RNCSE 18 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Articles available online are listed below.

What do Christians REALLY Believe about Evolution?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
What do Christians Really Believe about Evolution?
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura
Network Project Director
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
8–9
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Recently a California teacher requesting help from NCSE wrote:

I am a high school biology teacher trying to find information on the official position of Christian denominations and other major world religions on evolution for use in my classes. I have many creationist students in my classes who assume anyone who believes in God agrees with the literal creationist beliefs on this. Can you help?

This teacher also felt he needed more information about the legal rights and responsibilities of teachers who are teaching evolution.

These are questions which arise for teachers all across the country. NCSE had already produced a flyer summarizing court decisions. The NCSE brochure "Seven Significant Court Decisions Regarding Creation/Evolution Issues" outlines the relevant legal issues. The position statements of science teachers' professional associations published in NCSE's Voices for Evolution also confirm that science teachers can honestly tell their students, "Legally, I cannot teach you 'creation science' or any other religious explanation of life on earth."

However, although they cannot teach religious doctrines, teachers are permitted to teach about religion. The topic is usually reserved for social studies classes, but many science teachers, like the one whose questions are quoted above, want to be better informed about evolution/creation beliefs and may find that sharing such information with students and their community clears the way for teaching about evolution.

What Do Christians Believe?

While a number of recent surveys give us some information on how many Americans express beliefs compatible with literal interpretations of the Bible, they don't tell us whether such beliefs are, in fact, required of Christians by their denominations. Even though the numbers of those polled in the US who say that they accept evolution is about equal with those who accept special creation of humans, the majority of Americans professing to be Christians belong to denominations that accept evolution.

Table 1 is adapted from a 1998 article released by the Religion News Service and lists the twelve largest denominations in the US in order of size. It also shows which denominations have in some manner officially supported the teaching of evolution in public schools. The percentages listed in the second column represent the percentage of that denomination's members in relation to the total membership of those listed in the table (not in relation to all Christian denominations). A mark in the column entitled "Voices" indicates that the leaders of this denomination have contributed an official statement which we have published in NCSE's Voices for Evolution (Matsumura 1995).

Some denominations have subsequently issued additional statements. The column headed "Joint Statement" shows which denominations endorsed "Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law" (American Jewish Congress and others 1995), an interfaith statement that declares:

5. Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion….

6. These same rules apply to the recurring controversy surrounding theories of evolution. Schools may teach about explanations of life on earth, including religious ones (such as "creationism"), in comparative religion or social studies classes. In science class, however, they may present only genuinely scientific critiques of, or evidence for, any explanation of life on earth, but not religious critiques (beliefs unverifiable by scientific methodology). Schools may not refuse to teach evolutionary theory in order to avoid giving offense to religion nor may they circumvent these rules by labeling as science an article of religious faith. Public schools must not teach as scientific fact or theory any religious doctrine, including "creationism", although any genuinely scientific evidence for or against any explanation of life may be taught. Just as they may not either advance nor inhibit any religious doctrine, teachers should not ridicule, for example, a student's religious explanation for life on earth.

Finally, official representatives of some denominations were plaintiffs in the famous McLean v Arkansas case. Official denominational opposition to the law requiring the teaching of "creation science" is recorded in the column headed "McLean".

Table 1: Membership and Acceptance of Evolution in 12 Largest US Christian Denominations

DenominationMembership (millions)PercentVoicesJoint StatementMcLean
Roman Catholic Church61.249.0
Southern Baptist Convention15.712.6
United Methodist Church8.56.8
National Baptist Convention USA8.26.6
Church of God in Christ5.54.4
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America5.24.2
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)4.83.8
Presbyterian Church (USA)3.52.8
National Baptist Convention of America3.52.8
African Methodist Episcopal Church3.52.8
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod2.62.1
The Episcopal Church2.52.0
• Indicates statement issued by official body of this denomination.
† Indicates statement signed by the National Council of Churches of which this denomination is a member.
‡ Indicates that this denomination was listed as an "endorsing organization".

Table 1 demonstrates that of Americans in the 12 largest Christian denominations, 89.6% belong to churches that support evolution education! Indeed, many of the statements in Voices insist quite strongly that evolution must be included in science education and "creation science" must be excluded. Even if we subtract the Southern Baptist Convention, which has changed its view of evolution since McLean v Arkansas and might take a different position now, the percentage of those in denominations, including the United Church of Christ and the National Sikh Center, have shown some degree of support for evolution education (as defined by inclusion in Voices or the "Joint Statement").

However, many Americans, including your students, may not know the position of their denominations. Several science teachers have told NCSE staff, "When I tell my students to check with their ministers, they are surprised to find out that it's okay for them to learn about evolution!" Seeing the information in Table 1 might give some students just such a surprise.

While it isn't a science teacher's job to tell students or the community at large "what they should believe", clearing away their misconceptions may help a teacher get on with the job of teaching science. By all means tell them that what most Americans believe and most Christian denominations teach is this: "teaching evolution is okay!"

References

American Jewish Congress, American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Committee, American Muslim Council, Anti-Defamation League, Baptist Joint Committee, Christian Legal Society, General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, People for the American Way, Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law, April 1995. [Note: The "authors" listed here are organizations represented on the drafting committee. An additional 22 organizations are listed as "Endorsing Organizations". The entire statement may be found on the worldwide web at http://www2.ed.gov/Speeches/04-1995/prayer.html (last accessed June 2, 2010) or by contacting any organization represented on the drafting committee.]

Matsumura M. Voices for Evolution. Berkeley (CA): National Center for Science Education, 1995. [Voices can be viewed on the worldwide web at http://ncse.com/voices].

Religion News Service. Believes: Dynamic Dozen. June 1998, http://www.religionnews.com/arc98/b_060198.html (last accessed June 4, 1998.) [Note: This source cites, in turn, the 1998 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.]

Denton Becomes a (Teleological) Evolutionist

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
18
Year: 
1998
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
10–14
Reviewer: 
Philip T. Spieth
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe
Author(s): 
Michael J. Denton

This review currently available in pdf format. Download link below.

Science and Religion, Methodology, and Humanism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Science and Religion, Methodology, and Humanism
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
15–17
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
[In May 1998 Dr Eugenie C Scott, NCSE'S Executive Director, was awarded the American Humanist Association's 1998 "Isaac Asimov Science Award". What follows is excerpted from her acceptance speech. Ed.]

In late 1995, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) issued a statement to its members and the public concerning the importance of evolution to biology teaching. Part of the statement defined evolution:
The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.
Shortly after this statement appeared, I began to see letters to the editor from around the country decrying the "atheism" of the NABT. Anti-evolutionists like Phillip Johnson included broadsides against NABT in their writings. As one Christian said to me, defining evolution as "unsupervised" and "impersonal" implied to many Americans that "God had nothing to do with it and life has no meaning." Reflecting these public concerns, two distinguished theologians, Cornell's Huston Smith and Notre Dame's Alvin Plantinga, wrote a polite letter to NABT's board of directors, asking it to delete the two words "unsupervised" and "impersonal". They specifically noted that the use of the two words
has two unfortunate and unintended consequences. It gives aid and comfort to extremists in the religious right for whom it provides a legitimate target. And because of its logical vulnerability, it lowers Americans' respect for scientists and their place in our culture.
When the NABT's board convened at its annual meeting in Minneapolis in October 1997, members' initial reaction was that creationists were trying to get them to change the statement, and they weren't about to knuckle under to that sort of pressure. They voted at the end of a 9-hour meeting, after only a brief discussion, not to change the statement.

