Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Creationism in science lessons? - Tuesday update

Updated Tuesday evening to add Guardian and Telegraph articles.

Following his remarks about creationism and science lessons the Revd Professor Michael Reiss has resigned his position as the director of education at the Royal Society.

The Royal Society issued this statement today.

Royal Society statement regarding Professor Michael Reiss

16 Sep 2008

Some of Professor Michael Reiss’s recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society’s Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society’s reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education a part time post he held on secondment. He is to return, full time, to his position as Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education.

The Royal Society’s position is that creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific.

The Royal Society greatly appreciates Professor Reiss’s efforts in furthering the Society’s work in the important field of science education over the past two years. The Society wishes him well for the future.

BBC ‘Creationism’ biologist quits job
New Scientist Royal Society prof resigns over comments
Lewis Smith and Mark Henderson in The Times Royal Society’s Michael Reiss resigns over creationism row
Ian Sample, science correspondent, in The Guardian Michael Reiss resigns over call for creationism in science lessons
Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent, in the Telegraph Royal Society scientist loses post in row over creationism in schools

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Comments

Quite right too. It is imperative that creationist delusion merchants are not allowed to peddle their fantasies as anything other than what they are - religionist myth

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 9:15pm BST

That's a great shame, and evidence, if it were needed, of how hard we find it to have a rational discussion about this stuff.

Michael Reiss is entirely in agreement with the Royal Society's position as expressed in that second paragraph. And he's managed to spark a debate, which is a good thing. Robert Winston is right: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science – something that the Royal Society should applaud."

Posted by: David Keen on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 9:31pm BST

This strikes me as an own-goal for those who accept and promote the theory of evolution. Reiss has resigned despite the fact that the Royal Society statement shows them holding essentially the same position as him: that teachers should not teach creationism, but be prepared to discuss it if students bring the topic up. His resignation will inevitably be spun by creationists as 'proving' that the scientific establishment is 'intolerant of dissent', wrecks the careers of those who dare to step out of line, etc. It isn't good tactics for the side of debate who argue for careful and thoughtful analysis of reality as opposed to uninformed opinion to get rid of someone because he gets misinterpreted.

Posted by: magistra on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 10:02pm BST

Hi Thinking Anglicans,

Here's a thinking way to deal with this debate before it gets any worse. Try a totally neglected POV; it's here:

http://phoebekate.com/2008/09/14/randomness-creationism-and-intelligent-design

Posted by: Violetta on Tuesday, 16 September 2008 at 11:02pm BST

Probably the media sausage factory has another victim to its name.

The whole business of science teaching has become muddled, muddled because the State has allowed religion to become too involved in providing education as a means to discipline and 'values'.

Into this mix, and money held by over opinionated industrialists and benefactors, comes creationism, defended because some children may express it as part of their family and community identity.

It is time this was sorted out, that creationism has no place in scientific lessons, and that evolution is not a theory but a tested, observed (small islands, bird species etc.), evidence rich explanation of diversity.

I'm just wondering if the coming collapse of a lot of debt-led consumer-led privatised excess, and a necessary return to standard public provision, might just clear some of this nonsense out.

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 12:55am BST

Now when Michael Reiss made comments which were difficult to comprehend and gave rise to misconceptions, he resigned. Rowan Williams, on the other hand, has made making these kind of statements a career. Thankfully the Royal Society issued a clarification rather than holding an Indaba group discussion on the issue.

Posted by: John Bassett on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 3:42am BST

Methinks that the Box of Pandora is operative here - or rather the fear of opening such a one...

The superstitiousness of certain religionists (and the possible outcome of the on-going American elections) make this very serious indeed.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 7:17am BST

This is quite appalling. A man has been hounded out of office for something he *didn't say*. Looking at the earlier reports, it is clear that he did NOT advocate teaching creationism.

What he did say was that *if children had questions* about creationism, that they should not just be told that they are wrong, but teachers should explain the difference between a religious world view and scientific theory. The point of this engagement would be to point out that creationism is not scientific.

So: he didn't advocate teaching creationism; he suggested that if children brought it up then teachers should explain why it's not scientific. Which, in gentler terms, is pretty much what MM is saying above - so what's the problem?

The sequence of events here seems to be: people read headlines with words they don't like in them; people spew bile in direction of man to whom these words are imputed; a job is terminated on the basis of delusional fantasies about what the man said.

Be as vitriolic as you want about creationism - no one is arguing in favour of it - but don't delight in the injustice visited on this man. It's quite repugnant.

Posted by: Paul H on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 8:38am BST

If creationism is simply "religionist myth" to quote Merseymike and we fail to see the deep reality of what the scriptures tell us, then we are all in great danger of becoming deconstructionists Christians with a deep suspicion of anything that we don’t agree with and the end result of this is not Christianity but a Godless religion where we are in the very centre doing and believing what we want to.

Posted by: Mark Wharton on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 9:11am BST

What a shame that those in the media supposedly so committed to the facts can't be bothered to carefully attend to the facts of what Prof. Reiss actually said and wrote. It says more about the media than the Royal Society that he had to resign.

Merseymike, Reiss precisely wasn't saying that creationists be given time to "peddle their fantasies", as you put it. He point blank said that creationism is not science (see his Guardian article) but a worldview and that science teachers can use their lessons to point out its status as such, AND NOT AS SCIENCE.

As an aside, I can't help but point out the disconnect between the Royal Society and Oxford University. If the latter took its reputation as seriously as the former, perhaps what happened to Reiss would also come about for their supposed "Prof. of the Public Understanding of Science".

