Thursday, November 10, 2005

Are evolutionary theory and creationism both science?

There is a lively debate going on in the US (and has been for decades) about whether or not creationism should be taught in schools as an alternative theory of origins to evolution. I would argue that evolutionary theory is not in the same category as creationism. Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory whereas creationism is a religious belief based on faith. I am not saying whether evolutionary theory is correct or not; nor am I denying that some evolutionists are religious in their beliefs (Richard Dawkins comes to mind); I am merely suggesting that, in teaching students science, the only theories taught should be scientific theories. Religious beliefs about origins should be taught in a religious studies context. Evolution and creation are not equivalent theories of origins. Scripture teaches that God created everything. But it does not provide any scientific explanation for how that came about. What the Bible describes is a supernatural (by definition, outside of the realm of science) act of God to bring things into existence the instant God spoke. This may be true, but it is not a scientific theory. How would you go about proving a supernatural act of God scientifically? In fact, many Christians have gone to all sorts of bizarre lengths to try to fit Genesis into science (eg, the idea of God creating everything to look old even when it is allegedly not). It's interesting that, in Australia, we don't have the argument over whether creation should be taught in the public school classroom (at least, I haven't heard it). From our very beginning, we have had clear separation of church and state in practice. That could be because our first white inhabitants were convicts! Christian private schools may certainly teach a biblical view of creation. But, ultimately, I think that a Christian theological view of origins is equivalent to, say, our aboriginal dreamtime stories of origins. I am not saying that aboriginal stories of origins are true -- I don't think they are. I believe the Bible is theologically true in affirming God as the Creator and Sustainer of all. But I would never argue that this belief system should be taught in science in a public school. Theology and science, although they need to ultimately cohere with each other, are different epistemological categories. I think it is very important for Christians who argue for inclusion of creationism in science teaching to think about the implications if they were successful. If creationism were to be taught on the basis that it is a theory of origin in the same way evolutionary theory is, then it would be legitimate for other religions to argue for the inclusion of their religious beliefs about origins to also be included. Apparently, there are approximately 29 major world religions and it is estimated that there are hundreds of distinct religious beliefs about the origin of the world. If creationism were to be taught, why not all these others? I am not arguing for or against evolutionary theory. My issue is whether evolutionary theory and creationist belief are in the same epistemological category. I would argue that they are not. Understanding them to be in different epistemological categories would resolve the alleged warfare between science and religion. In a sense, there are two answers to the question: How did the world come to be? There is a scientific answer and a religious answer. The scientific one (whatever that ultimately turns out to be) and the religious one. Science should be taught as science and religion as religion along with some good critical thinking about how they relate to each other!

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