God, Science, and Evolution (RJS)

Yesterday we finished off a discussion of John H. Walton’s fascinating look at The Lost World of Genesis One. In the discussion of scientific explanations of origins in proposition 16, p. 136 Walton draws an analogy (He uses a few examples, I am going to paraphrase a bit to use only one example).

We believe that God controls the weather, yet we do not denounce meteorologists who produce their weather maps day to day based on the predictability of natural cause and effect processes. Can evolution be thought of in similar terms?

It would be unacceptable to adopt an evolutionary view without God. But it would likewise be unacceptable to adopt … meteorology as [a process] without God. The fact that  … meteorology [does] not identify God’s role, or that many … meteorologists do not believe God has a role makes no difference. We can accept the results of …meteorology (regardless of the beliefs of the scientists) as processes we believe describe in part God’s way of working. … Why should our response to evolution be any different?

I would like to pose a few questions today as a wrap on Walton’s book – and as a lead in to future posts on the questions of science and faith or intellectual integrity and how it melds with the Christian faith.

Why is an evolutionary explanation for the development of life a concern – but predictability in weather and an underlying assumption of naturalism in the description of weather is not a concern?

Why are intelligent design or the suggestion that the Cambrian explosion undermines Darwinian evolution appealing ideas? What does it achieve to cast doubt on evolutionary biology?

Why don’t we try to cast doubt on current theories of weather based on the assumption of naturalism, or organize campaigns to force our public schools to offer the theological alternative of God’s role in the discussion of weather and meteorology?

Why should our schools specifically teach the cutting edge questions that pose “problems” in evolutionary theory – but not in any other science? (After all the entry level teaching of any science in high school brushes a myriad of complications under the rug – as does much of the intro undergraduate curriculum for that matter.)

What do you think?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

  • pds

    My answer to most of your questions is: because of the evidence.

  • RJS

    I would be interested in knowing what you think – not about the precambrian explosion – but why are these important questions in the context of a discussion of science and faith?
    We could talk about the weaknesses of many theories and explanations, but many people have a great deal more emotional involvement on this issue.

  • Dan

    1. Meteorology makes predictions about the future on the basis of present observations. The farther into the future, the more likely the meteorologist is wrong. It is not that the science is invalid, the problem is the conditions constantly change. Evolution makes inferences about what happened millions or billions of years ago based on present observations. The underlying science may be reasonable, but the inferences may still be quite wrong.
    2. Other science subjects generally deal with present realities and do not make inferences about where we came from – inferences that have tremendous metaphysical and religious implications. Building a laser or a computer chip just don’t have the same sort of impact on matters of why we exist, why evil and suffering exist, etc.
    3. We do and should challenge science in other areas, such as the claim that homosexual behavior is based in a gay gene or is the result of other forces such as a broken relationship with a father figure.
    4. What does it achieve to cast doubt on evolutionary biology? Have you not been listening to anyone on the other side?

  • Matt

    Just got done ordering this book; looks like it will be a fascinating read. The one thing that I can’t seem to understand is how many Christians take the “bury the head in the sand” approach when it comes to science. As if the existence of God hangs in the balance of evolution vs. creation; between old earth and new earth theologies. God is the creator of all things; that we should hold near and dear. How he did it – now that only He really knows, but it makes for some great speculation!

  • Diane

    While I believe evolution and Christianity are compatible, I can see where the idea that man evolved from animals is more threatening than questions about the weather. People rightly don’t want humans dehumanized.
    Second, both sides in the debate can get quite arrogant, in my experience. Rather than calmly and rationally restating the facts, I have heard scientists get quite emotional and angry and instead of answering the question, launch into ad hominem attacks on “fundamentalist fools.” Ditto some pastors, who will launch with great outrage right into evolutionists risking their lives to save spotted owls and yet supporting murdering unborn babies as evidence of the demonic nature of evolution, which usually has nothing to do with the question at hand … if both sides would take a breath, there would be less hardening into either/or positions and less fear, imho. I get frustrated, because, for example, in reading the Dorothy Day diaries from the 1940s, evolution was being debated in identical terms … why haven’t we moved an inch, especially since biologists now have more evidence to back themselves up?
    However, as others have stated, you can’t reproduce the entire billion-plus year theory of evolution … so people feel uncertain about a hypothesis that is untestable–is it just another “story” gussied up as something more? I think that uncertainty about science overstepping its bounds underlies much of the controversy.