Posted by: DCooling on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 10:10am BST

What Mark Wharton expresses so succinctly is the anti Modern error par preference...

Fear.

Creationism is nothing to fear - it is simpy wrong.

If the Bible tells us that creationism is right - then there is something the matter with our reading.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:19am BST

Genesis 1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him..."

which continues Genesis 1:27-28 "...in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them...."

Genesis 2:20-25 "But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame."

Eve (aka Cheva) was formed whilst Adam "the perfect" male was asleep. Adam had no knowledge, consent nor plan in what Eve (aka Cheva) was to be.

Similarly Adam can not choose what came before humanity, nor what came after. Adam might choose to be the "perfect" male in the form of Jesus, but neither Adam nor Jesus took respoonsibility for legitmizing nor integrating the feminine. If they did, they why can't everyone point to the Daughter of Zion who without doubt Jesus acknowledged and treated with gentleness.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:53am BST

He advocated that it should be explained as 'an alternative world view'. That is too wishy-washy. It is an entirely unscientific and risible view which should not be 'respected' as scientifically credible.

I am not at all sure whether religion should have any place in the public sphere in any case. I have become more and more convinced that it should be formally separated from public life, given that the harm it does outweighs the good so comprehensively, at least in its conservative guise.

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:59am BST

"the end result of this is not Christianity but a Godless religion where we are in the very centre doing and believing what we want to."


No, I'd say the end result is a kind of spiritual starvation. Denial of the mystical, the ineffable, of that side of us that needs these things leads to all sorts of bad places. One obvious place is fundamentalism, Dawkins being no less fundamentalist than those who are such in the name of religion, and for the same reasons. And isn't all religion about believing what we want to? Who forces the Evangelical to be an Evangelical? Who forces the Catholic to be a catholic? We all choose our beliefs. Just because we are choosing a SYSTEM of belief that must necessarily contain some stuff we find challenging doesn't mean it's any less of a choice. So, what's wrong with choosing what we want to believe? I chose to believe the catholic tradition of Christianity. Are you trying to say you had no choice in your set of religious beliefs? And suppose, just suppose, that people acknowledged that freedom and chose nothing at all. What would be the problem? I get the feeling that statements like this reflect a fear of loss of social control an the part of the group you belong to, in this case Christians.

That said, making the man step down because he suggested Creationism should be discussed in science class is pretty dumb. Reactionary scientists and reactionary religionists have forced a situation where science and religion are seen as mutually exclusive and made into enemies. That's much like saying that painting and football are mutually exclusive. Why shouldn't we discuss Creationism in science class, sociology is a science, isn't it?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 1:25pm BST

"Creationism is nothing to fear - it is simpy wrong."

No, it's just not history. What's wrong is trying to make a metaphysical explanation of our human experience into science, vilifying those who recognize the foolishness of the attempt, and silencing those who suggest there might be room for dialogue between these two unrelated fields.

"It is an entirely unscientific and risible view which should not be 'respected' as scientifically credible."

Of course it isn't, but that not what we're talking about here. Seen the other way around, evolution is an utterly unspiritual and risible view which should not be "respected" as spiritually credible. What's the point of either statement? Science not being religion no more negates religion than football, not being art, negates art. We can still talk about a particularly skillful footbal play in art class as a means of discussing the meaning of 'art' as creativity versus 'art' as physical prowess, can't we? And the more I think about it, the more I believe that fundamentalism should not be allowed in polite society, and that applies equally to religious, scientific, or political fundamentalism.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 3:12pm BST

No, sociology is not a science. It is a social science. Although open to research, its findings cannot be wholly falsified (except claims to naturalistic universalism) in that a falsification makes something untrue, when parts of a society may continue on. For example you can falsify universalistic notions of the family, but not any one kind of family.

Richard Dawkins has nothing to do with any of this. He has never denied any sense of wonder either. Michael Reiss’s recent comments have been a victim of reporting and of a muddled school system and series of identities of schools and children that clash with science and its method. Someone who comes from a creationist family and church as an identity has to be told that this has no basis in science: my view is that RE should challenge creationism, not have a place for creationism: RE can describe identities as phenomena but it also debates identities in a critical approach.

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 3:29pm BST

Something is seriously amiss if a misunderstanding of Professor Reiss' statements led to his dismissal/transfer. It reminds me of a cabinet member of former President Clinton's administration who was fired for merely suggesting that a discussion of America's drug policies was needed. If we can't even talk about something, things are out of whack.
As far as I'm concerned, science is about the "how" questions, religion is about the "why" ones.
Cheryl Va: The Creation story in Genesis 1 specifically states that male and female alike, we were created in God's image. I also suspect that, given the overall context of Genesis 1:27-28, "man" is better understood as "humanity" or "humans". The Creation story in Genesis 2 is a totally different story from a much earlier time. There is a great deal of evidence that what is often called the Five Books of Moses was merged into one document from a number of different texts. Both creation stories should be seen as independent of each other.
In my humble opinion Genesis 1 comports with the theory of evolution (both of life and of the Universe).

Posted by: peterpi on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 4:02pm BST

"He advocated that it should be explained as 'an alternative world view'. That is too wishy-washy. It is an entirely unscientific and risible view which should not be 'respected' as scientifically credible."

Absolutely. I am sorry to hear that the creationists/intelligent design gang have any traction over there. They have done great mischief in the US.

