Entre la Espada y la Pared

January 11, 2010

A somewhat whimsical title for a post on faith and science, it translates literally as “between the sword and the wall” – think “rock and hard place.”  However, I feel that it is an apt description for the place that many scientists who are also people of faith find themselves. In popular culture, the advocates of religion and science are often viewed as locked in a mortal battle.  Perhaps this is unsurprising, as in any discussion the shrillest voices are the ones most likely to be heard.  Among scientists, you have the distinctly anti-religious voices who often view science as a replacement for religion.  Among the earliest of such voices was Thomas Huxley.  In an essay on Darwin’s Origin of the Species Huxley wrote,

“Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”

Thomas Huxley’s grandson, Julian Huxley, continued in this vein and writes,

“In evolutionary thinking there is no need or room for the supernatural. Man can no longer take refuge in the arms of a divinized father figure whom he has himself created. Nor can he escape from the responsibility of making decisions by sheltering under the umbrella of Divine Authority.”

“The truth will set us free. Evolutionary truth frees us from subservient fear of the unknown and supernatural, and exhorts us to face this new freedom. It shows us our destiny and our duty. The evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern the outline of the new religion that will arise to serve the needs of the coming era.”

Here we see not only a rejection of the compatibility of religion and science, but also a hint that in the future, he thinks science will take religion’s place.  On the side of religion, we see similarly  confrontational voices, such as that of Henry Morris, one of the founders of the young-earth creation movement, who says,

“There are only two basic world views: the God-centered world view and the man-centered world view, creation and evolution. There is no evidence whatsoever that evolution of one kind of organism into a more complex organism has ever occurred. There is no scientific evidence that the earth is old. Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution. Divine revelation from the Creator of the world states that He did it all in six days several thousand years ago. The Bible is a book of science! It contains all the basic principles upon which true science is built.”

The apparent dichotomy that has been espoused by such voices has had a number of negative consequences.  For believers, it may leave them wondering if they have to leave science behind in order to maintain their faith.  I believe that it has fostered an unhealthy distrust and distaste for science within the church.  For non-believers, this dichotomy is likely to push them further from faith.  If they believe they have to reject science in order to believe in a Creator, I think this makes them not only less likely to come to faith, but also less likely to take a person of faith seriously.  A scientist-believer finds himself stranded between these two worlds.  Each regarding him with suspicion, not fully at home in either.

I think it is fair to say that most scientists who are Christians do not feel that there need be a clash between faith and science.  There are many Christian scientists who take both their faith and their science seriously.  The scientists quoted above, and their modern cohorts, are making philosophical or even theological statements, not scientific ones.  It is not clear that these sorts of claims are backed by the science at all, and while they may be some of the loudest voices, they don’t necessarily represent the typical scientist.  On the other hand, the young-earth creationists are also promoting a fairly non-traditional interpretation of scripture, one that I see no need to accept (see e.g. James’s previous post).  In fact, there are strong textual and theological reasons why one might not want to interpret the creation story as 6 literal days.

This post is primarily a teaser, to get people thinking on this issue again (for our previous posts, see here). In the next series of posts, I plan to discuss many more of the details (hopefully with some help from James).  What are the difficult issues in reconciling Christianity and the creation story from science, particularly evolution?  Largely this is spurred by a number of conversations I’ve had lately with a variety of folks on these issues.  Additionally, however, I recently discovered a great web resource on this subject, the BioLogos Foundation website.  Tentatively, I plan on structuring these posts around a set of essays recently released as the product of a workshop they held this fall, which gathered evangelical scientists, pastors, and theologians to discuss many of these issues. It should provide interesting material for discussion.

After quoting some of the extreme voices on the relationship between religion and science, I’d like to close with a few other words for thought, to demonstrate that there is a strong middle ground in this discussion.

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wondrous universe, including man with his capacity of looking backwards and far into futurity, as a result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist.” -Charles Darwin, from his Autobiography

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. Whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.”  – Billy Graham, from Personal Thoughts of a Public Man.

C. S. Lewis also had no problem with origin via evolution.  In The Problem of Pain he writes,

“For long centuries, God perfected the animal from which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated [. . .] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past [. . .] We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods [. . . ] They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

-Matt, the elder brother


We’re Baaack!

