Science vs Religion: Fact vs Faith
A large part of the controversy surrounding the arguments over the validity of evolutionary theory in light of religious beliefs centers on the fundamental differences between science and religion. Science describes the natural world around us using a means of observation and empirical testing that can be seen, felt or measured by instruments. These observations then result in the development of scientific theories. These theories represent the best possible explanation of natural phenomena given the current set of data available. There is no attempt on the part of science to give opinions about the morality or purpose of the observed phenomena. It is what it is and science describes characteristics without passing judgment.
Religion mainly focuses on spiritual matters that by definition, cannot be seen, touched or measured effectively. Religion deals with philosophical matter pertaining to morality and concerns between humans and their god. It deals with matters that are not verifiable. That does not make religious issues irrelevant or unimportant; it merely is a completely different field of endeavor. Religion is less concerned with empirical observable facts but rather with faith, the belief in things that cannot be proven. Science rests on provable events; religion relies on believing in that which cannot be proven. The two views are very, very different from each other even though each is a valid worldview in its own context.
Problems arise when people of science or religion try to use their unique worldview to comment on the specialized areas of the other. Sometimes religion touches upon explanations of the natural world. These explanations are often based on information known centuries or millennia ago. These explanations are passed down over time and are not changed even in the face of sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is when these archaic explanations are used side by side with current scientific knowledge that conflict arises. Each side puts for the notion that their explanation is correct. Scientists do not like to put observable and tested explanations up against ideas that were generated hundreds or thousands of years ago.
Those who from a religious perspective try to counter the ideas of evolutionary theory use biblical accounts of the creation and end up trying to support an idea that is not empirically provable. Scientists reply with calls to see the evidence which is not forthcoming because biblical accounts rely on faith that they are true. Thus the stage is set for controversy, each side maintaining that they alone hold the truth of the matter.
Types of Creationists
Creationism encompasses the belief that all of nature came into being at the hands of an all powerful force or creator. Different religions believe in different gods but the common thread is that some being or beings caused the entire natural world to come into existence. In this sense, Christians, Muslims and Jews are all creationists. They all believe that God created the heavens and the earth and continues to be involved in the creation to this day.
Generally speaking, creationists believe in the biblical description of the origins of the earth as literal fact. They do not view the bible as a book of morality along but also as a history and science text where the stories listed there actually happened as a matter of historical fact.
From there creationists break up into many different groups with slightly different takes on this basic premise.
Flat earth Creationism
This group believes in the description of genesis of the earth as flat and covered by a solid dome or firmament. They believe that the waters held away from the earth by the firmament are the source of the waters for Noah's flood. They read about the "four corners of the earth" and hold that to be a literal truth. Many of these people belong to the International Flat Earth Society. They have a web page and everything.
This group acknowledges that the earth is round but it does not orbit the sun. The earth is in fact the center of the universe and all stars and planets orbit the earth. This view was shared by ancient Hebrew scholars long before Galileo and Copernicus. While there are not many Flat earthers or Geocentrists, one of the people who helped change the teaching of evolution in Kansas was a geocentrist.
Young earth Creationism
One of the most common forms of creationism today deals with the earth as only being a few thousand years old. Much of this is based on Bishop Ussher's calculation of the age of the earth based on the genealogy found in the Bible. They believe the earth was created in 6, 24-hour days. While they agree that the earth is round and moves around the sun, they interpret all geology in light of Noah's flood.
An interesting offshoot of young earth creationism attempts to reconcile the belief in an earth not more than a few thousand years old with those who believe in a much older earth by using a creative twist to the story. The Omphalos argument states that the earth is very young but was created to give the impression that it's much older. This gets around the arguments of old earth creationists while maintaining a belief that the earth is only a few thousand years old.
Old earth Creationism
There are several types of creationism that are all considered Old earth. They vary in different aspects of how they explain the age of the earth while still holding to the story found in Genesis. Those who believe in old earth creationism accept the evidence that the earth is very old but still maintain that all life was created by God.
Day-age and Gap creationism
These are similar in that each interprets the beginnings of the creation story as actually having taken much longer than a mere 6 days. Gap creation discusses a large gap between the formation of the earth and the creation of all the animals and humans. The gap could be millions or billions of years old. This gets around the scientific evidence that the earth is several billion years old without having to believe in the process of evolution itself. Day age creationism is similar in the length of time but talks about each of the 6 days as really meaning a billion years or so of geologic time.
