The books listed in this collection represent an interest I have had since high school in the controversy between Creationism and Evolution. Having grown up in a fundamentalist church in a small town in Arkansas, by the time I graduated high school (in 1978) I was an ardent creationist. However, when I began taking classes at William Jewell College, I began to realize some of the problems between science and what the creationists believed. This collection started as an earnest attempt on my part to try and look at both sides as objectively as possible. While I was an undergraduate, I began to realize how little I had read, and how much there was to read. These books were purchased over the past ten years, and come from a variety of places, including used book stores, and library discard sales.
I was surprised to find such a wide variety of views on the subject, ranging from pretty silly to some serious thoughts on both sides. I guess (not surprisingly, perhaps) I have come to the present conclusion (subject to change without notice) that there is in fact strong evidence supporting evolution, and that "creationism" is not a science. However, I also feel that true science cannot make theological claims. Thus, even though I believe in evolution, I am not prevented from also believing in God. I think there is evidence for an underlying determinism in evolution. This is important to me because I feel that in fact nature is not as random as it might appear on the surface. Thus, one of the next books in my collection will be the book "Chaos". I would also like to add some more historical books, in order to better understand pre-Darwin science and also some of the differences in philosophy between chemistry and biology. This comes in part from a personal struggle that I am having as a result of changing fields (my M.Sc. was from a biophysical group, while here I'm working on a Ph.D. in molecular biology; I'm really interested in DNA structure, which bridges both fields). Finally, I must state that while this list is my personal collection, I have only read approximately half of the books listed, although I am slowly working on the ones that remain.
note: this first page was originally an essay, entered in a competition sponsored by the University of Cincinnati Literary Guild. The requirements were for a one page essay on a collection of books about a particular subject, followed by a list of books. Obviously, the list has grown considerably since then (presently I think it is several hundred books!). The list of books is now a separate file, and I'm currently trying to update it (March, 1998 - 10 years since the first version!). Many of the books were purchased with the gift certificate at "Acres of Books" in Cincinnati, that was the prize for the original essay and list of books.
Miscellaneous comments: 29-Aug-88
While reading the book by Bettex (published in 1901, see below), I couldn't help but think about what has happened in the past 100 years concerning science and cosmology. I read in a recent article in the Scientific American, (June, 1988) about how that scientific cosmology (e.g., the study of the "big bang") is making predictions about particle physics. This article was talking about what happened 10-34 sec after the big bang, and how that at this early time all four of the forces were unified, and temperatures were such that the Theory Of Everything (TOE) could be tested. The origin of the chemical elements and their relative abundance can be calculated based on the combining of subatomic particles to form protons and neutrons, which in turn combine to form mainly 4He nuclei, which then condensed in stars to form other elements. I guess I was impressed by how far physics has come; now it seems that in fact matter as we know it did not always exist (a viable theory a generation or so ago) but had a distinct origin in time and space. Also, processes once thought random are being found to be governed by subtle but nonetheless deterministic forces. I'll give two examples: the Greeks though that the planet's orbit should be circular, symbolic of perfection (and also what they thought should be the simplest path). A lot of people tried to make fancy theories (i.e., retrograde motion) to explain the observed motions, until finally the less than perfect elliptical path was agreed upon as the best model to fit the experimental data. Many assumed that the elliptical path was due to random causes. However, the motion of planets and in fact entire galaxies can be predicted from Einstein's theory of gravitation. Ditfurth (see below) has a chapter entitled "cosmic fossils" in which he traces the evolution of the universe.
The other example is at the other end of the spectrum, and has to do with the d and l forms of amino acids. From an organic chemistry point of view, both conformations are equally stable energetically. One of the old classical creationist arguments has been the question: Why is only one conformation found in nearly all proteins if life arose as a result of random evolution? The evolutionists would counter that one conformation was chosen early on, and has been maintained since then. A few years ago I ran across an article in Nature in which some physicists had found that in certain cases, subatomic interactions could contribute to different stability of chiral molecules; they calculated that the l conformation of alanine was ever so slightly more energetically favored than the d conformation. This makes since to me, since this means that nature was (slightly) biased towards the conformation used in life. The authors conclude that this seems to imply a deterministic rather than stochastic reason for the observed preference.
More comments 23-Dec-88
A few days ago I finished reading Ruse's book (But Is It Science?). I have also added a few books from joining the "Book of the Month" club (again - I got 4 books for $1 with no commitment), as well as from the old Microbiology and Biochemistry libraries, which were giving away old books in order to make room for the new, merged library.
Michael Ruse is a professor of history and philosophy of science at U. Guelph, Ontario, and he testified at the Arkansas Creation Science trial in 1982. The book is a collection of essays from a wide variety of sources, including some excerpts from Darwin's Origin of the Species, from Paley's Natural Theology (published in 1805), and from some more recent sources such as Stephen Gould and from the creationist Duane Gish. He also includes the transcript of his questions, as well as the complete transcript of "Act 590 of 1981, General Assembly, State of Arkansas", and the judges ruling opinion. I was surprised to find that when asked to provide any evidence published in any scientific journal, the best the creationists could do was a vague article in Reader's Digest referring to a young earth. The last section of the book deals with "The Philosophical Aftermath", and consists of a set of essays original printed in the journal, Science, Technology, and Human Values, discussing whether or not the judge's criteria for saying creationism was not science was valid. Basically, one side said that all one had to do was point out that creationism was bad science, and that it would be ridiculous to give equal time to bad science. This side also felt that it was very dangerous to try and clearly define what was science and what was religion. The other side (held by Ruse and pretty much by judge Overton in his ruling opinion) said that there are distinct characteristics of science, and that creationism did not fall into the category of science, and that the only reason for teaching it would be to promote religion. Having grown up in a fundamentalist home in Arkansas, and having once been a creationist, I tend to agree with Ruse that the intent of the law was clearly for religious purposes, and that "Academic freedom" and "teaching good science" was not a major purpose (if it was even a purpose at all) of the legislation. As Ruse points out, if the law had gone into effect, the state would then be forced to go through the creationist material and make sure that religion was not being taught under the guise of science. This would be difficult to do, particularly with the lack of any legitimate scientific data supporting creationism (apart from attacks against evolution). I guess that I am some-times bothered by the willful embracing of ignorance that I see from some of the more fundamentalist religious communities in Arkansas. The church I grew up in now has their own Christian Schools through 12th grade, and I have a nephew who is a student there. Sometimes I fear for his education (or lack thereof).
- More comments and meandering thoughts - 9-Dec-90
I'm not sure if this is the most recent copy of this file, but I dug it out from an old floppy - anyway, it has been a while since I've added to this file. The reason for this update is a request from a technician who works for Dr. Richard Sleight - her husband is an "evangelical preacher" who is apparently on a school board for a Christian school (or something like that) - and recently the board was discussing whether or not to mention evolution along with "creation science". The general feeling was that "90% of science is on our (i.e., the Creationist's) side" (??).
I was thinking about this during
church this morning. Our choir performed the Christmas portion of Handel's
MESSIAH. I really enjoy singing in the choir, and I sometimes
get goose bumps when we sing "For unto us a child is born . . ." (from
Isaiah 9) - especially the part that says who Christ is : Wonderful, Counselor,
Almighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. I realized that
for me, this is the essence of Christianity; I have no problem believing
(by faith) that Christ was the Son of God, who was born of a virgin (as
prophecized), lived a sinless life, was crucified, and rose again. I believe
that God is the creator of all life, and that He manifested Himself in
His Son, Jesus. And yet, according to the creationists, there is another
criteria for me to be a "Christian" in their eyes. It has nothing whatsoever
to do with beliefs about Christ, or really about God for that matter. It
is whether or not I subscribe to their particular scientific interpretation
of the age of the earth and the manner by which God created life. I believe
that Scripture is inspired by God, and that it is profitable to read, study,
memorize, and to try to live by. However, because I disagree with the view
of science that was popular in the 1850's, which theologians had fused
with their interpretations of the meaning of Genesis, then according to
the creationists, I must be an atheist, homosexual, communist, and a cannibal
(it is the "only obvious conclusion from believing in Evolution"). I guess
to me it seems that the creationists are being a bit legalistic, and the
quote form St. Augustine (see below) seems appropriate.
Last Sunday Jack (our pastor) talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see below for his book "Creation and Fall"). Dietrich was killed in a Nazi concentration camp, for his strong stance against what Germany was doing in the war. He was a strongly committed Christian, and has written a very influential book, The Cost of Discipleship, which he demonstrated with his life. I wonder if the "young earther's" (e.g., Christians who adhere to the belief that the world is less than 10,000 years old) would consider Dietrich less of a Christian because he believed in evolution. It is really quite interesting to read his argument about creation:
" . . . Thus it is impossible to ask why the world was created, about God's plan or about the necessity of creation. These questions are finally answered and disposed of as godless questions in the sentence, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Not 'In the beginning God had this or that idea about the purpose of the world which we now have to only explore further,' but 'In the beginning God created.' No question can penetrate behind God creating, because it is impossible to go behind the beginning.
From there it follows that the beginning is not a temporal distinction. We can always go behind the temporal beginning. But it is the truly unique thing that qualifies the beginning, not quantitatively but in a qualitative sense - as something which simply cannot be repeated, which is completely free. We could conceive of a constant repetition of free acts, but this would be basically wrong because freedom does not repeat itself. If it did it would be freedom conditioned by freedom, in other words not freedom, and no longer the beginning.
This quite unrepeatable, unique, free event in the beginning, which must not be confused in any way with the year 4004 or any similar particular date, is the creation. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That means that the Creator, in freedom, creates the creature. . . ." (p.17)
In many ways, Dietrich's views are much closer to those deduced from physics than from the creationist concept. Paul Davies argues (see below) that it is pointless to attempt to ask "what caused the Big Bang?", because there existed no time, hence there no longer exists a causal relationship. (Time didn't come into existence until 10-38 sec after the big bang; this is called the "Planck time".) Once again I conclude that I am free to study the laws of nature, and that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence or workings of God. I believe in God by faith, and faith is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11). For me, it is much more important whether or not one believes in a God who created life, than belief in a particular mechanism of God's creation.
I have been thinking about what I am going to say for this "debate" on creationism vs. evolution. Faith has said that people in her church claim that "99% of science supports their view [that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and that evolution did not occur]. I am going to eat lunch with Frank Pastori (he is a former pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, and has some local notoriety) and Faith's husband the first week in January. They (the "creationists" within Faith's church) view any teaching of evolution as heresy, and are considering flying someone from the Creation Research Institute in to debate me. (I would love the opportunity to talk to them.)
I have been thinking that maybe it would be best to limit the amount of information presented by allowing only chalk and a blackboard to be used. I thought about starting out talking about astronomy, and the geocentric vs. heliocentric view of the universe, and how physics seemed to challenge scripture at the time. (Galileo was forced to recant his "heretical view that the earth was not the center of the universe, as proclaimed in Scripture", under threat of being burned at the stake.) From there, I might talk about the first revolution in physics (Newton), and some of its implications for interpretation of the scripture. Next comes Einstein's theory of relativity, and some of its bizarre philosophical (and theological) ramifications. Alongside this is quantum mechanics, with the discovery that when you look at very small things, nature becomes very strange and unpredictable. I might mention Einstein's objection to the apparent underlying randomness of matter. ("God does not play dice with the universe.") Einstein made an experimentally testable prediction about whether or not quantum events were really random, and Bohr proved him wrong - So Einstein, still convinced that nature was predictable, made another proposal; this time it was a draw, and had to do with how the question was worded - if you look for electrons to exhibit wave characteristics, then it does; if you look for particle like characteristics, then that is what you observe. Anyway, from all of this we conclude that time is really a strange thing that is more difficult to explain than might seem at first glance. In addition, while in general matter is predictable on a macroscopic scale, it is inherently random at the quantum mechanical level.
