The movie “Expelled” has refocused some attention on evolution, creation, intelligent design, etc.
And this attention makes me feel like somebody watching his kid at the high school talent show about to walk on the stage and publicly humiliate himself by doing something epically uncool like play a polka.
My embarassment is for my brothers and sisters in Christ. But it’s not that I want us to be the cool kids. I realize that we’re not supposed to be the cool kids. It’s because I believe real damage is being done to our credibility and this translates to damage being done to the testimony we give for Christ.
I am not arguing here with anyone’s right to dispute the evolutionary account. Nor do I take issue with somebody wanting to assert that they have a right to determine what their child learns.
The problem is that we are using tired, disproven arguments. We can do better. There are much more convincing arguments against evolution. These are a little more work. They will take more patience to understand. They will require a bit more background knowledge to explain.
I believe so strongly that if we’re not going to put this effort into the thing, we should just step out of the debate, because we are doing so much more harm than good. In this post I’m going to highlight the two most foolish objections we cite to evolution, then I’ll explore why I think it’s so important that we have our ducks in a row on this.
Argument #1 that we need to stop using:
Evolution is only a theory.
The problem is not that this argument is untrue. The problem is that it’s a meaningless claim. All science does is generate theories. Nobody is debating that evolution is a theory. When folks who oppose evolution say “Evolution is a theory” they usually want to say “Even scientists aren’t confident in evolution, that’s why they call it a theory.” Neodarwinian evolution isn’t called a theory because anybody is tenative or unsure of it. Neodarwinian evolution is called a theory because that’s what science does: make theories.
There is this idea that scientists develop a certain ammount of confidence in a theory, or they discover a certain ammount of evidence for a theory, and suddenly there is a graduation ceromony, and then idea that used to be a theory becomes a “fact” or a “law.”
That idea isn’t how it works. Most scientists are just as confident in the neo-darwinian account as they are in our other most basic understandings of the universe.
This argument is sometimes closely tied to the fact that we have not directly observed macro-evolution. This is again missing the point. The scientific method has operated on inferences in thousands of areas. In an awe-inspiring number of cases, we’ve ended up being right-on when technology caught up with our inferences and we became able to more directly verify our assumptions. (Two examples: background microwave radiation left over from the big bang and the relativistic theories about the passage of time when accelerating compared to the passage of time when not accelerating. Ask for details if you care to and I’ll explain.)
The closest we can reasonably come to rescuing this objection is to say something like this: “my issue is with evolutionary theory is that evolution is an understanding generated through the scientific method. Scientific understanding is always changing. Scientific conclusions are always tenative. As soon as a better explanation comes along we give up on or modify the old one. For centuries, for example, we thought we understood that gravity was a property inherent in matter. Just recently we’ve come to understand that gravity is actually a result of the ways that large masses warp the fabric of space-time itself. The truth I believe is rooted in an unchaning source, and is eternal.”
Life on earth can’t be a naturalistic occurence, it violates the laws of entropy.
I think I’ll put everybody (including myself) to sleep if I get into the nuts-and-bolts of this. If somebody believes that this is a valid argument and wants more details for why I believe it’s not, I hope they’ll leave a comment. I’ll be happy to draw this out. Put very briefly: people believe that the naturalistic account implies that reality is growing more organized with the passage of time; this is impossible because elementary physics state that systems grow more chaotic over time. The reason that this doesn’t work is that the overall system is growing more chaotic as the sun emits energies that warm the surrounding space; only a tiny fraction of this energy is actually captured by the biosphere through photosynthesis and getting used for the creation of order.
These arguments are so often-repeated and so easily defeated that it makes us look shrill and ignorant. If we’re going to claim to deserve a seat at the table of respectable academia, we ought to be prepared to perform at the level the rest of the table is performing at. When they respond (generally not very nicely) to our arguments, we need to work on not simply rehashing them over and over again.
Secular scientists would never even get to do science if they spent their time listening to and responding to every creation scientist who wants a debate with them. The fact that the creationists apparently can’t be bothered to look at the last 87 times that very same objection was answered doesn’t inspire the secular folks to want to make time to including the anti-evolutionist at the table.
We have quite a challenge in front of us. Of course it’s one we can achieve. But it is a challenge. The challenge is this: a secular scientist can be a jerk, or a hypocrite, or be unkind without jeapordizing his status as a scientist. More specifically, if Richard Dawkins is unpleasant, there is no good reason to think his conclusions are untrue.
On the other hand, if I’m claiming that Christianity is part of my motivation for disputing scientific claims, and then I act like a knucklehead, it’s a different matter. If I’m unkind in my public behavior, if I ignore what’s been said to me, if I’m too lazy to do my homework, my actions are demonstrating that my commitment to Christ is only skin-deep.
I understand the concern. Extremists on both sides potray neodarwinian evolution and biblically truth as mutually imcompatible. This leads people on one side of the divide to think that neodarwinian evolution has to go.
But the reasons that people came to Christ nearly always don’t have to scientific understanding. It’d be quite a challenge to find somebody who desperately longed for God but couldn’t commit because of the fact that the fosill record does not coincide with the order that things pop up in Genesis. (just for the record, that oder isn’t too far off.)
On other hand, I believe that there are millions who desperately long for God but who find that the people who claim to be his diplomats, emisarries, and spokespeople are intolerant, anti-intellectual, close-minded, and unloving. Even if we’ve never heard the words we all get the idea that “by there fruits you shall know them.” What do our fruits look like to somebody within evolutionary circles?