Are We Dumb and Getting Dumber?

All Things Examined

According to a recent national survey, 13 percent of biology teachers “advocate creationism or intelligent design,” and 60 percent present those theories alongside evolution. And columnist Leonard Pitts is none too pleased. If this kind of thing is allowed to continue, Pitts warns—using a not-so subtle parable—we will lose the ability to distinguish between “science and faith, or conventional wisdom from actual wisdom.” We will devolve, he predicts, into stupidity.

Distinguishing between science and faith is problematic, given that there is more than a little measure of faith in science; especially, materialistic science: faith that nature is a mechanism that can be explained by physical laws, faith that those laws are universal and unchanging, faith that our senses reliably perceive the world as it really is, faith that our minds accurately interpret those perceptions, and faith that the origin, diversity and complexity of nature is the unguided product of chance and necessity.

Similarly, discriminating conventional wisdom from actual wisdom is difficult-to-impossible, given their considerable overlap. The conventional wisdom that “what goes up, must come down,” is congruent with the actual wisdom of Newton’s laws. In the same way, conventional beliefs about things like murder, cruelty and rape accord with the universal conviction of their actual immorality.

The real challenge

Our real challenge is not discerning between such false dichotomies but discerning science from science fiction and truth from falsehood. When a frog-turned-prince tale is dismissed as myth until the timeframe is changed from a bibbidi-bobbidi-boo instant to 150 million years, it signals a discernment deficit. When the timeframe is extended to a few billion years to spin a neutrino-turned-prince tale, it signals a discernment crisis.

On a NOVA special a few years ago, an astrophysicist gushed, “We’re descended from neutrinos!” Then, after a reverential pause, he added, “They’re our parents.” (You can’t make this stuff up!) And this from people that Pitts, and many like him, uphold as the gatekeepers of truth.

The gatekeepers have spun many an imaginative yarn about how the universe came to be and how matter “went live.” But despite the intellectual charm of creative neutrinos, cosmic inflation, multiverses, emergence, abiogenesis, and the like, their ever-inventive tales remain, and will always remain, just that: tales with no more claim to truth than those of a court astrologer.

The idea that “in the beginning were neutrinos” that went bump in the cosmos to form intelligent beings is as fantastic (more so, really) as the Mayan account that “in the beginning were only Tepeu and Gucumatz . . . [who] sat together and thought, and whatever they thought came into being.”

A reminder

This serves as a reminder that the aim of education is training students how to think, not what to think. Intelligent design and Darwinism are controversial theories that enjoy wide currency in the marketplace of ideas. Teaching one theory to the exclusion of others, and without presenting its weaknesses along with its strengths, is indoctrination, not education.

Students need to know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to articulate their beliefs in the ongoing conversation. To that end, educators have the responsibility to train them in critical thinking, not by giving them a one-sided take on controversial theories, but by presenting them in a balanced manner with a forthright discussion of their explanatory limits.

The gnawing reality for Darwinists is that popular acceptance of their theory is marginal and flat, and that has been the case for some time. Despite the fact that only a minor fraction of teachers actively promote alternatives to Darwinism, nearly 80 percent of Americans believe in some form of intelligent causation. And that percentage has held steady for the better part of 30 years.

Those who believe that Darwinian evolution is established as firmly as the universal law of gravitation are sounding the alarm. Leonard Pitts warns that we risk losing our intelligence; Karl Giberson, that we—or, at least, Christians—risk losing our faith.

The broken gene

Karl Giberson is a physics professor at a Christian college and vice president of the BioLogos Foundation, an organization that promotes the compatibility of religion and evolutionary science.

In an op-ed piece for CNN News, Giberson chides his fellow Christians for rejecting the truth of evolution. To be clear, Giberson is not referring to micro-evolution, the process whereby genetic variation and environmental pressures produce limited modifications in species over time. With that, few people of any stripe have a quibble. No, he is referring to the amoeba-to-man variety of macro-evolution.

As a Christian, Giberson does not deny intelligent causation, although he rejects the scientific theory of intelligent design. He believes that God was the creator, and that evolution happened to be the process he used to create. It is a fact he claims that is “true beyond any reasonable doubt.” A piece of evidence that he is particularly taken with is a “defective” gene that humans have in common with other primates that normally synthesizes vitamin C.

“How can different species have identical broken genes?” Giberson baits. “The only reasonable explanation is that they inherited it from a common ancestor.”

The only reasonable explanation?

How about the possibility that the gene is not defective, but has a function that we have yet to discover, as has been the case for much of what’s been called “junk DNA”? Or that common genes from common design are susceptible to common dysfunctions? Consider the common design of motorcycle tires and bicycle tires that share a common vulnerability to nails and broken glass.

Although he doesn’t let on, Giberson’s “broken” gene has been found somewhere else, a highly unlikely somewhere else if common ancestry is true: guinea pigs. It is a confounding fact that has led some researchers to entertain a reasonable alternative: a mutational “hot spot”; that is, a design feature in common genes that predisposes them to common damage.

A ‘sacred fact’

Giberson is either unaware, or dismissive, of this inconvenient detraction to his main sermon point that evolution is not just a fact, but “a ‘sacred fact’ that Christians must embrace in the name of truth.” You read that right, “must embrace.” At least he left out “…or risk losing their eternal souls.”

Appealing to reason (for the third time), Giberson continues, “Evolution does not contradict the Bible unless you force an unreasonable interpretation [on it].” Okay, but just who is doing the forcing and who is being unreasonable?

Believing 1) that God created the earth’s flora and fauna by his command, 2) that he formed man out of the dust of the ground, and 3) that his living creatures reproduced “after their kind,” is accepting the unblinkered meaning of the text. Asserting that he created through a glacial process of chance and necessity is ignoring the text and replacing it with an interpretation that is both forced and unreasonable, within the immediate and extended context of Scripture.

Oh, but Giberson points out, “Modern science was not in the worldview of the biblical authors and it is not in the Bible.” True, but it was in the worldview of its Author. For instance, it took nineteen hundred years for science to catch up with the wisdom of the divine self-description, light.

Through the wonders of modern science, light has been found to be not only a source of illumination, but of biological life. Light is material and immaterial at the same time (a dual nature). It is ageless with an invariable nature, which makes it an ideal standard for measurement. When Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world,” he was revealing much more about himself than either his hearers or recorders understood. Nearly two millennia later, we began learning just how much more.

Giberson concludes, “We are often asked to think about what Jesus would do, if he lived among us today. Who would Jesus vote for? What car would he drive? To these questions we should add ‘What would Jesus believe about origins?’”

Without solemn pause, he answers, as if dialed into a privileged channel of the divine mind, “Jesus would believe evolution, of course.” One wonders to what “Jesus” he could be referring. Certainly not the one through whom “all things were made,” the one who formed the universe at his command, “so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

In “What Would Jesus Say to Darwin?” I asked how Jesus would respond to people today who question the historicity of Adam and Eve. I concluded that, most likely, he would respond the same way he did to the skeptics of his day:

He would direct them to what had already been revealed (“What did Moses write about this matter?”); then, after patiently watching them shrug their shoulders, he would answer: “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.”

From Jesus’ point of view it would appear that, contrary to Messrs. Pitts and Giberson, the Genesis record is a risk to neither our intelligence nor our faith.

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at centurion51@aol.com.

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