Why is this story relevant to my receiving this award? You may be surprised to hear that after I arrived at the NABT meeting, I encouraged the board to do as the theologians asked and drop "unsupervised" and "impersonal". I'm pleased to say that the board did discuss the issue at greater length and ultimately altered the statement by dropping the two words.

People who know what I do for a living, and who know I am a nontheist, are sometimes surprised to hear this. In fact, a group of about 100 scientists signed a letter decrying the NABT's decision to drop the two words and accusing its board (and Eugenie Scott) of capitulating to political pressure from "fundamentalists." Well, lest you think I have gone "soft on creationism" and thrown the integrity of science to the wolves, let me explain a few things. I'd hate for you to think that you have given this wonderful Asimov award to a closet creationist! I lobbied the NABT board of directors to make the change because of both my respect for science and my respect for the philosophy of humanism that draws so strongly upon it. To explain requires me to reflect a bit upon both religion and science.

First, religion. Some define religion as "world view" or a person's (or a people's) "perspective", but this is too broad to be useful. Anthropologists define religion as a set of rules and attitudes regarding interaction with certain supernatural beings. Not all supernatural beings — elves, the tooth fairy, and Santa Claus are the subjects of folk beliefs, rather than religion. Religion concerns omnipotent entities — gods, A God, the Ancestors — powerful forces that can be (or have to be) supplicated, worshiped, or in some other way, interacted with. Religion does not always determine the rules for how people should behave towards one another (morals and ethics) but religion always has rules for what to do about superior beings. In Judaism and Christianity, there is one deity, which is certainly omnipotent.

Now, what about science? My job requires coping with science illiteracy in the American public. There is widespread ignorance both of the facts and concepts of science, as well as illiteracy in the very nature of science itself — of science as a way of knowing. Often, time is short: TV and radio especially require me to reduce science down to one or two "Big Ideas".

I think I'd be satisfied if Americans would get into two habits. First, ask, "Is there another explanation?" Uncle Fred found water in the back pasture using a forked stick, so there must be forces unknown to science at work. Is there another explanation? Copper bracelets cure arthritis because my neighbor's arthritis got better when she wore one. Is there another explanation? To be a truly critical thinker, one must be especially careful to ask this question when the explanation seems reasonable. Mr X got fired from his teaching job because he teaches evolution. Is there another explanation?

Maybe Uncle Fred found water (assuming he did it more frequently than chance) because after living for 60 years in that kind of country, he has amassed some subconscious knowledge of places where water is likely to be found. Maybe my neighbor's arthritis got better because of a placebo effect. Maybe Mr X got fired because he is a lousy teacher.

After we get people into the habit of asking, "Is there another explanation?" we next need to get them to ask, "How do I tell which explanation is better?" Deciding which explanation is better requires testing the explanations against the natural world — and therein lies the essence of science. I'd love for the average American to understand the rest of what we associate with the philosophy of science — falsification, parsimony, repeatability, open-ended-ness — but the public needs to grasp the basics first. What is most important is "testing" and "natural world."

The essence of scientific testing is the ability to hold some conditions constant.To test whether putting fertilizer on my petunias will make them grow bigger flowers, I have to hold constant such things as amount of water, sunlight, weeds, and so on — to control for these factors. Testing means holding some things constant and varying others.

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of science and religion, and why I lobbied to take the words "impersonal" and "unsupervised" Out of the NABT statement. Consider: If to test something scientifically requires the ability to hold constant certain effects, this means that omnipotent powers cannot be used as part of scientific explanations. Logically, if there are omnipotent powers in the universe, it is impossible to hold their effects constant, to "control" them in the scientific sense. An omnipotent power could interfere, or not interfere or interfere but make it look like it's not interfering — that's omnipotence for you!

So science must be limited to using just natural forces in its explanations.This is sometimes referred to as the principle of methodological materialism in science: we explain the natural world using only matter, energy, and their interactions (materialism). Scientists use only methodological materialism because it is logical, but primarily because it works. We don't need to use supernatural forces to explain nature, and we get farther in our understanding of nature by relying on natural causes.

Because creationists explain natural phenomena by saying "God performed a miracle," we tell them that they are not doing science. This is easy to understand. The flip side, though, is that if science is limited by methodological materialism because of our inability to control an omnipotent power's interference in nature, both "God did it" and "God didn't do it" fail as scientific statements.

Properly understood, the principle of methodological materialism requires neutrality towards God; we cannot say, wearing our scientist hats, whether God does or does not act. I could say, speaking from the perspective of my personal philosophy, that matter and energy and their interactions (materialism) are not only sufficient to understand the natural world (methodological materialism) but in fact, I believe there is nothing beyond matter and energy. This is the philosophy of materialism, which I, and probably most humanists, hold to. I intentionally added "I believe" when I spoke of my personal philosophy, which is entirely proper. "I believe," however, is not a phrase that belongs in science.

We philosophical materialists may all be methodological materialists, but the converse isn't true. Gregor Mendel was a methodological materialist who didn't accept the philosophy of materialism. I think we make a grave error when we confuse philosophical views derived from science — even those we support — with science itself.

Let me give you an example. There exists a group of critics of science about whom Barbara Ehrenreich has written eloquently; they call themselves deconstructionists, or postmodernists, and they can be found in unfortunately large numbers in the humanities and social sciences departments of most universities and colleges. They claim that science is largely responsible for the current destruction of the environment, for social policies based on racism and sexism, for genocide, the Holocaust, for iatrogenic illness. They argue that the very Enlightenment principles that Humanists embrace should be knocked off their pedestals and replaced with more subjective, personal, and allegedly "more humane" ways of making decisions.

Most of us Humanists (being rational, Enlightenment types) would argue vigorously against this position. With Barbara Ehrenreich, we would point out that, yes, indeed, science has been used to promote ideas like genocide that we would consider evil, but that postmodernists are confusing ideologies and ideas drawn from science with science itself. Science has, for example, been used both to promote and to rebut sexism and racism, but the philosophical view one draws from science should not be used to raise up or cast down science itself.

The same principle applies to philosophical materialism, the view at the foundation of our Humanism; we may derive this view from science, but an ideology drawn from science is not the same as science itself. Science is an equal opportunity methodology.

Therefore, I agreed with the two theologians who asked NABT to take the words "impersonal" and "unsupervised" from its statement on evolution. NABT was making a philosophical statement outside of what science can tell us. Plantinga and Smith wrote:
[I]t is extremely hard to see how an empirical science, such as biology, could address such a theological question as whether a process like evolution is or isn't directed by God.... How could an empirical inquiry possibly show that God was not guiding and directing evolution?
And they were right. If we are to say to postmodernist attackers of science that they should not confuse science with positions or philosophies derived from science, then we must be consistent and not equate science with materialist philosophy.

