The wrong question

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

I have to admit that I've never had much time for "creation science."

Don't get me wrong. While there is support in the Eastern Fathers for the notion that man was created mortal, and that immortality was a special, added gift God granted mankind after the fact and then withdrew in view of Adam's sin, that has always seemed to be to be a kind of Rube Goldberg exegesis of Romans 5:12-15:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned; (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law). Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.

This passage seems to me quite clearly to necessitate the Fall as the origin of death in the world. While it's true that some believe that the answer given by Athanasius and the others- immortality as a bonus granted after the fact, causing mankind (and creation) merely to revert to the status quo as a consequence of the Fall- might possibly be shoehorned into Romans 5, I just don't find that answer textually plausible. The text says that death entered the world through sin, not that it re-entered it.

That rules out macro-evolution, which depends upon death as the primary engine of the process by which humanity itself originated. Nor is this a matter of quarreling over the literary form of the early chapters of Genesis; Paul connects the issue directly to nothing less than the redemption of the human race by the "second Adam-" Christ.

But I've always found the arguments of "creation science" to be unconvincing intellectually- in fact, often embarrassingly so. At its best, it simply pokes holes in evolutionary theory; by the very nature of the question, we cannot advance into the realm of actual science and empirically prove that life began precisely as the first few books of Genesis tell us it did. I fear that, taken as a whole, "creation science" tends to bring the Faith into disrepute, and move apologetics from the firm ground of the human dilemma and empirical reality onto the shaky ground of speculating whether, in the words of KFUO commercial I still remember from my days in my first parish in St. Louis, Job could have known of dinosaurs.

Intelligent design, on the other hand, appeals to me strongly. Indeed, it seems to be clearly mandated by another statement from Romans, namely Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

Despite the best efforts of materialists, you just can't get away from the argument Paul makes. Certainly those who are so inclined strive mightily to do so. I had a great deal of respect for the late Carl Sagan (a far more open-minded individual than many conservative Christians realize; for the benefit of those who didn't read the book or see the movie, one of the most telling arguments of his novel Contact is precisely that what cannot be quantified or observed or proven may nevertheless be both real and true. Sagan was an atheist and a materialist, but one who respected religion and approached it without the condescending attitude which characterizes many on his side of the fence.

In one episode of his TV series, Cosmos, Sagan related the story of an ancient battle for the shogunate between two noble Japanese houses. The samurai of the losing house drowned themselves in the lake on whose shores the battle took place. Now, as it happens, that lake is inhabited by a species of crabs whose shells resemble the face of a samurai warrior. In all the centuries since that battle, fishermen in that lake have thrown these crabs back, believing them to contain the souls of the defeated warriors in that ancient battle.

Sagan used this as an example of natural selection. Crabs whose shells resembled the faces of samurai survived, and passed their genes on to a new generation; crabs whose shells didn't were eaten by predating humans. The gene for a shell which resembled the face of an ancient samurai warrior proved essential to survival- and, indeed, the crabs who bore that gene survived, while the others did not.

But there's a problem here. Sagan never engaged it, really, or even acknowledged it, but it sticks out like a sore thumb: of all the possible patterns which the shells of the crabs in that particular lake could have had in the first place, why should any of those crabs at all- and certainly enough of them to have established a genetic pool of crabs having that particular feature in that particular lake- have had shells which resembled the faces of ancient samurai warriors?

Sagan gently (though misguidedly) used a basic rule of not only science but of logic- "Occam's razor" (named after William of Occam, a 14th Century English philosopher and theologian), aka the principle of logical economy- as an argument against the existence of God. Essentially, it states that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon which accounts for all of the known facts is to be preferred as the most likely to be true. Either matter and the universe have always existed, Sagan explained, or a God has always existed Who made matter and the universe. "Occam's razor," he suggested, requires that we save a step, and opt for the eternity of matter and the universe. Sagan waxed eloquent in his praise for the Hindu conviction that matter is indeed eternal, and that it undergoes eons-long cycles of creation, expansion, destruction, and rebirth, always recycling the same essential matter and energy in a matter resembling the latest and most fashionable scientific models of the universe.

Except that "Occam's razor" doesn't apply. Eternity itself gets in the way, for one thing. The concept is so alien to our normal, everyday experience of reality- that everything has a beginning and and end- that the eternity of matter is inherently less plausible than the eternity of something- or Someone- outside the rules which govern matter and the universe as we know it. More than that, the dilemma of the crab gets in the way. Coincidences happen. Perhaps, if enough monkeys were put at enough typewriters and allowed to hammer away randomly at the keys for long enough, one of them would produce the complete works of William Shakespeare. But the existence of human life and of the universe we see as we look around us depends on so many coincidences of that magnitude that Romans 1 seems clearly vindicated. Only a person unshakably and closed-mindedly committed a priori to a purely materialistic understanding of the universe could miss what has been made plain by the very fabric of creation. One may choose to reject the existence of God, which is one thing; one many not, however, claim to be able to exclude divine causation without creating more questions than one answers.