  • Rev. Dave, husband of a scientist

    I think many have held meteorology and evolutionary science in different views because that science “refers in its broadest sense to any systematic knowledge-base or prescriptive practice that is capable of resulting in a prediction or predictable type of outcome.”
    Meteorology deals with hypotheses that can, in some sense, be tested.
    Evolution, at least in the macro sense, can’t be tested. It’s all theoretical. There are facts there, yes. But for the most part, macro-evolutionary science is built on theories that have yet to be proven (no one has given us a “transitional” creature, for example).
    Therein lies the difference for many people, I believe.

  • RJS

    Dan (#3),
    Meteorology makes predictions based on the assumption that the chemistry and physics of matter is predictable. I thought this was an interesting example – because the Bible is chock-full of examples of weather being under God’s direct control. Why isn’t it threatening to consider “natural” explanations?
    The personal aspect of evolution and the problem of evil is a good point.
    On #4 – I am asking because I want to listen. But that means to be helpful I need answers of substance directly to the question.

  • Rick

    “Why is an evolutionary explanation for the development of life a concern – but predictability in weather and an underlying assumption of naturalism in the description of weather is not a concern?”
    For a long time I have placed most of the responsibility for the concern on the shoulders of the evangelical community. The more popular contemporary interpretation of Genesis, and the idea of things out of God’s control, has led to this concern. I think scholars and resources (such as Walton’s book) can help calm those concerns.
    However, as Dan touched on, I am seeing that I have not placed enough of the responsibility for such concern on the shoulders of scientists, and those who use evolution in support of their positions, who push an anti-religious agenda. Say what you will about the questions science should and should not be asking, many opposed to religion (or Christianity) do use evolution as a weapon against the faith(s) by making claims that go beyond this area of science.
    Christian scientists should not just be working to become influential in their fields, and not just helping to educate the church, but also should be equally leading a charge against those who use such studies in theories and conclusions beyond the mandate of science.
    No wonder there is suspicion of science, of universities, etc… by many in the church.

  • Gary

    I agree that it is easy to make an exception of one area of science that seems problematic for a faith position. On the other hand, a lot of investigative science works with assumptions and projections that are in effect statements of faith. Why do some scientists resist one area of faith that seems problematic to them – that behind all the processes of the developement of the universe that they have uncovered stands a creator God?
    I’m less inclined to accept the claims of evolution, not so much on the basis of an interpretation of Genesis 1 as on what I understand of the science (admittedly as an amateur a very limited amount). I can’t see how forms of life, and the functions of organisms (hearing, sight, blood clotting, etc.) at a molecular level can evolve from simple into complex. See Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box”, in which he makes the analogy of a bicycle evolving into an automobile – there just aren’t any in between steps possible.

  • Brian

    With the rise of modern meteorology we usually no longer think about weather in the same categories as we find expressed in the Bible. Our subjective response to this issue is different from our response to evolution, but I think RJS is right to ask why.

  • http://www.nopearlsB4swine.com Wes

    “Why is an evolutionary explanation for the development of life a concern – but predictability in weather and an underlying assumption of naturalism in the description of weather is not a concern?”
    Perhaps because the discussion isn’t framed around either reinterpreting or dismissing Biblical text. I’m not convinced by Dr. Walton’s position here, but I think it’s hugely helpful to frame the discussion in terms that support the authority of Scripture.

  • http://undeception.com Steve Douglas

    Another useful analogy I read in Beyond the Firmament by Gordon Glover is of embryology. Scripture plainly says God knitted is together, in a very personal sense, but now we know how He does it (the proximate cause). Glover wonders why we haven’t seen the birth of an “Intelligent Embryology” movement.
    The answer, I think, is that the traditional interpretation of an entire book, an historical approach from a culture that idolizes the historical in modernist fashion, plus the traditional view (since Augustine, anyway) of Original Sin through Adam are both contradicted by evolutionary creation. In short, it’s an argumentum ad consequentiam.

  • Travis Greene

    Perhaps meteorology is less feared because it has obvious practical applications, whereas evolutionary theory, it is supposed, has no use other than to attack Christian faith.

