The Attack on Truth: Have we entered an age of willful ignorance? by Lee McIntyre

Three takes on the politicalization of knowledge and its origin

The Attack on Truth

By Lee McIntyre in The Chronicle of Hire Education

Brian Taylor
Picking and choosing the ‘truths’ we already embrace, we reject all other claims. (Brian Taylor)

To see how we treat the concept of truth these days, one might think we just don’t care anymore. Politicians pronounce that global warming is a hoax. An alarming number of middle-class parents have stopped giving their children routine vaccinations, on the basis of discredited research. Meanwhile many commentators in the media — and even some in our universities — have all but abandoned their responsibility to set the record straight. (It doesn’t help when scientists occasionally have to retract their own work.)

Humans have always held some wrongheaded beliefs that were later subject to correction by reason and evidence. But we have reached a watershed moment, when the enterprise of basing our beliefs on fact rather than intuition is truly in peril.

It’s not just garden-variety ignorance that periodically appears in public-opinion polls that makes us cringe or laugh. A 2009 survey by the California Academy of Sciences found that only 53 percent of American adults knew how long it takes for Earth to revolve around the sun. Only 59 percent knew that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as the dinosaurs.

As egregious as that sort of thing is, it is not the kind of ignorance that should most concern us. There is simple ignorance and there is willful ignorance, which is simple ignorance coupled with the decision to remain ignorant….

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“The Attack on Truth”: A Sidelong Take

by Paul Horowtiz in Prawfsblawg

Yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education contained an op-ed titled “The Attack on Truth,” by Lee McIntyre, a research fellow focusing on the history and philosophy of science. There are standard-issue versions of op-eds by this name and on this subject for both the left and right, and for both science and the humanities; this one is the standard-issue left version for science. It’s just decent as these things go, but there is an interesting passage in the middle with some possible payoff for legal academic writing:

[T]hen a funny thing happened: While many natural scientists declared the battle won and headed back to their labs, some left-wing postmodernist criticisms of truth began to be picked up by right-wing ideologues who were looking for respectable cover for their denial of climate change, evolution, and other scientifically accepted conclusions. Alan Sokal said he had hoped to shake up academic progressives, but suddenly one found hard-right conservatives sounding like Continental intellectuals. And that caused discombobulation on the left.

A similar potential phenomenon, along with a second and more concrete interesting reversal, is also apparent in legal academic writing in my field of public/constitutional law. The scholarly legal analog to the “left-wing postmodernist criticisms of truth” and “Continental intellectual”-aping literature that McIntyre refers to above is Critical Legal Studies. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, in the fields that I’m most concerned with, especially law and religion, the most fertile population for such skeptical criticism these days comes from the right, not the left. There are a variety of reasons for this, I’m sure, but I suspect the most important one is that conservative positions on these issues are now more clearly minority positions than they used to be in the legal academy (as opposed to the courts themselves, although the ground may be evening up there as well). Insofar as CLS was born and used in large measure as a device for fighting guerrilla actions by undermining and sabotaging the overly confident assertions and assumptions of the majority, it makes sense that it would now be more useful for legal conservatives. In my view (see the linked article above), Steve Smith has for a long time made particularly productive and skillful use of it in his work. For the same reasons that, if McIntyre is right, this kind of thinking has become more prevalent on the right in certain areas, I would not be surprised if its use increased on the right in public/constitutional law scholarship. This is a good thing, in my view, and has been little remarked upon..

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No Place for Truth

by Alistair Begg in Truth For Life

Cover illustration by Brian Taylor for The Chronicle Review

 See also
You Have Your History, I Have Mine

This is your Brain on Beethoven! Daniel J. Levitin and Understanding the Neuroscience of Music

The relationship between music and science is more complicated (and beautiful) than you ever imagined