I argue for the separation of methodological from philosophical materialism for logical reasons, and for reasons based on the philosophy of science. It is also possible to argue from a strategic standpoint. Living as we do in a society in which only a small percentage of our fellow citizens are nontheists, we who support the teaching of evolution in the public schools should avoid the creationist's position of forcing a choice between God and Darwin. Creationists are perfectly happy if only 10% of the population (the percentage of nontheists) accepts evolution. I am not. I want people to understand and accept the science of evolution; whether or not someone builds from this science a philosophical system that parallels mine is logically and strategically independent. An ideology drawn from science is not the same as science itself.

Ironically, I find myself being praised and encouraged in my position by conservative Christians and taking flak from some fellow nontheists, including some scientists. I must say, though, that over the last several months I have presented lectures at several universities and two meetings of professional scientists in which I have argued that a clear distinction must be drawn between science as a way of knowing about the natural world and science as a foundation for philosophical views. One should be taught to our children in school, and the other can optionally be taught to our children at home. Once this view is explained, I have found far more support than disagreement among my university colleagues. Even someone who may disagree with my logic or understanding of philosophy of science often understands the strategic reasons for separating methodological from philosophical materialism — if we want more Americans to understand evolution.

Science and Humanism are too important for us not to think very clearly about what they have in common and where they are distinct. The most difficult questions for us to think about critically are the ones where one answer better suits our ends, even if another one is truer. As Humanists, we might want to claim the power of science as our own, but we cannot honestly do so. Humanists should be modeling clear thinking, not muddling it — and I think we are up to the task.

Again, I am highly honored to receive this Isaac Asimov Award in Science, and I sincerely thank you for making me its first recipient.

Creationism, A Trip to the Dark Side

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationism, A Trip to the Dark Side
Author(s): 
Skip Evans, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
22–23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Answers in Genesis, publisher of Creation magazine, held a creationism seminar/sermon in Marietta on September 15-16, 1997 at the Roswell Baptist Church. Several AU/Atlanta members attended, and I put together this report from our impressions of that event.

The main chapel of the Roswell Baptist Church was near capacity for Ken Ham, Director of Answers in Genesis. I was surprised that the lecture was extremely short on science and very long on scripture. Maybe it's because I haven't been to one of these shindigs before, but I just assumed that a movement that calls itself "creation science" would have some science to it. Or perhaps because Ham was preaching to the faithful, he knew he wouldn't need much evidence for his claims. Whenever he did present some bit of scientific material to make his point he was always sure to precede it with statements like, "Bear with me, this won't take long." This seemed to indicate that to this audience even pseudoscience was a bit too much like a trip to the dentist. Ham's presentation was much more concerned with imploring his listeners not to give in to the temptation to surrender Genesis to science. He proclaimed, "We must desecularize, de-evolutionize our thinking. ...If you can't defend Genesis you can't defend Christianity." This statement was followed by a healthy dose of criticism for churches not adhering to his own literalist doctrine.

Ham first began by demonstrating how scientists who asserted that Tyrannosaurus rex was a carnivore had to be wrong. His evidence? A slide showing the fearsome chompers of T rex was whisked off the display and replaced with a verse from Genesis 1:30, "And to every beast of the of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat." Therefore, Ham concluded, all animals at the time of creation were vegetarians according to Ham, including T rex. Meat-eating did not occur until after the Flood and was a result of sin. His presentation was decorated with colorful cartoon slides to emphasis key points. As Adam and Eve held up the forbidden fruit they were watched not only by the serpent but by a friendly brontosaurus as well.

Ham placed creation in opposition to "random, undirected processes" and argued his case using Mount Rushmore as an analogy (this, incidentally, is straight out of a recent issue of Creation magazine). First he proposed that Mount Rushmore was not actually created, but occurred by accident. Wind and storm erosion over many years caused, by pure chance, the likeness of the presidents to appear on the rocks. After sufficient chuckles from the audience he then went on to conclude that since it was impossible for Mount Rushmore to have happened by chance, therefore it was also impossible for something as complex as life to have happened by "random, undirected processes". Of course, this has nothing to do with evolution, since evolutionary theory does not say that life occurred by "random, undirected processes", but these small points seem lost on Ham and on his audiences as well.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of Ham's presentation was the absolute disdain he held for the people who had made careers and lives out of the pursuit of scientific truth. His simplistic and insulting remarks smacked with such blatant religious intolerance that when they prompted "amens" from the audience I felt truly afraid. Even NASA was not above his contempt. The recent discovery of the rock from Mars, perhaps containing evidence of bacterial life on the red planet in the past, was nothing more than a publicity stunt to get NASA in the news and get more money for their programs. Ham shook his head with disgust as the audience voiced their disapproval. I thought of the astronauts and even friends I have known who have worked for our space program and thought, "Is this what they deserve?"

Some of his remarks echoed slogans from the "Religious Right", such as "America is no longer a Christian nation; it is a pagan nation." However, I did laugh right along with the audience at one of his remarks. Ham also asserted, "The atheists understand Christianity better than the Christians." However, I have to admit some of his statements were simply lost on me. What possible sense can one make out of a statement like, "Natural selection is the opposite of evolution."

The recent rejection of Creation magazine by the Athens (GA) Regional Library System was played for all it was worth to promote the magazine and to show that libraries are hostile to Christianity. At the end of the lecture when he solicited the audience for subscriptions to the publication he exclaimed, "It's better than National Geographic!"

The final part of the lecture was a call to action, a call to arms, against the godless, atheistic, anti-Christian evolutionists who had vowed to destroy Christianity and everything it stood for. To make his point he had another cartoon slide, one of two castle towers with cannons on top of each. The bottom of one tower was labeled EVOLUTION, the other CREATION. Rising up from the word EVOLUTION, pasted on the tower's side were the words ABORTION, PORNOGRAPHY, HOMOSEXUALITY and LAWLESSNESS. Rising up from CREATION were FAMILY, MARRIAGE, GOD and TRUTH.

The next slide showed the two towers again. The "creation" tower was pristine and undamaged, but the "evolution" tower was blasted at the base. According to Ham, this is the way things should be. At the conclusion Ham explained that the cartoons used in the presentation were from the Answers in Genesis publication "A is for Adam", a children's book.

Ham referred constantly to the public school system and went on to catalog all the social ills that derive from including evolution in curriculum. His constant criticism of public schools appeared to be little more than a thinly-veiled call for creationist intrusions into science classrooms.

This lecture was the first of three to be presented over the course of two nights. There was to be another one following this one in thirty minutes, and then a third the following night. I had intended to go to all three to learn all I could. But I had seen enough. Quite frankly, I just couldn't take anymore.

Do Scientists Really Reject God?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Do Scientists Really Reject God?: New Poll Contradicts Earlier Ones
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
NCSE Executive Director
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1997
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
24–25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In a recent issue of RNCSE, Larry Witham reported on research he and historian Edward Larson carried out to investigate the religious beliefs of scientists.They had surveyed a sample of 1000 individuals listed in American Men and Women of Science, (AM&WS), using questions originally asked by the Gallup organization in a series of polls of American religious views.The report, entitled "Many scientists see God's hand in evolution", concluded that although scientists were quite different from other Americans in their views of "extreme" positions— such as young earth creationism and atheism—they were very similar to other Americans in the "middle" or "theistic evolution" position.

