RNCSE 24 (3–4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May–August
Articles available online are listed below.

Evolution in Mexico

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution in Mexico
Author(s): 
Antonio Lazcano
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
22–23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
I am frequently asked by American colleagues if I have faced problems due to my work on the origin and early evolution of life or when I lecture on these subjects in a Catholic country such as Mexico. In fact, in more than 25 years of doing so, only twice I have encountered opposition from individuals and groups that objected to an evolutionary description of the appearance of life in favor of the Genesis account. In both cases, they were led by American preachers visiting Mexico! Readers may wonder why this is the case, and I suspect that the answer lies in the history of the doctrinal divisions within Christianity that may have their own origins in the Protestant Reformation early in the 16th century.

Thomas H Huxley wrote in 1843 in the preface of his book Science and Hebrew Tradition,
For more than a thousand years the great majority of the most highly civilized and instructed nations in the world have confidently believed and passionately maintained that certain writings, which they entitle sacred, occupy a unique position in literature, in that they possess an authority, different in kind, and immeasurably superior in weight, to that of all other books. Age after age, they have held it to be an indisputable truth that, whoever may be the ostensible writers of the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan scriptures, God Himself is their real author; and, since in their conception of the attributes of the Deity excludes the possibility of error and — at least in relation to this particular matter — of deception, they have drawn the logical conclusion that the denier of the accuracy of any statement, the questioner of the binding force of any command, to be found in these documents is not merely a fool, but a blasphemer. From the point of view of mere reason he grossly blunders; from that of religion he grievously sins.
What Huxley wrote in the 19th century still holds true: literalism is found in every contemporary society. In no place, however, is this more evident than in the United States, though such attitudes are also found in Australia, England, and in the Islamic world (Numbers 1998). Among Roman Catholic churchgoers, the more conservative may oppose scientific models of the emergence and evolution of life in favor of beliefs derived from the first two chapters of Genesis. Of course, the idea of a supernatural origin of life is shared by many believers who would subscribe to a literal reading of Genesis, but it is also true that in many Spanish-speaking countries most Roman Catholics follow a tradition that goes back to Augustine of Hippo which views the Bible not as a literal record but as an allegorical depiction of the ways in which divine creation took place.

It is true that the arrival of Darwinism was an unsettling event for many Latin American Catholics (Glick 1972). However, no major controversies developed within Roman Catholicism after the publication of the Origin of Species, since Rome, which did not follow the doctrinal imperative of literal reading of biblical texts promoted by many Evangelical Protestant denominations, had much less of a quarrel with Darwin's ideas. With time, the original clash faded into a more-or-less peaceful coexistence between the theories and discoveries of evolutionary biology and the teachings of the Church, consistent with an age-old tradition of the compatibility between science and Roman Catholics that frequently goes unnoticed (Ruse 1997).

Not surprisingly, major attempts by Roman Catholic thinkers to criticize the philosophical tenets of Oparin's hypothesis of an heterotrophic origin of life have been undertaken (Wetter 1958; Schmitt 1968), but even these tend to accept the results of experimental research and the general evolutionary framework, while maintaining a spiritualist stand (see, for instance, Russell and others 1998; Colombo and others 1999). This attitude — which has been prevalent among Vatican theologians, especially since the times of Pius XII — became rather explicit in the famous address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which John Paul II accepted that the theory of evolution is not "a mere hypothesis", but insisted on the supernatural origin of the human soul (Wojtyla 1997). Yet Roman Catholics do not view the premises and developments of evolutionary theory as a potential battleground or as major theological risk. In contrast, the most important source of conflict between the Catholic hierarchy and contemporary biology lies in the recent developments in genetic manipulation, work on embryos, birth control, and fertility research.

The most aggressive version of contemporary fundamentalist creationism in Latin America is an American phenomenon, where it has been growing in fertile soil. In Mexico, as in much of Latin America, the opposition to evolution does not come from any official position, doctrine, or tenet of faith of Roman Catholicism. Rather, the rise of anti-evolutionism in Mexico and throughout Latin America reflects the success of the missionary efforts of conservative and evangelic Christian groups for whom a literal interpretation of Genesis is necessary because of their prior doctrinal commitment to the sort of literalist interpretation of the Scripture that Huxley described a century and a half ago.

References

Colombo R, Giorello G. Sindoni E, editors. 1999. L'Intelligenza dell'Universo. Casale Monferrato (Italy): Piemme.

Glick TF, editor. 1972. The Comparative Reception of Darwinism. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Numbers RL. 1998. Darwinism Comes to America. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Ruse M. 1997. John Paul II and evolution. Quarterly Review of Biology 72: 391–5.

Russell RJ, Stoeger WR, Ayala FJ, editors. 1998. Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine action. Berkeley (CA): Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Schmitt WJ. 1968. Creation and the origin of life. In Barbour IG, editor. Science and Religion: New Perspectives on the Dialogue. New York: Harper Forum Books. p 182–92.

Wetter GA. 1958. Dialectical Materialism: A Historical and Systematic Survey of Philosophy in the Soviet Union. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.

Wojtyla K. 1997. Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Quarterly Review of Biology 72: 381–3.

Young D. 1992. The Discovery of Evolution. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

About the Author(s): 
Antonio Lazcano
Departamento de Biología
Facultad de Ciencias
UNAM
Mexico DF MEXICO
ala@correo.unam.mx

Francis Crick Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Francis Crick Dies
Author(s): 
Susan Spath & Glenn Branch, NCSE
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, died on July 28, 2004, in San Diego, at the age of 88.