August 23, 2008

Between my trying to finish my PhD, James moving and starting his masters, me breaking my arm, and everything else going on, we’ve been unable to find time to post over the last couple of months.  But, as you can see from the last two posts, we are starting to think about Consanguinity again.  You can expect another post soon that will continue our previous discussion on Science and Religion.  I’ll also remind you that I was planning to discuss some of the scientific arguments put forth by Young Earth Creationists.  This is probably still a few weeks down the line, but so far I haven’t gotten any comments suggesting specific arguments to examine.  I can select my own, but I’d love to respond to ones that interest you the most.

-Matt, the elder brother

Well…it all started like this, you see…(Part II)

June 23, 2008

Before diving into more recent theological history, I would like to amend my previous post, with the fact that at least three other early church fathers echoed the views of Philo and Augustine: Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-216) and Origen (c. 185-254) (Contra Celsus 6.60).

Although Biblical scholars have grappled with OT history for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1650s when James Ussher (1581-1656) John Lightfoot (1602-1675) separately calculated the day of creation to 23 October 4004 BC and August 26 3929 BC, respectively. In order to calculate these dates was a massive feat in literary and Biblical scholarship requiring a thorough knowledge of the texts, history, and ancient languages. The Protestant Reformation saw the rise of a more Biblical, and consequently more literal, hermeneutic, which paved the way for a more literal interpretation of Genesis and a six-day creation. 100 years later, Biblical scholarship on OT chronology (that is, Ussher & Lightfoot) was reflecting this interpretational shift.

Whereas early Churh Fathers and Christian theologians have defended an allegorical interpretation of Genesis into the distant past, it is only over the past four-hundred years that the literal interpretation has begun to gain a foot-hold in main-stream Christian theology. A second impetus for the young-earth/literal view was the rise of Darwinianism beginning in 1859 when Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his On the Origin of Species. As I mentioned several months ago in our review of Ben Stein’s movie Expelled, Darwinianism easily leads to an atheistic world-view, because i) it seems to eliminate the need for an explanation of human life and ii) it seems to imply an arbitrary or relative system of morality. Both of these ideas are obviously a threat to Christian theology, so I would suggest (although I am by no means an expert on the history of Christian thought and its developmental patterns) that fundamentalists, fearing the potential implications of evolutionary anthropogeny, have reacted in favor of a literal interpretation of Genesis, riding on the tidal wave created by the Biblical emphasis of the Protestant Reformation and the work of Biblical scholars such as Ussher and Lightfoot.

This line of thinking began to blossom in the 20th century. George McCready Price was an early proponent of creation science, well known for his 1923 book, The New Geology. Later Henry Morris and John Whitcomb adapted Price’s theories into their own famous book The Genesis Flood, in 1961. They focus on Noah’s flood in Genesis as a geologically formative period in the history of the world, saying that most of the earth’s current structures were developed at that time. Morris went on to establish the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas in 1970.

Due to scientists and pseudo-scientist/theologians, these ideas began to permeate the masses of Christendom, particularly among the fundamentalists. Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, this truth is obvious to me, because I don’t really recall being taught anything other than the literal interpretation of Genesis, that God actually created the universe in six days. I was never told that it wasn’t really until the 20th century that this view began to take hold in the Church, and largely as a reaction to Darwinian anthropogeny. I don’t think that I was ever taught about other views because I was intentionally being programmed, but because young-earth creationism had rooted itself so firmly in the Church that the lay-people really weren’t aware of its recent origin or alternative Christian views.

To recap, for the first 15 centuries of Christianity, young-earth creationism was rejected by the leading scholars and theologians, who favored an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. During the Protestant Reformation (16th century), more emphasis was put on the authority of Scripture and literal interpretation. In the 17th century (1650s) Ussher and Lightfoot published their chronologies, which indicated a relatively short history of the world, establishing the point of creation around 4000 BC. In the 19th century, however, young-earth creationism arose as a counter-attack to the mounting threat of Darwinianism, and in the 20th century, Christian theologians and scientists lent more formality to the view, and are responsible for its dissemination throughout the fundamentalist majority as one of, if not the primary view.

Now that we have given some thought to the historical development of interpreting the creation account of Genesis, we are prepared to dive into the text itself and look for interpretive clues, feeling out each view and trying to decide the advantages and disadvantages of taking either one. This is where I will begin in my next post.

-James, the younger brother

A Distraction: “An Evangelical Manifesto”

May 14, 2008

Since we just finished a series on Religion and Politics, I thought this was relevant.  I haven’t had time to read it in full, but it’s been creating a lot of stir.  You can read the manifesto here.  I found out about it at the following blog, which seems to have a lot of interesting material. Al Mohler has also written a fairly extensive analysis on his blog.  Maybe we’ll get around to some of our own discussion of it in the future.

