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

Perspectives

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.

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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.

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A Different Perspective on New Year's Resolutions

As we gather with friends and family, raise glasses in toasts, and sing Auld Lang Syne, many of us are likely to pursue another year end ritual – the New Year's resolution.  Without a doubt, many of us have great plans for 2017, and we'll begin the year resolutely intending to follow through. 

 

Okay, you probably know where this is going.  Unfortunately, if it's like the typical New Year's resolution, that will be "nowhere".  I've seen reports that no more than 8% of New Year's resolutions are ever kept, meaning more than 9 in 10 get absolutely nowhere.  Well, actually, that isn't always true, for many broken New Year's resolutions complete their journeys at a place called "Disappointment and Frustration".

 

As you might expect, I have a different, and possibly unexpected perspective on this subject.  Recently I saw a great posting by a fellow named Ben Hardy.  Ben told his readers they shouldn't be making resolutions for 2017, they should be for 2018, maybe beyond.  You can read what Ben has to say at https://medium.com/the-mission/why-you-should-be-planning-for-2018-not-2017-7c8fea3e2e52?inf_contact_key=731fa0711f8dd6b9946eed9fba12b245192ace21e19a34469eff7458a4705271#.sldvofl2k

 

I think Ben is right, but his timeframe maybe even a little to short: planning a year out may simply be too brief a time horizon.  Huh? 

 

Seriously, your planning horizon for your New Year's resolution should probably be much more than one or two years out.  This is because, like Ben Hardy, I think your plans for New Year's resolutions should actually be based upon life goals – things you want to make sure you achieve sometime in your life.   Hardy provides some excellent examples, one being the Harry Potter series author, J.K. Rowling, and Star Wars creator, George Lucas.  In the case of Rowling, it was to write about seven years at Hogwarts School, not simply a single story.  In the case of Lucas, it was to start with a plan for six films in series, and start the story at episode four.

 

Unlike J.K. Rowling or George Lucas, you don't need to plan for a multi-volume book series, or multi-movie project spanning 15 or more years.  But what Hardy is proposing is something all of us can do. 

 

Stephen Covey, the renowned author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as numerous other books, said the first habit we should all develop is to "Begin With  the End in Mind."  Covey wasn't just being figurative in his phrasing, he actually said you should think about what you might want someone to say at your eulogy.   Of course, the purpose of a eulogy is to help the living to remember to deceased.  Covey's point was simply this: if you want to be remembered for something, you ought to make sure you're taking steps to be that person, or to act like that person.  So ask yourself, are you the person you want to be remembered in that way in the eulogy?  For pretty much all of us, the answer isn't just "no", it's a "resounding no"!

 

So for Covey, and others like him, the starting point is either what you might want someone to say during your eulogy, or some specific lifetime goals.  A number of people have created what's called a "Bucket List".  Usually, it's a set of things they want to accomplish before they die.  Quite often, however, the proverbial bucket list is not quite the same as Covey's eulogy.  After all, do you want your eulogist to recite what you checked off your bucket list?  One of my personal bucket list items is to attend a game at every one of the 30 Major League Baseball parks around the country.  I'm about half way to the goal, and I have a very good chance of accomplishing the goal, but I rather doubt I want my future eulogist to remember me for accomplishing the goal if I do!

 

But here's one I really do hope the eulogist can mention.  One of my lifetime goals is to gather on the 6th of June in 2046 with my wife, Lina, and our family and friends so Lina and I can celebrate our 65th wedding anniversary.  I've read that only about 1% of marriages ever make it 65 years.  God willing, that's the one percent of which I wish to be part.   Of course, getting to that day will require a number of things: a) we both have to live until then (we'll be in our 90's); b) we'll have to stay married; and c) happily at that if there is to be any sort of celebration.

 

This, obviously, isn't a whimsical goal.  In my mind, it's very worthwhile, but it will take a lot of concerted effort.  Which brings me back to those New Year's resolutions.  The point that Ben Hardy, Stephen Covey, and I are making is that the perspective of the resolution is not so much "from today forward", it's "from the goal back to today".  Thus, before making any type of resolution, one should ask oneself, what's truly important to me; what could I work on that might really make a difference to me, and the people about whom I care?  Don't even think about a resolution, or trying to make some type of change, until you answer that type of question.  In other words, don't focus your improvement efforts from the perspective of where you stand today, focus them from where you want to be at a future point, then work backwards.

 

Anyone who has ever undertaken a "change program", or tried to improve himself/herself, knows how tough it can be, especially about a month or two into the program.  Someone once described it as the "drying out" period: your initial surge of enthusiasm has ended, now all you can look at is a tough road.  No wonder most New Year's resolutions never see a page of the February calendar.  The reversed perspective, I believe, is key.  Instead of looking forward, focus on the real goal, and what the real goal will mean, then work backwards to determine what you need to be doing today to help get there. 

 

Here's a simple example.  Lots of people make a New Year's resolution to quit smoking.  It's a tough thing to accomplish, particularly because tobacco is highly addictive.  Of course, it can definitely be done, as millions have successfully quit smoking.  I'm fond of telling people that if they'll quit smoking the day their child, or grandchild, is born, and if they'll just put the money they spent on smoking in the bank, they'll end up with a lot of money.  How much?  Well, if the smoker has a pack a day habit and quits the day his child or her grandchild is born, and deposits the money for one pack each day in the bank, by the time the child graduates from high school, the bank account should have over $ 40,000! That's enough to give that child a quality four year education at a public university.  Is the thought of providing your child or grandchild a college education motivating?  Could it help get you through the "dog days" of withdrawal?  The image of your child or grandchild standing on stage, receiving the diploma that your action made possible, should be highly motivating!

