The Unexpected Perspective
The Implications of Darwin and the Big Bang for Christians ... and Everyone Else

Perspectives

Most Christians didn't celebrate the 208th anniversary of the birthday of Charles Darwin last week. This post makes the argument that we should start doing so. In fact, eventually Darwin Day will be a recognized date on the Christian liturgical calendar.

I wish each of you belated Happy Darwin Day!  Sorry I didn't mention this last week, for Sunday, February 12th was Darwin Day, celebrating the 208th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the formulator of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Oh, it wasn't on your calendar?  Truth be told, it wasn't on mine, either.  Probably not embarrassing at all to you, but I actually am a little embarrassed.  After all, I've been trying to study all things Darwin for a number of years – and I completely missed his birthday!  To my rescue came Jim Stump, Senior Editor at BioLogos, who mentioned it in a blog post this week.  Well, it could have been worse.  At least I didn't forget my wife's birthday!  I do have an excuse: I was in Ghana, getting ready to fly home to the USA; and like Jim Stump, I celebrated the day as I usually do each Sunday by going to a Christian Church.

Seriously, there is a movement afoot to celebrate Darwin's birthday.  It was first started by three Darwin enthusiasts.  Dr. Robert Stephens set up the first celebration in 1995 in Silicon Valley, followed by Prof. Massimo Piliucci at the University of Tennessee in 1997, and then by Amanda Chesworth in New Mexico in 2000.  Supporters even have their own website

The people behind Darwin Day want to turn it into a recognized holiday.  No doubt, Hallmark won't object.  However, Darwin was born the very day of someone whose birthday is already celebrated – Abraham Lincoln – though his birthday is now celebrated on President's Day, the 3rd Monday of the month.  The "Darwin Day" advocates want us to remember the famous English scientist because, in their words, it "will inspire people throughout the world to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin."

            The website appears to me to have very much of a secular humanist bent; and the  implication, of course, is intellectual bravery and hunger for truth "other than Christianity".    In our fast-paced world, where everyone seeks simple, "either/or" answers, that type of thinking is appealing.  Traditional supporters of Darwin tend to think that if you believe in Darwin, then you must obviously reject Christianity; and on the other side, many conservative Christians believe that if you are a real Christian, then you can't possibly believe much, if anything, that Darwin has to say.  In my mind, very neat, very clean … and very wrong!

            Wrong to the point that I want to go out on a limb and make a prediction.  The prediction is, there will eventually be a Darwin Day, and it will be on the Christian Church calendar.  I say this because I think more and more Christians are going to come to the conclusion that not only is Darwin not antithetical to Christianity, his ideas actually are beneficial to Christians, and help reinforce things that Christians already hold dear.  That's the argument I've made in my book, The Unexpected Perspective.  The problem, of course, is to get people to reframe the issue.

            Christians, I believe, are coming to realize that embracing Darwin offers a number of benefits to them.  Let me share three of them in particular.  First, there is an increasing realization that original sin is the downside byproduct of evolution by natural selection.  Christian de Duve, a 1974 Nobel Prize in Medicine winner, drew that conclusion in his book Genetics of Original Sin (see my recent blog post on this), and I make a similar argument.  As I maintain in The Unexpected Perspective, original sin is the most basic doctrine in Christianity.  So Darwin's theory provides a modern day "bridge" to understand this ancient Christian concept.

            Second, Darwin can provide a "bridge" to help Christians evangelize the well educated.  Whereas for most of the past two thousand years, most educated people in the West were Christian, increasingly, that's not the case.  In fact, many well educated people seem to think the Bible is just a bunch of hocus-pocus.  It follows from the same type of  "either/or" thinking we see is increasingly common in all walks of life: if you're Chrstian, you must reject science in general and Darwin in particular; and if you reject science, then you must be stupid.  Darwin, I argue, can provide a bridge for Christians to have a serious, thoughtful conversation with well-educated non-Christians about science, Christianity and the Bible.

            Third, Darwin can provide a way to bridge the problem of how to teach science in the public schools.  For the past 100 years, many Christians have been fearful that if children in schools are taught Darwin's theories, they'll be on the road to rejecting Christianity.  In response, some Christians have sought to have alternative ideas such as Creationism or Intelligent Design taught, to the horror of scientists and many educators alike.  The result has often been that children aren't taught any science, to the detriment of all.  As I argue in The Unexpected Perspective, there is a way for Christians to embrace Darwin without fears that their children will be set on the path to atheism.  In fact, it may actually be the atheists who have to worry.

            The bottom line is that the idea of a Darwin versus the Bible and Christianity dichotomy really is a fiction.  Not only can Christians accept Darwinian science, they can love it.  They can love it for different reasons than do atheists.  If Christians can love it, they'll have a reason to celebrate Darwin, including the anniversary of his birth.  So it didn't happen this year, and it may still not happen next year, but pretty soon I predict, you'll see Darwin Day on the Christian calendar.    Charles Darwin, happy belated 208th birthday!

 

post a comment

A review of a book published by a winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. It also concludes that original sin is an unfortunate byproduct of evolution by natural selection.

I recently read a book by the Nobel Prize winning Belgian scientist Christian de Duve titled Genetics of Original Sin: The Impact of Natural Selection on the Future of Humanity.  The author, who was a co-recipient of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Medicine, as well as the author of a number of other books, passed away not too long after this book was published.  He was, however, ninety five years old.

