Well, after my last post on this topic I had hoped to leave it aside for a while until the wounds healed over a little bit, but here we go again.
A friend emailed me this morning to be sure I saw Jacob Weisberg's piece on intelligent design in Slate today. (Dear, I read Slate every day.) He saw it as a good argument as to why discussion of God's role in evolution "has absolutely no place in a science classroom."
I have never suggested otherwise. In fact, a week ago I wrote, "I think it would do Christianity more good to have biology taught in Sunday school than to have religion taught in science class."
Furthermore, the Weisberg article is crap. It is the pure, unmitigated theophobic drivel of kneejerk secular fundamentalists who know and understand even less about intelligent design and religion than George W. Bush knows about evolution.
My friend accused me of talking out of my ass, even saying "only an incredibly misguided person" would argue "that evolution is essentially directionless and random.'" Then he sends me an article, hoping to rebut my points, that talks about "the prevailing scientific view of evolution as an unguided, random process."
I acknowledge that one of the major problems is that a vast number of self-described Christians also do not understand the issue. Intelligent Design is not a "rival" theory. It cannot, as many have pointed out, even accurately be called a "theory." It does not seek to supplant evolution, so therefore George Bush is wrong when he suggests "both sides ought to be properly taught."*
Intelligent Design is unscientific. It picks up where science leaves off, and can never follow: that is, the quite reasonable assumption that God is responsible for the scientific phenomena which we can observe in a laboratory. It is frankly a much more plausible explanation for the world in which we live than ascribing everything to a series of genetic accidents resulting from a causeless Big Bang that coincidentally happened to create the perfect conditions for life on Earth.
The flaw in Weisberg's understanding that unravels his entire argument is the misconception that a) Intelligent Design is Creationism dressed up in a lab coat and b) all people of faith regard Scripture as literally true and therefore Intelligent Design is a desperate, last-gasp attempt to get science to resemble Genesis. Weisberg writes, "Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world's great religions."
What Weisberg doesn't know about religion could fill a Bible.
American Evangelicalism is a fragment of the Christian world that has a disproportionate media presence and political influence. They proceed from the instantly disprovable assertion that the Bible is literally true in all instances. (I say instantly disprovable because the Bible contradicts itself in several ways in several places.) Any attempt to invalidate the veracity of a particular Biblical passage -- Genesis 1, for starters -- threatens to undermine the entire Evangelical framework. If Genesis 1 isn't true, then perhaps neither is Matthew nor Romans nor the Book of Revelation. Fundamentalists of both stripes use this idiotic "logic": Christians feel their faith is threatened by the implications, and secularists stick out their tongues to say, "See, it's all nonsense." But if Genesis 1 is not literally true, it does not logically follow that Matthew 5 is false.
For many Christians, belief in the literal 7-day creation is the furthest thing from a "basic teaching" or "doctrine." There is no record in the Gospels of Christ going around testing people on their fidelity to the Genesis creation story or any other Old Testament story. Jesus Christ came to teach us how to behave. My acceptance that the earth is billions of years old, which contradicts Genesis, does not threaten the message of the Gospel: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."
If you doubt my assertion that belief in a seven day creation is not a central doctrine of Christianity, I might refer you to the Nicene Creed. This was a statement drafted by various bishops under the auspices of Emperor Constantine during the fourth century. To this day it is recited in Christian churches, spelling out for us what are the non-debatable articles of faith. The Creed says, "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." That's all it says about creation. Belief in literal Creationism is not central to Christianity. End of discussion. I just blew Weisberg's entire premise.
It is a fair question to ask, however, how it is that I maintain my faith in a religion centered around a book that has been scientifically proven to be inaccurate.
This may sound like a Clintonian evasion, but it depends on what you mean by "accurate." I believe that Genesis contains truths, even as it is not literally true. As I frequently point out, Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God exclusively in the form of parables, which I believe is a warning to look past the storytelling surface of most of the Bible to seek deeper meaning within. Fundamentalists reject this thinking, insisting that even Revelation is literally true, which is a frightening prospect.
Here's why my faith is not threatened by evolution. Weisberg himself cites an explanation of the relationship between science and Christianity by Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University. (JWC, this is required reading.) Miller writes, "to a believer, even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be. In many respects, evolution is the key to understanding our relationship with God."
This is what is meant by Intelligent Design: Miller explains, "As more than one scientist has said, the truly remarkable thing about the world is that it actually does make sense. The parts fit, the molecules interact, the darn thing works. To people of faith, what evolution says is that nature is complete."
* When I earlier described Bush's statement on the teaching of Intelligent Design as "admirable," I was commenting on the irony that a narrow-minded, arrogant ideologue for whom dissent equals treason was extolling the virtues of being exposed to new ideas.