Crick is probably most famous for discovering the structure of DNA in 1953 in collaboration with James D Watson. At the time, the chemical basis of the gene was not understood. Only a few scientists considered DNA to be the likely carrier of genetic information, in part because DNA is composed of only four subunits, adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). Once the structure of DNA was known, however, numerous research programs were developed to investigate the structure and function of genes. One of the most important was the deciphering of the genetic code in the 1950s and 1960s. In collaboration with Sydney Brenner and others, Crick determined that the precise order of bases in DNA specifies the order of amino acids in a protein. They found that each amino acid is represented by a sequence of 3 DNA bases. It then became possible to study in elegant detail the molecular mechanisms by which the proteins are synthesized with the proper sequence of amino acids. In the past two decades, Crick turned his attention to neuroscience, investigating the nature of the mind and consciousness. Over his career, Crick received numerous awards, most notably the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, which he shared with Watson and Maurice Wilkins for discovering the structure of DNA. Crick's intellectual spirit, wit, and open-mindedness were admired and emulated by molecular biologists all over the world.

A long-time member of NCSE, Crick was no friend to creationism, although his speculative writings about the possible extraterrestrial origin of life are routinely quoted by anti-evolutionists. In The Astonishing Hypothesis (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons: 1994), he wrote, "The age of the earth is now established beyond any reasonable doubt as very great, yet in the United States millions of Fundamentalists still stoutly defend the naive view that it is relatively short, an opinion deduced from reading the Christian Bible too literally. They also usually deny that animals and plants have evolved and changed radically over such long periods, although this is equally well established. This gives one little confidence that what they have to say about the process of natural selection is likely to be unbiased, since their views are predetermined by a slavish adherence to religious dogmas." Crick signed the amicus brief of 72 Nobel laureates in the Supreme Court case Edwards v Aguillard (1987) that argued "'Creation-science'" simply has no place in the public-school science classroom," and recently signed a letter calling for the establishment of Darwin Day as a British national holiday "[a]t a time when creationism appears to be gaining ground in English schools."

References

About the Author(s): 
Susan Spath
NCSE, PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
spath@ncseweb.org

Is There Two-Way Traffic on the Bridge?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Is There Two-Way Traffic on the Bridge? Why "Intelligent Design" is not Fruitful Theologically
Author(s): 
Phina Borgeson
Faith Network Project Director, NCSE
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2004
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
16–18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In "Why NCSE should be involved in the science– religion dialog" (Borgeson 2002), I offered some reasons for NCSE's decision to participate in this arena. There is a good deal of ferment in science–theology conversations today, and, interestingly, less emphasis on physics and more on biology. Indeed, there is increasing interest among theologians in complex systems, emergent features, and the evolutionary sciences, as reflected by many recent books in the field (such as Barbour 2002 and Peters and Hewlett 2003). At a recent symposium honoring him on his 80th birthday, Ian Barbour, de facto dean of the dialog in the United States, called for the continuation of this shift in emphasis.

Where does the "intelligent design" movement fit in the dialog? Representatives of the movement, most often William A Dembski, are from time to time invited to the table with scientists and academic theologians. Dembski subtitled his 1999 volume "The bridge between science and theology." But is "intelligent design" the bridge? Or is it just muddying the waters?

NCSE members are well informed on the scientific objections to "intelligent design". Many may not be aware that a number of scholars and religious leaders have raised theological objections, too. Here is a brief review of some of those points. I offer it in the hope that it will be helpful especially to our supporters and activists who are people of faith, and to other grassroots organizers who have asked for approaches that can counter "intelligent design" theologically.

Dembski has said on more than one occasion (2001; 2003) that "intelligent design" is theologically minimalist. Yet the literature of the "intelligent design" movement is laced with theological allusions, and its big tent has hosted many a religious revival. While one wants to believe the openness and modesty of Dembski's assertion, it is hard to do so given the religious orientation of the publishers of much of the movement's literature (InterVarsity Press leads the pack; others include Harvest House Publishers, Broadman and Holman, Ignatius Press, and Brazos Press, a member of Baker Publishing Group). At the IDEA conference held at the University of San Francisco in September 2002 (Branch 2002), several speakers seemed to assume a conservative Christian worldview among their audience, and one workshop leader, Cornelius Hunter, began his session with prayer. So, while explicit theological propositions may be rare in the "intelligent design" movement, implicit assumptions about the worldviews and pieties of those who are attracted to it abound.

Natural Theology or Theology of Nature

Perhaps the first question theologians ask of "intelligent design" might be, "Is this Paley's natural theology in new clothes?" Many Christian theologians today would follow Barbour in finding greater integrity in a "theology of nature" approach than in natural theology. The distinction is that a theology of nature starts from a particular faith perspective, and then enters into dialog with what we know about nature through the sciences, rather than developing arguments for the existence of God from nature. When people of faith begin with an understanding of divine revelation from their scriptures and tradition, and then bring that into dialog with science, they are constructing a theology of nature. Not all theologies of nature are equally appealing to all people of faith; in fact, they can be quite narrow. For example, when an Answers in Genesis speaker exhorts his audience to "Start your thinking from the Bible!" he is building a theology of nature.

