I recently attended a gathering at which an evolutionary biologist – a distinguished professor at South Carolina’s flagship university – offered his observations and answered questions from the audience following a video presentation sponsored by the National Center for Science Education.
The subject of the event was exposing the flawed attempt, these days, on the part of those (some with accepted academic credentials) whose religious/political agenda includes an attempt to subvert the teaching of evolution in the science classes of our nation’s public schools.
“Flawed,” in the sense that what is variously called creationism, creation science or intelligent design is an ideology that does not conform to the rigorous definition of science, which is not a belief system, but “a method of carefully and objectively studying natural phenomena in ways that can be empirically verified.”
The current and notably seductive political strategy of the intelligent design advocates involves what they call “teaching to the controversy” – as if there were such a “controversy” concerning the theory of evolution.
There appears to be – at least on the part of many from a religious and political perspective but hardly on the part of those who hold to an authentic definition of science as a method.
Evolution is not in question according to the latter standard, nor is evolution a theory, as the term is commonly used, meaning merely an opinion.
In other words, evolution is not something to “believe in.” It is, rather, the best explanation yet available for understanding the material world according to the accepted methods of science.
The professor I’m referring to was considerate, even humble enough to acknowledge that science is not an all-inclusive method for explaining everything.
For instance, he noted that science is not necessarily moral. It is, rather, value-neutral in its commitment to objectivity over subjectivity.
Nor, he continued, is science concerned with what we typically consider various emotions, including something as ambiguous as love.
And while offering such a caveat, he made this revealing statement: “The Bible,” he said, “it tells me who to hate.”
Granted, if one wants to caricature something, it’s hard to find anything handier than the Bible. Since, depending on what one may want it to say, there’s hardly anything – for good or ill – one can’t reference in Scripture.
And that includes the professor’s “the Bible tells me who to hate” cliché. For example, if the only part of the Bible he has read is what is called the “Deuteronomic tradition” (which is dated from roughly the 7th century BCE and includes the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings), his reducing the Bible to such a myopic negative conclusion is, however distorted, understandable.
But, of course, this doesn’t take into account – pardon the pun – the dynamic, “evolutionary” nature of Scripture, at least from a critical, if no less faithful Christian reading of the Bible.
Let’s look at, for example, Jesus’ seminal declaration in a portion of (what is called, in the Christian New Testament) the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 6: 43-44).
The distinguished evolutionary biologist – in his dealing in half-truths, concerning the Bible at least, he actually got one half right – depending, that is, on how one reads the Bible.
It is patently obvious, however tragic, that Scripture has been used by so many so often to support the “hating” of whomever.
Ironically it is that other prevailing truth-claim – at least according to Jesus – that is even more troubling, I suspect, since few of us seem particularly predisposed to loving our enemies.
In fact, we might likely prefer the professor’s negative caricature of Scripture.
Speaking of irony, if the claims of those who advocate for intelligent design are fraudulent (according to the scientific method), so is a caricature of the Bible that reduces it to merely “telling us who to hate.”
With respect to the Bible, the professor was doing the very thing he was accusing so-called “creation scientists” of doing in their effort to undermine the teaching of evolution.
And that’s what I find interesting, if no less tragic: the assumption that expertise in one thing assures expertise in everything, especially when the latter includes how to read the Bible.