A few weeks ago I was asked to do a session of my parish’s Adult Forum on the Episcopal Church’s Catechism of Creation, specifically the Science and Creation section. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fit it in with the end of the semester duties and a whole series of other things. I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t adequately prepare for it because I think its a very important topic. As a biologist, I’ve often dealt with teaching evolution to general studies students and I fully appreciate how important concepts of creation are to people’s fundamental concepts of theology.
It occurred to me that it would be a good topic for a series of blog posts. Maybe I’ll even manage to work out a few better answers for students.
It is difficult to talk about creation from the point of view both science and theology at the same time. The problem is mostly that of methodology. They are different ways of knowing, as they say. What is evidence to one is not evidence to the other. Both views are taking past each other.
A starting point, I think, is to say that the bible was never intended to be a science text book, nor are science text books intended to teach theology. The authors of the bible did not write anything that specifically contradicted observable nature. What they wrote fit their observations. It is hard for us today to strip away all of our observational aids. We must remember that they did not have eye glasses, much less telescopes or microscopes. The bible contains theological truths but is not scientific proof.
While discussing some fundamentals of the discussion, this may be a good place to discuss the terms ‘theory’ and ‘law’. As basic definitions go, a theory is statement that reflects one or more proven hypotheses and a law reflects a theory that has gained wide acceptance. In practice, laws are seldom put forward and different disciples do so at different rates. Science must always stand ready to revise its theories and laws as new evidence becomes available. Biology rarely proposes laws and the one that do exist have the title for historical as much as scientific reasons. Physics, on the other hand, produces and revises laws a higher frequency.
Let me give a example of a fundamental theory and law. We have cell theory that states that cells are the most basic form of life and that all cells come from pre-existing cells. We also have Mendel’s laws that predictably describe how genes are inherited from parent to offspring. Are Mendel’s laws more solid or widely accepted than cell theory? No, in fact, there are more exceptions to Mendel’s laws than to cell theory. Biologists believe that evolutionary theory rises to the level of law whether or not it has ever been declared by a scientific body. Biologists simply very rarely declare laws. I can’t think of any in modern times. Also, while we are discussing theories, please note that the theory of evolution and theory of natural selection are two separate theories. Natural selection is one of the mechanisms of evolution, but not the only mechanism or factor. Modern evolutionary theory, called Neo-Darwinism, is a melding of Darwin’s theories and Mendel’s laws.
I plan on putting up a series of posts on creation, some inspired by the Catechism of Creation, some will be on more general creation topics.
Note: I reserve the right to delete/refuse any comments that are abusive, non-constructive or simply long. I welcome constructive comments but this is not the place to post an essay in the comments section.