Saturday, February 16, 2008

Yes We Can vs. Like Hope, But Different

The "Yes We Can" video that made of Barack Obama's speech is just great.

The parody reply for(?) John McCain is hilarious.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Thank God for Evolution, Conclusion

I have been reading Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution! in the hopes that it would help me put together the Biblical view of God as creator of heaven and earth with the evolutionary view of the long, slow development of the universe. I appreciate Dowd's commitment to seeing the development of the universe as a meaningful Great Story. In the end, though, he doesn't engage the science enough to help me clarify a biblical understanding of evolution. More frustrating to me, his reinterpretation of Christian language is so ambiguous that I can't tell if he could deliver the faith/science connection that he promises, even if he did have more detail on the science.

Dowd does have an interesting theory of the connection between brain development and sin, which I wrote about earlier. And he does have a useful timeline of cosmic evolution. Ultimately, though, he says he is not trying to coordinate religious views and scientific ones. He even seems to reject the project, though he does in fact do a bit of that himself. He is, as he says, a popularizer and evangelist for the view that evolution is itself a religious worldview. So if there is not as much science as I would like, that is more my problem than his.

Dowd's ambiguity and reinterpretation of Biblical language is more of a problem even within his own project. He distinguishes between the "night language" of religion and the "day language" of science. Here he gives a translation from one to the other:

Our purpose, individually, is to grow in Christ and to support one another in staying true to God's Word and God's will. Collectively, we are here to create Christ-centered institutions that glorify God and embody the values of the Kingdom.

He continues, "A day language way of saying the same thing might be:"

Our purpose, individually, is to grow in trust, authenticity, responsibility, and service to the Whole, and to support others in doing the same. Collectively, we are here to celebrate and steward what Life has been doing for billions of years and to devise systems of governance and economics that align the self-interest of individuals and groups with the wellbeing of the larger communities of which we are a part.

The latter might be a worthy ethical view, but I don't see how it is simply a translation of the former view. He articulates at some length his theory of Evolutionary Christianity, Evolutionary Islam, Evolutionary Judaism, Evolutionary Buddhism, etc., which re-interprets all faiths into one - the same one that he sees in evolution. Dowd even contends that all faiths will evolve into his version of cosmopolitan unitarianism when everyone faces up to "reality." Sociologically, it seems very unlikely to me that all the world's faiths will give up their tradition and what he calls "flat earth" Scriptures to embrace scientific unitarianism.

What has been hardest for me to pin down in reading this book is what Dowd means by God. On the one hand, he uses God talk all the time, starting with the title. On the other hand, he says:
God was active at every moment, at every critical juncture. God, as I have been using the term, is no less than a holy name for Supreme Wholeness, that Ultimate Creative Reality that brought everything, step-by-step, into existence.

On the other hand, he denies that God designed anything. Everything evolved by natural selection. In his final credo, Dowd asserts
I believe that God is creator and ruler of the Universe. And I know that this statement is metaphorical, not literal, in what it says about the nature of reality.

I can't tell what Dowd's God is - if he thinks God is real. If you take Dowd to mean exactly what he says, then God is a metaphor we use to describe whatever it is that happens to emerge from evolution. He believes that evolution is leading the universe toward greater complexity. Moreover, he thinks the fact that human beings understand the universe means that they evolved in order to be the universe's way of understanding itself. This is a pretty vision, but I don't see how he can derive that either from his science or his theology.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Reflections on "Marry Him!"

We in the marriage-promoting world have been all atwitter about an article in The Atlantic recently, Lori Gottlieb's "Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough." Gottlieb, a liberal feminist writer who had in the past written against settling, decided to have a child on her own before 40. Now, she wishes she had married when she was younger. She held out for Mr. Right, and now she is alone and regrets it.

I mostly applaud Ms. Gottlieb's sentiment. I think most young people have a distorted view of marriage. They think it is about someone who will make you happy. The core of marriage as a social institution, though, is to form a partnership that is good for your children. (And yes, of course, there are many fine and socially useful childless marriages. I am talking about marriage as a social institution, the marriages that most people have.) I think it is healthy for women to look to marry the fathers of their children before they think about finding their own soulmate.

What disturbs me a bit in all this talk of "settling" is that is leaves out how marriage transforms people -- especially men. Marriage reliably makes people more responsible. Very often, it also makes us better people -- more concerned about others, more interested in how the big world affects our own, even more loving.

Moreover, it is helpful and humbling to remember that our spouse settled in marrying us. We are all imperfect. Knowing that your mate settled in marrying you can be a strong motivator be the person she or he deserved to marry.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What I Learned at the Evolutionists' Testimony Service

Last night I went to a talk at the local Unitarian-Universalist Church. The talk was sponsored by the Kentucky Association of Science Educators and Skeptics, a debunking organization focusing on paranormal and creationist claims. One of their number, a geologist, had visited the Creation Museum. His talk was mostly a simple slide show of what he saw at the museum. His commentary was, of course, critical, and he was preaching to the choir in this setting to this audience.