  • AHH

    RJS asks a good question here that gets at the heart of SOME of the church’s problems in this area. Sometimes indeed one hears things like “evolution explains things in naturalistic terms, with no room for God, so Christians have to oppose it”. I remember about 10 years ago hearing ID advocate John Wiester frame things in almost exactly that way. Which becomes silly if one considers the example of weather, which the Bible also attributes to God [Lev. 26:4; Jer. 5:24; Matt. 5:45] but there is no outcry against methodological atheism in meteorology. Setting up natural explanations and God as rival explanations (whatever the phenomenon) is wrong, an effective denial of God’s sovereignty over nature, and Christians need to stop doing it.
    So I have no respect for Christian anti-evolutionism that is built on the objection that the mechanisms omit God. As others have mentioned, there are potential issues with Scripture and the doctrine of sin that are more serious and can be in tension with Christian faith, and I respect those like dopderbeck here who have concerns on those bases. But I think for some people “evolution” is such a bogeyman that any negative argument is latched onto, even ones that don’t make sense.

  • http://freesand.com Matt

    I think the major problem with the analogy is that meteorology is used to predict the future, while evolution tries to tells us what happened in the past. As far as I know nothing specific can be predicted by the theory of evolution since it relies on random mutation to create change. People accept meteorology because it predicts specific things (it will rain in Milwaukee tomorrow) and it is often correct in these predictions. Can anyone in the field of evolutionary study predict anything similarly specific (eg in 2000 generations this fruit fly will become a housefly)? I don’t believe in (macro) evolution, but I don’t think it necessarily contradicts scripture if it is true. Though many people on both sides will tell you that it does.
    Another major difference between meteorology and evolution is that meteorology has an impact on peoples lives that evolution doesn’t. For most people, whether millions of years ago their ancestor resembled a primate or not is of no consequence to their daily life. Whether it rains or not, or if a hurricane is coming is of more immediate concern.

  • Dan

    Bottom line is that this is not Genesis 1 in isolation – one has to look at Genesis in relation to the New Testament. Most conservatives can accept an argument that says we may not know the original intent of the author of Genesis 1 regarding how the universe was formed. But the New Testament treats Adam as historical, links sin to death and suffering, and offers Christ as the one who conquered the grave. Augustine was pretty clear in the City of God that the death that resulted from sin, as he read the text, included all forms of death including physical death. That has been the view of most Christians until Darwin and remains the view of most conservative Christians after Darwin.
    Biological evolution and common descent can only be reconciled to the New Testament by substantially altering the understanding of the text in a way that severs the meaning of the text from the words themselves. As RJS has said, perhaps Paul was only expressing the knowledge of his time, but that opens the door to saying that Paul’s understanding of the resurrection and virgin birth also only express the cultural understanding of the time and have no basis in reality. Destroy the historicity of Adam and you undermine the historicity of the resurrection in the same stroke.
    What do we gain by questioning biological evolution? I think the opposite question is more to the point. What do we lose, as Christians, by accepting it? Dr. Walton’s approach is preferrable to some, because he does seem to accept the historicity of Adam and some consequence of the fall, which makes it possible to read the text as text without imposing and external meaning onto it. But overall I think there is no reasonable way to make the New Testament view of origins entirely compatible with common descent without changing Christianity into something very, very different from what it has been, or at least changing one’s hermeneutic into something very flexible and pliable, essentially divorcing the meaning of the text from the text itself.
    Evolution inevitably treads on metaphysical and religious turf because it has unavoidable implications for the questions, “who is man?”, “why do suffering and death exist?”, etc. Science does conflict with faith when it makes inferences about matters that cross into the metaphysical and religious realm. And I think that conflict is unavoidable. You cannot deal with origins without crossing that line.
    As to the basic thrust of the original question, faith does not conflict with science in the observation of present events, nor is it necessary to say “natural” processes exclude the hand of God. Having said that, I do not feel the approach taken by RJS gives enough room for events that go outside of the “norm” of natural processes, such as the virgin birth in the New Testament or the possibility of “miracles” in the events of Genesis. Why must everything be explained in terms of natural law even if God is involved in natural processes? Why can God not act in ways that are above and beyond natural law, if God is in fact God?
    I keep trying to say this, but it seems the devotion to natural law explanations is the ultimate creedal statement here. That is the part I don’t get. Why would someone who believes in a God who created natural law insist he is bound to it and can never act outside of it?

