To The Daily Sun,
There have been some very interesting debates regarding science and religion in recent letters to The Sun. It seems that there is confusion about what science is when compared to pseudoscience. There also seems to have been some overlapping of the terms "creationism" and "intelligent" design.
In fact, there are different schools of thought among "creationists" themselves. Some are "old world" creationists who believe that the earth is billions of years old but who believe that God created or recreated life on the planet at some point. Others are "new earth" creationists who believe that the earth is only thousands of years old and that God created it in six, literal, twenty-four hour days. Even among the new earth creationists there are debates as to the actual age. Some creationists say the earth is only six thousand years old while others who say it is as old as t10 thousand years.
They also believe that there was a world-wide flood that covered even Mt. Everest. They point out that since flood myths exist in every culture, it is proof of Noah's flood as portrayed in the Bible. Actually, the reason flood myths exist is because destructive floods happen everywhere in the world! After all, in antiquity, if you did not travel more than twenty miles from the village in which you were born and you looked out to the horizon and it was all under water, you, too, might tell stories of worldwide floods and of those who used boats and rafts to save themselves and their animals.
Creation "science" is not science. In true science, one collects the data and then creates the model. The "science" employed by creationists is more like medieval approaches to the universe: the Church already had a model and one had be pretty damn sure that the data fit the model. It requires a great deal of "cherry-picking" of the data. Evolution and a 4.5 billion year age of the earth are not disputed by the overwhelming majority of scientists. Creationism is not modern science.
Although often equated with creationism (by some creationists themselves), "intelligent design" is something else. Even those who believe in evolution and take a lot of religious scripture as metaphor often believe in a "Supreme Designer." This includes many people of faith, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims. They do not need their scriptures to be literal to believe in a higher power and an ethical life. The problem is that there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of a designer, at least using the scientific method. Such debates are the business of philosophers and theologians!
The Bibles is not a "false" book. It contains truth at many different levels. Perhaps the story of Adam and Eve is not literal but just speaks of our common human condition? Perhaps the ages of those in the early books of the Bible were exaggerated since they were wise and wisdom was often associated with age?
But, the Bible is a book of faith, not science. After all, the earliest stories that made it into the Old Testament, while perhaps inspiring, were written by people who thought the earth was flat! (By the time of Jesus, most educated people in the Greco-Roman world knew the earth was round).
Even the most conservative interpreters of the scriptures have long admitted that the Bible often speaks poetically and allegorically. For instance, one of the Hebrew prophets predicted that in a future Messianic Age of Peace, the hills would "shout and clap their hands for joy." Did the prophet mean that Belknap Mountain is actually going to grow hands and applaud? Of course not. In the New Testament, Jesus, like other Jewish rabbis at the time, taught people in parables. Were these stories actually historical events or were they "hypotheticals" used to instruct his followers?
It might surprise some readers, but the idea of "intelligent design" actually appeals to this writer. He can accept some plan or design of the universe AND the fact that life evolved over time, that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the universe began with the "Big Bang" around 14 billion years ago. But, he cannot PROVE that scientifically. It is simply what he believes philosophically. Perhaps it can be taught in a philosophy class or a comparative religions class but it cannot be presented as an "alternate theory" in biology, geology, or astronomy courses.
I am not anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-Buddhist, anti-Zoroastrian or "anti" any religion. I believe in the constitutional right of "free exercise" of one's religion or the right not to exercise any religion. On the other hand, I believe in the equally constitutional premise that our society should separate church and state. When you separate them, both can more freely fulfill their respective roles in society. I just believe that religious and philosophical ideas that cannot be backed up with science do not belong in science classrooms as "science." Of course a discussion of religious myths belongs in school but in a humanities or literature class.
Students have a right to believe what they wish and parents and churches have a right to instruct them. Parents even have the right to homeschool their kids or send them to private, religious schools. In spite of urban legends, few public schools have ever decreed that a student cannot pray or read the Bible in their free time. But, in public, taxpayer-funded schools, we cannot preach a particular religion or teach faith or philosophy in the place of science in science classrooms.
E. Scott Cracraft