I love the interplay between art and science, because it often demonstrates my conviction that we have more than one set of “senses” by which we interpret reality. While our five physical senses–touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell–are critical for apprehending the physical universe, it is our “spiritual senses”–what the Hebrew and Christian scriptures refer to as the “eyes of the heart”–that enable us to comprehend the spiritual universe. Music is but one place where the interaction between the two is so evident… and so beautiful. We’ve reposted Pam Belluck’s excellent introduction to Levitin’s work and Cory Turner’s report on a practical application of it for those less interested in the technical jargon.  -GDS

To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons

By Pam Belluck • The New York Times

Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University in Montreal researches the effects of music on listeners. (Photo: Yannick Grandmont)

The other day, Paul Simon was rehearsing a favorite song: his own “Darling Lorraine,” about a love that starts hot but turns very cold. He found himself thinking about a three-note rhythmic pattern near the end, where Lorraine (spoiler alert) gets sick and dies.

The song has that triplet going on underneath that pushes it along, and at a certain point I wanted it to stop because the story suddenly turns very serious,” Mr. Simon said in an interview. “The stopping of sounds and rhythms,” he added, “it’s really important, because, you know, how can I miss you unless you’re gone? If you just keep the thing going like a loop, eventually it loses its power.”

An insight like this may seem purely subjective, far removed from anything a scientist could measure. But now some scientists are aiming to do just that, trying to understand and quantify what makes music expressive — what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another.

The results are contributing to a greater understanding of how the brain works and of the importance of music in human development, communication and cognition, and even as a potential therapeutic tool.

Research is showing, for example, that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.

And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns…

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What Does It Mean to Be Musical?

by Daniel J. Levitin • McGill University

Musical ability is popularly regarded to be innate: one either is or is not born with musical talent. Increasingly, neuroscientists are collaborating with geneticists to understand the links between genes, brain development, cognition, and behavior (Ebstein et al., 2010; Posner et al., 2011). Music can be seen as a model system for understanding what genes can accomplish and how they relate to experience. On the practical side, identifying genetic components that underlie musical ability can also help us to predict who will succeed or, more interestingly, what types of instruction will be most successful for individuals according to their geneticcognitive profiles. In all domains, successful genotyping requires an accurately described phenotype. Unfortunately, the latter has not yet been accomplished for music, creating a significant hurdle to further progress. Part of the difficulty in describing the musical phenotype is its heterogeneity, the wide variety of ways in which musicality presents itself (Sloboda, 2008). My goal in this article is to review those factors that might be associated with the phenotype and to discuss definitions, measurement, and accuracy, three common obstacles in understanding the genetics of complex behavioral phenomena (Ebstein et al., 2010), with the hope that this may stimulate discussion and future work on the topic.

The Functional Neuroanatomy of Music

We now know that music activates regions throughout the brain, not just a single ‘‘music center.’’ As with vision, music is processed component by component, with specific neural circuits handling pitch, duration, loudness, and timbre. Higher brain centers bring this information together, binding it into representations of contour, melody, rhythm, tempo, meter, and, ultimately, phrases and whole compositions. The idea that music processing can be broken down into component operations was first proposed as a conceptual tool by cognitive theorists and has been confirmed by neuroimaging studies (Levitin and Tirovolas, 2009). The early distinction that music processing is right hemisphere lateralized and that language is left hemisphere lateralized has been modified by a more nuanced understanding. Pitch is represented by tonotopic maps, virtual piano keyboards stretched across the cortex that represent pitches in a low-to-high spatial arrangement. The sounds of different musical instruments (timbres) are processed in well-defined regions of posterior Heschl’s gyrus and superior temporal sulcus (extending into the circular insular sulcus). Tempo and rhythm are believed to invoke hierarchical oscillators in the cerebellum and basal ganglia. Loudness is processed in a network of neural circuits beginning at the brain stem and inferior colliculus and extending to the temporal lobes. The localization of sounds and the perception of distance cues are handled by a network that attends to (among other cues) differences in interaural time of arrival, changes in frequency spectrum, and changes in the temporal spectrum, such as are caused by reverberation. One can attain worldclass expertise in one of these component operations without necessarily attaining world-class expertise in others

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Amir Pinkney-Jengkens, 8, is learning trombone through Harmony Project, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments and instruction to children in low-income communities. Recent research suggests that such musical education may help improve kids' ability to process speech. (Annie Tritt for NPR)
Amir Pinkney-Jengkens, 8, is learning trombone through Harmony Project, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments and instruction to children in low-income communities. Recent research suggests that such musical education may help improve kids’ ability to process speech. (Annie Tritt for NPR)

This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain On Music

by Cory Turner • NPR

Musical training doesn’t just improve your ear for music — it also helps your ear for speech. That’s the takeaway from an unusual new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn’t just get better at playing the trombone or violin; they found that playing music also helped kids’ brains process language.