Perhaps some members of faith communities still think that natural theology has its place, since it starts with an experience of nature common to all people. But the question then becomes, from what aspects of nature is one developing one's apologetic? Is it from the artifacts and appearances of nature, or from its undergirding processes and propensities? At the 2003 Ecumenical Round Table on Science, Technology and the Church, Kendall Harmon, a conservative Anglican theologian, pointed out just how seductive "intelligent design" is. People perceive design in nature, and then find it very easy to jump to the conclusion, "God must have made it." When we perceive great beauty in nature, or an apparently cunning adaptation, our awe may be stopped short in just this way. Most of the theologians of evolution, though, suggest that we need to look to a deeper level for the truly awe-inspiring. In their view, it is the freedom God gives creation which inspires an awe that can be sustained. It is the providence undergirding the billions of years of evolving life that leads to a faith that is not shaken when we know the scientific explanations as well (for examples, see Edwards 1999; Haught 2003; Peacocke 2001). "Intelligent design", on the other hand, seems to ask us to look at the details we cannot now explain, rather than to the sweeping story of which our understanding continues to grow.

View of Creation

This leads me to another objection to "intelligent design" raised by theologians of evolution. "Intelligent design" seems to close off the future unfolding of life and our understanding of it. Those of us who have studied the movement can see how a "god of the gaps" approach fails to stimulate scientific inquiry. But it also fails us in constructing an open and hopeful future of our life with God. Haught points out that God is the ground of novelty, not just order, and the one who "makes all things new", as asserted in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. In fact, Haught goes so far as to assert that "the central theme in the Bible's vision of God" is that of promise. God reduced to the role of designer cuts off the possibilities of emergent new realities, and ultimately, hope (Haught 2001, 2003).

"Creation" is used in two ways in Christian theology. It is used as roughly synonymous with nature, meaning all that exists because of God's loving it into being. But it also means the ongoing process by which God is continuously creating, sustaining and being present to all that exists, called classically creatio continua. Creation is thus not a once-and-for-all done deal, as in deism, nor is it an intermittent activity, as in a little flagellum assembly here, a little clotting cascade tinkering there. The "intelligent designer", then, somehow seems less than the ever-immanent and providential God of Christian theology.

The little we know about God from "intelligent design" is not congruent with an understanding of God that takes Hebrew and Christian scriptures seriously. When we read the pivotal texts and explore the key themes of scripture — in fact, even when we read Genesis 1–3 — looking for metaphor and deep meaning, not empirical science, we find little or no emphasis on a God who is designer and artificer. Instead, when we read the scriptures as a whole, we find a God who is first and foremost relational, that is, a loving God.

In Christian scripture, the central way in which God is related to his creation is, of course, through Christ's redemption of the suffering of the world. Out of this emerges a theodicy that embraces as the price of the freedom God has bestowed on creation what we often read as the cruelty and caprice of nature. A designer God, though, must also be the designer of pain and death. In theological terms, "intelligent design" offers no articulation of how salvation is accomplished and constructs a God that is hard to square with the God who is steadfast love and suffering servant. George Murphy, working within his Lutheran tradition, has placed much emphasis on a theology of the cross as central to an understanding of God's interaction with creation (Murphy 2002, 2003). Jürgen Moltmann stresses God's suffering with God's people, drawing on the Hebrew concept of shekinah and the kabbalistic concept of zimzum along with the Christian understanding of the kenosis (self-emptying) of God (Moltmann 2001). WH Vanstone pointed out in prose and hymn that the image of God as a creator, omnipotently, serenely, and detachedly presiding, then occasionally condescending to manipulate things to his will, is totally incongruent with what Christians know in the divine self-emptying of Christ (Vanstone 1977).

William Dembski has said that "intelligent design" is not a doctrine of creation, and we can agree with him. Yet "intelligent design" remains attractive to many believers. This can be attributed in part to the continuing polarization of science and faith in much of the media. But the appeal of "intelligent design" may also be attributed to its resonance with a theology of creation, persistent in favorite hymns, liturgical texts, and popular piety, where images and concepts remain untouched by the last century and a half of scientific discovery. So those of us who work in academic and popular theology can thank "intelligent design" for a great stimulus to do our work — developing a contemporary theology of creation — while we also recognize that "intelligent design" has offered little of substance to the science–theology dialog.

Instead, it has, in its equating of methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, and its recycling of a god of the gaps, attempted to colonize science with religion. It seems that the bridge has been hastily constructed for purposes of invasion, not to sustain the two-way traffic of an enduring dialog. A true dialog (Bohm 1996) allows each party to retain its integrity, while making its assumptions transparent to the others. Clearly this has not happened with "intelligent design". A constructive theology of evolution, or, as members of some faith communities might call it, an evolutionary understanding of creation, requires that science be itself, bring its best work to the dialog. Only good science, methodologically natural science, will offer a theology of nature the freedom it needs to express its own truths. As Robert J Russell, the founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, commented in a response to Dembski (2003), "I don't need to change biology to make it fit my theology."

References

Barbour IG. 2002. Nature, Human Nature, and God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Bohm D. 1996. On Dialogue. London: Routledge.

Borgeson P. 2002. Why NCSE should be involved in the science–religion dialog. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 22 (1–2): 24.

Branch G. 2002. "Intelligent design" visits San Francisco. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 22 (6): 6–9.

Dembski WA. 1999. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Dembski WA. 2001. The intelligent design movement. In: Miller JB, editor. An Evolving Dialogue: Theological and Scientific Perspectives on Evolution. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. p 439–43

Dembski WA. 2003. Making the task of theodicy impossible? Intelligent design and the problem of evil. Available on-line at http://www.designinference.com/documents/2003.04.CTNS_theodicy.pdf; last accessed August 3, 2004.

Edwards D. 1999. The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology. Mahwah (NJ): Paulist Press.

Haught JF. 2001. Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution. Mahwah (NJ): Paulist Press.

Haught JF. 2003. Deeper than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution. Boulder (CO): Westview Press.

