Monday, October 24, 2011

Attractive Belief Systems

Blaise Pascal wrote “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” William Dembski, intelligent design theorist, claims Pascal was “…not talking about people merely believing what they want to believe, as in wish fulfillment. Rather, he was talking about people being swept away by attractive ideas that capture their heart and imagination.”

Recently I concluded two lengthy written dialogues with friends who embrace theistic evolution. We all agreed in the end that “God is the Creator of all things.” That statement of agreement, however, belies fundamental disagreements between us involving the question “How did God create?” In particular, how did he create living things, including humans? Was modern man a unique and special creation appearing on earth at a specific point in time in the past few tens of thousands of years by a fiat miracle of God? Or did man slowly develop from LUCA (the last universal common ancestor) since plentiful bacterial life suddenly appeared on earth several billion years ago?

My friends both wound down the dialogue by asking questions such as “Does it make a difference?” and “We are not as far apart as you think we are.” Perhaps they thought the gulf between us would seem narrower. I have thought deeply about their statements and have concluded that it makes a significant and substantial difference. The differences should never diminish the quality of friendships or personal relationships. Nor should the differences affect the mutual respect we have for each other as individuals. But the issue is far from unimportant.

One friend wrote “I have tended to assume that if you take the scientific evidence from physics for an old universe, an old earth, etc. as valid evidence…you must already be on a road that leads to taking the same open mind toward the evidence for biological evolution as a scenario with some limited validity also.” This comment also goes to the heart of objections made to me by young earth creationist believers. Herein lies an ironic twist in discussions of this sort. Belief in an ancient cosmos does not presume belief in biological evolution. The eventual coalescence of matter into planetary systems such as our own unique Solar System resulted from physical laws based on physical constants established by the Creator from the moment of creation of the cosmos.

The world of living things poses an entirely different origins scenario. Physical systems operate according to the physical laws in effect from the beginning of time. We might say the “information” inherent in those physical constants was front-loaded into matter at the beginning. Living things, on the other hand, appear to have come into being with an exponentially vast, intelligent input of information long after the initial creation event. That information possessed directions for synthesizing thousands of different proteins and organizing them into complex, functional systems. Living systems are very different from non-living systems. An understanding of forces and motion, formation of storms in our atmosphere, or structure of complex mineral crystals, for example,--these are simple matters compared with an understanding of the origin of information needed to produce living systems. To use a sports analogy, the world of living things is in a different league.

Both friends stressed the dichotomy between theology and science. I had repeatedly made the proposal that science and theology comprises “a single, self-consistent whole,” and that we should be able to inspect the creation using the methods of science and identify the work of God, particularly with respect to the origin of information in the DNA/RNA of living systems, as well as in the exquisite design and function of living and non-living things alike. This argument does not resonate with theistic evolutionists because of their insistence on keeping the conclusions of science completely within a naturalistic box. One friend, a career professional scientist, claims “divine agency in creation is not subject to mundane scrutiny by the powers of human reason, but is hidden.”

Most theistic evolutionists prefer to accept the scenario of mutations, natural selection, and plenty of time to explain the process of change naturalistically. Nearly all would insist on knowing how a miraculous process such as creation of life or creation of a new species would work. To claim God acts to create or reorganize molecules in some unknown fashion does not satisfy the theistic evolutionist. They prefer to continue the search for a naturalistic process to account for origins of species, including man. We acknowledge that for some, this is an attractive idea which captures the heart and imagination. Their ability to explain events in natural, human terms provides a sense of empowerment. We also note that the science profession in the last 1½ centuries has constructed a wall of separation between itself and theology. As a result, science is not perceived favorably by many in the community of faith.