Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Evolution Sunday

Michael Zimmerman, the Dean of Rutgers University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has started a strong grassroots effort to have religious leaders teach their congregations about the science of evolution. He has had over 10,000 leaders sign on, and his work has culminated in the establishment of Evolution Sunday, where every year pastors teach the contributions of evolution from the pulpit on the Sunday nearest Darwin's birthday.

Within this article, I think there are several other points worthy of our discussion. First, according to the author:
Zimmerman thinks the best way to change this mindset is for scientists to step back from the debate and hand the reins over to religious leaders.
Since the debate is about the religious implications to these existential origins, leave that discussion to theologians and religious leaders. Science should not be distracted by this religious in-fighting.

At the same time, certain atheist arguments premised on evolution actually are harmful to science in the long run, and in this manner, Zimmerman takes issue with Richard Dawkins' approach to atheism. Against Dawkins, Zimmerman believes that a strong understanding of evolution does not inevitably lead to atheism - it can be reconciled within theology - and, he worries that Dawkins' needless pitting of science against religion forces many otherwise receptive people to reject science all together:
And while he respects Dawkins, he believes his message—understanding of evolutionary processes inevitably leads to atheism—has done more harm than good for scientific literacy.

“He has a polarizing effect on the debate with his argument that science must lead you to atheism,” Zimmerman said. “He is a proselytizing atheist, who uses his position as a scientist to discuss atheism.”

Did I mention that Zimmerman is an atheist and, by training, an evolutionary biologist?



Darren Staley said...

It's so crazy to argue that the acceptance of science will somehow destroy faith. What it will destroy, or at least weaken, fundamentalism, which is a good thing.

If I'm an athiest and you tell me you believe in God, that's fine. No problem with that whatsoever.

But if I'm an athiest and you tell me that your God's rules should be the rule of law and that scientific fact is in question because your faith says so, that's when we part ways.

Matt F. said...

Well said Darren. I agree with your points. I would, however, like to take on the task of defending Dawkins (although he can do that pretty well himself, if you read his works). I would just point out that much of the criticism of Dawkins is of the same stripe as this article, basically that he is a dick, and that he won't convince anybody. Dawkins himself has admitted that he would make a terrible witness in something like the Dover case. However, he is by far the best writer I have ever read when it comes to explaining the intricacies and nuances of evolutionary biology. And you don't hear or read many people who come up with very good logical reasons to disagree with him, rather they attack his "strident tone" or "proseltysing atheism". If people who proudly proclaim their religious faith belong in the discussion, than surely someone so eloquent in proudly proclaiming his lack of the same belongs as well.

Kent H said...

My que,
As our thread's token conservative, let me try this again.
We will continue to talk past each other in this vein, because the issue of what is accurate and correct in these matters is an issue of epistemology. I have the assurance that if God wanted us to know something, He is kind and powerful enough to tell us and preserve His telling.
The alternative is an epistemology that says the best way to come to the truth is consensus (take a poll) and in the multitude of opinions, the truth lies somewhere in between. But we don't believe that. None of us.
If I have unhealthy symptoms, I don't take a poll and take a consensus. I go see an expert. I get the facts from the authority. If I want to find out the answer to a mathematical equation, I don't post it on the web and get opinions from every yahoo who has a computer. I get together with a math expert. Authority.
In matters of eternity, origins, metaphysics, there are no repeatable, scientific evidences that can be observed without a faith in one of two theories. Either God inspired Scripture as a revelation of His working (and the evidence can be explained very well in that model)- He made it all, destroyed it in a flood, etc, or everything created itself out of nothing and so-called "science" can ignore the multitudes of evidence that it can't explain.
The fact is that rules for living, science, history, etc. are all subjects on which God has spoken. If that is true, then He doesn't care if we like His opinion. He has simply given us the truth and the opportunity to receive it or not. Trying to refute His word by speaking ex cathedra doesn't change one mind or change one fact.
Dawkins begins his research and writing from the presupposition that God cannot exist (an impossible logical conclusion to prove) and then goes about interpreting the evidence. Scientific fact is never in question because of faith. Our greatest scientists have been Christian (Bacon, Newton, etc). What is in question is an epistemology that begins with "there is no God, so let's explain everything some other way."
Dawkins is also brilliant. One of the keenest minds ever. But again, this is not about brilliance. It's about authority. He has his biases just like everybody else.
Evidences: our distance from the sun is widening as is our distance from the moon - run that model backwards to when the moon and sun were closer (by millions of years) and the earth would drown and incinerate every day.
- the fossil record shows zero evidence of transitional forms
- Every so-called "missing-link" has been discredited as either fraudulent or mis-identification. (Piltdown man was constructed from one tooth that turned out to be from a pig).
- Pilonium (?) halos in the earth's foundational rocks (granite,etc) PROVE that the substance of the earth's rock could not have developed slowly over millions of years of cooling. The halos would not be there if molten rock just sat and cooled for ions. The evidence shows an instant creation.
- There ARE evidences that men walked with dinosaurs all over the earth. The fossilized footprints of South Texas show this conclusively.
- The Grand Canyon looks like something that formed under a deluge of water, not cut by a river over millions of years. The fountainhead is at a lower elevation (at rim level) than much of the canyon - the river would have been running up hill for millions of years if the universalistic model were accurate.
- Many archaeological digs have been interupted when diggers were studying "millions of years" of rock strata, only to find a tree trunk cutting across hundreds of millions of years worth of sediment.