Miller KB, editor. 2003. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Grand Rapids (MI): WB Eerdmans.

Moltmann J. 2001. God's kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world. In: Polkinghorne J, editor. The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis. Grand Rapids (MI): WB Eerdmans. p 137–51.

Murphy GL. 2002. Intelligent design as a theological problem. Covalence 4 (2): 1, 7–9. Available on-line at http://www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/covalence_vol4_no2.pdf; last accessed August 3, 2004.

Murphy GL. 2003. The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross. Harrisburg (PA): Trinity Press International.

Peacocke A. 2001. Paths From Science Towards God. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Peters T, Hewlett M. 2003. Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Vanstone WH 1977. Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

About the Author(s): 
Phina Borgeson
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
borgeson@ncseweb.org

Review: Biology Through the Eyes of Faith

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
31
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Biology Through the Eyes of Faith
Author(s): 
Richard T Wright
San Francisco: HarperSanFranciso, 2003. 309 pages.
When we examine the interplay between science and religion in contemporary society, many of the books we review rely on simplistic caricatures of at least one of these enterprises. For those interested in the complex realities of practicing Christians who are also practicing scientists, there have been very few books that engage in thoughtful and honest explorations of the ways in which these people succeed in having rich scientific and rich religious lives. Richard Wright wrote one of the most engaging and thoughtful books in this genre when the first edition of Biology: Through the Eyes of Faith appeared. I recommended this book to readers of Creation/Evolution in 1996 (Petto 1996). The revised edition is even better — not just because the information is more up-to-date, but because Wright's perspective and practice of his science and his faith have obviously matured, and this is evident throughout the book.

Wright is an evolutionary ecologist and has been very active in the American Scientific Affiliation. This book is mean to address the "central dogma" of biology head on:
Biological evolution is probably the most controversial and — in some circles — unpopular scientific theory ever advanced. It is also one of the most fruitful and foundational theories in its impact on the life sciences, and, indeed, has profoundly influenced modern thought (p 119).
There is no getting around it: Evidence from every relevant scientific field supports the evolutionary model. The problem, Wright understands, is with "worldviews". His discussion here relies on Del Ratzsch's work (1996, 2000) — in particular, in the use of the notion of "shaping principles" — in itself a useful point of departure for those who really wish to understand some of the different ways in which Christians view the sciences and their relationship to faith.

Throughout the text there is lucid and well-informed discussion of matters that are recurring themes to those who follow the creation–evolution controversies. Wright understands these in a way that perhaps only comes from years of teaching at an evangelical college and helping students grapple with the various objections to and "evidences against" evolution that fill the anti-evolution literature. Wright faces these objections head-on and, though he is sympathetic to the need for believers to feel re-affirmed in their faith, tells his readers why these positions are really bad for their spiritual life. Relying too much on specific interpretations of data from nature (and supposed gaps and shortcomings in evolutionary theory) to support one's religious beliefs can be disastrous — especially if those interpretations turn out to be wrong!

If there is any criticism of the book, it is that it is sometimes difficult to know when Wright is speaking in his own voice or when he is speaking in the voice of the proponents of some of the positions he is trying to explain. This is a problem when he engages the views on astronomy and cosmology of Hugh Ross (p 101–2) and the nonstandard view of biological "information" from Stephen C Meyer (p 113). These, however, are relatively short passages in a book that illustrates a mature understanding of both the faith and the science that have contributed to Richard Wright's career as a scientist and a teacher.

Perhaps because of his career as an evolutionary ecologist, Wright proposes cooperation between members of religious and scientific bodies to preserve and conserve natural resources and a healthy environment.
[S]tewardship ... [is] the ethical and moral framework that should inform our private and public interactions with the environment. Recall that stewardship is a call to all people to care for creation. ...

Sound science is the basis for understanding how the natural world works and how our human systems interact with it and impact it. By sound science, I mean knowledge that is the outcome of painstaking scientific research using the best available methods (p 238, emphasis in the original).
Niles Eldredge took a similar stance at The College of New Jersey a few years ago (see "Niles Eldredge welcomes biology honors students" in RNCSE 2000 May/Jun; 20 [3]: 8–9) — that sound science and a strong moral framework are mutually reinforcing and together can be very productive in solving real-world problems of consequence to human survival.

The new edition of this book stands as a clear beacon amid the smoke and fog that often obscures books about science and faith. It is one of the few written by someone who understands both evolutionary biology and a Christian faith — because he has actively practiced both. This is a serious book that deserves serious attention.

References

Petto AJ. 1996. Book review of Biology Through the Eyes of Faith by Richard T Wright. Creation/Evolution 16 (1), nr 38: 26–7.

Ratzsch D. 1996. The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation–Evolution Debate. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Ratzsch D. 2000. Science and Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

Review: Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
32–34
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto, University of Wisconsin
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution
Author(s): 
Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey
Wheaton (IL): Tyndale House Publishers, 2001. 196 pages.
It is not until after the end of this book that we learn what it is really about:
Only the Christian worldview provides a rationally sustainable way to understand the universe. Only the Christian worldview fits the real world and can be lived out consistently in every area of life (p 197).
This book is about salvation — how to assure one's own, and, perhaps more important, how to assure that of one's children. However, it is clear very quickly that this is emphatically not a book about science or evolution.
The core of the controversy is not science; it is a titanic struggle between opposing worldviews — between naturalism and theism. Is the universe governed by blind material forces or by a loving personal being? Only when Christians understand this — only when we clear away the smoke screens and get to the core issue — will we stop losing debates. Only then will we be able to help our kids … face the continual challenges to their faith (p 82–3, emphasis in the original).
Although the words Science and Evolution are prominently displayed on the cover and title page, this book is part of a series of texts by Colson accompanied by study guides and discussion materials aimed at promoting a particular view of what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. There is, of course, plenty of room for disagreement about their conclusions in that realm, but the presentation of science and evolution is so bizarre and error-laden that it is difficult to explain all the ways in which it is wrong.

