Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

The Creation/ Evolution Controversy ... More Heat Than Light?
Alexander H. Bolyanatz
Wycliffe Bible Translators

From: JASA 37 (September 1985): 192.

As an evangelical Christian as well as an anthropologist, I have been watching with interest the Creation/ Evolution controversy. Since I am a member of two groups of people, each one of which tends to champion one of the positions in question, I have been in an unusually strategic position to observe the happenings of this debate.

A number of things strike me about this issue and the way that it is being handled by both sides. I find it hard to imagine that many people do not see the source of the problem: widely divergent world views. One of the many insights that anthropology has provided the world is that people base their scientific hypotheses on their understanding of the cosmos and the characteristic(s) of any being(s) in the cosmos. This is, of course, equally true for us in the West. For evangelical Christians, with their central concept of a personal God, Creation is the only rational, logical explanation of the origin of humanity. For those whose metaphysical outlook includes no god or a deistic image of God, Evolution is rational and logical. Yet the debate continues to rage on as if everyone involved shared the same metaphysical outlook. Each side calls the other unscientific (and indeed, each side is unscientific when it uses "unacceptable" bases for its science) as if the same set of cosmological constructs were being used. No wonder there is such little agreement!

But this is not my central point. My reason for writing is the tactics used in this ideological battle. On both sides, I see lessthan-ethical attacks on the other. Both Evolutionists and Creationists are at fault. Even if some semblance of a truce cannot be called based on the reasoning found in the above paragraph, I would like to suggest that some tactics used in the conflict be eliminated. The rest of this paper will deal primarily with areas where I think that the principals involved have not been as honorable as they might have been.

Evolutionists, your scholarship has not been fair. Very few creationists agree with the 4004 B.C. date anymore, yet one can find this in archaeology texts today. The implication is that one who goes along with the Creationist viewpoint is hopelessly naive and outdated in their thinking. If one is willing to introduce the viewpoint of another for the purpose of critical analysis, the least that one can do is provide their best argument, not their most ridiculous.

This applies to Creationists as well. Today, no Evolutionist takes seriously the theories of early physical anthropologists who suggested that Asians are related to orangutangs, Blacks to apes, and Caucasians to chimpanzees. So why even introduce it? It seems to me that arguing with or denigrating another's weakest point implies that their strongest points are too strong. In this controversy, which is being carried out in a public arena, more honorable tactics should be used.

Perhaps I am reading between the lines too much, but it appears that there is a basic distrust of the other side in this whole imbroglio. I detect implications on the part of Evolutionists that anyone holding the Creationist viewpoint must be illogical, backward, subversive, uneducated, and stubborn. Similarly, Creationists seem to suggest that Evolutionists can be demonic, subversive, atheistic (in the pejorative sense), arrogant, and stubborn. As a member of the general public, as well as having one foot on each of the sides (the American Anthropological Association being a proponent of the Evolutionary viewpoint, and Creationism being a major plank of the traditional evangelical platform), I implore both sides to refrain from mud-slinging-either implicit or explicit.

It seems that one constructive step might be for each side to acknowledge its debt to the other. Here I want to focus on anthropology within the Evolution camp and post- Reformation Christianity within the Creation camp. (Not that these sets of people and ideas elucidate their points any better; it's just that I am more familiar with them.) Historically, the anthropology of today owes a great deal to its antecedents in Christianity. Besides missionaries, who were the world's first ethnographers, anthropology owes a debt to the Christian notion that the world around us (including people) is orderly, having been created by a rational God, and that that order can be discovered. Indeed, the whole corpus of Western science has such a notion as part of its foundation. Christians, what would be the degree of your understanding of Scripture if it were not for the labors of those handling spades, picks, brushes as well as the meticulous sorting and note-taking in the hot sun of the Middle East done by archaeologists?

Creationists, remember that a similar battle has been fought before. Fifteenth-century Christians used to "prove from the Bible" that the sun rotated around the earth. The Bible may be the inspired Word of God, but our theologies based on it can never be. Facts are facts and the best theologies are those that integrate truth (no matter what its source) with Truth.

Evolutionists, beware of becoming too dependent on concepts like uniformitarianism. Most of the cultures of the world have no trouble accepting a supernatural and/or cataclysmic beginning for themselves. Are we in the West like the person in the marching band who looked around and saw that everyone else was out of step? We need to take care lest we fall prey to a subtle ethnocentrism that sees Western science as somehow implicitly superior to other explanations of our existence.

Finally, I suggest that both sides learn to treat other world views with respect-a basic anthropological value. The real issue is a person's understanding of the world, and this is something that many people do not readily change. Both Creationists and Evolutionists have a right to prosyletize, but the issue is a metaphysical one of the existence and/or character of God, not trying to get the other person to see that his or her perspective is flawed in its logic and rationality. One doesn't get hot water out of the cold water faucet unless the plumbing system is changed.

In a controversy which has often generated a disproportionate amount of heat in relation to light, I hope that some changes come about in the way the debate is conducted. I also hope that the changes come soon.