Skip to comments.God, Science [evolution], and the Kooky Kansans Who Love them Both
Posted on 12/08/2005 7:57:08 PM PST by curiosity
Turns out, Paul Mirecki might be a prophet.
Or, Mirecki the Kansas University professor who caught considerable hell for smack-talking religious fundamentalists might at least be a spot-on social analyst.
We interviewed Mirecki, chair of the KU religious studies department, about the modern-day tension between science and religion shortly after the Kansas Board of Educations controversial November vote to revise classroom science standards.
That was more than a week before his controversial email in which he referred to himself as Evil Dr. P and called fundamentalists fundies was publicized.
At that time, he didnt know that conservative lawmakers soon would call for his job. He didnt know that, as even more divisive emails turned up, he would become a national figure in the ongoing hullabaloo over evolution, religion and education.
But when we asked for his take on the modern-day tension between science and religion, he attributed it not to genuine human soul-searching but to a political movement to change society. And he said that more turmoil was afoot.
Its basically politics, he said. This is only the beginning.
Only the beginning indeed.
After Mireckis emails surfaced, the science and religion debate flared up again, with his proposed class Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies and email about that class serving as fuel on the fire:
The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category mythology.
His words outraged conservatives and others, and a horde of nationalmedia outlets, including Fox News Hannity and Colmes, sought interviewswith the professor.
He declined them all, but the fundies email traveled worldwide, becoming a featured quote in the latest issue of Time magazine.
Mirecki apologized for his words and later withdrew from teaching the course. But there was little forgiveness State Sen. Kay OConnor said he has hate in his heart. Other state legislators questioned KUs integrity and the professors competence. Mireckis boss, Chancellor Robert Hemenway, called the e-mails repugnant and vile. And Monday, Mirecki said that he was treated and released from the hospital after being beaten by two people who were making references to the controversy that had propelled him into the headlines.
Lawrence Journal-World poll, Oct. 9
Tracking the coverage surrounding Mirecki, one might gather that Kansas is a hotbed of civil war. It would seem theres an impassable rift between the God-fearing and the God-doubting. Between the far right and the far left. Between two caricatures: the religious crusader and the atheistic intellectual.
Yet two-thirds of respondents to a recent Lawrence Journal-World poll reported believing in evolution theory and God.
Could it be, then, that Mirecki was right? That an issue seemingly close to the human heart has been hijacked and exploited in the public sphere?
We set out to find whats really going on, from the most basic level of term definition to the cognitive formation of belief systems. We talked to a biologist, a religious studies scholar (guess who), a Christian pastor, a cognitive psychologist, the founding creator of the Explore Evolution exhibit at the KU Natural History Museum, exhibit visitors, a former Christian fundamentalist and a blogger of Kansas politics.
Interestingly, most of them said the same thing. We give you our findings.
Note: Our process was not scientific, and the results arent quantifiable (though we do have a lot of interviews on tape).
Another note: Holders of many religious and spiritual beliefs may struggle to reconcile their ideologies with science. But, to our knowledge, the current political debate involves no evolution-wary Wiccans, nor fundamentalist Buddhists, Jews or Spaghetti Monsterists. So the discussion here focuses on organized religion and, specifically, Christianity.
Leonard Krishtalka thinks people are confused about what science is.
Throughout the current evolution debate and the opening of the new exhibit, the director of the KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center has told the local press that mis-definition is at the root of the current uproar.
Science, he points out, deals with natural phenomena and is based on testing of evidence; religion deals with the supernatural, and is based on faith. Furthermore, science deals with how the world works, while religion deals with why.
Photo by Sarah Smarsh
Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center
The two are separate in mission and approach by a definite, wide gulf, Krishtalka tells us. They should not be mixed. Religion should not practice science, and science should not practice religion.
But its a modern mandate, this separation of the tangible world and intangible gods. The Enlightenment happened just a few centuries ago, and humans have been constructing meaning and mythology since the time of cavemen.
