Accepting Evolution

I have noticed that for some people, the reality of evolution is not a scientific issue, nor even a theological one. They will never be convinced by either the science or the theology that evolution is both true and consonant with a Christian view of scripture, because the roots of their opposition lie elsewhere – in a political and social worldview for which evolution has become a marker.

I know that many people have been persuaded by the scientific evidence and/or the theological interpretations that are consistent with evolution as God’s method for creation of the diversity of life. But others use a version of science or the Bible as screens to refute the idea of evolution, because they experience it as an intolerable challenge to their basic definitions of themselves and their concepts of humanity’s place in the world.

Of course, the situation is exacerbated by the insistence of many vocal atheists (in full agreement with YECs) that evolution is an atheistic idea. But I think the problem is deeper than that. Evolution is perceived by many as part of the “liberal” social ethic, along with gay rights and gay marriage, feminism, diversity, universalism, and so on. As a scientific theory, this is nonsense. In fact, historically, evolution has been used as propaganda for the extreme right – think of Nazism, scientific racism, genetic determinism (which is making a strange comeback), and so on.

We are living in world where Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus “what is truth”? has many possible answers. This has probably always been true, in the time of Pilate and throughout history. The challenge is for us to see past our own political and social ideas of truth (which, I believe, are always shaky at best) and see a higher level of truth, that which is gained by the twin pillars represented by the two Books of God’s works and words – the scientific knowledge of nature, and truth of Scripture. Some will say that for evolution, these two books do not agree, but I believe that is false. What is clear is that science and politics treat the definition and description of truth in very different ways.

So we need people to understand that Darwin’s great idea is actually not related to political or social issues, unless it is falsely used in such a way. It is not a political or social theory. It does not say that humans are basically animals, nor does it contend that there is nothing special about human beings. Evolutionary theory, used properly, says nothing about human equality or inequality, and it takes no stand on any of the political issues that are so divisive in the US today. It is a scientific theory that has gotten overwhelming evidentiary support, and is not more political or social than the theory of gravity.

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On Maundy Thursday

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus came into the Church where I was, and sat down in the pew behind me. The service was mostly a musical rendition by the Church choir, along with another church choir and a string quartet. They performed a work by Monteverdi and Haydn’s Missa Brevis. I sat near the front, close to the choir loft, since my wife is a soprano in our Church choir and I like to watch her as she sings.

Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week. It marks the Last Supper, the betrayal and arrest of Christ, and is the lead up to the Good Friday remembrance of the Crucifixion. A somber period, full of reflection. I turned around a couple of times to see how Jesus was reacting to the service. He was paying close attention to the sermon, I noticed, but when I turned around during the singing of the Haydn mass, I could see tears on his face, and his eyes were closed.

I also closed my eyes, and began to pray.
“Thank you, Lord,” I prayed, “for this beautiful music”. Jesus answered me.

“You’re welcome” I heard him say, “but it isn’t I, but your lovely wife and her friends who are providing the music”. I spun around in the pew, and saw that Jesus was sitting still with his eyes closed, and there was a very slight smile on his face. He was speaking directly to my soul, without sound.

“And thank the composers, who even now are listening to this beautiful rendition of their work, and are gladdened” I turned back to the front of the Church, bowed my head, and asked Jesus:

“Why have you come here, to this Church, tonight, Lord? There are larger Churches, Cathedrals even, with much larger choirs, filled with professional singers, and famous preachers.”

“I know that, brother. I have heard people say that there are much bigger and better planets than this one, that there are, or there must be, better species than humans, and that the insignificance of this place and this time is staggering. When I hear that I respond, ‘that might be true, but you are here”’.

“Lord are you saying that you have come here for me? Has my time come to go with you?”

“No, brother, not yet. I have come to tell you a parable.  Once there was a fisherman who was never lucky. He struggled to catch enough fish to survive. He prayed all the time for mercy, for help in catching fish. I granted his wish for mercy and answered his prayer. I told him that it didn’t matter how many fish he caught, that what mattered was that he catch the right fish.”