In a nutshell, this book continues the tradition in creationist texts of gleaning any inconsistencies in scientific research and proclaiming them as "proof" that scientists are conspiring to deny the bankruptcy of their practice, then adding nuggets from other studies that seem consistent with a literal biblical perspective. Needless to say, there is little more than a superficial understanding of the history and methods of scientific disciplines, the problems currently under study, or the context in which scientific questions are asked and answered. For those familiar with Colson's Breakpoint programs and with prior writings by both Colson and Pearcey, this book repeats the theme that evil and various social ills are directly traceable to the decline in religious faith and the rise of "naturalism" in our society — and, in particular, the undermining of the Bible as the guiding text in our common life as well as in the scholarly disciplines.

For example, there is an extensive but superficial review of origins-of-life research — a scientific field that is still a long way from settled. Science and Evolution reviews decades-old research on the formation of amino acids and organic compounds in various laboratory experiments, telling us first that scientists have failed to create anything remotely relevant to the origin of life: "Yet, in laboratory experiments, all we get are random, scrambled sequences" (p 50). Later they conclude that this research "proves" that "life can be created only by an intelligent agent directing, controlling, and manipulating the process" (p 53, emphasis in the original), because what was produced in the laboratory was only possible with intelligent (human) intervention. This discussion ignores recent research — much of it presented in general science publications written for the nonspecialist — on self-organizing and self-replicating chemical systems (Lehn 2002; Orgel 2001; Kauffman 1993), the appearance of sugars, salts, and organic molecules in galactic dust clouds (Ball 2001; Berstein and others 1999), and the tendency for amino acids throughout the universe to favor "left-handed" forms (Ball 2000; Cronin and Pizzarello 1997; Horgan 1997).

But this dependence on old research is in keeping with the authors' characterization of modern biology as "Darwinian" — as though evolutionary theory has stood still since the mid-19th century. To be generous, it seems that the authors really do not understand science on its own terms — or want to. It is sufficient for their purposes to point our that their view of science is antithetical to their view of a contemporary Christian life. However, they bolster their arguments with patently false claims.

For example, they claim on page 83 that creationists are losing debates. They are not, of course, but public debates have little impact on the professional practice of science and science education. Creationists are losing in the courts and in the curriculum, so maybe that is the "debate" to which Colson and Pearcey refer.

Earlier they argue that "the dominant view in our culture today" is the "radically one-dimensional" view that "this life is all there is, and nature is all we need to explain everything that exists" (p 18, emphasis in the original). However, according to recent Gallup polls, this view of life is accepted by no more than about 14% of those polled in the US (Anonymous 2002). The pervasiveness of this so-called "naturalistic philosophy" in US popular culture, which concerns Colson and Pearcey so much, does not seem to have much effect on people's personal beliefs or their support for teaching creationism in public schools (for example, Gallup 1999).

In essence, Colson and Pearcey are concerned about the moral decline of our society. They are convinced that the current practice of science — in particular, evolutionary science — is to blame for the dismal state of contemporary society. However, the empirical data contradict them. For example, when Colson was writing the original text (copyrighted in 1999), the nation was experiencing a long-term decline in violent crimes — during an administration that few would tout as the moral acme of public service (FBI 2002). The fact that crime rates have increased during the early years of an administration that is more active in bringing religion into political life suggests that public religiosity is not the solution; perhaps economic data would be more enlightening in this regard.

In other administrations, public religiosity — prayer breakfasts and meetings with religious leaders, calling on the Almighty to endorse national or international policy, public statements in support of creationism, and so on — has not gone hand-in-hand with high moral and legal standards. Even though it was before his "Christian conversion" (p 159), Colson's experience in the Nixon White House (discussed in Science and Evolution in the context of the character of Richard Nixon and the funeral eulogy for him delivered by Billy Graham) should be evidence enough that the public embrace of Christian ideals does not guarantee the link "between the material order and the moral order" (p 87).

But there is a more troubling aspect of this book: the question of what causes bad behavior. Colson and Pearcey seem to accept bad behavior in Christians as a result of the sinful nature of humans and their imperfections. This is to be forgiven as a temporary lapse in those who have accepted Christ. However, in those who are not Christians — or at least not the type of Christians of which Colson and Pearcey approve — these very same acts, even in the context of a record of greater good, are evidence of the systemic evil and perdition visited upon society — especially on society's children — by philosophical naturalists. Colson and Pearcey even assert that the only alternative to a Bible-based Christian morality is a utilitarian ethical system (p 139). Of course, this would come as a great surprise to moral philosophers throughout the Western world and to anyone whose religious worldview is nonbiblical.

In sum, I have two recommendations for our readers about Colson and Pearcey's Science and Evolution. First, read this book for a window into the worldview of certain Christian writers and how science appears to them. "Through a glass, darkly" is the phrase that comes to mind here (1 Corinthians 13:12). Second, read this book as a prime example of the superficial scholarship characteristic of anti-evolution and antiscience books that we often review in RNCSE. The discussion focuses on decades-old research and makes sweeping generalizations that the most perfunctory investigation shows to be either false or at least seriously confused. For those interested in supporting good science education in our society, Science and Evolution is a prime example of how scientific misunderstandings are perpetuated among those who get their science "education" from sources such as this one — and why we need more natural science in public education (and public life), not less.

