Evolution in the Hymnal

After a lifetime of church-going, I’ve heard countless songs praising God in terms of the created world – the stars, the rolling thunder, “thy power throughout the universe displayed”.HowGreatThouArt

A few weeks ago, our worship leader introduced a new song by Hillsong United. It was beautiful and ethereal as you would expect from Hillsong.

But the lyrics stopped me in my tracks.

Here is the first verse:

With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form

Ok, Hillsong. You have my attention. The universe is old and immense and the planets formed in the wake of stars. That is real science.

And with the next verse, I am undone.

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said

No mental gymnastics needed to make observed science fit into a literalist theology.

Evolution is fact.

Evolution is the process responsible for the brilliant diversity of life on our planet.

And this is huge: we praise God for it. In a song. In church.

Party Favors

Unfortunately, too many people of faith aren’t buying it. Thirty-four percent of Americans reject biological evolution outright. Evangelicals (my tradition) really aren’t buying it – 57% of American evangelicals believe that life has always and only existed in its present form.

A friend was recently given a box of science-y trading cards, a children’s dinosaur book, and a glossy NatGeo-style magazine by her neighbor at a neighborhood gathering she had organized. The neighbor suggested handing the trading cards out to the kids at the event. The trading cards, the book, and the magazine were attractive and kid-friendly, with lots of photos of giant insects and exotic animals and dinosaur facts. When I found out who published these materials, I gladly took the collection off her hands.

The cards, book, and magazine are all publications by the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research. The embedded theology is what you would expected from an organization dedicated to promoting a young earth, literal seven-day version of creation. However, some disturbing themes are also woven throughout the collection:

Scientists are suspect. Scientists are atheists.

Scientists “guess”. Scientists ignore facts.

And not just scientists –

Teachers are suspect, too.

Even old-earth creationists and intelligent design advocates are suspect.

Destination Vacation

 

ICR is currently fundraising and planning for a destination “science” center in Dallas – the ICR Discovery Center for Science and Earth History. It’s big and modern and looks like it will give Ken Ham’s Ark Adventure a run for its money. A video on ICR’s website proudly announces that at the Center you will learn “what they don’t tell you in biology class”.

(Those science teachers… always trying to hide the facts.)

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Robert Jeffress, the popular pastor of First Baptist Dallas and frequent national political commentator, said this:

What you believe about creation determines what you ultimately believe about salvation.

Dr. Jeffress: Is the fabric of the gospel so fragile that it comes unpinned if God moves and creates within natural laws?

humpbackwhales

news.nationalgeographic.com

We are OK with letting the Bible speak in an ancient voice when it comes to the sciences of meteorology, medicine, and astronomy. But we draw the line at biology.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are a hundred billion reasons why.

Listen.

So will I (100 Billion X) by Hillsong United

 

ccat reading

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And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I

(Hillsong United “So Will I“)

*****

who invited the herbivore

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…

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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.

wormhole