Science Roundup: Dawkins, Doubt, and Probability

Several interesting articles were published over the last few days that deal with science and origins. Since exploring that topic, based on the release of Enns new book, was a popular series here I thought I would share these.

On February 23rd 2012 Professor Richard Dawkins debated the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams on the ‘nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin’. The moderator was Sir Anthony Kenny.

The debate is available on You Tube, though I have not watched it as of yet.

The report from the Guardian was that the bout did not live up to the hype.

In normal boxing matches, the duty of the referee is to keep the fighters from gouging and biting; but when you get a theologian and a scientist in the ring together, the referee’s job is get them to try to hit each other and not flail at the air. …

With such a formidable referee there was some chance that the contestants might land some blows on each other, and the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford was packed for this intellectual bloodsport. They would be disappointed, despite all Kenny’s best efforts.

Dawkins explained his view:

The laws of physics have conspired to make the collisions of atoms produce plants, kangaroos, insects, and us.

yet also admitted in the same debate:

the world’s “most famous atheist” now says he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn’t exist — but just barely.  … the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was “6.9 out of seven” certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs.

xkcd: The Difference

Dawkins comments came out around the same time as the NYT book review on Lawrence Krauss’ new book – “A Universe From Nothing”, which claims the opposite:

Scientists may be at least theoretically able to trace every last galaxy back to a bump in the Big Bang, to complete the entire quantum roll call of particles and forces. But the question of why there was a Big Bang or any quantum particles at all was presumed to lie safely out of scientific bounds, in the realms of philosophy or religion.

Now even that assumption is no longer safe … science can explain how something — namely our star-spangled cosmos — could be born from, if not nothing, something very close to it.

According to Krauss that something isn’t God but “randomness”.

Maybe in the true eternal multiverse there are truly no laws …

Maybe indeed randomness is all there is …

Maybe. But that does not sound certain to me, and something close to nothing is still not nothing.

Lastly, the neutrino that broke the light speed barrier and therefore the theory of special relativity may have been the result of a faulty conductor according to Guardian.

So it looks like neutrinos respect the speed limit after all. At least, the OPERA experimentalists announced a couple of days ago that they have found one problem (with a connector in their experiment) which could have led to a faulty timing measurement. When they run again with this fixed, they may well get a result compatible with the speed of light.

Something Discover pointed out right away:

So don’t let your imagination run away with this just yet. This result will, in my opinion, probably turn out to be incorrect for some reasons dealing with measurement. Faster than light travel is still a dream, even though I wouldn’t say it’s impossible… just very, very, very, very unlikely.

Here the author raises the issue regarding the possibility of particles that are faster than light, reminding us that, however unlikely, even the theory of special relativity’s claim, that the maximum speed achievable is the speed of light, is not  “certain”.  The Guardian does offer an interesting question? Should the results about the neutrino have been published and would we be questioning the results as much if it did not contradict a widely held theory.

Experimentalists get ignored if they are right, and hugely cited if they are wrong.

Theorists get ignored if they are wrong, but a Nobel Prize if they are right.

When the “most famous atheist” is willing to admit that science cannot disprove the existence of God, even if he thinks it is highly, highly improbable and scientists may have observed particles that are traveling faster than light it reminds us that the scientific conclusions on origins and cosmology,which are based on inductive reasoning of current observations and experiments can not be “proven” with error-free certitude. They can only be considered in degrees of probability. Something to keep in mind when wrestling with the claims of both science and theological interpretations.

Life is not Fair (Being Elite Part 2)

Challies has written an excellent post exploring the “Entitlement Generation”. One of the examples in the post describes a professor who asked his class - what do want the federal government to do to help you achieve your dream. Here was the result:

8 out of 10 students said they wanted free health care, they wanted the government to pay for their tuition. They want the government to pay for the down payment on their house. They expect the government “to give them a job.” Many of them said they wanted the government to tax wealthier individuals so that they would have an opportunity to have a better life.

Are these expectations fair? Should citizens be entitled to a government subsidized house, education, and job?

Responding to the idea that it is not fair that a child born to a poor woman has less chance for success than a child born into a wealthy family, Thomas Sowell points out fundamental problems with how we define “fairness”:

To ask whether life is fair — either here and now, or at any time or place around the world, over the past several thousand years — is to ask a question whose answer is obvious. Life has seldom been within shouting distance of fair, in the sense of even approximately equal prospects of success. …

More fundamentally, the question whether life is fair is very different from the question whether a given society’s rules are fair. Society’s rules can be fair in the sense of using the same standards of rewards and punishments for everyone. But that barely scratches the surface of making prospects or outcomes the same.

A look at Elite Faith and Fairness

Jesus was amazed at the faith of three people a Canaanite women, a centurion, and John the Baptist. The post from Challies helped me to look at the Canaanite women from a different perspective for the series on greatness. Let’s examine the ideas of fairness and entitlement through this woman of great faith in Matthew 15:21-28 (NASB).

