Flocks of the Christian faithful in the US will this Sunday hold special services celebrating Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The idea is to stand up to creationism, which claims the biblical account of creation is literally true, and which is increasingly being promoted under the guise of "intelligent design". Proponents of ID say the universe is so complex it must have been created by some unnamed designer.
Support for "Evolution Sunday" has grown 13 per cent to 530 congregations this year, from the 467 that celebrated the inaugural event last year. Organisers see it as increasing proof that Christians are comfortable with evolution.
There's a deluge of evidence supporting the theory of evolution (as well as the evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, including the age of the universe and our home planet). The evidence simply cannot be ignored. To believe a Bronze Age claim and reject the wealth of scientific findings is totally irrational. Because there is an irreconcilable contradiction between the creation story in an ancient text (just one among many creation stories in the ancient world) and what science has discovered, one has to choose one or the other (or perhaps reject both). Creationists (including young earth creationists) take the irrational route and opt for literalizing mythology. Other Christians--apparently those who are not as attached to the bible and who permit parts of it to be read as fiction--have implicitly given science and the methods of science a thumbs up.
The reasoning of this latter group seems to me to be as follows. Since science has discovered such and such and it is universally accepted in the scientific community that this is so, and since biblical account G is totally at odds with that scientific truth, therefore G must be fictional and is just allegorical/metaphorical/poetic/etc. Well and good.
The problem is with those accounts in the bible (in the gospels for instance) that are claimed to be historical for which disconfirming evidence is very hard to come by or even impossible. I have in mind such events as virgin birth, miracles (water into wine, multiplication of loaves/fishes, etc.), resurrection. The strongest argument for not believing in these claims is that we have never observed these events, and that there is no known way of producing these phenomena. But that of course seldom puts a dent in the faith of believers. They merely argue (albeit ad hoc) that these are one-off events which only a deity(-incarnate) could perform and had performed. Strictly speaking they would be right in throwing at skeptics and atheists the principle, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Just because we don't know how these events can come about and just because we have not encountered such events does not imply they cannot and did not happen. But what Christians who resort to this fail (or realize) to say is that absence of evidence hardly warrants belief, and certainly does not merit unwavering faith! Since there is no evidence for Shiva, Muhammad riding a flying horse, gremlins manipulating our thoughts, aliens inhabiting the Moon ... why do they not believe in these extraordinary claims as well? The rational thing to do when there is no evidence for X is to withhold belief in it.
Given that it will probably be impossible to disprove the virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection, I think most of those who are reared in Christianity or have adopted that religion will continue to believe that these events did occur, that they are not merely fictional/allegorical/metaphorical, or just an exercise of storyteller's license by the biblical writers, or just part of an encomium wherein a hero's biography is embellished (posthumously) to suit the public's perception of this person's stature.1
Unlike the evolution vs. creationism issue where the former more than satisfactorily disconfirms the latter, no such thorough disconfirmation is forthcoming vis-a-vis the gospel claims. Thus, while there is no good reason to believe the extraordinary claims, the lack of a definitive disproof (notwithstanding the various reasons to disbelieve), will ensure that not a few will continue taking these claims on faith.
Still from the same article:
Michael Zimmerman, founder of Evolution Sunday and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis. "We're saying you can have your faith, and you can also have science."
When Zimmerman claims that science and theism can co-exist I read that as: scientific understanding of the world and supernatural beliefs can coexist in the same mind, that one can hold both very rational and truly irrational beliefs simultaneously without any sense of conflict. Well, I don't understand how he (and Human Genome Project director Francis Collins, among others) is able to do this. It must take some self-deception to get away with it.
1. Robert W. Funk, Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium, New York: Harper Collins, 1996, p. 281ff. Funk explains the hellenistic encomium:
The retrospective interpretation of the hero's life from the perspective of his or her noble death was regarded as a legitimate perspective. The basis for that perspective was the view that one's destiny was predetermined or controlled by fate. What a particular individual turned out to be was determined at the outset, at birth. At the same time, one could not know what fate had in store until that life had run its course. Birth stories were considered an essential part of the biography because infancy anecdotes recounted omens that pointed to the future, a future known only from the perspective of the hero's noble death. If someone had died a noble death and lived an exemplary life, that person must have had a noteworthy birth.
The hellenistic biography or encomium, following the model of Aristoxenus, a student of Aristotle, consisted of five elements: a miraculous or unusual birth; revealing childhood episode (or episodes); a summary of wise teachings; wondrous deeds; a martyrdom or noble death. This form of the biography was more suitable for philosophers and religious heroes, such as Socrates and Jesus. The New Testament gospels encompass precisely these five elements and are thus examples of the hellenistic biography. (p.282)