Somewhere in here I should mention how Einstein's theory of relativity actually predicts the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun; the mass of the earth (and the mass of the sun, too) "bends" or "warps" space and time. I guess that all of this might seem to shake one's faith in a nice, simple, explainable universe.
With this background, I might
then go on to talk about the Doppler effect, and the observation that the
universe is expanding (actually the space separating matter is expanding,
technically). Knowing the present rate of expansion, one can easily back
calculate the creation of the universe - about 18 billion years ago. (Also,
using the same calculations, our sun is about 5-6 billion years old). The
interesting thing about this is that physics is predicting the creation
of light and of matter ex nihlo, just like Christian theologians
have for a long time. In addition, it appears that time itself was created
at the beginning of the universe, as Augustine postulated 1500 years ago.
I might write a photon creation operator on the board. (I think that it
is kind of neat to be able to write a mathematical construct representing
the creation of light.)
From the creation of light, I might then mention the creation of matter, (once again, ex nihlo), from subatomic particles, and the fact that cosmology (e.g., the study of the creation of the universe) predicts that about 75% of the universe should consist of hydrogen ( with 1 proton and one electron), and about 25% helium. This is in fact what is observed when one looks at the spectrum emitted from the stars (which can be thought of as a "fingerprint", showing positive indication of the chemical composition). Cosmology also predicts the formation of the other elements on planets, such as our own. In fact, it predicts certain percentages of nitrogen, carbon, iron, copper, lead, etc., to be found in our planet, and is surprisingly accurate considering this is all based on assuming the universe was created by a cosmic explosion 18 billion years ago. From here, I might sketch a periodic chart, and mention some of the chemical compositions of minerals, such as flint, sandstone, clay, etc. Then I might talk about the fact that just as the chemical elements in the periodic chart were created by transmutation of the elements, there exists also chemical decay, and how this decay can be used to calculate the age of various rocks. I know the creationists are skeptical of this, so I will need to explain how this works, and how we can use the decomposition of several different isotopes to get at the same age. (I might also mention that the age of our solar system can be calculated from the expansion of our galaxy, and it is in good agreement - about 5 billion years old). Also, somewhere in here I might mention Lord Kelvin (whom Morris thinks is a great, "Bible-believing creationist") and his attempt to actually measure the age of the earth, based on the cooling of the core. He estimated between 10,000,000 and 100,000,000 years old, or more than 1000 times as old as the creationists date (10,000 B.C.) The important point here is that Lord Kelvin devised an experiment, and actually tried to measure the age of the earth. He was open to whatever the experimental result was. That's how science works - you have an idea (hypothesis) and you propose an experiment (with predicted results) to verify or discredit the validity of that idea. You can't say, "I'm going to do this experiment, but I know (God told me) that the answer must be 3.5. Suppose you do the experiment, and the answer turns out to be 12? Does that mean that Satan (or God) tricked you?
- Some more thoughts on a snowy day -
Today I finished reading Brewster's book "Creation". He gives a historical view of creationists doctrine, from Biblical (e.g., Moses) times to the "present" (1920's). One thing that I noticed is the manner of writing (like that of Bettex) seems to come from a more "holistic" background. Brewster assumes that the reader knows latin, is familiar with scripture, and has been exposed to "the classics" (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Pliney, Origen, Jerome, Thomas Aquanis, etc.). It is also interesting to read about proofs for geological dating, before radioactive isotopes became the standard method. (Now one would hardly know that any other method of dating exits). I think he did a very good job of pointing out that during most of the history of Christendom (and Western Europe), the accepted view of the world was that essentially of Aristotle, with Scripture being interpreted accordingly. Thus not only did most people think that the world was flat and/or at the center of the universe, but they also thought that spontaneous generation was the method of "creation" for most of life. In fact, Brewster sites an example of Francesco Redi, who "in 1668 disproved most of Aristotle's teaching concerning the spontaneous generation of creeping things . . ." Redi got into trouble with the clergy for going against scripture; how else could one explain the answer to Samson's riddle: "Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, come forth thy sweet." (Judges 14:14), than by spontaneous generation of living bees out of dead lions? Brewster mentions that a hundred years earlier Redi probably would have been thrown in jail for heresy or burned at the stake. This was due to a trend started by astronomers. "Both the science and the world-view of Aristotle and the Christian Middle Ages collapsed suddenly, between the appearance of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium in 1543 and of Newton's Principia in 1687. . . . But in general, in less than a century altogether, the seven heavens above man's heads came crashing down about their ears, while the firm set earth under their feet got up and started running around the sun. Then occurred the most rapid change of basal opinions in all history. Then, essentially, was our modern world born."
"The Creationism of the present day is purely a theological dogma, which does not pretend to any scientific standing nor to rest on any scientific evidence, which indeed has never even been stated in such wise that any man of us can make out, flatly and squarely, just what present-day Creationists do or do not believe." (p. 273)
"Thus, it came about, because of the overwhelming authority of Linné, the 'creation' has, since about 1750, meant more and more universally the creation of 'species'. By about 1800 the creation of germs instead of pairs had pretty much been forgotten; and the Bible is everywhere assumed to teach 'Linnænism'. Of course, the Bible really does nothing of the sort. . ."
Brewster also points out that
the exact date of creation of the earth depends on which manuscript you
use - as some examples:
Brewster divides "creation theories" up into 6 categories, which follow a general historical trend:
1. Spontaneous Generation (from ~1000B.C. to ~1750 A.D.)
- "which supposes an infinite
number of fresh starting points for organic life."
2. Linnæanism (1740 - 1800(?))
- this is also known as "Primitive Special Creationism", which supposes God created each species "has been created as a single adult pair, all at the same time, and all at the same place" (p. 195).
3. Cuvierism (1780 - ~1850)
- this view holds that some species can be wiped out, and then other species can adapt (a transition form) to take its place.
4. Catastrophism (1800 - 1830?)
- this is called "Catastrophic
Special Creationism", and supposes that God created new species maybe ten
to one hundred times throughout history, after a catastrophe wiped out
all of the other species.
5. Uniformatarianism (1820 - 1860?)
- (Uniformitarian Special Creationism)
which supposes that God is continually creating new species, throughout
time, with maybe a million or so created so far.
6. Evolution (1860 - ?)
- This is essentially the next
step after uniformatarianism - if God is continuously forming new species,
then maybe His method is through a slight modification of a closely related
It is interesting to note that
according to the fossil record, more than 99% of all the species that have
ever existed are now extinct. So, I guess technically, the diagram should
maybe be more like this:
Today I finished Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker. In this moderately thick (>300 pages) book, Dawkins explains and defends Darwinism. He occasionally pokes fun of the creationists here and there, but he is more concerned with people misunderstanding Darwin's theory of natural selection. I think the way he did the book was kind of clever. He starts out by saying that perhaps most people don't realize how complicated life is, and what an engineering feat something like the human eye is. Dawkins takes Paley's argument for creation by design, and shows how natural selection is the only scientific explanation for the development of such a thing. He agrees that it is about as likely as a tornado assembling a 747 from a junkyard, for the eye to develop in one step. The argument is that, however, it is possible that the present human eye might have evolved from an eye that was 99.9% similar to the present form. He kept emphasizing the "gradualness" that is Darwin's theme in his Origins.
One thing that I picked up from reading this book is that organisms don't evolve, genes do. I probably already knew this, but it made a lot more sense here. I know that most organisms have many copies of the same gene. Some of these are slightly different and form "gene families", and there are "super-families". I know that it is often difficult to clone a gene using a cDNA probe (e.g., a DNA sequence based on the protein sequence and preferred coding uses), because often one finds several "pseudogenes" - copies of the gene in question that have been inactivated. I think molecular genetics will provide thousands of "molecular fossils" tracing the evolutionary history of a particular organism. (I have already seen many cases in the past few years.)
I had written as a comment under Darwin's Origins (see below) that I wondered "how Darwin's theme of Natura non facit saltum fits in with Stephen J. Gould's punctuated equilibrium". Dawkins address that very subject:
"The American paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, when they first proposed their theory of punctuated equilibria in 1972, made what has since been represented as a very different suggestion. . . For example the Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without evolutionary history. Needless to say, this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record, a gap that is simply due to the fact that, for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from periods before about 600 million years ago. One good reason might be that many of these animals had only soft parts in their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize. If you are a creationist you may think that this is special pleading. My point here is that, when we are talking about gaps of this magnitude, there is no difference whatever in the interpretations of 'punctuationists' and 'gradualists'. Both schools of thought despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. Both schools of thought agree that the only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation, and both would reject this alternative." (page 229-230, emphasis added).
"Comparisons between modern punctuationism on the one hand, and catastrophism or saltationism on the other, have a purely poetic force. They are, if I may coin a paradox, deeply superficial. They sound impressive in an artsy, literary way, but they do nothing to aid serious understanding, and they can give spurious aid and comfort to modern creationists in their disturbingly successful fight to subvert American education and textbook publishing. The fact is that, in the fullest and most serious sense, Eldredge and Gould are really just as gradualist as Darwin or any of his followers. It is just that they would compress all the gradual change into brief bursts, rather than having it go on all the time; and they emphasize that most of the gradual change goes on in geographical areas away from the areas where most fossils are dug up." (p. 241)
Dawkins quotes Darwin in a letter to Sir John Lyell:
" 'If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish . . . I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.' This is no petty matter. In Darwin's view, the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided an non-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all. It made a nonsense of the central point of evolution. In the light of this, it is easy to see why Darwin constantly reiterated the gradualness of evolution. It is easy to see why he wrote that sentence quoted in Chapter 4: 'If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modification, my theory would absolutely break down.'" (page 249)
I agree that a theory cannot be truly scientific if it makes metaphysical assumptions. It is interesting to note that Van Tell et al. say the same thing. I should also add that any "scientific theory" that advocates atheism based on scientific evidences is also wrong. By definition, science cannot make any theological assumptions or conclusions; theology is beyond the range of science.
Dawkins has a computer program
that he used to demonstrate natural selection. If I had read the book sooner,
I could have tried to find the "holy grail" and win $1000. Unfortunately,
I didn't notice this until 31-Dec-90, the day the competition expired.
I bought the book in 1988.
- A few more excerpts from Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker -
"Indeed, it is important to understand that all mammals - humans, whales, duck-billed platypuses, and the rest - are exactly equally close to fish, since all mammals are linked to fish via the same common ancestor. The myth that mammals, for instance, form a ladder or 'scale', with 'lower' ones being closer to fish than 'higher' ones, is a piece of snobbery that owes nothing to evolution. It is an ancient, pre-evolutionary notion, sometimes called the 'great chain of being', which should have been destroyed by evolution but which was, mysteriously, absorbed into the way many people thought about evolution.
"At this point I cannot resist
drawing attention to the irony in the challenge that the creationists are
fond of hurling at evolutionists: 'Produce your intermediates. If evolution
were true, there should be animals that are half way between a cat and
a dog, or between a frog and an elephant. But has anyone ever seen a frelephant?'
