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Reader writes by Brian McNeece: Believing in evolution and science

November 12, 2001

The other day a friend of mine approached me and asked, "Do you believe in evolution?"

I thought, is this a trick question? but went ahead and answered simply, "Yes."

He looked at me with alarm in his eyes. "You'd be surprised, Brian, how many people say no."

My 12-year-old son visited a lady friend of his, a girl that he has known since they were toddlers. I asked how his day had gone and he said, "Aw, she got mad at me because I believe in evolution."

How sad that such puzzles should afflict us old and young.

I believe in evolution, not because I don't believe in creation, but because I believe in science. We can believe both in science and in creation because they mark out separate territories of human inquiry. Things go wrong when people try to turn science into religion and religion into science.

First of all, when you do science, you can't invoke anything supernatural. Science is universal in that way. The rules are the same from Tasmania to the Taj Mahal. No scientist in the world can ever claim that something happened because an angel or a demon put his finger on the electron, because Beelzebub coughed or Allah sighed. In science God never says, "tsk, tsk," and the mountain falls down.


Science must search for a

natural cause. For example, let's say a little girl in Calexico relates to her mother extremely vivid details about her dream of a rescue at sea. That night, themother sees the very scenario appear on the nightly news. Many people might say that God touched the girl with a gift. The open-minded scientist wonders, "How did she get the information? And he begins to posit that our notion of time and space as linear and one-directional might be wrong.

To think like a scientist, you have to find an explanation in nature. Evolution is science's best shot at giving an explanation of how the world has come to be what it is today without invoking a supernatural input. It's not perfect. There are huge gaps in the fossil record. But it's the best theory we've got.

Evolution may be awkward and inefficient and clumsy. So too, is democracy. But both are humanity's best efforts for what they're supposed to accomplish.

Scientists do go wrong when they go back to the beginning. Science can't really go to what philosophers call first causes. It can only go to the cause before THIS event, and so science consists of a giant relay.

Heading from the present into the past, the biologists hand off to the archeologists who hand off to the paleontologists who hand off to the geologists who hand off to the astrophysicists who hand off to … nobody. The astrophysicists speculate on what the universe was like the moment it appeared, but they can't say where it came from. In other words, science can't talk about creation.

The methods of science are powerful, and applying new insights, science has wrought an age of technological achievement that we struggle to keep up with. By believing that causes can be found for invisible phenomena, humans discovered the electromagnetic spectrum, discovered that light and color and heat and radio waves and X-rays were all the same affair.

By applying the theory of this spectrum, humans have discovered just how microscopic we can channel the energetic regularities of the universe, and as a result, you can go to any ATM on the planet and withdraw $100 of your own money in the local currency.

Science starts with a lovely, positive, reassuring faith. Scientists believe that the universe is orderly and that it follows laws that are immutable. In the Middle Ages, church authorities arrested Galileo when he claimed that the earth was not the center of the universe. They felt that God had been offended. But God has no argument with science, for science believes that this universe can be explained in all its vast orderliness.

A God that created an infinitely orderly natural universe is a just God indeed. It is not difficult to imagine the horror possible in a world that was not so ordered. Though I believe in evolution and in the methods of science, don't think that I believe science has the answer to everything.

About WHY this earth is here amid billions of stars in a space too vast for us to imagine, science says nothing. About what each of us needs to do with our time while we are alive, science is mute.

For these questions we look to our spiritual faith. Science is powerful, but with all of its medical knowledge mobilized to battle this simple bacterium called anthrax, people still die. We look to our faith to replenish our spirit, and we look to science to find the cure.

>>Brian McNeece is an El Centro resident who teaches English at Imperial Valley College.

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