One of the most common forms of creationism, progressive thought accepts the Big Bang as the origin of God. It accepts the fossil record of a series of creations for all of the organisms cataloged. However, each organism in the fossil record was a unique creation and not part of a continuous evolution pattern. They do not believe that modern species are genetically related to ancient ones.
This view of evolution maintains a belief in God but his creation came into being via the process of evolution. Basically God invented evolution and takes some form of an active part in the ongoing process. It also invokes the role of God in areas not discussed by science like the creation of the human soul. Theistic evolution is promoted by the Pope for the Catholic Church and is also espoused by most mainline Protestants.
Intelligent Design Creationism
Often referred to as IDC, this somewhat new version of creationism maintains that God's handiwork can be seen in all of creation if one knows where to look. This form uses science when it can get away with it, to create the impression of equal stature with mainstream scientific thought. They offer sophisticated arguments grounded in cell biology and mathematics to give the impression of complex scientific arguments.
Mostly, these arguments are all centered on attacking different parts of evolutionary theory, the idea being that if one part of evolutionary theory can be found to be incorrect then it follows that all of evolution much be incorrect. The term Intelligent Design is used to mask the fact that it's a form of creationism cloaked in scientific sounding ideas.
Other creationism forms: other religions Just about every ethnic people have an explanation for how the world began which are not based on the Jewish/Christian bible. There are probably thousands of these. Some are similar to those discussed, others are quite different. Islam, which also has different groups of people with somewhat different views on the subject basically follows the view of Theistic evolution. God created humans but may have taken a long time to do so.
Other peoples have more fantastic explanations about creation. The Finns have a story about a cosmic egg. The Chinese also refer to eggs. The norse speak of humans falling from the armpits of giants. Some believe that primitive forms of life like bacteria arrived here buried in asteroids that have impacted the planet in the distant past. Finally some groups like the Raelians believe that life was planted here by scientists from another planet. Since these extraterrestrial scientists have since visited the earth they've been mistaken in the past as gods. (This is the same group who a few years ago claimed to have cloned the first human being. Failure to produce an actual person led to the claim being discredited, something about the mother being too shy for cameras). Still it relevant to note that there are many beliefs about the origins of life other than the Christian viewpoint that so often discussed in the news.
God in the classroom
The creationist movement is mostly found here in the United States among fundamentalist Christians. The modern day creationist movement takes a literal interpretation of the bible as the only true interpretation. This view has not been the only view for Christians through history. In the early days of Christianity it was common practice to view the stories of the bible as metaphors used to teach or illustrate some point of morality. This was common practice for more than a thousand years of Christianity. Saint Augustine often took a metaphorical or allegorical approach to parts of the bible.
Things began to change at the time of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther held that people should focus on the scriptures alone and not the traditions of the church. At the time the Catholic Church was having problems and people like Martin Luther were attempting to reform what he saw as destructive practices. In the end he ended up creating a new church structure but was still hesitant to take a totally literalistic interpretation of the bible.
Later on, particularly in America and Britain another branch of Protestants, the Methodists took a more literal interpretation of the bible. Then the southern Baptists, in a sort of religious rebellion after the Civil War, took an extremely literalistic view of the Bible. At the time there was a change to industrialism that was seen as threatening to the agrarian south. Also the influence of "northerners" was being resisted on all fronts at a time when there was massive immigration from catholic Europe to the United States. The evangelical southerners were feeling threatened on several fronts all at once. They became very convinced that only through a literalistic view of the bible would their way of life be sustained.
All of these religious groups, as well as others, became politically and socially active and were involved in trying to influence the actions of society. Prohibition is one example of this activism. During this time everyone was also trying to reconcile the story of Genesis with the emerging scientific thought of the 1800's. Students were being increasingly exposed to the current scientific debate of the day with the emergence of Darwin's writings now being presented in schools. This brought on a creationist backlash partly fueled by some resentment of the Social Darwinism being discussed at the time. Social Darwinism or applying survival of the fittest thinking to humans was influential with political figures like Hitler during his rise to power. For these and many other reasons, some religious groups were extremely resistant to anything other than a literal interpretation of the bible. This influence is still strongly felt to this day.