  • RJS

    Thanks Dan

  • pds

    Many of the points I would make have been made by others already. E.g. Dan #3, points 1 and 2 and others.
    The epistemology of meteorology is very different. It is an observational science, that allows for lots of repeatable testing. Evolution is an historical science, theorizing about past events that happened long ago.
    Here is one that has not been raised. Evolutionary science was the basis for eugenics and scientific racism. Eugenics programs in the US and Scandinavia (sterilizing undesirable people like the mentally impaired) were copied by Germany, and as we all know, Germany took those programs a few steps further. The only reason Hitler could succeed in convincing so many people to follow his program is that he based it on “scientific progress.” Most people have no idea how widely accepted eugenics and forced sterilization were in the US in the 1920′s and 1930′s. Read the infamous Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell. (“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”) People who opposed eugenics were deemed “anti-science.” I recommend this podcast about the book “Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress”:
    A form of eugenics persists today in the form of aborting Downs babies: Some babies are less valuable/desirable than other babies, so we kill them. Unborn babies are being killed simply because they are mentally impaired.
    To the extent evolutionary science explains things, we should accept it. To the extent evolutionary science does not explain things, it is absolutely essential that we recognize it and point that out. The misuse of this theory in the past to justify unspeakable horrors demands it.

  • bdn

    I’ve always had a problem with the whole God is in control of the weather. We find this in scripture and I’ve been taught this since Sunday School. However, Does God control natural disasters?
    This definitely gives some of the Christian fundamentalist ammo for the arguement that things like Tsunamis (sp) and tornadoes that hit churches are all apart of God’s judgment. So I don’t think the whole meterology arugment works for me.

  • Scot McKnight

    Dan, I’m not so sure you can prove Romans 5 treats Adam as “historical.” What does it mean to say Adam was “historical” and what does it mean to say that Romans 5 treats Adam as “historical.” To say “Adam” is “historical,” as you seem to suggest, is to say that Paul was saying “Adam, a real historical figure, one male, married to Eve, a real historical figure.” Paul’s concerns are not like that, though admittedly one can say that they are and do so within reason.
    But it seems to me Paul is treating “Adam” in a slightly different way: Paul treats Adam as “representative” and “inclusive.” We sinned in “Adam” and therefore we are guilty before God. What I think would be more accurate is to say that Adam is “real” in Paul’s thought. Paul doesn’t seem to trade in what you are calling “historical.”
    It is within terms of reason to say both that the Jonah story is a fiction and that Jesus can refer to Jonah as “real” — for the sake of the point.

  • AHH

    pds #20,
    Apology for the old-time geek reference, but “I call Godwin”
    The fact that a scientific theory (or anything else) has been misused to justify evil things has no bearing on whether or not it is true. If we follow the train of thought pds is trying to push us onto, we should also apply it to Christianity because of the Crusades and other evils (not to mention Hitler who portrayed his cause as Christian when convenient). Isn’t there a saying from church history “the abuse does not nullify the use”?

  • pds

    Dan #16,
    Excellent comment. This morning I was pondering RJS’ comment #13 from the previous thread:
    “2. I think that God created in a manner that is intelligible and that we will be able to deduce much of the process of the formation of life. Thus, even if a new better theory emerges, even a theory sufficiently revolutionary to warrant a new name, it will be a ‘natural’ theory.”
    I came up with the phrase “Theistic Materialist.” RJS is a theist and accepts God’s miraculous workings in some contexts. But she rules out the miraculous in biological history and biological origins. There are certain spheres where she is a materialist. I see no basis in Scripture or the scientific evidence for this a priori philosophical position.
    RJS, I am guessing you are not going to like the phrase “Theistic Materialist,” but don’t you think it fits? Don’t you think your position that I quoted above is likely to affect how you interpret the Cambrian fossils?

  • AHH

    Sorry, guess I should have said pds #18.
    Either the numbering changed or I goofed in looking at the numbers … must be the numbering …

  • stephen

    Why do we have to believe that God “controls” the weather, as if He is sitting right now twiddling a dial to make the temperature 68 degrees and move the air with a light easterly breeze outside my window?
    Is it not acceptable to believe God created weather and now is just letting weather do its thing?

