Saturday, March 19, 2011

Faith and Evolution

If I were to be lucky enough to stumble upon a bottled genie, I’m certain I’d ask him to give me more time to complete this unit reflection because it encompasses the very reason why I took this course to begin with. I’d ask for a magical stopwatch that I could utilize to bend time towards my favor that would allow me endless hours to research and explore the world around me for all the answers in life I seek. It would also allow me this time without distraction of life and responsibilities to work, home and parenting – a true paradox in thinking, for this is the very reason I seek these answers to begin with.

For the longest time (before this class), I always considered rules and laws as consistent. For example, we have a law that states that motorized vehicles must stop at red lights; and for the most part, this rule seems logical and just, for without it, there would be chaos and lack of direction. The same would hold true for wearing a seat belt (although I argue this law); for without this law, many more lives would be lost through traffic accidents. We hold these laws with value to our existence, for they help mold the organized society we live in today. But is there ever a time when a law is ok to break?

Several years ago, I was elected for jury duty in a traffic lawsuit. As part of a jury of 10 (and chosen foreman) it was my responsibility to fairly hear both statements from defendant and plaintiff, and pass judgment on a situation that held in its balance, two elderly families whose financial status held precariously in the balance. One lady hit a couple’s vehicle while turning onto a busy intersection. The accident did minimal damage to the car, but the damaged car was transporting an elderly woman freshly discharged from the hospital after a stomach surgery. The jolt initiated by the hit tightened the passenger’s seatbelt and dislocated the stoma tube that was just inserted. As a result, the surgery was a failure because the tube meant to sustain her existence via tubal feedings was rendered useless. The lady was forced to embrace other measures to survive, and as a result, sued the driver for physical damages incurred as a result of the impact. The problem was that it couldn’t be empirically proven that it was the impact alone that caused the tubal failure. Couldn’t all of this been avoided if she hadn’t utilized the seatbelt in order to follow the law? Experts from both sides came to the stand to argue their point and left the choice in our hands. In the end, the jury held in favor for the defendant, but I must honestly say that few days go by in my life when I don’t think about the impact we had on the plaintiff and her family. I’ve never stopped wondering if we made our decision in haste because we were all eager to get back to our lives – and I wonder if the controversy regarding faith and evolution doesn’t have all of us doing the same; trying to reconcile our beliefs with our knowledge as quickly as possible so we can get on with our lives and forcing us to make rash judgments and assumptions between the two without fully considering the repercussions.

Science, by definition of the academic press dictionary of science and technology is:
1. The systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts.
2. The organized body of knowledge that is derived from such observations and that can be verified or tested by further investigation.

While no one would dare refute this definition, in itself it becomes a sort of paradox because in order to “discover facts about natural events and conditions” it requires the use of the scientific method.

A definition of the scientific method, given by Jay Phelan in What is Life? A Guide to Biology, indicates that the scientific method is:
A process of examination and discovery of natural phenomena involving making observations, constructing hypotheses, testing predictions, experimenting, and drawing conclusions and revising them as necessary.

For the most part, I must admit, that the two seem to define a seamless marriage between explaining what we see around us in a way that is systematic and organized – much like the laws that govern our organized society, but it leaves little room for the unknown. How do you explain what science cannot?

Research led me to a NOVA program entitled, “Intelligent Design on Trial” that documented the controversy surrounding the idea of teaching Intelligent Design to 9th grade Dover, PA students as a means of attempting to explain what science (and the Darwin theory) could not – “gaps in the theory for which there is no evidence”. The documentary targeted a witness for the defense that utilized the structure of bacterial flagellum akin to a human made motor. The witness suggested that the structure was amazingly similar to something that of human design, and within this fact, the idea was suggested that an “intelligent agent” could have designed such an elaborate design – an issue that may have swayed the judge to favor the defendant had the plaintiff’s attorneys not discovered the “smoking gun” behind the reasons why the school board wanted to introduce the concept.

By observation, the scientist within any of us could see the similarities between what nature has designed and compare it to what humans designed long before we had ever glimpsed bacterial flagellum under a microscope strong enough to show us the exact details of natural design. How did this happen – that somehow by fate, humans could simply imagine with our superior brains a tool that had long been designed in nature by evolution? Furthermore, how do you explain this phenomenon beyond the rigidity of the scientific method?

The documentary indicated that those who testified for the defense had suggested testing this phenomenon by allowing several generations of bacteria sans flagellum breed in a laboratory to discover what happens – will evolution “intervene”? Yet none of these scientists have ever undertaken the challenge. Why not lay the controversy to rest through experimentation and testable predictions? Does this indicate that they believed their theories were flawed or does it indicate that grants and public funding weren’t interested in finding the answer?

I’ve realized that both evolutionist and creationalist seem rather passionate about the position they stand upon, never accepting that the two could complement, rather than destroy each other. If science dictates that God doesn’t exist, why not find a way to prove this “theory” correct? In the other hand, if God were so omnipotent, why would he need to continuously intervene in the lives he placed upon the earth?

The scientific method is an organized system of discovery and in its definition appears to be a “law” that defines what should be done and how it should be done. Most would agree that without these “rules” chaos would ensue and we’d be left with little authority on how to address these questions we have about the world around us in a way that provides us with the comfort we seem to need to justify our existence, but the questions remains – is there ever a time when it is ok to bend the parameters of a rule to accommodate circumstance? If our lives our judged in mere black and white, why is it acceptable for emergency vehicles to run red lights? Why is it acceptable for a father-to-be to exceed the speed limit in order to ensure the healthy delivery of his offspring? Why is it acceptable to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but not to drive a car without a seatbelt? Sometimes, in order to seek knowledge and understand the world around us, our rigid rules of existence need to have the capacity to bend according to circumstance in order to see other colors of the rainbow. Sometimes, we have to accept what we cannot prove simply because we can’t discount its validity. To quickly pass judgment in favor of either camp only limits our abilities in finding the true answers.

Until any theory can answer every question of “why” with an irrefutable answer, I will continue to look outside the box for answers. Shouldn’t that be what science is really about?

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