Sunday, February 27, 2005

C v E - What's the Fuss?

Creation and evolution. Some folks believe God created the universe a few thousand years ago by speaking certain phrases. Others believe everything is a matter of chance, mutation and a lot of time. These two groups of people like to argue with each other; name calling, anger, misinformation - and the occassional fair and wonderful dialogue. But is it all really worth it? Why do we spend time bantering back and forth on the topic when we could be doing so many other things?

Well, I think it's because we like to argue. Feeling right is a good ego boost. I think it's because we like to persuade, and nothing seems so noble as removing falsehoods from another's worldview. But no matter the intentions, should we continue to debate the topic as intensely as we have? (Note: by "we" I mean those who actually care to become informed and take the debate seriously, and participate in a civil manner. For those who just like to insult the intelligence of others, lie, manipulate data, etc...those folks should get out of any debate and learn how to deal with people.)

(I also mean those other than I, since I feel little need to jump into this particular fray. My wife is an environmental educator, with degrees in biology and fisheries/wildlife management from a large public University. Even she's not terribly interested in the debate. Our priorities lie elsewhere. My post here is to discuss those motivated to actually debate the topic.)

If someone is to debate this topic, there should be sound reasons why. There are a large number of problems in the world that need solving, and C vs. E is not necessarily higher on the list than, say, raising money for AIDS sufferers in Africa, or feeding the homeless in a shelter, etc. Nor, from a Christian point of view, is our mandate to "go forth and preach that God created everything in six days." No, it is to love our God/neighbors/enemies, to take care of the poor, to make disciples of all nations. Preaching the Gospel, helping others. These are to be our priorities.

That being said, there are some profound reasons why the creationist community needs to remain engaged in the discussion. For one thing, evolutionary theory, even if true, cannot explain or answer so many important spiritual/philisophical questions. The problem of suffering cannot be addressed by natural selection with an answer more helpful than "stuff happens. Adapt or be screwed." The creationist can answer this question and more - God created people with free will. Free will means the ability to choose wrongly, and consequences (i.e. evil) enter the picture. There are limits to the practicality of an evolutionary apologetic to answering some of these higher questions. Creationists, with the creator-figure behind them, have a broader perspective on these areas of inquiry.

Second, the evolutionary community needs to be kept honest and tested. There are a number of people (not all evolutionists - not even most, perhaps) who believe so strongly in their atheistic worldview that they are "religiously" dogmatic about evolution. This is never good for science. Any theory needs to be tested, and one as complex as evolution needs to be tested greatly. For science to advance, challenges are needed.

Third, God wants us to seek the truth. Nobody should believe a lie. In a matter as contentious as this one, we should make every effort to honestly promote truth seeking, dogma questioning, and evidence interpreting.

Finally, there are worldview concerns at stake. Evolutionary theory leads, ultimately, without God, to a deterministic universe void of meaning. Free will turns out to be an illusion, and nothing is ultimately significant. Creationism holds that we are created for a purpose. These two views of reality are starkly different. As billions of people seek answers relating to meaning pretty much throughout their lives, arguments arising from this debate can be incredibly useful.

Now, I know there are hybrid views (i.e. God used evolution) that attempt to bridge the problem. Take the apparent empirical advantage of evolution and tie it to the apparent spiritual/meaning advantage of creation. I don't see this view argued as strongly as the extreme positionss, but as long as the C v E debate is taking place, such hybrids will also offer different answers. Regardless of the position, seeking the truth, seeking meaning, and seeking knowledge are all good things. Of these, seeking truth is the most important. But seeking meaning is probably the most universal. To the extent the C v E debate can provide clarity and answers, it is important enough to continue holding.

8 comments:

Not Crunchy said...

Another great post Ron. I agree that it's not really worth the effort to debate. I'm am discouraged, however, by teachers' increasing reluctance to discuss the subject due to pressure from the Christian right. I assume that this subject is one of the reasons that homeschooling is becomeing such an attractive alternative to government schools.