You cannot give them an inch. Two years ago one of the campus program offices that brings speakers to the university sponsored a 'debate' on evolution/creationism by one of a number of pairs of people who offer such programs. Our science division protested and refused to co-sponsor it on the grounds that to do so would suggest there was something to 'debate.' There ain't.

It would be like having a 'debate' between actual historians and Holocaust-deniers.

It is an intellecual error of great sloppiness to believe that there are always two sides to an issue.

Of coruse, where I live, I would not be surprised to see the local paper print letters to the editor questioning the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. See Joshua, and the evidence of your own senses, after all.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 6:10pm BST

On the other hand, perhaps the Royal Society might feel inclined to apologize to Prof. Reiss a hundred and fifty years from now.

Posted by: rick allen on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 7:11pm BST

I teach science: the scientific study of behavior (DBA psychology). I don't have *time* to discuss creationism, because I don't have time to get to all of the interesting research I'd like to cover. Real research. Science.

The thought that I'd interject creationism would be funny if the suggestion weren't basically so very, very sad. That makes me reactionary? So be it.

LPR

Posted by: RudigerVT on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:04pm BST

"In my humble opinion Genesis 1 comports with the theory of evolution (both of life and of the Universe)."

Nope. Genesis has plants forming before there are sun and moon to determine seasons and days, an impossibility, since plants depend on light and weather for growth.

It also has birds and fish (actually all water-living creatures, including whales) created at the same time, with birds coming before other land-dwelling animals. Wrong again...birds are the last of the vertebrates to develop.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:55pm BST

Teachers should not be afraid of challenging ignorance - after all that is what they are paid for. It's just the manner in which it is done that is the point here. And Professor Reiss seems to be striking the right balance, even if creationism has become such a political hot potato that to have a senior representative of the Royal Society appear to depart from the orthodoxy amounts to heresy.

But why stop at creationism? Why not include discussion of the physical resurrection, virgin birth and miracles in the context of what we understand about the physical sciences? Rather than arrive at a complete dismissal of religion, we begin to see religion's essential nature if coupled with an appreciation of the relevant aspects of the arts, ethics, politics and psychology. The problem is the tendency to compartmentalize.

We'd want similar discussions - especially in faith schools - looking to gain an understanding of homophobia: a relic of our pre-modern tribal past inherited by modern religions, but no longer rational or relevant to an over-populated global community.

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 11:59pm BST

I'm glad the victimisation of the esteemed professor has been multiply acknowledged, for the abuse that it was. I now want to discuss a very small point in the debate:

Pluralist said: "sociology is not a science".

That seems wrong to me. Why? Well, science is a matter of method, not a matter of the subject(s) of research. One can 'do' sociology from a positivistic, natural sciences perspective if one wishes; the same methodological principles can be applied.

And we find that kind of work IS done, but not often. Why is that? At the simplest level, because human systems are often interactive and recursive; the statistical independence required for simplistic causal theory generation is often demonstrably invalid.

Taking on board more complex considerations, we also encounter emergent phenomena and level issues. These issues provide evidence that the whole is more (and different than) the sume of its parts, and also that context and relationality become significant considerations - and al of these issues are matters that reductionist theorisation fails to address.

So: the alternative, more phenomenological (through to postmodern) methods of sociological research may easily be argued to be entirely appropriate. Overall, we find that sociology uses natural science methods where appropriate (rarely, given the nature of the research problems) and other approaches where they are a better fit.

And if all those methodological reasons were not sufficient to undermine the implicit denegration of the human sciences and their validity, I offer the most convincing reason for the consideration of the human (in the human sciences), that I know:

Jesus Christ.

Of course, what I mean is: Jesus Christ, seen in a glass (a socio-cultural one!), darkly. The way to Him is aided by (critical) method in many ways, but goes by way of the the central question of the gospels:

Who do YOU say that I am?

A call for randomised studies?... I think not.

Posted by: Paul H on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 12:04am BST

Ford,

I agree with you, but I still think you muddle the two; (bad) science and religion, conflating them ;=)

Creationism is not in any way or form science. The two must not be mixed.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 6:21am BST

Cynthia:
"It would be like having a 'debate' between actual historians and Holocaust-deniers."

This is precisely what Deborah Lipstadt had to do in regard to David Irving - although Irving appears unrepentant, the views of the judge in the case between them severely damaged any lingering reputation he had as a military historian.

Having a debate does not concede legitimacy to a correspondent - it's inviting that correspondent to state their case in public.

I'll give it to him that Dawkins for his part is at least prepared to do this, despite the evident distaste he feels in possibly allowing religious more air time and more authority in his view by the act of engaging in debate with them.

http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/1994-12religion.shtml

"Religionists" just need to have the intellectual rigour, confidence and nous to enter the fray, and more importantly be aware and reflexive about why they are doing it. The clear purpose that Dawkins has is not so much drawn from an absolute "scientific" certainty per se than it derives from a keen understanding of himself in relation to what he wants to represent and promote, and for optimistic reasons. I don't often witness a similar positive complex in religious leaders.

On the whole this isn't about science vs religion, it's about who has political influence, how our society is structured, what values we want to live by, and how we go about giving those values a sense of objectiveness, so that they can serve as an exemplar.

If there is metaphysical conflict it won't be I think between 'scientists' and 'religionists' but between conservatives and liberationists.

The ethical, 'moral' aspect of evolutionary theory will become increasingly important to the extent that technology will very shortly allow humankind to shape its own evolution; evolutionary science in the context of humans will itself become something of a solipsistic, conviction and sensibility-led matter, that has less and less 'objectivity' about it.