And here’s something else unusual about the study: where it took place. It wasn’t a laboratory, but in the offices of Harmony Project in Los Angeles. It’s a nonprofit after-school program that teaches music to children in low-income communities.

Two nights a week, neuroscience and musical learning meet at Harmony’s Hollywood headquarters, where some two-dozen children gather to learn how to play flutes, oboes, trombones and trumpets. The program also includes on-site instruction at many public schools across Los Angeles County.

Harmony Project is the brainchild of Margaret Martin, whose life path includes parenting two kids while homeless before earning a doctorate in public health. A few years ago, she noticed something remarkable about the kids who had gone through her program.

“Since 2008, 93 percent of our high school seniors have graduated in four years and have gone on to colleges like Dartmouth, Tulane, NYU,” Martin says, “despite dropout rates of 50 percent or more in the neighborhoods where they live and where we intentionally site our programs.”

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See also

Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling, by Paul J. Zak, PhD

Madness and the Muse: The Secrets of the Creative Brain, by Tom Bartlett

The Power of Perseverance: Advice to Young Artists from Jazz Legend McCoy Tyner of John Coltrane Quartet

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature by Daniel J. Levitin

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin

Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling, by Paul J. Zak, PhD

Via Alicia Crumpton, PhD| Johnson University| @AliciaDCrumpton 

If the story is able to create tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.

by Paul J. Zak, PhD | Claremont Graduate University | HBR

Why do our palms sweat as we watch James Bond fight for his life?
Why do our palms sweat as we watch James Bond fight for his life?

It is quiet and dark. The theater is hushed. James Bond skirts along the edge of a building as his enemy takes aim. Here in the audience, heart rates increase and palms sweat.  I know this to be true because instead of enjoying the movie myself, I am measuring the brain activity of a dozen viewers. For me, excitement has a different source: I am watching an amazing neural ballet in which a story line changes the activity of people’s brains.

Many business people have already discovered the power of storytelling in a practical sense – they have observed how compelling a well-constructed narrative can be. But recent scientific work is putting a much finer point on just how stories change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness. A decade ago, my lab discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions. Empathy is important for social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.

More recently my lab wondered if we could “hack” the oxytocin system to motivate people to engage in cooperative behaviors. To do this, we tested if narratives shot on video, rather than face-to-face interactions, would cause the brain to make oxytocin. By taking blood draws before and after the narrative, we found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative.

In subsequent studies we have been able to deepen our understanding of why stories motivate voluntary cooperation…

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Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., is the author of The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works, and Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

See also:

How Stories Change the Brain [Video], by Paul J. Zak, PhD

What’s the Story with “Story?” by James K. A. Smith, PhD

Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Through the Stories Students Live By, by Gary David Stratton, PhD

Two Handed Warriors Named to CT’s ’50 Women You Should Know’

Part One in Series “Women of Faith in Leadership”

Posted by Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor

Congratulations to Two Handed Warrior contributors Margaret Feinberg and Rachel Held Evans for their inclusion in Christianity Today’s “50 Women You Should Know” (below).  In truth, many if not most of the women on CT’s list are true Two Handed Warriors, including some excellent choices from the world of higher education: Shirley Mullen of Houghton College, Dorothy Chappell of Wheaton College, Kim Phipps of Messiah College, and Kara Powell of Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as reconciliation advocate Brenda Salter McNeil.
While one could quibble with the omission of many of the most influential women of faith in Hollywood (many of whom would never wish to appear in such a public list), it is a great honor and a sign of the growing influence of women in evangelical leadership.
May their tribe increase!