I have been sent creationist pamphlets that attempt to ridicule evolution
with drawings of grotesque chimeras, horse hindquarters grafted to a dog's
front end, for instance. The authors seem to imagine that evolutionists
should expect such intermediate animals to exist. This not only misses
the point, it is the precise antithesis of the point. One of the strongest
expectations of the theory of evolution gives us is that intermediates
of this kind should not exist. This is the burden of my comparison
between animals and library books." (p. 261)
"It isn't that any transformed cladists are themselves fundamentalist creationists. My own interpretation is that they enjoy an exaggerated idea of the importance of taxonomy in biology. They have decided, perhaps rightly, that they can do taxonomy better if they forget about evolution, and especially if they never use the concept of the ancestor in thinking about taxonomy. In the same way, a student of, say, nerve cells, might decide that he is not aided by thinking about evolution. The nerve specialist agrees that his nerve cells are the products of evolution, but he does not need to use this fact in his research. He needs to know a lot about physics and chemistry, but he believes that Darwinism is irrelevant to his day-to-day research on nerve impulses. This is a defensible position. But you can't reasonably say that, because you don't need to use a particular theory in the day to day practice of your particular branch of science, therefore that theory is false. You will only say this if you have a remarkably grandiose estimation of the importance of your own branch of science. Even then, it isn't logical" (page 283).
Towards the end of the book, I think Dawkins oversteps his responsibility as a scientist (again as discussed below by Van Till et al.) when he starts asserting his religious views in scientific terms:
"At first sight there is an important distinction to be made between what might be caused 'instantaneous creation' and 'guided evolution'. Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. The evidence for some sort of evolution has become too overwhelming. But many theologians who call themselves evolutionists, for example the Bishop of Birmingham quoted in Chapter 2, smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him some sort of supervisory role over the course of that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change.
"We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that His interventions always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main thing we want to explain, namely organised complexity. The one thing that makes evolution such a neat theory is that it explains how organised complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity.
"If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organised complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must already have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organised complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it! In short, divine creation, whether instantaneous or in the form of guided evolution, joins the list of other theories we have considered in this chapter. All give some superficial appearance of being alternatives to Darwinism, whose merits might be tested by an appeal to evidence. All turn out, on closer inspection, not to be rivals of Darwinism at all. The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organised complexity. Even if the evidence did not favour it, it would still be the best theory available! In fact the evidence does favour it. But that is another story.
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale. Whatever is the explanation of life, therefore, it cannot be chance. The true explanation for the existence of life must embody the very antithesis of chance. Nonrandom survival, improperly understood, is not the antithesis of chance, it is chance itself. There is a continuum connecting these two extremes, and it is the continuum from single step selection to cumulative selection. Single step selection is just another way of saying pure chance. This is what I mean by nonrandom survival improperly understood. Cumulative selection by slow and gradual degrees, is the explanation, the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed, for the existence of life's complex design." (pages 316-317)
Dawkins makes a logical error by assuming the only reason for a postulated deity is merely to provide a mechanism for the creation of complexity. Since natural selection can do that, then there is no need for God. However, one might choose to believe in a God that gives meaning, significance, and purpose to life. These are qualities that science cannot discuss. Hence, science can make no statements regarding whether or not one is justified in believing in God. That is a matter of faith, up to the individual.
On the one hand Dawkins is not being totally responsible as a scientist, in that he is extrapolating from scientific findings to metaphysical conclusions (e.g., since we can describe evolution, there is no need for a God to create, therefore there is no God). However, I can also see how his conclusion would follow if the theological claims of the creationists are taken as being valid. The creationist will argue that there must be a God because of the complex design. Furthermore, they argue that this God has given them a divine revelation in the form of the Genesis account, which is "scientifically accurate". Then they go on to assert that one must choose to believe in the "atheistic evolutionistic approach", or the "scientific creationist approach". Many (nearly all) of their arguments essentially involve this (artificial) dichotomy, and an attempt to prove that the former is inaccurate/"unscientific", while the latter is (divinely) reliable/scientific. Thus, the creationists attack the scientific theory of evolution with equal vigor as the philosophical theory of evolutionism (in their eyes there is no difference). This is why Christians such as C.S. Lewis, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Francis Schaeffer, Van Till, and others (including myself) are careful to delineate between the scientific theory of evolution and the myth of evolutionism (which I agree with Morris is essentially atheism).
I think in this regard, creationists have done some of the same harm to society that they claim teaching evolution has. Christians who tell people that if we were to actually see one species evolving into another, then the only logical conclusion is that there is no God and we are the result of a random accident, - are setting themselves up. Show me this one scientific fact, and I must then reject Christianity. The other problem has to do with what these creationists are going to do when people start genetically engineering plants and animals. What are they going to do when their children's peers in the public schools (most creationists kids go to private schools) bring home a frog they engineered in class, with 12 legs and two heads? Such a horrible thing will be possible within the next few years (and unfortunately, this technology is very cheap, so even poor public schools can afford it).
Today I had lunch with Jonathan (Faith's husband) and Frank Pastori. I had a pretty good time talking about creationism and evolution. It was kind of strange being in the position of defending evolution. Frank had some good questions; a few I could answer, and some I simply had to say "I don't know". I guess it is good for me to know now that I don't have to have all of the answers. One question that he did ask, that I have thought about since, was the question of the fall of man. I should have (and will try to remember in the future) to refer all such discussion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is much more qualified than me in terms of his Christianity (he was put in a Nazi concentration camp for his Christian beliefs.) and he has also thought through the matter from a theological point of view, which I have not really done (yet). Anyway, he describes the fall as follows:
"How did this happen? The Bible does not give an answer, at any rate not a direct or an unequivocal one; characteristically it answers indirectly. We would be simplifying and completely distorting the biblical narrative if we were simply to involve the devil, who, as God's enemy, caused all this. This is just what the Bible does not say, for very definite reasons. Similarly, we would misinterpret the context completely if we lay the blame on man's freedom for good and evil, and not on his wrong use of this freedom. It is the characteristic and essential thing about the biblical narrative that the whole event takes place in the world created by God and that no diaboli ex machina are set in motion to make this inconceivable event understandable and to dramatise. The double light in which the creation and evil appear here cannot be resolved in any way without destroying the central point. The ambiguity of the serpent, of Eve, and of the tree of knowledge as creatures of the grace of God and as the place of the voice of evil must be maintained as such and must not be crudely torn asunder in an unambiguous interpretation. The twilight, the double light in which the creation appears here is the only possible form in which man in the middle can speak of this event, and the Yahwist too was man in the middle. Only in this way can we, as we must, both put the guilt completely on to man and at the same time stress that the guilt is inconceivable, inexplicable, and inexcusable. It is not the purpose of the Bible to give information about the origin of evil but to witness to its character as guilt and as the infinite burden of man. To ask about the origin of evil independently of this is far from the mind of the biblical writer, and for this very reason the answer cannot be unequivocal and direct. It will always contain two aspects that as a creature of God I have committed a completely anti-godly and evil act, and that for that very reason I am guilty - and moreover inexcusably guilty. It will never be possible simply to blame the devil who has led us astray. The devil will always be in the place where I ought to have lived and did not wish to live as God's creature in God's world. It is of course just as impossible to blame the creation for being imperfect and make it responsible for my evil. The guilt rests upon me alone, I have committed evil in the midst of the primeval state of creation. The full inconceivability of this act is expressed here in Gen. 3 by the fact that it is not an evil force from somewhere or other that suddenly breaks forth into creation. No, this evil is completely hidden in the world of creation and occurs in the creation through man. If there had previously been an account of the Fall of Lucifer, as Catholic Dogmatics and as Luther too would have it, Adam would be Lucifer's first victim and as such, he would in principle be relieved of his burden. But the unadorned biblical account says in fact that the Fall was prepared and took place in the midst of creation, and it is just by this means that its complete inexcusability is expressed in the plainest possible way." (pp. 64-66, emphasis mine)
I think what Dietrich is saying here is that he can take the Fall as an allegory of mankind's sin nature. I like the fact that he uses "Man" here as the Hebrew does (Adam = "Man"). This seems convincing to me; I know that I personally am a sinner (Romans 6:23), and that I have fallen from God's grace, and that that act is inexcusable, and that I need a merciful God to forgive me. Frank asked several times throughout our discussion today about why I needed to believe in Jesus. I guess I had not really thought about there being any need not to believe - I base my trust in Christ upon faith, and for me that's not based on scientific fact. As I have probably mentioned somewhere in here several times before, if there were scientific evidence proving (without a doubt) the existence of God, then I would be forced to believe, compelled not by an act of faith (e.g., in something I can't see; cp. Hebrews 11:1) but by the evidence before me. Would I still have a free will? Sometimes I wish that God would clearly reveal Himself in the world, but then I remember that "no man has seen God - and lived". I think that it might be physically impossible for God to show Himself to mortal man, without man's mortality expressing itself. If I was to look under a microscope, and Surprise! there's God, looking up at me and waving, I'd probably be dead.
I guess that I need to delineate between a belief in the scientific Darwinian evolution vs. Darwinism (e.g. all that exists is the physical universe, there is no God, and life is the result of an accident). Of course, I do not believe in the latter, but I do not think that adherence to a particular scientific theory (which can make no metaphysical assumptions) necessarily excludes a belief in God. Of course, it is easy for one to reply, "Why would God want to create life in such a manner?" The most straightforward answer is that I don't know. Why would God want to create gravity? I think I might be a little presumptuous for me (or any other mortal) to speak for God; in my opinion only He knows both why and how creation occurred. I am reminded of God's reply to Job's questions: "...Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone, - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? ..." (Job 38:4-7, NIV). I'm sure our puny physical minds could not comprehend all of God's methods and acts of creation.
- Some thoughts while listening to Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat Major -
Last night, Colleen and I went to a Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra concert. The music was very good, and during the concert, I thought some about our discussion over lunch last Tuesday. Frank wanted to know how my view of God fit into all of this. I guess if we have fundamentally different views of God and His interaction with this physical world, then it will be difficult to "prove" anything scientifically. Many of my friends have told me that I am wasting my time talking with a creationist. They say that no matter what I say, the creationist will refuse to believe me. If it comes down to faith in a different set of presuppositions, then they may be correct. I pretty much went through the outline above with Frank, starting with the Doppler effect, tracing the Big Bang, and then back to the elements, and then talking about radioactive decay. He said that I was using circular reasoning, because I initially assumed the world was old. When I tried to tell him that I arrived at that supposition by astronomical evidence, he said that I was assuming that the rate of decay does not vary with time. That is true, but that is a testable assertion, within the realms of science. In fact, by using precise measurements made at linear accelerators, that assumption was tested and proven valid. If you really didn't want to believe it, you could "just say no", but then are we talking about science anymore? However, I think that Frank really was wanting to know, and he seemed to in general assume the same rational, orderly world and set of suppositions that I did. (While I'm think about it, Eddey & Johanson (see below) assert that Creationists do not adhere to "the Central Dogma" that DNA -> RNA -> Protein (p. 274); is this true?)
I guess what I'm getting at is that there are (at least) two different views of a "personal God", and how He interacts through the physical world. The creationist's view is that God steps in and "apparently" violates the laws of nature. (He certainly could if He wanted to, who am I to try and stop Him?). Actually, I guess the creationist believes that the Bible contains divinely inspired, scientific truth (e.g., Morris would say this, I'm sure). Thus the creationist believes that God created each species or "kind" directly, de novo. (Except man, which was "pottered" from clay.) They believe that God "held the sun still", and that there was a literal, world wide flood, and that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Unfortunately, these ideas are taken as articles of faith that "science" must then be construed to fit. This makes it difficult to construct an experiment which is falsifiable. In fact, why even do the experiment, when you already know the answer.