 

Now you might need an intermediate goal, too.  The intermediate goal should be something related to your real goal, but something to achieve this calendar year.  In other words, if your real goal is a long ways way, say 31 years from now like mine is, you need an intermediate goal, probably 31 December 2017.  You might break that down even further.  Once you have that December, 2017 goal, you're ready to make your New Year's resolution.  Actually, it won't really be a resolution, it will be your New Year's plan to achieve your 2017 goal, which will bring you one step closer to your real goal. 

 

Of course, this is truly all easier said that done.  But if you don't ever take the time to stop and think it through, you're likely never to get to another destination than "Disappointment and Frustration."  Once you get there, your frustration will be magnified as the turnstiles are backed up because the station is incredibly crowded! 

 

So instead of making a resolution this New Year's, don't plan anything until you've taken time to think more deeply about this, particularly by looking at what's really important to you, then working backwards.  Take the unexpected perspective.

 

Now, back to your celebration!  May the year 2017 bring you and your loved ones many blessings and much happiness.

 

 

 

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The twelve days of Christmas are a time to celebrate a message of hope. It is also a time to take an unexpected perspective on other forms of hope.

There aren't too many things in life that I intensely dislike, much less despise.  One thing, however, that does fit in that category is political correctness.  I REALLY dislike it!  Surprisingly, I find that a broad range of people, both liberals and conservatives, say the very same thing – they really dislike political correctness.  Now I'm not suggesting one should be insensitive or hateful.  We can simultaneously avoid being PC, as well as insensitive or hateful.

 

So with that in mind, let me be very politically incorrect and say, especially to my fellow Christians, "Merry Christmas".  For my Jewish friends, "Happy Chanukah".    If you celebrate neither, then let me say, "Happy Solstice".  I hope you celebrated the shortest day of the year on December 21s (or the longest day of the year, in case you happen to be reading this south of the Equator).

 

Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus for a 12 day period beginning on December 25th.  Most of us have come to abbreviate the celebration to the day of the 25th.  Other Christians, focus on January 6th, the day of Epiphany, recognizing the day the Three Wise Men arrived to worship the new child, as well as to bring gifts.

 

In the spirit of the arrival of Jesus as a message of hope to a fallen world, as well as the arrival of the Three Wise Men bearing gifts, let me offer a message of hope that may well become a gift for some.  In the spirit of my book and blog, it will come from an unexpected perspective.

 

I had occasion to stop in a "dollar store" the other day, and it provided me an important reminder that there really are two different Americas.  The America of many, maybe most, "dollar store" shoppers looks fairly bleak: job opportunities are limited, and many wish to bring back the America they remember from the past. 

 

Unfortunately for many of those "dollar store" shoppers, the jobs that have disappeared aren't going to come back, irrespective of US trade and tax policy, or the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC (aka the White House).  But that doesn't mean those "dollar store" shoppers should despair.  Increasingly, I'm seeing evidence that entirely new classes of good paying blue collar jobs are appearing, a seemingly unexpected result.

 

For example, Clive Thompson has written in the December, 2016 issue of Wired magazine of a truly unexpected example of this - software coding.  When we think of software development, we tend to think of Silicon Valley.  Most people think software development requires high levels of education and training and is out of reach to most.  Thompson, however, notes that only about 8% of software development jobs are in Silicon Valley, the remaining 92% spread across the country.  Thompson and others, however, believe a high percentage of those other 92% of jobs are accessible to those who have had their jobs displaced in older, dying industries: people can be retrained to do a lot of software development jobs.  The really good news is that the average pay in IT is $ 81,000/year.  Moreover, the job category is expected to grow by 12%/year until 2024.

                             

Thompson says that there are numerous programs around the country focused on re-training people like former coal miners to become software coders.  A persistent problem in Appalachia has been lost jobs, as well as a population resistant to moving out of the region.  Well, why not transform it from the land of coal to the land of code?  While this sounds like a crazy idea, it really isn't so crazy.  There are lots of other types of jobs that can pay good wages and are accessible to those at the lower end of the economic scale.  We don't have to try to bring back the jobs of the past.  Instead, we should bring the jobs of the future, particularly the one's that will be a gift, a message of hope, to the very people we encounter at the "dollar store".

 

While all kinds of people celebrate Christmas as a gift giving occasion, the underlying reason is to celebrate God's gift of Jesus, a message of hope to a fallen people – the birth of a savior.  Jesus is not the only savior I've heard about at this time of year.  Back at Christmas in 2008, I heard lots of people celebrating the arrival of another "savior" – Barack Obama as President of the USA.  However, because expectations were so high, and in many cases unrealistic, the results were not up to expectations, and many are now disappointed. 

 

A funny thing is happening now.  Just as hope was placed in Obama to be a "savior", the same is now happening to Donald Trump, the President Elect.  I hate to say it, but I fully expect that many people are going to be disappointed, just as many were disappointed about Obama.  Now these are likely to be two very different sets of people, but the underlying process is the same. 

 

Barack Obama and Donald Trump, like the 43 men who preceded them as President of the United State of America, are mere mortals.  They have each brought varying messages of hope.  I truly wish the new president much success, exactly as I did for President Obama at the end of 2008.  Ultimately, however, our expectations should be tempered.  I would certainly enjoy the idea of being pleasantly surprised, but even if I am, I know that the President can only do so much. 

 

When all is said and done, there is only so much that government can accomplish.  Rather than rely upon government to help "save" the down and out, we should first look to what individuals, businesses, and non-governmental institutions can do.  The unexpected perspective is that the "gift" of better jobs like software coding can be provided irrespective of the occupant of the White House or the party that controls Congress. 

 

While we can provide some measure of hope to the world, Christians believe the real message of hope is the one borne by Jesus Christ, whose birth we now celebrate.  So let us celebrate this occasion by bringing gifts to one another, and let us focus our attention on ways we can bring a message of hope to those who are down and out, and truly need our help.

