Friday, March 23, 2007

Science or Religion in the Classroom?

I originally wrote this almost two years ago in answer to an op/ed in our local paper. I submitted it, but I think it was too long. I’ve since been picking away at it, and after reading selections from The Origin of Species I’ve added some new thoughts as well. I am no expert in these fields, so if you happen to hold to evolution and know of the scientific proofs of macroevolution I'l like to hear from you.

I hope that the “Our View” piece in the Friday, May 13, 2005 News Herald has corrected the pervading misunderstanding that because evolution is just a theory it should not be taught as fact; however, I think there are far more telling reasons to question the necessity of teaching all that the theory of evolution entails: namely what it has to say about origins.

The writer of our view states, “Among modern biologists there is no battle over the truth of evolution.” I mean no disrespect, but I do not believe this is true. Many of the proponents of Intelligent Design are not just “religious adherents,” but accredited scientists in their respective fields.
The writer of “Our View” mentioned Richard Dawkins for the evolution side, but did not name anyone on the other side of the debate.Michael Behe, for instance, is a professor of biochemistry, who, not in spite of, but because of his scientific study has weighed evolution and found it wanting. I do not pretend that because Intelligent Design advocates have some PhD’s on their side their views in this area are justified. Nonetheless it’s hardly fair to dismiss a viewpoint because it is embraced by a minority. The substance of the argument should determine the response, not the number of proponents.

Every article I’ve read addressing I. D., however, has ignored the ideas of ID, and has instead launched into character attack (see cartoon at top). ID proponents are portrayed as little more than illiterate fundamentalist creationists who want to dilute science with religion. This is the trump card the evolution advocate pulls: all they have to do is connect I. D. to God and religion, and they can stage this as the mythical battle of science versus religion, Galileo vs. the Church, or Clarence Darrow versus William Jennings Bryan. The immediate implication is that if we let religion win this debate, we’ll find ourselves on the road to the dark ages. It’s a fine use of ad hominem, but aside from educating readers in the art of sucker-punch rhetoric it does little to present the debate in an honest and objective light.

One of Intelligent Design’s key questions concerns an apparent breakdown in logic consistently overlooked or ignored by evolutionists. Richard Dawkins wrote a book, The Blind Watchmaker, in which he describes a program he fashioned for the Mac enabling users to breed facsimile biomorphs in order to simulate evolution. Dawkins states that he attempted to avoid using his knowledge of biology in “designing” the program. I found his use of words quite telling-he had to design a program that would make it possible for even simulated evolution to occur. Now, this is an old argument, I know, but I and others who find merit in Intelligent Design theory are still incredulous. If Dawkins had to design a program that only uses 1’s and 0’s to do its thing, how do we expect something as complex as DNA (composed of four bases) to be shuffled into order without intelligent help?

What I and perhaps most I. D. proponents want is some proof of evolution. I see the theory of gravity at work everyday; it’s not hard for me to accept, but I must ask the child’s question: where is evolution?1 For years, agnostics and atheists have used the child’s question to debunk God-“If he’s there, then why doesn’t he show himself!” I’m asking the same question of evolution: “If it’s there, show me DNA shuffling itself into order without intelligent help!” I would like to see it at work. I don’t mean microevolution, i.e., adaptations or mutations; they are testable and provable. I am concerned with the central concern of this whole debate: origins.

Much has been made about Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and having read some of it, I can see where he was going, and how he reached certain conclusions. If he would have stayed with the notion of natural selection affecting change from species to species, I would be fine with that, but he and all the evolutionary theorists since then didn’t stop there. I think the title of that book should have been “The Origin of the Kingdoms,” because Darwin’s premise was that a Creator (yes, it is in the book, so if we are fair I guess we have to edit Origin of the Species so no students will be forced to hear about an impossible-to-prove Creator) breathed life into a few forms or ONE. Hmmm…but all the evidence he gives in the book involves changing from species to species, hardly proof that giraffes and amoebas have the same ancestor. 2 So spaniels and pointers have the same ancestor? Yes? They’re both dogs! Am I too simpleminded because I believe God created a proto-dog from which other species evolved, but can’t accept the fact that dogs and man have the same ancestor? Why are we even having this silly argument about Intelligent Design being such a scientific heresy if Darwin himself left room for an Intelligent Designer? What’s the big deal with teaching two opposing viewpoints on a topic that cannot be proven in the lab?

Well, High School biology textbooks do claim to have proofs from the lab that address the origins of life on earth from an evolutionary perspective. One is a 1953 experiment in which Miller and Urey simulated the conditions of primordial earth and produced goo brimming with amino acids and organic compounds: the building blocks of life. The book does not mention, however, that the results were inaccurate in light of recent evidence.