References

[Anonymous]. 2002. Atheism and evolution. Creation Science Resource. Available on-line at http://www.nwcreation.net/atheism.html. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Ball P. 2000 Jun 22. A handle on handedness. Nature Science Update. Available on-line at http://www.nature.com/nsu/000622/000622-10.html. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Ball P. 2001 Dec 20. Shooting stars sugar coated. Nature Science Update. Available on-line at http://www.nature.com/nsu/001220/011220-11.html. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Berstein MP, Sandford SA, Allamandola LJ. 1999 Jul. Life's far-flung raw materials. Scientific American 281 (1): 42–9.

Cronin JR, Pizzarello S. 1997 Feb 14. Enantiomeric excesses in meteoritic amino acids. Science 275: 951–5.

[FBI] Federal Bureau of Investigation 2002. Crime Trends 2001 — Preliminary Figures. Available on-line at http://www.fbi.gov/pressrel/pressrel02/01bprelimcius.htm. Last accessed July 1, 2002.

[Gallup] The Gallup Organization. 2002. Poll analyses. Available on-line at http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases. Last accessed June 30, 2002.

Horgan J. 1997 May. The sinister cosmos. Scientific American 276 (5): 18–21.

Kauffman SA. 1993. The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lehn J-M. 2002 Mar 29. Toward self-organization and complex matter. Science 295: 2400–3.

Orgel L. 2001 Nov 7. Self-organizing biochemical cycles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 97: 12503–7.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

Review: Faith, Form, and Time

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
34–35
Reviewer: 
Denis O Lamoureux, University of Alberta
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Faith, Form, and Time
Author(s): 
Kurt P Wise
Nashville (TN): Broadman and Holman, 2002. 287 pages.
Kurt Wise's Faith, Form, and Time is a significant contribution to the modern origins debate. This book is a defense of young-earth creationism that provides proof of the power of evolutionary theory. In brief, young-earth creation is the process of evolving under the selective pressures of the scientific evidence for evolution.

To be sure, this was never Wise's intention. Rather, armed with an impressive educational background (BA in geophysics at the University of Chicago, MA and PhD in paleontology at Harvard under the supervision of Stephen Jay Gould), he sets out to offer a Christian fundamentalist apologetic. Like many before him (including the present reviewer 20 years ago), Wise's agenda is evangelistic. Perhaps this is most clear in the closing chapter, where he writes, "All who look upon the cross and trust in the completed work Jesus has done to take care of their sin are brought back from the death of the curse and adopted into the family of God. If you have not done this, won't you do it today?" (p 241).

In order to understand Wise's creation science evangelism and apologetic, it is necessary to appreciate a deeply ingrained hermeneutical assumption of Christian fundamentalists. Concordism (or better, scientific concordism), which is foundational to their principles of biblical interpretation, is the belief that there exists an accord between science and Scripture. It is not an unreasonable presupposition. If God is both the Creator of the world and the author of the creation account in Scripture, then an accord between his works and his words could be expected. For that matter, the great majority of Christians throughout most of history have been scientific concordists (Jaki 1992 is an excellent review of the history of scientific concordism and its influence in professional exegesis up to the beginning of the 20th century), and Wise continues in this hermeneutical tradition as clearly reflected in the subtitle of his book: "What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms."

This concordist hermeneutic fuels Wise's agenda. According to this approach, if the science in the early chapters of Bible aligns with modern scientific evidence, then this is powerful proof that God inspired the writers of Scripture, and no rational person can reject the Christian Creator. However, the apologetic and evangelistic purpose of Wise's book is thwarted should scientific concordism be an erroneous assumption.

The most important and influential book in the young-earth creation tradition is John C Whitcomb and Henry M Morris's The Genesis Flood (1961). Pivotal to their position is the belief that God created a canopy of water above the earth on the second day of creation (Genesis 1:6–7). The belief in the existence of a sea of water in the heavens was found throughout the ancient Near East. From a phenomenological perspective, this is exactly what it looks like — the sky is blue and rain falls from above. It is the collapse of these "waters above" that results in Noah's worldwide flood. However, Wise steps away from this classic young-earth creationist tenet, recognizing that the Bible undermines it. He notes correctly that "'the waters above the heavens' were still in existence during the time of David (Ps 148:4) … [t]herefore, the 'waters above' did not fall to the earth at the time of the Flood as many canopy theorists claim" (p 15; see also p 265 n 2).

However, instead of bringing into question the veracity of scientific concordism, as most professional exegetes have done in the last 100 years (Bailey 1993: 172–85), this hermeneutic unrelentingly grips Wise. He accepts the reality of the "waters above", but relegates them to the outer edges of the universe to serve as its boundary (p 90). In effect, this hermeneutical dynamic is like the God-of-the-gaps. In the light of evidence, it pushes traditional theological interpretations further and further outside the cosmos.

The powerful lure of scientific concordism is further seen in Wise's view of the origin of life. As one quite familiar with the fossil record, he certainly sees the evidence for evolution. For example, he is aware of transitory forms such as early amphibians (for example, Seymouria), mammal-like reptiles, and Archaeopteryx (p 199). In addition, he knows that vestigial structures, such as the underdeveloped hip and leg bones in whales, point to descent from earlier ancestors (p 219). And he even asserts that "abundant homology" exists and that it can be used to formulate "hierarchal trees" (p 123). But instead of accepting the obvious and parsimonious standard model of evolution, Wise recasts this scientific evidence within a 6000-year time period in order to defend the theory of Intrabaraminic Diversification.

