Larry Witham on Science and God

Interview of Larry Witham by Dick Staub

Well, good afternoon everybody. This is your friendly guide, thanking you for joining me this afternoon. Our next guest is an award-winning writer whose subject has been, among others, religion and its role in society, and particularly related to science. He’s written for Scientific American, Nature, and Christian Century. He’s also the author of five books including Where Darwin Meets the Bible, and more recently a book titled, By Design.

Q. He is Larry Witham. And it’s wonderful to have you with us. And I didn’t ask you if I was pronouncing your name correctly.
A. That’s perfectly correct, Dick. Thanks very much.

Q. So how did the intersection of faith and science become an interest of yours?
A. I’m a native of California, and I actually studied the fine arts as an undergraduate. But I was always fascinated, you know ¢€œ I had a church upbringing ¢€œ in the new physics, you know, the Einsteinian things about, as you got more towards the speed of light things got, you know, rulers got shorter, dimensions changed. And I saved that for a day. One day I was going to read up on that and understand all that. So I’ve been a newspaper man for 21 years, worked at The Washington Times, and in the mid-90’s we began having some school board debates on creation and evolution.

Q. Yeah.
A. So I began to take serious notes and do serious reading. Wrote the book, Where Darwin Meets the Bible.

Q. Now, what kind of field were you writing on in Washington?
A. Well, general reporter.

Q. Okay.
A. I came to specialize in religion, so I was familiar with, you know, how religion intersects with social issues.

Q. Yeah.
A. Probably the more newsy ones were the debates on genetic engineering, cloning¢â‚¬¦

Q. Right.
A. Experiments on human tissue, where theology and morality and science meet. But every once in awhile you have this Supreme Court ruling, like in 1987, that you can’t mandate creationism. Every once in awhile you have the National Academy of Sciences come out with a major book on evolution, as it did in 2002. So these are active social debates, also you can report on in a newspaper. But to write about the theoretical part you’ve really got to do a book or something else.

Q. Yeah.
A. Newspapers don’t lend to that.

Q. Right.
A. So that’s what lent to writing the two books that are here.

Q. Interesting. Anything in your youth that indicated that you were going to be interested in science? A member of the astronomy club?
A. No. In fact-in fact, no. Math has always been difficult for me.

Q. Really, interesting.
A. But the advice I’ve taken ¢€œ and I interview a lot of Ph.D.’s who always worry that a general assignment reporter can get things right ¢€œ well, you read their books and then you ask them to repeat what they said in the book so that you have it right. And that’s been my method. And Stephen Hawking, who wrote the best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, he-he gave a clue there for writing these kinds of subjects. He said, “Don’t put any math in the books.” So you know, it’s an international best-seller, nobody knows if people really read it, but everyone has bought this thin little book.

Q. Yeah, interesting. So what religious tradition were you raised in?
A. I was reared a Lutheran.

Q. And did that kind of shape your thinking as you were¢â‚¬¦ Did it give you a worldview about science or not?
A. You know, the humanities interested me in religion, the imagery of art.

Q. Yeah.
A. I was reared in northern California during the ¢â‚¬Ëœ60’s and ¢â‚¬Ëœ70’s ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, so was I.
A. ¢€œ so I saw the whole counter-culture, yes.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I guess science was poo-pooed a little bit. You know, the technocratic society, the ticky-tacky houses. But I began to realize that if there’s a crisis of belief or adult doubt, which I think, you know, maybe teens go through, but adults go through it, too, even though we, you know, we do and want to believe in the creator. What is the source of that doubt? Well, there’s two things. One, is human suffering, which I don’t write about. I’ve, you know, reported on it and I think about it, but in these books on science/religion, I deal with that second area where doubt and struggle arise.

Q. Yeah. You talk about the demise of natural theology in the 1800’s. And just real quickly, because some people have never even thought about that, what does that mean?
A. Natural theology means you look at nature and then you logically conclude that a God must exist ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ because things looked designed.

