Your Grandmother Fish, Genesis Retold, and a Scared School Board Lady

Mary Lou Bruner is scared of a lot of things, but she is particularly fearful of evolution.

Mrs. Bruner is a 2016 candidate for the Texas State Board of Education – the people who pick our kids’ textbooks.

Mary Lou Bruner

Mary Lou Bruner

She has a strong resume and is definitely a viable candidate.  And we certainly know her opinions on All Things Education – she has been particularly prolific on social media over the years. (Mrs. Bruner recently scrubbed her Facebook, but not before a multitude of screenshots were picked up by several websites, in Texas and beyond.)

In a 2013 letter to the Texas State Board of Education, Mrs. Bruner warned of the direness to follow if the board allowed the teaching of evolution to Texas schoolchildren.

Evolution is “propaganda supporting the religion of Atheism”.

Evolution is “demoralizing our nation”.

Evolution causes us to reconsider “the purpose of public education”.  Mrs. Bruner also believes that teaching evolution is behind the rash of school shootings.

(Mrs. Bruner is not afraid of dinosaurs, but she does believe that there were baby dinos on Noah’s ark).

baby dino and noah

Your Grandmother Fish

Evolution is not a scary story from which to shield our kids – or anyone, for that matter. Evolution is, however, often difficult to understand. Misconceptions abound and usually drive reluctance and fearfulness.

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution is a new hardcover picture book, originally a Kickstarter project. Macmillan has just announced that they have picked up Grandmother Fish and will publish the second edition in September 2016. It is delightfully illustrated and the science is solid.

 

grandmother fish

Grandmother Fish is written for children – preschoolers actually – but my hunch is that adults were the primary target. Far from scary, Grandmother Fish is the story of us – it is a beautiful, sweeping picture of our place on the great tree of life.

Grandmother Fish had many grandchildren – they could wiggle and chomp. We had other grandmothers, too: Grandmother Reptile could crawl and breathe air. Grandmother Mammal could cuddle and squeak. Grandmother Ape could grab and hoot. We breathe air, move, and use our hands because in our human family tree were relatives from whom we inherited those traits.

Genesis Retold

Granted, our school board candidate is extreme in her fear of evolution – but she is not alone in her belief that evolution excludes faith and belief in God.

When the writers of Genesis told the story of creation, God was central: originator, sustainer, and lover. Yet, the “mechanics” of it all were completely within the only origins framework they knew – ancient near-eastern explanations of How It All Started. Old Testament writers were millennia away from the framework of modern science. It is no surprise then, that although God is central in the biblical story, the “mechanics” framework is the same as other ancient near-eastern cultures (I’ve written about Genesis and the near-eastern creation stories here and here).

What if – for today – we did it again? What if we told the story of God as originator, sustainer, and lover, but we told the story within the framework of modern science?

Leonard Vander Zee has done just that. New this month at BioLogos: “The Big Story”. big story

Using sweeping poetic language similar to the creation poetry of Psalms, Job, and Genesis, Vander Zee recounts the story of creation using the scientific knowledge the ancients did not have.

It is stunning – you can watch the video clip (it isn’t long, just under twelve minutes) and you can also read the transcript, but watch Vander Zee – the spoken poetry is beautiful.

Brains grew, capabilities advanced, until finally, a creature appeared with something entirely new: Human Consciousness. And God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, breathed into these conscious creatures, and they knew God, the creator of all. They stood tall and free, eyes shining with excitement and wonder before their Creator (“The Big Story).

ccat reading

*****

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge

*****

noah ark llamas

 

What Darwin Got Wrong and Why Creationism Isn’t Science

It has been a year since the showdown between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Ken Ham “the Six-Thousand Year-Old Earth Guy”. Bill Nye caught a lot of flak from scientists for debating Ham because a “debate” implies two equally credible options. Even the BioLogos Foundation (dedicated to an evolutionary understanding of creation) discouraged the Ham/Nye debate because debates imply that you must choose between evolution and faith. ham-vs-nye-debate
Public debates are favorites of creationists – the limited time format and simplified concepts needed for a non-scientific audience usually favor the creationist debater. Debaters often employ the “Gish Gallop” (named for a famous creationist), a debating strategy in which an opponent is deluged with small arguments that can’t possibly be answered in the allotted time. If all arguments are not refuted, the creationist debater declares victory.

Debating Canada

When the Institute for Creation Research scheduled their November 2014 anti-evolution “Origin Summit” on the campus of Michigan State University, their first move was to organize a debate. Unfortunately for the group, the science faculty banded together and refused to participate in a debate with the creationist group.

Not only did the science faculty refuse to debate, they refused to comment publicly or on the record until after the event was over. The faculty of MSU steadfastly refused to elevate the status of creationism to science.
A few Michigan State students did, however, set up an outreach booth as a good-will gesture to the summit attendees. Even so, the student volunteers chose not to engage in debate.

The outreach booth organizer explained:

We don’t debate evolution because it’s not debatable. It’s like debating the existence of Canada.

