Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Creativity for Creationists

Excerpted from an article by William Saletan, SLATE, December 24, 2014

Forty percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them reject evolution. Jeff Hardin, chairman of the University of Wisconsin’s zoology department, is an evangelical, but much of his evangelism is directed at his fellow believers. He wants to persuade them that evolution and Christianity are compatible.
Today, Hardin speaks for an emerging school of Christian thinkers. They call themselves evolutionary creationists. They believe that God authored the emergence of life and humankind but that evolution explains how this process unfolded. They accept what science has established: The Earth is billions of years old, and all species, including ours, have evolved from other species.
Hardin understands why many Christians recoil from evolution. But to believe in a young Earth, he says, you have to reject so much science that you can’t do research in related fields. “Intelligent design” tries to be more sophisticated, but you can’t build science around it, because it makes no testable predictions.
To learn and work in science, Hardin says, you have to follow its rules. Those rules are limited—they govern laboratories, not love—but they’re spectacularly successful. One of the rules is often called methodological naturalism. At a Faith Angle Forum last month, Hardin explained what this means: In science, you can’t make supernatural claims. That’s because supernatural causes aren’t repeatable. You can believe that God parted the Red Sea, but you can’t test that process experimentally or use it to predict the behavior of other bodies of water.
If God made the world, evangelicals shouldn’t be afraid to see his creation as it is.
You can recognize the ruthless dynamics of evolution, as Hardin does, while maintaining that it follows a divine plan. “God created the world with the intention that we would be here and that we would one day be capable of interacting with him,” says Hardin. To illustrate this paradox, he cites Proverbs 16: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Each natural event seems random, but the overall pattern advances a purpose.
Second, Hardin wants evangelicals to trust God. If God made the world, they shouldn’t be afraid to see his creation as it is. Hardin approaches science with serene faith. He believes that the evidence he encounters—what Francis Bacon called the “Book of God’s Works”—will be compatible with the Bible.
Hardin recognizes, crucially, that when the two books don’t seem to match, the error might be in his own understanding of the Bible. Rather than reject what science has discovered, he asks how scripture can be understood better so that it fits the scientific evidence.
Christians who believe that the world was created in six days, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, think they’re reading the Bible literally. But in reality, they’re projecting modern notions of time and narration onto their ancestors. Hardin shares their aspiration to be faithful to the Bible, but he argues that to achieve this, one must approach the text the way one approaches science: with empirical rigor. Scripture is a real thing. It was written and preached for a lay audience in a historical context. Those people weren’t scientists or journalists. So it makes no sense to treat the text as a tight chronology, nailing down timelines or the process of speciation.
Take the story of Adam and Eve. The standard interpretation is that God miraculously created this couple, and the rest of us descended from them. But that account runs into problems: for instance, the genetic evidence that the population of Homo sapiens was never smaller than 10,000.


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