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Friday, March 17, 2006

Is evolution "unguided?"

A post on Panda's Thumb (an anti-Intelligent Design blog), claims, with evidence, that the word "unguided" was put into the Kansas science standards by ID advocates, over the objections of "mainstream" scientists. The key phrase is "Biological evolution postulates an unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal."

One of these mainstream (anti-ID) scientists is quoted as as saying:

The majority of the writing committee (of which I am a member) believe that evolutionary theory, or science in general, can only study the physical world in a limited way, and that judging whether there is or isn’t divine guidance (as the word is meant to imply in the standards) is outside the scope of science.

I agree with this person on this! He went on to write that:

. . . if a teacher were to actually explicitly teach the position stated in the line added by the ID Minority (that evolution was a unguided process from a theological view, and that therefore students were accidents with no intrinsic purpose because there is no God), the ACLU would be first in line to support a suit against them, and Kansas Citizens for Science would support them.

I hope that's true.

The reasons that Intelligent Design has so much support include (they are not limited to) a perception that public school biology texts and classes teach that there is no purpose to the universe, or, in other words, no God. I'm sure that that is done sometimes, although I've not seen a text, or heard a teacher, that does it. (On reflection, I take that back -- I had a genetics professor who said that there was no God in genetics class. So it was done, and I did hear it.) If either is done, that would be teaching religion, or teaching against it, and the ACLU should oppose it, and they shouldn't be alone.

Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19 tell us that God is revealed to us in nature. Part of that revelation seems to be that there are aspects of evolutionary theory that seem beyond dispute. To state the obvious, there have been changes in humans -- we now have more than one racial group, but came from a single family. (See here for other evidence of changes in humans.) Selection does work. Most organisms do have a struggle for existence -- far more are born/hatched/produced than survive. Some species, such as cows and bison, or horses, donkeys and zebras, appear to be related. It is unfortunate, on the one hand, that some people reject all this. It is even more unfortunate that others extrapolate from such facts to draw the conclusion that there is no God. These facts don't support that conclusion. To draw it is a faith statement (Hebrews 11:3). To believe that there is a Creator is also a faith statement. If one of these doesn't belong in the public schools, then the other doesn't, either.

Thanks for reading.


Catez said...

Interesting post Martin! I must admit I tend to stay out of the ID debate because it goes outside the limits of science I think - more into the philosophy of science or metaphysical considerations. I think you made some good points here about certain things not directly leading to certain conclusions, e.g. species relatedness not directly leading to an atheistic conclusion.

You got me recalling two lecturers from my University days. One said God puts things where they are for a reason, and the other said there is no God. It is something that we "see" by faith I think. Hebrews says that doesn't it - "by faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God" (I'm quoting from memory).

Enjoyed your post.

Martin LaBar said...

From my memory, I'd say that your memory is pretty good.

I guess the major problem with this debate (and a lot of others) is that people (on more than one side) jump to pre-held conclusions from facts that don't necessarily lead to them.

Thanks for reading, and your comment.

Adam said...

(this is long, sorry)

The problems that I see, and the reason I get so personally involved in the debate at times, is that both sides (athiest scientists and conservative christians) are using science - something I hold dear as a resource given to humans by God - as a bludgeon to coerce and manipulate the 'masses' to take up arms against each other.

Whether or not molecules-to-man Macroevolution is true or not, the worldview it has been used to proliferate is, in my opinion, patentlly false and purposely blind. Tearing down people of faith and wielding as a bludgeon the recently exalted word "Science" to insult their intelligence is selfish and irresponsible.

Whether or not ID/Young Earth Creation is true, it is being used to rile up Christians into a state of distrust and dislike, turning their focus away from Christ and into protecting ourselves from the world - which is God's job as He promised us.

I don't believe that evolution precludes God anymore than I think that the appearance of design in life points definitively to the Christian God as creator.

Is it possible to work for compromise in this battle? Is it beneficial? Or would the energy be misplaced and better spent on reaching the world around us? If you have any answers for me, Dr. LaBar, I'd love to hear them.

Martin LaBar said...

If I knew a solution to this, I'd patent it and sell it. (Just kidding)

I wish I had one.


Dave said...

Your reference to "selection" states something obvious that a lot of people seem to have overlooked. What I call "natural selection," the process of incremental change within a species which is observable, is an entirely different process from, say, reptilian dinosaurs turning into birds, for which there is an inexplicable gap in the fossil record (according to the sources I've read). A friend of mine, then a grad student in chemistry at Cornell, stated this all to me twenty-five years ago, but I saw a reference to it in a recent Doonesbury comic strip that made it sound like Garry Trudeau had just uncovered this news.

(Please pardon--and feel free to point out--any mistakes in terminology. I was an English major in college, and that was 27 years ago.)

Martin LaBar said...

Perhaps I should have said "natural selection," but I wanted to include artificial selection, too. That is, changes in a population due to selection by humans, such as for higher milk production in cows. It does work.

Whether natural selection is responsible for reptiles becoming birds is, indeed, more questionable, and I did not say, in my post, that selection was responsible for that. Maybe not. Maybe so. If so, it was God-guided.

As to whether there is an inexplicable gap in the fossil record, it depends on who is doing the explaining, I guess. I'm not a paleontologist, so claim no expertise in this area, but I'm sure that some are convinced that there is a gap, and they may be right, although, if there is, I don't see how you could prove that there could never be fossils discovered that would "fill" that gap. I'm pretty sure that there are some scientists who are convinced that there is no gap, or convinced that they can explain it if there is one.

One's presuppositions often determine what one believes, as much as the evidence does, in this and other areas of thought.

Thanks for commenting!

Dave said...

I can see now why "selection" was the better choice.

My comment on the "inexplicable gap" stems primarily from a book I read years ago entitled Darwin's Enigma (and I'm sorry, but the author's name escapes me). His thesis basically rested on the assumption that reptile-to-bird type transitions would be confirmed by copious examples in the fossil record. His conclusion? There aren't even a few examples, ergo, that type of evolutionary change rests on something akin to blind faith. It sounded plausible to me at the time, a non-scientist, but as you say, proving that by the apparent non-existence of fossil evidence may not be so straightforward.