In the table below, the full wording of Gallup's question 1 is, "Humans were created pretty much in their present form about 10 000 years ago." The difference between scientists and other Americans is striking. Scientists also respond quite differently to the third question, "Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms. God had no part in this process." But scientists' responses to Gallup's "theistic evolution" question—"Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms of life, but God guided the process, including the creation of Man"—directly mirrors that of the general public. The "middle ground" is apparently equally attractive to scientists as it is to the general public.

GALLUP EVOLUTION QUESTIONS

Question Scientists Public
1. Special Creation, 10 000 years 5% 46%
2. Evolution, God Guided 40% 40%
3. Evolution, God had no part 55% 9%

Larson and Witham also asked the AM&WS sample a second set of questions, repeating a survey performed in 1914 by sociologist James H Leuba. Leuba had found that, in contrast to the high levels of religious belief in the general American public, scientists exhibited low levels of belief in God. He predicted that over time, more and more scientists would give up their belief in God, as scientific knowledge replaced what he considered to be superstition. Larson and Witham found to the contrary that disbelief among scientists remained stable: 58% in 1914 and 60% in 1976 (Larson and Witham 1997).

Leuba had taken a subsample of more prominent or "greater" scientists in the AM&WS sample and reported that they exhibited a higher rate of disbelief (70%) compared to less prominent AM&WS scientists. Recently, Larson and Witham asked Leuba's questions of members of the National Academy of Sciences, since AM&WS no longer lists "greater" scientists. They claimed to find that NAS scientists had higher levels of disbelief and agnosticism, reporting "near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists" (Larson and Witham 1998).

Are you confused? How can scientists be so like other Americans in one survey and so different in another? We can find part of the explanation in the considerable differences between the questions asked by Gallup and those asked by Leuba.

The wording of questions in any survey can influence the results. Gallup's questions are quite straightforward, well designed to reveal people's attitudes towards evolution. For reasons that will become important later in this article, a question that requests an opinion on only one issue is superior to one which queries attitudes about two or more.

First, let's look at Leuba's questions, which are, to be charitable, ambiguous. The "personal belief" question attempts to ascertain belief not just in some sort of God, but a very specific kind of personal God.
1. I believe in a God in intellectual and effective communication with humankind, i.e., a God to whom one might pray in expectation of receiving an answer. By "answer", I mean more than the subjective psychological effects of prayer.
1. I believe in a [personal] God...
AM&WS NAS
1914 1998
27.7 7.0

Indeed, the percentage of "yes" answers in 1998 is strikingly lower than that in 1914. Does this mean that fewer scientists believe in God? Not necessarily. Consider how specific this question is. To answer "yes" to this question, one would have to believe that God is not only in communication with humankind, which many religious people do believe, but that God is in both intellectual and effective communication. What is the meaning of "intellectual" communication? "Effective" communication? Someone who believed that God communicated with humankind but not "intellectually" (whatever that means) would have to answer "no." Is "effective" used in the modern sense of the word meaning "something that works well", or in the more archaic (1914) use of the term meaning "to bring about"? Do scientists reading this question today interpret it in the same way as those in 1914?

The clause about answering prayers is also problematic.There are schools of theology that hold that God is personal in the sense of watching over and caring for humankind, but nonetheless, does not answer prayers. We do not know whether members of the general public would respond similarly or differently than scientists do to this definition of God: we do know that there is a wide variety of definitions of God.

Not only have there been changes in theology since 1914, which may be reflected in different Americans' definitions of God, but there have been improvements in survey research techniques. Experienced pollsters simply do not ask paragraph- long questions anymore because they know that they elicit contingent (and therefore difficult to interpret) answers!

Most educated, late 20th century Americans are "test wise" and know that the more components to a question, the more likely it is that the question is "wrong". I doubt that this was the case in 1914, when citizens 'were exposed to far fewer surveys than they are today. I surmise that modern survey-wise scientists would be more likely to answer "no" to a multi-component question like Leuba's number 1 than "yes".

What about Leuba's second question?

2. I do not believe in a God
as defined above.
AM&WS NAS
1914 1998
52.7 72.2

How might this question be interpreted? There is more than one way—which means it's not a good question.You might answer "true" if you did not believe in God at all, which is how Leuba, and apparently Witham and Larson, interpret the question; they describe these answers as demonstrating "personal disbelief." But you might answer "true" if you believed in a different kind of God than Leuba defined! A "yes" on question 2 would include both non-believers and those who believe in a less personal God than that of question 1.

Leuba's third question also allows for multiple interpretations.

3. I have no definite belief
regarding this question.
AM&WS NAS
1914 1998
20.9 20.8

Well, there has been no change in the number of "yes" answers over time, but what does the question mean? To me, a "yes" means "I don't think much about religion in general" rather than meaning, as Leuba, Larson and Witham conclude, "I have 'doubt or agnosticism'." Nonbelievers might very likely answer this question "false", because they do have definite views on this question! Most of the atheists and agnostics that I know have quite definite views about belief in God! Just as with the other Leuba questions, a "yes" answer reflects more than one possible opinion. Positive answers to this question include those who do not believe, as well as those who are not especially interested in the topic.

What one might conclude from the 1998 Larson and Witham study of NAS scientists is that belief in Leuba's definition of a personal God has decreased over time among scientists. The main problem, however, is that Leuba's questions are not well designed for investigating the religious views of scientists (or anyone else).

The Gallup questions, which deal with views of God's role in evolution, rather than general belief or disbelief in God, are far less ambiguous. When these questions were used (Larson and Witham 1997), the answers showed that a large proportion (40%) of prominent scientists believe in a God that is sufficiently personal or interactive with humankind that human evolution is guided or planned.

The title of the recent Larson and Witham article in Nature, "Leading scientists still reject God" is premature without reliable data upon which to base it.

References

Larson EJ, Witham L. Scientists are still keeping the faith [Commentary]. Nature 1997 Apr 3; 386:435-6.

Larson EJ, Witham L. Leading scientists still reject God. Nature 1998 Jul; 394:313.

Witham L. Many scientists see God's hand in evolution. RNCSE 17(6):33.

Introduction to "Science and the Spiritual Quest" Conference

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Introduction to Science and the Spiritual Quest" Conference
Author(s): 
Robert Russell
Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences
Berkeley CA
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
26–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Robert Russell delivered these remarks at the opening of the Science and the Spiritual Quest conference on Sunday, June 7, 1998. We reprint them with permission.