Darwin Editorial_cartoon_depicting_Charles_Darwin_as_an_ape_(1871)

Certainly no scientist has been more maligned or been the subject of more unflattering caricatures than the author of evolution theory, Charles Darwin. But Charles Darwin wasn’t the only or even the first of his day to suggest that living things evolved from a common ancestor. Other scientists had suggested it, including Darwin’s own grandfather.

Darwin developed the theory of evolution in the late 1830’s, but he never published a paper– he planned to present it in one all-inclusive book. Meanwhile, another naturalist (as biologists were called at the time), Alfred Russel Wallace, had arrived at a very similar theory of evolution. Both Darwin and Wallace presented papers in 1858, but the papers were ignored. It was Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species published the following year that caused a scientific and cultural earthquake.

Darwin’s big idea eventually revolutionized science and became the foundation for all of modern biology. Darwin said that evolution occurred because of natural selection: living organisms vary, and some of these variations will better suit individuals to the environment. Individuals that are better suited for the environment will live longer and produce more offspring, thus passing down the traits to future generations. Beneficial traits are retained, useless or harmful traits disappear. Over time, a new species will emerge.

Darwin Was Wrong

Darwin himself realized that there was a gaping hole in his theory: offspring obviously had a mix of their parents’ traits, but how were traits passed from parents to offspring?

Little cell seeds – that was Darwin’s answer. According to Darwin, each cell in the body sheds little cell seeds (Darwin called them “gemmules”). Little cell seeds from both parents blend together to form the offspring. Some gemmules are stronger, so they dominate over the others.

Big problem: if traits are blended in offspring, it would not be very long before beneficial traits are diluted out of future generations.

Darwin’s explanation of how traits are passed from parent to offspring was, in a word, wrong.
Lacking an answer to the problem of heredity, enthusiasm for Darwin’s theory waned.

Super Monk to the Rescue!

While Darwin was busy in the 1850s developing his theory and writing his book, an Augustinian monk was painstakingly carrying out detailed botanical experiments in Brno Abbey (now part of the Czech Republic). Gregor_Mendel_ovalThe Abbey had a long history of scientific inquiry – specifically in the areas of agriculture and plant science. Gregor Mendel studied the inheritance of traits in pea plants – wrinkled or round seeds, yellow or green pods, and other easily identifiable traits.

(Raise your hand if you remember working out Punnett squares in school – you may thank Brother Mendel for that.)

600px-Punnett_Square.svgAfter eight years, thousands of crosses, and meticulous statistical study, Mendel determined that traits are not blended in offspring but are inherited whole.
Mendel published his work in 1866, but no one paid attention.
Almost twenty years after his death, Mendel’s work was rediscovered, breathing new life into Darwin’s theory. Before long we discovered that DNA is the chemical that holds the information for traits in all living things… then off we went, full-steam ahead into the 20th and 21st centuries and the age of genetics.

We now understand that traits, inherited from parents, are combined in unique ways at conception. Unless you are an identical twin, you differ genetically from your siblings. In addition, mutations (copying mistakes in DNA) occur frequently, and these can change a trait. When humans or any living organisms are born with traits that better suit them to their environment, their chances for surviving and having lots of offspring increase.

Embarrassing Progress

Darwin’s “gemmules” idea was utterly wrong, but his theory of evolution by natural selection has stood the tests of time and countless scientific inquiries. Matt Simon, writing in Wired magazine said this:

Being wildly wrong is perfectly healthy in science, because when someone comes along to prove that you’re wrong, that’s progress. Somewhat embarrassing progress for the person being corrected, sure, but progress nonetheless.

What Makes Something “Science”?

Science theories explain. A science theory isn’t speculation or even an “educated” guess. A science theory is an explanation that fits the evidence. For an idea to gain the status of “theory” in science, it must be confirmed consistently by observation and experimentation. As new evidence is discovered, a theory may be adjusted or tweaked, but the underlying principles remain unchanged.

Gravity is a theory. The earth orbiting the sun is a theory. There’s also germ theory and molecular theory. And, of course, evolution theory. As precise as these are, they are still incomplete. We are still tweaking as evidence unfolds.

Darwin theorized that all living things evolved from simpler forms  because of natural selection. What Darwin did not know was all the ways natural selection occurs. We are learning more and more about the “how” of natural selection and how species separate from each other, but the theory – the fact – of evolution remains true.

Science theories have predictive power. A good theory allows scientists to make predictions that will turn out to be roughly correct. When Darwin died, the fossil record was not nearly what it is today. And there certainly was no genetic evidence, much less mapping of genomes.

Yet – fossils of both plants and animals were found just where we expect they’d be found – just where Darwin’s theory predicts they will be found. For example, fish are found in older rock than are amphibians, and Tiktaalik (the famous fish to amphibian transitional fossil) was found in between. meetTik1

The explosion of genetic data over the last two decades doesn’t just show apparent relationships between living things, it shows actual relationships. DNA evidence is the smoking gun – concrete evidence of the interrelatedness of all living organisms.

Is Creationism Science?

In courtrooms across the United States, as well as in state boards of education and textbook hearings, advocates have fought for creationism (and its science-y sibling, intelligent design) as an “alternative” theory to evolution in science classrooms.

