April 30, 2013
Mapping the Origins Debate
In an era of extreme, vitriolic rhetoric, when someone offers calm, straightforward fairness, it is like a cool, refreshing breeze on a hot, muggy day. That is what Gerald Rau provides in Mapping the Origins Debate on the very contentious issue of evolution and creation. He offers a model not only of clarity in thought but of civility in presentation.
He carefully maps out four different "origin" questions: the beginning of the universe, of life, of species and of humans. He then works very hard to present objectively six different models for answering these questions--ranging from Naturalistic Evolution (which believes in nothing supernatural) to Young-Earth Creationism (which believes in six 24-hour days of creation), with four other Christian options in between. Remarkably, Rau is able to present all six without deriding or degrading any.
He emphasizes that all six have the same range of evidence to draw on. And they all agree on the evidence. They do, however, clearly disagree as to which evidence is most compelling, which is insignificant, and how it should all be interpreted. One example will be instructive.
Consider the genetic similarity or dissimilarity of humans and chimpanzees. Many textbooks say their DNA are 98.5 percent similar. But there are different ways of counting what is identical and what is not. So scientists' estimates range now from 95 percent to 99.4 percent similar. But if you look at not just what is in a gene but how a gene functions or expresses itself, the dissimilarity rises. In one chromosome, only 17 percent of functional genes produce identical proteins in the two species. Whether one chooses to emphasize the 98.5 percent or the 17 percent makes all the difference. Rau goes on to note that if one nucleotide changes,
causing a change in one amino acid, we could say that 1/300 of the DNA changed (only 0.3%), or 1/100 of the amino acids changed (1%), or that 1/1 (100%) of the proteins changed. Take your pick--all are true. And although the actual numbers may change or be disputed, the principle still holds: which figures a person quotes will reflect what they want their readers to conclude. (p. 140)
All sides do this. Rarely do we hear of anyone carefully acknowledging contrary data and taking the time to deal with it respectfully. Rau's candor about all this is entirely refreshing.
There is much more, but I also appreciate his wonderful discussion on the nature of science and how what definition we start with affects the conclusions we end up with. And because there is no single, objective definition of science, the philosophical starting point of each view is crucial.
And where does Rau end up? What conclusion does he draw? Other than saying that he himself is a Christian, he doesn't tell us. Does he favor one option more than another? I can't tell. If you can, let me know.
Image: Eta Carinae Supernova (NASA.gov)