Kansas Board of Education vs. the Truth, Part 2 (1/16/05)
Rev. Gary Cox — Wichita, Kansas
University Congregational Church
This is part two in our series called the Kansas Board of Education verses the Truth. Last week we talked about how our beloved church, throughout history, has had a bad habit of pitting God against the truth. We went all the way back to Aristotle, and Ptolemy, who set up the framework for a worldview that lasted 2000 years. This view of the universe had the earth at its center, with the sun, moon and stars all revolving around the earth.
The church took that understanding of the universe and shaped its theology around it. So when Galileo used his telescope—a device normally used as a naval tool to evaluate the strength of an opponent’s fleet—and pointed it toward the sky, he threw a monkey wrench into the works. In fact, his observations proved that Copernicus had been correct when he stated, a hundred years earlier, that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun. The church, of course, imprisoned Galileo for seeing what was right there before his eyes—with the help of a telescope. But the church soon saw that it had made a mistake back in 1609 when it condemned Galileo, and offered him an official apology… almost four centuries later, in 1981!
And then, last week, we took a quick survey of the history of our understanding of the universe. And science has been wrong every step of the way! Science thought the earth was the center of the universe. Wrong! It only appears that way. The earth revolves around the sun.
Then science, through Copernicus and Galileo, thought the sun was the center of the universe. Wrong! As it turns out, the sun is only one countless billions of stars moving together in this huge galaxy called the Milky Way, spinning around a common center like a pinwheel.
Then science thought the Milky Way Galaxy was the entire universe. Wrong! We thought we had pretty much figured out the size and shape of the universe when we understood that our galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies.
Science developed a model of the known universe that pretty much explains everything we can see and thought it had finally gotten a grip on this unimaginably vast universe. Wrong! Quantum physics comes into play and we realize that all we have done so far, with all our searching and all our theorizing, is map out the four-dimensional universe we see before our eyes. But that’s only a tiny part of the whole picture. Quantum physics now theorizes there are 11 dimensions, and all those concepts we are dealing with to study our physical universe—height, width, depth, time—they all become more or less meaningless once you move beyond our limited way of seeing and understanding the universe with these human eyes and human brains.
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So what should we do? Forget all about science, since it never quite gets it right? Of course not! Because the very nature of science is the search for truth about the universe. And even though science has been wrong every step of the way when it comes to understanding the entirety of the universe, it has also been right often enough to allow humanity to build on its knowledge. Galileo may have been wrong when he said the sun was the center of the universe, but he was right about the earth revolving around the sun. And human knowledge took a giant step forward.
When scientists in the 19th and 20th centuries realized the sun was a star, they were wrong in thinking our galaxy is the entire universe. But they made a giant leap forward. They told us the universe was much much bigger than anybody had previously dreamed. What they didn’t know was that the universe was hundreds of billions of times bigger than even they thought it was!
But step by step, science has proposed theories, tested them, proven some, disproved others; and today we have a body of knowledge that allows us to explore the solar system, and cure diseases, and forecast hurricanes and tornadoes. Science is good.
But many people of science, in every age, have shared one terrible flaw. They lack humility. They think they have things all figured out. It is as if the search for truth places a set of blinders on certain people. They somehow believe that human beings have finally arrived at the pinnacle of understanding. I find it hilarious when supposedly “scientific” people belittle ideas like religion and spirituality. They have so immersed themselves in their little Newtonian four-dimensional universe, it’s as if they are unborn chicks, pecking on the inside of their shells, and insisting they have the universe figured out.
Science should never claim to have uncovered the truth. Science should only claim to have provided theories that have held up to scientific examination so far. And that’s what good science does. It creates theories that attempt to explain things, and then tries with great diligence to prove those theories are wrong.
And that leads us to a theory that certainly seems to be standing up to the test of time: evolution. It would be absurd not to teach the theory of evolution in science class. It is the best explanation we’ve found for how things got like they are. But sadly, we have a 21st century version of the Galilean church that has decided it must jump in and protect God from the truth. And the people who are attempting to protect God from the truth are doing so with an idea called “intelligent design.”
Now, I want to consider intelligent design from two perspectives. First, let me state emphatically that it appears to me the people at the Kansas Board of Education who are pushing the idea of intelligent design are much more interested in the biblical creation myths than they are in intelligent design. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is not a science book. It has absolutely no place in the science classroom. Let’s take a few moments to consider the creation accounts from the Bible.
And yes, I said creation accounts. There are two creation stories in the Bible. Let’s look at both of them. I hope you will all take the time to read these two stories—the first two chapters of Genesis. It will be five minutes very well spent. For now, I will paraphrase the stories.
The first account is found in the first chapter of Genesis. It is one of the most beautiful, poetic, awe inspiring stories in all the world of literature. For now, I want to break it down to its bare essentials—the details of the story itself, with all the poetry gone.
It begins with the words, “In the beginning,” and ends with God proclaiming all of creation good. Here is the way God creates the universe, according to Genesis chapter 1: God’s spirit sweeps over the void and with the words, “Let there be light,” the universe begins. One the second day God creates the sky. God separates the dry land from the waters and brings forth vegetation upon the earth on day three. On the fourth day God creates the sun, moon and stars. It is on the fifth day that God creates the first living creatures—all of the sea animals, as well as the birds. On the sixth day God creates land animals, and finally, as the final act of creation, we read these words:
So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then, on the seventh day, God rests from all the work he has done.
