Slate’s Will Saletan has a feature on a professor you’ve probably never heard of, but who is portrayed as a sort of Moses leading his people – scientists who lay claim to both Christianity and evolution – to the promised land.
Rather than massacre the Canaanites, though, the University of Wisconsin’s Jeff Hardin and his ragtag band of chosen people are going to patronize their opponents – evolution-doubting Christians – into submission.
Because this kind of article hasn’t been written hundreds of times before, Saletan (who I corresponded with a decade ago) sets it up for you:
Today, Hardin speaks for an emerging school of Christian thinkers. They call themselves evolutionary creationists. They believe that God authored the emergence of life and humankind but that evolution explains how this process unfolded. They accept what science has established: The Earth is billions of years old, and all species, including ours, have evolved from other species.
Hardin understands why many Christians recoil from evolution. But to believe in a young Earth, he says, you have to reject so much science that you can’t do research in related fields. “Intelligent design” tries to be more sophisticated, but you can’t build science around it, because it makes no testable predictions.
Hardin, who chairs UW’s zoology department, made these points in a presentation last month at the Faith Angle Forum. It’s a shindig staged by the Ethics & Public Policy Center, whose stated purpose is “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”
Which makes Hardin an odd choice as a conference speaker for the group, because he appears to be arguing for the same tired “separate but equal” approach, which also exasperates militant atheists.
And he comes off as the stereotypical enlightened scientist who loves Jesus (we had plenty of these at Seattle Pacific, my alma mater), thinking that anyone who questions modern evolutionary science simply needs a soothing lecture with a few Bible verses thrown in.
They remind me of the Gnostics.
Preempting debate with appeals to authority
Let’s all sit down, children, and hear from Dr. Hardin:
Hardin’s first message to believers is that they don’t have to choose between mechanical explanation and teleology, the idea that things work toward a goal. You can recognize the ruthless dynamics of evolution, as Hardin does, while maintaining that it follows a divine plan. “God created the world with the intention that we would be here and that we would one day be capable of interacting with him,” says Hardin. …
Second, Hardin wants evangelicals to trust God. If God made the world, they shouldn’t be afraid to see his creation as it is. Hardin approaches science with serene faith. He believes that the evidence he encounters—what Francis Bacon called the “Book of God’s Works”—will be compatible with the Bible.
Hardin recognizes, crucially, that when the two books don’t seem to match, the error might be in his own understanding of the Bible. Rather than reject what science has discovered, he asks how scripture can be understood better so that it fits the scientific evidence.
This glosses over so much it’s hard to know where to begin. For example, there’s vibrant debate in theology circles over how the violence and gore of natural selection over millions of years can fit into God’s pronouncement of a “very good” creation before the ruinous effects of sin. It goes to God’s very nature.
And that’s the point: there’s a debate. When I hear scientists like Hardin speak, I get the impression they’re looking for a metaphorical wormhole – a shortcut through the messy universe of diverging scientific views.
Minorities and academic freedom
I’ll lay my cards on the table: having worked for the Discovery Institute, among other things the academic home of the intelligent design movement, way back in the day, I was at one point pretty well versed in these issues despite being assigned to different programs.
Since I’m not a scientist, I can’t credibly critique anyone’s defense of a particular theory (remember Stephen Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium?).
What I can do is note that I worked with some pretty damn smart people whose own mainstream scientific studies led them away from the mainstream Darwinian paradigm – folks who have Ph.D.’s in biochemistry and molecular and cell biology and astronomy, both agnostic and Christian math geniuses, none anywhere near “creationists,” all arguing for views that make them despised minorities within the scientific community.
In contrast to today’s often ludicrous harassment codes at public universities, some of these folks have literally had their academic careers threatened because they dared to acknowledge these matters can be debated.
I don’t think that’s what Hardin wants, but he doesn’t seem to have a much higher view of the Christians he’s trying to convince.
Such folks may have trouble with the concept of a “very good” creation resulting from God as a Game of Thrones sadist. They may find the evidence for “irreducible complexity,” which Saletan finds goofy, more persuasive than “it somehow sorta happened,” or ask how Hardin accounts for the relatively sudden emergence of major phyla in the Cambrian explosion. They may be fans of Thomas Kuhn and think the neo-Darwinian framework – whose own precise internal components are hotly debated in science journals – is ripe for its own paradigm shift.
It would be great if instead of teaching science Sunday school to those backward evangelicals, Hardin would acknowledge they have valid reasons for being skeptical of his proselytizing.
Are they his brothers and sisters in Christ, or his subjects under the magisterium of materialism?
Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)
IMAGE: recapnow/Flickr, University of Wisconsin