  • pds

    AHH #21,
    Despite my efforts to be clear, I was fairly certain someone would misread and distort my comment. Alas, you are the one. Please read my ENTIRE comment. I clearly stated:
    “To the extent evolutionary science explains things, we should accept it. To the extent evolutionary science does not explain things, it is absolutely essential that we recognize it and point that out. The misuse of this theory in the past to justify unspeakable horrors demands it.”
    RJS was asking why this theory gets more attack than meteorology. I was answering that question. I think I made very clear that the points that I was making do not go to the truth of the theory. They go to the IMPORTANCE of this issue. Can you understand that distinction?
    I could go on to say that these issues are extremely important because so many people, including Christians, are so woefully ignorant of the history of the 1920′s and the 1930′s, including the history of the eugenics movement. Are you aware of the fact that eugenics was widely accepted as legitimate science by many prominent scientists? Has science been misused in the past? Is it important for us to be aware of it? Is it happening today? Should we learn from past mistakes?

  • Travis Greene

    That’s a little close to deism. God didn’t wind everything up and now sits back far away. I think God’s sovereignty implies neither abandonment nor micro-management. Part of the problem is that we think of this stuff in overly mechanistic terms anyway.

  • RJS

    pds (#22)
    I think that, until proven otherwise, there will be a “natural” explanation in general, because God created the world in a rational manner. If you want to call this theistic materialism – ok. When we talk about the evolution of life I prefer the term evolutionary creation to theistic evolution.
    I think that God is outside of the natural order and can certainly intervene. But the evidence suggests (including the evidence of scripture) that he only does so for a purpose and in relationship with his creation. Intervention is almost always, if not always, in relationship with humans created in his image.
    I think that this gets to the analogy with weather – can God control and use weather? Of course. The story of Jesus calming the storm on the sea is important because he can command the weather. But in general there is no problem with the idea that our weather is governed by a complex interplay of chemistry and physics, – both extreme weather and our beautiful fall days.
    Why is evolution different?

  • Dan

    Scot #20. What is the reason, from the text and context, that we would think Paul was NOT thinking of Adam as historical? As a biblical exegete, where are the clues in the text that Paul intended anything different?
    Second, what does it mean for Adam to be our “representative” if Adam is not a real person, but a metaphor or symbol? How did we “in in Adam” if there was no Adam? If there is no Adam, is there no “real” sin?
    And how then are we as a parallel made righteous in Christ? In severing Paul’s argument from space and time, don’t we gut the thrust of his argument of its reality and potency?
    I am not saying Paul’s primary point was that Adam was historical, I am saying nothing in the text seems to suggest that he would not have assumed that, and much in the text seems to demand that assumption.
    Back to the original question – FWIW – I am not arguing against teaching evolution in public schools. In fact, I would not advocate teaching creationism (old or young earth) in public schools because handling the text of Genesis in that context would be unmanageable for most science teachers. But certainly it is possible to at least pay lip service to objections like the cambrian explosion, the cosmological constants, the ID concepts of specified complexity and irreducible complexity and the origin of information related to the genetic code. None of those things would prevent a full explanation of current consensus on evolutionary biology, astronomy, geology, etc. It would encourage critical thinking, engage the students in lively discussion and probably would make students even more likely to remember what they are learning. It would simply state that there is another view on some of the key topics held by a significant minority of PhD scientists.
    That is not allowed currently because science is equated with naturalism and because ID is conflated with biblical creationism.

  • Diane

    We don’t care that weather is governed by a complex interplay of chemistry and physics because nobody in the Christian context has ever argued that weather has a soul. However, to say that humans are evolved from a complex interplay of chemistry and physics is to at least call into question the concept of a human soul created by God to mirror God. Who cares about whether weather has a soul? But it’s vitally important to our entire understanding of the universe that humans are created in the image of God, that we are that “great amphibian,” half angel, half dust, and the story of evolution often doesn’t account for that.

  • Dan

    RJS #22
    Evolution is different because the origins of the universe and the origins of man are one-time events. By their very nature they are not repeatable, flowing from cause and effect in the natural world, because prior to creation there is no natural world. If that is true, then can the observance of natural phenomena in the present ever tell the full story of what happened during the creation? Can we say with certainty that the laws that govern matter, energy, space and even time itself functioned the way that they currently function?
    I think this is what Augustine may have been getting at in his Literal Meaning of Genesis. We don’t know how “let there be light” coincides with any scientific processes nor how the spirit brooding over the waters can be explained in naturalistic terms. To tie things to closely to science in the first few verses of Genesis may be problematic. But at the same time, Augustine was crystal clear that the events of the fall, the flood, events that are described after the completion of the creation, not only have allegorical meaning but were real events. I assume this was an exegetical conclusion based on the text.