Q. That’s an apostle Paul argument.
A. Well, that’s right.

Q. And others, many others.
A. But actually, in-in the history of theology, it was kind of the other way. You believed in God, because that was natural ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ in the non-scientific history. And then you looked for evidence of God. With the Enlightenment, there was a challenge to that idea, so natural theology came to the floor to say science could look and find design in the planetary systems ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ in the human being, how things adapt in nature. And through the 1800’s, 1700’s/1800’s, natural theology was very strong. It was finally debunked, as science tells
the story, by Darwinism ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ which said all the things, all of design actually could have come into place by random mutation.

Q. Now, you-you¢â‚¬¦ Interesting, this is a fascinating read, and we’re only going to be able to hit the high points. But you do a great job of weaving together kind of the historical progression around personalities, because it is people that bear ideas and make them prevail. And-and there are some interesting events that you write about, and a couple that you’ve been able to attend. One of them was the Darwin Centennial in 1959, and a lot of stuff happening around-around that event. And you describe it almost as a time when science came to some specific conclusions about God, that we kind of nailed this thing shut. And you even make reference to Thomas Huxley’s “secular sermon,” which I think was delivered at University of Chicago.
A. From the chapel there.

Q. Rockefeller Chapel, which is interesting because I appeared in the “Seven Last Words of Christ” there with the Vermeer Quartet ¢€œ
A. Uh-huh.

Q. ¢€œ giving one of the devotions on the seven last words, where in the same place
Thomas Huxley delivered the secular sermon.
A. That’s right.

Q. What was happening in 1959? And how did science, think they had kind of shut the door on the relevance of God as it related to science and pretty much as it related to everything?
A. It’s risky to find one point in history and say, this is a turning point.

Q. Yeah.
A. Inarguably, the 1950’s was the high point of confidence in science. Revolutions, the Einsteinian revolution, the genetic revolution in the early 1900’s, the world wars put a whole lot of money and science into technology.

Q. Yeah.
A. So in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ50’s you have all the results. You find the genetic code, you put Sputnik up in the sky the first time.

Q. Yeah.
A. There’s the first experiment that says we can turn chemicals into living cells.

Q. Yeah.
A. And lots of federal money going into science when you knew scientists for the Cold War.

Q. Yeah.
A. So the 1959 Darwin Centennial at the University of Chicago was sort of¢â‚¬¦ They had, you know, 2,000 people from around the world, maybe 100 key speakers. And the mood, even though scientists are skeptic, the mood was, science is going to finally crack all the secrets of life.

Q. Yeah.
A. Then we’ll use them for good. So that was the high point. And that’s where I open the book, By Design.

Q. Yeah. And there had been a discovery in Africa¢â‚¬¦
A. Well, that’s right. The famous Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey, they’d been looking for human fossils since the ¢â‚¬Ëœ30’s ¢€œ well, he had in East Africa ¢€œ and finally in 1959 they found the skull of what became called Zinj, or East Africa Man.

Q. Yeah.
A. And their enthusiasm was so great that they proclaimed, We have finally found the human ancestor. Unequivocal. And what I try to show in the book is that with every discovery, the scientist is so confident that they’ve found, well, the missing link, or the secret of life, but then in another ten years another scientist finds something that will totally contradict it. And that-that’s the story of the human fossil record.

Q. Which is one of the-the challenges when you interview scientists who-who are supposed to have a certain level of reserve, but can become passionate/persuasive. A mere mortal, such as me, who also was a philosophy major ¢€œ
A. Uh-huh.

Q. ¢€œ can hear philosophy being kind of persuasively argued, but moves way beyond, kind of, tentative conclusions to be proved or disproved. And you’ve got that spirit in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ50’s. It was like the reserve was placed on hold, and there was this exuberant hopefulness around, we’ve reached some very solid conclusions.

We’re going to be back with some more of our guest, Larry Witham. You’re going to have to read this book yourself, folks. It’s available at your local bookstores. It’s titled, By Design: Science and the Search for God. Larry Witham is our guest. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.

(Break)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Larry Witham. His book is By Design. And he’s also the author of Where Darwin Meets the Bible.

Q. We were just talking about the Darwin Centennial in 1959, a lot of interesting characters there. The Leakeys. We didn’t talk about Shaply. Thomas Huxley was there, delivered a secular sermon. And I’ve asked Larry Witham just to read us an excerpt of that sermon because it kind of catches the theology of the-of the period. Go ahead and read-read us a bit of what Thomas Huxley had to say.
A. Well, this was-this was in ’59. And the reason this became the Darwin Centennial¢â‚¬¦ In fact, it was Huxley’s grandson, Julian Huxley, they got him to this event.