I recommend the book for a number of reasons, but two in particular.  First, it provides an excellent layman's overview of the science behind the theory of evolution by natural selection: sufficiently detailed and approachable, but not too technical.  Second, one of his key conclusions is the same one I reach in The Unexpected Perspective.  In his book he maintains "original sin is none other than the fault written into human genes by natural selection."  He concludes that natural selection "privileges all of the personal traits that contribute to the immediate success of individuals."  Further, he observes that natural selection favors cohesion of individuals within like groups and hostility to others, something that is obvious to all: we prefer to be with people who look and act like us, and distrust people who look different and who come from different backgrounds.

One particularly interesting thing he examines is the growth of the brain in mammals.  He notes that it took about 600 million years for the brains of animals to grow to 21.4 cubic inches, but that it only took 2 to 3 million years for human brains to grow from 21.4 to 82.4 cubic inches.  In other words, when viewed on a graph, the human brain's growth over time looks like a proverbial "hockey stick."  He further posits that the human brain only stopped growing beyond this because of limitations of female anatomy: a larger brain could not pass through the birth canal of a Homo sapiens female.

While both his book and mine link original sin to evolution by natural selection, de Duve's conclusions are dramatically different than mine.  De Duve's book is greatly concerned about the future prospects for humanity, embracing a Malthusian doomsday viewpoint.  Natural selection has caused humans to be shortsighted and selfish, and as a species, we have collectively brought the Earth to the bring of ruin. 

Though de Duve never explicitly stated it, he appears to have been either an atheist or a deist.  As such, he felt that it is up to mankind to save itself.  The latter part of the book then addresses the question, how can humanity overcome what natural selection has "gifted" to us as a species?  He lays out seven possible options for humans to save themselves:

  • Option 1: do nothing
  • Option 2: improve our genes
  • Option 3: rewire the human brain to overcome the problem of original sin
  • Option 4: call on religions to be more influential
  • Option 5: protect the environment
  • Option 6: give women an opportunity to play a greater role in human affairs
  • Option 7: control population growth.

While he did not say it, I believe he felt the options with the greatest potential for success were numbers two and three.  He did not offer any specific way to accomplish this, but merely expressed how this would be desirable.  While I think only option 4 makes sense, it is interesting to see his thinking on the other options.

            The other reason I recommend his book is because I think it gives a good preview to the arguments that atheists and secular humanists will likely make in response to the idea that original sin is "baked in" to our genetics.  I think they will recommend options 2 and 3, too.  Are these options realistic?  While I do believe that humanity demonstrates incredible capacity to improve technology, I'm extremely skeptical that it can be done.  Further, even if it could be done, what is the chance that there will be lots of unintended consequences.  After all, Victor Frankenstein had only noble intentions, but look what he created?  While Frankenstein is but a fictional character, is it unreasonable to assume that even if options 2 and 3 might work, there would be a terrible toll to pay on the route to the destination?  De Duve's option 4, particular in the Christian flavor, sounds like a better choice to me.

post a comment

A further look into Christian views about climate change.

While Christians are exhorted by the Bible to care for the Earth, do religious views have any influence on views about climate science?  Pew Research has studied this question and concluded that the answer is "no".  According to Cary Funk and Becka Alper, "When it comes to people's beliefs about climate change, it is the religiously unaffiliated, not those who identify with a religious tradition, who are particularly likely to say the Earth is warming due to human activity. Hispanic Catholics, like Hispanics in general, are more likely to say the Earth is warming due to human activity. White evangelical Protestants stand out as least likely to have this view."  I encourage you to take a look at the Pew report at http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/22/religion-and-views-on-climate-and-energy-issues/.

 

While many perceive that evangelical Protestants often question the reality of climate change, evangelical churches, along with mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, have undertaken climate change initiatives.  A cross-denominational group called Interfaith Power and Light (www.interfaithpowerandlight.org) was started in 1998 and has operated continuously since to address the issue.

 

At the forefront for evangelicals is a group called The Evangelical Climate Initiative (www.christiansandclimate.org). It's composed of more than 300 senior evangelical leaders across the USA. 

 

Is any of this support for climate change initiatives by churches having an impact? It seems not.  Even though Christian churches have often expressed views in support of the idea of climate change, they don't seem to be a key factor affecting the views of those attending church.  According to the Pew researchers, "Just 6% of U.S. adults in the 2010 survey said religious beliefs have had the biggest influence on what they think about "tougher laws to protect the environment." More said the biggest influence on their views has been education (28%), the media (24%), personal experience (18%), or something else (11%). Another 6% said friends or family had the biggest influence on their views."

 

This tendency for Christians, particularly Protestants, to be skeptical of climate science seems to parallel skepticism about Darwin and evolution by natural selection.  The figures seem to be in parallel, with one interesting exception.  While black Protestants seem to be particularly skeptical of Darwin and evolution, they are comparatively strong supporters of the idea of human causes to climate change.  Fifty six percent of black Protestants believe that humans are causing climate change. 

 

So why, then, do white Catholics and mainline Protestants have a relatively low belief that humans are causing climate change (45% and 41% respectively), and white evangelical Protestants have an even lower support (28%)?  According to the researchers, the reason wasn't because of what churchgoers were hearing on Sunday. "A series of multivariate logistic regression analyses, not shown here, found no significant effect of church attendance on views either predicting that the Earth is warming or predicting that the Earth's warming is due to human activity, once other factors are controlled. Similarly, the major religious affiliation groups did not differ from the religiously unaffiliated in views about climate change."

