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roundtable:science and faith Watch Show 7:
"What About God?"
on PBS
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Several people have written that they have thoroughly studied both creation and evolution and find that both are forms of faith in that they assume events that occurred before the time of man. They both have an element of trust needed to believe that either are correct or incorrect. Please comment.
Must we take the first several verses of Genesis literally in order to respect the spiritual authority of the rest of the Bible? Conversely, must the literal nature of the Genesis creation story be discounted in order to reconcile religion with evolution, astronomy, physics, and other sciences?
Please tell us specifically how you handle the question of original sin. If God chose to create organisms, specifically mankind, through millions of years of evolution, what happens to the theological underpinnings of original sin and redemption without a real, flesh-and-blood Adam and Eve?
If one accepts Darwinian evolution, how can one truly reconcile that theory with religion as practiced by most Americans? Even if evolution doesnŐt conflict with the existence of a God, it does seem to clearly refute the idea that God plays an active, day-to-day role in the course of earthly events.
Even if many people can reconcile religious and evolutionary world views, it seems that many evolutionary biologists cannot. Biologists seem much more likely to express hostility toward religion than practice it. Several persons have said that a religious person cannot be a true scientist. Does an evolutionary world view gradually drive a person toward atheism?


Q: Several people have written that they have thoroughly studied both creation and evolution and find that both are forms of faith in that they assume events that occurred before the time of man. They both have an element of trust needed to believe that either are correct or incorrect. Please comment.
Panelist Responses: < back to intro page
Francisco Ayala
First, the way in which the word "faith" is used by the person who poses the question is quite different in science and in religious beliefs. All scientific constructs or so-called theories are constructs of the mind. In that sense, we accept them just in terms of whatever evidence we can gather in their favor or against them. In the case of scientific theories, what we do is to formulate them in such a way that they can be used to make predictions about the states of affairs in the real world. And then we do confirm or corroborate the theories by making those observations or experiments that deal with predictions derived from the theories.

So if we have a theory, which is a construct of the mind, and we are able to corroborate it or reject it by subjecting it to verification or corroboration, as I said, we're confronting it with observations or experiments that we make. Religious faith belongs to a completely different realm of knowledge. In the case of faith, we are accepting revelation or teachings that we do not expect to corroborate in an empirical way. We corroborate them or accept them in terms of the implications they may have, the effects they may have for our own personal life and the life of other individuals.

But this is a very different kind of corroboration from what we do in science, where any experiment or observation made in favor or against a theory can, in turn, be confirmed or rejected by other individuals. That is, it is possible always to replicate the observations or to make alternate observations derived from the same theory. In the case of religious faith, we don't have this kind of experimental verification, the possibility of subjecting theories to verification by reproducible testing, the possibility of having other individuals doing the same observations for experiment.
Robert Pollack
As a scientist I would argue that, as Ronald Reagan said famously about dealing with the Soviet Union, "trust but verify." It is necessary to trust in both cases, but in the case of science it is possible to verify what one trusts is so, by the accumulation of predictions tested by experiments which generate results predicted by the model. This notion that your faith can be buttressed by evidence is the difference between science as a human enterprise, a "faith," if you will, and other faiths, which depend on equally strong certainty emerging from within, but not testable by evidence.

Now within a religion, one may say the evidence is that which stands off from nature. So a miracle is, in a sense, evidence for faith. And the singular moment of creation instantaneously is, in fact, a miraculous event outside the laws of science as we understand them. So if one has the faith that that happened, it is indeed a valid faith, but it is not testable by science. That makes the faith of creation different from the evidence for natural selection and a single, natural origin of the universe and life within it.

The reasons for the emergence of the curiosity that generates evidence in science are similar, I think, to the reasons that allow the emergence of religious faith. That is, we are a species that must give meaning to our surroundings. But these -- science and religious faith -- are different tools that generate different results because they start from different premises. No serious religious person, I think, is a believer because of the proof they have from nature; they are believers because of the certainty they have in their hearts.
Mark Noll
The question as posed is probably too simple. Most of the issues concerning origin of life, creation, evolution, have a long history that makes simple discussion in public today quite difficult. The element of faith is certainly present in both scientific endeavor related to origin and also in relationship to God and the world. But it's a different kind of faith.

I actually think, historically considered, that there is a strong theistic presupposition or theistic faith in the doing of science. When scientists believe that their minds are able to grasp some aspects of the reality of the material world, that is a kind of faith. But it's a different sort of faith than what religious believers exercise.

Our other panelists, particularly Francisco Ayala, spoke well, I think, of the different tasks of scientists and people of faith. They're not contrasting, they're not contradictory, but they're different tasks. And it's just simply appropriate to think of different inputs, different procedures, different results from scientific enterprise and from religion.

The question is a good one. It's a real one. But it's not a simple one, and I don't think simply contrasting evolutionary science and faith in the Bible or faith in traditional religion is the best way to go about solving the question or answering the question.
Arthur Peacocke
I would like to point out that I don't think there is, first of all, a real contrast between religion and science in the sense of one being faith and the other being reason. I think both can be reasonable. And it's interesting that in science, one often refers to the best explanation, and the best explanation then often involves postulating the existence of something you would never observe or ever could observe.

Sometimes the best explanation involves postulating the existence of a quark or something like that, depending on the nature of the question. But very often it becomes historical. If it's geology, you're postulating how the Alps formed or how the seas formed or how certain geological formations got there. In no way can one go back and test one's experiment and repeat the experiment. You're doing a detective job. And the same applies, of course, in much of evolutionary theory. One is making the most sense out of most of the data and inferring, like a good detective, what happened in the past.

A lot of science is like that. It's not all repeatable experiments as in physics and chemistry. And I think with the area of faith, the data of faith involve all sorts of broader considerations and the religious experience of humanity. Again, one is inferring to the best explanation, the best way of referring to the realities which are experienced in religion, in the past and in the present. So I think there is a false assumption in the question, which I would like to point to.
What is replicated or observed in scientific theories, and therefore also the theory of evolution, is not the theoretical contents of the theory, but rather the consequences or predictions derived from that theory.

We certainly cannot observe the evolution of humans from non-human ancestors, since it happened millions of years in the past. But we accept that, because that theory -- the theory of evolution with respect to the origin of humans and chimpanzees from common ancestors -- leads to the predictions that if we were to compare the genetic material of humans and chimpanzees, the DNA, that it will be very similar.

So I can do the experiment of selecting a particular gene and comparing the DNA sequence, the genetic components of a species. The prediction of the theory of evolution is they will be very similar, and they will be more similar to each other than they are, for example, to the baboon, and they will be more similar to the baboon then they will be, say, to a fish. So this is the way we corroborate the theory. The observations we make concern the predictions, the consequences of the theories, not the theories themselves.

But this applies to all of science, not only to evolution. Nobody can observe the Earth going around the Sun, and yet we accept the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Nobody has observed atoms and molecules, yet we accept the molecular composition of matter. In both cases, it's because we have corroborated these theories by many observations which concern predictions or consequences of the theories themselves.
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