The terminology for this model of origins comes from the first chapter of the Bible. The Hebrew word bara' means "to create" and min refers to species or kinds. In Genesis 1, God creates basic taxonomical groups. According to Wise, these taxa "were created with the capacity for substantial change" (p 123). More specifically, "In young-age creation theory, intrabaraminic diversification after the Flood produced many new species from pre-existing species ... these changes occurred both rapidly and recently (only thousands of years ago)" (p 222; emphasis added). In other words, Wise accepts evolutionary change at a rate that is orders of magnitude greater than that posited by the standard theory of evolution. Deliciously, he is an anti-evolutionist with a view of speciation many times faster than that of most evolutionists!

Of course, the stumbling block between Wise and the modern theory of evolution is his acceptance of scientific concordism. Because of this assumption, he has to repackage the evolutionary evidence within a 6000-year framework. But this is not to say that he does not feel the weight of the scientific evidence for an old universe. Wise asks, "So why does the world, in so many ways, look old?" (p 63). To his credit, he acknowledges that starlight, coral reefs, and ocean salinity could be indicative of age (p 63–6). Moreover, he confesses that chalks, trace fossils, and sand dunes in the sedimentary records have yet to be explained within a Noachian flood model (p 201–5). In other words, Wise is not an obscurantist; he sees the physical evidence. He is working within a fundamentalist category set, and in a way he cannot be faulted for that. However, the "evolved" model of young-earth creation in his book is proof of the power and persuasive nature of the evidence for evolution.

Wise's fundamentalist categories lead to the final point. The greatest difficulty with the origins debate today is the popular category set that tyrannically controls this controversy. Most individuals, both religious and non-religious, are trapped in a false dichotomy. Accordingly, one is either a creationist believing in God or an atheist accepting evolution. This black-and-white type of thinking and resultant deep ditch in the mind of people runs throughout Faith, Form, and Time.

For example, Wise asserts, "The most popular atheistic theory for the origin of the universe is the Big Bang theory" (p 89). Like most, he fails to recognize that scientific theories are metaphysically neutral and that many scientists are theists (Larson and Witham 1997; Easterbrooke 1997). Moving beyond the origins dichotomy is necessary for fruitful dialog regarding origins. An expanded category set is required, and the possibility that evolutionary theory can be interpreted within a theological framework must be entertained.

In closing, I must add a personal caveat. My soul shuddered while I was reading this book. Twenty years ago I began a similar apologetic and evangelistic crusade. I wanted to become a creation scientist to take on the evils of evolutionary biology. However, I sensed a calling to study the early chapters of the Bible before beginning a program at the Institute for Creation Research. It was at a leading evangelical graduate school that my fundamentalist hermeneutical foundations were shattered. It became abundantly clear to me that the Bible is not a book of science.

Today, scientific concordism is rejected by Old Testament scholars within the evangelical academy. It is a grassroots hermeneutic. I suspect that if I had not studied Genesis 1–11, I would still be clinging tenaciously to a view of origins similar to Kurt Wise's. Thankfully, I studied the words of God before examining His works. Being unhampered by scientific concordism, I am now able to see and enjoy the overwhelming scientific evidence for biological evolution, which for me is the Creator's method for creating life.

References

Bailey LR. 1993. Genesis, Creation, and Creationism. New York: Paulist Press.

Easterbrook G. 1997. Science and God: A warming trend? Science 277: 890–3.

Jaki SL. 1992. Genesis 1 Throughout the Ages. New York: Thomas Moore.

Larson EJ, Witham L. 1997. Scientists are still keeping the faith. Nature 386: 435–6.

Whitcomb JC Jr, Morris HM. The Genesis Flood. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed.

About the Author(s): 
Denis O Lamoureux
St Joseph's College
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2J5 Canada
dlamoure@ualberta.ca

Review: God and Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
25–26
Reviewer: 
Keith B Miller, Kansas State University
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
God and Evolution: Creation, Evolution and the Bible
Author(s): 
RJ Berry
Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2001. 189 pages.
There is no reason why any thoughtful, religious man should fear evolution, evolution is not an attempt to get rid of God in nature, but an attempt to show how God acts in nature. — SC Schmucker, in an address to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, December 28, 1927 (Anonymous 2003).
In essence, this book is a modern restatement of the position articulated above. RJ Berry is a British evangelical Christian and Professor of Genetics at the University College of London. Berry has a solid grasp of the wide range of evidence that undergirds evolutionary theory, as well as a well-reasoned orthodox Christian theology. God and Evolution was originally written in 1988 in response to the growing "creation science" movement. It was written for the evangelical Christian community and seeks to address the specific concerns of that faith community.

The preface of the book makes passing reference to advances in molecular biology and paleontology since the book was originally published. It also briefly mentions the claims of "intelligent design" advocates and cites critiques by Robert Pennock, Kenneth Miller, Denis Lamoureux, and others. It references a few of the many helpful works by evangelical scientists now available. However, given the recent developments in anti-evolutionary arguments and the many recent works by both scientists and theologians at the interface of religious thought and evolutionary theory, it is disappointing that this is a reprint and not a revised book.

In this small book, Berry attempts to address many of the fundamental issues involved in the popular science/faith discussion of evolution. Individual chapters are devoted to the nature of scientific description, the basics of evolutionary theory, the interpretation of the Bible, relevant doctrinal questions such as the nature of humanity and the origin of sin, an evaluation of "creation science", and a final plea for integration of theological and scientific perspectives.