I bowed my head, and heard the choir singing the final Dona Nobis Pacem of the mass. When the Pastor said ‘Amen’, I knew that Jesus had gone. “Thank you, Lord,” I prayed.

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Christian scientists

Some time ago, the militant atheist Richard Dawkins began promoting the idea that while he had to admit that there were some scientists who were Christians, the better scientists, (such as members of the National Academy) tend to be atheists or agnostics. This pronouncement, based on one survey, was not seen as very strong evidence of anything, especially since it was news to no one that most scientists are not very religious. What is much more striking is the large number of modern and past scientists who are or have been religious. This fact goes against the concept that Dawkins was trying to promote, namely that being religious was counter to the basic principles of doing good science.

There are lists of famous or high-quality scientists who were or are Christians, including an extensive one on Wikipedia. I often like to cite some of these people when arguing with atheists who trot out the “no true scientist” argument against faith. I took the Wiki list, and edited it down to only those scientists I have heard of, and/or actually know. These names, each with links to a Wiki article about them, are given below. Following that I have added some of the Nobel Laureate scientists who are professing Christians. I post these lists as a resource for myself, and anyone else who might find them useful. The original Wiki list is far more extensive and detailed, so I recommend that one for purposes that require a more comprehensive treatment. The people in bold, are those I know personally.

Historical and Contemporary Christian scientists:

Francis BaconIsaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Gottfried Leibniz, Leonhard Euler, Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Priestley, Alessandro Volta, Andre Marie Ampere, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, James Clerk Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Asa Gray, Lord Kelvin, George Washington Carver, Arthur Eddington, Ronald Fisher, Georges Lemaître, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Michael Polanyi, Wernher von Braun, Ian Barbour, Francis Collins, Darrel R. Falk, Denis Lamoureux, Alister McGrath,  Kenneth R. Miller,  Simon C. Morris, Stephen Barr,  John D. Barrow,  Owen Gingerich, Ard Louis, John Polkinghorne, Jennifer Wiseman, Freeman Dyson, Justin L. Barrett, Denis Alexander 

 

Christian Nobel Laureates in the Sciences:

Alexis Carrel Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Charles Glover Barkla  Nobel Prize in Physics

Philipp Lenard  Nobel Prize in Physics

Reverend Silas Franklin Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics

Arthur Compton Nobel Prize in Physics.

Ernest Walton  Nobel Prize in Physics

Nevill Francis Mott Nobel Prize in Physics

John Eccles Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Arthur Leonard Schawlow Nobel Prize in Physics.

Richard Smalley Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Joseph Murray Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Charles H. Townes Nobel Prize in Physics

Werner Arber Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

John Gurdon Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Peter Agre Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Gerhard Ertl Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Brian Kobilka Nobel Prize Chemistry

Antony Hewish Nobel Prize in Physics

William Daniel Phillips Nobel Prize in Physics

Carlo Rubbia Nobel Prize in Physics

Again, I am publishing this post as a resource for anyone who can use it. It shows the utter bankruptcy of the idea that science and Christian faith are not compatible.

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The Meaning of Purpose by Randy Isaac

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Randy Isaac, former Executive Director of the American Scientific Affiliation, and a good friend. Randy and I share an interest in the concept of teleology in biology, and how notions of purpose and causation might fit into the science faith nexus. Randy also has an excellent article on the subject in this months issue of Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith. In this post Randy, an authority on information science, explains the various meanings of purpose. 

 

The word “purpose” is so common that few people take the time to define it carefully. In contrast, terms like “teleology” and “design” get a lot of attention. More attention needs to be paid to the various nuances of “purpose” as widely used. In this post I consider three distinct usages of the concept of purpose: 1. External agent, 2. Self-determined, and 3. Intrinsic.

1 External agent. The most widely used connotation of “purpose” is a conscious being that ascribes purpose to an object or another being in one of three ways: a. Construction, b. Appropriation, and c. Assignment.

