Friday, October 13, 2006

Lutherans and evolution

I was brought up in the Lutheran church, Missouri Synod. The more liberal denomination of Lutherans are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

This month the ELCA publication, The Lutheran, features quite a few articles on the Intelligent Design/Evolution controversy.

One article in particular caught my eye.

It was titled 'God allows the universe to create itself—and evolve', written by Mark Hollabaugh. Mr. Hollabaugh teaches physics and astronomy at a College in MN.

I feel compelled to comment on various parts of his article. First he writes:
Science, religion and politics collide in public-school classrooms. In the past few years, conservative Christian groups in some communities have gained control of public-school boards.

They replaced the teaching of evolution with intelligent design, or ID. Parents in Dover, Pa., even sued the school board to restore the teaching of evolution to the curriculum—arguing that ID is based on a biblical view of creation and isn’t science. [my emphasis]

Actually, no state that I am aware of “replaced the teaching of evolution with ID”. The Kansas school board made some changes to the state science standards, but certainly did not mandate the teaching of ID, and DID NOT “replace” evolution with anything.

The Dover school board merely expressed the desire to have a four-paragraph statement read at the introduction of the evolution curriculum defining ID as "an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view". It also mentioned that the textbook, Of Pandas and People, was available for those students who have an interest. Likewise, this statement did not “replace the teaching of evolution with ID”.

Neither was the Dover trial initiated to "restore the teaching of evolution to the curriculum". The trial was initiated by a few families who did not want that particular 4-paragraph statement read to their children.

I have to wonder if the author of this article is aware of these facts?

As an astronomer, everywhere I look in the universe—from the largest galaxy to the smallest organism—I see evolution.

I wish he would elaborate on his definition of “evolution”.

Opposition to evolution, especially biological, is a hallmark of many proponents of intelligent design. The ID movement heavily influenced the 1999 Kansas school-board decision to remove references to evolution from science curricula. Those against evolution focus on what ID adherents call “irreducibly complex organisms” that can’t be explained by evolutionary theory. [my emphasis]

I’ve been over this false statement at length in previous blog entries. The board did not include ~macro~evolution references in the ’99 standards. Knowing that these issues had never been addressed in the standards before ‘99, they saw no need to add them. They left the decision to the districts just as it had been in the past. That ~does not~ mean that Kansas schools didn’t teach those concepts. All aspects of evolution have always been in the textbooks and taught in Kansas science curriculum.

Moreover, ID is poor theology. ELCA member and Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary editor Eric Ringham wrote: “[Intelligent design] attempts to define, and limit, the mind and power of God.” Why couldn’t God just let the universe evolve?

Interesting statement. God could “just let the universe evolve”, but there is ample evidence for a different interpretation of the data.

Even Richard Dawkins, who rejects the idea of religious thought, freely admits that nature gives the appearance of design. We should be following the evidence where it leads, rather than excluding a theory merely because it may have religious implications. I don’t find it necessary to dismiss the word of God for a theory that is extremely questionable. Why not support further research of Intelligent Design?

In Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004), Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross demonstrate how conservative Christian groups promote intelligent design for political purposes. Many of the movement’s spokespeople, they claim, spend time influencing public policy and not doing scientific research. Creationism, a much older viewpoint, depends directly on a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation.

Why is it that theistic evolutionists often support the efforts of atheist and humanist scientists in their attempt to dismiss our Creator, but demonize the supporters of Intelligent Design? Clearly, Barbara Forrest is biased against anything that may resemble the possiblity of a Designer due to her prior commitment to naturalism. She serves on the Board of Directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association which describe themselves as “an affiliate of American Atheists, and members of the Atheist Alliance International”. Their mission is " defend and promote metaphysical naturalism, the view that our natural world is all that there is, a closed system in no need of an explanation and sufficient unto itself.”

As believers in the common truth that God created our universe (through whatever means), shouldn’t we be working together to support and search for further evidence of His design in nature? The bible tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God“. His fingerprints are obviously everywhere and it seems that scientists who hold various religious beliefs should take that into consideration at all times (even in the science lab).

Based on the results of experiments and observations, scientists modify their theories and laws when change is necessary to explain some new data. We scientists actually relish the contradictions, inconsistencies and unknowns. The essence of being a scientist is curiosity and skepticism—and having an unending drive to solve problems and search for answers.