Berry begins with a critique of "nothing buttery" (a term coined by British neuroscientist Donald MacKay to describe a thoroughgoing reductionism), and a discussion of the idea of multiple internally complete descriptions and multiple types of causation. He stresses that questions exist whose answers lie outside of any conceivable scientific investigation. He thus forcefully argues against a "warfare metaphor" to describe the relationship of evolutionary science and the Christian faith, and presents biological evolution and divine creation as complementary explanations.

In his chapter "The idea of evolution", he gives a very brief overview of the history of ideas about organic change from Plato to the Origin. He summarizes the essential elements of Darwin's ideas and the objections raised by Darwin's contemporaries. These objections are countered by the arguments used by Darwin himself, as well as by reference to more modern research. An important omission in this review is a discussion of the history of discovery and interpretation of the fossil record. Given that the fossil record is a common target of anti-evolutionary arguments, this omission is unfortunate. (A clear and entertaining description of how the rock and fossil records were constructed is given in the excellent book The Meaning of Fossils by MJS Rudwick [1976].)

In another chapter, Berry covers the subsequent history of evolutionary thought from Darwin through the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1940s and up to the advent of punctuated equilibria and cladistics in the 1970s. In recounting these developments, Berry does a good job of giving a sense of the internal debates within evolutionary science. In the process, he shows it to be a dynamic and maturing science involving a wide range of disciplines. Berry writes:
It is this unifying element which apparently makes evolution into something more than a simple scientific theory, and allows such diverse topics as fossil sequences, gene frequency changes and polymorphism, extinctions, adaptation, and so on, to be brought within a single umbrella. There may be disagreement about the interaction or relative importance of particular mechanisms, but there is no viable scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution for understanding nature (p 87–8).
This perspective helps to counter the common anti-evolutionary arguments that see every legitimate scientific dispute as a refutation of evolution.

In two chapters, Berry addresses concerns about the interpretation of Bible texts and specific doctrinal issues. He repeats the nearly universal theological understanding that the creation narratives in Genesis 1–3 must not be read as scientific accounts. They are theodicy, "stating and justifying God's goodness in an evil world" (p 47). He accepts the literary framework interpretation of the Genesis passages as proposed by leading evangelical theologians (such as Blocher 1984). Berry effectively argues that the Bible does not support the view that God's creative activity implies the absence of known or knowable mechanisms. He states, "the most persistent misapprehension about God and creation, however, is that knowledge of causal mechanism automatically excludes any possibility that God is acting in a particular situation" (p 51). The assumption that if evolution is true then God cannot be creator is "nonsense".

As to the origin of humanity, Berry argues that human distinctiveness is spiritual and relational, not anatomical. The "image of God" is not the same as physical form, nor can it be tied to particular mental capacities possessed uniquely by humans. Our creation in the "image of God" is thus not in conflict with an evolutionary origin. Unfortunately, in this discussion, Berry does not convey any real feeling for the abundance and complexity of the human and hominid fossil records.

Probably one of the most critical theological issues is that of the Fall. Particular understandings of this doctrine lie at the foundation of much of the popular resistance to evolutionary science. Referring to evangelical theological scholarship, Berry argues that the death that came into the world at the Fall was spiritual death, not physical death. That death was not determined or spread by some type of genetic inheritance. Adam thus need not have been the physical ancestor of all humanity, but can be understood as humanity's federal head with whom we are united in our sin. The broken relationships among humans, God, and nature resulting from that sin have brought discord to the rest of nature. In this view, the long historical record of human-induced environmental degradation can be understood as our failure to act as nature's appointed stewards and caretakers. Articulated within a thoroughly orthodox Christian theology, such views are critical for demonstrating that, far from undermining traditional doctrines, an evolutionary perspective can give them renewed relevance.

Berry concludes the book with two chapters on "creation science". In the first of these, he rebuts several of the standard young-earth creationist claims and responds to a few of the arguments made against macroevolution. This is one of the weaker chapters in the book, and readers should look to other sources for much more thorough and up-to-date responses to "creation science" arguments. However, the author does make the useful observation that "Many of the questions in the evolution and Christianity debate only arise because they wrongly assume some basic premise: time and time again it is worth probing behind the question to find if it is worth asking …" (p 103).

His chapter "Whence 'creationism'?" is arguably the most important in the book because it directly confronts the false science/faith warfare metaphor. He presents a history of the theological response to Darwin, beginning with Charles Hodge, who saw "Darwinism" as denying divine agency, and James McCosh, who saw it as part of divine providence. This historical discussion includes the beginning of the fundamentalist movement in which important figures such as James Orr, George Wright, and BB Warfield saw no inherent conflict between orthodox Christian faith, with a high view of scripture, and evolution. Berry also covers social Darwinism, the rise of populist anti-evolutionism in the early 1900s, and the birth of modern "scientific creationism" in the 1960s. He concludes this historical survey with the diagnosis that "… the mainspring of American 'creationism' is a simple fear of change; a fear that challenge to the accepted framework of belief will irreparably damage that belief, never mind opening a Pandora's Box of uncontrolled social and behavioural consequences" (p 147).

It is books such as Berry's that demonstrate the degree to which that fear is unwarranted. I highly recommend God and Evolution, especially for those who feel caught between their faith and modern evolutionary understandings of our world.

References

[Anonymous]. 2002 Dec 23. 75 years ago. Lancaster (Pennsylvania) New Era; Sect E: 8.

Blocher H. 1984. In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. Preston DJ, translator. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Rudwick MJS. 1976. The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

About the Author(s): 
Keith B Miller
Department of Geology
108 Thompson Hall
Manhattan KS 66506-3200