Good morning, and welcome to the "Science and the Spiritual Quest" (SSQ) Conference, drawing together 27 internationally distinguished scientists who are invited to share with us their spiritual journey. I am Bob Russell, Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. I want to start this conference, though, by inviting you to use your imagination:

Imagine the Milky Way as a galaxy so vast that all the stars you can see on a clear night are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars making it up;

Imagine a photograph of deep space dense not with stars but with entire galaxies each as vast as our own Milky Way [and] floating endlessly in the depths of space;

Imagine the evolution of life on earth stretching back billions of years, yet with all species from blue-green algae to hummingbirds linked by a common genetic code;

Imagine the brain of a child with more neural connections than the number of stars in the Milky Way;

Imagine an atom so tiny that a hundred trillion can fit on the dot of an "i";

Imagine elementary particles endlessly arising into a half-existence and the colliding and decaying back into the underlying quantum field in a foaming process happening billions of times each second at every point of space throughout the entire universe;

Imagine the entire universe in its distant past smaller than an atom, a nucleus, even an elementary particle

What we are seeking to imagine lies beyond our direct perceptions and our ordinary, everyday world, but it is nevertheless real. These discoveries are the result of centuries of pioneering scientific research. They are the gifts of the natural sciences, gifts which are our common human heritage. Without science we could never have known any of this. Knowing it all has forever changed our understanding of the universe and of ourselves. This knowledge affects us at our deepest level, leading us to rejoice in the splendor of the universe and the joy of living.

Yet it also stirs within us those ancient and always present, ever pressing questions: who are we, where did we come from, why are we here, how are we to live our lives, what will be our future? These questions are basic to what many call the spiritual quest - our thirst for the infinite, for the transcendent, for meaning and purpose. I believe the questions science raises deserve an answer at least as profound as the discoveries themselves. The answers we give, whether sublime or superficial, will mark our lives and those of future generations. We are truly at a cusp in history of extraordinary ramifications.

For some scientists, the universe as such is the answer. It alone is our source, and science offers us sufficient meaning and purpose. For other scientists, many of whom are gathered here today, science is part of the answer, but a truly adequate account requires language about the God whom Jews, Christians and Moslems praise as the Creator of the universe and the ultimate source of meaning and purpose in our lives and world. The primary purpose of SSQ is to explore this second option.

First I want to give you a brief overview of the broader context in which it is located. SSQ is part of a rapidly growing intellectual movement commonly referred to as "science and religion". We are nearly 40 years into this exciting new period of open dialogue and creative, mutual interaction. I want to note some key factors which have made this possible:

In philosophy of science, we have moved from the modern period starting with the 17th century Enlightenment and culminating in the first half of this century. Here science was portrayed as an entirely objective, rational and impersonal process - one which eventually could explain all of human knowledge and experience in terms of physics. Nature was given a mechanistic interpretation characterized by determinism and reductionism. Since the 1960's we have been moving into what many call a post-modern understanding of science, which emphasizes the historical, inter-subjective and holistic character of scientific knowledge and which sees nature in terms of unpredictability and emergence. Scientists form a community of consensus, persons with shared assumptions whose knowledge is couched in revisable models of nature which point to reality but are never able to grasp it unequivocally and in its entirety.

Likewise in the philosophy of religion we once viewed religious language as merely expressive and religious experience as strictly subjective, totally divorced from scientific knowledge. Instead, scholars now acknowledge the cognitive content of religion and its broader explanatory power. In theology, too, we are moving away from a period of isolation between religions and between secular learning and sacred teaching. Instead we are living with the possibility of a fresh, invigorating intellectual climate infused with the spirit of ecumenical and inter-religious dialog, a climate which encourages a new and vigorous interaction both with the humanities and the natural sciences. Many scholars now see theological doctrines, like scientific theories, not as rigid, closed dogmas but as hypotheses about the world which, while firmly believed to be true, are radically subject testing by the appropriate data. For at least some of these theologians, the "data" should now include the theories and discoveries of the natural sciences. They also see science as infused with concepts and assumptions whose roots, though often unacknowledged, lie in philosophy and, more indirectly, in Western monotheism, and which invite a critical discussion between theologians, philosophers and scientists.

But what is most relevant to our conference is the effect that the stunning discoveries of the 20th century sciences are having on this dialogue. Think of the discoveries I listed already. Add to them the extraordinary explanatory theories of the natural sciences: physics, with the challenge of relativity to our fundamental notions of space, time, matter and energy; quantum mechanics, with its challenge to our notions of causality and separability and locality; cosmology, with the discovery of what might be the birth of our universe 15 billion years ago and the possible "freeze or fry" scenarios for its far future; evolutionary and molecular biology, with the ethical, legal, social, and medical issues surrounding genetics and the challenge to purpose, design, directionality or trends in nature; and think how the computer, the internet, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, and all the rest are raising the key questions about self, reason, embodiment and community. In fact, more often than not, it is the scientists who are moving out from their labs and knocking on our doors, saying "Can we talk?"

In light of these factors and others, a wealth of responses have been developed over the past 40 years, so that today the "generic" term, "science and religion", points to an immensely rich interdisciplinary field. It began in the 1960s through the genius of a handful of pioneering scholars with joint training in the sciences, theology and philosophy and by a few philosophers and theologians who have taken the discoveries and methodology of science seriously. There now exist centers and societies in the United States, England, Europe and Australia which support research, conferences, courses, public fora, and scholarly and publicly-oriented journals.

The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences here in Berkeley is one such center, committed to sponsoring research, teaching and public service both at the Graduate Theological Union and through a series of national and international programs, including SSQ. This past decade in particular has also brought a rapidly growing series of outstanding lectures, books, and journal essays which are "essential requirements" for anyone seriously interested in this interdisciplinary field. One may debate the issues, but one can no longer debate the fact that "science and religion" is a field whose research and courses deserve to be part of ongoing academic life.

Today we are fortunate to see the first fruits of what promises to be an invaluable new approach to the field. Unlike most of the interdisciplinary research characteristic of "science and religion", SSQ focuses specifically on scientists at the cutting edge of their research fields who are willing to share their experience of science as a spiritual journey. Most of them come from and participate in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Most of them have had little time in an extraordinary research career to devote to extensive studies in religion and philosophy. For the past 2 1/2 years, though, they have been willing to work closely together towards a common goal, asking how the discoveries, the theories, and the practices of science both inform and are informed by their spiritual journey as scientists. Today I invite them to share the insights that journey has yielded about the presence of transcendence in their lives, about the common ground they find in the experience and practice of science and religion, about the moral and spiritual dimension of science, and, for those who find this language appropriate, about God whose creative presence is known through the Book of Nature as well as Scripture and who calls us to participate in the healing, repairing and redemptive transformation of the world.

Science Education, Scientists, and Faith

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Science Education, Scientists, and Faith
Author(s): 
Mike Salovesh
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
28–29
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Anthropologist Mike Salovesh received a letter about the potential exposure of a high-school student only to evolution in classes in public schools and university. He has allowed us to reprint his reflections on the place of evolution in the social and life sciences and on the relationship between science and religion.

The concerned parent wrote:

I have some concerns about... evolution.... Is it taught as theory or fact? Can students discuss differing viewpoints? [Our child] is a very grounded young man but I worry that this may not be the right choice for his first class.

Of course, there's no way I can guess what a particular instructor will or won't do in a classroom. I can make some general points, though.

Anthropology sits at some important intellectual crossroads. Some parts of anthropology can only be done within the confines of a scientific approach. One of those parts deals with the history of our human biological nature.