The debate over Intelligent Design is tedious in many ways. There was a time when educated people in our culture were sufficiently acquainted with the elements of the Christian faith that they were able, if so inclined, to at least dispute them intelligently. This rarely happens in the ID debate. Instead, the materialists tend to exhibit a complete ignorance of Christian theodicy, and imagine that they have struck a major blow when they point out an inefficiency in some natural structure or the existence of cancer. Nothing compels materialists, of course, to obtain a working knowledge of the doctrine of Original Sin. But understanding an idea is generally a good first step if one has ambitions to refute it.

But the proponents of Intelligent Design also blunder, it seems to me. As was the case with out-and-out Creationism, ID's supporters have, it seems to be, blundered in attempting to advance their arguments, not as apologetic weapons, but as something they patently are not: science.

While it might be true that true science follows the data wherever it leads, when it's science that's being done, where it leads isn't to dogma! The critique of contemporary education often made by conservative Christians is precisely right: where kids are taught in school that the universe came about as the result of random chance, something other than science is being taught. What is being taught is ideology. It's dogma. It's religion.

But the flip side of that is that religion and not science- is also being taught when kids are taught in school that the universe is the result of intelligent design! Science is interested in gathering data, not in reaching dogmatic conclusions. In fact, dogma is the enemy of science. It tells one what one ought to find in advance, a priori. And that's the very thing which is quite properly complained of when it comes to the teaching of evolution as science in the public school classroom.

I think that conservative Christians have once again blundered in their attempt to advance Intelligent Design as science, and thus as the proper subject matter of a public school science class. In fact, it is no more science than materialism is. Both are philosophical conclusions from the data, and neither have any place in the public school classroom.

Rather than trying to get Creationism or Intelligent Design taught too- thereby choosing to battle on ground which compels us to argue that, contrary to fact, either one of them is any more "science" than materialism is- why not choose to fight the battle on ground which guarantees victory? Most scientists believe in evolution. Many consider it a scientific fact. I see nothing offensive to the Faith or to the First Amendment in the theory and the conclusions most scientists reach about it being taught to public school students on precisely those grounds.

The rub comes in when truth claims are made- when the religious convictions of students are treated with disrespect, or when instead of simply presenting the data supporting evolution it is advanced as dogma- or worse, when materialism is directly and unapologetically (often arrogantly) inculcated as what by any reasonable criterion is a religious belief under the meaning of the First Amendment.

A word should be said about that. In today's materialistic society, a great many people (and especially those on the cultural Left) seem to regard "religion" as a belief in the supernatural, or a deity, or an afterlife, or some combination thereof. That definition- usually arrived at instinctively and unreflectively- fails to come close to what the Founders intended. Religion, within the meaning of the First Amendment, includes any and all convictions on those subjects- including their denial. It was not the intention of Madison and the authors of our Constitution to grant materialism and agnosticism a favored place in public discourse about ultimate questions; if anything, our founding documents (admittedly written, as often as not, by Deists), assume the existence of a Creator as the ultimate Author of rights and liberties which otherwise could be philosophically justified only as the beneficent gifts of a magnanimous State!

It is we, and not they, who should be raising the issue of the First Amendment! Rather than seeking to have "creation science" or Intelligent Design taught in schools- a losing proposition if there ever was one, and one which forces us to fight the battle on hostile ground- our mantra ought to be that of Sergeant Joe Friday of the classic Dragnet TV series: "The facts, ma'am. Just the facts."

We should not object to evolution being taught in the public schools as precisely the account of the origins of life accepted by most scientists. We should insist on nothing more than the acknowledgement- and the very specific acknowledgement, at that, in every classroom- that it is the facts of the theory accepted by most scientists which are being taught, without any intention of doing that which is outside the boundaries of science and the purview of the public schools in any case: making any assertions whatsoever about religious, theological, or philosophical truth.

The public schools are not the forum in which to fight the essentially apologetic battle of Intelligent Design. If we choose to fight there, we will lose- as we are in fact losing almost everywhere, including most particularly the Court of Public Opinion. We "lead with our jaw," to borrow a boxing analogy, when we try to present a philosophical observation as science- rather than complaining specifically that our opponents are doing precisely that, and being allowed to get away with it.

