When the issue of scientific “framing” came up a few weeks ago, one of the points made early on was the fact that many churches/temples/insert-preferred-place-of-worship-here have not reached out to scientists or wanted to open up a dialog about evolution (as well as global warming and other pertinent issues). Luckily for me, however, for some time I was the leader of a “Faith in Film” small group at my church, dealing with the moral/ethical subtexts of various films I showed Saved!, The Green Mile, Spider-Man 2, The Terminal, and Kingdom of Heaven, among others), but the coordinator for all the groups also recognized my passion for evolution and science. Hence, a few months ago she suggested I get in touch with another group called Fathom that deals with various current issues, and I had been in correspondence with the group leader off and on, discussing evolution & intelligent design. After throwing together a ppt presentation and digging up my Correlated History of the Earth poster I headed off to the church education building to give my rather informal lecture last night.
The problem with such talks is that there is just too much to talk about and I could go on indefinitely in discussion, so I had to be somewhat choosy about my examples. I primarily picked tetrapod limb evolution, evolution of whales, homology, and evolution of the mammalian ear because I could tie certain ideas together; all the animals I talked about were based upon a tetrapod body plan, leading to a great diversity based upon the same structure with correlating parts, i.e. we can see evolution in action as reptilian jaw bones become reduced and migrate to become bones in the ear, so these structures were not created from nothing. I did forget to mention the change in tooth structure from homodont to heterodont (d’oh!) but I’ll remember for next time. I also wanted to make distinctions about the term Darwinism, explaining that no one today is a Darwinist because we have learned much since Darwin published On the Origin of Species. As well, I wanted to portray science (the process) as honestly as possible, explaining what a theory is and is not, as well as how science is always being retested and examined and things sometimes change (I showed two pictures of Pakicetus to help illustrate this). While some might consider this undercutting my own cause, I didn’t want to create the illusion that scientists are somehow dogmatic or infallible; controversial ideas go through rigorous process and debate and there is always room for corrections and changes based upon new data. In short, it’s not about “knowing” in the same way faith is, and I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that evolution was some sort of unchanging dogmatic belief system.
I was lucky in that I had a receptive audience who already seemed to accept evolution to varying degrees, so my job was a bit easier than if I had spoken to the regular Sunday-morning crowd (the main congregation, not affiliated with Fathom, is Baptist and they had a creationist visit last October). What I was happy to see, however, was that even though some of the group was more inclined to accept intelligent design they believed the current focus on the topic is misguided and a waste. Spending millions on a creation museum or trying to convince people God is real through science does little to help the poor and starving in the world, Jesus saying that we should love God and love others most of all, not “Go forth and build creation museums all across the land.” Indeed, it’s turned into a bit of a farce, and the infamous peanut-butter and banana videos got a mention in this context. One gentleman also made a point that is often forgotten as well; just because someone logically accepts God it doesn’t mean they’re going to really believe or that they’re going to be a better person. I’m reminded of the Old Testament (assuming that everything happened as it’s written for the sake of argument) where God was physically present to his people and spoke to some of them and they still got it wrong half the time. Having faith doesn’t automatically make you a better person or immune from unethical behavior (David, often the most exalted man in the Bible next to Jesus, was committed murder and adultery when he was supposed to be God’s #1 guy).
Some other more tenuous topics were also touched on, i.e. if aliens exist, is it possible that they exist in an un-fallen state or might not need the same salvation that people need (this is straight from some of C.S. Lewis’ allegories). This is interesting to discuss in passing but there’s no way to really know and I think many people of faith (although not the people in the group last night) agonize over life on other planets too much. I’m sure the discussion could have gone on for much longer than it did, but it was nearly 10 PM by time things were winding down and most people had to go. In all it went much better than I thought it would and I hope that I was a good communicator of science. While next time I will have to prepare a little more, I like using the integrative approach and trying to convey both the unity and diversity of life; throwing up slide after slide of “neat stuff” doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you can tie it together (but luckily understanding evolution already does that for me). Hopefully I’ll have the chance to speak again for such a group again (maybe I should go on little evolution tours to whatever churches will have me), and if nothing else it showed me that there is a lot more to this debate than most people realize. Some of the loudest people have taken one extreme side or another, but I do believe that there are many people who are still in the middle and unsure when it comes to this debate, who might not go out of their way to educate themselves, and if we can be sympathetic to where these people are coming from then I think we can turn things around in this country as far as evolution goes.