So says religious studies scholar Karen Armstrong, author of the new book "A Short History of Myth". She writes: In our scientific culture, we often have rather simplistic notions of the divine. In the ancient world, the gods were rarely regarded as supernatural beings ... People thought that gods, humans, animals and nature were inextricably bound up together ... There was initially no ontological gulf between the world of the gods and world of men and women.
Mirecki agrees that the current demarcation between the natural and supernatural is anomalous in our vast human history.
People didnt really deal with this issue in the ancient world, he says. None of the Biblical writers dealt with it, because they never even conceived there would be a difference between the two.
Mirecki says we need to clearly delineate not just science and religion but knowledge and belief.
Youll often hear fundamentalists say, Science is a religion, Darwin is the high priest, and you have to have faith to believe in evolution. This is just nonsense, Mirecki says. I dont believe in evolution. I accept the findings of scientists. Theres a big difference between the two.
For Rev. Peter Luckey, pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, the important distinction is between types of truth. Those who would insert Intelligent Design alongside evolution theory in textbooks are comparing apples and oranges, he says.
Photo by Sarah Smarsh
Rev. Peter Luckey, pastor at Plymoth Congregational Church in Lawrence
Religion asks questions of meaning, of purpose. Why was the universe created? Scientists cant give us the answers to questions of purpose. They can give us some theories about how the universe was created. But they cant get at the why questions. Thats really the province of religion, Luckey says.
I think the great fallacy of fundamentalists is that they want to put religious truth and scientific truth on the same plane and say theyre the same kind of truth and that theyre in conflict with each other. I dont think the fundamentalists are able to accept the fact that religious truth is truth of a different kind.
Growing up among a Pentecostal congregation in Andover, Kan., Burt Humburg learned extreme views on God and the world. According to his charismatic church, Jews and homosexuals were doomed, the world was flat and evolution theory was blasphemy.
Now a graduate of KU Medical School and an internal medicine resident at Penn State College of Medicine, Humburg remains a Christian. Hes also an evolution advocate and member of Kansas Citizens for Science, an organization that has fought the rewriting of state science standards. But reconciling his religious roots with his scientific knowledge required some redefining.
The God I was taught about as a fundamentalist Christian is not compatible with what I learned in the world, Humburg says. The understanding of God I have now is compatible with science.
He says his current understanding, theistic evolutionism, disarms the bomb of conflict between science and God. Theistic evolutionism embraces scientific findings about the natural world, but allows that some force albeit one that cant be proved by science created that world.
No matter what science says, God could still be behind it all. Behind everything, Humburg says of theistic-evolution theory. What appears random, blind, uncaring, aloof thats our inability to discern Gods purpose.
Though she may not have heard the term theistic evolutionist, thats just the philosophy that KU freshman Stephanie Strinko brought to the Explore Evolution exhibit, a hands-on look at the development of several species.
The way I look at is, God created the pieces way in the beginning, and they came together, Strinko says. They evolved on their own, but He put them there.
Another exhibit visitor, Lawrence resident Lisa Pazdernick, brought her four-year-old son to learn about evolutionary biology. Pazdernick, an OB/GYN, grew up as a Catholic intrigued with comparative anatomy.
I never thought one made the other impossible, Pazdernick says. My parents explained it to me that we dont know Gods timeline. We dont know what his seven days were.
Religion and reason
On their way out of the exhibit, visitors may contribute written feedback about their experiences. The comment cards are meant to gauge visitors reactions to evolution theory at KU and the exhibits six other locations, says exhibit creator and University of Nebraska professor Judy Diamond.
Were interested in how this exhibit is going to affect ways of thinking, Diamond says. Its not going to turn a creationist into an evolutionist, but it may cause small shifts in understanding.
E. Margaret Evans, author of "Teaching and Learning about Evoution"
Comment cards from all exhibit locations will be analyzed by a team of researchers, including E. Margaret Evans, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Michigan.
