Creating a storm (1)

April 12, 2002

Pity the poor university chaplain who believes in evolution and tries to help students relate their religious ideas to what they are learning but is obliged to compete against fringe Christian groups offering a black-and-white sense of belonging to true believers.

Such groups often teach students to reject evolution, not because of the scientific evidence but because of an early 19th-century exegesis of Genesis that is not supported by Hebrew scholars today.

The authors of Genesis accepted the science of their day and that the scientifically known world was made by a single omnipotent, omniscient and good God.

When the science changes, believers can cope. Ever since the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species , church leaders have seen in evolution a way of affirming that the world was designed by a God.

The search for religious truth, like the quest for scientific truth, is motivated by the need to understand: who we are and how we ought to live. Hypotheses get formed and challenged, by mixtures of evidence and vested interests. Some teachers resist challenges by presenting some authority as unchallengeable and claiming to know the absolute truth. This happens in every subject area, but in religion, where the stakes are high, some traditions even take pride in being anti-rational.

Creationists claim that "the facts" come from the Bible whereas human science can offer only "opinions" or "beliefs". Defenders of evolution are right to claim that there is no place in colleges and universities for such an anti-scientific presumption.

The converse, however, also applies: when others claim that all facts come through science while religion offers only opinions or beliefs, they are making the same mistake.

Jonathan Clatworthy
Anglican chaplain
University of Liverpool

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