Construction applies predominantly to tools or machines that are designed and built for the purpose of carrying out some task. A hammer, for example, is designed and built to drive a nail into wood. Appropriation refers to a tool or machine constructed for a different purpose but appropriated to do a different task than the one for which it was constructed. A hammer can be used for many purposes other than driving nails. Assignment generally refers to people or animals. Most commonly, an employer asks an employee to serve the purpose of fulfilling some task. Or an animal is trained to carry out a task. In theistic circles, the first thought of “purpose” often refers to God and the purpose in his mind when he created the world, appropriated the laws of nature to carry out his bidding, and his assignment to living plants and animals to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. His ultimate purpose for humans is to have dominion over the earth and to serve in his image as children of God.

2 Self-determined. Purpose can also be a goal that a person selects for themselves. One person may decide to make his purpose in life to serve other people in the ministry, others to become a famous scientist, or a successful politician. In religious communities, this role of purpose is often subjugated to the will of God and becomes the guiding principle of life.

3 Intrinsic. Far less frequently and seldom recognized, the word “purpose” can refer to an intrinsic role or function. This is most commonly used in biology. A leaf, for example, has the purpose of collecting sunlight and synthesizing food for the tree as well as exchanging CO2 and H2O. No conscious agent was involved and the purpose is intrinsic to the tree. As biochemists unravel the grand mysteries of cellular processes, the purpose of myriad biomolecules is discovered. However, this use of the word “purpose” is often misunderstood. Without clarification of its use in an intrinsic sense, many people get the impression that biologists are in fact seeing the work of an external agent in setting a purpose for that biomolecule.

A discussion of teleology is most interesting in the context of evolution. The intricate role of so many complex biomolecules is astounding. Purpose is evident everywhere and the conviction is clear that there is some kind of design going on. Is that design merely apparent or is it the action of an external agent? How can one tell the difference? I would suggest that perhaps it is neither merely apparent nor the work of an external agent but the result of intrinsic purpose.

The nature of intrinsic purpose arises in the context of emergence. Philosophers like Phil Clayton, George Ellis, Nancey Murphy, and others are exploring the importance of emergence in contrast to the reductionism which is so prevalent in the scientific community. Emergence refers to the multi-level hierarchy of explanation of the universe. Fundamental levels like atoms and molecules enable higher-level complexity. In turn, these higher-level complexities can constrain or control the action of the atoms and molecules in an exquisite recursive feedback loop. The net result is a system that has intrinsic purpose in the sense of a particular role or function which, in turn, is a component of a larger and even higher-level system.

In this way, purpose and meaning can arise intrinsically in complex systems. The notions of teleology and design need not refer to external agents or involve conscious beings. Intrinsic purpose deserves to be recognized and studied further to understand how teleology exists in biology.

 

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Christianity as Child Abuse?

The first time I heard of this new atheist meme, I was so shocked that I ignored it. But since then it has grown in popularity. One can now find people writing that teaching any religion to children is child abuse, since children are being made to grow up believing in a lie. Child abuse is a terrible and very real problem. Teaching any world view to your children is not child abuse, and to say that teaching religion to kids is child abuse lessens and trivializes the terrible reality of actual child abuse.

The deranged atheists who make this claim insist that by teaching young children lies, parents are affecting their whole lives and preventing them from understanding the truth about the world. Well, if teaching your kids that God created the world, and that Jesus Christ loves them no matter what they do, is child abuse, then what is this:

“Daddy, what happens when we die?”

“Nothing. Death is the end. We just stop existing. Forever.”

“But Katy said her grandpa is in Heaven.”

“There is no such thing as Heaven. It’s a fairy tale to make people feel better. Once a person dies, there is nothing at all. They can’t think. They feel nothing. They don’t exist”.

“So when you die, I will never see you again?”

“That’s right, and when you die, your children and your friends will never see you again, and you won’t exist. God and Jesus and Heaven and all that stuff is just make believe.”

