Man has always asked questions about how the world began. All cultures in the ancient world had origin myths. People looked to higher powers, or deities, or life forces, to explain what they could not understand. Researchers do not know where humankind’s need for spirituality comes from, but it is clear, looking at history, that faith and the need to believe in something greater than ourselves are part of what makes us human.
The late Stephen Jay Gould, professor of zoology and geology at Harvard University, believed that science and religion were not in conflict. Because they are entirely different, he argued, they could not be synthesized into any common theme (Mitchell & Blackard 2009, p. 146). His is a view that is shared by many scientists who draw a distinction between science and scripture. Science and scripture offer us two different things. One does not have to choose to accept one or the other. There is room in a belief system for both because they answer different questions and meet different needs.
Mitchell and Blackard believe that there is no real debate between the Bible and science, when each is taken whole, but rather “a small number of misunderstandings or disagreements” (p. 85). Darwin’s theory of evolution was shocking and divisive in its day and is still considered blasphemous by the most fundamental Christians. To call it a “disagreement” seems like a sweeping understatement, yet it is a disagreement. People have different beliefs and neither side can be definitively proven right or wrong. It depends what one can accept on faith.
Sir Isaac Newton believed in science but also believed in God. His work provided a bridge between the Bible and science; Newton saw no conflict between them. “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done” (Mitchell and Blackard, p. 55).
Even though Newton saw no conflict, millions of people, both before and since Newton, have held that belief in the Bible and belief in science are mutually exclusive. Christian fundamentalists believe that God created the earth and everything in it over a week’s time. Dinosaurs, they believe, did not exist because the world is not old enough; fossils and other evidence, they maintain, were placed by God to test the people’s faith. For some, God has served as “a stand-in for scientific explanation” (Mitchell & Blackard, p. 236). Until an idea could be proven through scientific method, it was explained away as a mystery of faith.
Mitchell and Blackard concluded that one need not choose between science and the Bible. The crux of the issue is the explanation for creation. Two theories have been advanced, the theory of evolution and the theory of intelligent design (ID), which proposes a more methodical and purposeful evolution than the one devised by Darwin and his followers. It is impossible to know which of these theories, if either, is correct. The authors argue that acceptance of a scientific explanation “does not minimize the role of God in the creative process” (Mitchell & Blackard, p. 256). If one believes in God, one can accept the premise that God could create the universe any way He chose to do it. Proponents of ID argue that this makes the most sense, and that neither scientific nor historical evidence support the theory of evolution.
Discover writer Dick Teresi recently interviewed Lynn Margulis, a biologist and Professor of Geoscience at the University of Massachusetts. She stated emphatically: “all scientists agree that evolution has occurred — that all life comes from a common ancestry, that there has been extinction, and that new taxa, new biological groups have arisen” (Teresi 2011). Carter and Welsh (2010, p. 222) state “evolution is the foundation of modern biology.” Recent work reported by Hlodan (2011, p. 265) enabled scientists to look at the evolution process in real time using viruses. The process, scientists argue, is totally logical. According to Carter and Welsh (2010, p. 48), “The creationist and intelligent design movements are social phenomena fueled almost exclusively by non-scientists in reaction to a scholarly declaration that runs contrary to social and religious sensibilities.” Despite the fact that the teaching of creationism is still “surprisingly common” (Carter and Welsh, p. 49) in high school biology courses, evolution is sound science. “The antievolutionist movement generally seeks to manufacture gaps in the scientific theory to the benefit of an alternative understanding of human origins” (Carter and Welsh, p. 48).
Part of our understanding of the theory of evolution comes from those who do not subscribe to it. Dr. Ronald Numbers, Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke to the 2009 Darwin Conference at California’s Pepperdine University, addressing the issues of antievolutionism. The conference marked the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentennial of his book Origin of the Species. There is an automatic association of Darwin and the theory of evolution and one of Numbers’ purposes in his talk was to dispel commonly held myths. Numbers cited the stage play Inherit the Wind, which later became an award-winning film. According to Numbers, it is a great movie but historically inaccurate. Unfortunately, it is often used by history teachers, Numbers charged, and there is actually little basis in fact. One of the key issues is the erroneous portrayal of antievolutionists who, in the 1920s, did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible as is commonly thought. A major point is that the antievolutionists did not believe that the world was created in six days, but rather in six creative epochs that could have taken place over thousands or millions of years. Proponents of antievolutionism were not anti-science but they drew the distinction between human and pre-human evolution. They had no theological objection to animals changing and adapting, but they did not believe that humans descended from the same line as animals.
Numbers pointed out a new term coined in the 1980s: methodological naturalism. It refers to “an appropriately Christian way to approach science.” For a long time, belief in God and scientific principles were considered mutually exclusive; one had to be on either one side or another of the argument. Numbers showed that one can believe in God and still be a scientist. In that way, he is in agreement with Stephen Jay Gould.
Dr. Kenneth Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University, is the author of Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search of Common Ground Between God and Evolution. In his talk for Pepperdine’s “Distinguished Lecture Series,” he discussed the cultural war being waged in the United States under the guise of a simple debate between evolution and creationism. As Miller pointed out, it continues to be an either/or issue for a surprising number of people.
Miller cited the comments of Mike Huckabee (a creationist) during the 2008 Presidential primary and he discussed in depth a case in Dover, Pennsylvania, where teachers’ refusal to teach intelligent design resulted in a court battle. Miller calls the argument a cultural war rather than an argument about science because intelligent design has taken on a religious overtone. Evolution is considered “the ultimate lie” and the “rock solid foundation of what is wrong in society.” The belief in evolution has somehow become tied to the moral decline of our country. Those who subscribe to the theory of evolution, some believe, are necessarily atheists or, at the very least, agnostics.
Carter and Welsh (2010, p. 49) note “Antievolutionists commonly point out that, when you view a photograph of the Mount Rushmore National Monument, you realize that this is not a natural phenomenon and that it must have had an intelligent designer. The universe, the earth, and humans, they argue, have characteristics that likewise indicate the existence of an intelligent designer.”
Ken Miller, believes that the argument should not be about God vs. science. Miller does not believe the two should be mutually exclusive and in fact, as both a Catholic and a scientist, believes in a God who is “so clever” as to be able to set a process in motion. Miller argued that “created” and “designed” have in recent years been used synonymously and both with a reference to God. Using the examples of fossil evidence, he illustrated the transitional forms that link the whale, an exclusively aquatic animal, with animals that could live both in the sea and on the land. Creationists argued these transitional forms did not exist; Miller points to the fact that new ones are being discovered all the time. The fact that scientists have not found all of them does not mean they do not exist.
Miller blurs the line between evolution and intelligent design. He believes both in a Creator and a scientific process, as evidenced by fossil remains. Carter and Welsh (2010, p. 50) would still refute what Miller has to say. “When you really study nature,” they wrote,…