 

Instead, the researchers concluded it had more to do with politics than religion.  "However, in multivariate statistical modeling, the major religious affiliation groups did not differ from the religiously unaffiliated in views about climate change. Political party identification and race and ethnicity are stronger predictors of views about climate change beliefs than are religious identity or observance."  Based upon this, the reasons white Catholics and Protestants are more likely than others to be climate change skeptics has less to do with religious beliefs than with their propensity to be Republicans.

 

 

 

 

 

post a comment

This post examines the question of what Christians should think about climate science and climate change.

It's hard to read the newspaper or other sources of news without hearing about the issue of climate change and care of the environment.  Some people believe this is one of the most important issues, if not the most important one.  Conversely, some people say this isn't a particularly important issue.  Moreover, at least some people question whether the issue of climate change is real or not.

What should Christians think about the issue?  Is there any guidance in the Bible about it?  I believe the answer is "yes", that humans are commanded to care for the environment.  Assuming so, how can we humans best care for the environment?  The answer to that question, I believe, depends at least to some extent on science and technology.  As "The Unexpected Perspective" is focused on the intersection of Christianity, Science and Technology, I believe this is a relevant topic. 

To begin a discussion on this, let's turn to what the Bible has to say.   Here is a link to seven Bible verses, both from the Old and New Testaments, on the subject.  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/06/23/top-7-bible-verses-about-taking-care-of-the-earth/.   These verses definitely suggest that Christians need to be concerned about the environment.

Given what appears to be a Biblical imperative, what then should Christians be doing?   Attention to the environment has been steadily growing since the very first Earth Day in April, 1970, and steps have been taken, both by all levels of government and through private initiative, to clean the water and air.  The results are impressive!  The water is generally much cleaner than it used to be, the air is certainly less obviously polluted, and far greater attention is being paid to care for the environment. 

And it shows. I remember while in high school reading reports about literal fires on Lake Erie near Cleveland.   There certainly weren't any fish living in the water.  Today, the situation has completely changed!  And at the same time, there appears to be greater concern today about a potential environmental catastrophe, than ever before.  It appears the vast majority of scientists believe that excessive "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide are creating conditions for irreversible climate change.

Why am I bringing up this topic?  The reason is because it is very much at the intersection of Christianity and science.  As noted above, the Bible exhorts Christians to be good stewards of the environment.  Assuming Christians can agree on that, the question becomes, what things should we be doing to be good, or better, stewards?    Because the issue of climate change is very much rooted in science, I believe its very relevant for "The Unexpected Perspective."

So what should Christians think about climate science and climate change?  It appears we need to be concerned about the environment but, as I argue in my book, the Bible is clearly not a science text book and should not be used to address matters of science.  John Calvin told his followers that if they wanted to learn something about astronomy, they should not rely on the Bible to inform them.  I'd make the same argument about climate science: to understand that subject, we should listen to climate scientists, just as I argue that when it comes to understanding the emergence of humankind, we should study astronomy, biology, paleontology and related subjects, not what the Bible says on the subject.

I say this with certain qualifications.  In the case of the study of evolution and human origins, I think we should study what the scientists study, but that doesn't mean we should necessarily draw the exact same conclusions.  As an example, I agree pretty much with everything Richard Dawkins says about the science of humankind's emergence from lower life forms, but I certainly don't agree with him that it happened outside of the control of God.   We can agree upon the same set of scientific observations, but still interpret things in different ways, and also draw different conclusions.

How does that apply to the question of climate change?  Just as many Christians reject scientific data that seem to point to macroevolution, so do some people (Christians and non-Christians both) reject data that points towards climate change.   In the case of evolution by natural selection and climate change, the following seems to be happening:

  • The majority of scientists believe in both (i.e., macroevolution and climate change) while a group of conservative Christians appear to be highly skeptical of both
  • In both cases, the skeptics point towards specific limitations in the data as evidence that the theories are wrong
  • In both cases, the skeptics have failed to develop an overall scientific theory that could explain the data.  In the case of evolution, Intelligent Design is a series of objections to Darwin, but not a fleshed out theory; and in the case of climate change, skeptics dismiss the evidence as "natural, normal variation."

So what am I suggesting?  First, I believe it's important for Christians to take the issue of climate change seriously.  The data and analysis should both be taken seriously.  Perhaps the starting point is to go back and re-read those Biblical passages that exhort us to care for the environment, then realize that just as throwing toxic chemicals in our water supply is highly damaging, so is dumping high levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

To be clear, many Christians are very concerned about this topic. In fact a group called the Evangelical Climate Initiative has emerged (see http://www.christiansandclimate.org). 

Just as Christians who believe that macroevolution is correct don't need to reach the same conclusions that Richard Dawkins does, so can Christians accept the reality of climate change without necessarily agreeing with some of the proposed solutions.  This is where I believe the real problem is: embracing some of the proposed "solutions".  One of the reasons some people object to this entire subject is because they believe it is simply another excuse for governments to intrude upon their lives with burdensome controls.

Many believe the only way to prevent irreparable, irreversible climate change is to adopt some pretty extreme measures.  But are these proposed solutions the only ones?   While I don't question the reality of climate change, I question the wisdom of some of the proposed solutions. 

I definitely believe that we need to be good stewards of the Earth that God has given us.  That stewardship includes taking care to control the level of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere.  As for how to solve the problem, I think Christians need to do two things.  First, we should encourage our leaders to confront the problem, not spending our time saying that it is imaginary, or some type of "hoax".  I'm afraid all that is doing is to reinforce old stereotypes that Christians are anti-science and that Christians are stupid.

