Intelligent Design Vs Evolution: A False Dichotomy
It's Not About Confrontation or Debate
Apparently the long
standing controversy over "creation science" has been upstaged by the newer confrontation
between advocates of "intelligent design" and evolution. The "evolution" of all
this can be traced in recent news stories and a series of feature articles in
the New York Times. Further, President Bush brought the authority of his office
to bear upon the topic with his comment that "intelligent design"
should be taught "alongside" evolution in public schools. "Both
sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate
is about," he said, according to an official transcript of the session.
Not About Debate
My difficulty with the President's remarks, as well
as the way others are framing the discussion, is that the conversation between
science and religion is far more interesting and more important than is suggested
by the idea that what we have here is a debate between two opposing camps. Moreover,
good education involves far more than giving equal time to partisans in the hotly
contented issues that have become part of the battle ground in the latest culture
This summer and last, I hosted a month long colloquium involving scientists
and theologians from a variety of traditions, several of whom have been involved
intimately in the ongoing encounter between their respective disciplines. Sponsored
by CrossCurrents magazine and the Association for Religion and Intellectual
Life, our group of twenty gathered for a period of four weeks on Manhattan's Morningside
Heights. The scholars worked on research and writing projects of their own design
in an interdisciplinary setting with access to the research facilities at Columbia
University, Union and Auburn Theological Seminaries, and Jewish Theological Seminary.
A wide variety of religious traditions and academic disciplines were represented.
I'll have more to report on the colloquium in future articles. Indeed, thanks
to a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a special issue of our
journal as well as a book on the work of these scholars will be forthcoming. At
this point, however, one conclusion is clear.
Both science and religion
have far too much to offer for any of us to ignore either.
will make significant contributions to understanding and knowledge in the future
will not come from the ranks of those who see this as a confrontation between
two opposing, and largely contradictory views of reality. Both science and religion
have far too much to offer for any of us to ignore either. There are many who
labor in the fields of evolutionary biology as well as theology who are eager
for a healthy exchange of ideas, conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect,
not confrontation. Further, speaking as one whose training and commitments are
largely religious, I am convinced that the insights of the scientific community
into the development of life on his planet are essential. It would be the height
of arrogance to imagine doing the hard work of theology today without a working
knowledge of the scientific discoveries of the past one hundred years. Further,
there is a long tradition, beginning well before the time of Charles Darwin, of
constructive engagement between science and theology. Darwin himself, it should
be remembered, was a student of theology before he became the godfather of "the
theory of evolution." Many of the preeminent theologians of the twentieth
century have incorporated the perspectives of science, including those of evolutionary
biology, into their work. Likewise, many scientists recognize the significant
contributions of religion to our understanding of life's ultimate meaning and
Albert Einstein put it will when he said: "Science without
religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
is, the problems of life are far too complex for humanity to solve without the
insights of either science or religion. Writing as a theologian, I find that studying
the work of Charles Darwin in particular, as well as the more recent work of biologists
and other scientists, is not only helpful in understanding how the material world
in which we live and work is constructed. Such study also increases my appreciation
of God's creation and inspires even greater wonder and respect for the world we
have been given.
At the table of learning, both science and religion
have a place.
Rather than defining the relationship between science
and religion, evolution and theologically informed theories of creation as a "debate,"
it would be far more helpful to picture a gathering of old friends over a delightful
dinner, with the conversation proceeding long into the night. It was such a gathering
that I had the privilege of hosting for the past two summers. What the world needs now is not more confrontation and debate, but rather
more frequent opportunities for people of different faith traditions and intellectual
disciplines to engage in the constructive exchange of ideas through
which real leaning becomes possible. And it is precisely such a climate that we
need to create in our public schools. Education is not about teaching "both
sides," or training people to become more skillful debaters. Education is
about inspiring curiosity, developing the skills of critical thought and inquiry,
and engaging in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. In this, both science and religion
have an important place at the table.
For further reading:
Christian Case For Evolution
As in the case of trying to prevent
students from seeing some movies, television shows, or websites, there is nothing
more likely to inspire interest in evolution than suggesting it is a dangerous,
tempting and forbidden topic – on a par, for example, with sex. But more important,
Christians should be encouraging the study of science in general, and evolutionary
biology in particular. Far from presenting a threat to faith, science can reinforce
and strengthen it. Here's why.
The online edition of Charles Henderson's book on the relationship
between religion and science
Ever wonder how it happens that a man condemned by the Catholic
Inquisition ends up having a monument raised in his honor in one of Italy's most
important cathedrals? In the story of Galileo's heresy trial, there are important
lessons for today concerning the relationship between science and faith.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.