Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anniversary of Origin of Species

This being the anniversary of Darwin's publication date, there has, of course, been lots of coverage. David Suzuki had a 3-part series on Darwin, CBC Ideas program had a 3-part series recently, and this week Vision TV had specials on the topic. All the coverage I've seen portrays Darwin as a very mild mannered, amiable person who avoided the spotlight if at all possible. He was extremely meticulous in all his scientific work. He realized how controversial his ideas were and this drove him to be even more meticulous because he wanted to be absolutely sure to get it right before sticking his neck out. Had he wanted fame (or notoriety), he could have published shortly after his 5-year, round-the-world voyage on the Beagle, a trip during which he collected hundreds, if not thousands of specimens of all kinds of species of plants and animals.

He was a generalist as well, wanting to view the world as a whole, so he was interested in geology and other sciences as well, not just biology. He arrived back in England in 1836 and spent the next 23 years studying his samples and writing down the evidence and results of his many experiments. Anyone who studies Darwin at all has to admit that he was an incredible scientist. Keep in mind also that before he left on the Beagle voyage, he was in seminary training to be a minister. He grew up in, was immersed in, and was very familiar with Christian doctrine. He was also married to a very devout Christian woman with whom he had, by all accounts, a very close and loving relationship. Most people believe that she was at least part of the reason why he hesitated so long before publishing the ideas that he knew would cause a major controversy in the highly religious world in which he lived. He did not want to offend her with the publication of his ideas. I am not aware that she was offended, so apparently they were able to come to some understanding on the topic. I say all this to show that the last thing that Darwin wanted was to become the center of attention. Furthermore, he had no desire to create tension or to destroy faith. I'm not going to claim that he was a man of faith, and it's fair to say that whatever form his faith took, it certainly did undergo an evolution of its own during his lifetime. What is NOT fair to say, however, is that he intentionally invented the theory of evolution to destroy Christian faith. He was simply a man of science who felt compelled to go where the evidence led him. He is certainly not the ogre or villain that fundamentalist American Christians try to paint him.

Having said that, it is very true that Darwin had atheist scientist friends around him who saw Darwin's ideas of evolution as extremely convenient and "providential" to bolster and support their non-believing agenda. The first and most prominent of these was Thomas Huxley. Huxley and a whole line of agnostics and atheists since then have embraced evolution as a way to get rid of the God notion. Very naturally, then, Christians, feeling under attack, mistakenly assumed that evolution was in fact, anti-God, and so ever since 1859, Christians, especially fundamentalist Christians in the 20th century, have tried to refute and oppose evolution from every possible angle. This has been a false dichotomy from the beginning.

How much healthier the debate/discussion would have been if evolution would have been introduced as "scientists best understanding of how God may have created the world." Isn't that really what evolution is? Anti-God atheists and agnostics have taken evolution and used it as a weapon against Christianity and Christians unfortunately have been taking the bait and have been reacting ever since. "Intelligent Design" is the current form that the reaction is taking. From what I've heard and seen, it really isn't substantially different from anything "creationists" have been saying since 1859. (I put "creationists" in quotations to distinguish them from myself because I too, am a creationist, but not the kind who would put God in a box and say, "This is exactly how God did it and it can't be any other way.") Intelligent Design, from what I've heard and seen, is not a new scientific field of study; it is the same fundamentalist creation science constituency of the American religious right. Although their intentions are right, their understanding is faulty and their methods are misdirected.

They are not proposing any new science; their main goal is to poke holes into anything having to do with evolution to eliminate the materialistic agenda. Granted, there are many holes to poke. Evolution is by no means an end product. (How's that for an evolutionary sentence?) No, evolution is not a perfect theory, and that is why I will not commit myself to it 100%. It is merely man's best attempt to explain how the world got here.

We are so miniscule in this universe and our understanding, as advanced as it is, is still so limited, that we're still really just beginning to learn about our world. However, so many good and dedicated scientists, including Christian scientists, have spent their lives researching and studying this topic and they are by a vast majority agreeing with most of Darwin's ideas. Who are we then, as lay people, to condemn their sincere and genuine, intelligent effort to understand our world? To me, it makes more sense to say, "OK, if that's what the best minds have come up with so far, I can live with that. In fact, I rather like the idea that the God of creation is not just a magician who says, "Poof" and there you have the world.