Both young earth creationism and intelligent design claim that all life was designed and created specially, uniquely, and separately. If this is true, then all predictive power is lost. If every organism is self-contained, there are no patterns to discover. There are no relationships to discover. Any direction we look for new information is just a shot in the dark.

Kenneth Miller is a biologist, author of a best-selling biology textbook, and a Christian. As an expert witness in the landmark Dover court case, Miller argued that creationism and intelligent design have no place in the science classroom. If non-natural causes are considered legitimate science explanations, Miller reasons, then all science ground rules change.

Why bother to conduct an exhaustive molecular search through primate virus genomes to find the source of HIV if it was sent from God as a divine warning? Why study the physics of light if the rainbow is a phenomenon given to us by a “whimsical” designer (according to William Dembski, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement)?

sciencefun.wordpress.com

sciencefun.wordpress.com

 

Science is predictable and explainable because it deals with natural causes.
Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design can’t predict. They can’t explain. They aren’t science.

What Does the Theory of Evolution Say About God?

Nothing.

The theory of evolution says nothing about God. The theory of evolution says nothing about how life began, or how matter came into being. The theory of evolution explains how life developed once it got going.

Darwin could not have imagined the vast and diverse evidence we have now that supports his theory.

Francis Collins said it succinctly:

Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics.

ccat reading

***************
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
*************

string theory

The Gungor Conundrum and a Showdown in Big D (Reading Genesis, part 1)

Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning Christian singer/song writer Michael Gungor (front man for the band Gungor) is in hot water. A church cancelled a September gig and Ken Ham is really, really mad at him.

shorefire.com/client/michael-gungor

shorefire.com/client/michael-gungor

There have been quiet rumblings about Gungor before, but following a February post on the band’s home page, suspicions picked up steam. An on-line response by the e-magazine World to Gungor’s post quickly made the internet rounds.

According to World, Michael Gungor, creator of beautiful, deeply spiritual, award-winning Christian music, is “drifting from Biblical orthodoxy”.

Because he no longer believes in God or in Jesus as the son of God?
No.
Because he no longer believes that the Bible is God-breathed and useful?
No.
Because he no longer believes in miracles or the resurrection of Jesus?
No.
According to his critics, Michael Gungor is drifting from the foundational principles of Christianity because he doesn’t believe in a literal, seven-day young earth creation or in a literal, world-wide flood.

Literalists assumed that because Gungor and his band sing a lot about “creation”, they must be young-earth creationists. Gungor’s response: “Gungor is not, and has never been a fundamentalist band seeking to spread young-earth, biblical literalism across the planet”.

It Says What It Says

Michael Gungor is in hot water and accused of unorthodoxy because he doesn’t read Genesis 1-11 as a literal, historical recounting of events. Actually, a literal-only approach to the Bible is a fairly new development in the 2000+ year history of Christianity.

Important theological writers in the early centuries of the church did not insist on a “it says what it says” approach to scripture interpretation. Of course early church writers did not recognize the conflict between modern science and a literal reading, but they still were not literalists.

Origen

Origen of Alexandria (born 184/85 AD) was a brilliant and influential voice in early Christianity. During Origen’s lifetime, the church in Alexandria emerged as a theological and intellectual hub of Christianity.

One of Origen’s most important contributions was the publication of a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Origen used the earliest Greek translation (the Septuagint) as well as newer Greek translations and older Hebrew translations in his massive Old Testament work. Origen was the first Christian scholar to deal with the variations found in multiple translations of scripture and how those variations impacted the meaning of the scripture.

Origen also taught that scriptures were multi-layered and the student of scripture must drill down and unpack all the meaning found within. Interestingly, Origen developed this approach to scripture in response to early unorthodox teachings (heresies), particularly the Gnostic teachers. It was the Gnostics (the unorthodox) who were reading scripture in a literal and “it says what it says” way. Purely literal readings of the Old Testament lead the Gnostics to teach that God was petty, erratic, and had a physical body.

Augustine

Augustine of Hippo (born 354) is considered by many to be one of the most influential Christian thinkers in history. He was a prolific writer and was profoundly influential on the protestant reformers.

Augustine was definitive on this point: although God speaks to the Church through scripture, the Word of God is Jesus Christ. Like Origen, Augustine taught that scripture is multi-layered in meaning. Augustine also insisted that the original intent of the Biblical authors be considered.

Augustine and the Genesis Creation Story

Augustine wrote extensively and specifically about the creation story in Genesis.  Augustine did not read the creation story literally – not because he wanted to accommodate modern science, but because the text did not demand a literal reading.

Augustine rejected the notion that God created the universe in six 24-hour days. According to Augustine, the entire universe was created in an instant and the creation story is a metaphor describing various dimensions of creation.

Although he lived many centuries before Darwin and modern science, Augustine cautioned Christians not to harm the gospel message by imposing meanings to scripture that are demonstrably untrue. Note how contemporary this statement sounds – here’s Augustine:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics…

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven…?