We will still be having the debates in this transhumanist context about the values by which we want to live, and we will keep reaching out to something beyond ourselves to underpin the rightness of our relative positions - amongst these reasons may still exist Science, the Ideal or the Transcendental, as well as other disciplines of mind and cognition that we can barely conceive of at the present time.

Perhaps, as Lawrence Olivier's Crassus says to Tony Curtis' Antoninus in Spartacus - "It's all really just a matter of taste, don't you think?"

Posted by: orfanum on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 10:28am BST

This wouldn't have happened if there weren't legions of well-organized, well-funded people out there who are in fact trying to get creationism (or intelligent design) taught as science. Their tactic is to say "of course we're not trying to get creationism taught as the only answer, just as another credible theory, which can be rejected or accepted by the student -- what could be more reasonable and scientific?"

So all this "alternate world view" talk can sound to people who are in the midst of a pitched political battle as the nose of the camel getting into the tent.

Posted by: Mark on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 12:07pm BST

If someone makes a universalist statement, such as the family is a universal feature of humanity, then sociology can falsify it.

However, sociology can use science-like methods for tendencies in human patterns, but will miss out on the qualities of those patterns - and so why it introduces qualitative research. But qualitative research has no broader reach like the quantitative.

So this is rather different from science. It is not quite as in the arts, but not science.

A good point is made about creationism and then virgin births, resurrection and the like. On the latter two, science and history can say nothing, other than they are highly unlikely. History is what we say now about hopefully primary documentary evidence coming from the past, and there is none. The science makes these unlikely, but phenomena in the past cannot be tested, only if they are likely to repeat. One issue is how much Near Death Experiences are open to critical enquiry and, if they are, what they then imply and what they don't imply.

Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 2:34pm BST

"Creationism is not in any way or form science."

I didn't say it was:

"What's wrong is trying to make a metaphysical explanation of our human experience into science"

I see nothing wrong with, for instance, exploring the various religious and cultural understandings of the universe as part of, if you will, an introduction to biology or physics. If we know where we have been, we can have a better understanding of where we are going. What's wrong with Creationism as science? Comparing the two would show exactly what's wrong with it. All that people know now, on both sides, as witnessed by the discussion here, is rumour, second hand descriptions, and suchlike. It would help to see how science works differently from religion. It might help to clarify that such traditional explanations are not scientific, are not even designed to BE scientific, and that rejecting them as science does not invalidate their meaning. As it stands, most Creationists,a dn some scientists, think that it has to be evolution or Creation but not both. Why is that? Had they been taught to think about this stuff, to be repectfully critical, we might not be here, with otherwise intelligent people defending the indefensible based on misinformation and misunderstanding. If Ben or Christopher Schell had been taught in science class what the scientific method is and how religious/cultural traditions do not use it, they might not be so confused now, and might not be thinking of science as somehow opposed to religion, and might be better able to understand the available scientific data. Scientific people also might not be hostile to a set of beliefs that have nothing to do with "debunking" science, and would at least be able to appreciate that those who use one to debunk the other have little understanding of the purposes and methods of either.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 3:24pm BST

Do 'the Creationists'also like to set aside established medical science and be treated with 'eye of newt and tail of frog' --or whatever?

I bet they demand the best and the latest that science can buy (them).

Posted by: The Rev'd LJ Roberts on Thursday, 18 September 2008 at 8:29pm BST

How difficult it is for scientists to deal with the possibility that Science is not the Alpha and the Omega.
How barren their quest- for they make a god of their puny human conquests.
And how deceitful that they who preach young people should be given the freedom to make up their own minds - is that not education?- deny that freedom to a new generation but rise up in self-righteous horror when one of their own dares suggest anything but the mantra of the Dawkins of this world.


Posted by: Peter Jones on Friday, 19 September 2008 at 12:23pm BST

"I bet they demand the best and the latest that science can buy (them)."

Not all of them. There are cases every so often of people refusing medical treatment, "believing God for a miracle" is how they put it, I think. Now, there have been many billions of humans in times past who would likely have considered it a miracle to have been born in a country where they have free access to the best that modern medical science has to offer, but, hey, what did they know? I mean, we all know what a miracle looks like, right? It isn't abundant grace and "good fortune", it's something completely impossible that comes right out of the blue, like a magic trick without the sleight of hand. Being born with free access to top notch medical care, that's nothing more than we ought to get. Or at least I suppose that's the logic, I never could figure out what looks to me to be unbelievable ingratitude for the gifts of God.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 19 September 2008 at 12:43pm BST

It does not help that, in these reports, no-one ever seems to make clear whether 'creationism' is being understood to mean (a) '6-day/Genesis creationism' or 'belief in a creator tout simple, ie something similar to Intelligent Design'.

This lack of clarity is parallel to another ubiquitous lack of clarity: that which sees the origin and the development of the universe as the same issue, confusing (a) the original big-bang creation with (b) the separate 'creation' [as opposed to evolution] of different species.

Few scientists would quibble if one said that they (like the rest of us) have little idea how to answer or even address the primary question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' Or even the secondary question 'Given that there is something, how come that it is against all the odds so fine-tuned as though by design?'. They restrict themselves very ably to the third-level (evolution) question: 'Given that something exists, and also given that it's so fine-tuned, by what process did intelligent life emerge/evolve?'.

But this third-level question does not even remotely exist at all outside the context of the first two. The first two are larger, more foundational, more significant. And therefore also more deserving proportionally of space on curricula.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 19 September 2008 at 1:35pm BST

"no-one ever seems to make clear whether 'creationism' is being understood to mean (a) '6-day/Genesis creationism' or 'belief in a creator tout simple, ie something similar to Intelligent Design'."

