Thursday, December 29, 2005

A battle between faith and searching for proof

Ellie: "So what's more likely - an all-powerful, mysterious God created the universe and then decided not to give any proof of his existence; or, that he simply doesn't exist at all...and that we created him, so we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?"
Palmer: "I dunno - I couldn't imagine living in a world where God didn't exist. I wouldn't want to."
Ellie: "How do you know you're not deluding yourself? I mean, for me, I'd need proof."
Palmer: "Proof....hmmm...Did you love your father?"
Ellie: "What?"
Palmer: "Your dad...did you love him?"
Ellie: "Yes - very much..."
Palmer: "...Prove it...."

(Ellie Arroway to Palmer Joss, in Carl Sagan's film Contact)
I'm catching up on about a hundred topics I've wanted to post about - this one ties way back to this article in the December 20th Washington Post concerning the Dover, PA school board and a judge's ruling against "intelligent design" (also known as ID).

The article quotes U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican appointed by President Bush. In part, Jones said,
"The overwhelming evidence is that Intelligent Design is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory," Jones wrote in a 139-page decision. "It is an extension of the Fundamentalists' view that one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution."
I not only think Judge Jones hit the nail on the head, he also names the black-n-whites of the battle - Genesis, or godless evolution.

Now I have to make an admission up-front: long before these battle-lines were drawn, I had problems with a literal interpretation of Genesis. After all, the first question is always, "Which Genesis creation story are you taking literally - Gen. 1:1-2:4, or Gen 2:4-24?" The fact that there are two - the first attributed to the P (priestly) source and the second atttributed to the J (Yahwist) source, (if you buy into historical-critical analysis of the Bible) - just points out that Genesis is much more of an analogy than a day-by-day description of what actually happened.

I've always put it this way - if God were to try to explain the process of creation to members of a nomadic ancient Near Eastern tribe, the Almighty would probably not choose to drop a pile of texts on organic biochemistry, physiology, and RNA/DNA replication. The explanation would probably be tailored to their level of understanding - much as a parent's explanation of sexuality for a four-year-old probably doesn't start with diagrams of tab-A-and-slot-B. The Genesis account of creation (and the fall) may have worked for the early Jews – but I don’t think it’s a clear description of what physically happened, any more than “the two shall be as one” means that a man and a woman get super-glued together in the act of sexual consummation.

The funny part is that I’ve heard otherwise sensible people try to tell me that the whole concept of evolution is anathema to them, because it reduces the all-powerful, glorious nature of God’s creation. For me, the idea of the “Big Bang” (a really, really, really big bang) is as God-like an act as I could imagine. I imagine the evolutionary process as particularly awe-inspiring - one cosmic cue-shot that sinks every single ball on a thousand-million pool tables, all in sequence. Because, you see, that’s the kind of “random chance” that would have to occur to get from primeval protein soup to mammals.

Perhaps it would help to use two images I have shamelessly stolen from the rooms of recovery. In the first, one man said, “Well, if you’re talking about random chance of things in the world just happening to come together, ask yourself this: how many times would you have to throw the parts of a bicycle into the air to have them randomly come down as a bicycle?” The second image is one I like even better – the idea that a tornado would rip through a junkyard, picking up things randomly, and yet depositing a fully-functioning Boeing 747 on the far side of it.

So if you ask me how strongly I support the Biblical view of creation as statements of fact, the facts that I hear from Genesis are that a loving, caring God was personally involved in the act of creation, and that the Creator was deeply concerned with the well-being of the created-ones. And not only do I not believe in a literal, done-in-six-days creation, I think that creation is still continuing…that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22, NIV).

And if you want to call me a heretic, just get in line behind a long, long line of people.

But for me, it comes back to the opening quote from Contact - it’s a question of faith, not a question of proof. In many ways, I believe the religious fundamentalists are largely responsible for the deep rift between the communities of science and faith – by insisting that it has to be either/or. And as things stand today, we have two opposing hermeneutics (ways of understanding) that ultimately devalue the opposing side – if you side with faith, then there is no place for science in the study of creation (and vice versa). This does such a disservice to the hundreds (if not thousands) of prominent scientists who believed that God’s guiding hand was behind much of the process of creation and what we know today as science. Even Einstein is widely quoted as saying, "I am not interested in this phenomenon or that phenomenon. I want to know God's thoughts – the rest are mere details."

Ultimately, I think that Judge Jones was right. I just wish those who claim to be “on the side of ‘intelligent design’” would see that the quest to see God’s blueprints does not always equate to an assumption of God-less creation, and I wish those on the “science” side of the gulf will see that there’s an awful lot of order, rhyme and reason in the supposed randomness of the created order.


Jane Ellen+ said...


[rhymes with kerouac] said...

I think you're absolutely bang on. The I.D. vs. Evolution debate isn't a debate between faith and science. It's a debate between one scientific theory and another, both of which are pretending they're not wearing the other's clothes.

What's missing in the I.D. explanation of life, the universe and everything is mystery, wonder and awe; not to mention the mystery, wonder and awe that the Holy Spirit is capable of calling to the heart of a teenager in biology class, regardless of what the teacher says.

(Also not to mention it's not the flippin' school's job to teach your kids about God in the first place. Yeesh.)

Okay, minor rant over - I'll go back to sleep now!

sonoftheprodigal said...

sometimes the most convincing proof that God exists is the one that does not need any.

TK said...

I just wish those who claim to be “on the side of ‘intelligent design’” would see that the quest to see God’s blueprints does not always equate to an assumption of God-less creation, and I wish those on the “science” side of the gulf will see that there’s an awful lot of order, rhyme and reason in the supposed randomness of the created order.

I am with ya' steve. As I read through some of Mclaren's stuff I found myself landing on some of the same conclusions as you. They are here if you are interested.

Dave said...

I don't think I've ever heard the term "random" used in science describing the evolution process. I think I've just heard that from the opposition. to my knowledge it is not believed to be random by science and there is always talk of a guiding force that had to be involved . I believe that evloution IS intelligent design.

Michael said...

A random thought on the which creation story in Genesis are you talking about? question: Growing up in the Bible Belt, I seem to recall learning that the first version of the story is about the whole world, and the second version is just about the Garden of Eden. Somehow we thought that all took place "next week", after God took the weekend off. I'm not sure anyone ever taught me this explicitly, but I know that was what I carried around in my head.

I suppose today I think the creation stories are more true than just seeing them as literal accounts of God's original To-Do list.

Keith Brenton said...

One of my college roommates said the best-selling book of all time - outselling the Bible - would be titled "How I Did It" and it would be written by God Himself.

That's what we want: explanations. Not some old book of stories which imply relationships and responsibilities and passion and sacrifice. Just nice, neat explanations. So we can say "Oh, I see," and go on with our lives the way we want to live them.

Poor Mad Peter said...

When one of his disciplies asked Gautama Buddha about the origin of life and existence, Buddha's reply was succinct: do not trouble yourself with meaningless, unnecessary questions (I'm paraphrasing).

In a sense, the Buddha anticipated the notion in Keith's posting about wanting explanations.