Yesterday, I attended, and gave testimony at the Texas State Board of Education meeting. The issue in front of them was whether to accept textbooks provided by the textbook publishers as they have presented them, or whether they should require that they alter them according to comments made by reviewers.
Of course, this being Texas, many of the reviewers’ comments were aimed at areas where they were simply not subject area experts, and proposed to “teach the controversy.”
You know. The old “evolution vs. intelligent design” junk.
The problem is, within any scientific body of merit, evolution is not under controversy. Certainly the methods by which evolution manifests can be; but to say that evolution isn’t real is to be blind to the mountains of evidence that support the theory; while “intelligent design,” or “creationism” isn’t supported by any scientific evidence at all.
Maybe there’s a philosophical argument that God works though evolution; but I am not prepared to say definitively what, if anything, God decided to do with His infinite free time. I suspect He watches a lot of Reality TV – minus the TV.
There were amazing speakers there, from microbiologists to accomplished lawyers – I felt intellectually outmatched and the sophistication of the arguments (at least the ones on the side of science) made my little prepared testimony seem weak in comparison.
But I left the meeting feeling that nothing was accomplished. I don’t believe anyone exited that room with an opinion that was different than the one they came in with.
Let’s be frank for a second: Faith is a powerful motivator. It is very hard to convince someone that they’re wrong on the facts when they believe it is a moral duty to insist their side is right.
Because to a believer, faith is a virtue. Indeed, the highest virtue. And evolution may not challenge God’s throne, but it challenges a highly held belief that God created man as the apex of life on Earth. To suggest that man holds no special place amongst the beasts – that our rationality was not the spark of divine creation but the machinations of blind terrestrial navigation belies the idea that God places us first among all his creations.
And it humbles us. It humbles us because there is no guarantee that mankind will or can remain the apex of God’s creation, and that should we falter and face ecological or nuclear Armageddon, He may save our souls, but not our species.
Some people, quite frankly, can’t handle that.
The argument has been made that evolution is in contrast to faith. This is not true. But what is true is that evolution tests faith. The fact of evolution is incontrovertible and supported by mounds of empirical evidence. Faith, on the other hand, is fragile. It is supported only by the strength of human will.
And this is where it gets tricky. Because to many believers, faith, not works, is the only guarantee that one can pass God’s litmus test and gain access to His divine kingdom. To lose one’s faith is to literally damn oneself. So tests to that faith must be avoided at all costs. Better to be a philosophical coward than a theological failure.
I have always known that no sane, benevolent God would create a cosmos where faith was an absolute requirement for salvation, yet also create a universe for his creations where that faith was constantly challenged. Such a god would be cruel; and by no means worthy of the title of God.I do not hold to that.
Instead, consider the possibility God wants us to grow. He wants to push us towards greater understanding. And the only way we’re going to learn is if He lets us figure it out for ourselves.
There may be blind turns, dead ends, and mistakes. There may be long strides forward, followed by heartbreaking setbacks. But such a God would want us to ask Him questions. And the way to do that is to seek the answers to those questions in His creation. Every time we turn away from the question, every time we remain purposefully blind to the contradiction, every time we patch holes in our ignorance with “God did it,” without following up with the question “How did God do it?” is a far more disappointing result to Him than blindly holding faith.
We learn through our successes, and we learn through failure. And no God worth the name would punish a man or woman who tried to hold faith and failed.
I seem to have digressed – back to the point at hand. From a practical matter, I think the SBOE meeting was a bit of a waste – I doubt that anyone was swayed by the arguments – that those members who knew of the importance of science in science instruction were emboldened knowing that the majority of people out there who cared about the issue supported them; but that the members who did not felt pride in taking on such a large opposition. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have gone en mass, and shouldn’t have spoken, but that is politics; individuals rationally act in collectively irrational ways.
The only thing that I could try to do to change the status quo there was to try to convince those members whose faith was strong that there was an argument based in faith that they had not considered. And so I delivered this testimony.
Written Testimony authored by Brian Boyko
State Board of Education Committee of the Full Board Public Hearing – Instructional Materials
September 17, 2013
Subject: Instructional Materials.
I’m a geek; and as such, you can probably guess how I feel about religion and science. These are two different fields of study; the Bible cannot teach you how the universe works, and Science cannot tell you what constitutes a life well lived.
But all of you know this. I could make the scientific argument, of course, but I think some of you may be unconvinced by it. Instead, I’d like to make the theological argument against merging science and religion.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas, the author of the Summa Theologica. I really like Aquinas; he applied Socratic thought and reason to the study of theology. He lived in the 13th century but had a mind ahead of his time. Aquinas famously said that “reason in man is rather like God in the world.” I can get behind the sentiment.
There’s one point he made in that work that applies to the topic today, and that is that Theology is the most speculative of all philosophy. Its source is Divine knowledge, and because of the greater worth of its subject matter, the sublimity of it transcends human reason.
Transcends Human Reason.
Aquinas also said that “wonder is the desire of knowledge” – and both Science and Philosophy seek to fulfill that desire. But Science has a limit – science is limited only to human Reason. Anything that transcends human reason, therefore, cannot be science.
And to attempt to force the Divine – which transcends reason – into the small confines of reason alone, not only makes a general mess of Science, but also diminishes the Divine. To lower the supernal to the study of the terrestrial is, well, blasphemous.
The Bible has a place in schools; that place is in literature and philosophy. But not science.
I leave you with this final thought: “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”
You can probably guess who said that.
I don’t know if it did any good. I do know this: sometimes, you have to try anyway.