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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Reasons to Believe: Old Earth Creation ministry thumbs down on Expelled film

Politics makes strange bedfellows - and strange divorces too, to judge from Reasons to Believe's reaction to the Expelled film. Hugh Ross, a Canadian-born astronomer, founded Reasons to Believe, an old-earth creation ministry aimed at scientists, has gone out of his way to distance himself from the film and its implications: Refusing to endorse the film, the key Reasons guys say,
In Reasons To Believe's interaction with professional scientists, scientific institutions, universities, and publishers of scientific journals we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. As we have persisted in publicly presenting our testable creation model in the context of the scientific method, we have witnessed an increasing openness on the part of unbelieving scientists to offer their honest and respectful critique.
Our main concern about EXPELLED is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn't match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.

- Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, Jeff Zweerink, David Rogstad, and Kenneth Samples
As a matter of fact, RtB also supported the Dover anti-ID ruling and claimed that intelligent design theory is not science.

What might be going on here? A little background: I first ran into Ross a while back when I did a cover story on science and faith issues for Faith Today (Canada's evangelical glossy) (July/August 1999 - not on line yet). At the time, I was only beginning to investigate these controversies in any depth, and I did not then realize the significance of the fact that Ross was an "old earth creationist" rather than an intelligent design theorist.

Basically, old earth creationists believe that the universe and Earth are billions of years old, but they also hold that there were acts of divine creation, including the origin of life and of modern humans. (Young earth creationists interpret the first book of the Bible, Genesis, literally and believe that Earth was created in six days and is 6000 years old.)

Intelligent design theorists are not committed to any creation view as such. They say that the universe and life forms show clear evidence of design, as demonstrated by much higher levels of specified information than can be created either by the laws of physics and chemistry or by random changes since the Big Bang. Whether an aspect of the design of life required an act of direct creation is a separate question from whether it required design. Perhaps all the design was encoded at the Big Bang and thereafter it simply unfolded. But it is there and it is detectible.

Years ago, a historian of science told me that, so far as he could see, most old earth creationists were morphing into intelligent design theorists. That's easy enough to do because the ID theorists don't argue that direct creation cannot occur. It's just not the focus of their work.

Another factor is that Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis (the young earth creationists) have been duking it out for years, again drawing off resources in a messy sectarian struggle. All this leaves Reasons to Believe struggling to retain a reason to exist, except to oppose other groups - a common fate of groups caught in the middle.

All the same, I'm puzzled by the claim in the quotation above that they have encountered "no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect." I invited an RtB-trained speaker speaker to address my U of T course on why there is an intelligent design controversy last fall, and he talked quote openly about the persecution of ID theorists.

Not only that, but Guillermo Gonzalez is an astronomer, like Hugh Ross and, as several scientists have pointed out to me, Ross must surely know about the e-mail trail that showed that Gonzalez was refused tenure at Iowa State University on account of his sympathies for design, not his academic record. (Gonzalez has since found an assistant professorship at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, starting August 1, 2008.)

From what I know of highly politicized situations, Reasons to Believe has not encountered significant opposition largely because it is becoming irrelevant.

Update: April 28, 2008: See also my comment on the irrelevance to science of RtB's "creation model" versus the relevance of design theory.

Here's the view of ID theorist Bill Dembski on previous RtB efforts to distance itself from the ID theorist, and here's a more general comment on creationists vs. ID theorists.

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