50 Women You Should Know

We asked key leaders which Christian women are most profoundly shaping the evangelical church and North American society. This is who they picked. 

by Christianity Today

Christian women who want to pursue influential roles in politics, the church, and other sectors of public life in the United States and Canada have never before had more opportunities to do so. As the following profiles in our cover package show, they are taking advantage of those opportunities in spades. It’s not just a golden moment for Christian women, of course, but for the entire church, as we benefit from the fruit of their manifold gifts.
Not that long ago, this cover package would have been inconceivable. But that isn’t to say that Christian women had no influence in church and society before 2012. It was women who formed the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Harriet Tubman, a Christian who escaped slavery, went on to lead an influential movement within the Underground Railroad.
Methodist Frances Willard led two million members worldwide in the temperance movement more than a century ago, influencing many to support women’s suffrage as a “weapon of protection to her home and tempted loved ones from the tyranny of drink.” The movement also started kindergartens, passed child labor laws, and in the 1870s created the first daycares for the children of working women.
Today evangelicalism continues to feel the effects of women’s leadership. In the 1940s and ’50s, Henrietta Mears, a dynamic Christian educator, shaped the church’s future in powerful ways, discipling a number of future evangelical leaders, including Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Women writers have played a particularly important role in evangelicalism. Rosalind Rinker’s Prayer: Conversing with God changed the way evangelicals prayed together. Before Rinker, many believed that prayer should be in the King’s English, spoken formally, as if addressing a monarch. The idea that Christians could talk to God as a friend, conversationally, was Rinker’s radical idea that is now commonplace.
Tensions remain—and in some ways are exacerbated—as women pursue leadership in many spheres. Denominations and particular churches continue to argue about the appropriate role of women—whether they can teach men or be ordained, for example. Others debate how to best understand Scripture’s description of the role of women in marriage. Some raise concerns that by recognizing women who find a voice in the public sphere, we may be subtly denigrating the work of stay-at-home mothers. (This would be true only if one believed that public work was intrinsically more valuable than private, which would be hard to defend if one really believes the meek are blessed.)
In some key respects, though, the distinction between public and private, between professional career and mothering, is being blurred. Many stay-at-home moms have become publicly influential as they blog from their farmhouses, tweet from grocery stores, or phone in a conference call while watching a 2-year-old.
The causes and subtleties of Christian women’s newfound public influence will have to wait—it’s a topic that deserves careful analysis. In this issue, we simply want to highlight, indeed, celebrate, the simple fact of this new development, as women’s leadership gifts are changing the life of the evangelical church and North American society in remarkable ways.

View CT’s Complete List


Next Post in Series: What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Church

See also:

7 Ways Women Can Damage Their Leadership, by Margaret Feinberg

The Danger of Calling Behavior ‘Biblical,’ by Rachel Held Evans


Anatomy of a Tear Jerker: Why does Adele make everyone cry? by Michaeleen Doucleff

Has science has found Adele’s formula?


Adele accepts her award for best pop solo performance for her iconic and emotional “Someone Like You.” (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)

On Sunday night, British singer-songwriter Adele grabbed six Grammy awards. Three of her six wins were for her rollicking hit “Rolling in the Deep.”

But it’s her ballad “Someone Like You” that has risen to near-iconic status, due in large part to its uncanny power to elicit tears and chills from listeners. The song is so famously sob-inducing that “Saturday Night Live” recently ran a skit in which a group of co-workers play the tune so they can all have a good cry together.

What explains the magic of Adele’s song? Though personal experience and culture play into individual reactions, researchers have found that certain features of music are consistently associated with producing strong emotions in listeners. Combined with heartfelt lyrics and a powerhouse voice, these structures can send reward signals to our brains that rival any other pleasure.

Twenty years ago, the British psychologist John Sloboda conducted a simple experiment. He asked music lovers to identify passages of songs that reliably set off a physical reaction, such as tears or goose bumps. Participants identified 20 tear-triggering passages, and when Dr. Sloboda analyzed their properties, a trend emerged: 18 contained a musical device called an “appoggiatura.”

