By Moses Bean
Broadly speaking there are two kinds of debates: academic and political. The goal of the former is to learn; the goal of the later is to win. Those weary of the debate between evolutionists and creationists are not weary of the pursuit of truth, but of politics—and not just any politics (for they’re not all bad and can be as pure and fruitful as athletics) but sleazy politics.
Nevertheless we must not let that discourage or distract us from a most important academic and political discussion. At the heart of it is this question: does Evolutionary Theory depend upon the absence of a Designer/Creator/Author of life? Many would say yes, it does, for the very basis of the theory is that we can explain all of life as resulting from natural causes. Therefore, they say, there is a presupposition of atheism that must be clung to regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Others would say no, it doesn’t, for science is disinterested in matters of spirituality or religion. People are still free to have faith in God, but any hard evidence for His existence will have to be spectacularly miraculous and supernatural.
Here I would like to take the former position and argue there are extremely good reasons for students to simply ask a very basic question about whether God exists. It is just one question.
If science has taught us anything at all over the past 2000 years it has taught us to expect life to make sense. It has taught us to have faith that no matter where we look in nature we will discover rational, creative explanations—sentences like “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared”; paragraphs like the processes of photosynthesis or DNA replication; whole books such as on organic chemistry or molecular biology. Whether we look through a telescope or through a microscope or just take a walk in the woods, we find such breathtakingly beautiful data, literally, everywhere—just waiting to be perceived, translated (such as into English, Chinese, HTML, etc.), and used.
Take, for example, a chapter that explains the process of photosynthesis in your typical high school biology textbook. To the extent that we know that such a chapter is accurate and true, to that same extent we know it was true 5,000 years ago. So botanists did not author the explanation; they merely translated it. Literally: photosynthesis has been translated from a pattern of molecules and cells to a pattern of black symbols on white paper.
And our translations improve over time. For example, our understanding of words like “weight” and “gravity” has improved over the centuries, with great strides made by men like Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
Today we know that one of Einstein’s translations, “E = MCC”, is still not perfect. But it is very, very good (accurate enough to put men on the moon!) and can in fact be perfected.
We have just come to take for granted that life is abundantly, wonderfully, gloriously coherent. So here is the ten trillion dollar question: if we are not the authors of all this rational, creative communication, who is?
It is communication, right? To the extent that that word applies to anything, it applies to biology textbooks, doesn’t it? Engineering plans, lab reports, scientific theories, governing laws, the sentence “two plus two equals four”—those are all forms of communication, right? Any divisions of such data into being communicative or non-communicative would be entirely arbitrary. Just like millions of books are sitting on shelves today in a thousand libraries, so the whole universe is full of communication just waiting to be read.
So, again, who is the rational, creative (literally!) author of all this magnificent data?
It is a “who”, right? To the extent that the words “person” and “who” and “author” apply to anything, they would apply to the source of all the books scattered hither and yon throughout the cosmos, right?
Stacking the Deck?
I am so biased. I am a pastor, by the way, with a bachelor of journalism and a master of divinity, who doesn’t know chlorophyll from auto-fill. But that is totally irrelevant and this is still—from any point of view—a good question: who is the rational, creative author of all the explanations we discover in the cosmos?
As best I understand the answer given to students today it is this: scientists do not ask that question.
Fair enough. Scientists only aim to deal with scientific facts. And with the exception that some Christians disagree on the age of the universe, we can all agree on the facts. In short, we all agree that nature is extremely well organized and is governed by rational laws.
So what do we disagree on? We disagree on how to interpret those facts. What do they mean? Do they mean that the universe “designed” itself to be rational, or do they mean a Creator designed it?
The answer given by many scientists today is, again: do not ask that question, for it is not scientific. Here is how the National Academy of Sciences put it in their recent publication for high school students, Science, Evolution, and Creationism:
Many religious beliefs do not rely on evidence gathered from the natural world. On the contrary, an important component of religious belief is faith, which implies acceptance of a truth regardless of the presence of empirical evidence for or against that truth. Scientists cannot accept scientific conclusions on faith alone because all such conclusions must be subject to testing against observations. Thus, scientists do not “believe” in evolution in the same way that someone believes in God.1
It very much sounds like they are saying faith in God is supposed to be blind. But any promotion of blind faith would completely fly in the face of all that we try to teach our kids throughout our entire education system. They are supposed to think for themselves and to use reasoned judgment in making decisions. Surely the National Academy of Sciences would agree.
So in debating this is what we call a straw man: you represent your opponents’ arguments in the weakest possible way. “Sure you can believe in a Creator. We have no problem with that. Lots of people believe in God. But you must understand that such faith is necessarily non-rational and blind.”
This whole debate would be much, much easier to navigate if the proponents of evolutionary theory would own up to a presupposition of atheism. Some leading scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, are passionately atheistic, and I applaud them for their consistency. Frankly, as a pastor I would have no trouble with this whole debate if our students’ textbooks were likewise straightforward about the matter, saying that Evolutionary Theory depends upon the absence of a Creator/Designer/Author. Thus regardless of supposed evidence to the contrary scientists will assume that natural explanations will eventually be discovered. I would welcome this in the classroom (though of course I would also like to welcome arguments to the contrary).
Now if we turn the tables do we find an opposing presupposition? Does Intelligent Design or Creationism (which are arguably the same) or Theistic Evolution (which is arguably indistinguishable from Intelligent Design) begin by assuming the existence of God?
Not necessarily. They just allow this question: who is the rational, creative author?
Are you listening?
People often ask why God does not do spectacular, Old Testament style miracles anymore. But it would be good to look at what happened in a lot of those incidents. For example, within two months of the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, chapter 14, the people made a molten calf and then bowed down and worshipped it, saying, “This is your god.” In other words, they made themselves the authors of God. As absurd as that sounds, is it any different from us pretending that we are the authors of the laws of nature or of the explanation for life?
Surely the discoveries of modern science would have sounded ten thousand times more bizarre to the Israelites than their experience. Imagine trying to tell Moses that the earth is a spinning sphere and that it revolves around the sun. It probably would have made the parting of the Red Sea sound like child’s play. However, there is one thing he might not have objected to: if you told him things were that way only because there were sentences that governed the heavenly bodies.
The Bible says that God is, literally, self-evident. That does not necessarily mean that He is loud or boisterous. To the contrary, He says that He is and humble and meek and gentle.2
It also says that all of creation proclaims His glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”3 That means that when we look at the stars, before we see written in them (as Albert Einstein did) the laws of gravity, before we can translate complicated explanations about the speed of light and the Big Bang, before we can categorize different kinds of planets and stars and galaxies, before all that we can perceive that there is rationality and creativity up there. So, for example, a very rough, basic, initial English translation of the Milky Way might be, “Made…by…God.”
1Science, Evolution, and Creationism. National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. 2008. pp. 50.
2See Matthew 11:28-30
Matthew Connally is a pastor in New Jersey
©2008 Matthew Connally