I think I've been pretty clear on this point, actually, Christopher, can you explain how you think I haven't? I DO balk at "intelligent design" all the same, like I balk at most Evangelical catch phrases.

"'Why is there something rather than nothing?'"
"'Given that something exists, and also given that it's so fine-tuned, by what process did intelligent life emerge/evolve?'.

But this third-level question does not even remotely exist at all outside the context of the first two."

Yes it does, and it is the only question science is equipped to ask. Religion asks why, which is why the science vs religion dichotomy is false. And it is human nature to see patterns in coincidence. It is NOT the case that the universe seems precisely designed to be our home, rather that we evolved to fit the conditions of the universe. This kind of anthropomorphic thinking is just wrong from a scientific point of view, though it is at the core of the questions religion asks. And, again, why is it that you are so mistrustful of the process that studies how God did what He did, to the point, it seems, of seeing those like myself who accept it as somehow the enemy?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 19 September 2008 at 2:54pm BST

Ford:

Further, of course, Christopher is incorrect in saying that scientists do not seek answers to the first two questions. Indeed, a grand experiment is underway--the Hadron Super-collider--designed to find answers to precisely those questions.

What science does not seek an answer to is philosophical/religious questions of why a particular thing occurred as it did...only that it did and how it did. There is SOME "why" in science...but only in the sense of a physical option: For example, why do planets generally rotate counter-clockwise, not clockwise?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 19 September 2008 at 10:16pm BST

Hi Pat-

Forget the labels 'philosophical/religious' - I did not use them. The point is that mapping evolution is merely a descriptive process, not properly an explanatory process. It is explanatory only ion the limited sense that it provides sub-explanations within a system that is only a subsection of the unexplained overall system.

I thought the CERN super-collider was designed to replicate what happened after the big bang, not so much to give us insights into how it could be that there was anything there to go bang in the first place. I may be wrong there.

Ford-
I was not so much thinking of you as of recent newspaper reports: very few of them seem to say what exactly they mean by 'creationism'. The person in the street is bound to think it means 'belief in a creator'; whereas in specialised discourse it tends to mean '6-day creationism' and the like, and is distinguished from a more general belief in intelligent design, the latter being held to be the more intellectually respectable.

What goes without saying is that 'by what process?' questions are always dependent on prior questions of origin; and that questions of origin in turn are always dependent on prior questions of possibility and existence. They can't be torn artificially from their wider context.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 20 September 2008 at 1:34pm BST

Pat-
You are right to question the use of 'why?' on some occasions, since one cannot presuppose that everything happens for a *planned/intentional* reason. It is, however, quite correct to say that everything is caused to happen in some way, whether mindlessly or mindfully. Hence I often use the phrase 'how come' instead of 'why' - as in today's 'Guardian'.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 20 September 2008 at 1:59pm BST

"The point is that mapping evolution is merely a descriptive process, not properly an explanatory process."

Yes it is, Christopher. How is an explanation of "how" not properly explanatory? It does not explain "why", but science does not concern itself with "why" in that sense. Even the LHC experiments, sadly shut down for months now, apparently, aren't about "why" in the sense you mean. Causality, to which you refer, is, I guess in some sense "why" but that's just an elaboration of chance.


"The person in the street is bound to think it means 'belief in a creator'; whereas in specialised discourse it tends to mean '6-day creationism' and the like, and is distinguished from a more general belief in intelligent design, the latter being held to be the more intellectually respectable."

If you think intelligent design is seen as more intellectually respectable, you are hanging around with very different people from those that I know. I still don't get it, why the hullaballoo over evolution? It doesn't negate any of the Christian faith, though I admit it poses a challenge to those for whom the Bible has to be history, but you are not one of those, we've talked about it in times past, and you have admitted Genesis as allegory, so why this opposition to something that after over a century has been steadily supported by the evidence?

Posted by: Ford Els on Saturday, 20 September 2008 at 9:13pm BST

Hi Ford-

Where did I oppose evolution?
A general belief that higher being[s] than we are around, within a universe with more stars than grains of sand, and that they are involved with making things the way they are - that is bound to be a more tenable proposition than that one given culture's creation stiory is literally true.

'Genesis is allegory' - quel generalisation! Several portions of it are aetiology / aetiological legend - often within a wider framework of family legend/saga. I.e. events passed down however accurately through oral tradition. Joseph (Gen 37-50) is often classed as a novella or the like. Genesis 1, within Genesis as a whole, is (believe it or not) unmistakably the first of seven genealogies that periodically appear.

Evolution is perfectly explanatory within a closed system (ie it is explanatory provided one simply assumes unquestioningly (a) that a universe exists - ours not to reason why - and (b) that its initial conditions pre-big-bang were as they were). It is explanatory provided that there is nothing outside the closed system. But the trouble is: there is. Hence it is not properly explanatory but instead question-begging.

There is not necessarily any 'why?' involved, but there is unavoidably plenty of 'how come?', which is similar to 'why?'.

Your overall position is not clear. How could it be possible to believe in God but not in intelligent design? Only if God were unintelligent, not involved in any designing, or both.


Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 1:38pm BST

"How could it be possible to believe in God but not in intelligent design?"