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”

Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.

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The Search for the Historical Adam: How One Scientist’s Faith is Changing the Conversation

Faith and Science Week: Part 3

One of the principal controversies in the contemporary science vs. faith debate is the intended “historicity” of the Genesis creation account in general and the creation of humanity in particular.

Senior correspondent for TIME magazine, Richard N. Ostling‘s does a great job of summarizing the four historical “camps” in modern attempts to harmonize science and scripture, but also introduces how Francis Collins as the driving force behind the move of many scientists toward faith. (See The Search for the Historical Adam in Christianity Today).

Four Traditional Approaches to Harmonizing Science and Genesis

The first camp, which consistently enjoys support from at least 40 percent of the general public in Gallup surveys, is ‘young earth’ creationism, [which insists that] …God created the mature, fully functioning creation in six literal days about 6,000 years ago. For young earthers, the “firewall” of the Bible’s historicity is Genesis 1.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” are the first words of a historical account of precisely what an outside observer would witness if they were standing with God, including six 24 hour days of creation.

A second competitor, the ‘old earth’ version of creationism, is far more prevalent among evangelical intellectuals. It basically rejects evolution but affirms science’s longstanding and lopsided support for the planet’s vastly ancient age.” Old earthers normally put the “firewall of historicity” at Genesis chapter two. They regard Genesis chapter 1 as an overarching creation “poem,” and Genesis chapter two as the beginning of a more-or-less ‘historical’ account.)

A third alternative is the newer ‘intelligent design’ approach, which “deems the Darwinian natural selection model of evolutionary theory to be improbable and posits that some designing force lies behind nature, but does not explicitly define this as the God of Judaism and Christianity.”

A final alternative is ‘theistic evolution,’ “affirms that the biblical God was the creator of all earthly organisms, humanity included, and used as his method the standard evolutionary scenario of gradual natural selection among genetic mutations across eons…” Like the old earthers, many (but not even close to all) Theistic evolutionists keep the firewall of historicity somewhere near Genesis 2:1.

The Human Genome Project

Ostling then traces how the Human Genome Project has proven to be an unexpected ‘game changer’ in this discussion, especially as it relates to the question of Adam and Eve. The project was a groundbreaking mapping of “the complete sequence of several billion DNA subunits (‘bases’) and all of the genes that determine human heredity.” Completed in 2003 the project is yielding a cornucopia of data for understanding heredity, disease, and human origins.

In the opinion of Randall Isaac, executive director of the (Christian) American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the human genome sequencing has taken away much of the “wiggle room” in interpreting the Adamic account in Genesis. By moving the debate over the origins of humanity from the arguably subjective-interpretive world of fossils, and archeology, to evidence currently “visible” to the electron microscope, the human genome project provided a more objective viewpoint for evaluating theories of human origins.

The leader of this historic project Francis Collins—now director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—has become at the epicenter of the current conversation between  scripture and science. He is not only one of the “most eminent scientists ever to identify themselves as an evangelical Christian,” he also “staunchly defends Darwinian evolution even as he insists on God as the Creator.”

Leading Scientist, Dynamic Christian, Committed Darwinist

You read that right.  Collins is both a dynamic Christian Theist, and a committed Darwinian scientist. In fact, in his 2006 bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Collins recounts how it was his investigation into the “Language of God” found in DNA that transformed him from an Atheist into a Christian Theist. (See video above)

The dilemma is, that Collins not only rejects the three most common traditional Christian positions on faith and science—old earth, young earth, and intelligent design—he does so in favor of a version of Theistic Evolution that goes so far as to question the historicity of Adam an Eve. The human genome project has pointed to the likelihood that evolutionary processes produced an original population pool of modern “humans” numbering about 10,000 individuals, not two.