Regarding evolution from a scientist's point of view (I'm a chemist): learning about evolution was the same as learning about molecular orbital theory - just science with no deeper meanings attached.

R. Stewart said...

Thanks for the kind words. Not sure if I got my point across, fully, though if you "agree that it's not really worth the effort." I do believe it's an important discussion/debate/argument to have.

However, I believe that taking part should not keep us from the more important things of loving others, helping the less fortunate, and sharing the Gospel.

While I find the debate fascinating (I even married a biologist/naturalist), I don't think I'm qualified to do much more than ask questions. If I were to jump into the fray more actively, I'd probably risk either (a) making one side look foolish, or (b) resort to ad hominen attacks since I lack the expertise to make enough legitimate scientific ones. So, I think those who really understand this do need to keep at it. And I think they need to do so in the open so those of us who aren't experts can keep tabs on it; the worldview implications are enormous.

But I think those of us who don't understand at least one of the myriad topics well do a disservice to our "side" when we end up coming across as "not knowing the latest fact that overrides a criticism found on Web site X." And I also think the debate needs a good dose of civility.

Side note: in my experience, evolution is not always taught sans mention of deeper meanings. For some folks out there, evolution is the stake they can drive through the heart of God. When evolution is approached in a purely scientific manner, it is a valuable theory from which one can learn, even when one disagrees with the ultimate conclusion. When evolution is adhered to dogmatically, and used as a weapon against a worldview, it has ceased being scientific.

Not Crunchy said...

Yes, I did miss the point, didn't I? I just re-read it - I must have been half asleep when I read it the first time. You had so much insight packed in there that it's not exactly skimming material. :-)

"Evolutionary theory leads, ultimately, without God, to a deterministic universe void of meaning." Ugh, yes, that is exactly what I'm struggling with. I don't buy determinism, more of a believer in unpredictable chaos, but I think that chaos still leaves a universe void of meaning.

"Of these, seeking truth is the most important. But seeking meaning is probably the most universal." By that do you mean that that it is most important to find truth in order to save our souls? I think that one must find meaning before finding truth. Otherwise, what you do have to base truth upon?

R. Stewart said...

"Yes, I did miss the point, didn't I? I just re-read it - I must have been half asleep when I read it the first time."I have two preschoolers...I'm perpetually half asleep:)

"Ugh, yes, that is exactly what I'm struggling with. I don't buy determinism, more of a believer in unpredictable chaos, but I think that chaos still leaves a universe void of meaning."Interesting theory...I don't quite understand how unpredictable chaos (is that redundant?) can lead to the "order" we see today. It'd be an interesting question to explore someday.

"By that do you mean that that it is most important to find truth in order to save our souls?"

Well...it's not what I was going for, but in a sense I do believe this as well. What I was trying to say is that I think seeking truth is more important than seeking meaning. Otherwise, you are at great risk of holding to a false "meaning" that ruins your day. That, and I think it self-destructive to believe a lie.

Though in another sense, I believe God is the ultimate author of truth, and believing the truth of His son's atoning work can save your soul. In fact, I believe it's the only thing that can save your soul, allowing for the questions I answered in my "Those who Don't Believe" post of a couple weeks back.

"I think that one must find meaning before finding truth. Otherwise, what you do have to base truth upon?"

Who'd have guessed a lefty and righty would see this precisely opposite each other? :-) I think truth is truth regardless of our beliefs/perceptions. It's not based on anything - even meaning - other than whether it reflects reality. Red is red, 2 + 2 = 4, and God either exists or does not exist, regardless of the source from which we derive our meaning. This kind of touches on the conversation over at your blog right now.

Catez said...

