February 28, 2014

Origins, Science, and the Bible (part 1)

"The Ancient of Days" (1794) by William Blake
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 27, 2014

Origins, Science, and the Bible (part 1)

I didn’t see the recent debate between atheistic evolutionist Bill Nye ("the science guy") and six-day-young-earth creationist Ken Ham, but based on what I’ve read about the debate (e.g., see my colleague Patrick Franklin's blog), and based on my background knowledge concerning Nye and Ham, it's clear that the Nye-versus-Ham debate was much too narrow in its approaches to the origins issues. Atheistic evolution and six-day-young-earth creationism are located at the extreme ends of a continuum that has several more models in between. Still, I think that debates are good to spur on careful thinking.

As for me, I favour those models that at least allow the intelligent design hypothesis into the scientific explanatory toolkit to compete as an account for any features in the universe which smack of intelligent causes, if the features can be properly discerned as such on the basis of public evidence and careful use of reason—i.e., on the basis of careful science—whether the universe is old, young, or somewhere in between (I believe it’s old). 

Though I think that the various (non-atheist) evolutionary theories are logically compatible with God (as a means whereby God creates), I have doubts about whether they actually do a good job of accounting for (a) life's origin and (b) the whole of life’s subsequent diversity—but I'm no expert on this, so I'll let the scientists slug it out. 

I also favour an understanding of the Genesis account of the Bible that doesn't take a young-earth, literal six 24-hour day interpretation as the only reasonable interpretation. It seems to me that the text is open to other interpretations, which are at least as reasonable, if not more reasonable. 

Today, I don’t want to take issue with any (other) of the goings-on at the Nye-Ham debate. Rather, I simply want to recommend some resources for students, teachers, parents, and pastors who find the origins-science-Bible questions interesting—and who might wish to pursue further investigation. 

To help understand Genesis vis-à-vis contemporary science, I recommend John Lennox's little book Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science (Zondervan 2011). Lennox is a philosopher of science at Oxford University. In recent years, Lennox has engaged in public debate with his Oxford colleague, the popular atheist Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion). 

To help understand scientists and their disagreements about the origins of life and the role of evolution, I recommend the website for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. (See  too their website faith + evolution, which is a resource aimed especially to assist pastors, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, and high school students.) The Center for Science and Culture is a respectable intelligent design think tank that questions the extent of evolution’s creative powers and argues that science can detect intelligent causes in nature (sometimes, when evidence warrants). 

For a helpful lecture that provides an outline of the merits of intelligent design as a competing hypothesis in science, I recommend Stephen C. Meyer’s “Intelligent Design: The most credible idea?” (YouTube 2012). Meyer is a philosopher of science, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and author of the books Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design(Harper 2009) and Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Harper 2013). 

Of course, intelligent design is not without its detractors, even within Christian circles. So I also recommend the website for BioLogos. 

BioLogos is a respectable theistic evolution think tank, founded by Francis Collins. Collins is current director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, former director of the Human Genome Research Institute, recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Science, plus author/co-author of the popular books The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press 2006) and The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (InterVarsity Press 2011). 

BioLogos accepts evolution as God’s means of creation through natural processes (a.k.a. “evolutionary creation”), but rejects the intelligent design hypothesis (which takes some features of life’s origin or development to be better explained in terms of intelligent causation). 

To further understand the scientific merits—and alleged faults—of intelligent design (ID), I recommend the debate “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” (YouTube 2009; transcript available here). This debate is a respectful, high-level intellectual interaction between Francisco Ayala, an anti-ID biologist and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and William Lane Craig, a pro-ID philosopher of science and Christian apologist (website: Reasonable Faith).

Next time I will share my thoughts about some philosophical matters relevant to the overall conversation about science and the Bible. More specifically, I will make a case for thinking that God’s revelation via nature and God’s revelation via Scripture have domains which overlap. 

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

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