-Matt, the elder brother

A Creation Story

May 10, 2008

Let no man or woman, out of conceit or laziness,

think or believe that anyone can search too far or be

too well informed in the Book of God’s Words or the Book

of God’s Works: religion or science. Instead, let everyone

endlessly improve their understanding of both.

-Sir Francis Bacon (1605)

This post begins our new series on religion and science. Since things are so hectic for me right now, and many of the posts in this series are likely to require some thought and research, the posts may come slowly and sporadically. There is a lot of potential ground we can cover, but I think that our central focus will be on trying to understand the relationship between science and Genesis. This is an issue that I have personally spent a lot of time thinking about. In this first post, I hope to accomplish two things: 1) tell the story of my personal journey with this issue, and 2) provide a survey of the various Christian views on the subject. The latter happens fairly naturally with the first since at one point or another I have subscribed to all of the various views that I would consider to be validly Christian.

For me the journey began in the 7th grade, the one year that I attended Shiloh Christian school. My life science class was taught by “Mr. Mac,” who was a young earth creationist. While most of the course covered typical biology curricula we had a special unit on creation/evolution. At the end of this unit we all had to write a short paper supporting one view or the other. Thus began my stint as a young earth creationist. I became pretty fired up about the topic and convinced my parents to order a bunch of videos from the Institute for Creation Research. The young earth creationist view hinges on a specific interpretation of the Old Testament where the creation story in Genesis is seen as taking place over 7 days and the genealogy of the Old Testament is used to calculate the total age of creation. Typically our current landscape is seen as having formed during the flood described in Genesis.

The next significant point in my journey was when I attended Probe Ministries’ Mind Games conference. This was an excellent, intense, week-long stint of apologetics presentations and discussion. Probe (perhaps for political reasons) kept an agnostic view about the young/old earth debate. They presented both views and discussed a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of each. During this conference I more or less adopted their open “agnostic” view, though at heart I was still a young-earther.

College marked the next important stage. While in college I took the time to read up on some of the old earth creationist material, specifically astronomer Hugh Ross (books of his worth reading include Creator and the Cosmos and The Genesis Question). Also, I learned quite a bit about cosmology and our current picture of the history of the Universe. Two things became obvious to me: 1) there were respectable Christians who believed in an old earth, and 2) the young earth view really was not an equally valid scientific view. I found myself faced with the following conundrum. Everything within science pointed toward an old Universe and an old earth. In fact, as we look out into space we are looking back in time (because it takes a while for light to travel from distant stars) we can see events occurring billions of years ago. The Christian who believes that the Universe is only ~10,000 years old is really forced into believing that all of these apparent events, and all of the evidence for age, are merely an elaborate make-believe story that God has implanted within reality. To me this is theologically unsatisfactory. It makes God into a deceiver. Thus it was the theological implications of the scientific evidence that led me to abandon young earth creationism.

At that point in time, the view I found most attractive was that of the
old earth creationists. Essentially, this camp hangs on to a literal interpretation of Genesis while trying to understand how it matches what science tells us about our origins. Typically this is done by saying that each day in Genesis is an long period of time in the real Universe. In fact the ancient Hebrew word for day is the same as the word for a long period of time. The old earth creationist claims scientific accuracy for Genesis. In fact, Hugh Ross’s own journey is interesting. As an agnostic astronomer, he set out to read all of the world’s religious texts in order to justifiably be able to reject them. He saved the Bible for last. Upon reading the Genesis account he was amazed by how well it matched the current scientific picture. This in fact ultimately led to his conversion. Perhaps the best exposé on the old earth view is the above-mentioned The Genesis Question. Members of this camp were many of the initiators of the Intelligent Design movement.