Second, the other thing we should do is to be skeptical of some of the proposed solutions.  Previous Malthusian "doomsday" scenarios failed to materialize because technology improved.  In this case, I think we should encourage our leaders to pursue ways to improve technology, as well as identify ways to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases through better technology.  Instead of spending our time questioning the science, let's question whether we've pushed hard enough to develop the best possible solutions to avoid or overcome the effects of greenhouse gases.  I believe that would be far more productive.

post a comment

Humans are endowed with a great capacity to make quick decisions. Like everything else, there are pluses and minuses. This capability worked beautifully for our ancestors, but creates many problems for us today.

Our world is filled with complexity and nuance, yet we always seem to try to reduce it to black and white choices.  Evolutionary psychologists say that this tendency has actually helped us to survive and thrive â€" it is beneficial in an evolutionary sense.  You don't have to believe in evolution, however, to realize that the way humans live today is dramatically different from what it was like during the Stone Age.  Back then, humans were often in dangerous situations.  We still get into them today, but back then it might well have been a daily occurrence.  It was important to be able to distinguish friend from foe, as well as dangerous versus safe animals.  Doubtless, those who didn't make good choices in that regard didn't survive long enough to reproduce.  Thus, the gene pool of human "survivors" was no doubt biased towards those who could make quick decisions about who and what was friendly, and unfriendly.

We are the beneficiaries of that genetic "inheritance", but it doesn't always benefit us in our modern, complex world as it did in Stone Age societies.  Thus, when confronted with complex, nuanced situations, we still tend to classify things as black and white, good or bad, or either/or.  Besides the genetic provenance, most likely we also tend to do this because we only have limited time, or feel we have limited time, to make decisions.  After all, most people are pretty busy!  Moreover, when confronted with a dangerous situation, or at least one perceived as dangerous, like our Stone Age forebears, we're not going to consider subtleties and nuances!

As with other human behaviors, the tendency to reduce decisions to "black and white" has a positive side as well as a negative side.  The positive side, of course, is that it does help us survive and navigate difficult, dangerous situations.  The downside, of course, is that we tend to gloss over complexity and nuance and go for the black and white choices, to our detriment when the matter really isn't just "black and white".

If you doubt this, take a look at the picture below.  You'll tend to see one of two things: 1) a side view of a vase; or 2) the profile of two human heads facing one another.  Sometimes one or the other is hard to pick out.  Now try to look at the picture and hold both the image of the faces and the vase in your mind at the same time.  Nearly impossible to do â€" you can see either one image or the other, but you can't see both at the same time.  This is somewhat similar to the way our mind thinks in "black and white".

When it comes to the question, "how was the universe created, and how did humans emerge?", the tendency to seek out "black and white" very much applies.  Those of you who have read my book, The Unexpected Perspective, know that it applies to the question of evolution versus the Bible.  There are at least seven different viewpoints on the issue, ranging from evolutionary naturalism on one end to young earth creationism on the other, and many shades of grey in the middle.  The interesting thing is that many who haven't spent time thinking about the issue tend to think it's a black and white issue: you either believe in evolutionary naturalism or you must believe in young earth creationism.

Of course this is a huge oversimplification, and a false dichotomy, a false choice.  What I've found interesting is to meet many, many people who have said they're somewhere in the middle of the continuum.  Many have said they can easily see how Christianity and Darwin fit together nicely.  That fact that can happen testifies to the idea that the either/or choice is a false one, and that there is a lot of nuance between the extremes.

Unfortunately, those on the extremes tend to be the people who are most invested in the issue, and devote the most time to it.   This, too, is probably natural, because most people are too busy doing other things to worry about these issues.  After all, the average person has more important things to do on a daily basis than worry about some tradeoff between God and science.  That leaves it to the true believers, those on the extremes, to set the terms of the debate.  All subtlety is lost.  As such, viewed from the outside, the debate looks like an either/or proposition: either you support Richard Dawkins, and those like him who believe in evolutionary naturalism, or you must be a young earth creationist who believes Genesis is literally true!

The funny thing is, this same principle seems to apply to many important social issues.  Take, for example, the issue of gun control in the USA.  On one end of the spectrum is the National Rifle Association, a group that says it has about five million members.  As a percentage of the total US population, that's about 1.5 percent.  The group influences gun policy and gun rights far out of proportion to its membership.  On the other extreme are those who more or less favor significant restrictions on gun ownership.  Unfortunately, all nuance in the debate is lost, and extremists on each side have painted the issues as purely either/or: the NRA would have you believe that ANY restriction on gun ownership puts the country a step away from repeal of the Second Amendment.  Conversely, extremists on the other side see significant restrictions on gun ownership as the only way to limit gun violence.  Both sides paint a black and white, either/or world.

You can look at other issues and reach the very same conclusions.  In the case of abortion rights, on one end are those who want absolutely no restrictions on a woman's right to have an abortion, effectively "abortion on demand".  On the other side are those who want to outlaw legal abortions in all cases.  Unfortunately, once again, while there is a range of views in between these extremes, the world is painted by the extremists as either/or.  As an example, even strongly "pro life" advocates generally tend to believe abortion may be acceptable in certain circumstances (e.g., in the case of rape or incest, or if it endangers the life of the mother).   

The issues of entitlements reform (i.e., reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) are painted in similar ways by their respective sides.  Same tends to be true for climate change: at one extreme are those who believe that rises in carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are speeding us to an environmental Armageddon in the next fifty years; and on the other side are those who think it's all a hoax.

