Friday, July 20, 2007

The Orgin of Species

Chris Tilling is stirring up trouble again. This time he is ranting about why he rejects creationism in favor of evolution. Like Chris, I too get highly irritated when the issue comes up, but mostly because it seems like everybody on every side of the issue is simply talking past one another. I offer my thoughts on why I think just about everybody is wrong.

1. The origin of species is not properly an object of scientific study.
The number one argument against the Intelligent Design movement is that it is not scientific. The conclusion of Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences states, "Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science." ID makes no predictions, as opposed to Darwinism, which predicts that the principle of survival of the fittest will continue the process of evolution. ID is ruled out a priori. The only thing that tells me is that the subject matter of ID is more like history than science. It is most properly philosophical, an area that most scientists that make bold pronouncements rarely have any training in.

2. The origin of species is an emotional topic.
Science (with a capitol S) is our culture's mythology, providing many with their understanding of who they are and where they have come from. I am absolutely amazed that people on either side of the issue simply cannot understand why those on the other side might become emotional over the issue. The subject matter strikes at the very core of our identity. There is no place for ad hominem attacks or caricatures of those we disagree with. Those who resort to name-calling only reveal their own insecurities. Please be gracious towards those you disagree with, and consider what might be at stake for them in the conversation.

3. One's position on the origin of species must be falsifiable.
Anyone can continue to hold their position by explaining away contrary evidence. To be significant, however, you must be able to say, "My theory predicts x, and if we ever encounter not-x, then my theory will be disproven." Evolutionists often accuse proponents of ID of not being falsifiable. Michael Behe's principle of irreducible complexity is sometimes called a "God in the gaps" theory, which reduces to saying, "If we cannot explain it, it must be God." Perhaps it is, but it is at least falsifiable. If someone can develop a naturalistic explanation for the various instances of irreducible complexity, then it will have been falsified. Evolutionists, on the other hand, have an equal commitment to "Nature in the gaps". Supposing there really is a creator, what evidence could there ever be that would falsify naturalism? Finally, for those who believe the earth was created in six literal days I also want to ask, if you were wrong, what evidence could possibly be produced that you would accept? Young Earth Creationists are notorious for selectively reading the data. It seems to me that whatever evidence there could be to disprove a Young Earth perspective has already been produced.

4. Simple answers about Genesis are inadequate.
Chris Heard argued last November that we should reject creationism on exegetical grounds: Genesis 1 is poetry, not history; it conflicts with other biblical creations accounts like Genesis 2 and Psalm 74; it reflects near-Eastern and Egyptian creations stories and cosmology expect for the fact the YHWH is the central character; and the species in Gen 1 are not fashioned by God but instead come forth from the earth. I grant that Gen 1 is poetic and bears close resemblance to the surrounding cultures, but these are not enough to lead us to a non-literal interpretation of the passage. For ancient Hebrews, it is clear that Gen 1 held a lot more meaning than just a six-day creation, but I cannot imagine that it meant less. (For similar reasons, it seems self-evident that they would have read the word 'day' as referring to 24-hour-periods instead of indeterminate periods of time.) As far as conflicts with other passages, systematic theologians have developed strategies for dealing with them, but these strategies are not properly the domain of the exegete, who must approach each text independently before attempting to harmonize.

But a literalistic interpretation seems equally simplistic for theology for reasons I mentioned in point 3. I am at a loss to know what to do with Genesis 1. That God creates indirectly rather than directly seems to support a theistic evolutionary position, except for the framework of six days. The most surprising fact is that, while all the Christians are struggling with what to do with this passage, atheist-turned-theist philosopher, Antony Flew, considers this passage in Genesis to have the best claim to be special revelation of any text in existence. Go figure.

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