  • BenB

    I don’t have time to read other posts and respond right now, so i’ll just answer RJS’s question.
    I think it’s because in the Bible (what laity have read of it), nothing SEEMS to suggest anything directly contradictory to the findings of meteorology, etc. To many laity, Genesis 1-3 SEEM to suggest something directly contradictory to the findings of Evolutionary Biology. That’s major reason #1 (surface reason).
    Now, Major reason #2 (Deeper reason), is that we think we’re special. It’s not as though Theistic evolution says we’re not, it’s that humans struggle to see where we’re special if it’s all a product of natural selection and evolution. Don’t take away people’s “specialness.” Not in America (where this problem is greatest).
    Also, they have a problem with the rest of creation being special (which is the result of evolutionary biology). It can be beautiful, important, etc, but dear to God’s heart in a relational way is not accepted. God can’t have a relationship with a tree! But Jesus seems to suggest that God can and does.
    I think those are the 2 Major Reasons.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Ironically, applied meteorology was widely considered a problem for Christianity not that long ago. In the late 1700′s, as scientists started getting a handle on electricity, they realized that lightning was electrical, and should respond in the same ways as the electricity they generated in their labs. Lightning rods were proposed, and the officials of various churches vociferously denounced them. After all, they knew that lightning was a direct expression of Divine fury, and it was hubristic to attempt to interfere with that. The earthquake of 1755 was blamed on lightning rods. (You can see a hint of this sentiment remaining into the early 1800s in Herman Melville’s story, “The Lightning-Rod Salesman”.)
    Of course, since God wouldn’t strike a church with lightning, very often people would store explosives in the local church (the tallest building in town, with ungrounded metal on top). After the Church of San Nazaro in Brescia, Italy was struck by lightning in 1769, and 3,000 people were killed when 100 tons of gunpowder stored there exploded, those objections began to die out.

  • pds

    RJS #27,
    Not a lot I disagree with in your comment #27. I will take the bait on the weather/creation analogy. So you agree that God intervened when Jesus calmed the storm. I see the Cambrian event as being the same kind of phenomenon. Something highly, highly unusual happened 530-525 mya, something that looks very different than the fossil history that followed and preceded. All paleontologists agree on that. What is clear to me is that at the very least we need to call it “Not Normal Evolution.” What I see is scientists “spinning” the event and saying “no big deal.” I think that is dishonest and bad science education.
    I don’t see why we should presume a natural explanation when there is no plausible one proposed. That is not good science. That looks like “naturalism of the gaps.”

  • James

    I think that so much of the focus on your comments here is arbitrarily confining the terms of the questions to ignore major problems with the question.
    Is natural science okay with Christians? Oh yes, very much so. Have the adherents to meteorology ever used the discipline to say that God is dead? I’m pretty sure not.
    Dan already succinctly and rightly makes the point that meteorology also has no origins or teleological implications, where as darwinianism does.
    Also, there are no core and fundamental problems with meteorology as there is with macro-evolutionary theory. To hold to that, you must believe that speciation has happened, repeatedly throughout history. Yet you have yourself conceeded that speciation is a sticky problem. If precipitation was a sticky problem, then I would have an equal problem with meteorology.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    PDS, you can’t pin all the blame for the Holocaust on eugenics, I’m afraid. The deeply-rooted strain of anti-Semitism that had saturated central Europe for centuries has to take at least as much of the rap. (Look up Martin Luther’s “On The Jews And Their Lies”.)
    Eugenics was as truly scientific as anti-Semitism is truly Christian – i.e. not at all.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/what_caused_the_cambrian_explo.php Ray Ingles

    PDS, one more thing. I’m not aware of any scientist who claims that the Cambrian period wasn’t unusual or even “no big deal”. They just don’t think it has the implications you think it does. And they actually work to try to understand it – see the link below my name on this comment for an example.

  • toddh

    RJS asks a good question. My undergraduate degree is in atmospheric sciences (it was a while ago). A lot of people here just focus on the really pragmatic aspects of atmospheric sciences like forecasting the weather based upon computer models, and don’t really realize that there’s a lot more to it than that. Sure atmospheric sciences seems more “neutral” in that it doesn’t really have to do with human beings and where they came from, but it is based upon the same assumptions as archeology, paleontology, biology, and other more “threatening” scientific disciplines. It too has a view of earth history that is consistent with those disciplines, and it makes claims about the composition of the early earth atmosphere that tie in with other scientific inquiries about the age of the earth and other contentious issues. And that’s where our weather forecasts come from: study and work that is based upon the same assumptions and body of theory that is consistent with other disciplines. So… RJS asks a good question: why is one scientific discipline questioned while another is not?