This capacity to define issues in black and white has helped humans survive.  Yes, occasionally the average person has seen a dangerous situation where it really didn't exist (what's called a "false positive"), but while that is annoying, it is far better than a "false negative", where someone failed to appreciate a real threat and "ended up dead."  We all have a genetic legacy of being able to assess situations in black and white terms and make quick decisions to avoid danger.  Unfortunately, that genetic provenance has led us to perceive a range of other situations in similar black and white terms, to our detriment.   

The good news, of course, is that when someone can get humans to focus on an issue for at least a certain period of time, we humans do have the capacity to appreciate the details and nuance of most any issue.  We can see that there is more than the either/or, black and white of the extremes.  The challenge is to get people to take time to pay attention long enough.  So when we take a little time, we can appreciate that the science versus the Bible issue, as well as each of the other four I mentioned above, is not a black and white one.  In an ever more complex, time constrained world, and with more and more issues to consider, that seems to be getting harder and harder to do, and the unintended consequences are predictible.

 

 

 

post a comment

New science and technology can hold great promise ... as well as great peril. We embrace the positive, but must be mindful of potential downsides. This post explores these two sides with respect to the emerging science of "brain hacking".

Unless you are a Martian who just arrived on a UFO, you know that the world is becoming both increasingly complicated, and facing ever bigger, seemingly monumental, problems.  Some days it really does seem as though the sky is falling! 

 

There is both good news and bad news.  The good news is that we've been here before.  Doomsday has been repeatedly predicted, but so far it hasn't arrived.  For example, Thomas Malthus predicted in 1798 in An Essay on the Principle of Population that population growth was unsustainable: population was increasing faster than the available supply of food, and thus the world would literally run out of food!  About 50 years ago, similar arguments were made by Malthus's intellectual descendants.  Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, as well as a group known as the Club of Rome, made similar predictions.  MIT in the summer of 1970 gathered a group of distinguished experts to address the problem.  Out of the gathering came a book titled The Limits to Growth, which made Malthusian-like predictions.  Likewise, dire predictions have repeatedly been made that the world would run out of oil and other energy reserves.  The funny thing is, these dire predictions never seem to materialize!

 

There's a common reason for this good news – technology keeps getting better.  Malthus, Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, and others predictors of doom never adequately seem to consider how improvements in science and technology will alter the equation. 

 

So what's the bad news?  It actually has to do with the very science and technology that appears to keep rescuing all of us from doom.  You ask, what could possibly be wrong with science and technology that keeps "saving our bacon"?  I see two problems.  First, new science and technology always seem to raise important new ethical dilemmas for us.   As an example, scientists have developed amazing new technology that permits cloning.  The ability to do this raises a whole host of issues.  For example, many if not most people think it's probably okay to clone an animal such as a sheep, but totally reject the idea of cloning humans.  Where should the line on cloning be drawn?  How should decisions be made?  Christians naturally argue that the Bible should be the source of decision-making, but I don't recall anything in the Bible that remotely addresses the question of the suitability of cloning, for example. We are, of course, admonished not to "play God", but is cloning really that?  Maybe ... but in some cases, maybe not. 

 

Second, as our science and technology become ever more sophisticated, there is a tendency for us all to believe that our salvation lies in science and technology.  Needless to say, Christians have, or should have, a problem with that.  After all, there are clear limits to science and technology.

 

When issues related to the ethics of science and technology arise, Christians need to be at the table, participating fully in the discussion.  We need to be taken seriously.  That's one of the key reasons I believe it's important for Christians to come up with a better answer concerning Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the Big Bang Theory.  As I've repeatedly noted, to the extent that non-Christians perceive that Christians are naïve about these scientific theories, they're less likely to take us seriously on some, if not all, of these other science and technology related ethical and moral dilemmas.

 

So what are some of the top ethical dilemmas related to science and technology?  The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana prepares an annual list of top issues.  Their 2017 list was published a few weeks ago (see http://news.nd.edu/news/reilly-center-releases-2017-list-of-emerging-ethical-dilemmas-and-policy-issues-in-science-and-technology/). 

 

Most of these emerging issues are not things that the average person spends much, if any, time pondering.  For example, the Reilly Center is concerned about what it calls "brain hacking."  (see http://reillytop10.com/2016/12/14/brain-hacking/).  Scientists have developed devices that a person can wear on the head to measure EEG waves.  EEG provides a measure of what your brain is doing.   Measuring EEG waves could be beneficial in certain circumstances.  An excellent example is protection of your computer.  Password protection of your computer is a clumsy, highly inadequate solution: people hate passwords; the passwords they use can generally be easily cracked; and really secure password protection systems tend too be too awkward and complicated to use.  After all, everyone knows that you should have passwords that are at least 8 characters long, use both capitals and lower case letters, numbers and special characters such as the @ sign, and should not use common words, but such passwords are very hard to remember.  Thus, oftentimes when people actually create such passwords, they write the password on a Post It note and stick on the machine, available for all to see!  To the rescue may come EEG brainwaves.  Each person's EEG brainwaves are unique, so if there is a simple way to measure them, they could provide very robust protection of one's user data.

 

EEG waves aren't a practical solution, at least not yet, but what happens when it becomes practical to rely upon your unique EEG "signature" to secure access to your computer?

The concern is that a hacker might surreptitiously hack into a headset, steal the information and gain a whole host of private information.  Think about it?  It's one thing for a hacker to steal your password, then access your computer.  In this case, not only would the hacker gain access to your computer, he'd also potentially have access to your private thoughts!  I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty creepy to me.

