Science is not religion

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In response to Mandi Campbell’s May 26 guest column (“Sheep shorn bare: This wolf wants fewer religious freedoms”): As a professor of biology, I was astounded at Ms. Campbell’s lack of scientific understanding.

Her insinuation that her biology teacher was teaching science as a religion is a nearly perfect example of how the religious right falsely assumes that science instruction must include all philosophical and religious perspectives. Science does not deal with faith explanations; rather, it attempts to explain the natural world by observations and testable theories that are subject to change and even rejection based on the evidence. This is why science constantly changes.

If Ms. Campbell were truly interested in exposing students to all the many ways, including science, that people seek to explain the world, then she should support having schools offer courses in comparative religions and philosophies – the more, the better. It has been my experience that those on the religious right are very much opposed to this approach, although they have no problem with courses on “Bible study” or any course that promotes only their particular version of life and how humans should live.

I appreciate Frank Carl’s endeavors in organizing a local chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. This organization does not seek to prevent the practice of religion. Rather, it protects both believers and nonbelievers from all those who seek to use government to impose their particular religious views and practices on others.

Judith E. Gordon, Ph.D.

Evans

(The writer is a professor emerita of biology at Augusta State University.)

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howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/01/12 - 10:48 pm
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clarification

Let's not confuse science with scientism. Science is simply the pursuit of truth via observation, hypothesis testing, and interpretation of findings. Theories and interpretations are continually modified as new information arises. Interestingly, Christianity is also the pursuit of truth, and bids its followers to "test everything, and hold on to what is good". Very scientific advice, actually.

On the other hand, scientism is more of a philosophy which posits that science -- and science alone -- has all answers and no other viewpoints or ways to attain knowledge are allowed. It permits no other means of understanding reality or gaining knowledge, and thereby excludes other philosophies and religion.

Scientism has been embraced by many modern atheists, and I believe Mandi Campbell's article was, in reality, criticizing scientism rather than pure science. Scientism is an ideology that seeks to replace any and all religions -- and thereby appears to be more of a religion unto itself.

Christianity welcomes the exploration of other ideas, philosophies, and religions, as does pure science. Truth has nothing to fear from honest, objective investigation. Scientism, on the other hand, rarely (if at all) entertains knowledge from anything else. It is simply not allowed.

Ms. Campbell's quarrel was really more with the philosophy of scientism, I believe, than with concept of pure scientific pursuits. Far too many great scientists, from Isaac Newton to Verner von Braun and Francis Collins, have also been quite devout believers in God and the Bible, and found absolutely no conflict with Christianity and true scientific ideals.

Fundamental_Arminian
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Fundamental_Arminian 06/02/12 - 12:10 am
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Science versus Scientism

    If Ms. Campbell were truly interested in exposing students to all the many ways, including science, that people seek to explain the world, then she should support having schools offer courses in comparative religions and philosophies – the more, the better (Dr. Gordon).

What Ms. Campbell opposes, I think, is the practice of teaching the theory of evolution as if it were a fact or as if it were a theory without problems or weaknesses. That's how evolution was taught to me and later to my children. Sometimes ideas were taught even after they'd been disproved (e.g., Ernst Haeckel's theory of recapitulation).

Evolutionism is vital to religions such as atheism and secular humanism. To teach it without including criticisms from scientists who espouse creationism or intelligent design is to resort to scientism, as howcanweknow so well has said. Intelligent design and creationism shouldn't be considered an attempt to ram Christianity down students' throats, because other religions (e.g., Islam, Judaism) regard the universe as the product of a creator or designer.

As for courses on comparative religion, I believe that they're already available at universities and seminaries. I'm not opposed to these courses so long as they're optional for general students (understandably, students majoring in theology may have to take them). I recognize, though, that when comparative theology is presented so as to make one religion appear as good as another, the result is the promotion of a particular religion, namely, religious liberalism, which holds that one religion is as good as another. The government ought not be in the business of promoting one religion over another.

desertcat6
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desertcat6 06/02/12 - 05:04 am
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As I stated when Ms

As I stated when Ms Campbell's collumn was published, she had a great oppourtunity to make a good logical case in defense of the first ammendment, the legality of laws regulating religion and the free exercise thereof. Unfortunately, American's United hasn't shown much logic or knowledge in developing its alternative positions, and its actions are not altruistic to the Constitution's "Congress Shall Make No Laws" langugage. Is there no equatable constitutionally sound middle ground?