In that case, students should be encouraged to critically analyze the questionable areas of the theory in order that they might hopefully fill the gaps, rather then having us tell them that the theory is iron clad and we must change the meaning of God’s word to fit to the ever-changing ideas in the world of science.

I believe biological, geological and astronomical evolution is a fact. I have personally witnessed astronomical and geological evolution.

Do tell...what was your definition of evolution again???

In 1975 while traveling from Holden Village, a retreat center in Chelan, Wash., to my seminary internship in Denver, I saw the sudden brightening and death of a star known as Nova Cygni. Events like this are evidence of the evolution of stars—responsible for creating the chemical elements necessary for life.

The problem with that thought process is that we have never witnessed the birth of a star - only the death. There are theories regarding the birth of stars, but they are far from solid fact. Consider the information in these two links.

When I visited Costa Rica in 2000, I was awakened at 2:45 a.m. by a moderate shaking of my hotel. The evolution of the Earth’s crust had caused an earthquake as continental plates slid past one another. We may owe the existence of life on Earth to such movements, creating ocean basins where water could collect.

Hmmm... Somehow, the occurrence of an earthquake doesn’t seem to provide earth shattering support for the idea that all of life sprang to existence through evolutionary mechanisms from that first single living organism.

Oh, btw, those continental plates are an interesting subject to research. Take the time to do some reading about the Hydroplate Theory.

As a St. Olaf freshman, I took the same “Introduction to the Bible” course that I later taught. I was fascinated as my professor explained the multiple authors of Genesis, why certain books were in the Bible and that every translation is an interpretation. Some other students had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Moses didn’t write Genesis or that there were two versions of the creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-3:24).

Much of the current debate about ID and creationism in science classrooms is due to different methods of interpreting the Bible. Most of us in the ELCA aren’t literalists. We understand the Bible has layers of meaning and importance.

And the question that theistic evolutionists never answer is which of those “layers” contain the truth of God’s word, and which do not. If God's word is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions, why bother with it at all? How do we know what to believe and what to reject?

In regard to the two versions of the creation story - the first is chronological, while the second is from man’s perspective (literary). A close study of the Hebrew words show no conflict. Christ, who in a single sentence mentioned both descriptions, knew they referred to the same creation event. (Mt 19:4-5)

Per my footnotes in my NIV Bible: 1:1-2:3 is a general account of creation, while 2:4-4:26 focuses on the beginning of human history. Ch. 2 also sets the stage for the fall. It tells of the scene and circumstances of the fall, supplementing the terse account of man’s creation in ch.1 with only such data as comes into play in the ensuing tragic-drama.

I think we’d all agree that the writers of the Old and New Testament were not idiots. There were approximately 40 writers over a 1,500 year period. Even those who have done only a small amount of research on the subject will have to admit that the writers were pretty bright individuals. (Take for example Moses as he wrote in regard to principles of quarantine, waste disposal, sterilization, agricultural requirements etc.)

Now, having said that, the fact that those 2 chapters are worded the way they are, in my mind, make the chapters all the more convincing. Moses and other early writers would have caught an “error” like that. I think if chapter 2 was meant to be a chronological account, Moses would have said "Whoa, hold the phone! We can’t have this - people will think we’ve made an error!!!" In that light, we have to consider the reason for the two accounts.

My favorite part of the day when I was on the St. Olaf faculty was the morning chapel service and faculty coffee time that followed. One day the chair of the biology department, Arnold Peterson, and I sat with Gordon Rasmussen, a beloved religion professor. Gordon told us a student had come to his office in tears because of what she had learned in biology class about evolution. Her faith had been shattered. Arnie, a man I knew had a deep Christian faith, said: “I just can’t understand the fuss. Why is it creation or evolution? Why can’t it be creation by means of evolution?”

Well, when it comes down to it, faith in God’s word and the message of Christ’s literal death and resurrection for the sin of the world is the message throughout the entire biblical narrative. If one follows the evidence in prophecy, archeology, and writings from secular history that support accurate historicity of the Bible, we can rest assured that the His Word provides truth for those who accept it.

In that sense, whether you accept evolution or the biblical account of creation doesn’t matter. My personal opinion is that I see no reason to disregard portions of God’s word for current scientific theories that are certainly questionable. Scientific theories postulated by mere human intellect are always changing.