Intelligent design is nothing more than an attempt to make creationism palatable to those with a brain, Christopher. I oppose any such attempts. I believe there is a God, Who created all that is, space, time, the works. Big Bang theory is an attempt to explain how He did it, evolution is an attempt to explain how the process got to us, and how God's creation is "so wonderfully made" that it keeps on changing and adapting. I won't quibble about the semantics of "etiological legend vs allegorical description of origin. I will however quibble over the fact that, contrary to what you say, "how come" means "why". Unless, of course you mean it in terms of "how did this come to be?" which is precisely what cosmology and evolution try to answer.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 8:35pm BST

"How could it be possible to believe in God but not in intelligent design? Only if God were unintelligent, not involved in any designing, or both."

How can I put this clearly? Any theory which resorts to supernatural or divine or outside intervention (in this I include those theories that say extraterrestrials were involved in Earth's development) is not "science". It requires the observer to presume an actor that is not part of the system being observed.

Science must operate by theorizing only from what can be observed or demonstrated, not by making leaps that say "well, since I cannot currently figure out how this happened, I will presume the action of an outside force [God, aliens, whatever] upon the system."


Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 10:13pm BST

I suppose the only answer anyone can attempt to the current conundrum about the universe(s) is contained in the old saw taught to us in (Church) schools; that nothing tangible (that we can locate or detect scientifically) exists that does not have a greater cause of its existence. Whether this (cause) is God or 'intelligent design' is, to my little mind, a question that comes down to a matter of 'faith' or agnosticism. What I do object to is being forced - by anyone, or any educational curriculum, to 'believe' one way or another. In the argument of science versus religion, can we not agree that both are a natural and reasonable concomitant of a logical cosmology? Hence the 'Incarnation' of 'ho Logos'.

In a way, the very word 'science' or 'knowledge' seems to imply that human beings can actually know the secrets of the universe. Even Lord Rutherford knew his own limitations when it came to examining the atomic theory - and what would he think - I wonder of one of the more nefarious applications of his scientific methodology now?

On the subject of human striving for 'wisdom' (in all respects superior to knowledge), I prefer to remember the scriptural quotation from one of the ancients, who contemplated our puny knowledge of things terrestrial and spiritual (and therefore open to faith discernment), when he spoke of God as saying: "My ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts". This would indicate, as Paul tells us that we human begins do indeed 'See through a glass darkly' that which we may one day be able to discern 'face to face' - but at the Creator's option, not ours.

I am not anti-science, per se, just open to the conviction that the sheer existence of our vast and wonderful cosmos (as opposed to chaos) could hardly suggest anything other than a 'mindful' Creator. But then, I am an incorrigible believer.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 7:53am BST

Father Ron:

It is one thing to believe in a Creator; it is quite another to use that belief in a scientific inquiry to fill the holes you can't currently fill with observable or demonstrable data.

And it is another thing all together for a secular society to enforce one particular version of that Creator (and its concomitant creation myth) in science classes.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 11:30am BST

Hi Ford-

As I said, 'how come?' is close to 'why?'. They differ, however, in that 'why?' is more likely to imply personal intention or plan, which is an element which one cannot assume.

Similarly, 'reasons' and 'causes' are almost the same but not quite. The former implies a personal element, the latter does not.

Hi Pat-
Exactly! The *technical* meaning of 'Intelligent Design theory' is more or less equivalent to 'God of the gaps theory'. Millions believe in intelligent design (small case) who do not subscribe to ID/God-of-gaps. That is, they believe that there is a Creator-Designer involved, who is presumably intelligent.

And that is precisely the problem. Newspapers everywhere argue against Creationism in the technical sense (which is very little to do with belief in a creator) and against Intelligent Design in the technical sense (which is very little to do with belief in intelligent design in a general way). Many readers will be completely unaware that these 2 terms are technical terms, since they fulfil their role as technical terms so badly that neither of them means anything like what they seem at first glance to mean. This serves to confuse the debate.

Why on earth use 'Creationism' in a technical sense that has (incredibly enough) very little to do with 'belief in a creator', or 'Intelligent Design' in a technical sense (meaning: God-of-the-gaps) that has very little to do with belief in intelligent design? Debate and explanation are supposed to increase clarity, not to confuse.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 12:45pm BST

"Science must operate by theorizing only from what can be observed or demonstrated, not by making leaps that say "well, since I cannot currently figure out how this happened, I will presume the action of an outside force [God, aliens, whatever] upon the system.""

I believe the cause of much of our debate here is that some simply do not understand this basic point. Whether it be poor education in science, self deception, or a need to justify religious belief, I can't say. Look at the lack of understanding of what a scientific theory is, or how the scientific method works. The problem with this lack of critical thinking is that it leads to the acceptance of anything, however untenable, that supports a person's pre-existing assumptions.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 3:12pm BST

"Why on earth use 'Creationism' in a technical sense that has (incredibly enough) very little to do with 'belief in a creator', or 'Intelligent Design' in a technical sense (meaning: God-of-the-gaps) that has very little to do with belief in intelligent design? Debate and explanation are supposed to increase clarity, not to confuse."

Why? Because those who argue politically for Creationism and Intelligent Design mean exactly those "technical" terms...not just "belief in an intelligent creator", but specifically, in the first case, belief in the literal words of Genesis 1 and, in the second case, belief that the "gaps" must always be filled by God. (In reality, the two aren't all that different politically--those who once argued for "Creationism", having been repeatedly rejected by the public and the courts, now argue for "Intelligent Design"...for them, the two are synonymous.)

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 9:53pm BST

"That is, they believe that there is a Creator-Designer involved, who is presumably intelligent."