According to Bill Bryson, in his book A Short History of Everything, “Despite half a century of further study, we are no nearer to synthesizing life today than we were in 1953 and much further away from thinking we can. Scientists are now pretty certain that the early atmosphere was nothing like as primed for development as Miller and Urey’s gaseous stew” (287). If we were really concerned about the integrity of the scientific education, why is an experiment known to be inaccurate for over thirty years still taught?

Bryson goes on to say that recent experiments in this area have only managed to produce one amino acid, and scientists have absolutely no idea how proteins were formed, which is the real kicker. You see, the fact that no protein has been formed in the lab without intelligent help is the problem I have. I want to see this kind of evidence.

Now, you may be saying, “that’s impossible; you’re making demands that are too high. You’re asking for a miracle.” Exactly! God is kept out of the classroom because His existence cannot be determined by means of science, but science still can present no empirical evidence that evolution could work on the most fundamental level of all: the origin of life. Without scientific evidence, this aspect of evolution is nothing more than metaphysics, i.e., religion.

The writer of “Our View” states, “Scientific hypotheses need to be falsifiable: there has to be a way they could be proven wrong,” but even when aspects of evolution are disproved (as above), the public never hears and students are still taught the proof-turned-myth as science.

I close by referencing the article, “Evolution Debate Moves to Florida” in the Tuesday, May 10, 2005 News Herald in which Marcia Brady said, “We’re not certified to be theologians. That’s social or religious studies.” If metaphysics are to be removed from the high school classroom, please be fair about it, and remove those traces that have mingled with accepted scientific theory. If theists can’t teach their view of origins in the classroom then why is the evolutionist able to teach theirs with no natural or scientific proof to back it?

1 Agnostics use the child’s question of God- “If He exists, where is he?” The problem with asking that question of a being with intelligence is that the being has every ability and right not to answer. If God doesn’t want to reveal himself to people who demand proof, is there a natural law that says he has to? But the evolutionist cannot evade my child’s question: if evolution is true-why can’t we see it at work-there is no intelligent force behind evolution-it is a mechanical process, so it doesn’t have any say. If it works, it works, no matter who’s looking. But the problem is that it doesn’t work while people are looking. It does its amazing work over millions of years so no can observe it. To me it seems clear that this is outside of the realm of science. No one can see it happening, so why are evolutionists so intent on keeping it in the classroom? Sure, I can’t see gravity, I can’t see electricity, but I see their effects and experiments show that they ARE HAPPENING NOW-in the present, but evolution isn’t. Where are the missing links? Why hasn’t the fossil record borne the theory out? That is exactly the point.

2 He does give a lengthy hypothesis that shows how evolution that introduces new Classes, Orders and Phylums COULD happen, but do we have ANY observable proof that this in fact is happening or has happened? Where is the proof of this kind of change? This is an honest question. I don't know of any-if you know more of this than I do and know of some proof in this vein, I would like to hear about it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

More Than a Period Piece

Amazing Grace is one of those movies that, if you’re not careful, can sneak past without much notice or protest. Most people I’ve talked to haven’t even heard of the movie. It is truly unfortunate because I found this film to be quite the diamond in the rough.

Perhaps it is the title that scares even would-be supporters of the film to steer clear. Even though Christianity is supposedly a commercial hotspot right now after The Passion of the Christ, any time “Christian” movies (films that are produced by companies spawned out of the Christian subculture) actually find their way to theaters or the rental store, they are avoided like the plague by the bulk of the populace, because, well, let’s be honest, these movies just plain suck. I’m thinking of Left Behind, Omega Code, Hangman’s Curse and the like. Thankfully this film is not in that vein.

The title is derived from the famous hymn of course, but what you may not have realized is that this hymn was written by a former slave trader-turned pastor named John Newton, who also had a profound impact on a man named William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was the man who for years fought against the institution of slavery in the British parliament and was instrumental in its abolition long before America would follow suit. The film focuses on Wilberforce, the abolitionist, so like 2005’s Capote, is less a biography, than the chronicle of one aspect of a man’s life. It is an engrossing aspect, and the story is well written, directed and acted.

There are a couple of dinger moments. One exchange goes something to the effect of: “So you’re saying you found God?” And all us Christians respond in unison with Wilberforce, “I think He found me.” This kind of thing can be forgiven, though, because elsewhere, the writer, Steven Knight, crafts some really witty repartee, and is often downright profound.

Ioan Gruffudd gives an earnest and believable performance as Wilberforce, and Steven Knight, has infused this portrait of the man with nobility and at the same time frailty, ensuring that we not only root for him, but also identify with him. The supporting cast is peopled by the likes of Michael Gambon, Ciaran Hinds, and Albert Finney (character actors you will recognize, but probably won’t be able to place); all of whom turn in outstanding performances. Albert Finney is absolutely wonderful as Wilberforce’s mentor pastor John Newton.