Evans already conducted formative research to help create the exhibit. After interviewing randomly selected visitors to seven similar exhibits in Nebraska, Michigan and Oklahoma, she concluded that evolution theory is met by three types of reasoners naturalistic reasoners, who rely on an informed scientific view; novice naturalistic reasoners, who blend some knowledge of evolution with creationist views; and creationist reasoners, who rely solely on creationist views.
My research has demonstrated that most people are mixed reasoners, says Evans, who estimates that 10 percent of Americans are evolutionists, 10 percent are creationists, and 80 percent are some combination of the two.
Evans says its a misconception that inconsistency causes human beings psychological turmoil.
We can deal with contradictions, Evans says. We can go to church and then go to science class.
The capacity to deal with contradiction varies among people, though. Some, for example, accept the evolution of butterflies, but not of humans, Evans says. Accepting human evolution would be too uncomfortable for them in the face of religious teachings, she says. To demonstrate the cognitive process, she describes human interpretation of an ant gathering food. People may characterize the ants behavior as planning, working toward a goal, when in fact the behavior is purely instinctual.
We imbue the world with meaning that everything has a purpose, Evans says. Thats why people have a profound feeling of discomfort when confronted with evolution. If youre going to have purpose, youre not going to get that from science. And as science develops, its bringing out these contradictions with the way we view the world.
Many people are content with those contradictions, according to Evanss chapter in Diamonds new book, "The Virus and the Whale: Exploring Evolution in Creatures Large and Small". Evans writes, Religion and evolution are perfectly compatible, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Biblical literalism.
Now clearly there is no way that evolution is compatible with fundamentalism, she says.
Religious studies professor Mirecki says that, while a lot of Christians today read the Bible in the light of modern discoveries, it would be impossible to reconcile literal interpretations of the Bible with todays science.
These major religions today that are very popular in the U.S. are based on an ancient, pre-scientific worldview where people express their ideas using impressionistic images, parables, poetic language, says Mirecki, who likens the current hoopla over evolution to 17th-century Catholic resistance of Galileos findings. The church refused to accept his theory that the Earth was round and not the center of the universe.
One of the main arguments against him was that the Bible says so many times that the sun goes across the Earth, Mirecki says. Were still trying to live in this modern, scientific, technocratic world and still hold onto these ideas that go back three, four, five thousand years.
Lawrence pastor Luckey says that many of those ancient ideas are valuable after all this time. Stories of a seven-day creation, stories of flood theyre relevant even to the non-fundamentalist Christian, he says.
We dont look at these as stories that reveal the factual truth, Luckey says. We look at them as stories that reveal a religious truth. About life, about existence, about our relationship with God.
He cites the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.
Did woman come out of Adams rib? No. But does the story speak to the truth about the human condition, that human beings are creatures, that human beings have temptations, that human beings are tested in their lives? Yes, it does. It speaks to the deep truth about how we are and what our nature is. So the story is true, even if its not factually correct.
Finding Darwins God
Evolution advocate Humburg says that, while religious people reconcile their beliefs with science, many scientists conversely seek religious and spiritual meaning.
As human beings, we dont have to be scientists with every step we take. I love my brother. But no ones going to prove that scientifically, Humburg says. The biggest atheists in the world, Im sure, have made decisions in the absence of empirical evidence. Like marriage. Marriage is an act of faith. We all use faith. Its not a dirty word.
One of Humburgs fellow members of Kansas Citizens for Science, famed blogger Josh Rosenau, admits that scientists tend to keep their thoughts on faith and God private.
Many scientists seek to explain Gods world through science they just dont talk about it, says Rosenau, a KU graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology. Religion is a personal thing. You spend your days looking at empirical evidence, but you cant base religion on empirical evidence. Ultimately, theres what you feel in your heart, and thats the evidence. Natural History Museum director and biologist Krishtalka doesnt offer his personal view on the existence of God, but he does discuss the magnificence he sees in the natural world.
