Monday, January 02, 2006

False Thinking, Science and Faith
Posted by mja

(Previously posted on “Concrete Frog” posted again here as it deals with concepts I find important. It has been mildly edited for clarity)

False Thinking, Science and Faith

God created the heavens and the earth. On the sixth day, God created man. This was the first action of God that was ever criticized, and the denouncements have continued to this very day.

On the whole, God has handled this fairly well.

In the 12.10 issue of Wired magazine was an article “The Crusade Against Evolution.” The article and the subsequent replies to the editors (Rants and Raves 12.12) trotted out all the well worn, familiar arguments of both Creationists and Darwinists.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and reading those letters provided plenty of contempt from either side.
Now I am not a scientist (with but one failed year in college Physics to my credit – or lack there of), so I have no professional standing to judge the arguments of Intelligent Design as laid out in the article, nor have I read enough outside of the Wired article to judge if it represents Creationism well or to pursue a layman’s opinion on that philosophy. I am not a learned theologian or apologist either, though I try to read my Bible regularly with a critical and practical eye. Given my humble foundation from which to speak, I must say this ‘Adam vs. the Monkey’ thing is highly annoying.
The majority of public discussion, which I have read on creation and evolution, has completely missed the mark. Those speaking from either side have not even been able to ask the right questions, and then they become incensed at the answers they hear.
First, to be totally candid, you may be hard pressed to find a person of the Christian persuasion who is more fundamentalist than I (theologically, not politically speaking).
I believe that the Bible should be taken as the literal truth divinely inspired by God, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he died and then rose on the third day. Pick a religious or philosophical topic and I will do my best to provide you with a Biblically correct reply. I even believe in baptism specifically for the remission of sins as essential for salvation, which makes me more “fundamental” than the average Southern Baptist.
I also believe in evolution.

If I were James Tiberius Kirk, then at this point the evil alien computer would begin to shake and smoke.

As far as I can tell, the reason most people (or at least those who write or reply to journal articles on the subject) cannot reconcile science and faith is that they have pre-disposed themselves not to do so. Even the scientists I have read who testify to their faith in God stay stuck in the old forms of the discussion, and do not face the central issue of both faith and science.

The central issue of science is, “I don’t know.”

The central issue of faith is, “I don’t know.”

From the statement, “I don’t know,” the scientist proceeds to ask what seems to him or her to be relevant questions, in the hope of not having to say, “I don’t know,” tomorrow, at least on that one subject.
The person of faith says, “I don’t know,” and realizes that he or she may only receive an answer after their death and from the very mouth of God. The person of faith then proceeds to act based on what he or she does know, and meanwhile to search for answers in study, prayer, meditation and good work until they can know or thankfully don’t need to worry about it anymore.
Both people, if they truly are who they claim to be, meet “I don’t know,” dynamically, not passively. Ignorance is not a void that exists around their character; it is a motivator that produces who they are.

So, let us then proceed. What is the story of creation from the point of view of Biblically faith? Please keep in mind that I am writing as a “fundamentalist” person, that is as someone who thinks what the Bible says is true. Starting with “I don’t know,” we go to the story itself, at the beginning of Genesis. First we notice that out of such a large tome (the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the New; if you are Catholic or include the Apocrypha your results may vary) precious little space is accorded to such a seemingly important subject as creation. God, who has publicly declared that he “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth…” * must not think that the details of creation are important in that quest.
All books are written for a purpose and to an audience. For instance, Harry Potter is written to provide pleasurable reading for people who like fiction, and to provide a (now very comfortable) living for its’ author J.K. Rowling. The Old Testament was written firstly for Old-Testament-type-people. We get the benefit of it without having to live through Cecil B. DeMille special effects and while we now get to enjoy indoor plumbing. Tradition says that the first five books of the Bible were written (by Moses, or at least some other really old guy) as the Law for the Israelites to follow after they got out of Egypt. Remember that these are the folks who took off their jewelry and made it into a ‘Heifer-O-Gold’ in order to worship it, just because Moses went away for a month to meditate and commune with God. Mind you, they had seen plagues from God, the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, their slave masters pay them to leave the country, the destruction of Pharos’s armies, the Red Sea open and shut like an automatic door at Wal-Mart, and had been lead personally by God himself as a pillar of flame by night and a pillar of smoke by day. Oh, and by the way, the presence of God was covering the top of the mountain they were camped around with fire and smoke, whilst they danced the Macarena in front of the Tiffany Holstein.

Uh huh, God’s gonna tell these people all about the Allosaurus.

Yeah, right.

