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Friday, July 06, 2007

Where have all the Christians gone ... from science?

(Note: This is my most recent ChristianWeek column, in which I address the reason for the current preponderance of materialist atheists in some fields of science.)

When I first started researching the intelligent design controversy, I often heard from Christian notables in science that there was no conflict between faith and science. I didn't suppose that there was a conflict, actually, but I soon came to realize that there is an inevitable conflict between strong Darwinian evolutionists and Christianity. A recent study of the views of key Darwinian evolutionists confirms my best guess - and raises some interesting questions about the Christian community in North America.

In "Evolution, Religion and Free Will" (American Scientist, Volume 95, 294ff) , Gregory W. Graffin and William B. Provine found that, of 149 eminent evolutionists polled, 78% were pure naturalists (no God) and only two were clearly theists (traditional idea of God). Some were in between these poles. The authors describe most of them as deists (some sort of divinity might have got things rolling but it is not God in any sense that Christians understand).

The authors note that the level of advocacy of any degree of theism among evolutionary biologists is the lowest measured so far in any poll of biologists' beliefs. They described the vast majority of their respondents as "metaphysical naturalists", "materialists", and "monists". In other words, these are people who are serious about their materialism and atheism.

These evolutionary biologists generally view religion as a product or byproduct of human evolution so that "... evolution is the means to understanding religion, whereas religion as a 'way of knowing' has nothing to teach us about evolution." The authors make quite clear that "Seeing religion as a sociobiological feature of human evolution, while a plausible hypothesis, denies all worth to religious truths."

So these are the people who are in charge of interpreting biology to your children. Mainstream media, covering the intelligent design (ID) controversy, warn you that most ID advocates are Christians or other theists. But how many have told you what I just did - that most of the people who strongly promote a no-design universe and no-design life forms are atheists? This has been true, by the way, for the better part of a century, ever since James Leuba started his surveys in 1914.

If the design advocates' views are coloured by theism, how is it that the no-design views of the atheists are not coloured by atheism? In adopting this perspective, mainstream media tacitly assume that atheism is the correct view, however one arrives at it. And your tax dollars are commanded in support of that view, as propounded at universities and, increasingly, in public high schools.

It seems to me that there are only two realistic ways to see this: Either atheism is correct, and therefore the reasonable point of view for scientists to have. Or there is some other reason that atheism predominates among biologists.

Here is one reason things have got to this pass: What do non-religious people suggest that their talented children should do? Go into business or science. What do religious people suggest that their talented children should do? Go into the clergy, ministry, or missionary work.
The result? Over time, the upper echelons of science have been dominated by atheists and agnostics. They increasingly dominate public policy too, while Christians praise Jesus irrelevantly in comfy tabernacles where no one but Jesus hears us.

Yet atheism is not evidence derived from science; it is merely a presumption by which many scientists interpret what they see. And the presumption is certainly not shared by all who have experience of the wonders of the natural world. While I was at Write! Canada 2007, I ran into a hand surgeon (now professor emeritus) who told me that he had checked out of believing in a non-design explanation for the human hand as a result of his own best efforts at mending broken hands.

I went away from the conversation with him reflecting on the fact that I may well be the only journalist in Canada who is simultaneously a member of The Word Guild, a confessional Christian writers' association, and the Canadian Science Writers' Association. I will be glad when the day comes that I am merely one of hundreds.

(Note for the record: "Evolutionists" here means scientists who believe that gradual Darwinian processes completely account for every aspect of life and that no design whatever is required. It does not mean scientists who merely accept that evolution occurs or that Earth is billions of years old.)

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