Who would you trust the most? An astronomer guy who peers into his telescope in the wee hours of the morning? A physicist who draws up mind-blowing math formulas and rambles on about some Higgs Boson thingie? A chemist who mixes up crazy concoctions in her lab? Or a biologist who plays with frogs and fruit flys?
I was listening to the latest podcast from MoodyRadio’s Up For Debate program this week. The topic was “Should Christians Embrace Theistic Evolution?“ featuring a discussion between Dr. Ard Louis, a scientist at the University of Oxford, and Dr. Paul Nelson, a Fellow of the Discovery Institute. At one point during the program, the host of the show, Julie Roys, played the following clip from Phillip E. Johnson, perhaps the father of the modern Intelligent Design movement. Here Johnson argues that “evolution” as generally understood by the educational and academic community is inherently atheistic in orientation. In other words, theistic evolution is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
I get the impression that according to Phillip Johnson, he would pick and trust the astronomer, the physicist or the chemist over the biologist any day. Sorry frog and fruit fly lover!!
This raises an interesting set of issues and I will tell you why.
Why Biologists Do Not Get as Much Love from Christians as Opposed to Other Scientists
Greg Smith is a friend of mine who teaches at the College of William and Mary. His research area is in the Applied Science department where he studies the mathematical aspects of cell biology and neuroscience. Does that sound a little scary? Well, not so fast. Greg is a fan of Nickel Creek (love that Chris Thile mandolin!) and knows where all of the best Chinese restaurants in town are located. He has led me to some of the tastiest General Tso’s Chicken around that you can find. He’s a smart guy, but he is still pretty down to earth to me.
Greg hit me with a provocative set of thoughts recently. I will just quote him here:
It seems to me that understanding/acceptance of the biological sciences within the evangelical church is lagging behind the physical sciences. Perhaps because the “average person” believes they know more about biology than physics? Perhaps because the “old earth creationist” perspective doesn’t quite cover all the issues that biological science raises? The question of why Christian engineers and physicists tend to be more into intelligent design and old earth creationism, while Christian geologists and biologists tend toward evolutionary creationism is, I think, an interesting one… [Also,] churches seem to “buy” what the physicists say (e.g., old universe, general relativity, big bang) far more than they “buy” what the biologists say (e.g., common ancestry and descent with modification).
Yeah, OK. Greg is a thinker.
And he has me thinking.
When I look at that clip above from Philip Johnson about the general atheistic orientation of biology, I can clearly understand the concerns. But it is interesting that aside from the Young Earth Creationist community, you rarely find Christians who are concerned about the general atheistic orientation of theories such as the old age of the universe, general relativity, or the Big Bang theory.
I mean, one of the biggest complaints about evolution is the role of chance and randomness in the process. It substitutes the purposeful direction of a Creator God with a simple role of the dice, I have often heard. But I do not think I have ever known any Christian to complain about the role of chance and randomness in quantum mechanics. If there is any scientific theory that puts nearly all of its eggs in the basket of chance and randomness, quantum mechanics probably has more going for it than even biological evolution. Talk about being so-called “undirected” and “unguided”. You have it in quantum mechanics. You mean to tell me that an electron can be in two places all at once, and it is all a function of probabilities? Where is the “intelligent design” factor in that?
Now wait just a minute here….
How come I never saw this before?? Yikes!
Christians! Christians! Alert! Stand your ground! We have a new enemy! Raise the standard!! Man the ramparts!!
Waiting for the troupes of Bible scholars and theologians to arrive with their pitch forks to attack those infidel physicists…
I… do not… appear to be … hearing any movement.
(Mental note: talk to John Paine about how we can boost the readership up on the Veracity blog. Apparently, the word is not getting out too well…. )
Why Biology and Christianity Do Not Always Get Along:
Have you ever heard of Christians marching down to their local school board complaining about “evolution” in the classroom? Sure. But what about banning the teaching of quantum mechanics? Even when the Young Earth folks take up their banner, they usually lead off with the evils of evolution. They never lead off with the perils of that hideous Big Bang theory or speculative Copenhagen interpretation.
Mmmm…. now that is really odd if you think about it.
I will give Phillip Johnson the benefit of the doubt on this. Yes, there are plenty of biologists out there who have atheistic agendas. Some do use evolution as a synonym for atheism. However, you can find physicists and chemists out there who have those same agendas, too. So is it really fair to say that evolution in the “scientific culture” inherently assumes atheism as Johnson suggests, implying that you do not have as much of this bias in other disciplines?
Perhaps Greg Smith’s set of provocative thoughts can be explained by Johnson’s claim about the overloading of atheistic thinking within the discipline of the biological sciences. Well, frankly, I do not buy that.
It is because of the confusions associated with Johnson’s otherwise fair observation that I really do not like the term theistic evolution. It makes about as much sense as saying that someone believes in theistic quantum mechanics or theistic electromagnetic theory. It is as though some are insecure about what “evolution” is so we feel the need to throw the “theistic” qualifier in there to make it sound okay. I am much more at home with the notion of Evolutionary Creationism instead, which simply means a view of Scripture and science that says that the God of the Bible used common ancestry and decent through modification instead of non-contiguous acts of special creation to produce complex life forms, including human beings. (NOTE: The question of whether Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, or Evolutionary Creationism provides the best explanation of natural history is something we have covered elsewhere here on Veracity. That’s not what I am trying to get at here).
If there is any truth to Phillip Johnson’s critique of evolution as atheistic biology, I think it might be better explained in other ways. Here are a few ideas:
- The number of biologists in the sciences far exceeds the number of scientists in other disciplines. For example, at the College of William and Mary, the biology program is the most popular scientific major for undergraduates on campus. I do not know the numbers off-hand, but it could simply be that there is more atheistic thinking among biologists because there are simply more biologists running around, and therefore more atheistic biologists than in the other scientific disciplines.
- I do not have a reference handy, but Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe, the premier Old Earth Creationist think-tank, says that the reason why biologists see so little evidence for God as compared to the astronomers and the physicists is because biological life came so late in the creative process. Astronomers and physicists look at things in the far distant past, whereas life is comparatively recent. For example, the Big Bang theory is a bonus to the theist but a thorn in the side of the atheist, happening right at the beginning of the Creation. Ross argues that most of the biological diversity we see today happened towards the last few days of Creation and more so even after that, after the sixth day was over. Since God stopped creating on day seven, our current “day”, we should not be surprised to find little evidence for creation in biology since the Creator stopped his strictly creative work at the end of the sixth day.
- I think Greg Smith is onto something. Things that have to deal with the biological sciences intersect with our lives everyday; such as with health and medicine. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle, on the other hand, is not something that I come up against that much when I blow the leaves out of my driveway onto my neighbor’s lawn with my leaf blower. We think we know a lot about things like health and medicine, so we are more inclined to trust our own instincts about our knowledge of biology than those experts within the biological sciences. When it comes to physics on the other hand, it all just goes over our heads so we just nod and say “Okay, I’ll go with that theory of relativity stuff. Do you have any more coffee?“.
Those are just some random thoughts. I would like to know yours.
But I do feel a little bad for those biologists out there now. Maybe I will go and find one and give ’em a hug. How about that?
Which science do you trust?