 

I wish everyone joyous times during the twelve days of Christmas. 

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Among the reasons I believe Christians should love Darwin's theory is because I believe it reinforces several fundamental doctrines of Christianity.

REINFORCING BASIC CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES

 

In previous posts, as well as my book, The Unexpected Perspective, I've made the argument that Christians should love Darwin's theory of evolution because it actually reinforces three basic doctrines of Christianity:

 

  • Original sin, first committed by Adam and Eve, but from which all humans suffer
  • The reality of the Garden of Eden
  • The imperfectability of man (i.e., mankind cannot overcome its moral and character flaws, and cannot "save" itself).

 

The underlying reason, I believe, is because of a concept in biology called antagonistic pleiotropy (pronounced PLY-ot-tro-pee).   Pleiotropy is the idea that individual genes  perform multiple functions, something that is well documented.  In other words, a particular gene doesn't just do one thing, it typically is involved in multiple different things.  Thus, for a particular human trait such as eye color or height, one can't point to a single gene and say that it is the reason.  Usually, multiple genes are involved.  Likewise, any given gene performs multiple functions, so one won't find a specific gene whose only function is to determine eye color, for example. 

 

Darwin's theory predicts that undesirable traits will eventually die out because they leave the organism/animal ill equipped for its environment.  Based upon this, one should expect that certain terrible diseases would eventually disappear because they certainly don't help better adapt the disease victim to the environment.  The thing is, however, terrible diseases seem to persist.  The reason certain diseases don't disappear may be because of the concept of antagonistic pleiotropy.  I've described pleiotropy in the previous paragraph, so what is antagonistic pleiotropy?

 

Antagonistic pleiotropy is an idea that was formulated about 60 years ago to explain the biological causes of aging.  It's also been employed to help explain why certain diseases don't disappear, as Darwin's theory would predict.  A perfect example is a disease called sickle cell anemia.  Sickle cell, which mainly affects blacks, is a terrible disease that disables its victims, as well as shortens the lives of those who have it.   The reason sickle cell anemia doesn't disappear from the gene pool, in spite of the terrible destruction is causes, is because it has the peculiar characteristic of providing resistance to malaria.  If one lives in a malarial zone such as Africa, that malarial resistance is very beneficial.  Thus, the genes that cause sickle cell disease have both positive and negative aspects.  Antagonistic pleiotropy is the idea that given genes have both positive and negative characteristics, and sickle cell is a perfect example.  Scientists are finding other examples of antagonistic pleiotropy in nature.  Thus, those who carry the sickle cell trait are more likely than others to have resistance to malaria, so they survive long enough to reproduce and pass the sickle cell genetic material on to their children.

 

I'd like you to think of antagonistic pleiotropy in general, and sickle cell disease in particular, as a metaphor for human behavior.  I believe a high percentage of human behaviors fit the metaphor of sickle cell disease (i.e., having both positive and negative aspects), meaning that each behavior has both a positive side and a negative side, much as every coin has both a head and a tail.  When considering sickle cell disease, think of the head of the coin as resistance to malaria (the positive side) and the tail of the coin as the disease manifesting itself (the negative side).  Now, think of typical human behaviors the same way.  Good examples are lying, cheating, stealing, bullying, and lust.  Every one of these behaviors fits the coin analogy because there is a positive side to each of these behaviors as well as a negative side. 

 

Here's a good example.  Nearly everyone, including me, thinks that bullying is wrong.  The funny thing is there is plenty of evidence to show that it has persisted in both human and non-human populations because it is evolutionarily beneficial: the best bullies tend to become dominant in the population, gain access to females, and tend to reproduce dis-proportionately more.  This is clearly observable in the natural world.  The head and the tail of the behavior are inextricably linked.  The same is true in the human world: those who are good bullies, at least throughout most of human history, tend to become dominant and, therefore, tend to gain preferred access to females and reproduce more than less successful bullies.  Thus bullying, despite being bad in certain respects, is evolutionarily beneficial.  Social attitudes about bullying have certainly changed, but only recently.

 

This will tend to explain something that those who observe the non-human animal world – these animals exhibit many of the kinds of behavior that we label as sin, or at least bad, in humans.  The argument is that these bad behaviors have positive analogues that help the animals succeed and reproduce.  For example, there's lots of evidence that monkeys deceive one another and steal from one another.  These behaviors help individual monkeys to survive and, because over time they have tended survive more than other monkeys, reproduce, passing genes on to the next generation.

 

The skeptical among you may say, that's fine and well with respect to non-human animals, but humans are different.  I totally agree, humans are different – WE'RE WORSE!  The reason we're worse is because of the key difference between humans and all other species.  In short, we humans have:

 

  • Consciousness
  • Agency (meaning the ability to make choices and take action)
  • Capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong
  • Ability to do the wrong thing even when we know it is wrong.

 

The reason we can do this is because we have bigger and more sophisticated brains, and possibly some other differentiating factors.  The Darwinian argument is that primates all have a common ancestor who lived about 100 million years ago.  Think of a giant tree with a trunk and multiple branches.  Humans are one branch of the tree, gorillas are another, chimpanzees still another.  It appears we humans have a lot of genetic material in common with these other species.  Humans need not worry that we are descendants from monkeys, but Darwinian scientists say we do appear to have a common ancestor.   According to Darwin's theory, at various points over the past 100 million years, various primates have split off from the others to form new branches on the tree. 

 

Why is this important?  First, the theory suggests that because the common ancestor to all of us, the one at the trunk of the tree, is the source of our behaviors that have both positive and negative sides.  All of the creatures on this giant genetic tree possess them, because they are evolutionarily beneficial.