 

As with most everything science and technology related, there are both good things and bad things.  The question is, of course, how can the benefits be gained without the negative downsides?  Who should regulate these activities?  Do Christians have any unique perspectives on this?  Now it may be premature to get concerned about brain hacking, at least for the moment.  I can assure, however, there are other science and technology issues that are definitely relevant today.  Christians need to be both aware of them, as well as be prepared to offer an informed opinion about them.  We'll discuss more of these in upcoming posts.

post a comment

A brief Introduction to a new book that explores both the positive and negative aspects of pride, the first of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Those of you who regularly follow my blog, or have read The Unexpected Perspective, are familiar with my idea that what Christians call sin is the negative by-product of human evolution.  Think of each human behavior as a coin with a "head" and a "tail".  The "head" is the positive aspect of the behavior that has helped us succeed, but the "tail" is the negative side of the behavior.  A perfect example, of course, is lying and deception: it's clear that the ability to lie and deceive is evolutionarily beneficial, but we all know the bad side of lying.  Researchers have shown that primates such as monkeys deceive and steal because it helps them survive.  Unlike us, however, monkeys don't understand the negative, sinful side of deception and theft.

Now a new book reinforces the idea as it applies to pride, the first of the famous Seven Deadly Sins.  Jessica Tracy, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has written Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success.  It's a very good book, but in case you'd prefer a video synopsis, check out Tracy's Google talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5b46wVZrkQ.

Tracy says her book has three broad messages: 1) pride is an integral part of human nature, found in all societies and cultures; 2) it is evolutionarily beneficial, meaning that it helped us succeed as a species; and 3) there are two types of pride, one positive and one negative.

Tracy has done research in places like Burkina Faso, a small, very poor country in Africa, demonstrating that pride is found in a broad range of cultures, not just in Western ones.  She also cites an interesting study that I wrote about in my book.  Researchers found that para-Olympian athletes who were blind from birth still physically manifested pride in the very same way that everyone else does, by pumping up their chests and swaggering when they were victorious in competition.  The blind athletes could never have observed the behavior, but they acted in the very same way, meaning that it must somehow be innate to humans.

Everyone is familiar with the downside, sinful aspect of pride.  Tracy refers to this as "hubristic" pride.  Around the world, in every culture to which I've been exposed, boastful behavior is frowned upon.  No matter where you live, people tend to dislike braggarts.  Nevertheless, hubristic pride can be a successful strategy, according to Tracy, because the braggart can instill fear in, and achieve dominance over, others. 

So what, then, could be the positive side of pride?  Tracy says that "pride is the reason we bother to learn, discover, and achieve."  Moreover, she argues that "pride is the reason we so urgently need to believe we are good."  She carefully develops the argument that pride emerged as an aspect of our evolution as humans.  She refers to the positive version of pride as "authentic pride."    Tracy notes that if you give people a choice, they will seek knowledge from an "authentically" proud person.     

This is very consistent with the concept of antagonistic pleiotropy.  Readers of The Unexpected Perspective will recognize this as the biological phenomenon that genes not only tend to perform multiple functions, but they can simultaneously have both positive and negative features.  I cite the example of Sickle Cell Anemia, a terrible disease that afflicts mainly blacks.  The negative side of the disease is that it presents both a number of terrible symptoms, but also dramatically shortens the lives of those who suffer from it.  The positive side of the disease is that those who have it, or who are "carriers" of the gene for it, tend to have greater resistance to malaria.  While that probably doesn't make much difference in Europe and America, it is a real benefit in sub-Saharan Africa. 

I think of Sickle Cell Anemia specifically, and antagonistic pleiotropy in general, as a metaphor for human behavior: each behavior has both a positive aspect and a negative aspect.  Just as Sickle Cell Anemia offers the "positive" benefit of greater resistance to malaria, it simultaneously has the "negative" aspect of the disease symptoms.  Tracy makes the very same type of argument about the specific behavior of pride, noting that there is a "positive" aspect of pride that corresponds to the "negative" aspect we already know.

In upcoming posts, I'll explore this concept as it applies to other forms of behavior.

 

post a comment

In this post I offer a third key reason why this is important: Christians need to be perceived by non-Christians as both intelligent in general, as well as intelligent about science.

THIRD REASON IT'S IMPORTANT

In the previous two posts I've offered two reasons why it's important for Christians either to accept or embrace Charles Darwin and the Big Bang Theory OR come up with a viable and coherent alternative scientific theory that most everyone, including non-Christians, can also embrace.  So far, the only alternative raised - Intelligent Design – is neither a fleshed out scientific theory nor something that an be embraced by most conventional scientists.

In this post I offer a third reason why this is important: Christians need to be perceived by non-Christians as both intelligent in general, as well as intelligent about science.    In an earlier post, I pointed out that both Christians and non-Christians seem to agree on the stereotype that Christians are not good at science.  Here's a link to that study: http://www.npr.org/2016/01/14/463010075/researchers-probe-stereotype-christians-and-science-dont-get-a-long.  Here's a link to the actual research paper cited in the NPR story: http://sharifflab.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2015/08/Rios-Cheng-Trotton-Shariff-2015.pdf.

Christians, of course, are not trying to win a popularity contest.  From the earliest days of the church, Christians have been more than willing to go against the grain to stand up for their beliefs, sometimes to the point of martyrdom.  We admire and praise these Christians for doing that.  So why am I suggesting that Christians re-examine some of their beliefs, particularly so those beliefs might be more acceptable to non-Christians?