More recently, when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 the social conservatives gained more political influence. In a time after the sexual revolution of the 60's and 70's when AIDS was not understood and viewed as punishment for a promiscuous lifestyle, the so called Religious Right became active in many social areas. Among this activism was a push to return to a more wholesome way of life which included a closer look at education. It was during this general push that new attempts to bring discussions of religion back into the public schools took place. With this was a new interest in promoting the genesis story as a valid scientific explanation for the origin of life. Many court battles were fought during this time over the teaching of evolution and something called creation science. These court battles go on to this very day.
Scopes trial / Inherit the wind
One of the most famous court battles over the teaching of evolution in schools took place in the mid 1920's. At that time it was illegal in the state of Tennessee to teach evolution, not religion. The ongoing clash between fundamentalists and evolutionists reached a head when a young school teacher, John Thomas Scopes, chose to defy state law and had discussions with his students in class about the teachings of Darwin. Keep in mind that at the time Darwin's work was only a few decades old. The work was widely accepted by the scientific community but it was still somewhat new to the common folk, particularly those in the heavily fundamentalist South.
The so called "scopes monkey trial" pitted two very famous lawyers against each other. William Jennings Bryan was a well known presidential candidate who became the chief prosecutor. Known for powerful preaching at southern revivals he held folk hero status among those who believed in a literal interpretation of the bible. To defend Scopes was northern lawyer Clarence Darrow, another well know personality who also happened to be agnostic. The stage was set for a monumental battle between the forces of godliness against secular atheists. Poor Darwin was to be caught in the middle...
Propelled by forces of modern informational technology (it was one of the first trials ever broadcast live by radio) the case was followed by millions all over the world. Darrow was denied the ability to present any scientific evidence as to the validity of evolutionary theory. Having lost the ability to defend evolution he chose to put William Jennings Bryan himself on the stand. Having then proceeded to make a fool of Bryan, Darrow in the end lost the case and Scopes was found guilty of breaking the law. The fine was $100 which was overturned on appeal. The case was never pursued after that but the impacts of the trial eventually led to the repeal of laws banning the teaching of evolution. Today, the situation has completely reversed itself. Rather than being unable to teach evolution in school, it's now illegal to teach about religion in schools.
In recent decades, the teaching of evolution has come under fire. Seen as an attack on religion, evolution has itself come under attack as nothing more than a theory. Since it's just a theory then other, perhaps opposing, theories should also be taught. This has led to the development of something called Creation Science. This manifestation of creationism does not operate as a scientific discipline but rather consists of attacks on aspects of evolution theory. It represents a thinly disguised attempt to talk about biblical interpretations of human origins in a science class in school. When attempted, groups like the ACLU have sued school districts to prevent religious topics from being taught in science class. They cite the separation of church and state found in the Constitution as grounds for barring the teaching of religion in public schools.
Others have argues that this does not constitute a legitimate complaint. They note that interestingly the phrase "separation of church and state" is not found in the Constitution. It was a phrase Thomas Jefferson used when talking about the establishment clause that is found in the constitution. The establishment clause denies the government the ability to establish a state religion to which everyone must belong. The founding fathers had enough of that back in England and other countries in Europe. Here everyone was supposed to be free to practice any religion they chose. It wasn't meant to deny the practice of all religion so as to not seem biased toward any single religion. This issue is still hotly debated in communities all across the country every Christmas when anyone puts up a manger display or Christmas tree in the public square.
Dover case and KansasOthers?
False science called legitimate science (find one thing wrong, house of cards)
Modern approaches to creationism are designed to circumvent the legal precedent against teaching religion in the schools. Many religious people are ardent supporters of returning to a more faith based society and they clearly target youth as a means of inculcating a particular point of view. If young people can be reached before they develop their own views of the world then they will be more likely to have a religious perspective when they get older. Since evolution has been wrongly identified as an agent of the secular progressive society that they dislike many attempts are still made to discredit the tenets of this well accepted science.
The evolution (if you will) of the ID movement has focused on trying to beat scientists at their own game. Since the courts have disallowed an overt teaching of religion in the schools, Intelligent Design attempts to confuse those who don't fully understand science by camouflaging its creationist ideas as completely scientific ones. ID proponents use scientific terms and principles in a slightly misinterpreted way to reach completely opposite conclusions of those reached by evolutionary theory.
