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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