Showdown in Big D

The Dallas Morning News recently featured nine men, all Ph.D.s, all working toward the same goal: prove, using science, that the Genesis creation story is literally true – a historically and scientifically accurate account. These researchers at Dallas’ Institute for Creation Research are starting out with a belief in literalism and going on a hunt for facts to back them up. ICR

Henry Morris III, CEO of the Institute, readily admits that these professors are pariahs in their fields. Because ICR professors reject evidence accepted by virtually every scientist in the world, it’s a showdown in Big D: ICR vs. science.

Suddenly, Augustine doesn’t sound so fourth-century.

According to Morris, the very principles of Christianity are at stake:

If God really does exist, he shouldn’t be lying to us … And if he’s lying to us right off the bat in the book of Genesis, we’ve got some real problems.

Morris and ICR are laying down the law that a literal Genesis is a requirement of real Christianity.

That’s also why Ken Ham is mad at Gungor:

Gungor’s recent statements are particularly damaging because they may mislead youth and discourage them from accepting the Gospel of salvation.

The Two Books of God

Mark Mann, writing at BioLogos, called creation and scripture the “two books of God”.

The book of Creation reveals God, and declares his eternal power and divine nature.
The book of Scripture reveals God’s relationship with human beings.

Mann writes that the two books of God can and should be read together in harmony:

Ultimately, they cannot contradict each other because the source of both of them is the same God and if they seem to be in contradiction it is because we have misread one or both of them…

***************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

wormhole

 

 

Nones on the Run and the Lonely Middle Ground

Where were you in ’82? 80s-fashion

In the last thirty-two years (or less), how have you changed? Hopefully your tunes are smaller now and you probably aren’t sporting a sweatband as an accessory.

What about your worldview? Your theology? Have you ever tracked your own thought evolution from childhood to adulthood to where you are now?

Since 1982, Gallup has tracked American beliefs about creationism and evolution. The same questions were asked every two years and the responses tracked:

Which comes closest to your viewpoint?
• God created humans pretty much in their present form sometime within the last 10,000 years (traditional young earth creationism)
• Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, but God guided this process (evolution and God, sometimes called “evolutionary creation”)
• Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, but God had no part in the process (atheistic evolution)

Currently, more than forty percent of Americans believe that humans were created in their present form no more than 10,000 years ago – and this percentage has held relatively steady over the last three decades. Respondents who regularly attend worship services and those with a high school education or less were most likely to accept young earth creationism.

The percentage of Americans who believe “God had no part” (atheistic evolution) in human origins is steadily increasing – jumping from nine percent when tracking began in 1982 to nineteen percent this year.

At the edges of the science versus faith conversation are the two extremes: one group has hunkered down and held tight (science is wrong and Genesis is literal); the other has staked out ground and is growing (no role for God in creation).

What about the middle ground – the people who see no conflict between science and faith?
Over the last three decades, the percentage of Americans who believe in evolution and God has held steady – around 38 percent. But in the last four years, the percentage has dropped, and in 2014 was at an all-time low of 31 percent.

cake-eatingConventional wisdom says that if you have the opportunity to have the best of two worlds – if there’s an opportunity to have your cake and eat it – the smart thing to do is to seize it.
Given the opportunity to believe the science learned in school and maintain faith in God as the ultimate cause and source, you’d think the middle ground would be growing, not shrinking.

In the science and faith conversation, the middle ground is no man’s land.

It’s hot lava. HotLava

It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery particularly when contemporary world-class scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller are enthusiastic defenders of both evolution and faith. It’s a mystery because most evangelical colleges support both evolution and faith (although often on the down-low, behind closed doors in biology class).

Karl Giberson (What’s Driving America’s Evolution Divide) believes that the increase in the “God has no role” percentage tracks directly with the fastest growing religion in the United States: the nones.

One third of Americans under age 30 do not identify with any religion (Nones on the Rise, Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project). Giberson sees the extremist “you can’t believe both” approach to science and faith as a primary factor in the rise of the nones in the young adult demographic:

young American Christians, by the thousands, are rejecting a religion that tells them to reject science. Many respondents to the Gallup survey apparently perceive the choice to be between evolution and God, rather than between evolution-without-God and evolution-with-God.

Scot McKnight has a slightly different interpretation of the Gallup data. McKnight points out that in all age groups, unguided evolution tracks pretty closely with the number of “nones” in each group. In the graphic below, McKnight inserted the “nones” data next to the “evolution” data:

Gallup-Poll-on-Evolution-by-age-newApparently the under-30 nones aren’t the only ones rejecting a religion that tells them to reject science.

But contrary to Giberson, McKnight sees a reason for optimism in this fact: the under 30 group is the only group that favors God-guided evolution over young earth/special creation. McKnight is hopeful for the acceptance of “evolutionary creation” in the emerging adult generation.

Why They Left

The five-year study by David Kinnaman and the Barna Group haunts me. Kinnaman studied young adults who, though raised as regular churchgoers, left church after their teens. Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church details the study.

Here’s Kinnaman:

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

And on that list of six significant themes?
This:

Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

Although it is encouraging that more young adults favor “evolutionary creation” over young earth creationism, we can’t ignore the fact that overall, young adults are leaving their faith and fueling the rise of the “nones”.