How do you think that makes a kid feel? I know the answer, because that is what I was told from early childhood. The answer is I found it terrifying and depressing, and I could not grasp the enormous misery of the finality of it. Although I believed what my parents told me, I fervently wished it wasn’t true.

I was told other things too as a child. I was told about how Comrade Stalin was a great man who would help us all become free of tyranny. I was told that the Soviet Union was a paradise of happy workers, and that once the whole world was communist, there would be peace, freedom and prosperity forever. I believed this also for a while, but as with most young people, I began having doubts about the wisdom of my parental culture, and eventually rejected it. That is what human beings do. Unless very sophisticated and reinforced brain washing techniques (as in a cult) are used, most children can easily decide (based on their own experiences and free choice) what to believe and what not to believe.

Keeping children isolated in a cult, without the ability to interact with diverse points of view can be abusive, and such cases are known. But cults are clearly defined and can be identified by their characteristics. Christianity is not a cult. Atheism isn’t either. There are Christian-based cults, and atheistic cults, and those are dangerous.

But normal religious beliefs are not any more abusive than any other worldviews, and a lot less so than some. The argument that it is abusive to teach lies to children is not only false, it begs the question of what is a lie. Who is going to be the judge of which lies you tell your kids will put you in jail for child abuse (which, lets remember, is a crime)? Should it be people like Sam Harris, who  know the truth, because he says so? Should it be a commission of scientists and scholars who determine what is factually accurate and what is a lie? This solution has been tried. But Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union didn’t work out too well in matters of intellectual accomplishment, nor in avoiding levels of child (and adult) abuse way beyond our imagination.

Let’s not tolerate this dangerous and stupid idea that teaching children about Christianity is child abuse. Let’s fight back against it. Militant Atheism has gone way too far with this one, and it needs to stop.

 

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The Orphan of the Universe by Dean Ohlman

We are fortunate to have a guest post from my colleague and fellow member of the facebook group, Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection, Dean OhlmanDean is retired from Our Daily Bread Ministries (formerly RBC Ministries) where he was a Christian nature writer, website host, editor, and associate TV producer. This is his second guest blog on the Book of Works. 

As I understand it, the naturalistic theory of origins says that for billions of years after the unknown and unknowable beginning there was nobody. There was something, but it wasn’t somebody. As the universe was developing and organizing without order or purpose, nobody knew or observed it. Throughout time and space there was no person, no intelligence, no will, no consciousness, no sensory awareness, no knowledge, no thought, no reason, no word—nowhere! For millions of eons something was here, but no conscious mind was aware that something was here. There was no purpose or intent, yet without anybody or anything here to direct it, this something followed an orderly progression from a simplicity that’s never been observed to a complexity we can’t understand.

How do we understand ultimate cosmic origins? Naturalism gives credit to a big, unimaginable “explosion” that caused immateriality to take on materiality. Purposelessness then created a cosmos. Chaos organized itself. Unconsciousness awoke. Deadness begot life. Asexuality engendered sexuality. No one became someone. Impersonality gained personhood. Irrationality became rational. Non-entity became a self. And this material self functioned for millions of years according to the principle of self-preservation to evolve into a being who, oddly, could even purposely will to give up his life for the belief that everybody and everything have a spiritual (super-cosmic/super-natural) cause, purpose, and destiny. So godlessness created God. And because of that belief, amorality produced morality, which in turn developed into complex moral and ethical systems based on apparently irrational beliefs about deity, spirituality, goodness, love, and immortality.

To summarize: For all but the last tiny eon of existence, nothing had knowledge of anything else; yet something lifeless and unconscious cooperated with something else lifeless and unconscious to bring into existence the living, knowing, conscious, intelligent, rational creature called man who survives by deliberate cooperative relationships. This accidental—and oddly naked—ape communicating in symbols invented language and made poetry. The uncreated thing created music and art, and its evolved and embarrassingly illogical emotions cause it to weep in wonder over the stunning beauty, grandeur, and mathematical perfection of its apparent purposeless and meaningless environment. This reasoning, decision-making, sensory somebody who came into existence by the will of nobody can yet will to love or hate, kill or allow itself to be killed, and even develop the capacity to senselessly alter or destroy the natural systems that created it—threatening to send everything back into unconsciousness.
So according to naturalism, man is nothing but a cosmic orphan overwhelmed by the knowledge that he has no ultimate purpose and no ultimate hope. Shakespeare’s Macbeth articulated it well:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Man is the orphan of the universe.”