Q. Yeah.
A. And at the main ceremony he gave a talk. And it was called “The Secular Sermon.” It was from a pulpit in the chapel. And he said the 1950’s were, “The period when the process of evolution in the person of inquiring man began to truly be conscious of itself.” So he said, “Now, we’ve reached a peak in history through evolution.” And what did they find at that peak? He said that man no longer needed to “take refuge from his loneliness in the arms of a divinized father figure,” such as God. And he went on, “All aspects of reality are subject to evolution, from atoms and stars, to fish and flowers, from fish and flowers to human society and values.”

Q. Yeah.
A. So that is the feeling of confidence they had.

Q. Yeah.
A. Now, where the book goes next is 1973. And Dick, you were mentioning that, the human side of the scientist.

Q. Right.
A. How they’re supposed to be in white coats and-and purely objective, but scientists are enthusiastic. They say, wow, I’ve discovered an answer, and maybe you don’t need the God hypothesis anymore.

Q. Right.
A. However, in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ70’s, people began to question the very validity of science. It created atomic bombs, it created pollution.

Q. Yeah.
A. Scientists were coming off as sort of elite technocrats. And you know, the ’60’s undid all that.

Q. Yeah.
A. The Copernican celebration in 1973 was a time of crisis in science. And to conclude, that was a period when people began to think, well maybe science has openings for other kinds of thinking, theological thinking, artistic thinking, et cetera.

Q. Yeah.
A. And that began a whole new debate about, you know, where you could shoehorn religion, or thought of God, into the hard sciences.

Q. And who were some of the key names that we would think of in that period?
A. Well, it comes in a series. In England, Michael Polanyi, who’s a world-famous chemist.

Q. Yeah, Polish.
A. Yes. He argued that, you know, chemistry and physics do not explain the life of a cell. There’s something more holistic going on there. You had Arthur Koestler, who said scientists are not rational people who walk in a straight line to discovery. He called them “dreamwalkers.”

Q. Yeah.
A. In other words, they go all over the place believing all kinds of crazy things, but eventually, through their method of science, they discover things.

Q. Yeah.
A. So we’re opening up new views of the scientist. Then of course, Thomas Kuhn’s, on the Structure of Scientific Revolution, he talked about paradigm shifts, how one established theory of science exists for a long time. A lot of scientists believe it, that’s how they have their jobs, then young upstarts come in, want to, you know, tear down that edifice ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ and you have a paradigm shift. A palace coup we call it. So those are the names that planted some of these ideas.

Q. Now, you-you come to this kind of dramatic confluence of-of the movement over the last 30 years or so and you say in the past two decades the case has been re-opened by science itself. You make reference to Science magazine, referring to a thaw. Skeptic magazine has this interesting set of quotes about design. And the Scientific American comes to some conclusions about scientists themselves and how they relate to the issue of God. And-and you say that we kind of have gravitated towards a place where we have Spinozans who are pantheistic, and then we have theists.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. That’s a very important issue. Because I remember when I first started seeing theological language in scientists, my heart skipped a beat. Paul Davies, and other scientists, that were using God-talk. And what’s his name, the guy that works with atoms in Chicago at Fermey Lab. They’re all using this language of-of God.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. You have to understand how they’re using the word God. And talk about what it means to be a Spinozan and what it means to be a theist, because as we get into a discussion both about the Catholic dialogue with science and the design/discoveries within science, a lot of people are concluding that if you prove design, you’ve proved, you’ve-you’ve brought people inevitably to a theistic conclusion. That’s not the way science is looking at it.
A. It’s not that simple.

Q. Yeah. Talk about that dynamic.
A. Well, with-with that, those doubts about science in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ70’s, for one reason or another more theists in science, people with Ph.D.’s, people who were in the closet, frankly, decided they had more freedom to talk about maybe a creator, you know, as Newton and the other great scientists believe, you know, gave the universe its laws. And when we discover those laws we can say, well God, you know, did it this way/that way. You know, Einstein helped with those words a little bit. But there is another group who couldn’t deal with a personal God, but they couldn’t deal with this lifeless, cold, mechanistic universe of the Darwinian viewpoint. And so they harked back to Baruch Spinoza, the Jewish mathematician, a great mathematician, who was an Orthodox Jew, but became a pantheist. He said, God is the laws. God is mathematics. And if you find that harmony and that beauty in the order of the universe, that is God. And it’s enough to have human ethics, to have human awe.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. Even love and altruism.

