Today is the 204th birthday of Charles Darwin, whose impact upon science, history, and culture is almost beyond compare in the modern world. He revolutionized biology and a few other sciences in the process. This is indisputable.
Like many Christians, I have had to reconcile my religion with the prevailing ideas of our culture which are founded upon and bound up in Darwin’s idea of evolution (actually, the theory of evolution has changed a lot since Darwin’s original was published, but let’s still call it his). So, I thought it would be fitting to take the occasion to explain how the Christian should respond to and relate to science in general and Evolution in particular.
Those who know me know that I came by this interest honestly. My dad is a geologist who feels very strongly about evolution and teaches people how it contradicts Genesis and can be detrimental to Christian doctrines which seek to compromise with the science. The topic is also one of my reading hobbies: particularly the philosophy and history of science, which I find fascinating. So, I feel qualified to write upon this topic, because I’ve read Behe and Lubenow and Ham, but also because I’ve read Asimov, Feynman, Kuhn, and Russell (not to mention Dawkins and Hitchens, the assholes of the debate).
The key things that Christians must realize when talking about science and evolution is that they must understand what science is: a way of studying and knowing the world. Just as importantly, they need to realize what it is not: the opinion of scientists. When talking about any scientific knowledge, our demand is always, “don’t tell me what science says or scientists say, tell me what experience, what evidence there is behind a particular idea or claim”.
This is how to participate in the debate. Make sure that you can distinguish between what scientific inquiry has shown (the results of observation and experiment) and what naturalism claims based upon scientific inquiry (the extended extrapolation of natural processes into the distant past).
Once this distinction is made clear, it is pretty easy to reconcile our beliefs with any seeming contradiction from science. The contradictions are almost always founded upon the idea that the physical processes we observe today (the adaptation of animals to their environment or the slow gathering of dust into planetary bodies) are solely responsible for the complexity and beauty of the natural world. There’s nothing really internally contradictory within this idea. It works well enough–though there are a few places where the explanation falls short or is incomplete (the beginning of life, for example, or the development of consciousness).
But these ideas are not founded on science alone, they are also founded upon the philosophical position of Naturalism, which maintains that the physical process we can observe are the only forces active in the universe. This is the opposite of Christianity, which believes and maintains the existence of the supernatural in the universe. Naturalism is different from Science in that is it generally impossible to prove or disprove (like most philosophies).
Naturalism is easy to disagree with. Science is nearly impossible.
It’s impossible to disagree with the well-established laws of physics or with observations like Darwin’s that the Finches of the Galapagos Islands had developed different types of beaks in accordance with their environments.
It’s easy to disagree with Naturalistic claims that say life evolved and developed solely using random mutation and natural selection. This is a claim of naturalism–Scientific inquiry can neither observe nor conduct experiments upon the pre-human past.
Keep in mind that I’m not trying to disprove evolution (a blog post would be an incredibly ineffective tool for such a task). I’m trying to explain how Christians should attempt to understand and reconcile their beliefs with it.
Let me end with some important advice for my fellow Christians:
- The Comments of blog posts or youtube videos is not the place to carry on this debate.
- It is as nearly impossible to “disprove” Naturalism as it is to disprove Creationism. They are intellectual constructs which are 10% evidence and 90% paradigm.
- The power of the gospel flows from the incarnation of Christ, not the deistic creation of the world; it won’t flow the other way.
- Internet Atheists are assholes. Don’t argue with them; it won’t work.
- Know your science.
- Know your religion. Read Lewis and Chesterton–they are masters of relating Christianity to the outside world.