When we're doing science, there are generally accepted rules of evidence that we have to follow. The central rule is that knowledge can't properly be regarded as scientific unless it can be tested against the real world. Scientific theories are attempts to explain what happens in the real world. A "theory", in this sense, says that under specific circumstances, if you do X and look at the world to see what happens next you can expect to see Y. To test the theory, we go out and do X. If we don't then see Y, we know there's something wrong with the theory. We also know that we're either going to have to modify the theory or throw it out entirely.

You ask whether an anthropology course would teach evolution as theory or as fact. Well, let me say what an anthropologist means by "evolution" in the first place. One of the simplest definitions I know says that "evolution is a change in the distribution of hereditary biological traits in a population through generations of time." Science starts by accepting the observable fact that the distribution of hereditary traits in any biological population changes through time.

If evolution is defined that way, then evolution is a fact. I've seen it myself, back when I was an Army medic. Some of the diseases we were treating were changing right in front of us as different strains of the organisms that caused those diseases developed immunity to drugs we used to cure them. There's a whole spectrum of illnesses that we used to be able to cure with penicillin, for example, that can't be today. That's known as "penicillin resistance". In fact, there have been recent mutations that have led some disease-causing bacteria to produce substances that actually destroy penicillin.

"Theories of evolution" are definitely not facts. They are attempts to explain the observable facts. Charles Darwin, who is usually credited with inventing "the" theory of evolution, didn't really do that. What he did was put forth one theory of evolution, in several parts. Some parts of Darwin's theory are as solidly based as anything we know in science; some of them were discarded nearly a century ago because they just didn't stand up to the facts of the observable universe.

Darwin's principle of natural selection was one, but only one, part of the general theory he proposed in an attempt to explain the fact of evolution. It has been subject to scientific testing repeatedly for nearly 140 years. It has never been shown to be wrong by observation of the real world. The basic idea of the principle of natural selection is that organisms that have the largest number of offspring have greater influence over the biological nature of generations that come after them than related organisms that have fewer offspring. By extension, if those organisms leaving the greater number of offspring possess any biological trait which contribute to increased survival and reproduction of those offspring, then successive generations of this organism should show greater proportions of individuals with this trait than among their ancestors.

That's exactly what we see in real populations. It's what we see in one-celled organisms; it's what we see in whales, the biggest animals on earth; it's what we see in every form of animal in between. It's what we see in every form of plant life on this planet. And, incidentally, it's what we see in human beings.

Darwin's theory of evolution didn't stop with the principle of natural selection, however. He offered an explanation of how reproduction passes traits from one generation to another - and his explanation was dead wrong. Considering that Darwin had never heard of genetics, it should be no surprise. The book where he published his theory of evolution, On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was published more than half a century before the facts of genetics were generally known to science.

Not knowing anything about genetics, Darwin couldn't include genetic mutations in his explanations of the fact of evolution. Statistics, as a branch of mathematics, hadn't been invented when Darwin wrote, either. That's why his theory of evolution didn't make any allowances for the influence of statistical distributions in changing the frequency of biological traits in a population from one generation to the next.

I say all of this to make the point that no theory of evolution is, or can be, a fact. Darwin's theory of evolution, to be specific, is certainly not a fact. A reasonable theory of evolution is one that explains growing numbers of apparently unrelated facts, tells us something useful about those facts, and hasn't yet failed the test of observation.

Right now, we are having a very lively time in anthropology because two views of human evolution are in direct conflict. Specialists are lining up on opposing sides and hotly searching for key evidence to knock down each other's views. Since I'm in the business of teaching students to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves, I present both viewpoints in the classroom. I point to the ideas that lead people on each side to their very different views; I cite the evidence that supports them, and I cite what their opponents find wanting in the way that evidence was collected or what it means. And, on days when I do my job very well, discussion gets just as hot in my classroom as it does in scientific journals.

In this particular debate, I do favor one explanation over the other on the basis of what I know now. On questions like this, though, I try to be a scientist. That means that tomorrow I may learn of evidence that proves that the explanation I favor is wrong. In that sense, I would expect any competent person teaching introductory anthropology to encourage the discussion of differing explanations. I suspect that's not what you were asking about, however.

There are other ideas about the origins of Homo sapiens and all other living species. One set of such ideas sometimes calls itself "Creation Science". In its full-blown form, it is based on unyielding acceptance of what the Bible says about creation. It holds that it is impossible for any facts of the real world to contradict the teachings of the Bible.

You already know that I learned something in my Bible studies classes. I didn't leave religion behind me when I left high school. Many anthropologists are deeply religious. I personally look forward to a special time at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, when we Quaker anthropologists hold a meeting for worship in a meeting room the Association has always provided at our request.

My religious beliefs can't be proven true by any scientific test. They are absolute, universal, and not subject to change by any external circumstance. For example, I take the commandment "thou shalt not kill" as part of the bedrock of my faith. There is no way I can prove that my belief about killing is true to the satisfaction of anyone who does not share that article of faith with me. Suppose I were to say that the rule comes from the Bible, and that the Bible is the revealed word of God. There is no way that argument would convince somebody who does not believe in God.

Indeed, I cannot imagine any facts in the real world that would convince me to give up my believe that killing another human being is wrong. That is precisely why I say that my belief about killing is not, and cannot be, a scientific conclusion. It can't be tested against observable fact. I would, therefore, be wrong if I tried to teach my college classes that science proves that my belief is the only possible one that can be held by a reasonable person.

I cannot in conscience introduce so-called "creation science" into a classroom as a viewpoint relevant to the teaching of science. It is NOT science. I believe that nearly all anthropologists whose courses are supposed to consider how humanity developed its biological nature would agree. (I have never met any who would disagree.)

My religion teaches that there is that of God in every human being. It asks that I make moral decisions about my own behavior by considering that Inner Light which comes from the presence of that of God within me. My religion also teaches me to respect the fact that another person may be perfectly sincere in denying a belief that I hold sacred, or in affirming a belief that my Inner Light would lead me to deny. It teaches me to believe that other people's beliefs about what their moral course should be are based on their faith in the guidance of their own Inner Light.

As a Quaker, I could never demand that a student abandon religious convictions. I could never demand that a student deny a religious conviction that, say, Genesis describes the actual facts about how God created the heavens and the earth. Those beliefs are a matter for the student's moral decisions, and I cannot make moral decisions for another person.

As a professor teaching science in a university classroom, I can try to make sure that what is taught and discussed there is relevant to a scientific approach to the universe. The standards of judgment I try to uphold are those that are fundamental to science. Other standards don't belong in a science classroom. The moral judgments that I base on my own religious convictions are among the other standards that have no place being taught in a science classroom. Taking time to support or to deny views that are not relevant to scientific judgment while trying to teach science is an inappropriate use of energy and resources; and it risks focusing students' attention away from the proper study of scientific subjects.