My view of science is that you don't already know the answer, but you are certainly free to assume that God exists and that He is the Creator. (You are also free to assume that He does not exist; it is a matter of personal faith.) For me, when I do an experiment, I am merely determining the physical reality that already exists. I believe that God created all physical (and non-physical) reality, but that I haven't been told how He did it. (I'm not sure I could understand it all, anyway.) Brewster claims that if confronted with creationism or evolutionary theory, Moses would most likely say, "whatever happened, that's how God did it". That's how I feel.
Frank had said that C.S. Lewis was also instrumental in his conversion (along with Josh McDowell & Henry Morris) to Christianity. I think I may have found some common intellectual ground here. Lewis was very instrumental in my clinging on to Christianity during college, and in fact he has been perhaps one of the greatest influences on my thinking about God. When I was an undergraduate, I began to realize that some of the theology that I had been taught and tried to adhere to simply was not working. I guess the biggest problem for me was this attitude that "God will provide". I learned very soon that the power (ability to do work) that was given to me was determined solely by the action of my free will. God would not act for me. If I wanted to get good grades and not flunk out of college, I needed to do the work; attending Bible studies and witnessing to people would not get me A's in Chemistry. This discovery, coupled with seemingly unanswered prayer and the realisation of Christianity's continual history of corruption led me to seriously doubt my faith. But C.S. Lewis was there through it all, helping me to accept a rational God (in an irrational world). I basically worked my way out of an almost total rejection of all the garbage that I'd been taught by the fundamentalists (e.g., "if you're righteous, then God will bless you, and you will have lots of money", or "Jesus turned the water into grape-juice, not wine - it says so in the Greek", or "man has 13 ribs, and woman has 14", etc.) - which left me very little to believe in, to a strong belief in God the Creator, and in Christ His Son. I guess there was a lot of theology that is pretty much the same for me now as what the fundies believe, but I've had to go through and sort and throw away a lot of junk. Because I had read C.S. Lewis before (and during) all of this, and having always believed strongly in a rational God, I could cling at least to that kernel of truth and then slowly build from there. (In fact, I so much like C.S. Lewis's writings that I have over 40 of his books). It was not until a few years ago that I stumbled across some of his writings about Science and Christianity, and I discovered that C.S. Lewis believed in (gasp!) Evolution (see below under Lewis). I found an interesting quote from Lewis of a dialogue with an atheist:
" ... 'Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists - anything "outside". How could you find that out simply studying Nature?'
'But don't we find out that Nature must work in an absolutely fixed way? I mean, the laws of Nature tell us not merely how things do happen, but how they must happen. No power could possibly alter them.'
'How do you mean?' said I.
'Look here,' said he. 'Could this "something outside" that you talk about make two and two five?'
'Well, no,' said I.
'All right,' said he. 'Well, I think the laws of Nature are really like two and two make four. The idea of their being altered is as absurd as the idea of altering the laws of arithmetic.'
'Half a moment,' said I. 'Suppose you put sixpence into a drawer today, and sixpence into the same drawer tomorrow. Do the laws of arithmetic make it certain you'll find a shilling's worth there the day after?'
'Of course,' said he, 'provided no one's been tampering with your drawer.'
'Ah, but there's the whole point,' said I. 'The laws of arithmetic can tell you what you'll find, with absolute certainty, provided that there's no interference. If a thief has been at the drawer of course you'll get a different result. But the thief won't have broken the laws of arithmetic - only the laws of England. Now aren't the laws of Nature much in the same boat? Don't they all tell you what will happen provided there's no interference?' . .. ."
If I do a scientific experiment, I assume (sometimes implicitly) that no one (or thing) is going to interfere with the experiment. Science can't have presuppositions that this miraculous event happened, so there must be "scientific evidence" to support it. I was pleased to find that Lewis had arrived at essentially the same view towards science as I had independently put together. Of course Lewis can express it from a much greater literary point of view than I. I think that perhaps the reason I started collecting so many books is that when I started reading C.S. Lewis in high school, I became aware of how illiterate I was (am). I go through stages when I'll read Lewis for a while, and then go on to other things, then think about something he said, pick up one of his books, and read some more. Every time I read him I see some more insight that I had missed before. I realize that it is nearly impossible to have a good grasp of European history and literature (especially and being a graduate student in Chemistry), but I have been slowly working away at it - it'll take me a lifetime - but that's O.K. Speaking of things that take a lifetime, I am slowly working on doing Manuscript studies of various books in the Bible. For example, in November I led a small group discussion on Ecclesiastes; I typed the whole book in, printed out copies (on normal 8½" x 11" paper) and then read through the entire "manuscript" and marked off different sections, looked for common themes, etc. This was started by a group in Albuquerque called the "Genesis sanction" because our first book was Genesis (actually the first 11 chapters). Maybe I should include that in this collection.
Anyway, getting back to the subject here, C.S. Lewis had a deep influence on me. Because of reading Lewis, I became interested in history, and wound up taking a course on Erasmus and Martin Luther. I was surprised to find myself in more agreement with Erasmus (a Catholic!) than Luther. Basically, I felt that I had to act of myself, and that certainly that act was by the grace of God, just as much as any breath I take is by the grace of God, but in the end I alone must act, and I am responsible for what I do. Luther seems to be saying that I have no choice but to let God "take over". "Christians, however, are not led by a free will, but are driven by the Spirit of God, as Romans 8, 14 tell us. To be driven is not to act or do oneself. But we are seized as a saw or an ax is handled by a carpenter . . ." I had been brought up on this theology, but could never quite get God to use me "as a saw or an ax". Either I was not predestined for this (which I have never really believed), or something was wrong somewhere. Out of necessity I have sided with Erasmus and have decided that I do in fact have a free will. I have also decided that (at least for a while until I can get my own life straightened out) I have my hands full worrying about my own relationship with God, and that I shouldn't worry about who around me is going to heaven or hell. They are responsible for themselves, also. (I don't take this to mean that I can absolve myself from any responsibility with regards to my actions; I just mean that if I am rightly related to God, then other people will see that.)
So what does all of this have to do with the creationism/evolution discussion? I got into this digression by saying that in a sense my God is less personal than the fundamentalist. My view is that I am free to study the physical laws of God's universe, free from any presupposition save that in the final analysis, the universe is God's rational creation. I am free to explore the age of the earth. I may get some number, and then later that turns out to be wrong. Fine. I do another experiment and get another number. But my faith does not hinge on science reporting back some explicit value given by divine revelation. In a sense, my view of God is more "free" than the creationists, in that I have a lot more latitude to work with. However, there is nothing that stops me from believing that God does answer prayer (I think He does) or that Christ was crucified, buried, and rose on the third day (I think He did), or that God created the world (I think He did). In a sense, my view of God is too big to really understand fully. I have decided that I can never fully understand God, so I shouldn't get too worried about trying to figure out how God can do everything. He does it, and I believe it, by faith. But it might seem that I'm contradicting myself when I argue that Evolution is merely God's way of creating life. To be honest - I don't know how God did it. I do know, however, that what the creationists are claiming to be "scientific evidence" is not true from a scientific point of view, and often it is based on false information, statements taken out of context, and/or the ignorance of the readers. To me, this does not sound like a good way to defend the Christian faith. They are internally inconsistent. The very scriptures they are trying to defend demands honesty.
My impression of the fundamentalist, (which is admittedly bias, but I was a fundie for the
first 25 years of my life), is that they claim God gave divine (scientific) revelation that is to be considered totally inerrant scientifically, and that science is conspiring to discredit religion. In my opinion, their view of God is more "personal", but God also begins to lose some of His size in that now it is possible for man to say He must have done it this way, because He clearly has told us. (I think they also tend to view their situations if life as if God is constantly testing them, and God often tells them to spend lots of money go in debt (on the new church, of course) and "don't worry about the poor", but that is another matter.) If in fact the "divine scientific revelation" were that clear, I might be tempted to go along with it. (One often hears arguments that scriptures are clear, its just that the people in the church are so hypocritical.) However, there are two reasons why I doubt this: 1. we don't have anything close to the original manuscripts. However, the creationists argue that the copies we do have are "completely without error", which brings me to 2. The Hebrew language was not capable of describing precise scientific terms that are claimed to be given. For example, the word "kind" is taken by Henry Morris and others to mean "species". Yet the Hebrew word for "kind" (meen, it is used 7 times in Genesis 1) most likely does not refer to the scientific "species" (coined in 1608, which means a "group or class of animals or plants (usually constituting a subdivision of a genus) having certain common and permanent characteristics which clearly distinguish it from other groups" (OED, p. 2949)).
Perhaps I could explain this a little better with a few examples. The first time the word "kind" is used in the Genesis account is in verse 11: "Then God said: 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so." I have heard people say this means like "oak trees, maple trees, etc., and that each kind therefore means species" (cp. the comments under Criswell's book below). First, there are more than 25,000 species of plants. I have no problem with God creating them all at once (He can do whatever He wants to). However, I do have problems with people confusing "oak trees" with an hypothetical "oak species". Oak trees belong to the genus Quercus, which contains about 450 different species. Did God create all 450 different species of Oak trees on the third day of creation (the day before He created the sun)? He certainly could have, and He might have, but if He did, many of those species became extinct and have since been "created" from other species of Oaks, right in front of our eyes. But there's no logical reason why that couldn't have happened. I guess there's no real philosophical problem here with the plants.
However, when you get to the animals, it starts getting a little difficult for Adam to sit there and name all 12,000,000 species of animals that was created, in less than one day (remember Adam was created in the afternoon, after all of the other animals). If Adam were to name 1 species every second, it would take him 139 (24 hour) days, non-stop, to name the 12 million species that are presently known. Some estimates are that there exists presently (and this is less than 1/100 of the total species that have existed) more than 100 million species, or nearly 10 times our present count! Thus to define "kind" as "species" can lead to serious logical problems. (Now we're talking about years just to name each species at a rate of one every second.) However, if one defines "kind" as family (and not species, like Criswell unknowingly did), now they admit changes from one species to another (e.g., evolution) occurs. Finally, nowhere in the creation story are bacteria, protozoa, or fungi (three of the five biological kingdoms) mentioned. Does this sound like a "divinely inspired scientific revelation" that fails to even mention 3/5ths of all life? (Actually, if you include Archaebacteria as a separate kingdom, you now have 4/6 or 2/3rds of all life being excluded from scripture.) I guess what I'm saying is just that the creationists can't have it both ways -if they want "kind" to mean something very broad, then they have to admit that evolution has occurred among what they would call "subtypes" (e.g., species); if they want "kind" to take on a true scientific meaning of "species", then evolution of the species can be and has been demonstrated. (I have watched one species of bacteria "evolve" into another, through induced mutation and selection.) In both cases, (e.g., whether "kinds" or "species" change) the same phenomena (evolution) are observed, the only difference is one of semantics.