The final defensible Christian view on origins is that of evolutionary creationism (also called theistic evolution). The advocates of this view are many, particularly within the community of Christian scientists and intellectuals. This is the camp that I currently most closely identify with. There is an excellent (if dry) lecture on the creation evolution debate by a proponent of this view (Denis Lamoureux) available here. He also has a nice summary handout that includes a useful chart that explains the views of various camps. Watching this lecture will take a good chunk of time (1 hour 20 min), but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the issue as it is a great overview and helps to put the whole debate within its historical and theological context. The central difference between evolutionary creationism and the other Christian views is in its approach toward interpreting Genesis. This view claims that Genesis was never intended to be read as a scientific account, but rather as a theological treatise on God’s relation to man and the rest of creation, and man’s relation to man and the rest of creation. In any case, it seems difficult to argue that this isn’t the the most important purpose of Genesis. The view also accepts an evolutionary origin for man (which has a great deal of scientific evidence). This view is attractive to me for several reasons. First, I don’t see any convincing theological or spiritual reasons why we need to treat Genesis as a scientific treatise. This view is epistemologically quite a bit more solid, as it does not rely on shifting, falsifiable scientific theories in order to prop up one’s faith. Secondly, the view allows us to accept the current scientific picture without removing any the important theological pillars of our faith.

In general, since science is always changing, I think it is dangerous to connect too much of your faith with a particular scientific view of the world. Some change in scientific theory should not result in a crisis of faith. Examples of problems with this abound in the church’s history. Remember that Galileo was excommunicated for saying the the earth wasn’t the center of the solar system. I personally have felt the effects of this within my own journey. My faith bears the scars inflicted as the result of misplaced confidence in particular scientific views on our origin. Instead of tying our faith to a particular scientific theory, and incorporating an adversarial view toward advances in science, we should think of science as another way to learn about God’s creation. In order to do this we must understand what parts of the Bible are intended to be taken scientifically and historically and what parts are not.

I don’t consider this post to be a sufficient argument for any one view, but rather it gives you an idea of the lay of the land, and provides you with a disclosure about my views on the subject. Over the course of this series James and I will delve into the nitty-gritty. We’ll delve into the scripture interpretation. We’ll delve into the science. We’ll delve into the theology. I hope that the result will be to help the reader grow in both faith and knowledge about God’s creation.

-Matt, the elder brother

Giving Torture the Silent Treatment

April 23, 2008

I don’t anticipate to strike up as much debate as did our last post did (a review of Ben Stein’s Expelled), but I hope that you find it nonetheless interesting. I must admit that, given my general ignorance about what is going on in the world (at least until we started Consanguinity), I had heard very little about torture. I remember at least one conversation about it with a friend at work, but even then, I didn’t really know what he was talking about. Although I don’t wish to focus on the recent instances of torture committed by the United States in this blog–there is simply too much to condense here–I am operating under the assumption that the following is the case: ever since September 2001, US military abroad has become increasingly permissive about interrogation techniques, and in multiple instances, citizens of foreign governments have been tortured by men and women representing our country.

The most fascinating thing to me about this issue, though, is that I had really heard nothing about it. David Gushee suggests that the Evangelical Right has tried to play this down in order to provide full support for the War in Iraq (i.e. torture is being justified, because it aids the swiftness of finishing the war, or something like this) and to increase national security. In his book, The Future of Faith in American Politics, David Gushee insists that torture is fundamentally wrong and that we, as humans, have the right to be detained without being tortured. It troubles him, and me, that the Evangelical Right has supported (even wavered) on this moral position. Gushee tries to explain why it has come up as he writes:

Long ago, German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote about the perennial human tendency to find exceptions to binding moral rules when these obligations bind just a bit too tightly on us. ‘Hence there arises a natural […] disposition to argue against these strict laws of duty and to question their validity, or at least their purity and strictness; and, if possible, to make them more accordant with our wishes and inclinations, that is to say, corrupt them at their very source, and entirely to destroy their worth.’ (138; Kant’s quote is taken from Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals)

That is to say that when we set up a moral standard, the natural temptation is to weaken it, rationalizing it in any way that we can, because it is simply hard to be consistently moral.

Moral arguments aside (for now), the greatest argument against US-implemented torture is that the US is a signatory to all of the major human rights declarations against torture (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Third Geneva Convention-Article 17 (1949), the UN Convention Against Torture (1985)), and not as a nominally assenting bystander, but as a major proponent and advocate for human rights (126). The stance we have proclaimed to the world on torture is not what we have been practicing. As a nation, we have a responsibility to live up to our word, lest all faith in our honesty go out the window.

From this point on, I wish to summarize Gushee’s moral argument against torture. He makes six distinct points, which I have quoted below. I will briefly explain each of them:

  1. Torture violates the intrinsic dignity of the human being, made in the image of God.
  2. Torture mistreats the vulnerable and thus violates the demands of public justice.
  3. Authorizing any form of torture trusts government too much.
  4. Torture invites the dehumanization of the torturer.
  5. Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures.
  6. Torture risks negative consequences at many levels.