“Instead of the traditional belief in the specially created man and woman of Eden who were biologically different from all other creatures, Collins mused, might Genesis be presenting “a poetic and powerful allegory” about God endowing humanity with a spiritual and moral nature?” Thereby pushing the “firewall” of historicity until at least the end of Genesis chapter 3, perhaps later.

In Good Company

On the one hand, Collins’ perspective is really nothing new. In 1940, C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain that, “for long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of himself.” Around the same time, Wheaton College president James Oliver Buswell III pointed to the transition from ‘Neanderthal’ to ‘Cro-Magnon’ man as the point where God stepped in and chose to put something into at least two of these creatures that biology alone can never account for—the image of God.

This viewpoint certainly answers some of the most vexing Sunday school questions regarding the Genesis account: Where did Adam and Eve’s son Cain find a wife? (Gen 4:17) Why did God have to protect Cain from other men if his younger brother Seth was only the third man on the planet? (Gen 4:15) Where did the Nephilim come from? (Gen 6:4), etc. As Ostling summarizes author John Collins’ (no relation to Francis) Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Crossway, 2011):

“(I)f both biblical and scientific clues suggest a larger population contemporary with Adam and Eve… we can still conceive of Adam and Eve as leaders of that original population. That suggestion has the virtue of embracing both a prehistoric couple and a prehistoric population.”

Theological Dilemmas

Unfortunately, Francis Collins’ position may actually create as many problems as it solves. As CT’s editors note in No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel:

What is at stake?

First, the entire story of what is wrong with the world hinges on the disobedient exercise of the will by the first humans. The problem with the human race is not its dearth of insight but its misshapen will.

Second, the entire story of salvation hinges on the obedience of the Second Adam. The apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer to interpret Jesus’ work, called Adam “a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:14, ESV), and wrote that “[j]ust as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Jesus]” (1 Cor. 15:49, ESV). He elaborated an “Adam Christology” that described a fallen humanity, headed by Adam, and a new, redeemed humanity with Christ as its head.

This understanding, that Christ’s obedience undoes Adam’s disobedience, is not some late development, but is integrated with the earliest interpretations of what God did and is doing in Christ. This conceptual framework is almost impossible without a first human couple.

Need for a Broader Respectful Conversation

Are there ways to harmonize Collins’ position with these biblical/theological realities? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Since this new approach to theistic evolution is proposed by a dynamic Christian who happens to be one of the most eminent scientists of our age, it commands tremendous respect and a careful ongoing conversation. However, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s correct.

One need look no further than Copernicus to see that there is tremendous danger in wedding your theology to a prevailing scientific wisdom. Scientific theories are often like Chicago’s weather. Don’t like what you have now?  Just wait a minute.

Perhaps new discoveries will strengthen the initial findings of the human genome project. Perhaps, they will unexpectedly point to the likelihood of a single set of human parents, or to the historicity of a post-Babel dispersion of 10,000 humans, or even to the likelihood that evolution alone cannot account for human life as we know it. Truth is, no one knows.

No Need to Discard Genesis

No matter where this conversation eventually leads, no one is questioning the theological truths revealed in Genesis. (See Sue Stratton’s three-part explication of the Presence of God, true language, and the results of the fall.) Whether God formed Adam from “the dust of the earth” by an immediate act of creation, or through an eons-long evolutionary process, all four Christian positions agree that God endowed humanity with something that can’t be accounted for through biology alone–“the image of God.”

Video: Francis Collins Describes his Faith Conversion

Science, Religion and Politics: Mixed Results, by Dr. Rusty Pritchard

2011 Faith and Science Week: Part 2


Debate Photo Opp for 2012 GOP Presidential Candidates

Science and religion are at war. Or, at least that’s the impression you might get from bloggers who watch the spectacle of Republican primary candidate debates. Columnists at the New York Times and the Washington Post are up-in-arms at the hostility toward, and ignorance of, science on the part of the candidates, who seem to be vying to outdo each other in their anti-intellectualism.

Some want to lay the blame for the Republican Party’s anti-science lurch at the feet of evangelical religion, using the statements of Republican candidates as a sign of attitudes in conservative churches.

