Monday, February 12, 2007

Evolution Sunday: Groothuis Responds

[This story is from today's Rocky Mountain News.]

Church makes evolutionary change over time
February 12, 2007

Here's a neat historic twist: Sunday, in the same Denver sanctuary where William Jennings Bryan, that fiery foe of evolution, is believed to have thundered out an oration 96 years ago, the Rev. Mark Meeks was celebrating a new national church movement called . . . Evolution Sunday.
"I don't need a religion that explains everything, or a sacred text that conforms to my understanding," Meeks told 60 worshippers at Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church, 1100 Fillmore St.

"Scientific exploration can help us understand our religion," continued Meeks, a cozy, bearded presence in a well-seasoned fleece sweater.

On the other side, he said, are biblical literalists who believe "the world came to be 6,000 years ago, already ripe, so to speak . . . They make an idol of the sacred texts, trying to reduce God to our own understanding."

The Bryan link? It's a fanciful but fun stretch. Legend has it that Bryan came to the Capitol Heights church to stemwind at its 1911 opening. Fourteen years later, he was the legendary prosecutor of evolution teacher John Scopes.

Nearly 100 years later, Bryant is nearly forgotten, while the fight over evolution has proved to be timeless.

About a dozen Colorado churches took part in Evolution Sunday, a movement begun last year by Michael Zimmerman, a dean at Butler University in Indianapolis. He's collected 10,000 clergy signatures supporting evolution over creationism.

Nor do the Evolution Sunday supporters like the "intelligent design" theory, says Doug Groothuis, a Denver Seminary philosophy professor who himself writes and debates extensively in support of intelligent design.

"By examining the evidence empirically," Groothuis says, "intelligent design people appeal to certain features of nature that they think are better understood according to a designing mind rather than some mindless process."

But to Evolution Sunday-goers, notions of a grand designer threaten to undermine the science.
"It fosters contempt for scientists in general, and voters are worried scientists aren't doing real science, and so they slash science funding, which is so important to this country," warned Cathy Russell, an evolutionary biologist who celebrated Sunday at her Boulder church.

By the way, Evolution Sunday is pegged to the birthday of Charles Darwin, who turns 200 in two years. (Imagine that celebration.) Russell will be there: "I'm totally passionate about this."

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Craig Fletcher said...

I've gone around and around with the ID issue in my own mind and with discussions with others. I am a Christian who didn't convert until I was 27, but I am also a lover of science having studied microbiology throughout college.

By its' own definition, scientism is a flawed worldview IF its goal is to eventually be able to explain "everything observable" because there are many things that are observable empirical truths that cannot be put to scientific tests. There is absolute truth outside of science (moral and philosophical truths for example).

Enter the "supernatural" - which is a term derived by mankind because we cannot apprehend the types of things we describe as supernatural. Take biblical miracles or the idea of Creation ex nihilo for example; science cannot account for them within its' limited bounds due to its' intrinsic limitations.

Things deemed "supernatural" may very well be objectively true but because they exist outside of the current realms/understandings of science they are deemed "unscientific."

So I say that's fine then... I don't want to focus the debate on "should ID be taught in science class" because it's splitting hairs and metaphysical naturalists just get so upset about the idea. Not that they should "win" that easily, but I would be happy if ID as an origin theory were to be legally yet optionally taught as a competing theory to naturalism in alternative classrooms in public schools and universities (philosophy, cosmology, etc.). Would the ID opponent be OK if ID was moved to "another" classroom and taught there so the students can hear the arguments and decide for themselves whether they believe that there is exactly no mind behind the creation of this universe/world, which is taught as a fact in science class (so very unscientifically I might add)?

One thing is for sure: Naturalism as a worldview is chock full of presuppositions and is highly conjectural and in fact it must borrow a lot of capital from Creationism to ever have gotten its' feet off of the ground.

The preexistence of a primordial soup full of impossibly complex substrates (such as amino acids) is certainly a presupposition, or theoretical at best. But yet it is taught as a brute fact to students who are not presented with any alternative theories such as... hey, ID! Could it be that ID is actually true? You bet it could.

The building blocks for complex life were "just there" as Bertrand Russell would say. Is that science?

Yossman said...

Stockwell: "It is that so-called intelligent design theory requires that the goalposts be moved so that ID can be considered science in the first place."

The same can be said for naturalists. It is not for scientists to give meaning to the data, they can only gather scientific facts. It is for philosophy to do so. What has happened in the West in the past 200 years or so is that scientists have been looking at the data through their philosophically biased glasses and have claimed certain interpretations to be factual and scientific.

It is no more scientific to say that the world is the result of a random process than it is to say for instance that everything is God. Both positions are merely interpretations of the facts or rather impositions of a worldview on the facts.

The ID movement is cautiously and shyly trying to hint that these so-called scientific conclusions may in fact no be so so scientific. They look at the same data and arrive at different conclusions.

Their 'weakness' (I mean vulnerability) may be their honesty to admit that they interpret the data according to a particular worldview.

Stephen Pruett said...

Perhaps it was inevitable that religious folk would dislike evolution. After all, the first outspoken public defender of the theory was aggressively agnostic and anti-religious (T.H. Huxley). It is too bad that some scientists continue that heritage by claiming that somehow evolution disproves the existence or the need for God. I agree with Francis Collins (Director of the Human Genome Project and a Christian) that most scientists know less than nothing about philosophy or religion, and their agnosticism really just represents their lack of effort in really dealing with the deep questions of life.