I should also mention here that Francis Schaeffer (see below) was also inspiration and influential in my thinking, and once again I was surprised to find that he believed in the "Big Bang", and actually put down in his book, Genesis, hints that Abraham might be a Neanderthal At least Schaeffer can see that current scientific cosmology is actually more supportive of a Christian interpretation of Creation than the older Newtonian mechanical view. To me, this is a very nice example of how science, in pursuit of the truth, has actually changed positions to an understanding much closer to Scripture. I should think that the creationist would be very pleased to see science advocating the creation of the universe at a distinct point in time. Instead, all the creationist do is grumble about how the "evil scientists are trying to dupe us into believing that the earth is old, in order to promote atheistic materialism". I'm not for "atheistic materialism", but I'm also embarrassed by the ad ignorantia reasoning so often found in the creationist literature (propoganda). If I know the truth (Christ) and the Truth shall set me free, why should I appeal to ignorance? It seems to me to be dishonest in order to prove a "theological point" makes a sham of the very same theology that one is trying to "protect". I certainly am not saying that Christians should avoid discussing scientific issues, or that all Christians should get their PhD's in molecular biology. However, I do think it is important for Christians to be as honest as possible when claiming to have "scientific authority". I guess the blatant dishonest and the hope that most people are ignorant enough not to know is what bothers me most about the creationist's literature. For example, when Morris refers to the age of the oceans as calculated by scientists, he uses the accumulation of sodium as a measure of the age. However, he "forgets" to mention that the table from which he quotes clearly states: 1. that the "years" is residency time, not to be confused with age, and 2. gives residency time for nearly 100 other elements, with "lifetimes" ranging from a few years to 28 billion years! This table was never meant to be used to estimate the age of the ocean, and to claim that it does is in my opinion being dishonest.
I finished reading BLUEPRINTS - Solving the Mystery of Evolution by Eddey and Johanson a few days ago. The book starts out with a conversation between the authors about evolution vs. creationism:
" 'Do you realize', said Don, 'that nearly half the people in the United States don't believe in evolution? . . . What bothers me is that some people try to make science selective. You can't do that. You can't accept one part of science because it brings you good things like electricity and penicillin and throw away another part because it brings you some ideas you don't like about the origin of life.'
'You're talking about Creationism.'
'I am. How can so many people in this country, supposedly brought up to think scientifically, to do experiments in school and college, admire and reward its doctors, it astronomers and biologists - how can they honestly believe in the sudden creation of life on earth? How can they believe that it all happened in a flash less than ten thousand years ago?'
'Because it's in the Bible. A lot of people take the Bible literally.'
'Yes, but - '
'There are people in this country, people who have gone through high school and college, who think the earth is flat.'
' They do. There's an active Flat Earth Society here in the United States. They can find statements in the Bible to back them up.'
'That's not the way they should read the Bible', said Don. 'By the way, which version of the Bible are they reading? . . .'
' . . .Creationists not only believe firmly in the Adam-and-Eve version of life's start, but they actively try to suppress any competing scientific version of it. Try finding a good course on evolution in a Bible Belt high school Look at some of the biology books being handed out there. Evolution isn't even mentioned.'"
So the authors decided to write a book about evolution to enlighten (?) the masses.
"For practical purposes, the story begins about two hundred years ago, with the beginnings of modern science. It builds on the discoveries and insights of scores of people. It has been fiercely argued all along the way. Today its general outlines are accepted by all respectable scientists. They still fight over the details, but the grand scheme seems firmly locked in place - for everyone except the Creationists, who, in the face of a Himalaya of evidence, still deny the possibility of evolution.
"That denial is not only a pity but also a danger, for out knowledge has progressed to a point where we can begin thinking about directing our own evolution through genetic engineering. Starting about now, we will increasingly be in a position to decide what we ourselves will be like. Armed with that power, shouldn't we understand the process? Shouldn't we know something about its history, its potential? Don and I think so. For if we don't understand evolution, how can be possibly deal with it? That is why Don and I decided to write this book. If we can open up just a few minds we will be rewarded." (pages 3-4)
I agree with this conclusion. If the religious community doesn't even acknowledge such technology exists (indeed they deny it and equate its principles with atheism) how can they provide any (necessary and important) moral advice or guidance?
So where's this "Himalaya of evidence?" You have to remember the author of this book is a paleontologist. I think that for the past 150 years, the tonnage of fossils accumulating in museums has given much evidence for evolution. But also, an exponentially growing amount of evidence appears to be coming from (gulp) molecular genetics (my chosen profession). I was surprised to find that about one-half of the book dealt with genetics. Edey & Johanson spend the first hundred or so pages with a historical background including Darwin and his Origins. (Actually, most of the book is built around the chronological progression of ideas about variation (e.g., genetics).) Next comes Mendel. Mendel actually was a contemporary of Darwin, but due to his obscurity (he was a poor Czech monk) was not "discovered" until around the turn of the century. Then, Weismann discovers that chromosomes might be associated with hereditary. This sets the stage for T.H. Morgan, who actually showed that Drosophila (fruit fly) chromosomes do contain genetic information. The history of genetics continues with the discovery (in the 1930's) of "the transforming principle" (DNA), and then the elucidation of its structure (in the 1950's by Watson & Crick). Next comes the "cracking of the genetic code" (how does DNA code for proteins?), and finally a brief introduction into genetic engineering. In a chapter on the chemical evolution of life, creationism is discussed as a possibility:
"First, there is belief in divine Creation: God did it. If that is so, there is no point in trying to investigate further. What God did is a matter of faith and not for scientific inquiry. The two fields are separate. If our scientific inquiry should lead eventually to God, to questions so large that they cannot be examined coherently, that will be the time to stop science. But we have not yet reached that point. There are many things for us yet to learn, so we may as well continue.
"Indeed, if we truly believe God, we should recognise that He gave us brains to conduct scientific research. Not to do so - not to use the marvellous gift of intelligence with which He has endowed us - would seem to be disrespectful of God. My own belief, which Don shares, is that people who narrowly deny the findings of science do not understand God and do not truly love Him. It is possible to love God and to practice science. That is what so-called scientific Creationists seem unable to do. They substitute dogma for science. They pervert science by insisting that the earth is only about ten thousand years old and by denying the existence of fossils. They wind up with an ugly and pinched view of the world, of life, and ultimately of God Himself." (page 291).
This is in interesting contrast to the view advocated by Dawkins (see above). I think that Edey & Johanson (they also wrote the book LUCY: The Beginnings of Humankind) have clearly stated their own belief in God, while stepping outside their description of science. Had it not been for this comment about the creationists, it is possible that one could assume they were "atheistic evolutionists". I think that ideally (and actually this happens most of the time) one should not be able to detect any religious point of view in scientific writing. However, at the same time, I also think that it is very wrong to assume that because such a view is not stated, that "most scientists don't believe in God". My own feeling, having been in the (academic) scientific community for more than 10 years, is that in fact most scientists do believe in God. However, nearly all scientists are quick to ridicule the creationists, not because they (the creationists) believe in God, but because of the lack of scientific approach (and appeal to ignorance) that the creationists employ.
I also found an interesting quote in light of our lunch discussion about geology. (Something which I'm not really qualified to talk about.)
"Dart had said that the Taung Child was a million years old. Broom could neither confirm nor deny that. All the South African fossils came from caves. They were embedded in a mixture of sand and pebbles cemented by limestone into a rock known as breccia. It is impossible to date breccia. It is like a pudding whose ingredients have come from places at different times and are now all mixed up. Even crude attempts to date hominid fossils in breccia by associating them with adjacent mammal fossils are questionable. An antelope may have fallen into a cave at an entirely different time from that of the arrival of an australopithecine. Thus the best that could be said of the australopithecines was that they were old; nearly all the mammals found in caves with them were extinct species." (pages 332-333)
The point I want to make here is that it doesn't sound like they are using this crazy dating system Frank alluded to last Tuesday. It sounds as if they are in fact very concerned about obtaining an accurate estimate of the date, and realize some of the shortcomings (as any scientist should do). I have thought some about Frank's assertion that you must first tell them where you found the rock, and approximately how old you think it is, before a geologist will date the rock for you. He said that creationists had given the same rock to 5 different geologists, (and told them different initial dates), and obtained 5 widely different dates. This is not surprising if they were using radioactive techniques to date the rocks. As I told Frank, there are different isotopes with different half-lives that can be used to determine the age of a rock. I find it readily believable that a scientists might want to know the approximate age of the rock, so he can decide which isotope to use. For example,
87Rb -> 87Sr 4,880,000,000 years half life
40K -> 40Ar 1,250,000,000 years half life
135Cs -> 135Ba 3,000,000 years half life
14C -> 14N 5,700 years half life
89Sr -> 89Y 51 days half life
153Sm -> 153Eu 47 hrs. t½
These rates for beta decay (emission of a ß- particle) have been measured in the laboratory, and have been found to be accurate. Actually, this part I do understand somewhat - it's just basic chemistry. (Just because I can throw up a chart of radioactive decay doesn't mean that I know any geology.) Now suppose you wanted to know how old a sample is. If you had no idea, then you might first do a compositional analysis, and determine which elements are present, and in what amounts. Then you would have to do a very tedious analysis of the various isotopes of all of the elements found (or at any rate a large number. All of the chemical elements on the periodic chart (and even ones not listed on older charts) can form unstable isotopes that will decay at a given rate. The trick is, some occur naturally, and have been decaying since they were created. Let's say we have a sample rock we think might be only a few hours old. (Maybe it's still warm from where I picked it up from a volcano.) Then the ideal choice from the above list would be Samarium 153, which has a half life of less than 2 days. By measuring the amount of samarium-153 and the amount of europium153, we might be able to determine how long it has been since all of the samarium was samarium 153, and there was no europium 153. Anyway, what I'm getting at is you could measure the age of the rock by looking at the relative amounts of isotope. Knowing the approximate age would help immensely, since you would have a better idea which isotope to use. Thus, when a creationist sends a billion year rock to a geologist for him "to measure the age", and tells him it is only 20,000 years old, the poor geologist, unless he is very careful, is likely to use an isotope that will give erroneous information. If on the other hand, the creationist were to be honest and tell the geologist "I don't know how old this rock is", then the geologist would have his work cut out for him, but he most like could come up with an age for the rock, and that age would probably be similar to the date any other geologist would say. Even using 14C decay, which is tricky because of the small amounts of 14C. Still, a sample 40,000 years old can be dated with 14C to an accuracy of 5%. That's not bad, considering ideally you would not want to push it very far past the half-life (e.g., 5700 years).
I guess what I'm saying is that
I don't understand the creationists problem with radioactive dating. Sure,
sometimes things get dated wrong, but that is exceptions to a generally
reliable technique. I would equally have a hard time with someone who wanted
to throw out the theory of gravity because one particular balance gave
an inaccurate mass of a pencil.
- Some final thoughts before becoming a hermit again -
My boss had given me some time off during Christmas (and shortly thereafter), and I have successfully wasted it working on this file. But now, it is time to get back to work as a graduate student (70-80 hours a week). I promised my sister I was going to enclose a copy of this in a letter, and that was on Sunday (today is Wednesday - the 15th - the "deadline" for poor old Sadaam & myself) and I am also going to give a copy to Faith (and Jonathan) and Frank. As I told Frank, I could talk about this stuff for a very long period of time. But alas, other things call, like writing papers so I can graduate and get a real job. One last thing - I did finish Science Held Hostage - which Jonathan had said he had also read. I'm now ready to discuss the "dusty moon" chapter (as well as Life, the Universe, the war in the Gulf, etc.)
I've read some more books, had another "debate" with Frank, and thought some more about creationism and evolution. In Jan/Feb. I read Robert Shapiro's ORIGINS - A Skeptics Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth. I also finished off Bill Moyer's A World of Ideas, which had a few interesting interviews that dealt with the creationism/evolution question.
I had a debate with Frank in
April (he moved to California in May; the debate was on 22 April, 1991,
and was limited to the topic of the age of the earth). Jonathan (the pastor)
started off by saying that he had no strong bias toward either side, and
that he really thought the issue was minor to Christianity; he stated that
his theology starts with the resurrection, and works from there. (I remember
him saying that the best way to know God was through Christ, and that this
could best be approached by studying the resurrection.) Jonathan said that
he would let Frank give his evidences for a young earth, followed by a
rebuttal from me. Then, I could present evidences for an old earth, and
Frank could rebut me. Frank started off by mentioning the following points,
taken mainly from a book I'll have to add to my collection (if I ever can
find it and have the money).
|1. All radiometric dating
is variable, there is no standard ruler . . .
