Last night I received an email from a Michael Zimmerman, asking for me to consider adding my signature to an open letter which states that religion and science do not have to be in conflict. You can read the letter here. Since I don’t believe they do conflict, I read through the email and the open letter thinking that perhaps I would. After reading it, I came to the following conclusions:
This letter is not about affirming that science and theistic faith in general and Christianity in particular are not at odds with each other, it is affirming that the theory of evolution is true and therefore the accounts of creation in Genesis cannot be true.
Mr. Zimmerman and the 13,000 other Christian clergy who signed this letter (he has separate letters for Rabbis and Buddhists by the way), assert that the
theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.
Really? By definition, “theory” does not mean “fact.” It means “this is an idea that may explain what we see.” The language of this letter shows an ignorance of basic rational knowledge that to me is much more concerning than the debate over creation/evolution. When theory is treated as “foundational scientific truth” one is no longer engaged in science, but in politics.
At the core of this letter is the idea that “Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth.” This idea is affirmed and restated further on, saying that religion and science are “two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.” Admittedly, some Christians want to have the truth of science fit inside the box of religious truth. Others want to have religious truth (if there must be one) inside the box of scientific truth. I disagree with both these suppositions. This option is no better: to have two separate “boxes” of truth, one for scientific truth and one for religious truth; the result being essentially “if you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone.” What this ends up doing is saying that religious truth cannot inform and critique scientific truth and visa versa. Hence the letter’s conclusion that since evolution is a scientific truth, Christians who critique it with religious truth are simply being irresponsible and illogical.
I respectfully disagree with this supposition. It seems that by categorizing religious truth and scientific truth as different “orders” and different “forms” of truth, one is really not about arguing for “complimentary” truth but for two kinds of unrelated truth. I will readily admit that the question being addressed in the creation accounts of Genesis is “why are we here?” not “how did God do it?” But fundamental to Christianity is the idea that creation was a deliberate creative act of God, and that human beings were intentionally and purposefully created by Him in His image and likeness so that we could be in a relationship with Him. It is also fundamental to Christianity that God is good, truthful, and does not lie. The theory of evolution necessarily runs against these religious truths. Evolution theorizes random chance and changes led to life as we know it today, not intentional creation. If we are not intentional, rational creations of God then both the Christian truths of a created universe and God’s being truthful are not true.
Religious truth is truth like any other truth. Religious truth must first pass the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction says that any particular thing cannot be its opposite at the same time and in the same way. For instance an apple cannot be an orange at the same time and in the same way. Any belief we have about anything (let alone our theology) needs to pass this qualification.
Religious truth should make sense with our experience. It needs to make sense with our experience of God and the world around us. It is going to explain what we see and experience in life. It should explain our experience of other people. It should be clearly helpful and relevant to our daily life. For instance, our theology needs to fit with our experience that there is good and evil. Good theology will give meaning and relevance to what we see and experience. By definition, the theory of evolution undermines the existence of moral categories like good and evil since life happened by chance. Any belief which sees evil as an illusion, does not fit with our universal experience.
Religious truth must also make sense with what we know and understand about the world and ourselves. Therefore, theological truth should complement, enhance, and even explain other areas of truth such as science, anthropology, and history. In the same way, good theology should also make sense with what we know and understand about ourselves. Good theology should help explain who we are and why we are the way we are. Good theology will back up and explain realities such as the order and laws of nature, our need to be loved and needed, and why there is evil and pain in the world.
And last, it must be practicable. Good theology should be able to be consistently lived out by the believer. While no one can live out his or her theological worldview perfectly all the time, it should still be possible to do. For instance, atheism (the theological idea that there is no God) cannot be consistently lived out. The atheist cannot really claim that there is inherent value to life or that there is such a thing as moral right or wrong. The significance of life and the idea of right and wrong, good and evil, are not consistent with the evolutionary view that life is a haphazard phenomenon with no design or purpose.
There is plenty of evidence for micro evolution (evolution within species), but is there any proof of macro evolution (evolution between species)? If there is I am unaware of it. Reason tells me that Mr. Zimmerman is asking me to check my brain at the door in the name of science. Sorry buddy. I’m just not down with that.