Recall in my earlier post that for the better part of 1500 years Christians claimed that the Bible was saying the Sun and the other planets revolved around the Earth, Ptolemy's theory of geo-centrism.  Turns out, while we Christians were absolutely sincere in our beliefs, we were flat wrong – the Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun – what's referred to as heliocentrism.  Further, while we made that mistake for 1500 years, we came to realize the mistake, but also realized that the Bible wasn't wrong, merely our interpretation of the Bible had been wrong.  As in that case, I still don't think the Bible is wrong, but how we may be interpreting the Bible may be wrong.

Thus, I think Christians need to re-examine what they think the Bible is, or isn't, saying about science.  More than that, given that we live in a world that is increasingly focused on science and technology, Christians need to be respected leaders at the forefront of science and technology.  Non-Christians may not agree with us on matters of faith, but there is no reason they should dis-respect us in matters of science and technology.
But here's the bigger reason, possibly the biggest reason of all, why Christians need to resolve this issue: Jesus commanded Christians to spread the good news to all of the world.  Evangelism is truly important, and we're expected to evangelize people of all backgrounds and places.  But if we're perceived as anti-science, even anti-intellectual, how do we ever hope to reach either the scientifically inclined or even the well-educated in general?  If well-educated people perceive that Christians are "stupid about science", do we really expect they're going to listen to us when we talk about faith and religion?  Here's what I think that means:

  • For young people who grow up as believers, we want them to be able to off to study science and not feel that because they are embracing science and technology (or other intellectual pursuits, for that matter) that they can't continue to be believers;
  • For those who didn't grow up as believers, but who are scientifically inclined or otherwise well educated, do we want to prevent them from considering Christianity simply because in their minds they perceive Christianity as anti-intellectual in general and anti-science in particular?

I think the average Christian would say, no, I want non-believers to be open to the Christian message, and I don't want to do anything that will prematurely drive people away.  At the same time, that average Christian will say, I also don't want to compromise the Christian message just to make it more palatable to non-believers.

I absolutely agree with that sentiment: don't compromise beliefs.  At the same time, however, I think we have created a false choice here, between belief and science.

So I've presented three very good reasons why Christians need to come up with a resolution to this problem: 1) to help reduce the exodus of young people from the church; 2) to make sure that Christians are "heard" in matters where science and ethics collide; and 3) to avoid the problem of unnecessarily driving away the scientifically inclined and otherwise well-educated from belief.

 


 

post a comment

The second reason is what I call the "limited bandwidth" problem. We're all bombarded countless times each day by people seeking our attention. Ask yourself, do you have lots of extra time to absorb another message from someone else?

SECOND REASON IT'S IMPORTANT

In my previous post I said that even though there are lots of issues facing the Christian church today, trying to come up with a good solution to the problem of Charles Darwin is a very important one.  The first reason I offered was because evidence shows many people, especially the young, have left the church over the issue.  More continue to leave.  Today, I offer a second reason why this is an important issue for Christians.

The second reason is what I call the "limited bandwidth" problem.  We're all bombarded countless times each day by people seeking our attention.   Ask yourself, do you have lots of extra time to absorb another message from someone?  Most likely, the answer is no.  Even for really important issues, most of us only have so much "mental bandwidth."  As a way to picture the problem, envision a shelf of about five feet in length (1.5 meters), and the shelf is open on either side.  Now line up a row of cans, side by side on the shelf.  Fill the shelf so the edge of the can on the left goes all the way to the end and the can on the right goes all the way to the end.  Think of each one of the cans as a message presented to you by someone who wants your attention.  Okay, now imagine that someone wants to provide you an additional message, so they go and try to add one more can on the shelf.  What happens?  As you add one more can to one end of the shelf, the can on the far side of the shelf falls off.

The average person only has so much mental bandwidth allocated to the church.  To the extent that the available space on the shelf is taken up by Darwin, then there won't be any space to talk about another important issue.

So imagine that there is an important issue on science that the church needs to address.   Let me suggest a few "science and technology" issues that probably ought to be of concern to Christians:

Stem cell research
Stem cells may hold tremendous potential for finding cures to a broad range of diseases that affect Christians and non-Christians alike.  There are, however, many ethical issues associated with doing this type of research.  One aspect that gets a lot of attention is using aborted fetal tissue, but this isn't the only issue.  When, and under what circumstances, should stem cell research be okay, and where is the line that should not be crossed?

  • Genetic testing

Genetic testing holds much promise for dealing with many medical issues, but there are a whole range of ethical issues associated with it.  

  • Genetically modified organisms (GMO's)

Increasingly, scientists are using GMO's.  Again, this issue has numerous scientific implications.  Christians ought to be part of the discussion.

  • Crispr-CAS9

In the past several years a new gene splicing technology called Crispr-CAS9 has emerged.  You're going to hear more and more about this.  This is a technology to "edit" the genome.  If there is a problem with certain genes, the idea is to go and "edit" the genome, thus changing the organism's genetics.  Some might call that "playing God."   Crispr-CAS9 has tremendous potential, but as one of the technology's developers has cautioned, "it could really get out of hand."  Christians need to be part of the debate to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

  • Climate change

There appears to be growing evidence, and even a scientific consensus, that humans are causing undesirable changes in our climate.  Irrespective of your position on this, the issue has many important, complex scientific implications.

