Avalos: Faith versus faith
Avalos: Faith versus faith
By Hector Avalos, Ames Tribune, 6/4/2011
After failing to convince the scientific community, creationists have embarked on a new strategy. The new strategy claims that science requires just as much faith as religion, and so both should be given an equal standing in public education, especially when they make claims about the origin and nature of life on earth.

Mr. Bohlen Thye’s letter (May 1) exemplifies this strategy when he states, “Avalos labels intelligent design as a religious concept and says Intelligent Design masquerades as science, implying his religion does no masquerading and only wants ‘pure’ science.”

For Thye, atheism is also a religion.

Thye seems unaware that the scientific method is not solely the province of atheists. And it is for that reason that many Christian scientists do not regard biblical creationism or Intelligent Design as a scientific enterprise.

Despite his philosophical inconsistencies, Francis S. Collins, a self-described evangelical Christian and former head of the Human Genome Project, stated: “Intelligent Design fails in a fundamental way to qualify as a scientific theory” (The Language of God: A Scientist Provides Evidence for Belief, New York: Free Press, 2007, p.187).

John E. Jones, the federal judge who, in the famous Dover trial of 2005, declared that Intelligent Design was religion, and not science, is not an atheist. He is a self-described Lutheran Republican appointed by George W. Bush.

John Haught, a renowned Catholic theologian, was also a witness against Intelligent Design at the Dover trial. In fact, most of the witnesses against Intelligent Design were self-described Christians, not atheists.

Michael Behe, a biochemist, who did argue that Intelligent Design qualified as science at the Dover trial, also argued that astrology qualified as science. That position did not seem to be very compelling to anyone else but astrologers.

So why can an atheist biblical scholar, a Lutheran judge, a Catholic theologian and an evangelical geneticist agree on this issue?

For one, Mr. Thye never defines what he means by “faith,” “religion” or “science,” which results in his confused conflation of science, faith and religion.

Despite the varied use of the term “faith,” there exists a consistent Christian tradition defining faith as belief not based on empirical-logical evidence.

A variant of this definition can be found in Jesus’ own statement to doubting Thomas in John 20:29 (RSV): “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Augustus H. Strong, the renowned Baptist theologian, remarked that faith “may be defined as certitude with respect to matters in which verification is unattainable”, Systematic Theology, 1907, p.3).

That means that belief in creation by a supernatural being would qualify as faith, while evolutionary theory would not qualify as faith because we already posses ample verification of the basic biochemical processes that can cause physical and biochemical changes across generations.

But, for Thye, the scientific prediction that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow in our latitude presumably is no less based on faith than the prediction that the Rapture would be on May 21.

Thye also misunderstands the basics of atheism. Most atheists I know argue that the lack of evidence for the biblical God justifies unbelief in that God.

And I would be willing to bet that Thye would not always hold that unbelief in a god constitutes a religion. For example, I presume that Thye and I would agree that we don’t believe in Zeus because there is no evidence for the existence of Zeus.

But would Thye also argue that lack of belief in Zeus constitutes a “faith” or a “religion”? Is there such a thing as the religion of “A-Zeusianism”?

In fact, A-Zeusianism probably would be one of the largest religions on the planet because maybe 99.9 percent of human beings are A-Zeusians. Atheists would argue that there is no more evidence for the existence of the biblical God(s) than there is for Zeus, or for any other god.

So if Mr. Thye and other creationists are still grieving the fact that biblical creationism or Intelligent Design are treated as religious statements of faith, while evolution is treated as a scientific fact, then they should first try to convince more Christian scientists rather than just atheists and A-Zeusians.

Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, writes monthly for The Tribune. His columns appear the first Sunday of the month.