Q. Yeah.
A. So Einstein said Spinoza was his kind of believer.

Q. Yeah.
A. That was his God.

Q. Yeah.
A. And out of the ¢â‚¬Ëœ70’s came both more Orthodox Christians saying, The God of the Bible can be talked about in science, and Spinozans saying, We don’t like this old, cold, mechanistic universe.

Q. Yeah.
A. Can we show how it has direction, purpose, meaning, et cetera, but no personal God.

Q. Right. Now, a number of scientific discoveries begin to baffle and confuse scientists who have been very firmly in the Darwin camp. And-and it’s wonderful stories. You know, people who aren’t scientists can’t understand how Fred Hoyle could say, Carbon seriously shook my atheism. I mean, it doesn’t make sense to a person that isn’t dedicated to science. But among these were the Big Bang, the whole notion that there was a start to the universe. How did that¢â‚¬¦ When did that discovery take place and begin to be formulized? And how did it change the equations?
A. Yes. As with much else in science, it began with Einstein. In 1917, he explained that gravity is not, you know, objects with force on them, but it’s a curve/space time.

Q. Yeah.
A. So the universe must be expanding or contracting. He didn’t like that idea because for thousands of years everyone believed the universe was eternal and static.

Q. Yes.
A. So he put an equation in there to make it the same. Then the astronomers, Hubble, Edwin Hubble in particular, began to notice the galaxies flying apart, moving apart, when our telescopes got bigger.

Q. Yeah.
A. The expanding universe seemed to be actually visible. And what this suggested, of course, if it expanded, then it must have been back at one point. Now, this shook all of cosmology, but it began a whole new science. Perhaps they didn’t really prove it until 1965, when they found the background radiation ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ which is the afterheat of a single big explosion in the past.

Q. Yeah.
A. But as just a reference on this, in around 1950 one of the Popes said, The Big Bang, therefore, God. So the debate was wide open now. Is there a beginning to the universe?

We’re going to pick up there when we come back. And again, folks, we’re-we’re lightly skimming the surface, trying to give you a taste of how this story unfolds in a way that both helps you understand but also is just entertaining reading. The book is By Design: Science and the Search for God, authored by Larry Witham, published by Encounter Books. We’ll back with more right after this. Don’t go away.

(Break)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Larry Witham. His book is By Design. And it’s a wonderful excursion into science and the search for God, and how that search has actually spun out of science itself, and out of the dialogue within science.

Q. We talk about the Big Bang, the whole notion of the expanding universe. Astronomers like Fred Hoyle and others are ¢€œ though he himself I believe maintained his atheism still ¢€œ was having a very difficult time reconciling scientific theory with what he was observing. We get into ¢€œ and again, we’re moving quickly ¢€œ but we get into what you say is one of the two critically important dynamics of-of the advancement of this conversation between science and faith. And it has to do with the Catholic church opening up discussion.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. Pope John Paul II which, interestingly enough, happened around the same time, I believe, as John Templeton.
A. Right.

