Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Finding Darwin's God III

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part I, Part II

In chapter 3, titled "God the Charlatan," Miller takes on those who would reject much of modern science that apparently contradicts the Bible. He labels these opponents of science "Young Earth Creationists" or YECs for short. 

Most of the chapter deals with the age of the earth.  YECs claim that the earth is young, less than 10,000 years or so. Miller argues for an old earth based on the findings of geologists.  He, though not himself a geologist, lays out the basic reasoning that geologists use to estimate that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.  The strongest and most consistent method for dating the earth is a process called radiometric dating. While not belaboring the point (since I am in no way a geologist), the basics of radiometric dating are as follows: there are certain radioactive isotopes such as Carbon 14, Uranium 235, Potassium 40, and Rubidium 87 (among others) that are unstable and decay into other stable elements at a constant rate. A half life is the time that it takes for half of the unstable "parent" element to decay into its stable "daughter" element.  Because this rate is constant, this acts like a radioactive stopwatch that can accurately measure the time of the formation of that rock that contains the parent and daughter elements.  With half lives of up to 48 billion years, this method has been able to on numerous occasions date the formation of the earth to approximately 4.5 billion years old. 

YECs have had some quick comebacks and objections to this method of dating the earth, such as noting the assumptions that are present (e.g., the original chemical composition of the rock, the assumption of a constant rate of decay). Yet, Miller notes that even the YECs are admitting the accuracy of the method.  Miller quotes from the book The Genesis Flood, a YEC book, as follows: 
We reply, however, that the Biblical outline of earth history, with the geologic framework provided thereby, would lead us to postulate exactly this state of the radioactivity evidence.  We would expect radiogenic minerals to indicate very large ages and we would expect different elements in the same mineral, or different minerals in the same formation to agree with each other (p. 77).
Basically, the YECs do not deny the evidence, they just have a different explanation.  Basically, they argue that God created the earth ~10,000 years ago with "apparent age." In short, God created the earth to look 4.5 billion years old when in fact it was quite young. This reasoning holds for stars as well, that read as being billions of light years away.  The light from these stars did not in fact travel for billions of years, but instead, the light was created as already on its way. This is what has lead Miller to title this chapter "God the Charlatan." Here we get into theology.  If God created the world to look old, even if it is in fact quite young, then God is a liar, a cheat, and a fraud.  By trying to defend YEC, the YECs have in fact said profound and disturbing things about God. Miller ends his chapter this way:
What saddens me is the view of the creator that many people find what they believe to be divine revelation preferable to scientific knowledge. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have had to make Him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan.  Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath out feet and in the heavens themselves (p. 80).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Finding Darwin's God II

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part I

In Chapter 2, after stating that his stance as a believer in the scientific field places him outside of the norm, Miller sets out to discuss what science can investigate and how is can be investigated. He is responding to the following critique:
There is a school of thought that rejects the very idea that any theory about the past can be scientific.  Science, the argument goes, is based on experiment and direct, testable observation... Since there were no human witnesses to the earth's past, the argument goes, all statements about that past, including evolution, are pure speculation (emphasis original, p. 22). 
Miller answers this critique giving several examples of how science can investigate events that the scientist did not directly witness.  The first is that of forensic science.  The police do not have to witness a crime to scientifically investigate a crime scene and find scientific evidence that can lead to an arrest and conviction.  The second is the investigation of the sun.  No human has ever been to the sun and directly observed it in a laboratory.  Yet, one can investigate the effects of the sun and make scientific conclusions, such as the elemental makeup of the sun. His third example is somewhat whimsical, but deals with pop-top beer cans produced between 1962-1975.  These pop-tops can be found in trash deposits.  They are evidence left over from the past.  This leads to Miller's last example, which is that the past has left literally mountains of evidence buried in the earth.  It is this evidence that science can investigate and led scientists in the 19th century to conclusions that ended with Darwin's theory of evolution.

Miller wraps up chapter two by discussing the creative power of evolution.  He points out clear examples of evolution in the modern world such as the evolution of bacteria to become resistant to certain antibiotics.  He notes that scientists can actually witness this evolution in process because of the high reproduction rates of bacteria.  He also notes that scientists are beginning to use evolution in their research to create organisms with certain characteristics.  Evolution and natural selection, Miller contends, is a fantastic and creative tool that can bring phenomenal change in living organisms.

Miller concludes his chapter with the following quote:
It is high time that we grew up and left the Garden.  We are indeed Eden's children, yet it is time to place Genesis alongside the geocentric myth in the basket of stories that once, in a world of intellectual naivete, made helpful sense.  As we walk through the gates, aware of the dazzling richness of the genuine biological world, there might even be a smile on the Creator's face--that at long last His creatures have learned enough to understand His world as it truly is (p. 56). 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Finding Darwin's God I

I continue in my reviews of the books that I am using in my Religion and Science course this semester.  You can view my serial review of Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood here (Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, Part VIII).

The second book that I will be reviewing is Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller.

In Chapter 1, Miller lays out as starkly as possible the potential conflict between religious (Christian) views of creation and Darwin's scientific theory of evolution.  He sets side by side a question from a Christian Catechism with a parallel question from an imaginary scientific catechism as follows: 
Question: "Who made us?"
Answer: "God made us."
Question: "Who made us?"
Answer: "Evolution made us." (p. 1-2).