That all organisms have a humble, yet in my opinion magnificent, genetic heritage that stretches back 4 billion years on a magnificent tree of life that indeed makes us special.
Krishtalka says that by attempting to place science and religion on the same plane public school classrooms Intelligent Design proponents have created unnecessary conflict.
This is about politics. This is about the insertion of fundamentalism into the nations laws and education, Krishtalka says. It is this brand of fundamentalism that deliberately, through demagoguery, causes religion and science to clash. It does a great disservice to both science and religion. They are harming both institutions, both ways of thought.
Josh Rosenau, "Thoughts from Kansas" blogger
Evolutionary biology student Rosenau fights politics with politics. Last year he created a blog, Thoughts from Kansas, to track state political developments, mostly relating to the evolution debate. The blog is a huge hit, solidified by attention from Slate.com, and Rosenau recently won The Pitchs 2005 award for best blogger. He doubts that a less objective, more personal blog would have been so successful.
You can construct politics in a broad way. How I see it personally doesnt necessarily affect how other people see it, Rosenau says. My goal is not to argue with people. My hope is to engage them in an issue.
Rosenau says the debate too often is categorized as atheists vs. Bible-beating hicks.
Thats not constructive, he says.
Humburg, on the other hand, uses his unique story to connect with people on both sides of the issue. As a medical doctor with a fundamentalist-Christian past, he sees contributing to the political battle as a personal endeavor.
It is kind of a Christian mission. Some people do their missions in Guatemala. I spread the word of science. How God is cool with it. He doesnt expect us to check our brains at the door to church.
One such mission occurred in September at an anti-evolution meeting in Dover, Penn. The meeting convened amid a federal trial between Dover residents and the local school board, which voted to include Intelligent Design in a revised curriculum. When the meetings organizer claimed that teaching evolution leads to atheism, Humburg objected a dramatic, Scopes-ian moment documented in a recent issue of The Nation.
Humburg says anti-evolutionists claim the education battle is about a balanced curriculum, when in fact its about fear.
What theyre actually saying is, Evolution threatens my understanding of God, says Humburg, who admits that a similar sense led him to participate in the political discussion.
Here I am as an M.D., Humburg says. Anything that undermines science is a threat to me. Be it politics, religion, Intelligent Design. As a scientist, I should have something to say about that.
Humburg points to another Kansas Citizens for Science member, Keith Miller, as a political activist who believes in science, religion and separation of the two. Miller, a paleontology professor at Kansas State University, has addressed the topic at state and national levels and edited the related book "Perspectives on an Evolving Creation."
As it turns out, Miller sums up our unscientific findings in a note at the bottom of his personal university Web page:
The public Creation/Evolution debate has been destructive to both the public understanding of science and to the discussion of important theological issues within the Christian community. The widespread perception of a warfare of science and faith is an historically false caricature. Christian theologians and scientists, including evangelicals, since the time of Darwin have seen no necessary conflict between orthodox theology and an evolutionary understanding of the history of life. Modern science is not a threat to Christian faith, and people need not feel forced into a choice between evolution and Creation.
Faith and Science Ping.
You may find this interesting.
We can deal with contradictions, Evans says. We can go to church and then go to science class.
Interesting article. But I don't think believing in God and studying science are contradictory from one another.
Let's see - John Brown started the civil war in Eastern Kansas and exported it to Harpers Ferry, Brown VS the Board of Education was started by a KC.KC attorney whose housekeeper's family was in Topeka public schools, and now we have academicians vs the public right to religion. Looks like Kansas is as big as you think (their crummy motto)
Didn't the Nazis embrace paganism and Wagnerian romanticism and anti-Christian theology in their drive to creat the uber man? And weren't a bunch of top Nazis butch gays who even persecuted their more effeminate brethren?
Universities are breeding grounds for radial secular humanism - an anti christian theology protected by the state and therefore is our new state religion. Mirecki is a symptom of the greater problem.
"absolutely no way" "patently ridiculous theory of evolution"?
