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.


Bradley said...

Fine writing Ford! I love your eloquence and simplicity. Unfortunately, the media and the scientific community is not up for such an open and straightforward debate. I think character attacks has been the unfortunate weapon of choice for both parties at this point. An honest debate would expose the lack of evidence really pointing in either direction (which is a win ultimately for the believer, because one who holds to the belief of creation by God needs only the slightest possible amount of doubt to be possibly completely right).

rob said...

Cool article. It should have been printed. At least to stir the pot and get the community thinking.
First off, I would say we don't have any "proof" and will never be able to acutally observe the process descibed by evolutionist theories. However, there is a lot more scientific evidence support evolution than creationism or I.D. etc. It's unfortunate, but let's face it: You can scientifically test I.D. or creationism.

When you get 15 minutes of peace and quiet, I would urge everyone to read the entry of evolution on Wikipedia. I think it does a good job of covering all the bases, the theories, the inconsistencies, etc. and- it has many links to keep you going all night.

Not much is yet known about the earliest developments in life. To claim evolution as not proven because we don't know this would be jumping the gun. An important point that is mentioned in the article is that the origin of life (self-catalytic chemical reactions) is not really considered part of biological evolution, but "abiogenesis." This area of science is pure theory at best and many scientists are in diagreement as to how this occurs. Also, there are disputes over what defines life, and at what point the increasingly complexity results in the first "organism." The proposed three types of organisms are Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryota and there is no scientific consensus regarding the relationship or reactions of these organisms in abiogenesis.

As far as the fossil record and the conclusion drawn in Darwin's writings, we must remember that the science of genetic mapping is a very recent ability of mankind, and it is verifying original hypotheses and drawing additional conclusions that were not known to science in Darwin's time. Remeber Darwin's theories were absed strictly on observation. This genetic mapping supports the theory that all life has roots in some common ancestor, whether a direct creation of God or not, but the fossils of which will probably never be found.

rob said...

Read a cool article on CNN today from Dr. Francis Collins:

Why this scientist believes in God
By Dr. Francis Collins
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. His most recent book is "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief."

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.

As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan.

I did not always embrace these perspectives. As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.

I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" "Why am I here?" "Why does mathematics work, anyway?" "If the universe had a beginning, who created it?" "Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?" "Why do humans have a moral sense?" "What happens after we die?" (Watch Francis Collins discuss how he came to believe in God )

I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds. My earlier atheist's assertion that "I know there is no God" emerged as the least defensible. As the British writer G.K. Chesterton famously remarked, "Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative."

But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.

For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.

So, some have asked, doesn't your brain explode? Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren't evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection?

Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

But why couldn't this be God's plan for creation? True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.

I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.

Adam Caldwell said...

Ford...Check out Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth. Decent Read.