Take another look at Scot McKnight’s graphic. Gallup-Poll-on-Evolution-by-age-new

Interestingly, it is 30-49 year olds who are rejecting God-guided evolution at a higher rate than younger and older groups. What’s going on there? And how is this group – probably the age demographic of the leadership in most churches – impacting the exit of the young nones?

Claiming the Middle Ground

The extreme voices in the science and faith conversation – Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins – draw honest seekers to the edges, thus the shrinking middle ground. Anything else is defined as either a compromise of faith or of intellect.

What are committed people of faith to do when they want to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind?

Ignore science? Pretend it isn’t so?

…or, revisit the way we read Genesis.

Deep breath. We’ve done this before.

In light of modern science, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about the movement of the earth and sun.

In light of modern science, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about the structure of earth’s atmosphere.

In light of modern understanding of human rights and the historical context of scripture, Christians revisited what they thought scripture plainly taught about slavery and most recently, segregation.

What Would it Take?

Toward the end of the Bill Nye – Ken Ham debate, the moderator asked this simple question to each debater: what would it take for you to change your mind?
Nye: evidence.
Ham: nothing.

What is it for you? What questions are you asking? What would you like to see addressed here in this blog? Comments? Evidences?

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to accepting both science and a Christian worldview?
I would like to do a few posts on reading Genesis, and I’m thinking about an “Evolution 101” series covering the basics of evolution science.

Please leave your feedback, your comments, your suggestions!

****************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

cat angular momentum

Doubting Science, Changing the Rules

5meIt was, according to one reviewer, a male nerds’ night out—wearing their best Hawaiian shirts and tees boasting superheroes, periodic tables and jokes about Pluto. I was there, too, in my “peace, love, & space” shirt – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the beautiful Winspear Opera House in Dallas, and three hours of science nirvana.

Seated directly next to my husband and me was a ten year old boy. I know he was ten because when Dr. Tyson noted the number of kids in the audience, he jumped up and down, waved like a windmill and shouted “I’m ten! I’m ten! I’m ten!” In fact, Little Sheldon was on his feet or at the edge of his seat nonstop for three hours – shouting out answers to rhetorical questions, giving full-bodied and full-voiced agreement to Dr. Tyson’s talking points and laughing so loudly at the science humor I thought he would bust a vein. (The comments section for this Dallas Morning News review mentions this kid.  Three tiers in the Winspear and everyone heard him.)

To this boy and all the other enthusiastic kids present, Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rockstar. To the whole audience, really – the show had been sold out for months. Dr. Tyson is funny and engaging and talks like he’s your best friend (if your best friend is an astrophysicist rockstar).

But toward the end of the question and answer time, Dr. Tyson turned somber and confessed his fears about the people outside the walls of the Winspear that night:

I worry for America. We led the world, and the rest of the world would listen in.

Dr. Tyson isn’t the only leading scientist who is worried about America.
Here is the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Randy Schekman:

Science ignorance is pervasive in our society. These attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.

Doubting Science

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll (March 2014) questioned adult Americans about several science topics. Instead of quizzing science knowledge, the pollsters asked respondents to rate their confidence in various statements of scientific evidence.

Happily, most Americans believe that smoking causes cancer – only four percent are holding out. Only six percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition and only eight percent doubt there is a genetic code inside our cells.

So far, so good – but things go downhill fast from there.

  • Fifteen percent of Americans doubt the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines.
  • Forty percent do not believe the earth is warming due in part to man-made trapped gases.
  • Forty-two percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution.
  • Thirty-six percent don’t believe that Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

And a whopping 51 percent of adult Americans doubt that the universe began in the Big Bang.

A new Gallup poll (June 2014) corroborated the AP poll: 42 percent of Americans believe that God created humans, pretty much in their current form within the last 10,000 years.

And in that belief, Americans pretty much stand alone.

Of 34 industrialized countries (32 European countries, USA, and Japan), only Turkey ranks lower than the United States in acceptance of evolution.

What’s the Harm?

If ID/creationism is allowed to share a legitimate scientific spotlight with evolution, the very foundation of the scientific method is undone.

Is that a problem? What’s the harm in remodeling the way we “do” science?

  • Science would be no different than any other human endeavor – subject to political and social opinions.

Does evolution seem to be random and meaningless? Does Intelligent Design/creationism bestow meaning and purpose to creation and to humans particularly?
No worries – just pick the position you prefer! Teach both! Let students decide!

Evolution is just the camel’s nose in this science remodel.

In fewer numbers than evolution-deniers (but growing) are the Americans who believe that vaccines are harmful, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t matter to anti-vaxers that science is not on their side. Anecdotal evidence and personal opinion against vaccination trumps all, even in well-educated anti-vaccine enclaves.

When personal philosophy is on equal footing with evidence (whether with evolution or in medicine), reality doesn’t really matter.

  • Supernatural explanations of natural events stifle scientific curiosity and exploration.

