Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
If God created the heavens, the earth, all creatures and man in seven days, where do the dinosaurs fit in? We know from the fossil record that man and dinosaurs were segregated by millennia.
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-- K., via email
Young-earth creationists believe that the world was, indeed, created in just seven days some 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. This falls 4.5 billion years short of the actual age of the earth, and 65 million years short of the actual age of the dinosaurs.
Francis Beckwith, professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in an article in the journal First Things, sharpens your comment about dinosaurs by quoting scientist Kurt Wise: "Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong, or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible . . . It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science."
Instead of focusing on whether Wise made the right choice, I'd rather ask if he was correct in believing that there are only two choices: creationism or evolution. One suggestion for a third choice that doesn't require throwing either faith or science into the dustbin of history is called intelligent design. ID promises a middle ground by asserting that evolution is true, but that it reflects the work of an intelligent designer, who is obviously God. God created evolution so that it could eventually evolve us.
Scientists have condemned intelligent design. Richard Dawkins wrote in his 2006 book, "The God Delusion": "Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that -- an illusion."
My take on all of this is that Darwin's hypothesis was more theory than scientific fact because it can't explain the evolution of human consciousness, and that intelligent design is more religious belief than scientific fact because it can't explain how intelligent design works. Each side got some things right and some things wrong.
I believe that evolutionists are right in reminding us that the Bible is not a science textbook. The Bible is both very young and very old. The young parts are the teachings of love and forgiveness, justice and compassion, honesty and courage. The old parts are the belief in a geocentric universe, the belief that the earth sits on wooden pillars in a great ocean (what does the ocean sit on?) and the belief that all this happened 5,774 years ago on Oct. 23 at 10:30 a.m. Some things must change over six millennia, and science is one of them. Tethering our faith to ancient and discredited science only assures us of an ancient and discredited religion.
I believe that the creationists and the intelligent design-ites are right in pointing out the utter uniqueness of human consciousness -- something that appears nowhere else in nature. Our brains are products of evolution, but not how we think or pray or forgive or love.
Evolution may be responsible for the goo in our bodies, but not for the good in our lives. The forces that have shaped us operate in ways evolutionary biologists can't fully describe or comprehend. The laws of nature explained by evolution are not only insufficient, but they are also the opposite of who and what we truly are as spiritual beings. Even ID gets this wrong. Only faith gets it right. Nature is bloody and amoral, and at our best we are compassionate and reflective.
I believe that the workings of nature don't fully describe the workings of God. While the Bible cannot pinpoint the proper age of the dinosaurs, no evolutionary theory can explain the origin of the human soul. Both are true and both are incomplete. The higher purpose of our human existence is with God, and the way to God is a way that no scientist can begin to understand or describe.
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