Miller lays out what he calls "Darwin's dangerous idea" as follows: "Evolution displaced the creator from his central position as the primary explanation for every aspect of the living world" (p. 14).
or as Richard Dawkins has put it, "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (p. 14).

Given the mountains of evidence that have been compiled over the past 150 plus years that support Darwin's original theory, Miller ends his chapter in the following way:
Is it time to replace existing religions with a scientifically responsible, attractively sentimental, ethically driven Darwinism--a First Church of Charles the Naturalist? Does evolution really nullify all world views that depend upon the spiritual? Does it demand logical agnosticism as the price of scientific consistency? And does it rigorously exclude belief in God?
These are the questions that I will explore in the pages that follow.  My answer, in each and every case, is a resounding no. I do not say this, as you will see, because evolution is wrong. Far from it. The reason, as I hope to show, is because evolution is right (p. 17) 
Miller, himself a Christian and a Scientist sets out to explain how, at least according to his point of view, both Christianity and Darwinism can exist together and how they can in fact have a fruitful relationship.  Stay tuned for further chapter reviews ahead.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VIII

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, Part VII

In the eighth and final chapter of his book, Greenwood lays bare his overarching agenda for writing: namely, to combat many Christians' war on certain parts of science, specifically the theory of evolution.  No, the book has not been about evolution at all, but in the final chapter he urges Christians to be consistent with regard to the relationship between science and religion, or science and biblical interpretation.  Inasmuch as modern cosmology is not controversial to most Christians, Greenwood uses this as a foil for his real agenda.  He shows that Christians accept the findings of modern science (i.e., modern cosmology), even when they directly contradict biblical evidence (i.e., ancient near eastern three tiered cosmology), and then calls Christians out for inconsistency of opposing the science of evolution. He also lists other examples where Christians hold to modern science over biblical teachings. The most prominent is modern medicine.  Very few people eschew modern medicine in favor of biblical remedies, such as putting a leper outside of the camp and waiting for it to go away.

In the end, I think that Greenwood's book is successful at bringing to the fore the cognitive dissonance that exists for many Christians who inconsistently oppose portions of science when they seemingly contradict the Bible, yet have no problems accepting other portions of science that also contradict the Bible.

I'll end with the following quote from Greenwood's conclusion:
Sincere Christians with sincere questions are not helped by artful interpretations of scripture that ignore the realities of the world God created.  As humanity presses on to unmask more and more mysteries of the cosmos, let us consider Calvin, Aquinas, Maimonides and Ambrose, who entreat us to let those trained in studying the natural world speak on matters pertaining to such. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VII

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI

Chapter VII is what I would call a "pastoral chapter."  After having spent six chapters laying out the evidence that the biblical cosmology follows the ancient near eastern cosmology and that this view is untenable with the modern scientific cosmology, Greenwood feels the need to reassure his readers who might feel that the book is an assault on the authority of the Bible.

Greenwood lays out the problem like this:
If someone's only experience with the bible is one in which the ancient cosmological evidence is either disregarded--whether by overprotective teachers or by willful neglect--or dismissed as not applicable, what happens when these issues are brought to their attention? The response, all too often, is either continued ignorance or willful abandonment of the entire Christian enterprise... In the case of the former, ignorance leads to a shallow faith, where sincere questions are given pat answers, theological complexities are brushed aside with blind faith, childlike faith never matures to a vibrant faith with deep roots that can withstand storms and droughts, and God is barely smarter than a fifth grader... In the case of the latter, the tragedy is that having been seemingly duped on this issue, believers wonder where else they have been led astray by their trusts Christian leaders.
Most of the rest of the chapter discusses the doctrine of divine accommodation. This doctrine expresses the view that when God speaks to humans (as in the Bible), God does so at the level of the humans understanding.  He likens this to parents talking to young children.  For example, when a parent is asked by a toddler why a pebble sinks in water, but a much larger boat floats, the parent does not give the toddler a lesson on water displacement and fluid dynamics.  He or she simply explains that it is because of the shape of the pebble and the boat. The explanation comes in terms the toddler can understand.  In a similar way, God accommodates his language to humans understanding at the time of the Bible's writing, which, in this case means, God speaks according to an ancient near eastern cosmology.

In the end, this chapter left a little bit wanting in my mind.  First, Greenwood seems to assume a fairly facile and non-nuanced view of biblical inspiration.  He seems to assume that all biblical material is direct communication between God and humans.  Yet, since this is not a chapter on biblical inspiration, perhaps I am expecting too much from Greenwood at this point. Second, his analogy about a parent is helpful in some respects, but, it may introduce some problems Greenwood did not expect.  If a parent tells a child a boat floats because of its shape, that is a simple but factual answer.  Of course there is a more complex and more complete answer, but it is nevertheless not demonstrably non-factual.  If God tells humans that the world is flat, that is a simple but non-factual (or perhaps I should say, alternatively factual answer). Maybe I am being unfair because analogies can always be pushed too far.  Nevertheless, I am not sure that Greenwood has really teased out accommodation in most helpful way, perhaps because of his too-facile assumption of divine inspiration of scripture.  If you have read the book, what do you think?