Giants of modern science – Galileo, Newton, Einstein – all spoke about God. They speculated as to how God ordered things in the natural world, but never did they add God to a mathematical equation. God was never cited as the reason for the results of a formula or a step in a process.

…if there is one characteristic that has distinguished Western science from every form of inquiry in human history, it is its uncompromising insistence that nature itself must be the source of answers for questions about the natural world (p. 197).

When God is pushed into the gaps of what we don’t know or don’t understand about the natural world, science stops. Why look any further?

The answer is God.  funny-test-answer-saturn-rings-single-ladiesIf special design is the answer for the complexity found in living things, why study more? There are no patterns or relationships to discover.

And the massive amounts of genetic data collected over the last two decades that indicate the interrelatedness of all life? Just an illusion, no need to develop the new medical treatments indicated by those findings.

  • No policing needed

Traditionally, a new discovery is put out to the open market of the science community. Hypotheses are formed; experiments are conducted. False conclusions are eventually found out – science self-corrects. Over time, findings about a discovery stabilize and a framework of understanding is constructed. Although refinements may be made, once a framework reaches this level, it is considered fact. This framework is called a theory – (atomic theory, gravitational theory, germ theory, and evolution theory are examples).

In the science remodel advocated by Intelligent Design/creationism proponents, science does not need policing. If an idea has value to a significant number of people, that is enough to define the idea as real science. No research or confirmation is needed.

Despite volumes of publications, there is still no peer-reviewed evidence for Intelligent Design/creationism. Intelligent Design/creationism cannot compete on the scientific playing field as-is. If Intelligent Design/creationism is given equal footing in the scientific community and in the classroom, the game must be changed.

Bad Definitions Make a Crummy Debate

Intelligent Design/creationists define evolution as atheistic. Atheists define evolution as atheistic.
Both are wrong.

Evolution is not Christian. Evolution is not un-Christian. Evolution is not conservative or liberal for that matter.

Evolution is science:

Evolution tells us that we have a history on this planet, a history we share with every living organism (p. 220).

Following the Dover Intelligent Design trial, political pundit Charles Krauthammer said this:

How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education, too.

Elegant, brilliant, creative, divine. As a believer in God, I find nothing in that description to fear.

 

This series is a chapter by chapter overview of Kenneth R. Miller’s Only a Theory, with my discussion and commentary.

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I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

Creationism’s Playbook and the Closing of America’s Scientific Mind

I wrote my first letter to a politician this week. dan
I wrote Dan Patrick, the leading candidate and likely winner in the run for Texas lieutenant governor. I told him that I want Texas to lead in science, medicine, and technology. (In Texas, the lieutenant governor is a legislative leader capable of powerful influence on policy, including public education law).

Here’s Mr. Patrick on science education in Texas public schools:

When it comes to creationism, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed, it should be heralded.

Mr. Patrick: how can Texas lead if our science classes discard the very basis of modern biology as well as modern physics and geology?

I’m still waiting for a reply.

Science is one of the few things in life unaffected by politics ( p. 167) – there is no such thing as a Democrat Krebs cycle or a Republican explanation of DNA replication.

Even when there are ethical or moral or political issues regarding how science should be applied, the underlying science is unchanged: those who want to ban stem cell research do not claim that stem cells do not exist; those opposed to nuclear weapons still accept atomic theory.

Social sciences, however, are a different story.

In his best-seller The Closing of the American Mind (1987), Allan Bloom scathingly critiqued American higher education. America’s most highly regarded virtue (according to Bloom) is openness.

Academia, specifically in the social sciences, has declared that all customs, all cultures, all philosophies, and all ideas are worthy of consideration. Evidence is not important; reason is not important. The greatest danger in social sciences is not error, but intolerance. If I make a judgment on the basis of evidence, I am not “open” to other ideas and interpretations. According to Bloom, the American mind is closed because it is (ironically) too open.

Here’s Bloom:

The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all (The Closing of the American Mind, p.26).

When Bloom published in 1986, he exempted the natural sciences from this trend. Bloom found natural scientists to be ruggedly devoted to empirical evidence, to their use of nature as the ultimate standard of proof:

It (natural science) is really self-sufficient, or almost so…. Natural science does not boast, it is not snobbish. It is genuine.

And I love this declaration:

Natural science simply does not care.

Natural science is the honey badger of academia.

honey badger don't care.

honey badger don’t care.

 

Enter: “The Wedge”

In 1998, the Discovery Institute (a creationist think tank), guided by University of California – Berkley law professor Phillip Johnson, outlined a strategy designed to overhaul the way science is “done”. To Johnson and the Discovery Institute, modern science was anti-religion. This strategy, essentially the “playbook” for Intelligent Design/ creationism, was called “The Wedge” by its creators. As the name implies, the intent of the strategy was to drive a wedge between science and its natural (materialistic) roots:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions (The Wedge).

The Wedge proposed a three-phase plan of action: (1) scientific research and writing, (2) publicity, and (3) cultural confrontation.

Phase 1 has not been successful. No research supporting the Intelligent Design model of creationism has ever been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Michael Behe, although one of the most prolific writers and proponents of Intelligent Design, testified to the lack of research at the historic trial in Dover, Pennsylvania:

There are no peer-reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred (Only a Theory, pp. 178-179).