For example, they misuse the term theory to describe Intelligent Design. It's often purported to be a valid, if competing, theory as to the origin of life on earth. True it bases its explanation on the biblical account but then uses supposedly scientific facts to support the story of the biblical creation. After all they claim, it's just another theory. Who could be against talking about a legitimate scientific theory? Plus they throw in a bunch of claims that they're being persecuted by an atheistic media machine and elitist school board members.
The problem is that they way they use the word theory is not the way a scientist used theory. ID'ers use the word theory in the common usage, just another possible explanation among a number of possible explanations each one as likely as the next. Scientists use the term theory as a well tested explanation of events that is alterable if new evidence is brought to light. (See the earlier lesson on the use of terms like hypothesis and theory) Those who espouse Intelligent Design could never think of a theory in those terms because to them the conclusion is NOT capable of being changed. The truth found in the genesis creation story is the only truth; it cannot be changed even in the face of new evidence. They are arguing from a totally different perspective but using, or misusing terminology used by scientists.
In the end all Intelligent Design proponents hope to do is confuse the generally scientifically illiterate public that the issue is open to debate. They hope to convince people that evolution is not really all that conclusive; it's just a guess, a guess that could easily be wrong. They won't explain that the theory of evolution is given the status of theory because it's so widely accepted and supported by data from very different fields of science. Calling something a theory really means that it's about as good as it gets in terms of good evidence. Only the concepts that science is very sure about get called a theory.
Another common error in logic comes from the very different perspectives involved in the member of opposite sides of the issue. Someone looking at the origins of creation from a religious perspective relies on the bible as evidence of what really happened. This is particularly important to someone taking a literal interpretation of the bible. Everything in that book must be true, if it is to be taken literally. Were any single story in the bible proven to be false, that would be a serious blow to a person's entire belief system. It is like a house of cards where the removal of any one would bring the whole thing crashing down. As a result any challenge to the preconceived notion is viewed as being very, very threatening. That's why it's such a touchy subject for so many. Heresy is not to be taken lightly and whole groups of people have been utterly destroyed in times past for daring to change the accepted beliefs of the time.
People with this view of religion would bring the house of cards thinking with them as they try to discredit evolution. To them, all they need to prove is one aspect of evolution false. Then the entire theory would have to be scrapped. The problem is that scientists don't take a literalistic view of their theories. In science a theory is meant to be altered in the face of new evidence. Hypotheses are altered all the time and no one is offended. Only when a hypothesis is tested over and over without modification does it become an accepted theory. Even then, all someone would have to do is show a fossil of a human riding a dinosaur and much of the theory of evolution would have to be altered. There are many ways to demonstrate that the current thinking about evolution is incorrect. It's just that every time someone makes a new discovery it reinforces the existing theory. If you think about it, anyone who could disprove evolution would be the most famous person in history since Darwin himself! Many have tried, but no one has offered anything resembling convincing evidence against evolution. The arguments against it are based in pseudoscience that does not stand up to review by other scientific experts.
Attack the ID crowd!!!!!
The ID crowd often includes scientists who are familiar with the terminology of science so they can make the arguments sound really complex. Many tend to be engineers in search of a mathematical precision that is sometimes not at all possible in biological systems. Mathematics and physics study phenomenon that are almost always highly predictable. It takes a highly intelligent mind to succeed in these fields. They do not understand that biology is the science of the exception to the rule; living organisms do not always behave in totally predictable ways. When someone tries to apply mathematics to biological exceptions things don't always work out as predicted and the common mistake is to attribute this complexity to a higher being. This is then offered as "proof" of God.
Since the engineer couldn't figure out how it works then it's beyond the understanding of humans and thus belongs to the realm of God. It's an interesting circular argument but not exactly empirical proof. Still they manage to make their arguments sound so complex that a normal person cannot argue with their position and are thus more likely to accept their conclusions without question. It's a form of jargon overload meant to sound scientific and thus trustworthy. However these arguments almost never stand up to serious scientific review by peers familiar with the science being discussed. Often the argument contain glaring omissions or misinterpretations that a normal person would never notice. The Intelligent Designer proponents rely on this to spread their views.