I like the idea that God is a master designer who rather than being opposed to science, is the creator and master of science. To me, thinking of the universe as billions of years old fits right in to my understanding of a God who is so huge that He is utterly and totally beyond our comprehension. I like the idea that God put so much thought and creativity into making the universe and that it wasn't just sort of a diversion for Him during some "week" in time. Please don't think that that is what I think of the Genesis account. No, I still adamantly believe the Genesis creation story and I see nothing contradictory between Genesis and evolution. It's just a matter of how literally you want to interpret the words, and many biblical scholars agree that as far as the biblical Hebrew people were concerned, the Genesis creation account was literal. That was their best scientific understanding of the day. We need to put ourselves in their cultural and social context to get a better understanding of what the Genesis story is telling us, that it is all about demonstrating the contrast between the one true God and the gods of the creation myths of neighboring cultures. We need to avoid trying to impose our own modern understanding of science into the Genesis account. Taking this approach does not come without challenges, as we need to wrestle with hermeneutical issues of the Bible to understand how to integrate this worldview with Scripture, but if Nature and the Bible are both revelations of God, they cannot contradict each other, so we are bound to find harmony in the end.

There is one more thing that I did want to say though and that is that I see the issue of origins in much the same way as I see the issue of eschatology. I see neither of them as core elements of my faith. I am not going to die for my understanding of how the earth came to be just as I will not die for my understanding of how I think God will bring things to an end on this earth. These matters are ultimately unknowable to us and so we must always hold them in a tentative way. Learn all we can, but in the end, be humble enough to say, it's in higher hands and in this life, we'll never know it all or completely. And isn't that what makes living this life so interesting? Natural curiosity and ultimate unknowability go hand in hand to make life an exciting and very interesting journey. I'm in awe to be privileged to participate in the journey.
- Waldo Berg (edited)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Science Minister

I hope you have all been following the various articles about our Science Minister - who refused to answer a reporters questions about whether of not he believed in creationism.  THe question was asked by a Globe and Mail reporter, and the G&M has had several subsequent articles raising the issue of a Science Minister who does not believe in science.  The National Post has come out supporting the Science Minister's position ...

Fascinating how this issue seems to force people to take strong positions and immediately attack the other positions ....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What's So Great About Christianity?

I just finished reading the book by Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?.

This is basically a book in response to the writings of people like Daniel Dennett, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, (Canadian) Steve Pinker, E.O. Wilson, Victor Stenger and William Provine. Praise for the book comes from Ravi Zacharias, Francis Collins, Dallas Willard and even the atheist Michael Shermer. The book is remarkable because it comes across as aggressively offensive (in the sporting sense, not in the distasteful sense) instead of the apologetically defensive style of writers like John Haught and Alister McGrath. This is the book response that I have been waiting for since the books from that ‘unholy trinity’, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. It sacrifices some rigor for conciseness and completeness, but otherwise is a masterpiece. It also responds well to the question of ‘What’s so great about Christianity?’ Here is just one gem:

“The Bible says that salvation is the gift of God. Many people – even many Christians – understand this to mean that God is offering us salvation as a gift. But the Bible doesn’t say that salvation is the gift from God. Rather, it says that salvation is the gift of God. God Himself is the gift. Heaven is best understood not as a place but as a description of what it is like to be with God. To be with God requires that we want to be with Him, that we accept His present of Himself.”


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A quote I came across this week...

Stephen Jay Gould:

I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book review - The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins

One of the best responses I have seen is here. Interestingly it is written by another prominent scientist.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

science and creationism blog

Here is an interesting blog along the same lines as this one.


Video Library

Below is a link to a video library with many full length videos, including Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet, and Icons of Evolution. It also has numerous lectures, particularly from proponents in the Intelligent Design community, which have been useful and influential in shaping my thinking. There's literally hours and hours of material here, so on those insomniatic nights, this is a great website to visit!