Science in Christian Perspective


Responses on Dialogue on Evolution (Journal ASA 24, December 1972)

Irving W. Knobloch Botany Department Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan
Charles C. Coleman 6217 Beaehway Drive Falls Church, Virginia 22041

From: JASA 25 (December 1973): 167-168.

I do not wish to detract from previous Editors of the Journal ASA, but I do think that Babe has done an outstanding job and has given us a very exciting organ in which to express our opinion. Good work should always be recognized.

The Journal ASA 24, December (1972) was particulary interesting because of its balance. Being a biologist, my attention was naturally focused on the dialogue on evolution. This reminded me of the November issue of the BSCS Newsletter, No, 49, which contains several outstanding articles of a proevolutionary nature. (Some of you may wish to send in your 25 cents to the BSCS Newsletter, P.O. Box 390, Boulder Colorado 80302 and "get the latest scoop.")
One of the best defenses of evolution was offered by William V. Mayer who is located at the University of Colorado. One of his better points is that if we are to insist that the Garden of Eden story be told in the classroom, why shouldn't we allow equal time to stories of origins emanating from other religions? This does seem like a fair question. Many of our teachers have been brought up in the Christian tradition and would have little trouble with Genesis and, with proper coaching, they probably could discuss, briefly at least, other theories of origin. As far as Christianity is concerned, however, I am fearful that more harm than good will come to "the Faith" through such an approach especially if Genesis is treated in a literal sense. This is not to deny that some sort of creation did actually happen.

Mayer is appalled that one man, ASA member Vernon Gruse, a member of the Assembly of God Church, should be able to sway the entire State Board of Education in California in his favor. As you know, there seemed for a time to be a likelihood of the Creation story being included in biology textbooks in California (and probably throughout the country) as a result of Grose's original efforts. I do not suppose that we should compare Grose with Einstein, Darwin or Newton but the fact remains that the opinion of one man has in the past prevailed over that of the majority.

In Colorado, Mayer points out, there is a bill in the legislative mill which makes the teaching of Biblical Creation mandatory. Teachers and students, have, in this bill, the academic freedom to choose which theory of origins they prefer. Mayer believes, however, that the teacher should have the academic freedom to "teach what he believes to be factual-in accordance with guidelines laid out by authorities in that discipline." Now' I have known a great many teachers in my lifetime and I know that many of them, because of their religious training, would rather teach Biblical Genesis than Evolution. They do not, however, have the freedom to do this because of the "authorities" mentioned above. In this same connection and on another page of the BSCS issue, we learn that the National Association of Biology Teachers is now raising funds for the "NABT Fund for Freedom in Science Teaching." We assume that all monies raised will be used to protect the rights of those who wish to teach Evolution and not one penny will be spent on those who wish to teach Special Creation. I wonder what kind of freedom we are really talking about?

On the other side of the coin, we find a provocative statement by a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science which states that the various accounts of creation are parts of the religions heritage and are not scientific statements of theories-and that such accounts are not capable of verification. They go on to say that since they are religious in nature and accepted only in faith, they should not be taught as reasonable alternatives to scientific explanations for the origin and evolution of life. Conservative Christians will probably not accept such a viewpoint but then they do not understand that scientists can only study and evaluate that which can be apprehended by the senses or by auxiliary machines. On the whole, scientists are honest. They I save overthrown many apparently well-founded theories in the past and I, for one have confidence that, if the theory of evolution is to be cast aside, it will be the scientists who will do ft and not the nonscientists.

As far as Special Creation is concerned, I believe that it is highly improbable that the present organic complexity could have come about only by the operation of natural law. In other words, someone, whom we shall call God, set the main pattern. This is not to say that some sort of divine creation occurred a few thousand years ago or that it occurred in the figurative language of Genesis.

As far as organic evolution is concerned, several "factual" observations can be made. One is that the type of evolution resulting in the formation of new taxa is going on constantly today and that this phenomenon can be both observed and regulated in the laboratory. No doubt, the formation of new taxa has been going on for millions of years. The other observation is that the belief in phylogenetic or macro-evolu tion is an extrapolation and not nearly as 'factual" as speciahon described above. This is then the meeting ground of creationists and evolutionists. I am not trying to satisfy both sides (this would be impossible) but rather to set forth a new position based on the improbability of both "Genesis Creation" and phylogeoetic (amoeba to man) evolution. As on television a commentator closes his program, "This is the way I see it."

Following are a few comments on the dialogue, "Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution" (Journal ASA 24, December 1972).

First, I would like to add my name to the "sizable minority" of readers who consider the discussion of evolution and the Christian faith worthy of serious discussion in 1972/1973, and I congratulate the editorial staff for pursuing it. (Incidentally, it would be interesting to know just how large is the "majority" who feel such a discussion is at historical interest only. I'm not aware that a poll has ever been taken).

Second, if the purpose of this second dialogue is, as the editor states, to show "whether the available evidence indicates that evolution has taken place", why is it limited by title specifically to the field of paleontology? Surely one reason why the evidence with respect to organic evolution has been traditionally so hard to summarize is that it is essentially interdisciplinary in nature. Important as the paleontological data is, it can't stand alone. I sincerely hope I have misconstrued the introductory statement, and that geologists and other pertinent disciplines will he heard from in later dialogues. If you don't plan to do this, how about laying it on?

Finally, I confess, regretfully, that I was disappointed with both presentations. The regret is because it is evident that both men invested a good deal of effort into their papers, and it would he a pleasure to give one or both a "well done" vote. The problem is that what would most benefit the reader (at least in my opinion) would be a pair of presentations that would illuminate the subject from two different points of view, but in which a scholarly balance would be maintained by both writers. In actuality, however, both seemed to approach the dialogue as a debate in which the goal was to score more points than the opposition.

This sounds harsh, I know, and I hasten to add that there is a good deal of useful material in both presentations. However one wonders why Cuffey spent time emphasizing how many of the paleontologists, and the scientific community as a whole, agreed with the evolutionary view, and why Moore chose to make his stand on the technical ground that nothing which happened historically, and which could not be repeated, can ever be said to have been "proven". It would have been refreshing to have Moore discuss in detail his interpretation of the progressive changes which, as Coffey points out, appear in parts of the fossil record. It would also have been helpful it Coffey would have admitted the (to some of us) striking lack of connecting fossil forms between the major groups of plants and animals, rather than simply trotting out the few candidates which exist.

The result of all this was an interesting, and, at times expert debate, but the reader was left with the feeling that perhaps the most interesting items (and maybe the most pertinent to the basic question) were precisely the areas each dialoger left non-discussed. Even with these shortcomings, however, the treatment was useful, and I will look forward to the next dialogue.