I was dissatisfied, though, because the criticism didn't really engage the substance of what the museum offered. The sheer fact that they taught young earth creationism and rejected evolution was reason enough to bemoan their ignorance. In the Q and A session I sent up a written question, asking for a good specific example of what was wrong with young earth creationist geology. The speaker offered the example of Kentucky limestone. He said that limestone is made in clear coastal seabeds piling up sediment over a long time.

Here, I think, is where we can see the disconnection between the creationist and evolutionist arguments. The creationist can readily concede that one way limestone can be made is by sediments piling up in clear coastal seabeds over a long time. But they also contend that another way would be in a sudden calamitous flood. In the museum they show pictures of major geological changes made by the Mt. Saint Helens eruption in a matter of weeks.

What the creationists object to is the flat, unreflective assertion that the evolutionists' proposed theory is the only possible way to explain what we see in nature. Until the evolutionists offer a rebuttal to that critique, they have not answered the creationists' objection.

The event at the UU church was mostly a testimonial among believers. In addition to the geologist and the KASES organizer, two biology professors had been recruited for the panel. With their usual fair-mindedness, though, the UU panel also included a Presbyterian minister, head of the local interfaith alliance, as the token theist. He made what I thought was the most penetrating comment of the night. He thought that lying behind the passion on each side of the creation/evolution debate was a deep emotion: each side feared the other. One of the scientists objected to this characterization, contending that he didn't fear the creationists, just their ignorance. I can't help but think that this attitude -- that the other side disagrees with us only because they are ignorant, fearful, and dogmatic -- will not help.

Indeed, attending an evolutionist testimonial service shows the knowledge class -- which thinks of itself as the embodiment of reason, logic, and open-mindedness -- at its most fearful, dogmatic, and close-minded.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thank God for Evolution, Part 5

A comment on yesterday's post brings out an important point. Virginia wrote,
As a liberal Christian, I think it is possible to accept the Biblical account of Creation as a metaphorical narrative and see God's hand in the truly amazing process of evolution. A few degrees warmer or cooler, a few cells that split in different directions, a percentage less of one kind of gas and a percentage more of another and this would be a completely different world.

I agree with Virginia that the universe does seem amazingly well designed for life. I think that insight is a very promising way to go in reconciling faith and evolution. Science cannot, of course, prove the "anthropic principle," or any theory that the universe is designed and created. But it can't disprove it, either. So you and I are left to judge on some other basis than empirical science why the universe works so marvelously.

In one way, that is what Michael Dowd is doing in Thanks God for Evolution! The amazing wonder of the Great Story of evolution is the whole motive of his ministry. Surprisingly, though, Dowd denies that any aspect of the universe is designed. It all just evolved. He is not arguing that evolution is evidence of the divine; rather, he says that evolution is divine. We are meant to take the book's title more literally than readers like Virginia and me might have thought.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Thank God for Evolution, Part 4

I am halfway through Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution! The expected parting between his view and Christianity has begun. Dowd preserves the core language of Christianity, including salvation. He says, though, that for the doctrine of salvation to make sense, "our theology of salvation must be freed from otherworldly and unnatural interpretations." Dowd contends that "we" and "people today" just can't believe in an otherworldly God -- though, in fact, that is exactly what most people do believe.

Dowd's reinterpretation of Christian salvation means having "Christ-like evolutionary integrity." I read this as mostly the traditional liberal Christian strategy of re-interpreting "faith in Christ" as "being a good guy like Jesus." I think C.S. Lewis answered this in Mere Christianity, when he pointed out that Jesus definitely believed God was otherworldly, and that he himself was (and is) the son of God in an otherworldly way. Either Jesus is God, or he is a mad-man.

One thing that is new in Dowd's language: believing that Christ really died, was resurrected, and ascended -- that is, believing what the Bible says -- is "unnatural." And I am not sure what evolutionary integrity is.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Huckabee Quiz

1. In November, as Mike Huckabee surged in the polls, a student at Liberty University asked him what was driving his startling success. Huckabee responded, "It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people."

2. "Sometimes," the former Arkansas governor told his supporters, "one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor."

3. "We've also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world."

4. "It's almost like when the prophet was looking for a king. He came down, looked through all of Jesse's sons, went through a whole bunch of them, and said, 'Is this all you got?'"

So, how many allusions did you get?

NPR listeners thought Huckabee was speaking a secret, mysterious dialect. They didn't know what he was talking about, and neither did most of the Christians they found on the Mall in Washington. Fortunately they found Vickie Frey, a member of an evangelical megachurch in Omaha. She supported the hope that there is some biblical literacy left in the church, and got them all right.