Hi Ron,
You've made some excellent comments in your post. I'd like to add - continue holding the discussion - if it is a discussion. There's the rub. I think there is a huge overemphasis on this debate. And of course there's the trap of trying ton prove God scientifically. So while I think there's some value in the debate, I think we as Christians have been too occupied with it. I've blogged some thoughts on it which you may have seen. I find that raising the question of the amount of emphasis on the debate results in some people wanting to repeat the whole debate - which is missing the point. Saying there is an overemphaisis is not attacking the Christian position - it's saying - "could we hear about something else?". And as you put it - we aren't commaned to go out and preach creationism. There's a place for it - but to my mind it takes up more space than it should at the expense of other dialogue. God bless you.

R. Stewart said...

Catez -
Thanks...and I fully agree. I think we're too often drawn in because we see Evolution as the enemy of the faith, or because there are those who won't listen to anything about faith until we can show, through a microscope, empirical evidence for God. I think this draws us away from our main obligation - which is to preach the Good News. The discussion - if it is one, as you point out, can be valuable, but we have to let "the main thing be the main thing."

hybrid said...

I just stumbled onto this post, but I am one of those "hybrids" who believes that the concepts of evolution and creation are perfectly compatible. I see no reason that the concept of evolution would lead to an atheistic worldview, or one devoid of meaning. If anything, a deeper understanding of the theory re-affirms my admiration of the glory of God's creation. How He did it is just as awe-inspiring as the simple fact that he did it.
As Christians, you are right, the HOW does not matter as much as the affirmation that He did create us and the world.
That being said, I think the Intelligent Design folk are practicing bad theology by offering up math probabilities and other "proofs" of God's creation. This view trivializes true faith.
I am aware of atheists who back up their own views partly with the theory of evolution. They also use cosmology. They use whatever they can get a hold of, it is what they need to do to feed their atheism. That does not change the validity of those theories.
As to whether the debate should continue... People are currently trying to push Intelligent Design into public schools. The debate has to go on until that already scientifically, theologically, and constitutionally dead horse is also politically whooped.

R. Stewart said...

"I just stumbled onto this post, but I am one of those "hybrids" who believes that the concepts of evolution and creation are perfectly compatible. I see no reason that the concept of evolution would lead to an atheistic worldview, or one devoid of meaning."

Welcome, and I would tend to agree that accepting evolution leads automatically to atheism. I do find accepting atheism defaults one to evolution, though, as logically you can't be a creationist if you don't believe in a creator.

"That being said, I think the Intelligent Design folk are practicing bad theology by offering up math probabilities and other "proofs" of God's creation. This view trivializes true faith."

I purposely avoided the ID debate as I consider that a different question than whether we should even debate the higher level stuff. I'm not sure, though, that holding to ID trivializes faith. I could see a creationist making the same argument about hybrid theories - you're lessening the importance of faith by relying more on empiricism. I don't see how empiricism could contradict truth, so I'm not of that mind, but I can see how the same argument for ID, as tied to faith, can be turned against the evolutionist.

"[Atheists] use whatever they can get a hold of, it is what they need to do to feed their atheism. That does not change the validity of those theories."

Another idea that could be turned around. That is, "just because some IDers are motivated by faith doesn't change the validity of ID." The ID theory should be accepted or dismissed on its merits, not on the worldview of its adherents.

"As to whether the debate should continue... People are currently trying to push Intelligent Design into public schools. The debate has to go on until that already scientifically, theologically, and constitutionally dead horse is also politically whooped."

Well, theologically, ID is on solid ground - even the hybrid approach puts an intelligence behind evolution. I'm starting to see some IDers put forth testability claims, and I'll wait to see how that approach turns out before dismissing the ultimate idea of including ID under the penumbra of "science." As to the Constitutionality question...I don't see how allowing public schools to teach ID is establishing a state religion. We've had "under God" in the pledge, we had prayer in schools, and we have all these 10 Commandment monuments up. I still don't see, after all this, a "Church of the U.S.A." which is funded via tithes from our taxes. A faith held by the majority of citizens is NOT the same thing as a government-established church.

But I'm also not sure I think ID should be taught in the schools. Like I said, I have bigger fish to fry than the C v. E debate, though the implications of the discussion can be compelling.