Experience shows that the Bible is pretty straight forward on it’s core competencies. There is not a whole lot of wiggle room in the Ten Commandments, nor in the teachings of Jesus. On the other hand, if a subject doesn’t directly effect your salvation, be prepare to have to use your own noggin to figure things out. You may even have to look someplace else to get info. The Bible never ever mentions house-cats (the only commonly domesticated animal not mentioned) let alone tell me how often to change the litter box. I guess there are some things God thinks we just might be smart enough to do on our own. So the fact that the Bible never mentions the Triassic period is probably not an oversight on God’s part.
You may ask the person of faith, “what about the evidence not in the Bible, like fossils,” or “What about the age of the earth?”
Hmmm…“I don’t know.” Let’s continue to discuss this from the “fundamentalist’s” point of view.
God made everything, there is nothing made that he didn’t make (except for things made by people out of stuff God already made.) There is an evil one, often but not necessarily referred to as Satan, who always lies and is the father of lies. He can’t make anything, just lie – so if there is something made, then God made it. Oh, by the way, God does not lie. Ever.
Well, the physical laws of the universe like thermodynamics, Newtonian motion, the speed of light, et cetera, govern the things God made. So he must have made the laws too. And since He does not lie then these physical laws must be trustworthy and operate consistently (unless it’s one of those “I don’t know,” things like General Relativity and Quantum Physics, but scientists are working on the finding the right questions even as we speak).
So then the stuff we find buried in the ground and date by following the laws of science must be real and must be what they look like (the bones of long dead creatures) and be as old as science tells us, because otherwise God would be lying and he doesn’t do that.
“Ah Ha!” you say, “What about the timeline of the Biblical creation story?”
Hmmm…“I don’t know,” (you folks should all be chanting this on cue by now.)
Let’s go back and look at Genesis. It says that the earth was made in “seven days,” but a calendar day is based on the observed path of the sun across the sky caused by the earth’s rotation. Since there is no Sun or Moon created until the fourth “day,” maybe the word is used as a generic term for the passage of time, not a specific twenty-four hour period. And where was man made? Well, Genesis says that God “planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed.” So the area at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers commonly thought to be Eden is not where Adam originated. Maybe God formed him, oh, I don’t know, in Africa? Is Adam the first man (numerically)? The word Adam in Hebrew can be both a name and a generic term for the species. And as for where all the people came from, there is no real timetable for how long people stayed “in the garden,” or if Eve had children before they were driven out (which is highly likely from a literal reading of the story, as her curse for sin included having the pains of childbirth “greatly increase.” How do you increase something that has never happened?)
The whole story of the Garden of Eden is formed like a parable, with the lesson being that we’re fallible, make mistakes, and those mistakes can hurt a lot. Sometimes they are so big that we need divine intervention to sort stuff out, and we are unlikely to enjoy the outcome of the fix. A ‘fundamental’ reading of Genesis (i.e. reading what the words actually say, not some handed down interpretation) doesn’t tell us how God made the universe, or even why. It just says he did, and that by the way we need his help because we’re all a bunch of spiritual maladroits.

OK, so that’s the argument of a fundamentalist of faith, now what about science?

I’ve already shown my credentials as a non-scientist. However, I have been told, have read, and otherwise have learned and absorbed the idea that science is concerned with questions of the physical world. What can be proved by creating a hypothesis, testing it either in the laboratory where possible, or by comparing it to the evidence when it won’t fit in a lab (like with evolution). Issues of faith, like the existence of God and his hand in forming the universe, are by definition not physically or scientifically definable. If they could be, they would be FACT, not FAITH. This doesn’t mean that scientific efforts disprove God; it means that God is outside of the scientific discussion. So, except maybe for an occasional “Wow, so that’s how he did it…” the scientist need not concern himself or herself with the existence of God while working on her or his latest theories, in the same way that they do not need to concern themselves with the existence of my mother-in-law. She is a wonderful, understanding, kind and intelligent lady who has nothing to do scientific research (except her own work as a microbiologist). In the same way, scientists should not feel concern over whether their soul fits into a relativistic or quantum theory of being, unless of course there is a research grant for it.

Therefore, as a “fundamentalist” on faith I do not see anything in my faith that contradicts the theory of evolution, nor anything in evolution that would contradict my faith.
I am not very old, but I’m old enough to realize that it would be hubris to tell God how to do something, especially in hindsight, like how he should have created life.

So in conclusion, I suggest we all respect each other and get back to “I don’t know.”

And when that stops all the arguments, maybe we’ll all find some interesting questions, and the right answers for them.

On a related note, please read the excellent thoughts of Kobayashi Maru on der Spiegel interview of Daniel Dennett (Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, Boston) “Darwinism Completely Refutes Intelligent Design.” KB’s thoughts can be found here (part 1) and here (part 2)

* It’s in the New Testament. You’re smart, go get a concordance and look it up. Hint – it’s in the Epistles.

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