No less a religious authority than the late pope, John Paul II, said that evolution is more than just a hypothesis. It is a thrilling theory that has demonstrated its explanatory power over and over again in diverse scientific disciplines. Intelligent design theory has no such record. Why then, do some religious parents want intelligent design theory taught alongside evolution in America's public school classrooms?
For some religious fundamentalists, this may indeed be a way of making room for God in science classes. But for many parents, who are legitimately concerned about what their children are being taught, I suspect that it is a way of countering those proponents of evolution - and particularly of evolutionary biology - who go well beyond science to claim that evolution both manifests and requires a materialistic philosophy that leaves no room for God, the soul or the presence of divine grace in human life.
It is one thing to bracket the divine in pursuit of scientific truth - after all, there is no way to include God as a factor in a scientific experiment. But it is something else to suppose that scientific methods and the truths thus arrived at constitute the only kind of knowledge we can have.
In science, as in other practices, there are those whose world views are shaped entirely by the methods and disciplines of their work. Thus the Nobel laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA, declares that "one of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural." A historian of ideas would immediately recognize this perspective as an echo of the 19th-century clash between proponents of science and religion.
And then there are evolutionists of a more philosophical bent, like Michael Rose of the University of California at Irvine, who use evolution to explain everything, including religion. The penchant to make evolution the intellectual linchpin of a wholly atheist outlook is manifest in the writings of Richard Dawkins, professor of public understanding of science at Oxford University, whose public understanding of human beings is that they are "survival machines" for genes.
It is unlikely that parents who want intelligent design taught on an equal footing with evolution read books by Wilson, Rose or Dawkins. Chances are they are among the Americans who are more likely to believe in the Virgin Birth than in evolution. That tendency appalls some people but should surprise no one.
Most Americans, as they go about constructing lives and building families, making choices and exercising free will, do not think of themselves as gene survival machines or as random products of an impersonal process that whispers, in effect, "I am all that is."
And most Christians do accept the Virgin Birth as part of a larger religious narrative that tells them there is a God who created the world - one who cares so passionately about humankind that his only son took human form.
Simply put, belief in evolution does not compel anything like the personal commitment demanded by religious faith in a divine creator and redeemer. Thus, while it is tempting to pit Genesis against evolution as competing myths of human origins, many Christians, including scientists and theologians, do embrace evolution.
The danger in intelligent design is not just that it is bad science, but that it seeks to enlist evidence from science in the service of religious truth while denying evolutionary processes like mutation and natural selection.
But the designer God of intelligent design is no more necessary to Christianity (or other monotheisms) than was the deistic God of Newtonian physics. In both cases, God ends up being made in the image of an intellectual system, much like Aristotle's unmoved mover. That is not the God of revelation.
One way out of America's classroom conflict over teaching evolution would be to devise courses that examine the cultural uses to which evolution is put. But such courses would inevitably involve dialogue with religious concepts and perspectives - and thus raise further objections from those who see no place at all for religious ideas in public education.
And so, while I think intelligent design is the wrong approach, I sympathize with those parents who object to the materialist assumptions that can easily color the teaching of evolution, absent any acknowledgment of the claims of religion. Those parents are smart enough to know that, like nature, some teachers abhor a vacuum.
Why Science And Religion Can And Must Coexist
Throughout history, religion and science have been in constant conflict with each other. The arrest and excommunication of astronomer Galileo for teaching that the earth is flat and revolves around the sun is just one example of this conflict. Many religious leaders and scientists today believe that science and religion are fundamentally different and will always contradict each other. But with what reason? Religion has always tried to answer our questions in an instinctual way, based on emotions, morality and scripture. Meanwhile, science removes all emotion and focuses on facts and evidence. On the surface they seem to be polar opposites. Although science and religion often seem to conflict, they are mutually dependent ways of thinking that ultimately seek the answer to the same fundamental questions; how and why we exist - our creation and commission.
Many people believe that religion has already determined how we were created. But every religion has its own unique and contradictory creation story. Some stories say the earth is really the back of a giant turtle, others say that a goddess danced in the ocean to separate water from air, and still others believe the entire world was created simply by one’s voice. While there are thousands of these stories, even looking at a few of them demonstrates just how different they are. If religion really could tell us how we were created, should not these stories be the same? It becomes obvious that these stories are parables rather than factual accounts. These stories were told to try to explain what man simply cannot understand. In the novel Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, Max Koehler illustrates how religion has answered what we do not understand. “Since the beginning of time, spirituality and religion have been called on to fill in the gaps that science did not understand. The rising and setting of the sun was once attributed to Helios and a flaming chariot. Earthquakes and tidal waves were the wrath of Poseidon” (Brown 25). The fact that we attempt to explain what we cannot comprehend is absolute evidence that we yearn for knowledge of our creation. But the inherent problem is that these creation stories are thousands of years old. We will never know who wrote them, or if they have any legitimacy. Despite these issues, religion has and always will seek the answer to how man was created.
The second question that religion looks to answer is why we exist. This question actually has an answer, and it is found in scripture. In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Many other religions share the same general commission. We are to love others and convert them to our religion, have faith in our deity, and in exchange we receive some sort of afterlife. This is religion’s strength. There are clear guidelines and rules for how we should live our lives and what our ultimate purpose is. What religion lacks in explaining creation, it makes up for in explaining our...
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