Q. Who started writing some stuff and then started throwing some of his ¢€œ
A. Quite a bit of money.

Q. ¢€œwealth. And I’ve interviewed him a few times, a fascinating guy.
A. Yeah.

Q. So you’ve got kind of new-new dynamics.
A. Uh-huh.

Q. Talk about the Catholic church and how they kind of wade in and why it’s been so important.
A. Well, John Paul II was a university professor, so he was well versed in these, you know, debates over rationalism and faith. And he came into office in 1978. And in ’79 he had a 100th birthday party for Einstein, of course, who was dead by then. And he told his science people at the Vatican Observatory. You know, the Roman Catholic Church has the oldest science academy in history. But the remnant of that, he told them to start setting up conferences where you brought major scientists in. And began to look for common-common ideas, common research methods, and they celebrated Newton’s birthday. And eventually, because of the imprimatur of the Catholic church, it became a major momentum. What was lacking, perhaps, was enough money to do it. And in ’78 also, on the cover of Fortune magazine, you know, the first picture of John Templeton ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ who literally managed billions of dollars of peoples’ Wall Street investments. He was a Presbyterian layman who, in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ60’s, could retire because of his wealth. And he had all these friends, you know, big high rollers, and they’re all non-believers, and they all looked down on religion. So he thought, I’m going to use some of my money to-to upgrade religion in modernity. And you do that by facing religion off with science. By the ¢â‚¬Ëœ90’s he was putting $50 million a year into conferences, and funding courses at universities. This sort of overlapped with the Vatican effort, because some of that money worked, we had at the Vatican projects. And, as I mentioned earlier, scientists who were theists, who couldn’t talk before, started to come out of the woodwork.

Q. Yeah.
A. And they began to say, well, I’ve always believed in a God. I was reared that way and now in mid-life with tenure, you know, I wouldn’t think there is a God. Why can’t we talk about that in the academy? And that was happening, you know, a little bit in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ80’s, mostly in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ90’s. And then it became socially controversial. The atheists in science began to fire back. And that’s-that was their reaction.

Q. Another piece that began to-to kind of muddy the Darwin waters was origin of life questions in which you point out chance plus time becomes sidelined through biochemistry and other disciplines. That became very, another very important scientific discovery that made the classic Darwin position less tenable.
A. Yes. And you know, Darwin, he looked at animals and plants around him and said they changed form and that was through natural selection. Frankly, no one disagrees with that basic common observation.

Q. Right.
A. But he only speculated briefly on well, maybe the first living thing, the very first thing, cropped up in a little warm pond.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then the next complicated thing came out of that, and on up the tree of life. Since then, science has been trying to re-create from dead chemicals life. And they’ve done some things. But the problem is it’s always a human being putting his own intelligence in there making the experiment work.

Q. Right.
A. The big experiment was in ’53 when, you know, the Miller-Urey experiment. But ever since then they’ve never been able to go the next step. How did the DNA code, which creates biological life, get into place? Where did that information come in originally? So some people who want to say science points to God, look at the origin of life as probably one of the best arguments. Maybe we’ll never be able to crack that in the test tubes, so to speak.

Q. Right, right. Now, the-the-the movement, the movement of design is huge. And we actually have talked about it quite a bit on this show, but-but you-you give kind of a contemporary perspective on what was an old idea. We’ve already said, it’s not the first time people have seen design. But there were a lot of developments in science itself, physics, biochemistry, you go down the disciplines, that were beginning to point towards some element of design and intentionality. And again, people right here in Seattle, Bruce Chapman, from the Discovery Institute, read a Wall Street Journal article written by Stephen Meyer, and it began kind of a new development within the Discovery Institute which eventually linked people like Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and others, in this intelligent design movement. How important has that been in changing the nature of the discussion about faith and science?
A. Well, it’s created a lot of controversy, a lot of attention. It’s just beginning to get on the front pages of major secular newspapers. But science doesn’t go through a revolution very quickly. And so even Phillip Johnson, who wrote his book, Darwin on Trial, in 1991, he said it might take, you know, 20 years or so. And we’re only halfway there. And what they’re saying is that basically Darwinian science is philosophical science.

Q. Yeah.
A. And science that says that there can’t be an intelligence or a purpose or, namely, a God ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ putting his mind into nature. It all has to be random matter. They say if you take away that philosophy and actually look at nature, you do find things that are so complex that couldn’t have willy-nilly just come into place.

Q. Right.
A. Now, here’s where the new science comes and where maybe the intelligent design people have their best, you know, bet in science itself. You look at a cell and the machinery in it. It’s so complicated that it causes some scientists and biologists to think it couldn’t have gotten there by random. It looks like an engineer planned those 150 pieces all at once.

Q. Yeah.
A. The other thing is the big thing, the universe. How did burning hydrogen create stars that cooked up elements and kicked off carbon ¢€œ here we get to Fred Hoyle’s, you know, doubts about atheism ¢€œ and that carbon gave rise to biological life, namely us, who could discover mathematics and figure out how that works. So there’s sort of a full circle.