Techfan
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Techfan 06/02/12 - 05:39 am
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So we should have science and

So we should have science and evolution taught, but give equal credence to a religious belief? The only survey I can find that covers the percentage of scientists who reject evolution is from 1987, and shows the number to be around 0.15%. It would strike me as being somewhat difficult to bring this topic up in class, especially since the 0.15% of the time would need to be divided into discussions among Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, etc., versions of creation.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 07:31 am
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Evo

Tech, again, it depends on how you define evolution. No one with a brain can deny microevolution (variation within a species due to environmental pressures). You can see it for yourself.

Macroevolution (one species becoming another), however is another matter. The fossil record does not help that idea much, as new species often appear suddenly, not gradually. Also, there is the big issue of how life first began. Evolution cannot explain it.

So, you can get any answer you want depending on how you construct the question. You cannot throw out the entire concept of evolution, but neither can 100 per cent random chance explain everything either. This is a big problem for devotees of scientism, which cannot account for everything - despite the arrogance to demand that no other philosophies or religions can be considered.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 07:32 am
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The problem with Intelligent

The problem with Intelligent Design is it has been ruled as re-packaged creationism and not science at all by the courts and has lost all court cases. The idea of an "intelligent" life designing life is very plausible since Craig Venter has re-created a new life form as indicator and we have domesticated (designed) numerous plants, livestock, dogs. It is very feasible for an intelligent life to design life but the issue is that Intelligent Design (the movement) isn't science. You can't give religion and evolution equal time because that would hold true for religion or theology courses having to have a science component. Different domains. I think you can talk about myths, religions, etc when equating to science but these are just means of communication and relating a topic. The true myth is that evolution somehow disproves or disenfranchises religions and that science will provide all the answers to every aspect of life.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 07:39 am
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You could argue it like this.

You could argue it like this. People want to give a small minority of homosexuals equal time and equal right to marry, then why not give a minority view equal time in the class. I wouldn't because biology is full of exceptions to the rules so while most scientist believe HIV causes AIDS should I give a minority view like the Duesberg hypothesis (what a wack) equal time? All bacteria supposedly lack organelles and a nucleus (which is false they have an organelle related to phosphate metabolism and one species has a nuclear structure) but you won't see that in any Biology textbook like Campbell's Biology.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 07:39 am
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You could argue it like this.

You could argue it like this. People want to give a small minority of homosexuals equal time and equal right to marry, then why not give a minority view equal time in the class. I wouldn't because biology is full of exceptions to the rules so while most scientist believe HIV causes AIDS should I give a minority view like the Duesberg hypothesis (what a wack) equal time? All bacteria supposedly lack organelles and a nucleus (which is false they have an organelle related to phosphate metabolism and one species has a nuclear structure) but you won't see that in any Biology textbook like Campbell's Biology.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 07:53 am
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Tech

Apparently, the stats you found were from a 1987 Newsweek survey. In 1997, a similar survey of scientists was conducted and found that only 55 per cent of scientists believed in evolution as the sole explanation for life. 40 percent believed in theistic evolution, and 5 percent were outright creationists. So, you can see how this matter is "evolving" as scientists recognize the limits of evolution and scientism.

It took me all of 30 seconds to find those stats. Don't think your search for the truth was very thorough.

impossible
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impossible 06/02/12 - 08:40 am
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To totally debunk Gordon's
Unpublished

To totally debunk Gordon's letter, simply read and thoughtfully consider this sentence from her letter, "Science does not deal with faith explanations; rather, it attempts to explain the natural world by observations and testable theories that are subject to change and even rejection based on the evidence." (1) On evolution, the so-called scientists want us to accept their "theory” on the basis of faith alone, as there has been no evidence to support it. (2) Materialistic evolution, except for micro changes within a species, continues to fail the very standard proposed by Gordon.
Gordon and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State obviously agree with the government having established secular humanism as America's religion. They and the ACLU have had much success in separating God from our culture.
Gordon's letter is a great example of academic degenerartion affecting so many of our pseudo intellectuals as they "progress" from BS, to MS to Phd, the latter sometims being referred to as, "Piled higher and deeper."

TParty
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TParty 06/02/12 - 09:20 am
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Evolution could so easily be

Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colors, and the evidence out there is immense!!

Yes evolution is considered a theory- even though it's a fact, but you have to understand how the scientific and mathematic community work to understand why it's only a theory. Just loo at gravity which is only a theory too.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 09:43 am
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Problems remain

Well, all the "immense evidence" still cannot explain how life originated.