 

Second, our human branch is a little different than all of the other branches, because of our larger brains.  Those larger brains have given us consciousness, agency, the capacity to know right from wrong, and the ability to do wrong when we know the difference.  Monkeys, for example, deceive and steal, but so far as we know, they lack sufficient consciousness to understand the idea of right and wrong, much less the ability to make a choice.  Presumably, monkeys deceive and steal because it works (i.e., it helps then get food and avoid being eaten), thus helping them to survive.

 

Which leads me to the Garden of Eden.  The Garden of Eden is the story of the earliest humans and their encounter with God.  These creatures were different than all other creatures because either they had evolved the four capacities I noted above, or God had provided them a special endowment.  Their behavior fit the "coin" model I described above: the positive side of the behavior was the ability to act and think independently, thus giving them seeming dominion over the natural world; and the negative side was their defiance of God.  My argument is that they were merely representative of all humans.

 

Thus, antagonistic pleiotropy can provide us a useful model for why Christians should love Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  This is because it offers:

 

  • An explanation for the linkage of positive and negative behaviors
  • An explanation for nonhuman animals manifesting "sinful" behavior
  • A mechanism for transmission of sinful behavior from one generation to the next
  • An explanation for the imperfectability of mankind, because the negative behaviors are inextricably linked to the positive ones.  The "bad" must come along with the "good".

 

It thus provides a way to explain the emergence of humanity without requiring God to have made a special creation of humans.    If you're a Christian like me, please understand, that doesn't mean God couldn't have made humans as a special creation, simply that it would not have been necessary.  This "simpler" explanation offers Christians some additional benefits, which I'll explain in a later post.

 

But the Garden of Eden is not the end of the story, merely a waypoint.  The story evokes different reactions.  The key differentiator, I believe, is the reaction of God.  What we don't often think about is that God had a choice, too.  His reaction to Adam and Eve's disobedience might have been the following:

 

  • This is one small corner of a giant universe.  After all, there are an estimated , 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe, so who cares if the creatures on one planet in one tiny corner of this universe have gone "rogue"?
  • "I'm outta here!  I don't need these people!"

 

Sounds funny, but if we truly are made in the image of God, perhaps that thought crossed God's mind, just as it probably would have if someone had done to us what Adam and Eve did to God.  In fact, one could make the argument that that is precisely the conclusion Deists have reached, that God more or less "bailed" on Adam and Eve, leaving the world alone, leaving humans to their own devices.

 

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all share the Garden of Eden story, but each religion looks at the story a little differently.  In contrast to Deism, all three are built upon the belief that God's response was not "I'm outta' here!", it was, I care about my creation and I will become involved.  

 

The Christian Bible includes an Old Testament of 39 books and a New Testament of 27 books.  The story of the Garden of Eden occurs in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis, the very first book, so the latter 47 chapters of Genesis, as well as the remaining 65 books of the Bible (1,189 chapters in total), describe God's engagement with his creation.  Christians believe God was anything but "outta' here!", particularly because of His relationship with the Israelites, as well as the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

The foundation of Christianity, however, is those core doctrines of original sin, and the inability of humans to overcome their moral shortcomings on their own.  Christians hold views that differ from Islam and Judaism on these.  Combining Darwin's theory with the concept of antagonistic pleiotropy provides a way to explain the reality upon which Christianity is based.  As such, Christians should not simply reconcile themselves to Darwin, they should absolutely love it!

 

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The political divide in the USA provides an excellent example of why it is important to take time to consider alternative viewpoints.

UNEXPECTED PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICS

I normally restrict my comments to matters of science, technology and the Bible, but today I want to depart from that by addressing the recent US Presidential election.  I'm doing this because the election outcome highlights the problem not simply of political division, but that those on each side seem incapable of appreciating the perspectives of those on the other side.  This is truly unfortunate.  Let me offer two examples, one that shows how conservatives often fail to appreciate the perspective of liberals and progressives, and one that shows how liberals and progressives fail to appreciate the perspective of conservatives.

            Let's start with an example of how conservatives fail to appreciate the perspective of liberals and progressives.  Donald Trump, the incoming US President, ran on the slogan "Make America Great Again".  This idea clearly appealed to a large percentage of his base of voters, many of whom feel that the United States has gone off course and is no longer the pre-eminent country it once was.  Many liberals and progressives are troubled by the slogan.  What makes the slogan troubling for many was captured in a recent interview I heard on National Public Radio.  The interview was of a group of voters in Pennsylvania, some Democratic and some Republican, some white and some non-white.  The blacks who were interviewed said the problem with the slogan is the word "Again".  They said that while many white Americans might wish to go back to what they remember America was in the past, for the blacks, that might mean going back to Jim Crow laws, as well as a much less hospitable America.  Women, gays, and other minorities surely would say the same.  Hearing that, one of the white women present said, "I never considered that before."  Obviously, a different perspective.

Now let's consider the same thing from the other side of the political divide.  Many people are troubled by the fact that Trump won the election but lost the popular vote.  The reason Trump was elected was because of the Electoral College.  The Electoral College allocates votes to each state and the District of Columbia based upon the number of Senators and Congressmen that the state has.  Thus, the Electoral College has 538 votes, representing 100 Senators, 435 members of the US House of Representatives, and 3 votes for the District Columbia (as though the latter had 2 Senators and 1 Congressman).  To win the election, one must get 270 of the Electoral College votes.  Thus, while Clinton won the popular vote, Trump earned more than 270 Electoral College votes.  He accomplished this because while Clinton won large majorities in a relatively few states, a significant majority of the 50 states actually voted for Trump.  For many people, this outcome was unfair, because "the will of the people" is not being respected.

