Friday, October 26, 2012

Cause and Effect

Our understanding of reality includes, among many other abstract topics, the frequently used scientific inquiry of cause and effect. In terms of origins discussions, for example, we might ask if the molecules to man origins theory of man’s existence is explainable by a naturalistic evolutionary process, or do we explain man’s existence as the product of a front-loaded supernatural miracle at a given point in relatively recent human history? The modern day sibling of evolution is anthropogenic global warming theory. It has a somewhat similar pivot point of cause and effect. Is the warming of our planet caused by man’s increased production of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, or is observed and projected earth warming caused by multiple combinations of factors affecting natural climate oscillations in past ages and still occurring today? The applied scientific term is causal adequacy.

In the evolution and climate change inquiry, errant conclusions are devastating. Assigning the reality of man’s existence to a naturalistic evolutionary process when man really originates with a supernatural transcendent miracle is a theological error of considerable magnitude. We are called upon to assess the scientific credibility of proposals of causal adequacy, comparing both scenarios. The Christian must judge the strength of evidence for front-loaded intelligent design of human genetic existence against the strength of evidence that changes in our genetic inheritance have been achieved gradually and naturalistically. It is our stance that man’s origin in a transcendent miraculous event is supported by plentiful evidence which may be considered scientific, not merely theological. An example (one of many), is the origin of DNA--the coded genetic information bank which could only be the product of an intelligent mind.

Given that our climate has been warming somewhat since 1850, what case do we make for the theory of devastating anthropogenic global warming which still rules media reporting each time a weather disaster occurs? If global warming does not result in significant overall damage to our planet we must turn off the alarm button while searching for more convincing evidence. Whenever climate conditions change there are winners and losers among living things. There are some losers on a seasonal basis if a harsh winter devastates the next season’s pheasant hunting or if a summer heat wave wilts some of our garden crops. Longer term winners may include increased northern range of mockingbirds and cardinals and increased growth rates of foundation species such as birches and aspens at higher latitudes. Admittedly these are somewhat trivial examples but may serve to illustrate our larger point. Winning and losing species have been coming and going in diverse geographical regions for thousand of years as our earth climate and regional ecology have naturally oscillated within the purview of God’s omniscient master plan for planet Earth.

Let’s return to the issue of cause and effect. Life scientists enjoy describing effects they observe among the plentiful variety of living things. Their catalogs of living things fill thousands of biology volumes. Evolutionary biologists notice both similarities and differences among the creatures they study. To explain similarities among creatures, they posit that the creatures are related by common ancestry. They credit common ancestry as the primary cause. This connection among living things is thought to be a majestic naturalistic conclusion to help explain origins. For evolutionary biologists the conclusion produces satisfaction that they have identified an important relationship between cause and effect in living things. With respect to the differences among living things, they propose different causes and effects. Certain changes occurred to produce differences between species. They claim those changes were driven and produced by a theoretical blend of mutation and natural selection, a process repeated millions of times to generate our millions of functioning species.

Climate scientists also search for causes and effects. They enjoy describing what is happening and what is going to happen to our weather in great detail. Related questions arise: Why did we have pleasant or unpleasant weather? What cause may we assign to what effect? The most successful meteorologists receive high grades for answering these questions skillfully. Climatologists proceed with their work at a different level of inquiry. As the trend of weather events over time blends into questions of long term climate change, the same questions of cause and effect arise. Why does the weather seem to be warming over time frames of many decades? Our winters do not seem to be as cold and snowy. Is there an answer? Notwithstanding major historic climate oscillations on a scale of thousands of years, they ask, “What is the cause of the current climate oscillation?”

Since the last quarter of the 20th century, our culture has been immersed in the digitally driven information age. We desire more answers than ever before. If answers are not readily available, many competing computer models are generated to help promote various agendas. Discovery of past, present, and future information gives scientists a feeling of enhanced knowledge and power. I do not wish to denigrate the acquisition of knowledge. As we search for causes and effects of recent changes in our climate, we discover the slight warming of our climate in the past 160 years may not warrant more alarm than it would have had our information age arrived many centuries ago.

Evolution and anthropogenic climate warming are topics which generate disagreement within the Christian community. We must approach the conversation without abrading the integrity of others. Above all, all parties to the discussion must realize that the discovery of truth is more important than the elevation of any personal agenda or philosophy. We must seek truth and wisdom with great diligence. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NIV)