But evidence from a number of recent sociological studies indicates that the picture is a lot more complicated.  John H. Evans, professor of sociology in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, wrote about his recent research in the Los Angeles Times, where he compared conservative Protestants—regular church attenders who take the Bible literally—and those who don’t admit to any religious participation. He concludes:

The conservative Protestants are equally likely to understand scientific methods, to know scientific facts and to claim knowledge of science. They are as likely as the nonreligious to have majored in science or to have a scientific occupation. While other studies have shown that the elite scientists who work at the 20 top research universities are less religious than the public, it appears that the vast majority of people with workaday scientific occupations are like their neighbors, religiously speaking.

Evans concluded that church-going conservative Protestants at the grassroots don’t at all sound like Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum on questions of science. For Evans, the seeming conflict between science and religion is much more over values that over facts. He even argues that the evangelical rejection of evolutionary theory isn’t a sign of being anti-science.

Science and Religion are Friends

Some support for the argument that religious people actually see compatibility between science and religion comes from Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and Furman sociologist Kyle Longest, who just published a paper showing that 18-29 year olds are more integrative in the way they view science and religion (Sociological Forum, behind a firewall). As quoted by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, Smith and Longest find the following:

Most clearly, high religiousness, in the form of importance of faith, frequently reading scriptures, and committing to live one’s life for God, increases the likelihood that emerging adults agree that religion and science are compatible and not in conflict. Counter to the prevailing wisdom on highly religious youth, emerging adults who are more religious are not less but more likely to believe that religion and science can be integrated.

Interestingly, attending a Protestant high school, often portrayed as being the training ground for religiously sectarian or militant youth . . . is one of the strongest predictors of the integration perspective, as these emerging adults are extremely likely to agree that religion and science are compatible and their faith has been strengthened by science, as well as being significantly unlikely to agree that the two are in conflict. This shared context appears to have created a cognitive norm of viewing religion and science as potentially symbiotic, rather than overtly hostile to each other.

These emerging adults are able to maintain the authority of religion by finding a harmony between faith and science. (Read Dreher’s complete article here.)

Another study showing that religiosity leads to harmony between science and religion comes from Baylor University, where researcher Aaron Franzen finds that increased frequency of Bible reading is tied to, among other things, improved attitudes toward science. “Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view religion and science as incompatible at each step toward more frequent Bible reading,” according to David Briggs, whoreported the Baylor study for Association of Religion Data Archives. (Interestingly, higher rates of Bible reading were also correlated with greater support for social and economic justice, simple lifestyles, humane treatment of criminals, and with lower support for abortion, same-sex unions, the death penalty, and the expansion of the war on terrorism.)

Are Evangelicals Science-Friendly but still Ignorant?

Set against those salutary findings is evidence that conservative religion goes along with decreased science literacy, as measured by a standard large-scale survey of Americans conducted since 1972, which, since 2006, has contained a standard set of elementary (mostly true-false) science questions (“True or false: All radioactivity is man-made” or “True or false: Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria”).

Darren Sherkat of Southern Illinois University analyzed the results (paper in Social Science Quarterly —behind a firewall). He threw out questions relating to hot-button issues for religious conservatives, like evolution, but kept in questions on the big bang and continental drift. Even when they got a pass on evolution questions, Sherkat found that sectarian Protestants (that is, evangelicals), Catholics, and fundamentalists scored significantly lower than secular Americans on the basic science literacy quiz. He controlled for variables like low educational attainment, income disadvantages, ethnicity, and regional  effects (like being in the South), and still found that conservative religious affiliation drove scores down. Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education found the same thing.

Is there a way to reconcile these seemingly disparate results?

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Dr. Rusty Pritchard is a natural resource economist and President of Flourish, a organization that equips churches to better love God by reviving human lives and the landscapes on which they depend. He has been a sought-after speaker on climate issues for conferences, churches, symposia, and leadership summits, including numerous live broadcast debates. As a full-time faculty member at Emory University Rusty helped create the Department of Environmental Studies there in 1999. He holds degrees from Duke University and the University of Florida and resides in Atlanta, GA.