Thursday, June 01, 2006

"A Bible, a Bible..." and how it can apply to us.

I'm reading an article from the March 2006 issue of National Geographic. The article is about the Genographic Project, which looks at DNA to track human migration routes. Most of our DNA is a mix of our parents, but a certain portion (mitochondrial DNA) comes only from our mother, and the Y chromosome part of male DNA goes only from father to son. Small differences in this DNA allows scientists to track where it came from, much as we can study the origins of a specific language based on vocabulary. However, certain groups are against this research. I quote from an advocacy group: "The fundamental question the project is asking is 'Where do we come from?' That's not a question that is of interest to us as indigenous people. We already know where we came from." Remind anyone of 2 Nephi 29:3? "A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible." We already know. We don't need more knowledge. Don't learn more truth; we have enough.

Part of this pride and willing ignorance is based on fear that new scientific knowledge will contradict religious or traditional beliefs about a group's origins. But shouldn't people be interested in finding out what science has to say about where they come from? We do genealogy for that very purpose. There's little chance that genealogy will contradict something we believe in, but what if we find out that our great-great-great-great grandfather was a horse thief? Does that really change anything about how we live our lives?

Two or three centuries ago, we had no idea what caused disease. It was seen as a curse, magic, the punishment of God, etc. Religion and tradition, although the fount of much truth, did not reveal the source of disease. Science eventually did. Now that we have a better understanding of disease, we can do more to prevent and cure it. What science can't do is prove that disease is or isn't a curse from God. That's the place of religion.

There's a fairly new religious movement called Intelligent Design. It's the latest version of anti-evolution, and its main premise is that some (but not all) things in biology are too complex to be created through evolution, and therefore require an intelligent designer. The father of Intelligent Design is a law professor. What a law professor is doing founding a supposedly scientific and religious movement, one can only guess. A handful of actual scientists have joined the popular movement. A biochemist named Behe wrote a book called "Darwin's Black Box", which proved to be immensely popular among non-scientists. He proves his ignorance about evolution by misdefining it...there are other problems, too many to list here. I'll have to devote another post to that. Ken Miller, a religious Catholic and a biologist, does an in-depth criticism of Behe's book in "Finding Darwin's God" (and his criticisms are more specific and different from mine). A federal judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, ruled against even mentioning Intelligent Design in the classroom. From

(Judge) Jones pointedly rejected intelligent design as a legitimate scientific theory. “To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect,” he wrote. “However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.”

Jones sharply rejected any suggestion that evolution was somehow at odds with religion. “Both defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption that is utterly false,” he wrote. “Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, plaintiff’s scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.”

You're thinking now, "Well, he's obviously a liberal." Or even, "he's obviously not religious." Wrong. He was appointed by George W. Bush, he's a conservative republican, and he's an active religious Christian. So how did he come to his decision? Behe stood on the stand and provided a number of 'evidences' against evolution from his "Darwin's Black Box." And the other side brought in a specific specialist for each individual 'evidence'. Evolution of flagella, of immunology, etc. With over 50 scientific papers on the evolution of immunology on his desk, most of which he had not read, Behe refused to admit enough evidence existed to prove immunology came about through evolution. And Judge Jones started wondering how much evidence Behe needed.

Despite what anti-evolutionists would have you believe, Intelligent Design is not accepted in the scientific community. Religious universities such as BYU teach evolution in a number of biology courses and as its own course, required for a degree in biology. They also do extensive research on it; one BYU research paper on evolution was featured on the front page of Nature, one of the world's top two science journals (Jan. 15 2003 issue). As far as human evolution goes, the BYU course spends significant time on it (personal experience, here). Next door, at UVSC, the chapter on human evolution is optional. Intelligent Design is, of course, not taught, although I've heard rumors that a few of the religion professors teach their own version of anti-evolution. The first presidency of the LDS church issued this statement to the general authorities in 1931:

Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.

And in 1910:

Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God.

I'm being one-sided here. A couple of church leaders have spoken out against evolution. Just open up a copy of 'McConkie Doctrine' or an old institute guide of the Old Testament. The above statements were made at a time when church leaders who accepted evolution (mostly geologists and other scientists) were pitted against those who did not accept it (non-scientists). What strikes me is that the LDS church is firm that human evolution (the link between geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology) is a matter for scientists and not for religion.

Why does any of this matter? If we believe that something has a scientifically unexplainable origin, we won't use science to try to learn more about it. If our religious beliefs are based on the gaps of science, on "science can't explain it, so it must be God," our belief will falter as science continues to make strides. Both faith and science lose out to our pride, to us saying "A Bible, a Bible..." Neither science nor religion hold all the answers. Science cannot prove or disprove God, nor can it say whether he played a role in causing a disease or in evolution. Religion does not give us details about how to cure cancer, or how birds evolved from dinosaurs. We can learn from both. If we are to flourish as an intelligent, moral society, we need to learn from both.

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