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”

The woman is a Canaanite living in the Gentile region of what is modern day Lebanon. She has come to find Jesus, whom she acknowledges as the Messiah of Israel who was to come from the line of David.

Having had the amazing chance to meet Jesus, who had come to this area to share some quiet and private time with His disciples (Mark 7:24-25) she makes a request. What does she ask for? She doesn’t want a seat at the right or left seat of Christ in glory, or power to lord over others, or to be served? Nor does she demand the “better life”. She wants her daughter to be well. At the very heart of that appeal is the absence of any sense of entitlement. The basis for her request is not that she deserves help. She is begging for mercy and compassion.

23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

However Jesus does not initially respond to her request. As the account unfolds Jesus calls this woman a dog and tells her she did not deserve to be helped? This should catch the careful reader off guard, not only because these seem like cold  responses from Jesus, but it is such a contrast to how Jesus has been responding to similar requests. This narrative is surrounded by two accounts of Jesus healing many people (Matt 14:34-36; 15:29-31). The difference is the people being healed in these accounts are in areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee in Israel and are primarily Jewish.

Jesus explains first to the disciples and then the woman that His mission is focused on Israel.

  • I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel
  • It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs

In the latter quote, Jesus is saying in effect: it is not right to give the children’s food to the pets. Theologically the children are Israel, the pets are the Gentiles, and the bread is the offer to be part of the kingdom. This plan for reaching the lost is explained again in Acts when the disciples are told to be witnesses first in Jerusalem (the capital of Israel) and then ultimately to the outer most parts of the world. And again in Romans by Paul who tells us that salvation was first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Rom 1:16).

But is that being fair to the woman?

Is it fair that she was born a Gentile and not a Jew?

Is it fair that she lives outside of Israel’s borders?

Is it fair that her daughter is sick?

Take a moment to reflect on how you might respond to Jesus at this point? If I am honest with myself, I don’t think I would respond the way the woman does.

27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.

The woman shows incredible patience and humility as she continues to plead her case and beg for help. Her persistence is clearly aggravating the disciples, always the model of compassion, who just want her to go away. But despite their complaints and Jesus’ initial rejection she never claims she is entitled to the healing that Jesus can give or that its not fair that He heals Jews. She humbly admits that she is willing to take whatever He is willing to offer out of grace and mercy. She is asking for the table scraps that would be thrown out or given to the pets. She is willing to take the left-overs from the Messiah that Israel does not want.

Compare that to the Pharisees who believe that they are entitled to the kingdom by virtue of their special heritage as descendents of Abraham (Matt 3:7-10). They test Jesus demanding signs (Matt 16:1) then call Him demon possessed (Matt 12:24) and ultimately reject Him as the Son of David (Matt 12:23), and plot to kill Him (Matt 12:14). Their sense of entitlement has destroyed their humility and given them an inflated sense of worth. They are not joyful at the arrival of their King and Savior because they feel they deserve great places in the kingdom already.

The Pharisees were likely incensed to learn that many Gentiles would be granted entrance into the kingdom, but they were not entitled to enter, let alone have seats of glory (Matt 8:11-12).

The series of posts is exploring greatness by exploring what the criteria are for being an elite Christian? More important than what we might say if asked if we were elite is how Jesus would answer it. The response of this woman amazes Jesus and elicits the remark: You have great faith!
Jesus has just let this woman know that she is elite because of her faith.

Understanding Jesus’ initial response is difficult. Was Jesus testing her faith, trying to teach the disciples a lesson on faith and the heart (15:17-18), or trying to show them the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt 15:7-8) as well as their own lack of compassion. Probably all of the above are involved in how Jesus handled the situation.

Whatever conclusion one draws it is clear that Jesus gives us a lesson on being elite. If we want to be great in the kingdom it requires a humble recognition that life is not fair and we don’t deserve all that we think we do. Most importantly we need to recognize the need for a Messiah because we are not entitled to a place in the kingdom because of who we are or what we have (or have not) done. Until we start to let that sink in we are not going to be great in the eyes of our Savior.

[Continue reading through the series: part 3]

Are you Elite?

The Greeks were know for their irony. And I am not sure one could have scripted a more ironic start and finish to the 2011 NFL season.

The season started with Eli Manning, quarterback for the NY Giants being put on the spot when he was asked: is Eli Manning an elite quarterback, a top 5, top 10 quarterback? Are you in the Tom Brady class? To which he answered, “I consider myself in that class”.

Most people laughed at the time. Despite a SuperBowl 42 win and some good numbers, most did not think Eli was in Brady’s class. But when you make your living as an NFL quarterback, are the number one overall pick (in what may be the best QB draft ever), the son of a former NFL quarterback, and your older brother is often considered to be the greatest QB in the game, you are used to be scrutinized. Add to that the pressure of playing in New York and calling yourself elite becomes major news.

Eli backed up his claim with 15 TDs in the 4th quarter and 6 come from behind wins to get the Giants to the playoffs. With a 7-7 record, the team rolled and notched 5 straight wins to earn a showdown with elite QB and potential classmate Tom Brady of the Patriots in SuperBowl 46.