Richard Rubenstein, professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University, and author of `When Jesus Became God' (a Publishers Weekly Best Religion book) Harvard graduate, Oxford University, Rhodes scholar and Harvard law school--and thousands of other learned people--might question your imperative, categorical statement on an ontological, teleological or cosmological basis, as you wish.
From his latest book, "Aristotle's Children, Harcourt Inc., 2003, page 298:
"Reason could transform the earth, if only science and technology were inspired and guided by a new global morality. Faith would expand and mature, if only the world's religions addressed themselves to the long-term trends in society and nature, and helped create that global majority. And--since the split between faith and reason divides each of us against himself--we could become more loving and useful to each other and more satisfied with ourselves, if only we could integrate these fundamental aspects of our being."
I suppose as sentient beings with an understanding of right and wrong, we will still probably continue trading shots like: 'Intelligent Design' is a pseudo-science for crackpots, or that evolution--as far as it goes, hard science--is "wishful thinking", instead of attempting to advance cogently to our Maker our claim to return to the garden and eat from that other tree, the Tree of Life.
One is that Mirecki has a personalized license plate that reads "MIRECKI" or the "EVILDRP," his online nom de guerre
Searching google for EVILDRP does not help his case at all.
I agree with you. The sentence you quoted I found objectionable. But the rest was pretty good, I think.
ping to read later
Build on the resentment that libertarians (cultural liberals) feel when they realize they have to share a table with unfamiliars like conservative Christians--throw around the "theocrat" libel and "know nothing" ( appeal to intellectual snobbery/vanity). There's nothing that scares an "educated" libertarian more than being thought stupid or unsophisticated.
Try to make Republican pols disavow, shun or otherwise betray religious conservatives (make Santorum a target?) so that a few religious conservatives stay home instead of vote.
All it takes is a few, after all.
There you go--Democratic majority in the Senate. And all they had to do was call a few Christians a few bad names.
I'd be willing to bet that George Soros might even front a little money for such a project.
I have a feeling that after this week, Kansas will draw back from the abyss. They're a little loonier than Nebraskans down there, but violence, or even just allegations of violence, over a college course is something that will make them think seriously. I haven't posted this here, but some Kansas Republicans just formed a group to take the party back from the fundamentalist fringe. About time.
Thanks for the ping!
Not all conservative Christians are creationists. Worldwide, most are smart enough to realize that there is no necessary conflict between Darwinian evolution and the Fatih. It's only in America where they've been hoodwinked into believing that their faith compels them to reject reason.
And you don't have to be a libertarian to value sound science. I'd venture to say many, if not most pro-evolution freepers would reject the libertarian label.
I saw this with the greatest respect, and a little trepedation because most Christians that believe in evolution are ~SINCERE~ Christians, but they are ~wrong~ where they're theology is concerned (and therefore wrong on the truth of what is 6-day-literal-creation-by-miracle-by-God!
Evolution (macro-evolution) Naturalistic, can not be Compatable with The Bible becuase if YOU as a 'Christian' believe in the Bible (and in Genesis) wherein God claims that He ~created~ the world in 6-Literal days (YES THAT WOULD BE A MIRACLE/ or Demonstration of God's POWER), then HOW CAN YOU THEN CLAIM THAT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE WHAT GOD SAYS IN GENESIS (And deny his power to do miracles in Genesis-Origins), and then claim that Later Miracles by God happened (Did God change, did His POWER?...). How can you claim that YOU know that Christ miraculously ROSE from the Grave, but not that GOD WAS TELLING THE TRUTH IN GENESIS (..and by Hebrew Language, the cleares/plainest reading of GENESIS says that God Created-The-World In 6 Literal Days..)?
ANSWER me? Will YOU be consistent? DID HE DO IT OR NOT!?
Genesis says that God commanded the earth to bring forth grass, "And the earth brought forth grass." How can this be reconciled with Intelligent Design? This seems to be a clear statement of abiogenesis.