2. The whole [scientific] dating approach is flawed in that it uses circular reasoning; there is no consistent ruler.
3. The alleged geological column (which assumes 3 mm/year) is challenged by Mt. St. Helens.
At this point, Jonathan interrupted
and told Frank that all he had heard so far was attacks against the concept
of an old earth, and that while this would be fine for Frank to present
when he rebuts my points, we were interested in hearing evidence in
favor of a young earth. Frank became upset, and complained that he
"didn't know that this was what would be expected", and he "hadn't brought
all of the mountain of evidence in support of a young earth." Eventually,
we agreed to let Frank start again, this time presenting evidence in favor
of a young earth. He had 6 points:
|Frank's argument||Dave's response|
|1. The amount of
salt in the ocean is consistent with a young earth. "If the sea had
no sodium to start with, it would have accumulated its present amount in
less than 42 million years at today's input and output rates. This is much
less than the evolutionary age of the universe of 3 billion years." (This
corresponds to pt. # 5 in Humphrey's handout.)
2. The comets disintegrate too quickly. This argument went something like this: if comets loose a small amount of their mass each time they pass the sun, and they have been doing this for billions of years, then they would have originally had to have been unrealistically large in mass. I didn't fully understand this argument, but apparently neither did Frank nor anyone else. (This was Humphrey's pt. #2).
3. The earth's magnetic field is decaying too fast. The earth's magnetic field would simply be too strong to support life, starting at about 10,000 years ago (a convenient number). In Humphrey's handout, there is even a graph showing the energy (in Joules) vs. "years before present", and the "maximum energy" is about 8800 years ago, using a straight extrapolation, and about 6000 years ago if one includes a spike immediately following the flood. (Humphrey's pt. #6.)
|1. This assumes uniformatarianism,
something which the creationist try to avoid. Secondly, the age of 40 million
years is nearly 100 times longer than the 6000 year old age of the
earth they advocate. Third, according to Van Till (Science Held Hostage),
the age of the ocean as determined by the residency times for different
elements varies from a few hundred days to more than 20 billion years old.
The problem is confusing residency time with the age of the ocean.
2. I really was caught by surprise
by this one. My response was essentially that the age of the universe was
not determined by the age of comets, and they could certainly be relatively
3. If one accepts that the earth's magnetic field flips every 50,000 years or so, then it should not be surprised that the intensity of the magnetic field is declining. This reversal of the magnetic field has actually been observed in geological digs. In fact, one of the hot research areas in geology is to use the orientation and strength of the magnetic field in rocks (e.g., with iron or other ferromagnetic material) to date them. The numbers come up reproducibly close to that of radioactive dating (i.e., +/- 0.1%).
|Frank's argument||Dave's response|
|4. Fossils are only formed
rapidly. Fossils are formed presumably by cataclysmic events. No one
has seen a fossil form. "Show me where fossils form slowly."
5. Mt. St. Helens provides
evidence for quick formation of geological features.
The "bias events in this is remote". Frank says there is evidence on tape
of the following: A wall of mud 90 feet high flowed toward Spirit Lake,
and left a huge 90 ft. thick layer of deposition. Days later, another stream
of mud cut through the first, and the end result was a 1/40th scale model
of the Grand Canyon. One would expect to find the layer homogeneous. However,
thousand of layers were observed, obviously not sedimentary, because we
have it on videotape. The mud cut with such intensities that you get swirls,
etc., and find cloth that had become fossilized. Temperature and pressure
determined the "age" of the rock rather than the age.
6. The dust on the moon is only a few inches thick, consistent with a recent creation of the moon (and earth).
|4. I agree that fossils can
form rapidly; for example see Stephen J. Gold's It's a Wonderful Life.
However, sometimes fossilization occurs slowly, as seen in Big Bone Lick
State Park, which is a few miles from here (in Florence, Kentucky). The
problem is not in the rate of fossilization, but in the rate of sedimentation.
5. I agree that everything Frank
says happened in the tape is true. However, I also think that dating methods
(even by "blind observers", who have no idea of the recentness of the sediments)
will consistently date this as a recent event. Frank agreed with me on
this point, although later he apparently forgot this. I also pointed out
that he had just said a few minutes ago "No one has seen a fossil form"
(pt. #4), and now he claims to have videotape evidence of a fossil being
formed. I believe the latter (that fossils can be observed being
formed), and not the former.
6. This was one of Jonathan's questions from when we ate pizza a few months ago. Fortunately, this time I was prepared. It turns out that in fact the "moon dust" was actually 2 to 3 meters deep, and not just a few cm thick, as reported by the astronauts when they landed on the moon. This was based on core samples drilled at various locations near the landing. Most of the "dust" had formed a hard sediment, thus leaving the appearance of only a few inches of moon dust.
When I finished giving my rebuttals, Jonathan said that he thought that the Mt. St. Helens evidence was the only solid point in Frank's favor, and that he gave Frank the point about the comets out of default. After the debate, I agreed to look up the references for the "comet theory", and Frank would provide me with documentation for the Mt. St. Helens data. After the debate, (a week or so later), I looked up the article that allegedly provided the basis for the comet argument, and was frustrated (but not too surprised) to find that while the article did discuss the origin of comets, it made no mention whatsoever of the age of comets, whether they might be old or young, or whether one would expect them to be old or young. It is interesting to note that the article points to "recent observations" indicating the "similar composition of comets and the interstellar medium" (page 18). In other words, comets could easily be formed from the existing material in the interstellar medium, and there is no reason to assert that comets must have the same age as the universe; furthermore, the origin of comets does not seem that unreasonable.
So the score was: Frank had
convinced Jonathan on 2 out of his 6 points (one was by default). I came
up with 6 points of my own, and I managed to convince Jonathan for 5 of
the 6 points, and the only one in question was held until Frank could produce
his supporting documentation at a later date. (Which he hasn't yet, as
of 4 months later.) I started with the accumulation of moon dust, where
Frank had left off, and tried to work my way forward. I think that the
second point (the expanding universe) is one of the more compelling. Radiometric
dating is what classically change the mind of many scientists in the early
part of this century, but I pointed out that there was compelling evidence
apart from that. (It seemed from Frank's introduction that most of his
attacks would be on this point, so I simply tried to present as straightforward
a picture as I could of what the data typically looks like with current
dating methods: +/- 0.1%. The creationists were inconsistent in citing
Lord Kelvin as a "young earther", since his estimation of the age of the
earth was in millions of years - at the time he pointed out that
it wasn't long enough for Darwin's evolution to occur, but it is also significantly
longer than the current 6000 to 10,000 years advocated by the creationists.
Incidentally, there are several different dating methods known about since
the turn of the century that point to an age of the earth of greater than
10,000 years, such as grooves left by glaciation, and tree rings. The last
point I made was actually suggested by Jonathan, and is basically more
philosophical than it is scientific. My points were as follows:
|Dave's argument||Frank's response|
|1. The accumulation of dust
on the moon is consistent with an old moon (and earth). I decided to
use this as an argument for an old earth.
2. The expansion of the universe implies a point in time when the universe was created, ex nihlo, about 15 billion years ago. This is based mainly on the Doppler shift observations made about 30 years ago, but it has also been confirmed by many other observations, such as the detection and measurement of gravity waves. I stressed that this is totally independent of radiometric dating.
3. Radiometric dating points to an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old. Here I presented evidence from a few recent articles from recent geological journals, showing that various rocks and areas could be dated using several different isotopic methods, to within 0.1%. For example, one region in Alaska had rocks that averaged 2.34 billion years +/- 0.02 billion years old.
|1. Scientists concocted this
story after the fact in order to fit into their pre-conceived (atheistic)
ideas about the nature of the universe.)
2. The earth is unique. What is the odds of this occurring by random chance?
something about retrograde motion (I didn't catch all of this, and I couldn't get Frank to clarify.)
Galaxies wind themselves up
too fast (this is pt. # 1 from Humphreys).
3. "Some guy buried his cow, and an archaeologist comes along and digs it up and claims that it is 10,000 years old."
problems of variability in dating.
can be off by 10 million years.
|Dave's argument||Frank's response|
|4. Lord Kelvin predicted
the age of the earth to be 100,000,000 years old. This is significant
in that Henry Morris sites Lord Kelvin as a "creationist" in his book The
BIBLICAL BASIS FOR SCIENCE. And yet, when Kelvin worked out the age
of the earth, based on thermal decay of the earth's core, he arrived at
a number of about 100,000,000 years. This figure is now known to be low
because he failed to take into account radioactive decay.
5. Tree rings, natural coves, and glaciation all provide records of more than 10,000 years of geological activity. One of the advantages of reading Brewster's book (see above) is that I became aware of many evidences that pointed to an older earth, even before radiometric dating was discovered.
6. Light coming from the stars would have to have been created in transit if the earth was created 10,000 years ago. This argument is based on the observation that it takes light millions (and billions) of years to reach us from the stars. For example, while the center of the Milky Way galaxy is a mere 30,000 light years from earth, it takes light more than 2,000,000 years to reach us from the spiral galaxy M31 (in the Andromeda constellation).
4. Kelvin was wrong!
Example of peeling potatoes
- "Suppose you walked into a room, and you saw a bunch of peeled potatoes,
and I was peeling one at the time. For you to conclude how long I have
been peeling these potatoes, you must make certain key assumptions: 1.
what were the initial conditions? 2. what was the rate? 3. was that rate
5. The ages are still relatively young - 20,000 years is much closer to 10,000 than it is to 5,000,000,000! (He had a valid point here, although I was trying to
point out problems with a literal
interpretation of the scriptural account.)
6. At this point, Frank said God could have created the light beams in transit, without any problem. I agreed. Then I said that God could have created the entire world yesterday, including our memories, but would we have scientific evidence for this?
At this point, Frank wanted
to know what possible reason God could have had for taking such a long
time to create life on earth. I told him that this discussion was supposed
to be based on scientific evidence, and that theological questions could
be discussed later. But he pressed on - why would God want to use
such a cruel and long process as evolution? I said that this gets back
to the basic problem of why is there evil in the world, and that there
are several explanations for why God allows evil, but I haven't found any
to be completely satisfying. I think perhaps the most compelling argument
I've heard is that God allows the possibility of evil in order for us to
have a free will. That still doesn't explain "why bad things happen to
good people" (or as I sometimes say, "why good things happen to bad people").
There are certainly "acts of nature" which appear random, and can often
be "evil". (It's a cruel world.) I told Frank that I really didn't know
why God would create the world the way He did, but that really wasn't
part of the discussion. Around this time Jonathan intervened and told Frank
that I was still struggling with how to fit this all together from a theological
point of view, and that from his perspective, the important thing was belief
in God, and in the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Frank seemed
very concerned about how I could possibly view a God who "wasted His time,
sitting around, letting this tortuous process of evolution occur". Frank
got mad at Jonathan, and accused him of being "biased against a young earth".
Jonathan said that he had come into this discussion not really sure which
side he believed in, and that it seemed there was evidence for an old earth.
He also said that he wouldn't have any problem with a young earth, and
that it would actually be easier to mesh with his theology. I was very
pleased to hear this, because that's pretty much how I feel. I guess I
was taught that you should look at the facts, and be willing to try and
assimilate these facts with your theological views. I believe that there
is some Truth out there, and that the "truth" does not depend on our perception
of it - in fact we sometimes discover it by accident. (This might sound
strange, but I know of people who believe that the existence of "reality"
or "truth" depends on one's perception of it.) I left the debate feeling
that maybe I hadn't completely wasted the afternoon after all.