There is, however, a different perspective about the Electoral College.  Richard Posner, a distinguished appeals court judge and economist, has written a defense of the Electoral College (see http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2012/11/defending_the_electoral_college.html.)  Among the benefits of the Electoral College is that it provides protections to minorities, as well as assures that smaller states have an important voice.  It has been argued that if the Electoral College were abolished, national elections would be decided mainly on the heavily populated coasts of the country, with little or no voice for the middle of the country.  Moreover, it's been argued that this system ensures a bigger voice for minorities, including blacks and Hispanics.  Liberals and Progressives are very concerned to protect the rights of minorities, so if anyone should appreciate the Electoral College, it should be them, yet in this case they seem to be complaining the loudest of how "unfair" it is.

I bring this up because it is an excellent example of the problem of we all seem to face: we're focused on our own particular viewpoints; we tend to surround ourselves only with those of the same, or very similar viewpoints; we fail to appreciate the perspective of others from different backgrounds and viewpoints; but if we'll take time to listen, we can each learn something valuable from those on the opposite side.  In the case of the white voter cited above, it was the surprising realization that "Make America Great Again" might have some unexpected baggage, particularly for minorities; and in the case of the Electoral College, it was that those concerned about protecting minorities might actually want to embrace the Electoral College.

My book, The Unexpected Perspective, describes reasons why Christians might want to reconsider their opposition to Darwin because Darwin provides some unexpected benefits to Christians.  That becomes possible only if one is willing to listen to the other side.  Likewise, wherever you might be on the political spectrum, I encourage you to consider some of the views of your political opponents, then consider the possibility that your political opponents might have some useful insight from which you can benefit. 

I'm not simply asking others to do this, I'm trying to do it myself.  One of the issues about which I am passionate is free trade.  You might say that I never met a free trade agreement I didn't like.  But I've now come to realize that unabashed support may not be a good idea; maybe those who are opposed to free trade have something worthwhile to say, and maybe they'll even have some ideas that I'll find very appealing, if only I take time to listen to what they have to say.  The question for every one of us is, are we willing to step out of our personal "belief bubbles", take time to listen to what someone on the other side has to say, then seek to understand how and why those ideas ought to be given some serious consideration. 

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In the last post, I discussed a number of the problems with intelligent design theory.  In this post I offer additional arguments why Christians shouldn't count on Intelligent Design.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN PART 2

In the last post, I discussed a number of the problems with intelligent design theory.  Many Christians view it as a viable alternative to Darwinism, but I noted the fact that it really isn't a coherent scientific theory, merely a set of objections to Darwinism.  Unfortunately, the majority (possibly vast majority) of scientists – including Christian scientists – object to it. Moreover, conventional scientists continue to find ways to overcome the objections that Intelligent Design has raised. Evidence keeps appearing that seems to confirm the Darwinian theory, as well as the Big Bang Theory, thus weakening the case for ID.  

The second key problem I have with Intelligent Design is that I see absolutely nothing "Christian" in it.  It's a theory that can be embraced by anyone with religious inclinations.  It seems to be equally applicable to Muslims, Hindus, Unitarians, and Deists.  In other words, even if one built a strong case for ID, it would not reinforce any of the unique claims of Christianity, merely that some god-like agent intervened to create the universe as we know it. 

The best example of this I can think of is traditional Deism.  Deists believe that God created the universe, but that He no longer participates actively in the creation.  Some have made the analogy of the great watchmaker who, having created a magnificent timepiece, is content to sit back and admire his creation.  However, as the timepiece operates on its own, without the need for its Creator to intervene, the creation is perfect.  As such, the Creator no longer has a role to play in His creation.  

Deism emerged in the 18th century.  Many of the founding fathers of the USA were themselves Deists.  Thomas Jefferson is one of the best know of the early Deists.  As Jefferson lived and died before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, the third president of the USA likely would have believed both that God was actively involved in the creation of the universe, but then chose to play the role of "admirer of his great creation".  Thus, Jefferson and the other Deists likely would have adhered simultaneously to Deism and Intelligent Design.  Christians, of course, reject the concept of Deism. This then creates the peculiar situation of many modern Christians defending a theory (Intelligent Design) that could easily have been embraced by those who were opposed to many of the precepts of Christianity.

In contrast to this, let me suggest a different form of "Intelligent Design", one that both accommodates accepted modern science and also fits into the traditional Christian narrative.  My version of Intelligent Design includes two key elements: 1) the evidence of "design" shown by the six scientific constants of Martin Rees, as well as Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Martin Rees is a well known Britist physicist.  He has identified six scientific constants that were present from the moment of the Big Bang onward.  What is interesting about these six constants is that even very slight changes in any one of the constants would have prevented the creation of the world we know.  I commend to you Rees's book titled The Six Numbers.  The existence of these scientific constants is acknowledged and accepted by scientists of all persuasions, including atheists and the religiously inclined.  Moreover, everyone acknowleges that if the constants changed even slightly, life as we know it could not exist.

Many Christians take the presence of these six constants as evidence of design by God.  It seems to be pretty good evidence, though even Christian scientists will readily agree that there is no way to prove this to be the case.  On the other hand, atheists and others will dismiss this as evidence of design, saying only that the constants emerged by chance.  Unfortunately, neither side can either prove its own case or disprove the case of the other side.

At the same time, one can make the argument that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is also a form of design, arguably an indication of Intelligent Design.  Of course, atheists don't believe there is a God, so no atheist will say that Darwin is evidence of ID.  It's a fair point, so the various parties will simply have to agree to disagree.

Thus, my argument is that the best evidence of Intelligent Design is the six scientific constants, as well as Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  It can't be proved, at least not now, but it also can't be dis-proved, and no alternative theory can be proved either.  Many atheist supporters of Darwin seem to agree that these two elements - the scientific constants and Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection - are all the Intelligent Design that is necessary.  I agree.

