dissent from Darwin any more than I'd sign a document called Dissent from Newton or Dissent from Einstein. I have asked the holders of the list to remove my name - so far to no avail.

On the other hand, I also believe that aggressive athiests who come from the evolutionary perspective, are mistaken in their all-out attack on religious belief as well.

Anonymous said...

I just realized that my reference to "Dissent from Darwin" in my previous comment was mistakenly directed to you....I actually meant it to be posted on a different website...Sorry.