Sound Off: Evolution and religion can mixDr. Barbara Moon recently retired after teaching biology at UFV for more than 30 years. During that time she has had many conversations with students about the debate surrounding evolution and creationism. She says you can believe in both. Since 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, it seemed appropriate to feature the issue in our Sound Off column.
By Dr. Barbara Moon
|Dr. Barbara Moon with a replica of a sabre tooth tiger skull.|
A scientific theory is a comprehensive explanation of observed natural phenomena that is supported by a large body of evidence. As such, scientific theories only concern the
natural world (e.g., atomic, gravity, evolutionary theories). They can be used to make testable
predictions about natural phenomena or about phenomena that have not yet been observed.
Scientists use the scientific method as an effective way to study the natural world and to develop and test theories. A key point aboutscientific theories is that they are practical
only when they deal with natural causes.
Evolutionary theory provides an explanation for why there are so many different kinds of organisms on earth, how all organisms on earth are related and how they share an original common ancestor. In common with other scientific theories, it does not and can not
investigate supernatural causes of life on earth.
An examination of the various perspectives on creation and evolution has convinced me that the relationship between evolution and creationism is a continuum, not a dichotomy between two irreconcilable opposites. The perspectives range from literalist traditions, which interpret scripture as equivalent to scientifi c explanations of origins, to atheistic ultra-evolutionism, which proposes that the natural world is all that exists and thus nothing supernatural exists. The extremes are indeed incompatible, but there are many positions in between where scientists and people of faith agree. I do not have the space here to go into a description of all the perspectives along the continuum.
You can get detailed explanations in my Powerpoint lecture, which can be found as a link off the following web page: www.ufv.ca/biology/Darwin.htm
Theistic evolution is a perspective of which many people are unaware yet is a position where people of faith and evolutionists can come together. It is a view in which God created the laws of nature and thus events in the universe generally unfold with no further divine intervention. This is a view held by many Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, and Christian biologists. Their approach to science uses the scientific method.
"There is no reason
that religious belief
need be a barrier
to an evolutionary
-- Dr. Barbara Moon
Such a view accepts all the results of modern science, including the Big Bang, random mutation, and Darwin’s notion of descent with modifi cation through natural selection. Furthermore it is the position of most Protestant and Catholic churches (and many other religions) and is the perspective taught at their seminaries. I encourage alumni to not reject evolution without investigating the theistic evolutionary perspective. Many theistic evolutionists are working biologists who uphold both the authority of scripture and the integrity of the scientifi c process. One online group (An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution) is trying to get
beyond the warring positions of “evolution or God” and to critique the commonly voiced positions in which “evangelicals condemn evolutionary science as atheistic; evolutionists mock evangelicals as being little better than medieval religious nutcases” (from Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution website). I invite you to do the same.
The evolutionary perspective holds sway in the modern world for several reasons. First, it is supported by a large array of data collected over centuries. Second, it is accepted by scientists across all fields. Third, it is a highly productive theory that has enabled us to rapidly advance understanding of the natural world. Modern medicine is now at an exciting stage in which the basis of many human diseases and conditions is starting to be understood. However, this knowledge did not arise from the study of humans alone but from experimental analysis of a whole range of organisms such as bacteria, fungi, plants, and small mammals. The findings from these studies are often directly applicable to humans because, since we are all interrelated via common descent, we share most of the molecular systems taking place within our cells. Once a molecular mechanism is found in experimental organisms, there is a good chance it will be similar in humans. The latest manifestation of this process is in the ongoing analysis of the human genome: sequencing the genome was a wonderful technological accomplishment but useless without analyzing gene function.
By comparing a human gene with the evolutionarily similar gene from an experimental organism, a reasonable function can be attributed in humans, and the basis for a disease understood. Some people see the theory of evolution as an amoral position, but evolutionists can have just as strong a moral compass as deists. I also contend that looking at the world through an evolutionary lens can lead to new moral insights. Once one understands that all creatures are interrelated via evolution, one sees that we are all cousins who are very much in the same boat together. This can inspire a desire to care for the earth and everything in it. I
challenge you to investigate further.
Look for ideas and opinions from Yvon Dandurand, UFV’s associate VP of research and Graduate studies, in the Sound Off column in our next issue.