Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Evolution Debate

Last night at homeschool group we had a guest speaker. He addressed how we, as homeschoolers, can teach Creation with academic integrity. He is an old friend and the husband of one of our group's members; he is also a physicist and a gifted teacher.

This is a topic that have struggled with teaching to my children because I, frankly, find much of "Creation Science" irritating. I was delighted and relieved to hear his perspective. I have much to process so I'm going to try to blog my Reader's Digest version of in hopes of ironing out my own thoughts. But Michael has a website and you can read his perspective from the source at: http://bibleandscope.mesanetworks.net/.

Here goes:

There are many ways that people try to reconcile what the Bible says to the scientific theories on origins. They vary from the "Martha Stewardish"approach of keeping everything in its place (Bible=why; Science=How) to Biblical Fundamentalism, to Post-Modernism. Each attempt at reconciliation probably has something of value to consider, and is also most likely lacking and in error on some level. However, before you can teach about origins it worth evaluating where you stand.

Michael laid out a continuum of beliefs. On the one side is New Earth Creationism; it takes the Bible as absolute truth. On the other side of the continuum is the Naturalistic Evolutionary perspective that says creation is a myth and evolution is a fact. In the middle of these two Michael placed Intelligent Design. Had I been forced to peg myself on this continuum I would have placed myself in the Intelligent Design Camp.

Michael's perspective on Intelligent Design was thought provoking to me, and now I'm not quite sure where I fall. Michael said that, though Intelligent Design may have some merit in its ability to evoke conversation, He believes that it waters down both Religion and Science in such a way that it loses its value. Religion's value is that it can point us to a relationship with Jesus, the Creator. Intelligent Design doesn't point to the person of Christ. Science has value is its ability to describe the world and test hypotheses. Intelligent Design is not a testable theory. I have to grant Michael that without the person of Christ, Religion is of little/no value. Who cares about an intelligent designer if he is an abstraction that is incapable of relationship? I don't.

One of the unique ideas I was introduced to last night was the possibility that our assumptions are more important than the data when evaluating evidence. You cannot prove assumptions to be correct. You can prove assumptions to incorrect from a logical deduction, but you can never absolutely prove an assumption to be correct. Assumptions are made on faith. And everybody operates on a series of assumptions. For example, I believe there is a God. I came to assume that because I read it in the Bible and I find the Bible to be credible. But can I prove it? Nope.

Michael says that it is our assumptions (those unprovable beliefs) that make up our worldview and the best we can shoot for is a consistent worldview. As teachers of Creation to our children Michael encouraged us to really evaluate the assumptions we operate our lives under. These are critical to understand.

What happens when we, as teachers, find that our own beliefs have inconsistencies? Michael proposed that there there are 3 ways to handle that inconsistency with integrity. You can:

1 - find a way to reconcile the beliefs

2 - change what you believe, so it's consistent

3- or, finally, you can admit you don't know

He believes that as a teacher you end up being an advocate of Creation, and an advocate of Evolution, or an unbiased presenter of competing ideas. He says presenting a mature individual with competing ideas is a GOOD teaching strategy, but probably not appropriate for elementary school kids. I agree.

So how does Michael, an astrophysicist, reconcile what he sees in the natural world to what the Bible says. I was relieved to discover that he didn't didn't pull out some creation "science" as evidence for a young earth. In fact, Michael says that the age of the stars and the geologic records strongly suggest an old earth. He says it is not foolish to assume that evolutionary processes are at work if you start from the assumption that there is a natural order to the world. And because of that (and Christ) need to be very careful to treat people who believe in evolution with the respect they deserve.

So it goes back to assumptions. Michael assumes that the Bible is a true revelation of history; he finds it to be credible. He also assumes that the world follows a natural order (he is a scientist) and this natural order is a useful tool in describing and understanding the world. But that is not all that is at work. Michael also assumes that there is a God, YHWH, and there is a spiritual dimension to reality. Beyond atoms, and neutrons and protons and quarks is the very WORD of Jesus that holds the whole world together. And it its this assumption that makes the difference.

If you believe there is a spiritual reality at work in the world and you believe miracles are possible it is not so difficult to reconcile God's word to to the natural world. Michael says that, as a general rule, miracles that happen in the Bible are NOT provable by empirical (sp?) evidence after the they occur. In fact, if you were to examine the evidence after the fact the evidence would probably point to a naturalistic explanation. Miracles are for the people present. And the only way to know that miracles occur after the fact is by revelation, that is, believing the account of someone who was there and did witness the miracle happen.

As Michael sees it, the creation of the world lands firmly within the bounds of miracle territory. Creation happened outside of the basic laws of nature, and is therefore not discernible by investigation when you approach the problem with the assumption that the world only operates by natural laws.

Michael believes in a young earth creation consistent with the Bible's account. He believes that the earth was created with the appearance of age, and that age was not only possible, but necessary in the Earth's creation. He believes that natural evidence does suggest an ancient earth but it is only when we start with the correct assumptions that we will end up with accurate conclusions. He assumes that there is a God and he is YHWH, and the Bible is a true account of history.

My one hang up with Michael's perspective is that I think its probably possible to read the Genesis account accurately without destroying the possibility of an ancient Earth. Admittedly, he's probably better read on this, but from what I have read it is possible.

The breakfast dishes are still on the table...gotta run.


3rsandahug said...

Great summary from Monday night! I'll bet Michael would enjoy talking more with you about your disagreement. I'm going to email him a link to this blog entry.

Michael Dittman said...

As always, Steph, you show a keen grasp of the issues. I greatly appreciate the comments you've made here, and I'm glad to see that I got you thinking about what you believe and why.

Obviously, I did not spend much time on the young Earth / old Earth discussion and why I believe young Earth is the only valid interpretation of Scripture. Without starting a treatise here, I will simply suggest that an old-earth interpretation is 'eis-egesis' or 'reading into the text' a previously held view rather than 'exegesis' or 'reading out of the text' what it says. The only valid interpretational question in the text is 'what is "the deep" over which the Spirit of the Lord hovered?' Is it the ocean of a previously existing world, or is it nothingness? If the world was existing before 'the beginning' then some version of old-earth, with young universe is possible. But I would contend that that doesn't really solve the most vexing problems of the creation time scales.

Happy to be of service,

Dawn said...

Thanks Steph I really liked your summary. have to say I left the meeting with a head full of stuff. gives us lots to consider doesn't it?
love the pics of the baby!