1. Torture violates the intrinsic dignity of the human being, made in the image of God (130).

We, as humans, were made in God’s image; inasmuch as we consider others to be God’s handiwork, we must realize that they are precious to him, regardless of how morally corrupt they might seem, or how destructive of actions they take. Although some argue that there are limits to how far this natural right applies, it does seem clear, as Christians, that it is the rule, and the foundation from which we should build our moral framework on torture.

2. Torture mistreats the vulnerable and thus violates the demands of public justice (131-2).

The Bible preaches frequently against taking advantage of the weak and oppressed. As Jim Wallis points out in his book God’s Politics, it is actually one of the main themes of the Bible, with regard to relative frequency. When someone is imprisoned, he is at his greatest vulnerability. They should experience love and care from our hands, not injustice. God never sides with the oppressor, but the oppressed.

3. Authorizing any form of torture trusts government too much (132-3).

“All like sheep have gone astray…” None of us is immune to temptation. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10:12 that we should be extra careful not to stumble when we think we are standing firm in our faith. In the same way, people–fallen people–simply cannot handle the power to torture prisoners. What will stop them from giving in to excessive violence? In support of this reason, it has been shown that secret detention facilities are more likely to treat their prisoners worse, since there is no accountability.

4. Torture invites the dehumanization of the torturer (133-4).

Gushee provides an excellent quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who won the Nobel Prize for making the world aware of the horrors that the Soviet Gulag commited in their labor camps. He wrote “our torturers have been punished most horribly of all: they are turning into swine, they are departing downward from humanity” (134). The tortured suffers bodily harm; the torturer suffers spiritual harm.

5. Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures (134-5).

As Americans, we have a collective moral identity and character to uphold. Torture simply stands in the face of the identity we inherited from our forefathers. Do we really wish to reject their example in exchange for a new, grimmer one?

6. Torture risks negative consequences at many levels (135-8).

Gushee is hesitant to even embrace the utilitarian terms that justifying torture necessarily assumes, but he does so to meet his opponents on their own moral ground with more arguments against torture. People who are tortured may talk (and lie, or make something up) just to end the torture. Also, terrorists are only motivated to commit more horrific acts of violence against our nation because of what we are doing to them. Furthermore, Gushee lays aside (for the most part) the ticking bomb scenarios that torture proponents like to use, claiming that they are really only a thing of the movies, not of reality. If such a case should arise, however, the necessary action (torture) should be committed Jack-Bauer stlye without the support of the government.

It was mortifying for me to read about what happened recently at “Abu Ghraib, Gabgram Air Base in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and apparently in CIA “black sites” in various unknown locations,” but perhaps the most shocking thing about it was that I hadn’t really heard about it before (123). Why hasn’t the Evangelical community responded more openly against torture? It just seems wrong.

Expelled: an Intelligent Discussion (Brother Tag-Team)

April 19, 2008

Given the recent hype surrounding the documentary Expelled, we decided that it would make useful fodder for blog-posting. Thus, we are writing a joint post discussing the movie.

First I will give a brief synopsis. The movie tells the stories of a number of scientists who are proponents of intelligent design (ID). These scientists claim to have been discriminated against and ostracized for their views on ID. In the film, Ben Stein interviews scientists on both sides of the issue, and paints a picture of an atheistic scientific establishment suppressing freedom of thought, attempting to protect itself from attack by silencing critics, and warring against religion. The film provides criticisms of both evolution and the scientific establishment – ultimately suggesting links between evolution and genocide.