Behe also testified that the darlings of Intelligent Design – the blood clotting cascade, the immune system, and the concept of “irreducible complexity” – had no peer-reviewed support.

And unless you count the Discovery Institute’s own research in its own journal, there is still no peer-reviewed evidence for Intelligent Design’s brand of creationism.

Anything Goes

The Wedge’s phases 2 and 3 (publicity and cultural confrontation), however, have been quite successful.
Multiple court cases in many states framed the teaching of evolution in public schools as a “culture-war” issue. A magazine cover time cover and a popular movie  expelledreinforced the believers-against-the-godless-evolutionists mantra.

 

 

 

 

The message was clear and found its way into education bills across the country: Teach the controversy. Present both sides. Don’t you want our children to be critical thinkers? It’s “only” a theory.

Ironically, Intelligent Design advocates adopted the strategy of left-leaning academics. With Intelligent Design/creationism, natural sciences are subject to the “open to everything” approach that Bloom said had closed the American mind. When scientific evidence no longer matters and when all comers get equal time, the American scientific mind has been closed.

Natural Explanations

Traditionally, scientists try to find natural explanations for natural events. In the world of Intelligent Design/creationism, non-naturalistic explanations get equal consideration.

Let’s follow this line of thinking beyond the topic of evolution….if you break out in a nasty rash, do you want your doctor to divide her diagnostic efforts between looking for a medical cause AND looking for a neighbor who might have cursed you with bad skin? If your house is sinking, do you call an engineer or a ghost-buster? ghostbustersmenAlthough most anti-evolutionists believe that God blesses the earth with rain, they have no problem with teaching the water cycle in public schools. Only in the case of evolution do we find people lobbying for the inclusion of non-natural explanations in science class.

That’s Why Science Works

Here is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson in a recent interview, talking about the nature of science:

Once science has been established, once a scientific truth emerges from a consensus of experiments and observations, it is the way of the world. What I’m saying is, when different experiments give you the same result, it is no longer subject to your opinion. That’s the good thing about science: It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works.

In my letter to Dan Patrick, I told him that I share his committed Christian faith and his high regard for scripture. I told him that there are a lot of us out here who see no conflict between science and faith. I offered to meet and discuss.

So far no invite.

 

This series is a chapter by chapter overview of Kenneth R. Miller’s Only a Theory, with my discussion and commentary.

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I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

electron cat

Did the World Know We Were Coming?

higgs boson image (2)Call me Sheldon, but Particle Fever is one of the coolest films I’ve seen in a while.
Particle Fever tells the human story behind the recent discovery of the Higgs boson (aka “the God particle”).

My understanding of particle physics is about on the level of the intended audience of Chad Orzel’s book How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, but briefly:

The Higgs boson had been predicted for decades, but never found. For years, theoretical physicists based theories on it and experimental physicists designed machines and experiments to look for it.

Anticipation in the movie builds: If the Higgs boson is found and it has a small numerical value on the scale of The Way Physicists Measure Stuff, this would indicate that matter is organized according to a model called “supersymmetry”. And if the supersymmetry model is true, then physicists know where the Higgs boson fits into the model and can go from there to discover all the other parts and pieces of the model. Yay for science! Things are waiting to be discovered!

BUT if the numerical value for the Higgs boson is large, this would indicate no symmetry in matter – a chaotic, unknowable model with unknowable laws called the “multiverse” model.
Although intrigued by the concept of a multiverse, the young physicists in the film were pulling for supersymmetry. The complete randomness and unknowable-ness of a multiverse was depressing. If the multiverse is true, there would be no reason to continue research and experimentation, no reason to carry on their work, just no reason.

We don’t like random. It depresses us. Evolution-deniers have long defined evolution as a “random” or an “accidental” process. If that’s true, then we are not special, we are just sophisticated animals that accidentally obtained consciousness. We are depressed and deflated, with no hope for the future.

Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and presidential hopeful said this in a nationally broadcast interview:

It [evolution] has huge consequences for society. I mean, it’s where we come from. Does man have purpose? Is there a purpose for our lives? Or are we just simply, you know, the result of chance? If we are the result of chance, if we’re simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us – in fact, it doesn’t put a moral demand on us….

Unpredictable VS Random

The process of evolution is unpredictable, but it is not random.

You cannot predict who will win the next Texas Mega-Gazillionaire Lottery. But the winner will not be me – I’ve never bought a ticket. The lottery is unpredictable but it is not random.

cat-in-trendy-strollerThe genes passed down from parents to offspring are unpredictable, but human parents will not produce a kitten or a starfish.
Human genetics are unpredictable, but are not random.

In the case of evolution, changes that occur in living things are not predictable, but neither are they random. Changes in living things are driven in a direction that benefits the evolution of the organism.

Contingency

If we rewound the clock of evolution and set it out to run again, would we end up with the exact same natural history of life on earth? Is the process of evolution a contingent process – change one event and the whole picture changes? smbc-dinosave_large_copyfix_grandeFor example, if the asteroid missed the earth on that fateful day and the dinosaurs survived, would mammals have proliferated and advanced as they did, eventually resulting in humans?

