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DANGER: Origins and Intelligent Design Disussion Ahead - RonO's Ramblings

Dec. 20th, 2005 01:37 pm DANGER: Origins and Intelligent Design Disussion Ahead

Some people may have noticed that I often keep quiet during discussions of how origins should be taught -- although at Windycon I did bring up origins a bit, and then worked with the rest of the panel to move back away. However, since this issue probably won't go away, I figured I might as well make my case for why my answer is a qualified "I don't know."

First, let me elaborate on what I believe and what I'm pretty sure about when it comes to the origins of the universe. If someone were to ask me if I believe in "Intelligent Design" I'd have to say "Yes." I believe that the universe was created by an intelligent force -- specifically God, that is the God of the Bible and Christian doctrine, and more specifically the Father/Creator aspect of God. I believe that God was, and is, involved regularly in history, both natural history and human history. I believe that God created this universe specifically to support, nurture and protect his most important creation, humankind. He created us as individuals with intelligence, creativity and free will so that we could freely choose to worship him. I believe that the universe may still hold wonders that God put there for us or our descendants to discover and make use of some time in the future.

I'm pretty sure that the universe is much older than the 10,000 to 20,000 years that many "young earth" creationists believe. I've taken enough physics, geology and astrophysics -- I minored in astrophysics in college -- to understand the cosmological models, and the ways that the ages of rocks and interstellar objects are determined to know that if the universe is that young, our physics is so far off that it should be nearly useless in many regards. Further, I cannot believe that God would create a universe that lies, even as a test of faith. Arguments such as "God created light on its way from distant objects and rocks with their radioisotopes partially decayed" ring false, and become nearly indistinguishable with "the universe began last Thursday, and you were created with the memories of living before that time."

I believe that the first part of the Book of Genesis does a reasonable job of relating how God would have communicated the pre-human history of the universe to a pre-industrial, and possibly pre-literate, Hebrew people. Much of what is there parallels what many of the current cosmological models show for the origin of the universe.

Where I start to get a bit fuzzy, and am likely to disagree with many theologically conservative Christians (my theology would probably be to the conservative side of center if you mapped Christian theology to a single line) is when you start getting into the issues of life. Here I'd have to say "I'm not sure how it happened." As I said, I believe that God was involved. What I'm not sure is how he arranged for life in the first place, nor how he arranged for the diversity of life on this planet. For many years I was comfortable with the idea that God guided the mutation of living things so that they would eventually become the plants, animals and other living things. {What is the third kingdom of life again?} I became less comfortable with this when I started to hear arguments that the fossil record lacks any, or at least many, verifiable cases of one spices mutating into another, and that there have been no historical examples of a species changing from one to another (at least on a macroscopic, multi-cellular level where "species" is much more clearly defined). Now, if pressed, I'd probably say the most likely case is that God caused -- either by birth from a parent of another spices, or by simply creating -- new species to come into existence when they were needed, and allowed others to become extinct.

One part of the theories of Darwin and his successors that I believe fully observable and as close to proven as possible is "survival of the fittest." Unfortunately, many who reject the ideas that one spices can mutate into another also reject this, even though it can be shown that both within a species and within an environmental niche.

Before I make my argument supporting my "I don't know" answer about teaching origins, I've got to venture into politics a bit.

There are a couple of political issues that come into play here. These are related to the fact that a vast majority of education in this country is provided by government agencies. This, at least according to many years (more than 100 or 150 IIRC) of legal precedent, requires that they do not violate the freedoms ensured or at least implied by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, specifically including the freedom to believe in and practice religion. Modern politics complicates this however. There is a large group of individuals in the US (and elsewhere) who believe that having no religion is somehow different than having a religion. There is another large group of individuals who disagree with this, and classify atheism and agnosticism as religions or religious groupings. I belong to the later category. Largely this would just be a semantic argument except for how the former group uses it as an argument to exclude what they categorize as "religion" from anything related to any US government.

What this creates is a situation where anything taught about origins quickly approaches a political quagmire where someone will complain that religion is being taught. At this point it is more likely to be stated that way when the idea of a creator is brought into the picture, but the reality is that the core complaint is just about the same. It is either "You are teaching my kid about a god I don't believe in" or "You are teaching my kid that the god I believe in doesn't exist." The problem is that both arguments are correct in their circumstances. If you only teach pure Darwinian/Gouldian/???ian evolution then you are teaching that God doesn't exist -- or at least doesn't matter and if you teach any form of Intelligent Design (especially the particular brand of older-Earth creationism that monopolizes that terminology today) you are teaching the existence of some sort of god.

Thus, I really don't know what should be taught. I've thought of a compromise that might make everyone equally mad (one sign of a good compromise), but I'm not sure it would work. We could have origins taught clearly with the message that "This is what scientists believe is the best explanation of how the universe and life came about" coupled with "here is where the flaws in this explanation are" and "This explanation excludes the idea of a creator God, but even if you believe in one you need to understand this because it is used as a common communication ground in science." Unfortunately, I suspect that this would be more unacceptable to those feel that "you are teaching my kid that the god I believe in doesn't exist" than it would to people on the other side.