Why, then, do supporters of traditional Intelligent Design cling to the theory? Many have argued that the real problem with Darwin is that his theory eliminates "purpose" in the world.  It seems to say, in effect, that the world emerged without purpose; and Christians tend to have a real problem with notions that the world was created in any way beyond the hand of God, or that there is no purpose.  In upcoming blogs, I'll discuss why Christians can still believe in the idea of purpose to the world, even if it was created in a way that is consistent with what Darwin described.


    
 

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Many Christians have embraced a concept called Intelligent Design (ID) as an alternative to Darwin. Most all mainline scientists reject ID. This post explains what ID is, as well as the problems with the theory.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN PART 1

Many Christians who reject Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection have embraced a concept called Intelligent Design (ID in common parlance).  Broadly speaking, that's the idea that God, or some God-like agent, had to have been involved with the creation and emergence of life.  It's an idea that's intuitively appealing to Christians.

Intelligent design actually can be traced back to Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Roman Catholic theologian, but it really was popularized in the 1980's and early 1990's by Michael Behe, an Australian micro-biologist, and Philip Johnson, who teaches constitutional law at the University of California Berkeley.  It's become very popular with many evangelical Christians, but is roundly rejected by mainline scientists, both non-Christian and Christian.  Let's first provide a brief explanation of the modern day version of Intelligent Design, then we'll discuss why most scientists reject it.

First off, one should realize that most supporters of Intelligent Design actually believe in Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, just on the scale of microbes and viruses.  For example, they acknowledge that mutations can occur.  A perfect example of this is when bacteria mutate to develop resistance to drugs. The problem for supporters of Intelligent Design, drawing upon a card playing analogy, is that Darwin "over played his hand".  They have problems on two levels – chemical evolution and macro-evolution.    Let's look at those.

It turns out that cells are far more complicated than Darwin ever could have imagined.  How did that complexity emerge?  Supporters of ID claim that one cannot explain a reasonable way for the complexity of the average cell to emerge through the process Darwin described.  The conclusion is that it could only have happened with the intervention of an intelligent designer.  

The other problem they have is on a macro-scale.  It's one thing for evolution to occur on a micro-scale, but that doesn't explain how new species and orders emerge.  If it did occur, then there should be evidence of transitional species.  As an example, Darwin's theory postulates that life forms transitioned from the oceans to land, so how did species make that transition?  There should be some evidence of life forms that made that transition.  When Philip Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, there weren't any known transitional species.  Johnson made a point to note that Darwin, himself, said his theory would fall apart if there were no such evidence.

Johnson and other ID theorists have indeed identified weaknesses in Darwin's theory.  In the minds of many evangelical Christians, what the ID theorists have done is fatally wounded Darwin.  Unfortunately, it isn't so simple as that.  Here's why.

First, while ID theorists have developed a number of important criticisms of Darwin, they have not developed an alternative scientific theory.  Intelligent Design is not a fleshed out scientific theory that can compete with Darwin, merely a hodge-podge of criticisms of Darwin.  That doesn't mean a full theory won't emerge, it just hasn't yet.  

Second, ID depends upon including some form of "intelligent agent" in the design process, usually described as God.  From a scientific viewpoint, that's a non-starter.  The reason for this is because there is absolutely no way to construct a scientific hypothesis that can test for the existence or non-existence of God.  That's not to say God doesn't exist, just that there is no way to do a scientific test of His existence.  Please understand, this  isn't some type of atheist conspiracy.  Scientists who are themselves strong evangelical Christians line up in lock-step with atheist scientists on this point.  It comes down to how the scientific method, including the principle of falsifying a hypothesis, that trips up ID.  Thus, ID can't become a serious scientific theory until it can be presented in a way that eliminates the need to explain phenomena based upon the intervention of a God-like agent.  Remember, it isn't a question of whether or not God exists, it is a question of whether the science can be explained without having to rely upon the existence of God.

The second issue with ID has to do with the "evidence problem" described above.  The problem is that conventional scientists keep coming up with actual evidence of the things that ID theorists said can't or didn't exist.  For example, remember the problem with "transitional fossils"?  Since Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial in the early 1990's, evidence of real transitional fossils has been found.  Such transitional fossils tend to reinforce Darwin's theory.  Second, scientists keep finding examples of things ID theorists say are too complex to be explained by Darwin's theory.  In other words, supporters of Darwin keep finding things that reinforce what Darwin said, and undercut the ID argument.  If you think of ID as a chair, what's happening is that conventional science keeps knocking the legs off the chair.


Has Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt?  No, it hasn't, but no other theories have been developed that come anywhere near close to providing the explanatory power of Darwin.  While ID has identified a number of problems with the theory, ID itself is not a fleshed out theory itself.

While I'm rejecting Intelligent Design as a concept, one could make the argument that my proposed concept is really just a different form of Intelligent Design.  After all, I'm suggesting that God did create the Universe and His hand is evident, so aren't I being hypocritical?  No, not in the least.  In the very purest sense, my proposal is a form of Intelligent Design, because I do believe God was involved in the creation of the Universe, but my proposal is significantly different from Intelligent Design in some very important respects.  The key difference is that I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of macro-evolution, the very thing that Philip Johnson and the other key leaders in the Intelligent Design movement reject.  I believe Darwin's theory applies on a macro scale, just as do people like Richard Dawkins and other prominent atheists.

So what's the difference between the atheist conception, Intelligent Design, and my conception?  Here's a quick summary:

a) I embrace Darwin's theory on both a micro and macro scale, just like Dawkins, but unlike the Intelligent Design movement;

b) I also embrace the idea that there is a Creator God, much like most of the Intelligent Design movement, but quite unlike Dawkins;

c) I believe that whatever "design" God did was pre-Big Bang, so there is really no way to prove it, or disprove it.

The "design" I embrace includes two key elements: a) the physical constants that make our world amenable to life as we know it; and b) the process of evolution by natural selection.  People like Dawkins also embrace these two "design" elements, they just don't think they came from the hand of God, whereas I do.

