Science and Religion

Last week I noticed a story about a school district in Georgia placing a disclaimer on its high school biology books that stated that “Evolution is a theory, not a fact.” The local tie-in was that the author of the textbook, Kenneth Miller, is a Brown University professor. The ACLU and others have filed to remove the sticker and “the judge must determine whether the sticker promotes religion or is merely an advisory action by a government entity.” Apparently we have another secular/religion argument, right? Not necessarily.

Yesterday brought a letter to the editors of the ProJo from Tom LeBlanc, a former student of Miller’s, who wrote that the story neglected to mention Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, a work, according to LeBlanc, that

demonstrates how belief in God is not necessarily contrary to belief in evolutionary theory. This is indeed a quite groundbreaking notion, contrary to the partisanship typical of most evolutionary debates, in which “creationism” and evolution are passionately presented as diametrically opposed.

Indeed, it seems that Miller believes that evolution and creation go hand-and-hand and are not mutually exclusive concepts. Science and Religion both offer creation theories, after all, and in that acknowledged common ground Miller seeks to sow the seeds of compatibility.

The conflict between these two versions of our history is real, and I do not doubt for a second that it needs to be addressed. What I do not believe is that the conflict is unresolvable….As more than one scientist has said, the truly remarkable thing about the world is that it actually does make sense. The parts fit, the molecules interact, the darn thing works. To people of faith, what evolution says is that nature is complete. God fashioned a material world in which truly free, truly independent beings could evolve. [source (Scientific American review of the book)]

Miller takes atheistic evolutionists to task for too-cavalierly disregarding religious theories and he criticizes creationists (more specifically, instantaneous creationists) for attempting to raise reasonable doubt towards evolutionary theory instead of offering a theory of their own. Miller himself seems to follow a third way, often called either developmental creation or theistic evolution.

As a Catholic, Miller is following in the footsteps of other Catholic scientists who recognized that science and religion are not necessarily antagonistic. For example, with regards to just creation theory, Catholic sholars have long believed that a literal interpretation of Genesis is not required as proof of belief in God. Augustine (and others) believed that each of the seven days of creation as outlined in Genesis were not necessarily defined by the same 24 hour period as was contemporarily understood. In his The Literal Interpretation of Genesis [A.D. 408], Augustine observed that

Seven days by our reckoning, after the model of the days of creation, make up a week. By the passage of such weeks time rolls on, and in these weeks one day is constituted by the course of the sun from its rising to its setting; but we must bear in mind that these days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them” (Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 4:27).

This echoed the earlier and more succinct ruminations of Cyprian, who stated in his Treatises [A.D. 250] that, “The first seven days in the divine arrangement contain seven thousand years” (Treatises 11:11 ). Though Cyprian’s estimate was off, the writings of both he and Augustine have shown that religious men were perfectly willing to grant that a literal interpretation of the Bible was not necessary to be religious. (
Overall, the Catholic Church has some well-reasoned postions on this subject and a good, short summary is here).

Historically, religion and reason have often been at loggerheads, but some of the most important progress in human understanding (philosophy) has been made by religious scholars (Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Copernicus and Johnathan Edwards, to name a few). In our Red/Blue, religious/secular world, we who consider ourselves conservative, on the Red/Religious side if you will, should take care not to negatively conflate rabid secularism with accepted scientific theory. I understand the motivation behind the biology textbook stickers. In a world where God is constantly under assault, some see an opportunity to bring God into our schools via the side door. The goal is admirable, however placing a “parental warning” on textbooks is a misquided method. These stickers imply to our school children that a sort of scientific conspiracy exists and that the real “truth” of science and nature is unknowable. Ironically, such implications of scientific uncertainty lead to the same a sort of relativism often derided by religious conservatives when applied in the moral realm. Just as it is disengenuous to state that there are no universally accepted moral codes, it is likewise to imply that scientific truth is also unattainable, or at least highly speculative.

As I’ve detailed, there are various evolutional theories, and God has a place in them. Simply because atheistic proponents discount the possibility that God has any place in their specific theory of evolution does not mean that all evolution theories have no place for God. Similarly, simply because some creationists believe that God created the world in six, 24 hour days does not mean that all religious people discount the fossil record or Darwin’s observations. I would guess that for most people the truth lay somewhere in between the two extremes. Religion and Science do not have to be assigned opposite poles from which mutually exclusive belief systems are derived. Let’s not let political ideology cloud our reason, or our faith.

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smmtheory
smmtheory
16 years ago

I place myself in the school of people that finds evolution to be compatible with divine intervention. I believe that evolution is God’s tool of creation, so to speak. In other words, I believe that God is still creating and that he never stopped even once the pinnacle of his creation was realized. But we do have to be honest with ourselves. Even though evidence appears to support evolution, we have no absolute proof that evolution is anything more than a theory. The sheer magnitude of empirical proof would require millions of years of verifiable observation. I don’t think anybody has yet started that observation. It is lamentable that certain segments of society will not accept that unsubstantiated conclusions are not equivalent to facts. Having a sticker that supports the truth in a text book is a good thing. I think it is the same kind of conclusion jumping that would view the quoted sticker as tantamount to teaching instantaneous creation theory as that used by some to surmise that random evolution is proven fact.
I’ve seen a great deal of this type of behavior in absolute secularists. I think they sometimes also claim that God was created by humankind, by evolution method no doubt.

Marc Comtois
16 years ago

Your post has prompted me to clarify a point. I wrote that “These stickers imply to our school children that a sort of scientific conspiracy exists and that the real ‘truth’ of science and nature is unknowable. Ironically, such implications of scientific uncertainty lead to the same a sort of relativism often derided by religious conservatives when applied in the moral realm. Just as it is disengenuous to state that there are no universally accepted moral codes, it is likewise to imply that scientific truth is also unattainable, or at least highly speculative.” I think that because evolution is the only “science” (taken as theory or something more) taught in the book, the incorrect impression the application of the sticker gives is as I described: nothing is really scientifically knowable. Perhaps a better solution would be to offer another theory, Intelligent Design (ID) for instance, in the same textbook or in the same coursework. The teaching of two or more theories would necessarily imply that all theories are just that, theories. In short, sticker advocates are dealing with the sympton instead of the cause. (I realize the degree of scientific acceptance for evolution and ID varies widely and only used ID as a convenient example. I guess, in practice, teachers could “weight” their lectures accordingly.)

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