Some have complained that there is not enough of the horror and atrocity of slavery actually depicted onscreen, and that perhaps the subject has been Disney-fied beyond recognition. But this movie is not seeking to be Amistad or Schindler's List, and to impose that expectation on the film is unfair. Again, the film centers on William Wilberforce the abolitionist, and in spite of its lack of visual aids, it recreates his own abhorrence for slavery very well.

One critic claimed that Wilberforce is not worthy of real heroism because he’s rich and retreats to his well-established estate when not fighting slavery. The writer must have forgotten that Wilberforce leaves his doors open to peasants who overrun his house in one scene. This is not the socially conscious hypocritical celebrity activist of the present, who villifies the president and then returns home to his mansion that dwarfs the president's and does nothing about the problem. This is a man whose rhetoric was not separated from his lifestyle, but whose whole life rang with cohesion.

This movie challenged me, and I think all Christians should watch it to remind us that while we are in this world, we need to be advocates of the truly downtrodden, because even with all our study of the Word, we often leave behind those numerous commands to care for the poor in favor other, more esoteric or advantageous propositions. I hope non-Christians watch the movie as well, to see that there have been great men of God who, though frail and weak like the rest of us, did more than just talk about love or prepare for eternity, but actually helped make this world a better place.

**** out of ****

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Selective Deconstruction

I just heard an interview with Elaine Pagels, the writer of Beyond Belief and many books dealing with the Gnostic Gospels. A minority group of scholars consisting of Marcus Borg, Domonic Crossan, Robert Funk, Pagels, and a few others seems to dominate media coverage of anything pertaining to Jesus. This should be no small surprise in a postmodern deconstructionist era in which we are challenged to question long-held assumptions. The mantra of this generation of historians and thinkers is: “the winner writes the history books.” This statement has some veracity, there is no doubt, and I strongly support the notion of questioning even long-held traditions when initial inquiry reveals that something is wrong with these entrenched beliefs.

What I find fascinating is that this attitude of appealing to a minority of experts (which should be expected from a critically minded media) is only applied selectively. So, it is okay to dedicate page after page of U.S. News and World Report and hour upon hour of broadcast on NPR or the History Channel to this minority of religious scholars, but it is absurd to dedicate any fair bit of press or airtime to minority views on global warming, the Holocaust or evolution.

Now, before you x this window out, I’m not saying that the people who deny the Holocaust have any merit to their position. I believe the Holocaust happened and have no need that it be denied. I don’t even understand how a thinking individual could question the reality of the Holocaust, but if the media feels this inexorable need to constantly undermine accepted understanding of history, why does it not apply the same modus operandi when dealing with certain areas? Again, I’m not insinuating that because a lot of people believe one thing that this view should be considered true, and I’m certainly not advocating the idea that a minority will have a better view than the popularly held idea. All I’m asking is: Why should any of this matter? Why don’t we look at the claim, hold it up to critical inquiry, and as far as possible, let the facts speak for themselves?

I’ve yet to hear much debate on the Gnostic Gospels issue, because it always seems that the minority scholars get free reign in the public arena. I’ve never even heard the objections raised by “the holocaust as myth” crowd, because everyone is afraid to give them publicity. I think you give them more publicity by news blurbs that announce their existence, but don’t explore their views and offer a chance to give them a rebuttal. I’ve still yet to see any fair treatment of the Intelligent Design issue. All I ever see is a bunch of talking heads (who are far from scientific experts) denouncing the movement as scientific heretics without ever giving them a chance to present their viewpoints. No, they are just branded as Creationist idiots.

It’s a wonder that the same institutions that decry I.D. scientists for their heresy, laud the Pagels crowd for theirs, giving the latter a bully pulpit with no opportunity for rebuff, and the former only a caricature, and no opportunity to even present their reasons for believing the way the do. If we’re to be critical thinkers, we need to see both sides of a story and subject both sides to critical inquiry. Right now, the accepted evangelical understanding is being subjected to criticism for the gazillionth time in history. Fine, all is fair, but what of Gnosticism? Have you put that worldview under the microscope lately? What of evolution? A theory that for all its charm, after 150 years still lacks adequate proof in the fossil record to vindicate it. Where is the objectivity in all this?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

City Pier March 2

The surf was pretty impressive on Friday. I put a little video together from the footage I got.

Brady Mandigo

Brady was a former student of mine at Arnold High. He did this mini-expo for my wife's first grade class, and I compiled a little video. He hasn't even been skating for two years, but he already can do some amazing stuff.