Scientists have not identified any tools or methods to investigate what might have happened before the Big Bang, or who or what might have caused it.  Thus, any thoughts about the origin of the Universe, or the existence or non-existence of God, are purely in the realm of speculation, at least for now. 


    

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The two traditional ways that Christians have explained the transmission of sin from Adam and Eve to everyone else is by the concepts of traducianism and creationism.  In each case, some type of ethereal substance is transmitted from one person to the next.  For many people, particularly the skeptical, that just seems like a lot of hocus pocus.  Could there be a simpler explanation?

MECHANISM OF TRANSMISSION

A core belief of Christianity is that Adam and Eve sinned, and their sin has been transmitted to a humans who lived after them. Of course, the big question is, how was that sinful nature transmitted to everyone else?  The two traditional ways that Christians have explained it is by the concepts of traducianism and creationism.  In each case, some type of ethereal substance is transmitted from one person to the next.  For many people, particularly the skeptical, that just seems like a lot of hocus pocus.  Could there be a simpler explanation?

Yes, I think there is.  In order to arrive at it, however, we need to take a look at our nearest genetic cousins – chimpanzees, gorillas, and apes.  We share about 97% of our DNA with them.  Now the first objection lots of skeptics in evolution have is that they don't believe humans are descendants of these animals.  I agree, we're not.  What the evidence suggests, however, is that all of us share a common ancestor – that's the reason we share so much DNA.  What is hypothesized is that at some point in the distant past, humans split off and started a new branch.  The branch continues to this day.  Gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates went off in a slightly different direction.

A very interesting set of discoveries has been made in the last few years.  Primatologists, the people who study non-human primates, have come to realize that our genetic cousins share our ability to cheat, steal, deceive, and even murder others.  In other words, non-human primates have the capacity to do exactly what we refer to as sin in humans.  So the obvious question is, where did that come from?

Based upon the way we've traditionally read the book of Genesis, sinful behavior began with Adam and Eve.  But if non-human primates seem to do the same sinful things that we attribute to humans, does that mean that non-human primates are descendants of Adam and Eve?  Certainly not!  So where did that capacity come from?  Was there some type of Garden of Eden event for gorillas, chimpanzees and apes?  I highly doubt it!

This is where one can construct a plausible explanation for both the Garden of Eden and observable science.  First, humans and non-human primates share a common ancestor, the source of all of that common DNA.  It is from that common ancestor that we inherited the capacity to lie, cheat, steal, murder, and do other bad things.  But there is an important difference between this bad behavior in non-human primates and the same bad behavior in humans: in the case of humans, we call it "sin" but in the case of the non-human primates, we don't call it sin.  So what is the distinction?  Is it a distinction with any meaningful difference?

Think about the difference between a human who steals and a chimpanzee that steals.  While the act is the same, there are three critical differences.  First, the human has a level of consciousness, as well as the capacity to know that stealing is wrong. The chimpanzee, so far as we know, does not have that capacity.  Second, not only does the human know stealing is wrong, he/she also realizes there is a choice to be made.  Third, the human occasionally decides to make the choice to do what is wrong.

When you get down to it, isn't that exactly what the Garden of Eden was about?  Adam and Eve, the first humans, had sufficient consciousness and capacity to distinguish between right and wrong.  They knew that God had told them not to eat from the one particular tree.  Moreover, they knew they had a choice.  Most importantly, they decided to make the wrong choice.  Non-human primates can't do that.

If that's the distinction, then Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provides a perfect explanation for this.  Darwin theorized that animals evolved, slowly but surely.  Humans branched off from other non-human primates.  Over time their capabilities increased.  They evolved the capacity for consciousness.  Change happened imperceptibly slowly, but finally a certain threshold was crossed: Adam and Eve.  Thus, the Garden of Eden represented the point at which a new milestone was achieved: creatures that possessed not only consciousness, but the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, the capacity to make choices, and the capacity to make the wrong choice.  

Looked at in this light, there is no need to explain the transmission of sin by an ethereal doctrine such as traducianism: the mechanism of transmission is clear and straightforward … and it comes courtesy of Charles Darwin!  Thus, original sin, the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity, can be explained in terms of a natural transition that occurred when the first humans emerged.

So let's think about this in terms of why Christians ought not just to accept Charles Darwin, we ought to love his ideas!  It's because we can provide a simple, natural explanation for what Christians believe is the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity.  Even better, it's something that non-Christians, particularly atheists, readily accept – they've been trying to get Christians to buy into the concept for a long time.  We haven't because we oftentimes didn't understand the implications of what Darwin was saying.  Now atheists and other non-Christians will agree that an important transition occurred between non-human primates and humans, but they won't accept the "sin" part of the narrative.  That will likely take some persuasion on the part of Christians, but we've been trying to persuade non-Christians of this narrative more nearly two millennia.  Now we can explain it using the scientific framework that non-Christians accept.

Now all of this discussion has begged an important question: just why do non-human primates and other animals lie, cheat, steal and murder?  Let's explore that idea in upcoming posts.

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On the surface, there isn't any connection between Darwin and the Big Bang Theory, on one hand, and the debate about climate change on the other. This blog post explores how the two subjects actually share a connection.

You don't normally hear people talk about climate change and Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection in the same sentence, but I'd like to bust that convention.  I'm doing that because there actually are some important, and surprising, similarities about these two issues.

            The first similarity is that each issue is emblematic of cultural divide.  On one hand, those who believe in Darwin's theory tend also to believe in the reality of climate change.  Most adherents of the two theories generally think it's pretty much a "slam dunk" case.  On the other side, there is skepticism, some times profound doubt, about both theories.  Those who believe in both Darwin and climate change are genuinely shocked that others express doubt. 

