We think we know
We think we know
Topeka Capital-Journal - 5/17/06

I thank Cheryl Shepherd-Adams for her May 11 letter, "Seeing isn't believing." She gives me a chance to clear up misperceptions of my comments about evolution made at a journalists' forum in Johnson County on May 3.

Though admittedly not with the greatest clarity, the point I was trying to make about no person being present to see the Big Bang or observe the dinosaurs is that scientific knowledge is a human construct that relies on human intellectual and sensory capacities. We know only what we think we know. Interpretation is an integral part of the process; therein lays much of the controversy over evolution.

My main argument was that many participants in the evolution debate are engaged in metaphysical speculation, which is a kissing cousin to religion.

The late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, for example, calls human origins a "glorious accident." He saw no order or logic in the universe and certainly no supernatural forces at work in the unfolding of the Earth's natural history.

I respect Gould's idea. I see how he came to his conclusion. To me, events like Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami are powerful arguments supporting Gould's position. How could a god who calls himself just and merciful create a world in which these catastrophes happen?

I would argue, however, that Gould and those who agree with him are engaging in metaphysics, not science, in claiming lack of purpose or direction in the universe. I just don't know how you prove scientifically whether there is underlying order or meaning in the cosmos.

I've always appreciated philosopher William James' remark that, "When it comes to the universe, we may well be like dogs in our libraries." Like James, I think we should be humble and avoid claiming absolute knowledge of things that could well be beyond our intellectual or moral abilities to comprehend."

In interests of full disclosure, I am a cradle, C.S. Lewis variety Episcopalian and would define myself as a "theistic evolutionist." When I saw the sonogram of my now 6-year-old daughter, I knew creation was a divine act. I would not, however, claim that transforming personal experience as objective fact as regards the structure of the universe.

DAVID S. AWBREY, communications director, Kansas State Department of Education