  • pds

    Ray #35,
    That is not what I said at all. I never said eugenics was the only cause of the Holocaust. Good grief.
    RJS and AHH,
    Why is it that so many people want to distort my argument to dismiss it, instead of acknowledging the history of eugenics and scientific racism? Strong tendencies of historical denialism at play. Why?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    PDS – I’m sorry, that’s how I read ‘The only reason Hitler could succeed in convincing so many people to follow his program is that he based it on “scientific progress.”‘ I can’t agree that that’s the “only” reason. Mein Kampf is full of pious references to God, and he used religious fervor to sell his horrific policies, too.
    (Oh, and Mein Kampf denies evolution, by the way: “The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger. The only difference that can exist within the species must be in the various degrees of structural strength and active power, in the intelligence, efficiency, endurance, etc., with which the individual specimens are endowed.”)

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    What I would find interesting would be a discussion of the kind of categories of biblical literature that we might question now, in terms of their wooden historicity, in light of the weather topic being discussed here. As RJS points out, no one seems too concerned with the weather prediction issue and how it relates to the sovereignty of God. But it seems short-sighted for us to get riled up about issues ONLY when they have implications that threaten us and our major collective theories. Isn’t the responsible and intelligent and intellectually honest thing to do – to actually look at where the implications might take us – come what may?
    Speaking of that RJS, this reminds me of something that you’ve said before in response to my question on why you believe a certain thing to be the case. Your response, on occasion, has been to say that this is what has been handed down in Christian tradition, from the early church on. But, following our discussion here, surely the early church and much of Christian tradition thought the weather was directly, and in real-time, controlled by God. So if we so easily question that assumption now, why not others? The tradition argument alone seems rather weak in that regard.

  • Barry

    I find it interesting that global warming hasn’t made its way into the conversation yet. There is plenty of Christian resistance to this idea and global warming seems to relate to a really intense meteorological theory and model. It seems to me that as long as the implications of science are not considered too far reaching and fairly limited in scope (your average garden-variety news hour weather prediction), most Christians can safely ignore it. Propose a really broad theory of origins, climate change and anything like string theory with eleven dimensions and multiple universes, people of faith tend to get worked up because the total sovereignty of God is being challenged and God has lost his monopoly on the “workings” of the cosmos.
    If God is not pulling ALL the levers then God appears to some to be weak and ineffective and God’s divine will for humanity and creation is seen as optional rather than assured. I can imagine why that would be scary for many people… “you mean, it may never get better than this?”

  • pds

    Ray #39,
    I see now how you read that, but I still think you twisted my point. “Scientific progress” was how he convinced people they were doing a morally good thing. Underlying antisemitism and other factors played a big part too. Read the blurb and listen to the podcast.

  • James

    Saying that “Hitler believed X because he said as much in Mein Kampf” is notoriously unsupportable. That was a political manifesto, and it’s repeatedly contradicted in his personal memoirs. Mein Kampf’s purpose was not to share Hitlers inner beliefs and deepest motivations… it was to move people to action.

  • RJS

    Dan (16, 28, 30),
    You bring up many excellent points worth considering.
    But there is one I don’t think holds at all As RJS has said, perhaps Paul was only expressing the knowledge of his time, but that opens the door to saying that Paul’s understanding of the resurrection and virgin birth also only express the cultural understanding of the time and have no basis in reality. Destroy the historicity of Adam and you undermine the historicity of the resurrection in the same stroke.
    Putting Adam and Resurrection on the same level here is a problem.
    Paul’s basis for knowledge of Adam is scripture and Jewish tradition. Paul’s basis for his knowledge of the resurrection is personal experience and eyewitness report. (1 Cor. 15:1-9). To the best of my recollection Paul never mentions virgin birth. In fact I think that it is only in Mt and Lk in the nativity stories. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong here.

  • pds

    RJS #44,
    I think that is a fair distinction you make. I had a similar reaction. On the other hand, I don’t think the science is conclusive enough to rule out an historical Adam. I’m with Tim Keller on that, although I don’t feel the need to stake out a strong position.
    Dan #28,
    Excellent points about science education and making it “lively.”