"Science and Religion", "Christian Scholarship", and "Theistic Science"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
"Science and Religion", "Christian Scholarship", and "Theistic Science": Some Comparisons
Author(s): 
Eugenie C. Scott
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1998
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
30–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
With support from the Templeton Foundation, the Berkeley-based Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences hosted a four day conference on "Science and the Spiritual Quest" June 7-10, 1998. Scientists and philosophers who identify as Christians, Muslims and Jews discussed challenges and opportunities science presents to monotheistic traditions as well as how "the fundamental principles of religious faith affected the development of theory in the sciences." Future conferences will "include nontheistic faith, such as Buddhism, Confucianism and some parts of Hinduism".

The CTNS conference is one of a growing number of "science and religion" conferences. RNCSE reported on an earlier conference on "The Epic of Evolution", sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Program of Dialogue Between Science and Religion, held in November of 1997 (RNCSE 1997; 17[3]:7-8), and there also have been two "science and religion" conferences sponsored by "intelligent design" proponents [see article by Larry Witham, Washington Times 6/10/98).

The "science and religion" movement is a broad one, participated in by adherents to mainline Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faith as well as conservative Christians. Attitudes towards evolution vary accordingly, from acceptance (as illustrated by the AAAS conference) to rejection (the "design" conferences.) The CTNS conference, judging from abstracts, dealt somewhat with cosmological evolution (the anthropic principle), and scarcely at all with biological evolution. Wider religious and philosophical issues seemed to be the order of the day: transcendence, science and morality, aesthetics, creativity rather than creationism. Participants seemed largely content to let science rather than revelation tell us about the nature of the physical universe. Physicist and ordained minister Robert Russell, Director of CTNS, presented opening remarks that seem to reinforce this distinction [see related article ]

Several institutions besides CTNS examine the relationship between science and religion, including the Chicago Center for Religion and Science, the Institute for Religion in an Age of Science (Concord, NH), and the American Scientific Affiliation (Ipswich, MA). The International Society of Ordained Scientists, founded by British biologist and theologian Arthur Peacocke, claims 3000 members. Dialogue between science and religion is clearly a hot topic. Science published a long essay presenting the views of both proponents and opponents of an enlarged discussion between science and religion (Easterbrook, Science and God: A warming trend?" Science 1997 Aug 15; 277:890). Newsweek for July 20 published a cover story titled, "Science Finds god", and the same week US News and World Report featured an exploration of science and religion titled, "Cosmic Designs."

Christian Scholarship

The "science and religion" movement should be distinguished from a more amorphous trend called "Christian Scholarship", with which it seems to overlap only slightly. Christian Scholarship sentiments are found predominantly at secular, rather than denominational universities, and are a reaction of (primarily conservative Christian) religious faculty concerned with the secularization of university life. It promotes the position that just as other ideologies (Marxism, feminism, environmentalism, and so on) can "inform" scholarship at the university level, Christian ideology should also be recognized as a legitimate perspective. A recent book, George M Marsden's The Outrageous idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford, 1997) argues this view, and protests that the secularization of American universities has "marginalized" religion as a source of scholarship.

We will try to publish a more complete review of Marsden's book in a future issue, but let me note here that "Christian Scholarship" as a perspective on knowledge is more likely to be successful in the humanities and perhaps history, than in the natural sciences. If one may propose a feminist or Marxist interpretation of the causes of World War II, one may perhaps have a Christian interpretation as well. It is far less likely that a contribution to scholarship will be made by feminist thermodynamics or Christian meiosis. (For a more complete discussion see: Scott EC. Creationism, ideology and science, in The flight from science and reason. Gross PR, Levitt N, Lewis, MW, editors. Annals NY Academy of. Sciences 1996; 775:505-22).

Scientists do not seem to be heavily represented among proponents of Christian Scholarship, judging by the presentations at a conference titled, "Christian Scholarship: Knowledge, Reality and Method" held in Boulder, CO, in October 1997. Most abstracts dealt with philosophy, humanities, or social sciences. Only a few had to do with natural sciences, although there are indications that the role of natural scientists in Christian Scholarship is increasing. Still, it appear as if the major concern of Christian Scholarship is less upon Christianity as a source of specialized insight into the workings of the natural world (i.e., there is no "Christian meiosis" yet) and more the consideration of philosophical, theological and ethical issues in science. More information on the Boulder Christian Scholarship conference can be found at .

Theistic Science

Finally, the Christian Scholarship movement can be distinguished from the much smaller "theistic science" movement, though there is slight overlap. "Theistic science" is promoted by some "intelligent design theory" proponents and focuses much more closely on the evolution issue than do the other two movements discussed in this article. As proposed by Whitworth College philosopher Steven C Meyer, Biola University philosopher JP Moreland, and Notre Dame theologian Alvin Plantinga, "theistic science" goes beyond proposing a dialogue between science and religion to recommending a fundamental alteration of the very way that science is practiced.

Most scientists today require that science be carried out according to the rule of methodological materialism: to explain the natural world scientifically, scientists must restrict themselves only to material causes (to matter, energy, and their interaction). There is a practical reason for this restriction: it works. By continuing to seek natural explanations for how the world works, we have been able to find them. If supernatural explanations are allowed, they will discourage - or at least delay - the discovery of natural explanations, and we will understand less about the universe.

There is also a logical reason for methodological materialism: the essence of science is the testing of alternate explanations against the natural world. To "test" means to hold constant or control some factors. If omnipotent powers exist, by definition their effects cannot be held constant, or controlled. As a result, without making a judgment on the existence or nonexistence of God, modern scientists carry out their tests of hypotheses as if only natural causes were operating. It's a scientific analogue of Pascal's wager: if an omnipotent power such as God exists, then we can't control for its actions, so we're stuck with methodological materialism. If God doesn't exist, then of course methodological materialism is the best way to understand the natural world.

Advocates of theistic science would like to change all this by allowing "God did it" as a scientific, not merely theological, statement. They do stipulate, however, that God's hand not be invoked capriciously. Plantinga and others suggest that most of the time God operates using secondary causes, but room must be left for the occasional miracle. It is not coincidence that these allowances for miraculous interventions seem to focus around the topic of evolution: Moreland points out, for example, that "theologians have little interest in whether a methane molecule has three or four hydrogen atoms" but because God "designed the world for a purpose", he "has directly intervened in the course of its development at various points ([for example], in directly creating the universe, first life, the basic kinds of life, and humans)" (for details, readers should consult Moreland, Creation Research Journal, 1993 Fall; available on line at )

Echoing this approach, Meyer separates science into two kinds: "historical" and "operational" ("empirical"). Operational science is the familiar everyday science exploring the processes and mechanisms of how the universe works, and miracles are not expected to be discovered. Both theists and nonbelievers would conduct operational science in the same fashion. Historical science, on the other hand, deals with nonrepeating events such as speciation events in the fossil record, the explosion of the Pinatubo volcano, the appearance of a supernova and so forth. Of course historical sciences can be studied scientifically: there may have been only one observed eruption of Pinatubo, but there certainly can be a science of volcanic eruption that can be used to explain Pinatubo. Similarly, only once in history did a population give rise to genus Equus, but we can still derive theories from this and similar events to explain macroevolution.

More for theological than scientific reasons, God's direct hand is allowed in historical science, though strongly discouraged in operational science. This is so, it seems to me, because it is primarily historical sciences (like evolution) that have serious consequences for certain conservative Christian theologies.