A few days ago (around 14-Jun-91, or a month ago, now) I finished Why I Believe in a Personal God, by William Carey. This book was mailed to me from Jeannette Ford (my brother-in-law's mom). Carey makes some points that I just touched on above about the problem of evil. "Where is God, people say, when thousands die suddenly in a volcanic disaster or are swept away in a flood? . . . Nevertheless, the problem of pain and evil remains as the greatest obstacle facing the person who sincerely wants to be a believer. Yet, we have to ask, how much of this problem goes back to a mindset that already assumed that God is absent?" (page 17) He then goes on (in Chapter 3) to argue that in fact the presence of evil is so obvious against a backdrop of good or "normal". For example, it is a tragedy for a young person to die, because most young people don't die and often continue to live a productive life until they reach "old age" (e.g., three-score and ten years). I have to admit that I agree that there does exist a lot of good in this world, although sometimes it seems that evil is easier to see. ("Gott ist raffiniert, aber boschaft ist er nicht!" says Einstein.)
I decided to add this book to
the collection since Carey is saying some of the same things that the scientists
are saying on the one hand, and yet he is saying some of the same things
theologically that the creationists are saying. I found myself agreeing
with most of the book, although I instinctively cringed when he started
quoting from Hoyle's arguments about the odds of a single protein evolving
(5x1019) by random chance. (I think this is a little deceiving
since most scientist would argue that proteins don't "evolve", genes do,
and that a few basic prototypes of genes (nucleic acids) have evolved
by selective pressure, and not blind chance; the odds here are a much more
believable 1x107) However, he doesn't really make a sensationalist
argument about it like the typical creationist does (e.g., see any book
by H.Morris). Carey continues: "Whatever we might think about Hoyle's explanation
of intelligent life, central to his point is the conviction that there
are strong grounds for believing that the universe is intelligent and information
rich, and it is no accident that humanity has an intelligence that is consonant
with that of the universe, which is our home." I fully agree with him here,
and I'm back on track again. From here, Carey argues that it is human nature
to "sense morality", and that evil is obvious because of so much good as
a background. He concludes the book by saying that, while there is a lot
of problems with the church, there is also much good in it. I guess that's
why I still go to church. I firmly believe that I should try and be responsible
to those around me, by helping to give to the poor, and showing people
I care. However, presently, I am struggling with how personal of a God
I have. Colleen and I have discussed this from time to time, about whether
God really cares about what happens in our lives, and if He does,
then why doesn't he help. I guess I have a strong sense of transcendence,
but I'm also "burned out" by the fundamentalist idea of God that will do
everything for me. If I wind up having to do everything for myself, then
why do I need God?
The last entry in Cincinnati 21-Sep-91
In less than a week I will be moving from Cincinnati to Houston. I decided to make one last entry before I move. I am typing this as the bibliography part (the list of all the books) is being printed - it is now more than 50 pages - I have several hundred books. I am making a copy for Sharon from our Sunday School class at church - we are studying the book of Genesis. Tomorrow we will discuss the "second creation story". This has been attributed to "the book of J". I will have to try and get the book by Harold Bloom by that title.
A few weeks ago, when we first
started the Genesis study, we talked about whether anyone had any problems
with the apparent conflict between Genesis and evolution. I think I was
the only one there that thought there was a serious conflict. Most of the
rest had decided that God had used evolution to create life. I suppose
that's good. I think that moving to Texas will put me much closer to some
of the controversy in that there is a creationist "museum" between Houston
and Dallas. I will have to go there sometime with Dan Ford (my brother-in-law).
Some thoughts on new-years' eve in Houston 31-Dec-91
I have finished the "Book of J". (See more comments under "Bloom" in the bibliography.) The book of J is alleged to be the first fragment of the Pentateuch, written by an author(s) who refers to God as Jehovah, or "Yahweh". Bloom dates the writing of this to about 920 B.C. He also builds a case that "J", the author, was a woman living "at or nearby the court of Solomon's son and successor, King Rehoboam of Judah, under whom his father's kingdom fell apart soon after the death of Solomon in 922 B.C." (page 9).
The other day, on the way to work, a car recklessly pulled in front of us. There was a bumper sticker that said "Our God Reigns". Colleen said, "Maybe that's why we have been having so much rain recently." I told her that I was reminded of J, who according to Rosenberg & Bloom constantly played upon words. "When I began this work, the first certainty to learn was that J would not use a phrase, not a single word, without playing upon it, sometimes in the same sentence, sometimes in the next." (from Appendix A, "notes on translation", page 325) I told a friend of mine that if any of the fundamentalists actually read the book of J, it might be branded as heresy (I wonder if Harold Bloom might not become an American equivalent of Salmon Rushdie). That was before I had read the "after commentary" section.
". . .Whatever J was trying to do for herself, as a person or as author, by writing her scrolls, she hardly offered her work as avodah. By normative standards, Jewish or Christian, J's portrayal of Yahweh is blasphemy. There is no anxiety of portrayal on J's part where Yahweh is concerned. Rather like a Shakespearean character who runs off the page into our lives, J's Yahweh has the largeness and vividness of a being free of inhibitions, at least in the beginning. . . . Whatever J is, she does not write religion in the great burst of originality that led her to begin with the creation of Adam by Yahweh. The scandal of her work always was and still is a Yahweh at once human-all-too-human and totally incommensurate with the human. I suggest that this was a deliberate scandal, though of a high-spirited, comic kind. . . Believers - whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim - prefer an invisible Yahweh above the clouds, a kind of troublesome but remote gaseous vapor, or failing that, a tyrant suitably enthroned. J's lively Yahweh commences as a mischief-maker and develops into an intensely nervous leader of an unruly rabble of Wilderness wanderers. . ." (pages 280-281).
If it is really true that the fragment of J existed first, and then was revised several times before becoming the Pentateuch, then again before becoming the Torah, and again before becoming the first five books of the Christian Old Testament, then which manuscript should the fundamentalist believe is divinely inspired? All of them? What about parts of earlier versions that were omitted be editors? Were these sections not inspired? If in fact it can be documented that there was an original "J manuscript" which was edited later by E (for "Elohim", P (for the Priestly author/school), D (who wrote Deuteronomy), and then finally revised by R (Redactor) after the return from the Babylonian Exile, - if historical evidence for this (maybe from the Dead Sea Scrolls?) can be found - this would seem to undermine the basic assumption of the Creationist movement: The Genesis account as we have it was handed down, inspired ver batum from God. If the account which is supposedly scientifically accurate and contains "eternal truth" is found to change drastically with time, then perhaps rational people are justified in rejecting Creationism as a myth. The problem is, the Creationists have set themselves up with a lovely dilemma: you can't dismiss "Creation Science" without dismissing God. I don't think that's true, and it would be very unfortunate if people became atheists because they can't accept some silly Creationists understanding of the way the world was made.
The book of J begins at Genesis 2:5 (this is sometimes referred to as the "second account of the Creation"). It is interesting that the first chapter of Genesis, with the six days, is missing. This was supposedly added later by the "Priestly" author(s).
". . . What we can see for certain
is how radically P departed from J in the Creation that now forms the first
chapter of Genesis. P gives us the cosmological harvest festival, a great
autumnal redemption that has in it overtones of both the miracle of the
Red Sea and the Return from Exile in Babylon. It is appropriate, then,
that the Egyptian and Babylonian waters recede in the Creation, and that
the dry land be emblematic of the land of Israel. J, who did not take the
crossing of the Red Sea too seriously, and who lived long before the Babylonian
Exile, sets her landscape in the dry wilderness and gives us a first spring
in which Yahweh's will-to-life rises as a mist, allowing a garden to be
planted. P's sublime Creation is a cosmos; J's gentle irony is content
with an oasis." (page 293).
4 January, 1992
I read an article in the New York Times today about the Oxford Dictionary of New Words. "Fundies" (for fundamentalists) is now a word sanctioned by the OED. The article was in the "Beliefs" section of the paper, and the author made the observation that out of approximately 2000 new words, "probably less than 10 have to do with religion, ethics, or systems of belief." This could be due to "a healthy traditionalism" or to the fact that religion has a greatly diminished influence on a secular society.
However, it is interesting in this line of thought, that the cover of U.S. News & World Report recently (23 December, 1991) was from a picture of the "Creation of Man" from Michelengo's Sistene Chapel. Inside, there was an eight page article about Creationism and Evolution. According to a Gallup pole published in this article, 47% of all Americans believe that "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the past 10,000 years". Another 40% believed that "Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation". Only a puny 9% believed that "Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God played no part in this process." The remaining 4% that's not accounted for opted for the "I don't know" category. I suppose that I would put myself into the second category - that man evolved, but that God was there directing. So the results are, according to this survey, that 87% of the people surveyed believed that God created man, with slightly more than half (the 47%) believing that this act of Creation was an instantaneous event occurring within the past 10,000 years. The article talks about how people on both sides are trying to bridge the gap. There are quotations from Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, Carl Sagan, and Charles Darwin. However, there is also a quote from Henry F. Schaeffer:
"The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something and saying to myself, 'So that's how God did it'. My goal is to understand a little corner of God's plan." (page 62).
I haven't heard of Henry Schaeffer
yet, although the article says is "a quantum chemist and five-time nominee
for the Nobel Prize". I will have to look to see if he has published any
books (or articles) on the subject of creation. I think it is overall a
fairly well written article, although I'm not convinced that there has
been any large movement to reconcile the two sides. I also was interested
to read about the American Scientific Affiliation, a scientific
society of about 2300 members who identify themselves as evangelical Christians
who reject literal creationism.
6 April, 1992
For our anniversary (22 March) we went to San Marcos (Texas) this year. I found a book factory warehouse, and I picked up (yet) another book for my collection. This book is entitled "Creationism on Trial - Evolution and God at Little Rock", by Langdon Gilkey. I finished reading it a few days ago. Gilkey is a theologian who testified on behalf of "evolutionary science" (or at any rate against creationism) at the Arkansas creationist trial in Little Rock, in December of 1981. (Governor Bill Clinton had just been elected for his second term as governor; presently he is the contender for the Democratic presidential candidate.) Gilkey said many things that I had already thought about and generally arrived at the same conclusions. However, he is writing as a theologian, and his understanding of the broader implications are much clearer than mine. It was a very good feeling to read this book and feel like he was making some sense of all of my meandering arguments. In a nutshell, Gilkey says that creation science is bad science and bad religion. He pointed out that most of the people testifying at the trial (in defence of evolution) were ordained ministers while most of the people testifying on behalf of creation science were scientists.
While I was reading this book about the "Creationism Trial" in 1982 in Little Rock, I often thought about a similar trial that took place 4 years later before the Supreme Court. This time it was a Louisiana law that required the teaching of "creation science" in any high school that teaches "evolution". While I am certainly glad that the court ruled in favour of striking down the law, I was bothered by the scathing minority opinion, written by Antonio Scalia. The minority opinion (which was longer than the majority report) accused scientists of trying to "dupe the American people into believing Atheism". As Gilkey so clearly points out, Protestant (and Catholic) theologians have dealt with this question nearly 100 years ago, and believe that science can tell us about the physical world, but has certain limits, while religion can tell us about the spiritual world, which includes (among other things) why we were created, how to get along with each other, and other questions that are out of the realm of science. Sometimes it is frightening to think that some of the intellectual Supreme Court Justices are not aware of this.