On the rare occasions when we agree on something, Christopher, I feel obliged to acknowledge it. I guess this describes me. I believe in a Creator because there'd be little point in being a Christian otherwise. It's not so much a matter of there being "proof", as you can tell from my backing and forthing with Ben, more that I see a need in myself for contact with the Divine, and Traditional Christianity with its concept of Creation redeemed by a loving God who interacts with His Creation using the most mundane of items to bestow Grace, who loves us just because, who became not just one of us, but one of the least of us, to bring us back to Himself, who I meet every week in the Sacrament, who calls me to put aside my own ego and buy into His plan for harmony and peace, I could go on and on, but it's so life affirming, so liberating, so sensible. So, if I am to accept this teaching and try, poorly, to practice its tenets, I HAVE to believe in God.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 9:55pm BST

Hi Pat

What you say is true but irrelevant. The basic point remains unanswered: The idea of making 'Creationism' only one subset of belief in a creator and 'Intelligent Design [lage case]' only one subset of intelligent design [small case] is guaranteed to confuse most readers. It violates the principle of clarity.

Hi Ford-
One can say 'science does not do this or that, does not answer this or that question' - but the real world is prior to science. Science is only our means of studying the real world. Lawyers play this in-group game: 'That is not a question permissible within the conventional closed-system of legal study'. Or philosophers 'That is not a question permissible within the conventional closed-system of philosophical study'. One would never guess that science, philosophy etc are only our means of approaching, studying and describing the real world - they are not themsleves that world, and it is prior to them (they are parasitic on it). If a question arises that is outside their traditional parameters/boundaries, how does that make the question a whit less meaningful or in need of an answer.

For humans to say science does not deal with certain questions is circular, since humans invented science in the first place, and defined its conventional boundaries. If one wanted to avoid certain questions, this would be a classic way of doing it. Reminds me of sayings like 'It is company policy, sir'. Scientists say 'it is not the policy of scientists to deal with such questions' - rather than addressing the far more relevant question 'why not?'.

Inhabitants of a small town may be so 'small-town' as to think that nothing of import exists outside their town. But how can big-minded / big-horizoned scientists fall into the same trap?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 2:12pm BST

"Science is only our means of studying the real world."

I'd word it as "Science is only our means of studying Creation."

"For humans to say science does not deal with certain questions is circular"

I don't agree. Science deals with the measurable. It requires concrete observable evidence that can be quantified. So, you can measure, say, the bending of light around a star and calculate the star's mass, or you can observe the teeth of dinosaur and comes to some conclusions about its diet. But how can you measure God? This is the thing: science, properly done, must remain agnostic about things religious. Consider the "incorrupt" bodies of the saints. I read a while ago about the disinterrment of the relics of St. John Maximovitch prior to his glorification. Now, his body smelt of myrrh and was "incorrupt". Objectively, it was obviously mummified and the smell might have come from particular chemical reactions with specific elements in the crypt in which he was lain. There are likely to be solid natural explanations for his appearance. But to say simply that his condition is no more than natural mummification is to miss the point entirely. From a religious point of view, one could just as easily say that God ensured that he be buried in the right conditions for this to occur to reveal the holiness of a man who was closer to theosis than the rest of us. Acceptance of this position is a matter of faith, how could you prove the hand of God in determining someone's burial place, for instance? Even placing the body of a notorious sinner in the same place to see what happened to it would mean nothing since God could very well allow natural decomposition in that case. How would we know, objectively?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 6:51pm BST

"If a question arises that is outside their traditional parameters/boundaries, how does that make the question a whit less meaningful or in need of an answer."

Sorry to be posting willy nilly, but I just twigged to this. Christopher, the fact that science cannot address questions that deal in unmeasurables like the Divine does not mean the questions are not meaningful or don't require an answer. Saying "I am not equipped to answer that" does not mean "That question is not worth answering". As I said, some scientists are hostile to religion, as though science somehow counters religion, but Christians ought not be surprised that their fellow fallen human beings behave in fallen human ways. We who, as the Real Orthodox sing at the end of the Liturgy, "have seen the True Light" usually manage to behave pretty abysmally too. After all, some of us take the exact opposite stance, that religion negates science. It always seems to me like saying that art and sports are somehow at cross purposes and that one therefor negates the other.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 7:46pm BST

Ford-

I agree with much of what you say, though not with 'science must remain agnostic about things religious'.

Do we really think that a God great enough to create the universe belongs in a little box labelled 'things religious'? If the world is God-created it follows that God is a real-world reality and a whole-world reality. The category 'religious' is redundant (unless to describe human behaviour).

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 12:22pm BST

"If the world is God-created it follows that God is a real-world reality and a whole-world reality."

Actually it means the exact oppopsite. God created all that is. That necessarily means He is outside of that Creation. Space and time are created things. Time is not a part of His nature, Scripture tells us that. Creation is not a part of His nature, He is "uncreated". That's why we speak of him being "imminent" in Creation, of Him "breaking in" to Creation. God is NOT a created being, He is eternal, no beginning, no end, thus is not part of our "real world" reality. This suggests you have an anthropomorphic understanding of God. It adds to a suspicion I have had for a long time, that the Evangelical understanding of God is flawed. His ways are not our ways, Christopher, nor His thoughts our thoughts. One of the many paradoxes that make Christianity so wonderful, to me at least, is that God is both utterly other and unknowable, yet perfectly human and knowable in Christ.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 3:16pm BST

