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Friday, March 24, 2006

Origins 101: nonsense, hogwash, etc.

I posted yesterday on "Origins 101: How things started." You probably don't care why I did it, but I'll tell you. I had written the post some time earlier, and was thinking about posting it. During my devotions, I consulted my journal for March, 2005, and read that, on March 23, 2005, the local daily newspaper, the Greenville News, published a letter by a Chuck Hartman, who is "pastor of Fellowship Bible Church and teaches middle school science and high school chemistry." The title of the letter was "Evolution, Christianity share dysfunctional relationship." The first sentence was "If evolution is true, then Christianity is false." (The letter is no longer available on-line. This is the South Carolina Greenville.)

According to my journal, I discussed this with one of my biology classes that day. A student told the class that, at the international youth convention of my denomination, The Wesleyan Church, a seminar speaker had said the same thing, and, further, had claimed that there is no natural selection.

I thought it was time to post, yet again, on this topic. So I did.

Adam commented on the yesterday's post, for which I am most grateful, and linked to an article in a March (the date of the article's on-line version is March 23) issue of the Arkansas Times, which describes how teachers in some Arkansas public schools are ordered not to teach about evolution, or even use the word in a science class, and not to suggest that the earth might be more than a few thousand years old.

Now, Pastor Hartman is probably a good man, with good intentions, and the seminar speaker probably is, too. At least some of the people setting science teaching policy in Arkansas probably are good people, with good intentions. I hope so, in all cases. But these people are at least partly wrong, and they are harming science instruction, and turning some people away from belief in the Bible, because of what they are doing.

Why do I say this?

There are a couple of things going on. Both are unfortunate. First, evolution is a word with many meanings, that isn't usually carefully defined, or defined at all. Second, matters susceptible to scientific analysis, and matters known by faith, are being confused with one another.

Notice the title of these posts. I have avoided the use of "evolution," deliberately. Why? For two reasons. First, as I said, it has many meanings, and should be carefully defined. Second, I personally prefer that evolution, at least in scientific contexts, should be used only to describe biological phenomena, real or hypothetical.

Natural selection is a process wherein a living organism produces more than one offspring, the offspring vary, and there are environmental pressures of some sort that put variants of one type at an advantage over the other offspring. The result is that the population in question changes its properties with time, so as to be better adapted to resist the environmental pressure. Does this process occur? Absolutely. I have never read a biologist (including young-earth creationist biologists) who doubt that this process occurs. Is this process responsible for change in living organisms? Yes. The differences in human populations or races can be explained in this way, for one outstanding example. Is natural selection responsible for the origin of, say, reptiles from amphibians? Maybe so, maybe not.

Why bring this up? For two reasons. Natural selection is one of the meanings of evolution. It's the main one in biological contexts. That being the case, Hartman's statement is at least partly wrong. Some evolution has occurred. The second reason is to point out that natural selection, the engine of biological evolution, cannot be responsible for the origin of the elements, the heavenly bodies, or the universe itself. These were either supernatural events, physical processes, or supernaturally guided physical processes. They weren't change over time driven by environmental pressure. (As of the date of this post, the article that this paragraph links to, from the Wikipedia, does not say that natural selection is responsible for the origin of new groups of organisms. It merely describes what natural selection is, and how it works. Except for some of the technical details, there should be no quarrel with the concept, or its reality.)

Now the nonsense, hogwash, etc. It is wrong to say that there is no such thing as evolution, at least unless you define what you mean by the word properly. To say that evolution has never happened, or that its existence negates Christianity, is nonsense, hogwash, or worse. (By worse, I mean deliberate deception, for political, financial, or other reasons.)

Although I wish he hadn't started his letter as he did, I do wish to give Rev. Hartman credit. His second sentence was "Two views concerning the origin of the universe and of life, having begun with diametrically opposed premises, cannot be made to agree or harmonize." He is right about that. Either things originated naturally, with no purpose, or they originated supernaturally, because of a purpose. Hartman goes on to say that the idea that determining which of these is true is not a question for science. It is a question for faith. To say that science has proved that there is no God, or god, is also hogwash, nonsense, or worse. Science can't do this. Some scientists are convinced that there isn't a God, but that doesn't make atheism scientific, any more than the fact that some scientists are Republicans make Republicanism scientific.

Denying that there was any supernatural influence in origins should, perhaps, be called naturalism, not evolution. If so, naturalism is what Christians should be opposing, not evolution.

Genesis doesn't tell us how, or when, or why things began. It does say Who started them. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that this is understood by faith. To believe that there was a Who is the most important aspect of a view of origins.

Go here for the first in this series.

Thanks for reading.

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