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Ministry of Silly Science

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Written by Basil on 09/12/2004 2:09 PM. Filed under:

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Serbian Education Minister Ljiljana Colic has ordered primary school teachers to stop teaching natural selection as part of the biology curriculum. Unsurprisingly, biology teachers wonder how exactly they are supposed to teach anything, as natural selection is used as a model at virtually every level in biology.

Although most media outlets are reporting this as a power play by the Serbian Orthodox Church — Colic is Orthodox — a few are reporting that Bishop Ignjatije of Branicevo issued a statement controverting the religious grounds for the action. Bishop Ignjatije is the professor of dogmatics and ethics at the Theological Faculty of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, and he heads the commission that introduced religious education into Serbian schools.

“Darwin never posed the question if God might have created men and the world,” said Bishop Ignjatije. “Darwin only spoke about ways that humans and the rest of the nature are connected. The connection must not be ignored by anybody, not even by us, theologists.” AP: Serbs in Dispute Over Darwin Vs. Divine, Misha Savic

I am not sure what gets me more riled, the unbelievable situation that people still think there is a dichotomy between science and religious belief, or the inane way in which this particular false dilemma is being reported by the media. A perfect example is the article on the BBC News website. Ignoring completely Bishop Ignjatije‘s statement quoted above, it describes the two “opposing” theories with these two statements:

Creationism is the belief that the Old Testament account of God’s creation of the world is true.

Darwin’s theory of evolution is the dominant explanation of man’s origins within the scientific community.

Oh, well, when you put it that way, I guess I’m a creationist. Who doesn’t dispute the second statement. Oh, wait. What’s the issue here?

It is not “creationism.” That would imply that anyone who believes God created the world also holds that belief to be incompatible with scientific models describing its origins. Many do not. It is more properly termed Scientific Creationism. True, Scientific Creationism is not really scientific, but that is not the point of the phrase. Proponents of this view believe that the Genesis account can be used as the scientific basis for a rebuttal of any model to explain evolution — the datum of the apparent development of life from primitive forms to complex forms. Is that too complicated for an article? Perhaps. But the issue is complex, and oversimplifying it is deceitful and libelous to believers.

Ms. Colic should step down and let someone who actually has a grasp on the issues confronting modern believers take the helm. She risks making the rest of us look like the geocentric fools who persecuted Galileo.

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4 Responses to “Ministry of Silly Science”

  1. Erich Says:

    I have often wondered about this issue myself. In terms of addressing the validity of natural selection, it certainly seems to occur. This seems without doubt, as long as we are to trust our senses. What I often wonder about is: is natural selection being emphasized out of context? In other words, it seems to me possible that what we perceive as natural selection, is only an integral mechanism in a much larger occurrence that we do not yet necessarily perceive or understand. As a result, we cling to the natural selection as a core means of understanding because of our lack of scientific ability to answer the bigger questions tied to it. It seems to me that this would be a decent way of looking at Genesis — in other words, that the story is told as a creation myth because the science of it was too complex for either the reader or the author. Additionally, the science of it bears little importance in connection to the points that are made by the myth.

  2. basil Says:

    Good points, Erich. As far as discussing the validity of natural selection, I usually do not argue it at all. Science is a field whose knowledge we take on authority — the consensual authority of the scientific community. Not being a scientist, I do not try to tell scientists how to do their job. I may choose not to believe their report — which would be a very difficult matter for a modern person to do — but, not being a scientist, I am not really qualified to be selective about which parts of the scientific report to believe, especially when it comes to something that has quite a lot of support behind it. Obviously, it’s still complicated, but something as established as natural selection is pretty easy.

    I’m not sure the science of cosmology would have been too complex, only that science wasn’t around and the pre-modern, Near Eastern mind simply did not think in the categories we do — particularly the categories which create a dichotomy between truth and myth, fact and fiction, story and reality.

  3. Erich Says:

    Indeed, by the “science of it”, I mean the ways in which things happened in actuality (in a positive sense). This, I think, would be too difficult to explain, and too far from the point to merit explanation in a religious text. But yes, I agree with your issue with the categorical dichotomies.

    However, I’m not sure about the first paragraph. It’s difficult to accept things “as said” just because it was said by a scientist, I am not a scientist, and the majority of scientists seem to concur. For instance, the majority of scientists in Germany in 1942 would have told you, and even “proved” that Jews are not actually human beings but glorified monkeys. It seems that the above logic would force us to concur because of our lack of expertise in the field of eugenics. How would this be avoided?

  4. basil Says:

    That’s a good question. A similar question exists with regard to whether unborn feti are persons or pre-personal tissue samples. What is really at issue is defining the boundary between science and religious belief. The answer to both questions is to disallow scientific control over our faith and morals. I am a glorified monkey, but I do not allow that to determine what I believe on the theological question of person/soul/nous. There can be dialogue between science and theology on the issues, but science cannot determine the answer, because it deals only with empirical data. Theological questions are, by definition, not empirical.