Blagg: Meeting in the middle
As we swing into 2014, the battle between Creationism and Intelligent Design and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is back in the news.
Bill Nye, TV’s “Science Guy,” is set to visit Kentucky next month for a debate on science and creation with the man who founded the Creation Museum. Founder Ken Ham says the museum will host Nye, the former host of a popular youth science show, on Feb. 4.
Nye has been vocal in his criticism of creationists for their opposition to the teaching of evolution in the schools, as well as their continuing assertion that the Old Testament Book of Genesis is a literal account of the earth’s beginnings.
Last year in an online video that drew nearly 6 million views, Nye argued that the insistence on teaching creationism as an alternative to science was bad for children.
The resulting debate will be titled “Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins?”
What’s sad about this dispute is that it’s so unnecessary.
There really doesn’t have to be a hard divide between science and religion.
That’s what Ian Barbour, a college professor who tried to bridge that divide, spent his life working toward. He died the other day at 90. He had been a conscientious objector during World War II, and spent the war fighting forest fires in Oregon and working with mental patients in North Carolina. He then studied physics and earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago, working with Enrico Fermi, the Manhattan Project scientist responsible for the world’s first atomic chain reaction.
But after he joined the physics faculty at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, he began to work intensively on the ethical and theological implications of scientific discoveries. So he abruptly changed direction, studying theology, ethics and philosophy at Yale Divinity School and earning a divinity degree in 1956.
What, he pondered, were the ethical and religious implications of discoveries such as atomic fission, “test tube” babies, cloning, organ transplants and theories about the Big Bang theory of the formation of the Universe?
According to a recent news story, he was a professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., for more than three decades, and wrote 16 books, including “Issues in Science and Religion,” a 1966 volume that helped spark the ongoing debate between scientists and theologians on issues such as the origins of the universe, evolution and the ethical implications of technology.
He “gave birth almost single-handedly to the contemporary dialogue between science and religion,” said Robert John Russell, the founder-director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. “He made a convincing and lasting case that science and religion are more alike and analogous than unlike and conflictive.”
“I always felt we needed to move beyond the hostility,” Barbour told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. “Scientists say they believe in evolution, not God. Religious scholars say they believe in God, but not evolution. Well, I say we don’t have to choose a side. We can meet somewhere in the middle. We can take the Bible seriously without taking it literally.”
Of course, “meeting in the middle” is somewhat out of fashion these days, and Barbour angered both scientists and religious leaders with his ideas.
But surely a scientist who studies the marvelous diversity of life on the Earth or the mind-boggling ideas of modern cosmology can also appreciate the comfort of faith in something bigger than ourselves.
In fact, many scientists have written that their growing understanding of the minute and sophisticated mechanisms of Evolution has strengthened their belief in a Creator, rather than destroying it.
I’m sure Barbour felt beleaguered in recent years, as the Right has moved farther and farther away from the Left, and as vigorous and well-financed campaigns have been waged to force teachers to equate Genesis with Darwin.
That’s too bad.
Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.