In late March, the Texas state board of education voted to adopt new standards for science textbooks, shaping what will be taught in elementary and secondary schools for at least a decade. The vote has been variously interpreted as a defeat and a victory for proponents of Evolution.
Interestingly, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an Evolution advocacy group, has chosen to cast it as “a setback for science education in Texas” because “the creationists on the board … prevailed with a requirement that students examine ‘all sides of scientific evidence.'” The New York Times worried in a 30 March editorial that examining all the evidence “could open the door to doubts about evolution.”
But neither the Times nor the NCSE seems to appreciate the contradiction in the idea that “Evolution is so certain it must be established by force of law” on one hand and the fear of “opening the door to doubts about Evolution” on the other. Surely that contradiction is unravelled by simply admitting that Evolution is not nearly as certain as the NCSE and the Times would have people to believe. A biased selection of facts to hide that uncertainty is propaganda, not science.
A particularly troublesome theory for advocates of Evolution is the emerging theory of Intelligent Design (ID). Intelligent Design is the idea that nature reflects an “irreducible complexity” that cannot be explained by neo-Darwinian Evolution. The classic analogy is a mousetrap. Take away any of its parts and it won’t work– hence its complexity is irreducible in relation to its function.
Controversies over the teaching of Evolution in elementary and secondary schools will not doubt increase. Meanwhile ID is gaining in American higher education. Courses are now offered at the state universities of Minnesota, Georgia, Iowa, and New Mexico, in addition to private institutions such as Wake Forest and Carnegie Mellon.
The ID-Evolution debate is really a battle of competing metaphors, with ID being a variant of Creationism in some people’s minds. The question is which metaphor, the Genesis account or Darwin’s theory of Evolution, best explains the world around us– which metaphor has the most explanatory power…
… but first, a little history on the philosophy of science.
Scientific theories were once thought to be literal descriptions of the way the world really is (realism). Gradually, philosophers became convinced the real world knows nothing of square roots, infinity, or the law of gravity. Instead, they saw scientific concepts simply as “instruments” that correlate data and allow predictions (instrumentalism). This view in turn was superseded by a middle view that understands scientific theories as analogies or metaphors about reality (critical realism). In other words, the theories of science are not perfect descriptions of reality, but they do connect with reality enough to give at least some insight into the way the world really works– hence the notion of scientific theories as metaphors. The problem is which metaphor to use. Is light best explained as a particle or a wave? The answer is “it depends….”
All metaphors have their limitations. A poet may say “my love is a red, red rose” with great success, but a gift of fertilizer to the object of his desire would not be well-received. The same is true for the scientific “metaphors” researchers use to test the mysteries of the physical world. Sacks of potatoes can be used in place of people to test the capacity of an elevator, but people are not the same as potatoes in most other respects.
Both Creationists and Evolutionists err is their treatment of the biblical account of creation. Evolutionists err because they dismiss the biblical metaphor of creation in preference for scientific metaphors that can never illuminate the question of origins– unobserved, one-time events under unknown and unnatural circumstances are beyond the reach of science. Creationists err because they simply use different scientific theories to address the same non-scientific questions mistakenly addressed by the Evolutionists.
To really understand the biblical account of creation, we must avoid the error made by both Creationists and Evolutionists– that of forcing a foreign metaphor onto the biblical account. The goal should be to discover the real metaphor used by biblical authors to describe God’s creation.
It appears to be one in which God creates an oasis of order out of the waters of chaos.
The details involve a dome above the earth, pillars on which the earth is supported, waters above and below the earth, multiple heavens with storehouses for rain, snow, and hail, and a one-way entrance into Sheol beneath the earth. This seems to be the metaphor that underlies the creation account in Genesis, Noah’s Flood, the psalms, and the prophets. It is more concerned with the social reality of human existence than the physical origin of the world. The biblical writers use it over and over to richly describe the effects of man’s sin and the dependability of God. Through it, we are led to understand that it is sin that shakes the foundations of the earth; it is sin that turns loose the chaos God has restrained. This metaphor explains the origin and destiny of the world in ways that outstrip the metaphors available to modern science.
In the meantime, we should be sophisticated enough to see Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design as forensic uses of science to address the issue of origins. That is an inherently religious question– one in which Evolutionists have not earned the privileged status they seek to maintain by force.
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