Q. Yeah.
A. This is only recent science, the last 10 or 20 years, that seemed to refute the idea that it’s random and we’re a floating speck in a basically, you know, uncreated universe.

Q. Yeah. So-so when we look at-at Phillip Johnson and the reaction of a Stephen Gould. I mean, this ¢€œ but we’re going to get to “War of Words” next and talk about PBS and some other issues ¢€œ but I mean, this has really brought out some heavy guns.
A. Well, it’s¢â‚¬¦ We don’t want to infer self-interest to these different groups, but you know, scientists want to keep their turf. And part of that turf says, no design allowed, or no God allowed. Whereas you get Phillip Johnson, who is a skilled rhetoritician, a lawyer, and he learned the science, and he went out on the public circuit with his book saying these Darwinists are basically philosophers ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ who are claiming all this federal money for research, but not letting us know the real problems they have in their science.

Yeah. We will pick up there when we come back, folks. As I said, we’re scratching the surface of a book that deserves a deeper read. It’s By Design: Science and the Search for God, published by Encounter Press. Larry Witham is our guest. We’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. Our guest is Larry Witham. His book is By Design. He also wrote Where Darwin Meets the Bible. By Design is subtitled Science and the Search for God, published by Encounter Press, Encounter Books in San Francisco.

Q. Really just a wonderful look at the personalities, the people, the issues, the discoveries that have led to what is a fairly rigorous, robust conversation between faith and science and among people of faith in the sciences about-about how faith relates to, or doesn’t relate to, science. And we brought out earlier the fact that you prove design does not prove a scientist, even if you prove intelligent design, does not mean that there is a personal God. They can take a Spinozan position, which is more pantheistic. God is the law, God is the math, God is the rules. You-you have a wonderful look at the “War of Words,” and it actually has a local connection, too, because Paul Allen ¢€œ here you’ve got The Discovery Institute over here with Bruce Chapman and his-his merry band of scientists, and in the other corner you’ve got Paul Allen with Clear Blue Sky Production Company that intends to produce the major work on evolution. What happens in the dynamic of that?
A. Well, everyone can see that there’s a debate brewing. And no doubt, Paul Allen wanted to do something that was very pro-science, natural sciences. There are organized groups that want to fight this, not the religion-science dialogue, but let’s say creationism, or the attack on Darwinism.

Q. Right.
A. So they got together and said, let’s do an eight-part series, unprecedented in public television on-on evolution. And the first hour, the first two parts was a dramatic rendering of the life of Charles Darwin.

Q. Right.
A. And then the other segments. And it was basically a triumphal story much like in 1959 that wow, wowie ¢€œ

Q. Take another run at it.
A. ¢€œ scientists are really finding out almost everything. They even find out from evolution why we have sex.

Q. Right. Right, right, right.
A. It’s not because of love, it’s because of, you know, chemical attractions and survival of the fittest.

Q. Right, which must have warmed all their spouses’ hearts.
A. That’s right. I mean, it was a very provocative affection. But they wanted to reduce everything to Darwinian science.

Q. Right.
A. And so the-the critics of Darwinism, the intelligent design movement, which have begun to get organized now as fellows of the Center of Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute here in Seattle, they have a lot of fellows who can do quick action responses, write white papers, do radio interviews. So they did a booklet, segment by segment, criticizing the Evolution PBS series.

Q. Right.
A. And they went out and put it on the web, they shot it out to bookstores, and this great social debate began. The evolutionists, meanwhile, got scientists on their side to find problems with the book.

Q. Right.
A. And do their own white paper and sent that out. And the debate is not over. Now it’s going to the school boards, where we might recall in the’80’s, the debate on “creationism,” or “creation science.”

Q. Right.
A. That is pretty much passe because it’s legally off limits to have a sort of Biblical idea of creation ¢€œ

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œ in anything but literature. But now the ID people are saying we should at least be able to have criticism or Orthodox Darwinism, at the least.

Q. Right.
A. So young people know. And maybe even a teacher can say, as the Supreme Court allowed, there are alternative theories out there. One of them that’s kind of scientific is design. Things are here by intelligence, not by random.