  • Abortion

Abortion is certainly a highly charged issue for Christians.  While most Christians abhor it, they also tend to draw lines that permit it in certain situations.  As an example, a very high percentage of Christians say that abortion is acceptable when the mother's life is at stake, or in the case of rape.  There are important scientific, ethical and moral dimensions to where to lines are drawn, and Christians need to be part of those debates.

  • Genetic aspects of homosexuality

An argument is being made that there are significant genetic aspects of homosexuality.  While Christians traditionally have viewed homosexuality as purely a matter of choice,  other evidence suggests it may not be a matter of choice.  Without a doubt, Christians should be part of this scientific debate.

These are just some of the science and technology issues that have ethical and moral implications.  Christians need to be part of any debate about these issues.  However, if bandwidth is limited, to the extent that Christians use their available bandwidth to argue about Darwin and "origins", just that much less time is available to talk about these other, very important scientific matters.

Of course, some will argue that Christians can talk about both issues – evolution, as well as these other scientific matters.  I'm highly skeptical.  Moreover, I'm also afraid that unless Christians can come up with a good answer about evolution, non-Christians will tend to dismiss anything Christians have to say about science.  That's the third reason this is an important issue, so we'll discuss that in the next blog post.

post a comment

Why should anyone but particularly committed, evangelical Christians care about Darwin and the Big Bang Theory? Given all the other issues facing the church and society, don't we all have more important things about which to be concerned? My argument is that we should all be VERY concerned! Here's the first of three key reasons.

FIRST REASON THIS IMPORTANT 

Christians and non-Christians have been arguing about Charles Darwin ever since The Origin of Species was published in 1859.

One could say that for 150 years, we've agreed to disagree.  So what?  Why should anyone but particularly committed, evangelical Christians care about this? Given all the other issues facing the church and society, why should attention be focused on this one? Beyond a largely academic debate, does it matter to the average person? Christians have always argued they were not in the business of winning a popularity contest. The New Testament cites numerous examples of how early Christians were persecuted by society for adhering to the Christian view. In that sense, for Christians to go against the grain is not necessarily bad and standing up for what one believes is quite admirable. Many see this rejection of science because of its perceived inconsistency with what the Bible appears to reveal as just another challenge for committed Christians to meet. Further, just as first-century Christians didn't compromise their positions to gain acceptance by the non-Christian majority, so should Christians today reject the "evidence" of science because it is seen to be inconsistent with the Bible and therefore wrong.
This is especially the case in the minds of many who perceive that the Darwinian theory is in effect just a convenient creation story for atheists. For many, this is reason enough to stand firm in spite of mounting scientific evidence to the contrary and reject concepts such as Darwin and the big bang theory.


I believe there are three solid reasons Christians, especially committed evangelical ones, ought to care deeply about this. Ultimately, these three reasons are the point of all of this.  There may be additional ones, but these are three very important ones.  In this post we'll talk about the first reason for caring about the issue.

It probably is no surprise that many Christians are leaving the church.  Overall, that's true, but the evangelical side of Christianity seems to have avoided this problem.   In fact, many evangelicals have trumpeted this, using it as a justification for holding firm to traditional doctrines, avoiding what they perceive as a failure on the part of the traditional, mainline Protestant denominations to stand up.  But a funny thing is happening.  There's increasing evidence that younger people are leaving the church, even in the evangelical branches.  The Barna Group, the foremost experts in surveying churches, has found this to be a key issue. According to Barna, One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is "Christians are too confident they know all the answers" (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that "churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in" (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that "Christianity is anti-science" (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have "been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.." Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

Barna has found this as one of the top three reasons that nearly 60 percent of young people disconnect from their churches after age fifteen. 

Conservative and evangelical Christians are confronted with the following unappealing scenario of increasing numbers of Christians, particularly young people, are leaving the church because they can't reconcile their faith with science.

Now many people will counter, saying that it is common for young people to become somewhat dis-connected from the church as they mature, by they tend to come back once they're ready to settle down.  Yes, that is an old and familiar story, but the story appears to be changing this time.  Increasingly, the evidence suggests they will leave the church and not come back.

At the same time, the church is also seeking to evangelize the un-churched.  After all, we Christians are offered The Great Commandment in the 28th chapter of Matthew.  But what is the likelihood of success if the church is perceived to be anti-science, and the Bible as inconsistent with observed science?  Those who are scientifically inclined, and otherwise well educated, simply aren't open to hearing the message.  Evangelicals can wax forth all day that these people are short sighted and foolish, but the fact remains, because they perceive Christians to be anti-science, and they perceive the Bible to be inconsistent with observable scientific reality, they aren't open to hearing anything else.

I'm not suggesting that Christians change their beliefs simply to appeal to unbelievers.  Nothing of the sort!  It's much more complicated than that, but there is clearly a giant stumbling block that needs to be overcome in order to deal with the twin problems described here.  All I'm saying is that there is a significant problem here that Christians need to confront.   The traditional response – if non-Christians would just be more open-minded, read the Bible, and listen to what is saying to them – just isn't going to happen.  
    I think we should set that discussion aside, however, at least for the time being.  There are at least two other key reasons Christians should be concerned about this issue.  In the next post, we'll discuss the second reason.

post a comment

Buy the Book Now

Westbow Press · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

Get Carl's Updates In Your Inbox

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates and receive a free chapter from his latest book, The Unexpected Perspective.

Carl Treleaven is an entrepreneur, author, strong supporter of various non-profits, and committed Christian. He is CEO of Westlake Ventures, Inc., a company with diversified investments in printing and software.

CONNECT WITH CARL

© 2016 - 2017 Unexpected Perspective - All Rights Reserved.