It seems to me, finally, that we need to take account of whence the movement to teach Creationism and not Intelligent Design in the public schools originates. It comes from those Fundamentalistic traditions most apt across the board to confuse the Two Kingdoms, and to see the State as an appropriate agent of the work God has properly assigned to the Church. It comes from the same folks who promote the inaccurate and scandalously revisionist version of history which seeks to transform the United States into something meant by its founders to be a "Christian nation." My seminary advisor, Dr. Ralph Quere, was fond of paraphrasing Luther to the effect that it was "better to be ruled by a smart Turk than by a dumb Christian." I think it's worth reflecting that as long as the convictions of the Faith are treated with appropriate respect by the public schools, and they are not permitted to function as catechizing agencies for an alternative set of convictions concerning ultimate questions (i.e., religious convictions, within the meaning of the First Amendment- whether or not those who advance them would recognize them as such), no wrong is done by acquainting public school students with an influential idea with which they will need to be familiar simply to function intelligently in our society, if only for the purpose of refuting it.

Our job- after making sure that the opposition has not done through the public schools exactly what they accuse us of seeking to do- is to make the case in the public square, rather than in the public school classroom, for that which, since the creation of the world, has been clearly seen by all by the willfully self-blinded.

Comments

Dave said…
Bob,

Cogent analysis. I'm pretty much in agreement with where you stand.

I've tired of evolutionists setting up a straw man of Christian theodicy, thinking they've scored a theological point. But let's face it, even within so-called Christian circles, original sin is misunderstood or even denied. If even those on our side don't get it, I guess I'm expecting a lot to expect the folks on the other side of the issue to grasp it as well. Nevertheless, I'd agree with you that if I wanted to refute someone else's argument, I'd at least take the time to get to know the lay of the land.

In theory, I agree with your Joe Friday approach of "just the facts" about their theory. But far too many evolution proponents seem unwilling to make such distinctions. Some even take offense when reminded that evolution is yet a theory. Too many have been led to believe that evolution is scientific orthodoxy. To them "just the facts" equates to "evolution is scientifically proven by facts, and creation is the stuff of myth and legend, so please shut up now". The question of how these scientific facts should then be interpreted seems lost on them.

Our work is cut out for us in the public square--and within the Missouri Synod. At the 2004 convention a resolution opposing the teaching of evolution in our synodical schools drew more opposition than I ever expected to see. Then again, many resolutions (and candidates) there seem to have been opposed to a greater degree than I ever expected to see.
David said…
The monkeys at typewriters idea is just nonsense. It doesn't take into account the fact that chemical reactions are reversible. What you really have is monkeys at computers. They aren't going to get to Shakespeare when they keep hitting that really big backspace key.
David Brazeal said…
Gee, the 3rd David to comment on this thread.

I never gave much consideration to Intelligent Design either, until a recent discussion of the topic on Issues Etc. I don't remember who the guest was, but he said something as an off-hand comment that got me thinking about just what evolutionary theory says about our universe.

If I have it right, evolutionary theory essentially says that our universe, as it currently exists, can be explained by purely naturalistic processes. Random occurrences have resulted in all the life we see before us.

The "scientific" argument against Intelligent Design is that it simply cannot be proven. It is a "philosophy," and not a testable theory, therefore, it should not be taught in science class.

Here's the response to that, and I don't see any way around it for the evolutionists: our current universe includes "intelligence." Human beings are "intelligent" beings who are able to order information and manipulate their surroundings. If evolutionary theory is true, then this "intelligence" evolved from purely naturalistic, random occurrences. Therefore, even a naturalistic explanation of life on earth leads us to the conclusion that "intelligence" can come to exist.

So what's my point? Well, this means that, according to the naturalistic worldview, in the time before the earth existed, random occurrences in the universe could have led to another form of intelligence. What kind of intelligence? Well, it could've been super-smart aliens who seeded earth, or it could even have been the random joining of proteins and atoms in the "ether," acting and reacting together in such a way as to become intelligence. Perhaps this "intelligent ether," made up of random proteins atoms inter-acting to "think," created the universe as we know it.

If this seems unlikely, that's not really the point. It is just as likely as the evolutionists' current explanation for the origin of life. But more importantly, this alternate explanation does not contradict the naturalistic worldview of the evolutionists -- though it includes what we would call "Intelligent Design."

"Intelligent design" cannot be exluded from classrooms where naturalistic evolution is featured in discussions of the origin of life on earth, because naturalistic evolution itself admits that "intelligence" can form on its own, randomly, in our universe.
Bob Waters said…
One may believe in both evolution and intelligent design.

The thing that needs to be borne in mind here is that final causes are not quantifiable. Whether one believes- with orthodox Darwinism- that everythign is a matter of random chance, or with ID that even if we evolved, we did so by God's design- the conclusion we draw is not a matter of what we observe. It is a matter, not of science, but of metaphysics.

Seems to me that a great deal of heat could be avoided, and a great deal more light generated, if both sides could simply accept that self-evident fact.