Even the current poster child for pure atheistic evolution, Richard Dawkins, admits random-chance evolution cannot explain the origin of life. Evolution has a big hole in it that no one can fill. I think that's why you see about half of the scientists inclining toward "theistic evolution" now -- i.e., God was both necessary and sufficient to create life originally.

Again, be very careful to differentiate between real science and the scientism of Dawkins et al. Maybe they should get together and write a sequel entitled, "The Scientism Delusion"?

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 09:44 am
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Dr. Gordon

I don't think Dr. Gordon's letter needs to be "debunked", just put into the proper perspective. There is no war between real science (pursuit of truth) and Christianity (pursuit and attainment of truth). How could there be? Both are marching toward the same goal. There's really no threat here for either one. Dr. Gordon does not need to defend science from faith, and Ms. Campbell does not need to defend faith from science.

But, scientism will in no way tolerate any religion whatsoever. If Dr. Gordon is defending scientism, then she's off base because her issues are more philosophical than factual.

TParty
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TParty 06/02/12 - 09:45 am
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I don't think even half of

I don't think even half of the science community is religious, I think it's like 15% of them say they believe in a god.

This scientism you speak of- the only problem with religion they (I guess myself included) have is that people say "God did it" as if that's enough to not go looking for the truth. This evolution for example- people read in the bible man came from god who formed us through mud, and women came from a rib so there is no way the apes are our cousins, no way are they a relative species to us.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is one of my heros said "I don't want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don't understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don't understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before."

Swampman
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Swampman 06/02/12 - 10:21 am
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Still fighting the Scopes Monkey Trial, huh?

Mitochondrial DNA analysis pretty well demonstrates that evolutionary relationships are a fact. The only reason scientists don't call it "proof" is that we are a long way from understanding the profoundly complex calculus of such a multi-faceted dynamic as evolution.

By the way, fossil indications that new species sometimes emerge rapidly in no way refutes evolutionary theory. The "slow change over time" postulate espoused in the typical high school science class is only one of a whole suite of processes driving evolutionary dynamics. Rapid changes in climatic conditions, for example, seem to have "punctuated" the rapid emergence of new species even as they produce widespread extinctions.

"Microevolution" vs. "macroevolution" is a non-starter argument. We are observing all evolution at a single moment in time. To put it simply, the former "begets" the latter.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 11:00 am
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TP

Here are the facts, according to a 2005 survey from lifesciences.com, pasted directly:

"About two-thirds of scientists believe in God, according to a new survey that uncovered stark differences based on the type of research they do.

The study, along with another one released in June, would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion."

They also go on to say that only 38% of natural scientists (chemistry, physics, biology) do NOT believe in God. So, that 62% of "hard-core" scientist do indeed admit to some belief in God.

You need to update what you think based upon these fairly recent statistics.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 11:22 am
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Swampman

That's all nice, but where did life come from? How did that that first primordial cell spark to life?

You can argue semantics all day, but there is a tremendous hole in evolutionary theory that cannot account for life today. Even Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, admits as much and tends to favor the hypothesis that life was seeded on earth by little green men. Until that hole is filled, evolution remains an incomplete theory in need of a starter.

As noted above, 62% of scientists believe God might indeed be that spark.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 11:14 am
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Dr. Tyson

Jesus would agree with Dr. Tyson that we must stretch our intellectual capacity and strive to understand. Christ specifically commands his followers to get their minds in gear and use their brains to the utmost capacity.

Again, real science has nothing to fear from Christianity, and vice versa.

Look at all the discoveries made by Christian scientists. I mentioned Newton above. The father of the U.S. space program, Dr. Werner von Braun said this:

"I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advance of science. There must be a design and purpose behind it all....The Bible remains in every way an up-to-date book. "

Looks like 62% of modern scientists fully agree with Dr. von Braun's assessment.