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The Objectivist Fallacy

There is a very popular atheist argument that only objective “scientific” facts count as evidence for anything. I call this the Objectivist Fallacy (OF), which is a form of scientism. Examples of the OF include the often-heard statements and questions addressed to theists  “How can you believe in something you cannot prove?” and “I am rational – I only believe what has been objectively proven with scientific evidence”. Then there are the evidentiary statements like “Your feelings are not evidence” and “Please list any evidence for the existence of God”, by which they mean experimental, objective, and repeatable evidence, as would be useful for establishing the existence of a new planet or a new species.

We can see that the objectivist arguments of atheists are fallacious when applied to many areas of human thought such as artistic criticism, creativity (even scientific creativity), politics, economics, fashion and popular culture. The idea that there exists a single factual truth, demonstrable by objective evidence, is actually a faith statement without much basis from objective evidence in the majority of cases. It is not even universally true in science – far from it.

I think most people would agree that it makes no sense to ask for objective evidence to back up the following statements of belief:

“Kandinsky is the greatest artist of the past 150 years.”

“Wagner was a terrible composer.”

“The Democratic Party platform is the only hope for national survival.”

Arguments can be marshalled in favor or against each of these, but the idea of finding objective evidence to prove any of them is absurd. I once asked an atheist objectivist if there was any way to gather objective scientific evidence for the quality of artwork. He said that such evidence is simple – the commercial value of a piece of artwork gives a quantitative “objective” measure of its quality. I think that answer illustrates, if anything, the depth of desperation that anti-theists find themselves when resorting to these arguments.

Here are some other such statements:

“The origin of life began with metabolic cycles, and replicator molecules were a later addition.”

“The origin of life began with replicators, which allowed for metabolism to occur.”

“Both replication and metabolism, each of which depend on the other, occurred simultaneously during the origin of life.”

These three scientific statements represent beliefs based on the same body of data, and the scientists who are proponents of these divergent viewpoints have for many decades fiercely debated them.

One might argue that scientific disputes happen all the time (indeed they do) but they are all eventually resolved by more evidence. And yes, that happens most of the time, but not always. There are some areas of science where different interpretations of the same facts have led to divergent viewpoints that have persisted, despite piles of evidence, for almost a century. One of these areas involves the various interpretations of quantum mechanics. Another is the origin of life.

My point is that the demand for evidence is fallacious when applied to issues of faith.  If someone says that she felt herself called by the Holy Spirit and discovered faith after some personal crisis, the objectivist might ask her for verifiable evidence, beyond her own testimony that this really happened. If she reports that she experienced a dream or a vision, she would be told that “feelings don’t count, they are simply brain chemistry.” As if this provides any sort of argument against the reality of the woman’s experience. The idea that the scientific discovery of a neurological correlate or mechanism for a subjective experience renders that experience somehow “not real” is  profoundly non-scientific.

What the people who use the OF fail to understand is that not all evidence is objective. The faith claim that it is cannot be proven to be true, and is easily falsified for so many areas of human endeavor. Most of the things we know come from subjective experience, without any possibility of being objectively proven. If I am asked what I ate for breakfast three days ago, I might remember, but I cannot back up my claim with any evidence. Courts of law tend to trust eyewitness reports from reliable people, even though it often cannot be objectively corroborated. If we were to reject the truth of all subjective experience on the grounds that they are not scientifically confirmed, we could not live or remain sane.

So, the next time you hear an atheist say “Where is your evidence for your sky daddy?” you can respond with “Sorry, that is the ‘Objectivist Fallacy’” and move on.

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