As a scientist and a Christian, I find myself daily straddling the supposed divide between science and religion. I feel that the debate on this subject has become increasingly shrill, with each side trying to out-yell the other. In many cases, it is vocal minorities at the fringes of the science and religion camps that get the most press. The film has interesting and important points to make, but because of the aggressive approach used I fear it may become yet another escalation in the shouting match. The debate has many players: scientists who are aggressive naturalists, fundamentalist young earth creationists, agnostic scientists who believe aliens created life on earth, Christian scientists who accept most of the modern scientific framework but think that design is evident in nature, agnostic scientists who presume that ID is yet another propaganda campaign of the fundamentalists, Christians who reject ID as valid science, and the list goes on. All of this variety adds to the confusion. One of the key problems in the entire debate is that for many years young-earth creationists have twisted and misused science, presenting flawed scientific arguments that are attractive, seemingly reasonable, and readily accepted by many Christian audiences who are not equipped with the science background to refute them. As a result of this campaign, scientists have grown increasingly suspicious of anything which smacks of creationism. When ID arrived on the scene, mainstream science was unwilling to listen. As a result, very few scientists have really thought critically about intelligent design. They just assume that it is a tool used by fundamentalist Christians to try to promote a theocracy. However, I will not put all of the onus here on the Christian community. There are equally belligerent scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, who embrace a “religious” atheistic faith and claim that their position is a direct result of science and rationality. In my view, Dawkins has as much faith in atheism as any young-earth creationist does in 6-day creation. Thus we find ourselves in the shouting match. It is this shouting match which provides the environment for the sort of discrimination alleged in the film.

ID has various forms, but it is essentially a theory that “irreducibly complex” biological systems exist or may exist. An “irreducibly complex” system is one that has such a complex and interdependent framework that it could not have been created through random means. For a detailed expose on this concept see Michael Behe’s book, or material on the Discovery Institute’s website. While many of the proponents of ID may have non-scientific motives, I think that ID isn’t inherently unscientific. In fact, one of the earliest proponents of the ID concept in it’s contemporary form was Fred Hoyle, who was an agnostic Nobel laureate astronomer who believed that life originated somewhere other than earth. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of eating dinner with Owen Gingerich, author of God’s Universe before he gave a talk at UCSC. God’s Universe is a short and enjoyable book on the relationship between science and religion. Gingerich is both a respectable scientist and a respectable Christian. His book nobly tries to transcend much of the nastiness of the previous debate. However, I think he goes a bit too far. He argues that ID is not scientific, claiming that science deals only with efficient causes and not final causes (more detail on Aristotle’s causes here). While eating dinner with him, I asked a question about science and final causes. Namely, it seems that many historical sciences (specifically archaeology and anthropology) deal with questions such as, “Was this object designed by someone?” and “What was the purpose of this artifact?” Gingerich’s demarcation of science would leave these questions outside the line. His response to my question was, “Hmm…I’ve never thought of that before. I would have to think about it.” While an acceptable answer for dinner conversation, I don’t feel that I have yet heard an answer to this question that is philosophically satisfying from anyone in the debate. Asking whether something is designed seems to me to be an inherently scientific question. Arguably, however, this question becomes much more difficult to answer when you move to the realm of design of biological organisms. What does a designed organism look like? Perhaps the ID advocates have thus far done an insufficient job of exploring this question. However, while difficult, I don’t see any reason why this question should be labeled as unscientific. My impression is that the scientific community labels it unscientific because of who it is coming from.

After a long digression on ID, I will now return to the movie. In general I felt that much of it was overdone. Especially regarding the imagery. It felt like the conservative equivalent of a Michael Moore conspiracy film. However, it did instill a certain amount of fear and inspiration, and I think in many ways it was correct to depict a primae facie rejection of ID within the scientific community, a general lack of free discussion on the topic, and a stigmatizing of anyone who touches the subject . In my experience with the scientific community ID is most commonly mentioned as the butt of a joke. Perhaps my chief criticism of the film is its general aggressive nature, not only in the film itself but also the aggressive methods used by the producers to get their footage. In the name of intellectual honesty and freedom they knowingly deceived a number of prominent evolutionists into thinking that they were interviewing for a pro-evolution film. This troubles me.

I will mention that the viewer who wishes to be well-informed will also take a good look at the counterarguments offered by http://www.expelledexposed.com/. I hope that the movie will lead to much needed rational discourse on the subject. I fear it will lead to a knee-jerk backlash by the scientific community. In closing, while writing this post I find myself asking the question, “Did I just jeopardize my scientific career?”

-Matt, the elder brother

Interestingly enough, I had not even heard of Expelled until last week when John mentioned something about it on our blog. After watching the trailer, I was definitely interested in seeing it, as it was so utterly provocative. It is much harder for me to comment on the actual climate within the scientific community, because, well, I study Greek and Latin, but hopefully I have some of my own useful commentary to contribute.