Hi Ford-
None of that. All I was arguing against was the invention of some little compartment called 'religion' or some such. & all I was advocating was biblical panentheism (Ac. 17). Even if God is not precisely in everything, at least if he is the sourcwe of everything he must be intimately related to everything. Also I was trying to guard against dualism. It is not like there are two super-locations, one of which is inhabited by God and the other by the universe.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 12:57pm BST

Christopher,

Agreed. "Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things". And my point is that this doesn't mean that God can be measured or objectively studied in a way that would be accpetable to science. Science simply cannot address the issue of God Himself, it can only study the "effects" of God, so to speak. Science can study how evolution happened, but it can't ever attribute that process to a Divine being because it does not have the tools to do so. Other disciplines are more suited to the task.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 9:28pm BST

Christopher,

"All I was arguing against was the invention of some little compartment called 'religion' or some such"

I've been thinking about this all weekend, and I think there is a flaw in this attitude. Compare with art. Science can analyse the composition of paint, the makeup of the canvas, the varying frequencies of light reflected by the various colours of paint, and so on, but it cannot study the effect that viewing a painting has on a person, nor can it explain the interpretation a person gives to the painting, not can it comment on the "quality" of the art. All it can do is examine the physical components of the painting and how they interact. Would you argue against the invention of some little compartment called "art"?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 29 September 2008 at 2:37pm BST

God and the effects of God covers everything that exists, has existed and will exist - and therefore cannot be compartmentalised. The same does not apply to art.

We can artificially divide the world up into different areas of study - but it is not the world that is divided, but merely our study that is divided. The more we divide an undivided world, the less we will understand it, because we are *starting* with the false premise that it is divided.

Hence my layering of the big questions (in which, contrary to what you say, I did not mention God). For example:
(1) The Possibility Question - Is it possible that anything exist?
(2) The Existence Question - Is it actual that anything exists?
(3) The How question - How come anything exists rather than nothing?
(4) The What question - What is it that exists?
(5) The Why That question - How come it is precisely *that*, rather than something else, that exists?
And so on. These are holistic, phenomenological, interdisciplinary questions suitable to an holistic world.

The scientific method I find to be the most appropriate one: [at best] presuppositionless, maximally objective, evidence-based, observation-based, logical and rational. So why should science be so (illogically) conformist and unquestioning in restricting the questions it will and will not ask? Some bigger questions are also susceptible of the same treatment.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 30 September 2008 at 12:30pm BST

Christopher:

Science cannot be without presuppositions. Every scientific experiment or investigation BEGINS with a supposition: "X happens because...." The experiment then proceeds to TEST that supposition. If it is proven correct, we have a theory of how things work, subject to further experimentation and investigation. If it is proven incorrect, we start over with a new supposition.

The overriding supposition (or the presupposition, if you prefer) is that humans can understand the physical workings of their world and need not resort to supernatural or divine explanations for the things they haven't figured out yet.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 30 September 2008 at 4:59pm BST

"The scientific method I find to be the most appropriate one: [at best] presuppositionless, maximally objective, evidence-based, observation-based, logical and rational. So why should science be so (illogically) conformist and unquestioning in restricting the questions it will and will not ask?"

The first part is right. In answer to the second, let's look at your questions:
1. How would you structure a study to answer this? In order to study something, you have to assume that it exists.

2. I'm not sure what this means, but again, how would you study it in a scientific fashion?

3. If you are asking "How did things come to be?", that is precisely what cosmology and evolutionary biology try to answer. If you are asking "What initial cause was there for everything to exist?", science can only go so far. Again, if science is searching for evidence of God, how could that be studied?

4. Again, this question is a part of what we study with science.

5. Again, you are looking for a cause that science cannot give you.

Christopher, don't take this the wrong way, but I find your attitude rather like that of Spong, though you obviously are on the opposite side of the fence from him. You seem to be giving science the authority to decide whether religion is true. I am arguing that this is inappropriate. A scientifically studiable God must be capable of being encompassed by the finite human mind. This cannot apply to God. Being understandable to our finite minds is not a characteristic of God. The Fathers knew this. That's why we have apophatic theology.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 30 September 2008 at 7:11pm BST

Hi Pat-
Your (accurate) description of science illustrates the worrying circularity of science. We begin by posing a question in certain terms, which then suggest to us the terms in which the question should be answered, and the identity of the available options. Science is however far from wholly circular, since good science will hypothesise on the back of past success, ie theories which have proven explanatory power, such as Big Bang Theory.
I was not talking about the physical workings of the world, but about how it can be that it is even possible (let alone actual) that any world exists at all. A thoroughly different question, but one which makes all other questions, such as your own, thoroughly question-begging.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 at 1:20pm BST

Hi Ford

Well, I don't agree. Of the questions I posed, some are absurdly easy:
2- Is it actual that anything exists? Yes, of course, since otherwise how could we be observing it? Either we, or it, or both, must exist.
1 - Is it possible that anything exists? Yes, of course, since if it is actual it must also be possible.
4 is the question asked by scientists. (We see, incidentally, what a small proportion of the available questions science acknowledges. In the real world, there are far more questions, and a mode of study appropriate to the real world is one that acknowledges all of these.)
3 and 5 are the remarkable unanswered conundra I mentioned earlier. They are utterly foundational and all scientific questions depend on them. They are also widely ignored, in a solipsistic way - as though it were perfectly obvious that there should exist a world, and as though the particular world that exists is not especially remarkable. I guy/caricature here - but it remains true that too often not even a fraction of the true importance and foundational nature of these two questions is being acknowledged.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 at 1:27pm BST
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