The only other solution would be to create a completely open schooling situation, and idea that I'm somewhat in favor of. The danger with having this come about as a compromise to the origins question is that it would probably lead to a greater divide between religion and science in the minds of people when most kids' schools are chosen on the basis of how they teach origins, with conservative Christian schools being looked down on by scientists who were educated in schools that taught Darwin

Current Mood: worriedabout people's reaction

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Comments:

From:shsilver
Date:December 20th, 2005 12:43 pm (UTC)
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I would argue that secular is not the same as anti-religious, although that is an argument which, as you note, many on both sides are trying to blur.

I have no idea with teaching creationism/ID in schools, as long as it is in a comparative religions course because it doesn't follow the strictures of science and therefore doesn't belong in a science class.

And stating that Darwinism exludes the idea of a creator G-d is wrong. Darwin did not attempt to explain the creation of life, merely the manner in which it evolved.
From:rono_60103
Date:December 21st, 2005 09:19 am (UTC)
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Note my correction in my reply to avt_tor below regarding my point that Darwin teaches that God doesn't exist. (I probably need a good human editor some of the time :-)
From:shsilver
Date:December 21st, 2005 10:56 am (UTC)
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But...Darwin neither claimed that God didn't exist or doesn't matter. What he said in Origins of Species was that he was not going to discuss how life began, merely how differentiation came about. Darwin never addressed the question of whether the initial creation of life was random or divine because he did not feel he had the answer.
From:avt_tor
Date:December 20th, 2005 06:40 pm (UTC)
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"Secular" schools teach Newton and Copernicus, Einstein and Faraday, Watson and Crick, too. It took a while to get from Copernicus to Galileo to Kelper. Michaelson and Morley proved a gap in Newton's mechanics, but it wasn't until Einstein came along that the gap was explained. All science is inccomplete; that does not create gaps for religion to explain.


If you only teach pure Darwinian/Gouldian/???ian evolution then you are teaching that God doesn't exist --

What page of The Origins of Species is this assertion on?


I was taught that religion was about purpose and meaning, and that anybody who read the Bible as a science textbook would get bad science and bad religion out of the attempt.

A "theory" is a hypothesis which has been proven by a repeatable experiment. "Intelligent design" isn't a scientific theory, and when I went to Sunday school, I was taught that using the name of God to spread a lie was a violation of the second commandment.
From:rono_60103
Date:December 21st, 2005 09:18 am (UTC)
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Actually I wrote "If you only teach ... that God doesn't exist -- or at least doesn't matter." The part after the dash was important. Perhaps I made an ordering and grammatical error in stating my point which blurred my intentions. Perhaps I should have wrote "If you only teach pure Darwinian/Gouldian/???ian evolution then you are teaching that God doesn't matter in origins -- which some equate to teaching that God doesn't exist -- ..."

I was largely trying to explain, or get a grasp on, why this is such a hot (and frustrating) topic; and on why it won't go away. (Even if it does quiet down a bit, it will probably resurface in another few years)

And, of course, I was trying to justify why I don't know what would be a good compromise -- and perhaps that there isn't one.
From:avt_tor
Date:December 21st, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC)
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Actually I wrote "If you only teach ... that God doesn't exist -- or at least doesn't matter." The part after the dash was important. Perhaps I made an ordering and grammatical error in stating my point which blurred my intentions. Perhaps I should have wrote "If you only teach pure Darwinian/Gouldian/???ian evolution then you are teaching that God doesn't matter in origins -- which some equate to teaching that God doesn't exist -- ..."


This makes less sense. A rational Christian way of thinking about this is simply that God laid down the blueprint, including the natural laws that caused the world to come into being the way it did. There is no need to start from a position that a belief in God requires a person to deny the evidence of their own senses.


I was largely trying to explain, or get a grasp on, why this is such a hot (and frustrating) topic; and on why it won't go away. (Even if it does quiet down a bit, it will probably resurface in another few years)

Globally, this isn't a hot topic. In the United States, the religious right uses artificial issues like this to create a wedge between the educated classes who don't automatically accept the authority of self-appointed religious leaders.

And, of course, I was trying to justify why I don't know what would be a good compromise -- and perhaps that there isn't one.

Compromise is the wrong response to ignorance. The moral response to falsehood is truth, education, teaching. The Bible is very clear about what to do when people try to use scripture for their financial or political advantage, from the second commandment to the parable of the Pharisee in the Temple proclaiming his own righteousness. Christians today should be treating the wealthy televangelists and the people promoting falsehood and ignorance in schools in the same way that Jesus treated the moneychangers in the Temple.
From:rono_60103
Date:December 21st, 2005 09:31 am (UTC)

Two more comments

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1: I've come up with another compromise that would probably make me happy, if no one else. It has two parts. First, when teaching origins, teachers should emphasize that evolution is a theory that does a darn good job of explaining much of the fossil record. Second, teachers should then use this good opportunity to educate their students about the differences between a well supported theory, and a absolutely verifiable fact -- the latter, IIRC, is something that doesn't really exist in science. Perhaps if we can get the next generation of Americans to understand the differences, we can start healing this wound.

2: Just to be clear where I personally sit in regards to God and origins. I firmly believe that God was as involved in Geologic and Natural history as he was in human history; I'm not sure how his involvement was manifested.