My first reaction to Expelled was that it was entertaining. I laughed at least once every few minutes, usually because of the black-and-white films that they would so comically insert into the documentary sections, which acted as a kind of silent, moral narrator. When you consider this on a serious level, though, I’m not sure that these interjections (particularly in such frequency) are entirely appropriate for a documentary. They trivialize the debate, reducing the opponent’s ideas to a joke, which is just a subtle straw-man. When you go to the movie theaters, you are usually going to see a drama, an action movie, a love story, etc., and you are fully aware that what you are seeing is not true. When you go to the movies to see a documentary, though, you have a general assumption that everything being told you is i) true and ii) objective. While Ben Stein doesn’t necessarily cross over this first boundary by making up ridiculous lies about the evolutionist side, he definitely does not present both sides in the same light. I was slightly disturbed by the fact that they framed the interviews of evolutionists to seem wicked or dumb, sometimes even using very dark, spooky lighting. Honestly, after seeing all of that footage of Richard Dawkins, I think I would scream and run if I actually saw him in real life. The ID proponents were the clear martyrs, being directly compared to the Jews in the Holocaust. I mean, seriously, how much more dramatic of an analogy could Mr. Stein really have chosen? If he is accusing the other side of all-out war on ID scientists, it is unfair that he has failed to unveil his own underhanded war-strategies. At one point, the scientist who met Ben in Paris said that he thought there should be a much greater attitude of scientific self-criticism. Unfortunately, Ben Stein’s movie has weighed in fully on one side; it is, in a way, one hand clapping. These propaganda devices were clearly effective in the audience we were in, because Allison and I heard frequent comments from people applauding this attack on evolution. At the end, everyone clapped, which was troubling to us both, because Expelled will probably polarize American society (hopefully a better-informed scientific community will be more immune to this).

I also had mixed feelings about the connection drawn between Darwinism and eugenics, as if all evolutionists are in favor of euthanasia, mass sterilization and social-breeding. Again, the connection to the Holocaust (which is in many ways a legitimate one) nonetheless suggests that if we allow our scientific community to be ruled by evolutionists, then we are going to end up committing some atrocity, such as the Holocaust. So fängt es immer ein (That’s how it always starts). This is obviously stark übertrieben (grossly exaggerated, to balance one German expression with another). I do appreciate the connection drawn between science and world-view, however. Frequently these associations are kept low-profile, but one cannot ignore that embracing a Darwinian anthropogeny leads down a slippery moral slope. If we are here only by accident, how can anything be right or wrong? Absolute morality, in its very essence, implies some telos (final cause). Where Expelled goes too far, though, is that they imply that all evolutionists, if not already, are quickly changing into spineless, heartless, amoralists who don’t care about anything or anyone, as if the average evolutionist would have no moral qualms with murdering his own mother, granted that it led to a higher state of evolution (isn’t that a kind of morality, anyway?) This straw-man is absurd. Although evolutionists no longer have a firm moral ground upon which to build a system of ethics (a point I’m very glad was made in the film), they do not reject all sense of right and wrong. Moral relativism and a de-privileging of human live are certainly a danger that can easily lead to supporting abortion, cloning, and possibly social breeding, although this last one is probably going too far.

There were two moments in the documentary that I particularly enjoyed. The first was during the interview with one of the ID scientists in Seattle, who said that there are two possible routes to take when examining where human life came from: one with design, and one without it. Scientifically, there is no reason to reject one out-of-pocket, but that is effectively what the scientific community has done. I felt like this was a very level-headed analysis of the academic climate. Another quote I appreciated was from a British scientist who said that it is not science that comes before the world-view, but the world-view that lays the foundation for how scientific data is interpreted. Scientists must recognize this and provide their own world-views as a disclaimer to their scientific research. It is impossible, and equally irrational, for a scientist with a firm belief in God to somehow exclude this bias from his scientific research; in the same one, a devout atheist cannot, and should not, do science without framing her research in terms of her larger understanding of the universe. It seems that religion and science are not only inseparable, they are in fact married in a way; for if God exists, then science is a clear path to understanding his nature through how he created the universe (in fact, science must have been designed for this reason); if God does not exist, then the religion of atheism (or lack of religion) carries the day, and science is a cold, impersonal description of the world around us.

On a closing note, I resonate with Matt’s desire for the scientific community to debate these things through good research and open-minded discussion. I fear that Expelled will only throw oil on the fire. There is no doubt a Berlin Wall is running right through the scientific community, but it is not clear yet whether Ben Stein has helped to tear it down or build it up higher.

By the way, we have presented our own preliminary thoughts about this documentary, but we would greatly appreciate feedback and questions from you, as there is no doubt more to be discussed here.

-James, the younger brother