These are all facts that cannot be even remotely explained by the old earth, evolutionary model. So the Dawkins' of the world don't even try. They speak quite pompously about the FACT that God can't exist or that the creationist model is ridiculous. Insult varying opinions and then write their books. Pardon me, but that just isn't enough authority for me. Too much is at stake.

Drew said...

Matt, Zimmerman's arguments against Dawkins weren't that he was a dick. It is that he uses his position as a scientist to promote and proselytize atheism, and that his artificial science/religion dichotomy might be having counterproductive and detrimental side effects (i.e., forcing people to choose sides between science and religion will force otherwise accepting Christians to choose religion and tune out science). Zimmerman agrees with Dawkins' worldview, and he is an atheist and an evolutionary biologist by training.

At least that is how I read it.

Matt F. said...

Sorry, Kent, I agree with you that we talk at cross purposes when we propose existential claims, but your assertion that the most fundamental principles of biology, geology, astrophysics, and any number of other sciences are incorrect because your book says so are a little hard to take. So I took 15 minutes and Googled what I thought were your two silliest assertions.

"The fossil record shows zero evidence of transitional forms." If you google transitional forms you will find a multitude of lists of forms found in the fossil record, interestingly enough alongside creationist websites that claim these don't exist. My favorite list:

"There ARE evidences that men walked with dinosaurs all over the earth. The fossilized footprints of South Texas show this conclusively." Here is one article that I find shows pretty conclusively that the "human footprints" in South Texas have been long since debunked:
Money quote for those who don't feel like reading the whole article: "John Morris investigated the "human" tracks in the Paluxy River during 1970's and published a book arguing that the tracks were indeed humanoid. Morris, who is now the leader of the Institute for Creation Research, later recanted his assertion after visiting the Paluxy sights with Glen Kuban. The Institute for Creation Research admitted, in its Impact article #151, "In view of these developments, none of the four trails at the Taylor site can today be regarded as unquestionably of human origin. The Taylor Trail appears, obviously, dinosaurian, as do two prints thought to be in the Turnage Trail. The Giant Trail has what appears to be dinosaur prints leading toward it, and some of the Ryals tracks seem to be developing claw features, also" (Morris)." Clearly the Institute for Creation Research has been taken over by anti-God biased scientists.

I actually do think that science and religion can be seen as answering different types of questions, and I am usually happen to let religion talk as much as it likes about the existential questions. However, the age of the Earth, the fossil record, and the truth of evolution are not existential questions, they are scientific ones.

Kent H said...

Good response (and corrections if called for - in fact, I did read recantations of the Paluxy river findings after my post, but some do still accept the initial findings ? - I don't know - ? ), and I promise that I will approach the sites you reference.
But I do take issue with one point that seems to be missing from your approach. If the Bible speaks to an issue and it is incorrect, then it CANNOT speak to any other issue - existential or otherwise. The Bible claims itself to be the inerrant and inspired Word from God in totality. If God (or the men who wrote it) can be wrong about anything, they can be wrong about everything.
I will say this, find me one absolute and proveable contradiction or mistake in the pages of Scripture and I will tell you that God, salvation, eternity, heaven, hell, Calvary, the resurrection, etc, etc., are bunk. John 3 cannot be trusted if Genesis 3 is a fraud. Period.

Matt F. said...

I see. This has been your plan all along. I am going to actually have to read the whole Bible. Fair enough, I will do some reading and see if I can respond to that challenge.

On the science aspect, I have been thinking about our posts and there is one point that I haven't yet made that I think should be said. It seems that one of the reasons that we so strongly disagree is your perception of science and the scientific endeavor. I don't believe and have seen no evidence to suggest that, for instance, science goes about trying to figure out how they can prove that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Rather, they go about trying to figure out how to tell how old the earth is using repeatable and verifiable measurements and observations. On the other hand, it seems clear to me that some scientists do set out to find evidence for the creationist or biblical account of the earth and the development of life, the universe, and everything. Now, when any credible scientist publishes findings that go against the majority of other evidence that science has found in the course of modern science, I think you will find that those findings, far from being ignored, are given increased scrutiny. Its like if you came in and told me the sky was blue, I would accept that, because all of the evidence I have gathered supports it. If you came in and told me the sky was green, I would run outside and look at it and try to figure out what was going on. So, I don't think, as you claim, that science ignores evidence that doesn't support the prevailing view, science is constantly looking for such evidence. If certain things haven't been accepted, I think you will find that if you look hard enough, there is a reason why (other than anti-god bias).

Alright, off to the nearest motel to steal a Gideon's.

Kent H said...

Real quickly, I thought I would share what "evidence" and repeatable, observable nature evolution has from Dawkins himself:

Below is a complete unedited transcript of what professor Dawkins said about this:

BILL MOYERS: Is evolution a theory, not a fact?

RICHARD DAWKINS: Evolution has been observed. It’s just that it hasn’t been observed while it’s happening.

MOYERS: What do you mean It’s been observed?

DAWKINS: The consequences of. It is rather like a detective coming on a murder after the scene. And you… the detective hasn’t actually seen the murder take place, of course. But what you do see is a massive clue. Now, any detective…

MOYERS: Circumstantial evidence.

DAWKINS: Circumstantial evidence, but masses of circumstantial evidence. Huge quantities of circumstantial evidence…………

There you have it – professor Richard Dawkins, the atheists' number one hero, admits that evolution has never been observed and is supported only by circumstantial evidence.

Just a thought to fuel the flames.