While I feel good about everything Gilkey has to say, I still am somewhat bothered by some of the things that science is beginning to deal with. I guess the most obvious example is Dawkin's book "The Blind Watchmaker", where he sets out to prove that life has evolved through random processes, and that "if there is a Creator, then he must use blind chance to create life". I suppose that on the one hand, science left to itself has to go as far as it can in explaining the physical universe in terms of preceding physical events. However, I cannot help but believe that life is not an accident or the result of blind chance. I guess that the good thing about what Gilkey is saying is that I don't have to reconcile the two - science has its realm, and religion has its area. It is not that the two don't ever meet or have anything to do with each other, but that you can't prove religion using science, nor can you use science as a basis to derive religion.
At one point, Gilkey says that every time a high school student comes home and tells his parents that they learned that science "proved that the Bible was wrong and God didn't create life", another two creationists are made. I think he makes a good point in that some of the creationist movement does come from a reaction to scientists trying to push their religion within a scientific pretext. I am presently reading another book for this collection on extinction - this afternoon I came across a passage that is characteristic of this idea:
"I should emphasise that extinction is still a very small, cottage industry. It has none of the trappings of big science - nothing comparable to the Supercollider or the Human Genome Project of the Hubble Space Telescope. Yet the questions being asked of extinction are every bit as fundamental and interesting in our ongoing attempt to understand our place in the universe and to answer the ultimate question: Why are we here? " (emphasis mine)
I'm sure that Gilkey would say that the answer to this ultimate question is out of the bounds of science because it deals with questions beyond the physical reality. I suppose you could ask the question "why are we here" from a strictly scientific point of view, but to say this is the answer to the ultimate answer assumes that the physical reality is the only reality, and that science can in fact cover all (or enough) of this to answer the question. I read an article in today's "Science Times" (New York Times, 7 April, 1992) that described a new method for showing mathematically whether a proof was true or false. The main focus of the article was that several problems that had been attempted to be solved by mathematicians for hundreds of years has now been shown to be impossible to solve - there is no solution. I view this as some of the limits of knowledge about the physical universe. There exists more knowledge than I could ever learn about the physical universe, but all of that knowledge will never be complete.
". . . Not surprisingly, therefore, this assumption that scientific explanations of any event represent total explanations of that event [creation] dominated both sides of the controversy. On the one hand, as we have seen, the creationists assumed that any scientific explanation of origins represents a total explanation of origins. Thus, when what they called "evolutionary science" pictured the world as arising only from material causes universally working in nature, and found no place for God in their explanations, evolutionary science represented to them a materialistic, atheistic, and humanistic philosophy or religion incompatible with Christianity. On the other hand, a multitude of scientists, or spokespersons for science, have made a parallel assumption about science: Because modern astronomy, geology, and biology have found no need or place for the hypothesis of God in their explanations, therefore they conclude that religious explanations represent 'pre-scientific' ignorance. What science cannot and does not speak about cannot be real. As a consequence, in a scientific culture religious belief in God is apt to seem illusory and anachronistic, no longer either credible or relevant for a culture that 'now knows how to know.' " (page 176-177)
I feel like I am finally starting
to be able to put together a lot of scattered thoughts I've had over the
past several years. I think in particular I have been helped and encouraged
by the church we've been attending here in Houston (St. Luke's Presbyterian).
The pastor (Ken) is young and energetic. I feel that I am slowly beginning
to see myself more clearly. (Last Sunday's sermon was one of the best I've
heard - in terms of application to my own life.) For me, reading Gilkey's
book has fit very nicely with my present circumstances - I'm beginning
to become more optimistic that maybe I can (and should) resolve
this issue and get on with my Christian life.
8 April, 1992
More meandering thoughts - this time while listening to Bach's "Mass in D"
The first chorus in the "Credo" says:
"I believe one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth
and of all things visible and invisible."
I thought this sounded like
the first part of the Nicene creed, so I looked it up - it is. In fact,
I think that this statement (or something similar) is found in nearly all
of the major Christian creeds and confessions. I think that this is a fundamental
concept that must first be accepted before one can begin to define other
Christian beliefs. I can sympathise with the creationists in that belief
in God as Creator is very important. However, as I have said several times
before, I don't think we were given divine knowledge of the physical method
22 April, 1992
Some Thoughts While Hiking in the Rocky Mountains
Last week we went to Albuquerque. I went hiking with Colleen, and I was thinking about a book by David Raup (Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck) in which he postulated that the earth had been hit by big comets about 5 or 6 times since life began - and that the result of each hit was massive extinctions. He makes the point that 99.9% of all species ever to have lived have become extinct. Raup asks a simple question: is this due to bad genes (e.g., not able to adapt, they "weren't worth living") or bad luck (at the wrong place and the wrong time). He essentially argues that more often than we might think, the result of extinction is due to the latter rather than the former. I told Colleen that I thought it sounded somewhat cruel for God to allow big meteorites to smash into the earth (every few hundred million years) and wipe nearly every living thing. She responded that it didn't seem much different than God flooding the earth and destroying "every living thing".
While we were in Albuquerque,
I went to the UNM bookstore, and found some more books for this
collection (they were having a sale). I bought this one book by Robert
Gentry ("Creation's Tiny Mystery") that I wound up reading while
on vacation and finishing on the plane. Gentry testified at the Creationism
Trial in Little Rock in 1981, as a scientist testifying on behalf of creationism.
Gentry starts off explaining how he was denied the request to work on his
thesis project for his Ph.D. in physics. Gentry wanted to challenge the
geological dating method continuing work (which had been abandoned 30 years
earlier) on fossilised halos from uranium trapped in granite crystals.
Gentry feels that it was because he would have challenged the status
quo. Having been a graduate student myself for the past 10 years, I
can understand his feelings, but I can also understand his research director's
concern. I would imagine a research director would want him to pursue a
project that is workable - within a few years - with hopefully clear results
that are publishable. To his credit, Gentry went on to teach at a small
college (with a MS degree in physics), and did some research at the Oak
Ridge National Laboratory, as a visiting scientist. He obtained a small
grant from the National Science Foundation, and published several papers
in highly visible scientific journals, including Science. In the
book, Gentry portrays his research as giving "scientific evidence for creation,
published in the scientific literature", and many times he states that
he waited anxiously for another scientist to do experiments to try and
prove or disprove his theory. This sounds like good reasoning from a rational
person. However, the area of his research is pretty obscure, and in addition,
he never directly states in any of his papers that the evidence he presents
supports a young earth (less than 10,000 years). He claims that any such
reference would jeopardise the publication of the work. If his evidence
was really that strong, surely he could convince someone to publish it
- after all, science loves a controversy. Gentry's point of view is perhaps
best summarised in the following quotation: ". . . What I have said is
that the polonium halos in Precambrian granites identify these rocks as
some of the Genesis rocks of our planet - created in such a way that they
cannot be duplicated without the intervention of the Creator." (page 133).
What he is saying is that since science can't explain it, then it must
have been from God. This is dangerous logic to say God is what we don't
understand. Does that mean that God has nothing to do with what we do
understand? The real problem is that his scientific explanation
is that it cannot be explained, therefore God must have changed the laws
of nature and done it just this one time. Gentry claims that it was because
of his belief in creationism that he didn't get his NSF grant renewed -
he had originally applied for a 1 year grant and had it extended for another
7 years. He wanted to continue for another 2 years, and they turned him
down. He claims that he got good grant reviews, so it must have been political.
I personally feel that the funding situation was getting tighter, and his
score didn't make the funding line. (This was in 1977, when the NSF was
funding around 50% of the grants received; I wrote a NSF grant earlier
this year (1992) and was turned down - presently they are funding only
10% of the grants - one of my reviewers said that my grant was good science
and should be funded - but by average score didn't put me in the top 10%.)
He goes on about how much money the federal government is spending on "evolutionary
research" and yet they don't want to spend money on "scientific evidence
for Creation". (I think he's missing the point). Gentry goes on to tell
of his testimony at the Creationism Trial in Arkansas, and how he has been
"blackballed" by the scientific community since then. I certainly think
that scientists should be free to work regardless of their religious convictions.
However, if I were to hire someone to do some research for me, I would
not waste money on someone who already knows the results (claiming divine
knowledge) before he does the experiment.
10 May, 1992
Colleen took me to the bookstore
for my birthday (yesterday). I found a book that looked very interesting
(but I'll have to wait until I can afford it - it cost $20!); I think the
title was "CREATION". It was about the leading cosmologists. I had read
popular works by most of them - Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, etc. I was
surprised to see Don Page's biography in there - he went to undergraduate
at William Jewel College (where I went to school) and then did a post-doctoral
with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, and has now set up a lab in Pennsylvania,
and is apparently doing good work - one of the leaders in his field. I
remember when he came to William Jewel to give a seminar - he was a real
inspiration to me. I wonder if the Baptists know that one of the leading
"atheistic" cosmologists was educated at one of their colleges.
I know Don, and he is not an atheist, but then again, neither is most evolutionists.
Sometimes I wonder what the future holds for me - I'm considering a post-doctoral
with someone of the calibre of Stephen Hawking in the field of Bacterial
Genetics - I don't have any aspirations (nor illusions of Grandeur) to
become a "leader in the field". On the other hand, I can see great potential
in the field of recombinant DNA research, molecular evolution, and biotechnology.
More Thoughts While Skimming the News - 27 May, 1992
I read two articles in the New York Times recently that I thought worth mentioning here. The first was a passing reference to Manuel Lujan, who is the U.S. Secretary of the Interior; apparently he announced last week that he has decided not to enforce the endangered species act because "he does not believe in Darwinian Evolution". I'm not quite sure I follow his reasoning, but presumably it runs something like this: if God created everything for Man in six 24 hour days, then it is morally right to take (wipe out) any of these God-given creatures. This reminds me of a Satanic plot in one of C.S. Lewis's books ("That Hideous Strength") in which a tyrannical space alien (who is really under Satanic influence) who abolishes all grass and trees and replaces them with metal imitations - which won't need the upkeep. The point of the book was that Satan wanted to destroy all life, and one way to do that was to wreck the ecological balance of the planet to a point where it could no longer support life - including humans. He was clever enough to get the humans to do it to themselves - in the name of "progress". It is truly ironic that in the name of historical Christianity, a person who is in charge of protecting our environment is abdicating responsibility. Man is so important that he is still the center of all of Creation. While I'm not denying the dignity of humans, (nor the importance to God - who sent His only Son to die for all), I think all of His creation is not necessarily just for man, nor do I think that man is the most important thing in the Universe. The other side of the coin is that even if man is the most important thing in the Universe, it is still in his own best interest to preserve his environment - rather than risk a sterile environment with a sterile future.
This brings me to the second article, also in the same copy of the paper. In "Science Times" there is an article about the "Big Bang", and how scientists are testing the theory of inflation after the "Big Bang". It was interesting. One of the scientists was quoted as saying that this is another Copernican revolution. "Not only is mankind not at the center of the Universe, but now we are finding out that matter as we perceive it only consists of less than 10% of the mass of the Universe." This is very humbling indeed. Physicists are busy looking for the other 90% of the Universe that we can't even perceive nor have any part of. The difference between this present view and the view that man is the center of God's creation, living on a world in which the Sun (and the rest of the Universe) revolves around. I would be the first to admit that this causes some problems theologically, although for me I believe in God by faith, and I believe "in a reality that exists apart from my perception of it", as Francis Schaeffer says. I cannot know the mind of God, so it is foolish for me to ask "why did God do it this way?". My responsibility is actually more simple. "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8).
Last modified on 12 September, 1999 by David Ussery