I'm not prepared to disagree with 2 out of every 3 scientists, and support the minority opinion of atheistic scientists.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 12:13 pm
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Actually macroevolution isn't

Actually macroevolution isn't microevolution but just smaller changes and shorter time periods. Mechanistically shifts in gene alleles (Dobhanzky's definition) or genetic changes correlate well with adaptations and speciation with the simple gene-centric view of microevolution. But macroevolution is large transitions in both structure and genomes which the modern synthesis alone cannot explain (numerous evolutionary biologist are disgusted with the gene centric notion because it isn't explanatory). Numerous articles now advocate pushing forward to continue the Modern Synthesis to include epigenetics (environments role) heirachial and multilevel selection examining gene and memes. These additions do address what shortcomings the genecentric theories lack. Evolution theoretically begins billions of years after life appeared with the Last Universal Common Ancestor which gave rise to bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes (plants and animals). The consensus is the LUCA was already complex and that simpler organisms evolved through gene loss. The origin of life is really a big black box with the majority advocating abiogenesis but there is a minority who believe life was planted from another source (not supernatural). The strongest evidence that life orginated elsewhere is the age of the genetic code is estimated at about the same age as the earth -which when the earth formed it was called the Hadean period for millions of years for a good reason and it is believed to be uninhabitable. I think the Evolution Wikipedia article addressed the issue and found something like 99.9% of Biological scientist accept evolution-other fields it varies. Perhaps you've heard of the Steve Project:Project Steve is a list of scientists with the given name Steven or a variation thereof (e.g., Stephanie, Stefan, Esteban, etc.) who "support evolution". It was originally created by the National Center for Science Education as a "tongue-in-cheek parody" of creationist attempts to collect a list of scientists who "doubt evolution," such as the Answers in Genesis' list of scientists who accept the biblical account of the Genesis creation narrative or the Discovery Institute's A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism. The list pokes fun at such endeavors to make it clear that, "We did not wish to mislead the public into thinking that scientific issues are decided by who has the longer list of scientists!" It also honors Stephen Jay Gould.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 12:20 pm
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But evolutionary biologist

But evolutionary biologist and the majority of biological scientist accept evolution and understand the developing theory-but they all argue over the details. Human evolution is the biggest quagmire-with multiregional and out of Africa both in contention with evidence for both. Most evolutionary biologist do agree, as posters comment, the present gene-centric view isn't explanatory for macroevolution. But the caveat is they don't stop and do address means and mechanisms to explain the larger macroevolutionary changes. Evodevo, in my humble opinion, will likely help us understand much of macroevolution.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 12:32 pm
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I could fill the pages of

I could fill the pages of newspaper with examples of evolution in bacteria, fence lizards, fruit flies, Stickleback Fish Supermodel, plants, and mammals. Scientist are measuring microevolution in real time as it correlates with genetic changes in the population, and scientist have recreated the genetic changes in wild type plants which created new hybrids and species-so they could re-invent a new species from a parent wild type. Evolution models work well in population genetic studies examining genetic changes in populations through successive generations.

Jake
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Jake 06/02/12 - 01:39 pm
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Way over my head

While I admit that I do not totally understand the science behind the evolution of the human species, I do tend to believe the "scientific" explanation as opposed to the "abbra-cadabbra" suddenly you are here belief. Does man really have one less rib or did God give him an extra one knowing he was going to take it for use later? Why did God wait to give Adam some company if he/she/it is all knowing? Was Adam having too much fun so he decided to give him a wife?

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 02:20 pm
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clarification, again

If nothing else, it's been nice to dispel some very common misconceptions about science and religion.

Techfan: The percentage of scientists who reject evolution must be only 0.15 %.

Fact: According to a more recent study, nearly HALF of scientists do not believe that blind, random chance (i.e., evolution) could possibly have created life as we know it.

TParty: 15% of scientists believe in God

FACT: According to a 2005 survey, 62% of natural scientists state a belief in God.

Old stereotypes are difficult to kill.

Ironic that so many of the great scientists of old were staunch believers in God. Then, the advent of Darwinism made it popular for scientists to disavow a belief in God (and conveniently, they were now free to set their own moral standards and live as they chose with no strings attached). Hence, the furious objection to anything that might even suggest evolution can't be all there is.

Now, it appears that the pendulum is swinging back where the more we understand about the complexity of the universe and about the mechanisms of life, the more obvious is the idea that a Great Intelligence must be behind it all. Never in his wildest dreams could Darwin have imagined the unimaginable complexity of even a single cell. Simply a freak accident of nature guided by random chance alone?

In the words of Nobel Laureate Dr. Arthur Schawlow, who was awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize for Physics because of his research on laser spectoscopy, "I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life."

Yet people are so ready to reject the words of this brilliant scientist, but easily buy into the ideas of Richard Dawkins (even though he has a fairly dismal record of scientific publications) who writes books about a God that he doesn't understand in the least.