  • Matt W

    Paul was not taking Genesis 100% “literally.” If he was, he would have said something like “sin came through one man and one woman.” He is making a comparison and being flexible with Genesis 3 in order to “make it fit.” That’s a big and often overlooked reason why I think it is correct to say Paul was “treating” Adam as historical. Even if Paul thought Adam “was” historical (and I think he probably did), that’s not the issue in Romans 5. The Jonah example is another good and often overlooked analogy.

  • Percival

    If the forces of nature are sometimes “controlled” by evil forces, as in the storm on the Sea of Galilee, why not evolutionary events as well? If natural disasters are part of the fallen-ness of this world, why wouldn’t we consider that perhaps not everything in evolution happened by God’s perfect will and specific control? Personally, I find it hard to see God’s hand in evolution or in weather. Can he intervene in either one? Of course. Can he redeem the broken creation beyond how it has evolved? That’s my hope.

  • RJS

    pds #33,
    You said:
    I don’t see why we should presume a natural explanation when there is no plausible one proposed. That is not good science. That looks like “naturalism of the gaps.”
    This is an interesting point and I may err on this side on occasion. There are at least a couple of reasons for this I expect. One is the number of times I or we have been burned by assuming no “natural” explanation. Plausible explanation is a time located concept. No plausible explanation today does not mean no plausible explanation next decade. So I am wary, especially about things like Cambrian explosion.
    Also in the practice of science in general I don’t know how one can proceed without assuming an essentially natural explanation, having faith in the rational creation of God.
    But I can come up with an example where your point is well taken. Consider moral law or the universal human search for God, something transcending ourselves. Many people have proposed “natural” explanations for these features of our being. Dawkins devotes chapters to this.
    But it is also plausible that we have developed moral law and a desire for God through the external stimulus of His interaction with his creation. He has shaped and formed us and continues to do so through interaction, stimulus, and relationship. Evolution may have been the mechanism that formed us but it did so in a landscape where God is and was active and this determined the outcome. (He could have created moral law in us full formed by direct fiat as he could have created us from dust full formed. But the evidence suggests that he did not.)
    So if naturalism is default, a natural explanation wins. But as a Christian I think that the second is a better explanation of how we got to be what we are today. To eliminate this from consideration simply because it invokes the existence of God would be to start off on the wrong track from the beginning.
    Just a few thoughts.

  • Mike M

    That’s a good summary RJS.
    If a psychopath uses science or religion for political means, that shouldn’t imply that science or religion caused it. One can use a butterknife to spread peanutbutter all over the place or stab someone in the neck but it’s not the knife’s fault. An obvious concern though is what kind of culture allows an Inquisition or a Holocaust? For example, earlier detection of Down syndrome means that a mother can choose to abort the fetus at an earlier stage of life, which is permitted in more states. Why? Because having an extra chromosome is a terrible sin? No, for mom’s convenience. How is this different than the sacrifice of babies to propitiate the gods? Same consequence, different cultures, same deviltry.
    Or it can mean that the parents have longer to prepare for the birth of their bundle of joy.
    Evolution isn’t just about trying to “explain things that happened in the past.” It pulls together many sciences into a coherent framework that doesn’t depend on deus ex machina to work. The Doppler shift of light from distant galaxies indicates an age of the universe much longer than 5600, 10,000, or whatever years (pick your Creation theory-of-choice). Fossilized progression of species explains a lot more than that they were really deposited during a prehistoric flood. I’ve even heard that Satan put fossils there to lead us stupids astray. Trust me: Satan can do a lot more harm working through politicians than trying to dupe the masses with fake fossils.

  • pds

    RJS #48
    Very helpful comment. I agree with your comments on the moral law.
    This gets at a critical point:
    “Also in the practice of science in general I don’t know how one can proceed without assuming an essentially natural explanation, having faith in the rational creation of God.”
    A scientist does not have to “assume” anything, but only look for a natural explanation. But that is a difficult mental task. It seems like a scientist has to wear 2 hats. Wearing the scientist hat, you passionately look for a natural explanation. Wearing the philosopher’s hat or the ordinary person hat, you have to step back, look at all the evidence, scientific, biblical, philosophical, etc. and ask “what is true?, what really happened?, Was it natural or supernatural? How certain can we be?” It seems likely that the scientist hat will sometimes make you put your thumb on the scale in favor of the best natural explanation, even it isn’t strongly supported.
    I can think of other reasons why the thumb may lie heavy on the scale, but no time to get into them now. Not sure anyone is still reading this thread.