Q. Right.
A. So that’s where the debate has taken us now.

Q. Right. And we’ve seen it in Ohio, we’ve got a textbook case in Texas right now. In the midst of all this just a couple other dynamics, and then some concluding comments. And folks, you just have to go out and get the book. The whole issue of Tree of Llife, the Human Genome Project where President Clinton and Collins, from the Human Genome Project, used God talk ¢€œ
A. They did.

Q. ¢€œ about the Human Genome Project. And then you’ve even got guys like Michael Denton, who is not a creationist. I don’t think he’s a theist, but he’s not comfortable with where science, in general, is coming down on this kind of Darwinian view. So you’ve got a lot of kind of co-belligerents who are coming from different places that are making the dialogue very dynamic. It’s-it’s not just people who start with an interest in-in the God talk, it’s scientists who are entering the fray.
A. And the-the intelligent design people and any of these scientists would say, Don’t impune my motives because you don’t do that with scienctists. You know, you had all kinds of strange beliefs. But do we question science? No.

Q. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. So they say, look at the merit of our science.

Q. Yeah.
A. And of a Dr. Collins that heads the Human Genome Project, he’s an evolutionist, he-he heads the whole project to track the human genome. But if he says that-that still overall this is the plan of God still being revealed to us, a scientist can say that now.

Q. Yeah.
A. It’s controversial. The atheists in science shot off their little letters to the editor after that ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ since he’s a federal employee. But the-the debate is fairly open and most people think about genetics in terms of the impact on human cloning or altering the human nature. But now we have, for the first time, this code, a written letter-based system that designs us.

Q. Yeah.
A. And a lot of theologians, philosophers, and scientists are saying, What can we do with this in terms of an idea of information? Where does this information come from?

Q. Yeah.
A. And that’s an open question that has some kind of theological ramifications.

Q. Absolutely. The other whole chapter on the decade of the brain, consciousness, personal identity. Lots of questions around really what is a relatively new scientific discipline. You get to the conclusion of the book, and the final chapter is “Leaps of Faith.” And you bring up American psychologist William James, who asked of natural science, Does it leave room for God? And you kind of, in conclusion, ask the question, If you take the Spinozan pantheist and you take the theist, and they stand bloodied and beaten on both sides in the year 2003, and look at the current state of science, what kind of weighs in, in their favor and what doesn’t? And what conclusions does it bring us regarding how science can and can’t answer questions of faith?
A. I’ll end with James, because he gives¢â‚¬¦ He’s an all-American, he gave us some of our pragmatism. But even-even people of Christian faith will find this useful. Well, finally we can understand the universe through mathematics. Why? That’s a big question. Why does our mind understand mathematics? The other thing, Why is there beauty? Some of the best Nobel laureates say I figured out this equation because it looked beautiful. Then I tested it and it worked.

Q. Yeah.
A. Why-why is it¢â‚¬¦ Even Steven Weinberg, the famous atheist of nobellus, he says, Why is it so beautiful? He doesn’t have an answer yet. The argument is, if you-if you think that God exists, then the scientific evidence is providing a universe that looks like a God exists. It’s kind of confirming it. Fifty years ago it was doubtful. You know, the universe was chaotic, meaningless, nothing was connected. It was random, except maybe the laws. And finally, science is looking for values or morality. Where do you get it? You can’t get it out of a gene, you can’t get it out of a biological system. Perhaps you need something more transcendent. Now, not all scientists are saying this, but they are recognizing that you need that. And there’s the role of belief. Well finally, William James, probably to the day he died, he struggled with doubt over whether God existed. He cut apart brains, he did studies, he read all the philosophical works. But he looked at all these religious people in the world, the varieties of religious experience and said, it helps them with their life so much there must be something there. And so he said, he would say in today’s design debate, Well, if-if the scientific evidence helps you think that God exists, and you already are convicted that way and it helps your life, then use those arguments.

Q. Yeah.
A. Pragmatic. Use them. It’s the American way. It’s not an argument for absolute truth, but it’s sure a good argument for belief.

You can read more by picking up your own copy of By Design, by Larry Witham. This is Dick Staub. We’ll be back right after this.

Posted in DS Interview, Staublog in August 13, 2003 by | No Comments »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

+ 52 = 61

More from Staublog