Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Discrediting Faith?

Beautiful sunsets, magnificent mountains, and various other glorious natural displays have long triggered deep feelings of worship. My mother was fond of quoting the King James translation of Psalm 121:1: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” She balanced the poetic quality of verse 1 by a follow-up quote of verse 2: “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” For her, the majestic hills in our northwest New Jersey neighborhood triggered deep reverence. But my parents’ Christian faith was affirmed even more deeply in gaining understanding of how God’s created world worked.

My father was a statewide agent for a seed company during the 1940s. In that role he was involved in promoting the cutting edge agriculture which widely came into use during the first half of the 20th century--the development of plant hybrids. Two pure strains of plants called “inbred” varieties are crossed to produce a hybrid plant which manifests the best traits of both inbred varieties. Further crossing of that hybrid with another hybrid results in a “double cross,” manifesting the best traits of all four original pure inbred strains.

A small “Corn Data Notebook” from Hoffman Farm Seeds of Landisville, PA, 1946 edition, states “These great hybrids are continually improved, season after season—by patient, careful selection and progeny testing…and by introduction of new bloodlines.” The Hoffman firm was my father’s employer. As a child, I remember my father using mysterious terms like “inbred” and “cross.” He kept busy planting “test plots,” visiting farmers and helping them overcome the inertia of traditionalism, persuading them of the value of hybrid plants possessing “hybrid vigor” and their potential for greatly increased yields.

One may wonder whether discovering and applying genetic knowledge of how hybridization works weakened my father’s faith in God as the Creator of the many thousands of strains of pure, inbred plants. Quite the contrary! He praised God for man’s ability to discover how hydridization works and embraced it enthusiastically. The Genesis 1:28 exhortation to "...Fill the earth and subdue it...Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" would appear to apply here as well.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, in his much discussed book The Language of God, has captured the imagination of some evangelical Christians by proposing the compatability of theistic evolutionary beliefs with traditional orthodox Christian precepts. His topics for chapters 7-10, successively, are (1) Atheism and Agnosticism, (2) Creationism, (3) Intelligent Design, and (4) Biologos (codeword for theistic evolution). He calls each of these positions “options.” Collins dismisses options (1), (2), and (3), and suggests that the correct position is option (4)--theistic evolution.

Collins, in Chapter 9 (p. 193), claims belief in intelligent design attempts to “ascribe to God various natural phenomena that the science of the day had been unable to sort out – whether a solar eclipse or the beauty of a flower.” We may infer that Collins cites a solar eclipse as an example of an errant belief that God periodically performs a miracle of blackening the sun. We may further infer that people citing the beauty of a flower believe God is performing a “miracle” each time a flower blooms. Collins implies many intelligent design adherents have a “God-of-the gaps” religion, citing the above as examples. He states such “theories” have a dismal history, because “advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps,” thereby discrediting their “faith” that God performs miracles.

In The Language of God, Collins paints adherents of intelligent design as God-of-the-Gaps believers in a “discouraging tradition” running “a huge risk of simply discrediting faith.” He states “Advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps,” thereby discrediting the faith of many that God ever acted supernaturally along earth’s historical timeline. I conclude Collins would say that since we now know the moon, in its precise and predictable motions, periodically comes between the earth and the sun, our faith that God ever performs any sort of miracle has been discredited. Naturalistic scientists commit the argumentum ad futuris fallacy in their argument: Accept our argument because future evidence will support it. Some writers have named this the "naturalsim-of-the-gaps" argument.

As my parents grew older they became more aware of natural processes set in place by God to form mountains or make hybridization possible. Were my father alive today he would see the biotechnology of genetic engineering in the same light. Application of such technology reflects the function of intelligent design features long present in the world of nature. We do not weaken the credibility of the intelligent design concept; we strengthen it. One of the best examples of this strengthening effect is the incredible increase in our knowledge of the cell’s complexity since 1950, including the structure and coding functions of the DNA molecule. Intelligent design theists do not believe in God because of what we do not know, but because of what we do know.

Because of science, the concept of intelligent design has been strengthened exponentially.