Lots of people are talking about the televised CNN debate between Ken Ham, the prominent advocate for Creationism, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Video here, if you want to see it. I didn’t watch it. I have no interest in a carnival show in which fans of either side show up to watch Their Guy open up a can of whoop-ass on the other one. If you saw the debate, correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I can tell from reading the comments of those who did — for example, this observer — the two talked past each other. Ham defended Creationism, and Nye defended not Science, but Scientism, the belief that Science is the only reliable way to the truth.
What drives me crazy about this kind of thing is the false choice it presents: either you believe Genesis is a science textbook, or you believe in science textbooks, which means that Genesis cannot be true.
I reject this choice. What if you believe that Genesis is true on a profound (but not literal) level, and you believe that science reveals valid truths as well? Cue the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Nicholas, who speaks for me on the matter. The metropolitan trained as a scientist before taking holy orders. Excerpt:
Q. As a person who believes in God, what is your perspective on someone who wants to deal with modern research, especially that which in the end challenges God, such as genetic engineering, cosmology or neurology?
A. Research that is done to challenge God, has the disease of prejudice. Research is done to discover scientific truth. What problem is there with someone wanting to broaden the horizons of their thoughts and knowledge? God is approached better this way. God is not an ideology that we should by all means defend, but we believe in Him because He is Truth. In this sense, even scientific truth reveals Him. If He is still questioned, it is time to find out about Him. A believer who fears scientific research, fears the truth. Perhaps he is a believer who does not believe.
Q. What do you have to say about the theory of evolution? Does it not contradict the teaching of the Church?
A. In regards to this issue, the teaching of the Church is based on the inspired book of Genesis. This is not a book about Physics or Biology. The important thing it talks about is not whether God molded man from soil and where He found it, but that man was made “in the image and likeness” of God. Everything else falls into details. How can science subvert this? Beyond this, if science improves our understanding of this world and our image of Him, why should we challenge it? The most we can say is that we understand some things better.
The God-likeness of man, that is, that we are made with divine life and engraved with the purpose of divine likeness, this cannot be changed by science. Though it can be arrogantly challenged by some scientists.
Q. So it doesn’t matter if man descended from animals?
A. What matters is the divine origin of man and his relationship to God, namely that God created us, not how He created us. …
My older son is deeply interested in science, and is probably going to be a scientist. If he were told that believing in Christianity required him to deny evolution, I’m fairly certain he would end up losing his faith. As it stands, the greater danger for him will likely come from Scientism fundamentalists who insist that if Science is true then Religion is false.
Believers in Creationism and believers in Scientism have a stake in framing the debate in such absolutist, black-and-white terms. To admit that it’s possible that they are both right and both wrong — that there’s a lot of gray there — is unsatisfying to them. So they have to make a caricature the other side, and in so doing, make one of themselves. And the media are only too happy to buy into this cartoonish Science vs. Religion narrative. Terry Mattingly writes:
(1) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “creationist” defined? Did the definition involve six 24-hour days or was the emphasis on God being meaningfully involved in creation, period?
(2) At any point in the broadcast, was the term “evolution” defined? If so, was the process described as being “mindless, unguided, and without purpose or goal” or words to that effect?
Also, was anyone involved in the debate whose viewpoint resembles the following?
“Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations.”
“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”
Guess who gave those quotes? You’ll have to check out TMatt’s blog entry to find out. He is, of course, asking rhetorically, to make the point that when the media frame the religion-and-science debate in Ham-Nye terms, they do a disservice to diversity of opinion as well as the truth. Putting people who hold views like Met. Nicholas on TV to talk about these things, and to challenge the prejudices of both Creationists and scientific materialists, would shed a lot of light on the controversial topic, but not much heat. Which is no doubt why they will remain sidelined in the popular culture. Sigh.
Say, Christians who want to know about evolutionary biology from a perspective that’s pro-science but also faithfully Christian should visit the BioLogos website. They were all over the Ham-Nye debate, calling it a false choice. BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma, an astronomer, said in advance of the debate:
We at BioLogos maintain that you don’t have to choose. You don’t have to give up Christian faith in order to accept the best, most compelling science. We expect that we’ll agree with most of what Bill Nye will say about the science of evolution. Fossils, genetics, and other disciplines give compelling evidence that all life on earth is related and developed over a very long time through natural processes. But we’re also brothers and sisters in Christ with Ken Ham. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and rose from the dead, and that the Bible is the authoritative word of God.
Unfortunately, many people accept what they’ve been told about evolution – that it is the source of all kinds of evil and a dangerous step toward atheism. Many others accept what they’ve been told about religion – that it betrays delusional thinking and a deep irrationalism in one’s worldview. Both extremes are built on the same premise – that evolution is fundamentally opposed to God. We reject this.
“Evolutionary creation” is the label we’ve used to describe our position that evolution is the means through which God created. In accepting the science of evolution, we do not reject biblical faith. In fact, many biblical scholars find that the original intent of Genesis 1 has little to do with science and has everything to do with God’s purposes in creation. And in accepting God as the ruler of the natural world, we do not reject science. In fact, core Christian beliefs give a strong motivation for using our minds to explore the world he created. Applying ourselves with diligence to both God’s world and God’s word gives the best answers to the question posed for the February 4 debate.
Here’s how the BioLogos team reacted to the Ham-Nye contest. I urge you strongly to read it. You’ll find there a point of view you don’t often see in the media.
[Note From Rod: Readers, I'll be traveling all morning and into the early afternoon. Please be patient; I'll update comments when I can. Thanks! -- RD]