INTRODUCING A PRICKLY ISSUE
GTN exists to ensure that the case for God in our scientific and technological age is clearly heard and understood.
GTN is a very broad ‘church’ embracing Christians from diverse backgrounds and denominations. They have a common interest in speaking with one voice to emphasise – based on evidence - that science does not lead to atheism. The initiative aims to increase Christians’ confidence and encourage engagement with secular atheism in society. Matters on which individuals or denominations differ are considered secondary to these objectives. This is neither timidity nor cowardice but an attempt to demonstrate that the whole church (or as much of it as will walk with us) can speak with one voice – at least on this important topic.
Evolution and Intelligent Design
Even so, we recognise that there is at least one perplexing difficulty which tends to set apart some theists from other theists, some scientists from other scientists. It is the prickly issue of Intelligent Design vs (Theistic) Evolution – now commonly known as Evolutionary Creationism.
So What’s the Problem?
“Words, words, words” sighed Hamlet in response to a question from Polonius in Shakespeare’s play. Indeed words can be almost as problematic as they are wonderful and necessary. Take ‘intelligent design’. It’s difficult to conceive of a Christian who does not readily accept that the wonders of creation exhibit the characteristics of intentionality - one might say intelligence - and that, after some manner, it was intended to be this way.
So what’s the problem? And what is typically the cause of division?
The problem is NOT a difference of opinion about whether or not there is a creator of the universe, nor is it a question about the value of science; both sides respect science.
There is NO dispute about the fact that our existence is almost inexplicably wonderful. The main difficulty arises in relation to how one answers two related questions – especially in the context of biology.
(Notably Christian faith does not rest on the answer to either.) So why do these two questions matter and why potentially do some answers cause division?
Getting to the Heart of It: Divergent Views on the Explanatory Power of Evolution
Intelligent Design advocates are prone to considerable scepticism about the explanatory power of evolution, most especially in relation to how one species may give way to the rise of another (macro evolution) through a series of mutations and natural selections. Hence question (a) above.
The orthodox scientific belief is that the whole diversity of life can be explained by evolution by natural selection and that it is the best explanation we have about how the creator has achieved his divine purpose.
A Question of Complexity
But there is more separating the two positions.
Intelligent Design advocates typically argue that there are some fundamental biological entities which are too intricate and complex to be satisfactorily explained by random mutation and natural selection. The direct involvement of a designer is inferred.
Intelligent Design advocates argue that using scientific criteria design can be clearly inferred even from minutiae in the natural world. Hence question (b) above.
Opponents of this inference not only argue that the biological journey to such intricate complexity can be understood but that ID proponents are in danger of putting God in the gap of our understanding. Science is committed to filling in those gaps, where they exist.
Smuggling God in by the Back Door?
There is another concern frequently expressed by Christians who are advocates of the orthodox evolutionary paradigm: that, in claiming God is the explanation of things which science might struggle to explain, the Intelligent Design movement opens up the way for those hostile to Christian faith - and theism in general - to argue that God is being smuggled in to science by the back door and by arguments that are not purely scientific. Some scientists who are Christians are deeply sensitive about being associated with such a view.
Can We Grasp This Nettle?
Recognising that the debate can cause restrictive division among Christians, GTN’s leadership has reflected for some time on how a bridge might be built to provide respectful and clearly structured dialogue on the subject.
How Can It Be Done?
In the end the suggestion was made that two scientifically literate supporters of GTN should be invited to discuss publicly with each other their diverse views on the key issues. As a priority we will also seek establish how much they have in common. The Main Contributors
We are enormously grateful to Dr Alan Fraser and Dr Antony Latham who have kindly agreed to be the key contributors to the discussion which will be lightly ‘chaired’ and guided.
The discussion will take place in this newly established forum on the GTN website.
And you are invited not only to follow the discussion but in due course also to contribute questions and views which will become part of the fabric of the discussion.
The first exchange between Alan and Antony is scheduled soon.
“Respectful dialogue” means demonstrating grace as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith. Whatever your stance we welcome gracious, thoughtful contributions. The Church desperately needs to learn how to discuss important issues with charity and humility.
So… Welcome to GTN’s latest forum “Building a Bridge”.