At this point we feel like we have heard the whole story, but the Bible throws us a curve ball, because right after the Bible tells us that God rested after creating the universe, it immediately tells us a second creation story! And this story isn’t anything like the first story. Again, let me give you the bare details of the second creation story.
I simply have to begin by reading the first sentence of this second story, so you will know I am not making this up. Please listen closely. Quote: These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Let’s not gloss over that. According to this story, the very first thing God does on the day he creates the universe is to create a man. In our first story this was the last thing God did when creating the universe. But now, according to this second story, God creates a man first, and then God creates vegetation. God then places the man in the Garden of Eden. After that, God decides the man needs a helper, or helpmate, and God creates all the animals in an attempt to find the man a partner. When no suitable partner appears, God causes the man to go to sleep, and from his rib he creates a woman. After this comes the story of the serpent and the forbidden fruit, but we’ll stop here.
Let’s look at the first story. It very clearly states that the very last thing God creates is man and woman, at the same time. This is after the vegetation and animals have been created. The second story very clearly states that the first thing God creates is a man, and then the vegetation and animals, and the last thing God creates is a woman.
I have never understood how anybody could claim the Bible is literally true. I was no more than eight years old when I read those first two chapters and said to myself, “Wait a second. Something isn’t right here!” And my confusion remained in place until I went to seminary and studied the Bible. It was then that I learned we have to make a choice when it comes to the Bible. We can take it seriously, or we can take it literally, but we can’t do both. I choose to take it seriously.
Those two creation stories are wonderful. The first story tells us that the universe is not an accident. It is created. And human beings are a very important part of the universe. We aren’t flukes of nature. We too are created. The second story, which, by the way, is more ancient and hence more primitive than the first, reveals the fallen nature of humanity in relation to God. And it is full of truth—wonderful insights into human nature. But it is certainly different from the first story.
These two stories do share one very important thing in common. They are not scientific accounts of the creation of the universe. They are poetic accounts of the mystery of the universe and human life in the presence of God. And they contain another very important thing in common. They have no place whatsoever in a science class.
I think the Kansas Board of Education needs to be honest with the people of Kansas. When they say they want to teach intelligent design along with evolution in the science classroom, is it actually their intention to slip the Genesis creation accounts into the science curriculum? If this is the case, the people of this state need to stand together and insist that we will not allow our children to be corrupted by the narrow worldview of Christian fundamentalists.
And if they want to teach the biblical creation stories at school, from a supposedly scientific perspective, then they had better teach them both, and ask the same questions we’ve asked this morning about those stories, namely, how can any person in the honest pursuit of truth claim that those two stories are both scientifically and historically accurate? I cannot believe the people who are shoving religion down the throat of our science teachers under the guise of intelligent design really want those science teachers putting the biblical creation myths side by side, under the microscope, so to speak.
Furthermore, if we are going to teach those two stories, we had better teach the stories all the other religions and cultures have devised to embrace the mystery of creation. This could take some valuable time away from our science curriculum. In fact, from the Babylonian creation myth to the Mayan creation story, I found 42 separate stories of creation with a simple internet search.
So I guess my argument with the folks who are pushing for the idea of intelligent design is simple. Do you really want your children being taught the idea of intelligent design by science teachers? Because if you do, I would like to help develop the curriculum. I’ve been battling with Christian fundamentalists for a long time. They keep trying to force God into this tiny little box where they have the Eternal Spirit under control. They want to take the most complex idea the human mind is capable of embracing—God—and turn God into some sort of human-being-like action figure.
God as G.I. Joe! Here’s what God looks like. Here’s how God created the universe. Here’s how God wants us to worship. Here’s the people God thinks are okay. Here are the people God rejects. Here’s God asking us to take up our swords and kill the infidels. Here’s God coming again, mad as a hornet at all the people who don’t think about religion the right way.
Do these people want an honest conversation about God? I don’t think so. But I don’t think the way to combat them is to simply insist, as so many in the scientific community do, that there is no place for a discussion about God anywhere in the scientific worldview. I think the people who are pushing for intelligent design would be frightened if we said, “Okay, let the public schools teach your children about the theory behind intelligent design. Let our science teachers explain what great thinkers like Einstein, Heisenberg and Schroedinger have said about this subject—about the intelligence they find underlying reality—about God.”
In other words, I think it is time to call the bluff of the people who are trying to force God into the science classroom. And that is why, next week, I will reveal some examples of ideas regarding intelligent design that would be acceptable in science class. This will probably be humbling to many scientists, and it will almost certainly be frightening to the religious zealots. But then, as we said earlier, good science is always humble—the humble but honest search for truth. And the religious zealots, well, they spend enough time trying to scare us into their version of the faith. Maybe it’s time for them to be frightened for a while.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Max Planck, the father of quantum physics. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. That is such an amazing statement, I have to read it again. From Max Planck, the father of quantum physics: All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind.
If there is a place in the science classroom for the search for God, that is where the search begins.