Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?
A. Rick Perry really did it this time.
He dared wonder about Darwinism in public. He better realize that hell hath no fury to match that of a Darwinist scorned. Denunciations will follow, because every age produces people who enjoy denouncing anyone daring to wonder about what they know to be true.
That’s too bad, because there are good discussions that could be had about Darwin, Darwinism, evolution, and evolutionism.
Charles Darwin was a world class scientist and natural philosopher. His writings suggest a general view of how to do science, of reality, and he proposed several scientific theories that most scientists continue to find useful.
Read Darwin. Interacting with his ideas is always stimulating to better thinking. Darwin, like most scientists of his day, wanted to limit science to natural causes partly because they thought natural causes could explain everything.
When he told how species originated naturally, he thought the story was done.
Let’s call his general philosophy “Darwinism” and his scientific ideas “evolution.” Most Americans rightly reject “Darwinism,” but confuse this sensible rejection with denying that “evolution” happens.This mistake is encouraged when loud Internet atheists consistently push the two things together.
“Darwinism” is certainly incompatible with Christianity and quite possibly wrong. Nature, matter and energy, are not all there is. Mind exists and so things can be caused by intelligence as well as impersonal forces. If scientists decided to limits themselves to the impersonal, then science will not be able to explain some important things.
They will leave that job to some other field of knowledge. For example, science can give endless detail about what is the case, but it can never tell a rational man what ought to be the case. If science refuses to consider more than what makes up a thing, then it will never know the purpose of the thing.
An exhaustive description of what makes a star does not tell what a star is without the further dubious philosophical assumption that things the sum of their parts.
Governor Perry wants to leave room for God. Darwinism does not, but evolution can if understood modestly. Internet atheists will be eager to confuse this issue, as will a few religious believers, but there is an important issue here.
Schools should teach the scientific consensus, but not smuggle secularism or Darwinism in with it. They do and it should stop. If these discussions cannot take place in science class, then there should be a good class in philosophy offered.
Of course, there is the further question: “Is evolution true?”
Darwin’s best idea, evolution, came with many other related ideas. Very soon some of them were rejected by scientists as they learned about genetics. Others have continued to enjoy the support of almost all practicing scientists.
A few scientists and philosophers have seen problems with modern forms of evolution. They think these problems are serious enough that the entire theory is called into question. They differ in how radically they wish to challenge the established orthodoxy, but often find that Darwinism prevents their being able to make their challenges heard.
That would be too bad.
Other scientists, theologians, and philosophers have a more radical idea. They think that science took a wrong turn by excluding personal causation or theology. Philosopher J.P. Moreland argues in Christianity and the Nature of Science that while generally a harmless error to practicing scientists, eventually a closed philosopher of science will limit progress.
The first group of skeptics about evolution contain those who believe in a Creator and a few who do not. The second group are “creationists,” though like any intellectual movement they differ amongst themselves about where to draw lines.
A Christian is presented with a cheerful situation. He can, if he wishes, accept the scientific consensus. It is compatible with his faith. On the other hand, the God-given right to wonder may lead him to try bolder experiments in relating his religious knowledge to his scientific knowledge.
All Christians, from Francis Collins an evangelical who accepts evolution, to Michael Behe, a Catholic who is critical of some ideas, to Kurt Wise, a paleontologist and creationist, should agree in rejecting philosophical Darwinism.
What do I think?
I am very skeptical that evolution, as we understand it, is adequate, but cautious knowing I am not a scientist. Separately, I believe science should be more open, at some level, to intelligent causation and believe “creationism” solves some important philosophical problems. It makes sense to commit and see. Finally, I don’t think any of our “big theories” are flawless and enjoy wondering about all of them.
Christianity does not force me to believe any of those things. Intellectual curiosity did as did an aversion to Darwinist bullying. Meanwhile, none of that prevents me from using our best present ideas in thinking about the world. The scientific consensus may not be “true,” but it is still useful.
Like a man with an imperfect tool, I will keep using it until a better one comes along. I suspect one will, but meanwhile am patient.
Plato told a truth about both religion and science in his Timaeus. Both religion and science give humanity useful ideas and theories. Science can better our physical well being and religion heals our souls. Since body and soul are linked, both good science and good theology together produce happy flourishing humans. Plato called the fusion of science and religion a myth.
He did not mean by “myth” a false story about gods, but a big explanation for everything that can never be more than likely given our humanity. Christians know that being right about some details doesn’t mean that we have put them together correctly. Scientists know this as well, which is not surprising since science originated in an overwhelmingly Christian society.
The danger is when we become rigid about our interpretation of scientific data or our interpretation of religious data or how the two should relate. Worse we can treat either science or religion as having nothing to teach us. This arrogance leads to the vitriol on this issue so easy to find.
My own position has been to encourage a maximum set of possibilities in these discussions. I suspect that people will look back and realize that most of what we believed scientifically today was just a subset of some greater series of theories. My suspicion is that Genesis will have been useful in that process.
Governor Perry should think more about these issues. While policy should be made from the current scientific consensus, he should make sure dissenters are heard. He should keep wondering.
John Mark Reynolds | Aug 23, 2011 7:08 AM