The answer is yes and no.

What if your life was rewound back to the moment when your parents’ chromosomes were being shuffled about just before the fertilization occurred that resulted in you?

You would not be the exact person you are today. But – the same genetic constraints that were in place the first time around would still be in place in the rewind. You would still be your parents’ child.

Our universe and our planet are constrained by natural laws of physics and chemistry:

How strong are the constraints imposed by those conditions? To what degree do they guide and determine the course of evolution? (Only a Theory, p. 147).

In simpler words, did the world know that we (in one form or another) were coming?

Convergence

Visualize a watery space where animals might live – an ocean or a lake. Slow moving animals, whether large or small, can be almost any shape. But large, fast-moving animals living in the water tend to have a streamlined shape.

Think about a dolphin (mammal), a tuna (fish), and an ichthyosaur (extinct marine reptile) – all three very different animals. But all three are amazingly similar in shape:

Dolphin

dolphin

tuna

tuna

ichthyosaur

ichthyosaur

This concept is called convergence: organisms that evolve in a particular space will adapt to that space. Organisms evolve features that allow them to live and thrive in a particular environment. As a result, very different and unrelated organisms may look quite similar.

…evolution essentially “explores” any given adaptive space. It pokes and probes the multidimensional landscape of adaptation, and when two or more organisms arrive in a particular niche on that landscape, they are subject to the same physical constraints. (Only a Theory, p. 148)

koala in glassesKoalas, Kangaroos, Eyes, and Convergence

Do You Come From the Land Down Under? When the Australian landmass separated from the rest of the world (about 100 million years ago), it was home to both marsupial mammals (mammals that give birth to very underdeveloped young and carry them in pouches) and placental mammals (mammals that give birth to more developed young). In the newly isolated Australia, only the marsupials survived. In the rest of the world, however, the placentals were champions.

Outside Australia, placental mammals evolved and adapted to a variety of niches. Hunter/predator mammals evolved, as did burrowing mammals and tree-dwelling mammals. The same types of niches found throughout the world were also found in Australia, but only marsupials were around to fill them. In Australia, evolution also produced hunter/predators (the tiger quoll), burrowers (marsupial moles), and tree-dwellers (marsupial flying squirrels).

In Australia, evolution filled the very same spaces with marsupials that it had filled elsewhere with placental mammals.

Eyes Everywhere. Separated by a span of 400 million years, several groups of organisms faced the challenge of vision. Vertebrates, worms, and cephalopod mollusks (squids, octopi, nautilus) all evolved a camera-like eye. These three eyes did not evolve in the same way or from the same structures and are not the same biochemically.
BUT – all three types of eyes are constrained by the same physics of light and geometric principles of optics.

Were We Inevitable?

Again and again, life explores and fills adaptive spaces. Whether separated by oceans or millions of years, the same physical constraints of chemistry and physics are at work, solving problems in similar ways.

Is it reasonable, then, to believe that due to these constraints, the process of evolution would eventually and inevitably lead to us?

…it’s perfectly reasonable to maintain that evolution as we know and understand it was almost certain to produce a species like ours under conditions that prevail on Planet Earth (Only a Theory, p.153).

Life is possible only because of the precise and balanced fundamental constants of our universe. Exact outcomes of the evolutionary process might be unpredictable, but they are not random.

Accident of Nature or Willed by God?

To opponents of evolution, unpredictable is equated with random, and randomness is called God-less.

If God is the cause of causes, people of faith can accept evolution and still believe the universe was willed by God and our presence in it is God’s plan and purpose. The natural processes that brought about life on earth are no more God-less than the natural processes that maintain and propagate life.

God’s Image-bearers

This ad ran on the Answers in Genesis website following a rash of school shootings in 2006: Gun and God

The script reads:

As a society, we reap the consequences of the unquestioned acceptance of the belief in evolution every day. It diminishes your worth and reduces human beings from being made “in the image of God” to being mere players in the game of survival of the fittest.

Evolution makes some people nervous because of the whole connection-to-animals thing. Here’s the thought: how can we be “made in God’s image” if we are just animals?

Peter Enns is the Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University and former senior fellow of biblical studies for The BioLogos Foundation. In his book The Evolution of Adam, Dr. Enns explored what the Bible says and does not say about human origins.

In Genesis, the phrase “image of God” does not refer to a characteristic that separates us from all other animals. The “image of God” does not refer to biology or a soul or a spiritual quality that makes us special.

Instead, the term “image of God” describes humans as God’s representatives in ruling creation. The original readers of Genesis would have understood this – ancient Near-Eastern kings declared themselves to be the gods’ image on earth. Kings liked to set up statues of themselves across the kingdom to remind their subjects that they were in charge and appointed by the gods.

In Genesis,  “image of God” means that humans have been tasked with representing God in the world.

That is a daunting task, and it certainly makes us special.

 

This series is a chapter by chapter overview of Kenneth R. Miller’s Only a Theory, with my discussion and commentary.

****************

I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

CatsDinosaurs