Science brings us closer to God. Scientism rejects God and seeks to grab any straw that promises to make God irrelevant.

But, as John Blanchard entitled his excellent book, "Does God Really Believe in Atheists? "

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 03:16 pm
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Here is an interesting MSNBC

Here is an interesting MSNBC article (don't castigate it yet) about evolution acceptance in the US: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46076744/ns/technology_and_science-science/t...
I think this idea has merit. Microevolutionary changes and shifts in gene alleles in population make sense and correlate with evolutionary outcomes (just examining dog breeds and artificial selection supports this kind of evolution of all being derived from domestication of the wolf) but macroevolution where an organism once classified as reptile has now changed enough to be classified as mammal or protostome to deuterostome transition doesn't seem as intrinsically obvious. All just a gut feeling. Which is really remarkable because humans are classified as intuitive animals (not by our intelligence) and likely this same intuitiveness seeds creativity-humans are strange creatures. I think people generally don't understand why sharks, horseshoe crabs, and other living fossils haven't changed in hundreds of millions of years yet we measure evolution of fence post lizards responding to fire ant infestations in the last ten years or fruit flies responding to artificial insectides in the last 50 years. So I can go on and on splainin'the differences but likely it would just make people more questioning, gut respond, and less accepting. It has been my experience with Biological scientist with PhD that most are atheist and totally accept evolution. In fact, I can only count two who claimed faith in my whole life.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 03:09 pm
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Ostriches

People -- especially Christians -- cannot play the ostrich and stick their heads in the sand at the mere mention of the E-word (evolution).

Evolution -- at least in terms of interspecies variation -- is real. It's there all around us. You cannot deny that this is an important mechanism of inherent plasticity with which the Creator has endowed creation.

Christians do themselves a great disservice by covering their ears and running when anyone mentions evolution. It's OK to discuss it, and admit that many aspects of it are real. All the fuss just makes Christians appear as anti-science and anti-reason. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just agree with the "experts" that sure, natural selection is alive and well in the world today, but that evolution alone is insufficient to explain the existence and complexity of life on earth. I really think we can all agree on that -- once prejudices are discarded and we're open to the truth.

Bizkit
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Bizkit 06/02/12 - 03:27 pm
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Good posits Howcanyouknow. It

Good posits Howcanyouknow. It like a crime scene where all see the same scene but all have varying opinions of what happened. But here there is a fundamental difference in world view. I think we can say with impunity that all life has a common origin because all uses a similar genetic code and other commonalities of all life that science has suggested, but from here you can go in any number of directions. Most good evolutionary biologist wouldn't say evolution cannot explain but just they haven't discovered or found evidence to support an explanation as of yet. It's the process man, gimme yo money so I can study it. Like-Now we likely have feathered T Rex. Say what??? A nightmare now sounds more like a cock-a-too, struttin' round like a turkey.

harley_52
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harley_52 06/02/12 - 05:05 pm
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It's all way over my head

It's all way over my head too, Jake. I'm not a scientist and I didn't even play one on TV. I believe in evolution and natural selection, but I have no doubt about God's hand in the process as well. I certainly don't think it's all an accident.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/02/12 - 03:42 pm
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Thanks, but I'm sure no

Thanks, but I'm sure no expert on evolution. Understand just the basics. I appreciate those who know more and help us all to understand.

But, I'm certainly not afraid of it like many Christians seem to be. Both Psalms and the writings of Paul tell us very plainly that the more we know and understand about the universe and how things work, the more obvious the fingerprint of a Creator should be.

It's nice to see scientists now coming back to that realization. I just wish more Christians would embrace it instead of panicking to "Run away! Run away!"

Bruno
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Bruno 06/02/12 - 08:21 pm
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Howcanwe know gave a good

Howcanwe know gave a good clarification in the first response. science can in fact be a religion. Personally I think that too many people hold evolution and creationism as diametrically opposed or mutually exclusive ideas when it is entirely possible that they are both correct.

sconservative
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sconservative 06/03/12 - 09:29 am
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The evolution idea is not science

The evolution idea is not science and should not be taught in a science classroom. Any idea about origins cannot be observed or tested. Any idea taught as science should be both observable and testable. Otherwise it is conjecture. There is enough good science that can be taught, that guesses should be relegated to outside-class discussions. Secular Humanism has been labeled a religion - rightfully so - and teaches that the universe is self-existing and not created. John Dewey made certain that this was taught to his teacher candidates and propagated to the sheeple.

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