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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.

It's 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 wars.

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.

Those who 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 purpose.

Albert Einstein put it will when he said: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

The fact 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:

A 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.

God and Science
The online edition of Charles Henderson's book on the relationship between religion and science

A More Intelligent Design
The God of Intelligent Design Theory is Not Intelligent Enough

Stem Cell Research: Are We Messing With Powers and Prerogatives of God?
The South Korean researcher who won world acclaim as the first scientist to clone a human embryo and extract stem cells recently resigned as director of a new research center, citing the ethical problems associated with his work. Some of the same issues were cited by President Bush in 2001 when he limited federal funding for such research. We look at the issues involved in the ongoing debate. Background: When Does Life Begin?

The Bible and Modern Science: Are They In Conflict?
Wisdom comes not in choosing the Bible over science, but rather to taking the insights of both science and the Scriptures with equal seriousness.

Galileo's Pals
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.

Is a Bird Flu Pandemic the Sign of the End?
Some are predicting the end is near; others are banking on it. Let's take a long view of biblical prophecy.

When Does Life Begin?
Is there a biblical view of when life begins? There certainly is, and the answer might surprise you.

God and the Hurricanes

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and 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, 2015).
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, 2017).

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.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.
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