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Defending Science

Posted on: May 08, 2017

Category: Theology

Defending Science

According to David Friedrich Strauss (1835-1872), angels are mythical beings who serve two purposes. One is to reflect our hope that there is intelligence beyond the human experience, and the other is to portray God as a King with a court of admirers. The second purpose is consistent with the way ancient people portrayed their gods as empirical figures. The first purpose is debatable, but it does seem to invoke an unending human question, is there anybody out there?

On several occasions lately, I have encountered the insistent argument of intelligent design. Likely, we all know the argument. Its premise is that life on earth is sufficiently complex to justify an intelligent designer to the universe. Like the experience many others have, no matter what evidence or explanation is offered to the contrary, the intelligent design defender will not be moved. Exasperation usually follows. I wonder two things. Is this insistent spirit the same spirit that allows "alternative facts" to stand on par with real ones, and, if so, where does this spirit come from? As a theologian, I can say with some integrity that it does not come from "God."

Interestingly, the Bible actually supports evolution, though it does so in an ancient sort of way. The Bible expresses, in a collective way, a belief in progress and in the steady move of history toward an end time. The biblical books hold collectively the basic idea that things happen according to their time and on the right occasion in the unfolding process of events. The Greek word for this is "Kairos," what we often translate as the "ripe time" or the "opportune moment." It is the ancient way of expressing the right conditions for the development of new life. It is ancient evolution in action.

As a theologian, I am inclined to argue that people who oppose evolution, who oppose the development of life forms on earth due to changing conditions and timely adaptation, lack faith. In place, the drive is fear, that is, the inability to trust life as an unfolding process for fear of where it may go. Fear is the driving force against adaptation and change. Fear expresses the desire to control; it feeds on ignorance. It finds joy in power. Despite all the diversity of books and theological opinions found in the pages of the Bible, one thing that is consistently expressed in the voice of angels is "fear not." The one piece of advice that theology offers the world is, do not be afraid. It is the advice of letting go, trusting, loving, and finding joy in our fragile being.

Intelligent design is an argument that seeks to impose the will of a supernatural being upon the natural order. It is a top-down argument. Evolution appeals to nature. It explains the earth and its complexity as that which arises from the natural setting. It is, for lack of a better expression, a bottom-up argument. The problem with the intelligent design argument, aside from the lack of evidence, is that it does not trust nature. It does not believe that over time nature can change on its own and without the permission of a father figure. The need for the authority of the father is why it is an argument rooted in fear. To extend the metaphor, the argument insists that left on their own, the children (nature) will descend into chaos. But as every parent knows, if this is the attitude we take toward our children, then we have no trust in them. The actual biblical directive here is not to lack trust but to have faith. Put into the setting of our time, this means that the right theological attitude toward nature is to affirm evolution, cooperate with the process of nature, and trust that if humanity cooperates with nature, nature will cooperate with us. The intelligent design argument is a red herring. It takes us away from the promises that come with trust.

I must say, as a theologian, I never thought the day would come when the act of defending science would be the most important religious act I could undertake.

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