            Second, in both cases, those who are shocked by the "doubters" tend to conclude that the "doubters" are just plain stupid; and when this comes up, I'm always reminded of comedian Ron White's famous line, "you can't fix stupid".    But in both cases, the source of the doubt is misunderstood.  It isn't stupidity, it's a difference in world view.  I happen to believe strongly in the reality of climate change, but one of my brother's has strong doubts.  He's well educated, including on matters of science, and I can assure you, he isn't stupid.  What, then, is the source of his doubt?  In his particular case, he's skeptical, in part, because he fears the climate debate is merely a pretext to increase government regulation.  That's probably not an unfound fear, as most of the prescriptions for fixing the problem mean much more government regulation, and possibly more intrusion into the lives of ordinary people.

            Third, I see a way to apply my "unexpected perspective" approach to resolve the issue.  I've heard reports that a number of people who are climate change "deniers" actually are interested in investing in things like wind and solar power.  Huh? Doesn't that sound strange?  Well, I heard a story of a reporter who visited a ranch in Texas with lots of oil wells pumping, and the owner of the ranch is a climate change skeptic.  On the very same ranch the reporter found windmills and solar panels.  The reporter pointed the seeming incongruity to the owner, who said, the oil wells, windmills and solar panels are put checks in my mail box each month.

            It's hard to argue with that logic.  The rancher was still a climate change skeptic, but he'd found a reason to want to do something about it.  That's similar to my argument about Christians embracing Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  In both cases, the "skeptic" is embracing something for a different set of reasons than those proffered previously.  My argument for Christians to embrace Darwin is that Darwin will reinforce fundamental Christian doctrines related to original sin, the Garden of Eden, and the imperfectability of mankind.  Those aren't the reasons an atheist scientist would embrace Darwin, but in my mind, they're really good reasons.  Likewise, the climate change skeptic may reject Al Gore's reasoning about the climate, but he'll do something that will put checks in his mail box each month.

            Fourth, as in the Darwin debate, there is actually a middle ground that tends to be overlooked.  In the case of Darwin and the Big Bang, a significant percentage of Christians actually accept the reality of the two theories.  Unfortunately, extremists on both ends (i.e., radical atheists on one side and young earth creationists on the other side) tend to drown out any discussion, leaving one the impression that it is an "either/or" issue: those in the "middle ground" on Darwin are lumped together with young earth creationists by atheists, and are grouped together with atheists by young earth creationists.  The same tends to happen with climate change.  The "middle ground" in this debate includes people who accept and acknowledge the reality of climate change, but have problems with some of the solutions.  I find myself in the "middle ground" on both of the two issues. 

So what is the "middle" ground" for people who accept the reality of climate change but reject the proposed solutions?  In a word, the "middle ground" is improved technology.   The climate change debate is reminiscent of Thomas Malthus's prediction of doom and gloom with respect to population.  The intellectual heirs of Malthus made similar arguments.  As an example biologist Paul Ehrlich, and a distinguished group called the Club of Rome, issued dire, apocalyptic predictions in the middle of the 20th century about our unsustainable future.  The apocalypse forecast by Malthus, Ehrlich, and the Club of Rome has never materialized, principally because of improvements in technology.  There is already evidence of the same occurring for alternative energy, and my personal prediction is that the carbon apocalypse is never going to occur, not because I'm denying climate change, but because technology will likely come to the rescue.

            This is clearly an "unexpected perspective" about climate change, but it can work.  So instead of berating climate change "skeptics", or heaping abuse upon them by referring to them as "deniers" (which sounds awfully much like a reference to those who deny the Holocaust), let me suggest a reframing of the problem.  Instead of focusing attention on how governments can reduce "carbon intensity" (i.e., the amount of carbon we throw into the atmosphere as a result of our daily activity), consider the following alternative questions:

  • How can people make money by taking carbon out of the atmosphere, or by preventing from getting in the atmosphere in the first place?
  • How can government encourage people to make money doing the above?

Simply reframing the problem through better questions actually helps to eliminate a divide.  It does so in the case of Darwin and the Big Bang, and it can do so in this case, too.

            Looking a little further into the climate change issue, just what could be done?  Well, for example, governments can do the following:

  • Fund research at universities and other research organizations

Governments routinely fund all kinds of scientific research, and universities routinely spin that research out into new businesses.  Some will fail, but others will succeed.  One of the key limitations to the expansion of wind and solar power relates to problems with battery storage.  If battery technology can be improved, there could be a tremendous expansion.   Funding that kind of research could be very helpful.

  • Provide tax incentives to encourage activities that reduce carbon footprints

Many governments offer incentives to invest in solar panels and windmills, for example.  Massachusetts, for example, this past summer passed a law mandating that the state's utilities buy 1.6 gigawatts of energy from offshore windfarms over the next decade.  This will help spur development of such windfarms.

  • Encourage investments in infrastructure

A key element that limits the expansion of wind and solar power is inadequate utility infrastructure.  Governments can overcome these limits by incentivizing the development of infrastructure.

  • Create an alternative energy version of the X Prize

The X Prize provided a $ 10 million award to the first company that could use the same rocket to fly two missions into space with a two week period.  At the time the prize was first offered, the dream of such space flight seemed distant.   The prize, however, succeeded in spurring the effort, and it was awarded several years ago.   The same approach could be employed to help spur alternative energy, or reduce the impact of carbon waste byproducts.

Lots of things can be done to help put more "checks in the mailbox".    The key, however, is to reframe the debate, taking it away from, "how do we mobilize government to fight climate change?", to "how do we put more and bigger checks in mailboxes because people did things that reduced carbon intensity?"  This re-framing is very much in the same spirit as the one I'm encouraging Christians to take with respect to Darwin and the Big Bang Theory.

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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.

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