When do theistic science proponents invoke a miracle? When they can't figure out a materialistic explanation. As Plantinga states,
"Why couldn't a scientist think as follows? God has created the world, and of course He created everything in it directly or indirectly. After a great deal of study, we can't see how he created some phenomenon P (life, for example) indirectly; thus probably he has created it directly." (Plantinga, 1997)
Plantinga's position is given in more detail in. "Methodological Naturalism? Part 2", Origins and Design, 1997; 18(2):34 (footnote 63).

It is telling that three of the topics most frequently cited as requiring direct divine intervention (and cited by Moreland, above) are ones for which there is not yet consensus on a fully naturalistic explanation: the Big Bang, the origin of life, and the Cambrian explosion. The fourth topic is the origin of humans, upon which there actually is quite a good consensus, though the degree of agreement is not well-known to the general public.

It is fair to state that "theistic science" is a form of special creationism, or even creation science that cleverly ignores issues divisive to anti-evolutionists - such as the age of the earth - and focuses on unifying issues - such as the importance of God's hand in the universe. Theistic science has not been uniformly embraced even within the ranks of conservative Christians. (For critical reviews, see Howard Van Till, "Special creationism in design clothing: A Response to The Creation Hypothesis", Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 42:p.123-131, June, 1995; and DF Siemens, Jr., "On Moreland: Spurious freedom, mangled science, muddled philosophy", Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 49:pp 196-199.)

Science, Religion, and Evolution

NCSE is concerned with evolution education and the public understanding of the nature of science. How will these three intersections of science and religion affect our issues? My evaluation is that the "science and religion" movement, consisting primarily of theists who already accept evolution and who have a healthy respect for science, is not a challenge and may be beneficial to the public understanding of science and evolution. Many members of the general public have not heard a counterargument to the anti-evolutionist position that one "must choose between evolution and religion." Greater public prominence of religious scientists who accept evolution should help put that falsehood to rest and may promote a climate in which more teachers can teach evolution without fear of reprisal.

The "Christian Scholarship" movement in its current form is also not a major threat to evolution. Currently, this movement is as much about "free speech" for religious academics as anything else, and, as mentioned previously, it does not seem to be targeting science. Little has been said by proponents of the Christian Scholarship movement for or against evolution. If the Christian Scholarship movement expands, we can anticipate an increase in religious expression on campuses, paralleling the expansion of secular ideologies (Marxism, feminism, etc) currently occupying the interest of the postmodern academy.

However, the third, "theistic science" movement is a challenge both to science and to the acceptance of evolution in our society. Theistic science seems to focus especially on evolution; few other topics seem relevant (see Moreland JP, editor. The Creation Hypothesis, Intervarsity Press, 1997). By proposing that we consider not just natural but supernatural causes, theistic science advocates employ a "let's use all of the evidence we have" argument, which ultimately is a more sophisticated version of the very popular antievolutionist "equal time" or "fairness" argument. Perhaps the most dangerous effect of the theistic science movement, if it gets off the ground, will be its effect on the public understanding of the nature of science. Theistic science proposes that we abandon methodological materialism in science, in favor of the "occasional" supernatural intervention. This is, in Plantinga's own words, a "science stopper", because once one stops looking for a natural explanation of a phenomenon, one is assured of never finding it. The fact that 30 or more years of research has not produced a complete understanding of how the first replicating molecule may naturally have originated does not mean that we will never devise a plausible explanation. But we never will if we stop trying.

Review: The Science of God

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
18
Year: 
1998
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
33
Reviewer: 
Frank Sonleitner
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom
Author(s): 
Gerald L. Schroeder
New York: Broadway Books, 1998. 240 pages.
This book is essentially an elaboration and update of Schroeder's earlier book Genesis and the Big Bang published in 1990. Schroeder is an Israeli physicist who has also extensively studied biblical interpretation. He uses the arguments of the Anthropic principle (the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universal constants) as evidence for God; but he also insists that the Bible and science agree. Genesis is not to be taken literally nor dismissed as poetry but must be interpreted correctly following the lead of talmudic scholars such as Nahmanides and Maimonides. Although his interpretation twists, stretches, and sometimes directly contradicts the literal meaning of Genesis, it confirms all the findings of modern cosmology and geology.

Using a universal time clock based on the stretching of the wavelengths of light as the universe expands, he concludes that the universe is 15.75 billion years old. The six days of Genesis consist of a nonlinear day-age description of the history; day 1 covers the first 8 billion years, and day 6 only the last 1/4 billion.

Schroeder accepts the standard geologic and paleontologic history of the earth but he balks at evolution (although he admits some sort of genetic continuity as suggested by the evidence of comparative anatomy, biochemistry and embryonic recapitulation). He rejects all transitional forms among higher categories such as classes and phyla, but later admits that there might be transitional forms within classes. (He does discuss the recently discovered intermediate forms of whales.)

Schroeder rejects evolution because he considers its mechanism to rest solely on pure chance. There is no discussion of natural selection; it doesn't appear in the index although the term is used in passing while discussing Dawkins. His "proof" that it is impossible for convergent evolution to produce similar eyes in taxa which did not inherit these structures from a common ancestor uses a mathematical calculation based on two assumptions - (1) evolution is pure chance; and (2) the taxa have no genes in common except those "inherited" from the protozoa. Yet in other places he seems to be aware of the recent evidence that the phyla have many genes in common; he discusses the Hox genes that determine body plans and the Pax genes that are involved in eye formation!

Schroeder admits that there were "pre-Adamites" (Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals) living for 40 000 years prior to Adam, but questions the existence of earlier hominid species because of the fragmentary nature of their fossils. Again he uses a mathematical model to show that the evolution of humans from an ape ancestor is impossible. This model also assumes that (1) evolution would occur by pure chance and (2) one million mutations would be necessary to produce the ape-human transition!

It takes more than the Big Bang and the fine tuning of universal constants to demonstrate that the creator is the kind, loving, personal God worshipped by Christians. And there Schroeder's arguments fall apart. For example, he argues that quantum mechanics provides the basis of free will and that the determinacy of our genes does not prevent our exercising free will, yet later he says that randomness in nature (including random mutations) is necessary for free will! And natural disasters are necessary. We must suffer earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that result from plate tectonics made possible by the earth's molten core because the latter is necessary to generate a magnetic field to protect us from the high energy radiation produced by the life-giving sun. But then he says that the biblical Creator could have made stars that didn't produce those lethal rays but "they would not be natural" and would offer absolute testimony of the Creator's existence! And still later he contradicts this principle (that the universe is organized "naturally" to hide the existence of the Creator) by saying that the earth is at an "unnatural" distance from the sun and hints that this may be miraculous! (According to Schroeder some exponential law determines the distance of the planets, and the earth's distance does not fit the pattern.)

Evolutionists will justifiably criticize Schroeder for his simplistic and inconsistent treatment of evolution while the real creationists will reject him for his theology which includes rejection of the literal reading of Genesis, acceptance of the Big Bang, an old age for the earth, existence of pre-Adamites, a local flood, and ignoring Christ, Christianity and the New Testament.