Thursday, September 8, 2011

Keep It Simple

When we become adults our interactions assume a level of complexity we were unable or unwilling to assume as children. We think and interact with each other on many different topics. Three examples are religion, politics, and sometimes science. As children we absorbed the religion of our parents and for the most part, we accepted it without question. Likewise, our political awareness sprang largely from observations of our parents’ governance. Our blog concerns science, so we will include the common observation that children are budding scientists. They enjoy observing, capturing, collecting, testing what happens if…, and asking, “Why….?”

As we became older our religious, political, and scientific sophistication increased. We began to be more impacted by people outside our families and churches. In science, where discoveries are the most physically accessible, we continued to enjoy observing, collecting and inquiring. The added dimension of schooling provided more formal knowledge of facts and scientific procedures for investigating and discovering. This knowledge profits our children as they progress with their education.

Is there a downside to the acquisition of scientific knowledge in the setting of the public school? Christian creationist parents may be distressed to discover the level of indoctrination present in their children’s life science courses where evolution is the ruling paradigm. Many high school biology texts, in particular, relentlessly intone the term evolution, even when it serves no purpose for explaining the theory in the context of the discussion. Perhaps the spirit of evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky’s (1900-1975) hyperbolic utterance “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” functions as a rallying phrase in our biology classrooms. Contrariwise, mention of design theory or a creation alternative to explain even one of biology’s “big bangs,” such as the startlingly sudden appearance of bio-chemically complex bacterial earth life, could earn a teacher a trip to the courtroom for promoting religion in the classroom.

Our children’s crucial years prior to high school and college offer opportunities for parents and churches to make the most of our young folks’ fascination with details of the world of both living and non-living things. Instruction in both physical and functional design features of living things, as well as the precision and order of our physical world is within our capability, even for those children of pre-high school age. One of the finest appeals I have heard to church leaders regarding the use of science in our churches was presented by Deborah Haarsma of Calvin College during the October 2010 Vibrant Dance Symposium in Austin, TX. Here is the link to my post reporting on her talk:

Why do we title this post “Keep it Simple?” First, the Darwinian explanation of life and its origins complicates the simple concept that God created life suddenly on this earth, and new life forms over time, according to the Genesis account. This is far from a purely fideistic belief, because the fossil record is rife with clear indicators of sudden emergences of new and innovative forms. Evolutionary explanations of the development of life, which are diverse and often possess a high degree of uncertainty, make a simple concept difficult. We agree with philosopher William of Ockham (1285-1347), perhaps most famous for stating a principle later to become known as Ockham’s Razor: “Simpler is better.” It is also known as the Law of Parsimony. One writer claims it “shaves away unnecessary assumptions.”

Second, consider Stephen C. Meyer’s statement in his chapter “DNA, Darwin, and the Appearance of Design” from Signature in the Cell: “Even so, there is something curious about the scientific denial of our ordinary intuition about living things. For almost a hundred and fifty years, since its putative explanation by Darwinian theory, this impression of design persists as incorrigibly as ever.” Children, especially, who notice details, and ask, “Why?” or, “How did it get that way?” with sometimes wearying frequency, are satisfied with an answer such as “God created the butterfly that way and gave it those abilities.” A study of the natural world which even many atheistic scientists acknowledge having clear features of design, evokes in young an old an intuitive recognition of the work of God.

Recognition of order and design, productions of an intelligent agent, is rational to a far greater degree than a belief in random, chance events said to produce the incredible features of our cosmos and its life forms. The processes and discoveries of science have revealed this order and design. Before any of the recent discoveries involving the synthesis and structuring of proteins in body cells directed by RNA, the psalmist David exulted, as if presciently, “For you formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14 NASB) This intuition by Psalmist David enabled him to “keep it simple.”