I am not a naturalist, but I am a working scientist, and I have been making my living as a biomedical researcher for over 20 years. I am also a Christian who believes the Bible is true and that should generally be interpreted literally unless there are clear reasons in the text or context to do otherwise.

Thus, it often surprises people when I tell them that I think evolution is a pretty good scientific theory and that it has been very useful. I base that only on scientific considerations. To do otherwise is to ignore a huge volume of corroborating data of different kinds and in different places that essentially tells the same story. With regard to ID, if Behe had continued to pursue the idea of irreducible complexity, rather than jumping to ID, he would probably still be publishing and furthering our scientific understanding of the process. However, it was immediately clear to all concerned that ID was a religious explanation, not a scientific one. I actually believe that ID is correct and that God is the designer, but I certainly cannot prove it or even support it scientifically; I can only accept it (or not) by faith.

Interestingly, I do not view my opinion on evolution as contradicting my opinion of the Bible at all. Most Christians seem not to be all that familiar with the creation accounts (yes plural). The sequence of events during creation are different in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Genesis. To me, this is clear evidence from the context that one or both of these passages are not intended to be interpreted literally. This does not change any of the spiritual truths about the nature of man and God in Genesis.

If you are curious about some of the evidence that convinces me evolution is a good theory (notice I did not say that evolution is true; sciencce is not about seeking truth, it is entirely provisional and subject to change, which is another reason I dislike creation science), please see my blog:

Ed Darrell said...

What "empirical" analysis has any ID advocate ever made?

The federal courts couldn't find any. The defendants in the Dover trial couldn't find any if their lives had depended on it (and it sorta did).

When do we get an end to the attempts to spin ID, and serious discussion within the formal rules of academia -- meaning, real data?

Ed Darrell said...

I would be happy if ID as an origin theory were to be legally yet optionally taught as a competing theory to naturalism in alternative classrooms in public schools and universities (philosophy, cosmology, etc.). Would the ID opponent be OK if ID was moved to "another" classroom and taught there so the students can hear the arguments and decide for themselves whether they believe that there is exactly no mind behind the creation of this universe/world, which is taught as a fact in science class (so very unscientifically I might add)?

How about we teach Tantric sex as an "alternative" to abstinence, too? How about we teach Christian Science as an alternative to germ theory of disease? How about we teach Illuminati as an alternative to John Wilkes Booth shooting Lincoln?

Just because somebody thought it up doesn't mean it deserves discussion anywhere, let alone a high school class.

I wish we had higher standards than that. As opposed to the tongue-in-cheek suggestions above, how about we leave science classes for science? As Judge Overton pointed out in 1982, what is necessary to get any form of creationism into high school curricula is for creationists to do research, write it up, and publish it. The court found that there is no barrier to getting the stuff published, contrary to claims made in court -- but instead, there is no creationism (including ID) published simply because there is nothing submitted to the journals; creationists don't submit articles for publication because they don't do research, it seems to me.

How about we stop calling theological anarchy "science?"

Stephen Pruett said...

Ed, I can see nothing wrong with teaching ID along with other creation ideas in a social studies or philosophy class. It is legitimate as a philosophical explanation of origins. With regard to your question on what data ID has generated, you may be correct that the answer is none. However, the precursor of ID, irreducible complexity, has yielded some publications in mainstream scientific journals. The explanation of step-by-step development of complex pathways, whose function is one particular function which cannot be performed unless the entire pathway is complete has not received as much attention as other aspects of evolution, and it is a challenge to explain some of these findings. Of course, there are some illustrative examples (for example, the derivation of a whole host of immune system related molecules from a few duplicated immunoglobulin genes) where explanations are available. In a recent graduate course a student presented a diagram of a self-assembling complex of multiple copies of a single protein. None of us could imagine how that could have evolved by chance plus selection, other than the rather unsatisfying explanation that given enoug time, even very unlikely things will happen.

Craig Fletcher said...

Like I said, ID should be taught as an origins theory in [fill in the blank] classrooms - I don't really care if it's science, philosophy, or social studies, just let it be known that it is a legitimate competitor to "the base materials were just there" naturalism.

Stockwell, there are no guns to heads, but the textbooks presuppose the preexistence of the extremely complex primordial soup - and you know that, so enough with the smokescreens. Don't bore me with "Cite the textbooks, I want evidence" - just pick up any biology text book. You already know it's in there. So the students ARE taught this without any opportunity to consider the ID alternative - which is every bit as legitimate (even more so) than the a priori brute fact approach of naturalism.

Pruett - really liked your post.

Scientism (not science, scientism as a worldview/philosophy)cannot explain it all guys... it is, by its' very nature, limited in what it can accomplish. Think about it.

ID on its' own does not need a religious agenda, but yes, it obviously has supernatural implications. So what though?

Craig Fletcher said...


Sure, the 1968 text book you cited uses the word "may", but we could say that about a great number of hypothesis, including the idea that the formation of the universe "may" have begun under the guidance of an intelligent mind... or it "may" have been spawned by aliens, or it "may" have begun with the aid of the flying spaghetti monster.

It's interesting how a naturalistic viewpoint is the only one presented as having "maybe" done this... and if it isn't that naturalistic cause, then surely it must be another purely naturalistic cause because we cannot allow divinity as one of the possible explanations. So my argument still stands, it's just that your text book is citing naturalism it as the one and only possible worldview that could account for the creation.

I am also surprised that you are citing Miller-Urey as a plausible explanation since it has since been widely discredited due to their simulated atmosphere not being what scientists believe to be at all accurate to what ancient earth actually exhibited.