Adding another 4th quarter game winning drive with the championship on the line, the question that started the season was reconsidered:

“This business about being an elite quarterback,” Coughlin said, “that’s come and gone. I don’t think we’ll hear much about that anymore.”

Anytime we ask who are the elite quarterbacks it generates excitement and debate from fans. Part of the fun is trying to figure out how does one rank elite quarterbacks?

Should it be wins and losses, championships, or eye popping numbers – like yards, completions, or touchdowns? Or maybe clutch performances and team leadership?

It is tough to know what factors to use and which deserve more or less weight. That is why when we look at the lists of top 10 QBS we see familiar names but often in different orders. Some will put Peyton Manning and Dan Marino at the top because of the stats despite the lack of championships. Others will go with Joe Montana because of the 4 rings and clutch performances.

What would you say if someone stuck a microphone in front of you and asked if you were an elite Christian?

And how would you know? What would you use as criteria?

What makes someone great? And should Christians even be asking that question?

Before we move forward, we need to be clear about something. I am not proposing that we should be comparing ourselves to other Christians so that we can evaluate whether we are better than they are. We may from time to time need to evaluate a person’s walk and gifting to determine if they meet qualifications for a position like deacon or pastor/elder. We may also have to evaluate the teaching ability of two pastoral candidates and determine who is greater as part of a hiring process. But those situations are different than arguing about being a better Christian than someone else for boasting purposes.

Like us, people argued over greatness in the first century. In the Bible the scribes asked which commandment is the most important (Mk 12:28) and the Pharisees liked to compare their works to others (Luke 18:9-14), and based greatness on who gave the biggest gifts, prayed the best, or fasted the longest (Matt 6:2, 5, 16).

The disciples argued about who was greater on a couple of occasions. In Mark 9 we encounter the disciples traveling with Jesus.

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”

34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

I wonder what that might have sounded like:

Thaddeus: Remember when Jesus sent us out two by two. I hold the record for healing more people in a single day.

Thomas: Right but I think John healed more over the whole trip. Right John.

Bartholomew: Well who cast out the most demons?

Thomas: During one exorcism or overall?

James: Well, guys, not to brag but John, Peter, and I did get to see the transfiguration.

Peter: And don’t forget I got to walk on water!

John: But you did sink like a stone.

Peter: Well at least I got out of the boat.

Andrew: yes, but Peter I am the one that brought you to the Messiah in the first place.

This conversation is based on my “sanctified imagination”, a term used by one of the pastors I know to  preface his descriptions that fill in the gaps in a Biblical narrative.

Through their example, if we are honest, we can see some of our own pride in them. The desire to be greater than those around us, to be found favorable in the eyes of those around us. This is the attitude we need to recognize and guard against.

We should want to be great Christians. But not at the expense of others. We should also desire all Christians to be great. In order to do that we need to know what a great Christian is. So we turn to Jesus who gave a few lessons on what greatness looked like.

[Continue reading through the series: part 2]

 

Enns on Experts, Evolution, and Evangelicals (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a series. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2.

I have been doing some reading regarding Peter Enns view of Adam. In the first two parts we examined three starting point for Enns.

  • If evolution is correct, than the Biblical narrative regarding creation and Adam/Eve is not.
  • Evangelicals wrongly assume that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins”
  • People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.

In this post we look at his approach to Adam, which goes something like this:

  • Paul understood Adam and Eve to be the first humans and the parents of all humans.
  • The theories (like evolution) that are offered based on the scientific and archaeological evidence contradict Paul’s view of Adam and human origins.
  • Scientific theories like evolution are right.
  • Therefore Paul’s view is wrong and/or we are reading him incorrectly.

This is a logical argument and it is not too hard to understand how Enns, who is not a trained scientist, arrives at his conclusion. One of his starting points is the inability of a non-scientist to “contest” scientific theories. Therefore he must accept them and figure out how to handle Paul’s view of Adam in light of evolution.

Adam: man or myth?

Over at BioLogos Enns  has a 6 part series on Paul’s Adam.  In the series he lists 9 factors that are important in considering how to interpret Paul’s treatment of Adam. Without getting into all the factors here, Enns acknowledges that the Bible and Paul treat Adam as a real historical person:

The biblical depiction of human origins, if taken literally, presents Adam as the very first human being ever created. He was not the product of an evolutionary process, but a special creation of God a few thousand years before Jesus—roughly speaking, about 6000 years ago. Every single human being that has ever lived can trace his/her genetic history to that one person.

There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person, the first created human from whom all humans descended. And for many Christians, this settles the issue of whether there was a historical Adam.

Enns then agrees that Paul’s theology is the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) of Scripture

This is breath-taking theology. In a few short verses, Paul is doing nothing less than bringing together the grand narrative of Scripture. The crucified and risen Messiah brings closure to the entire biblical drama. The Christ is the second, obedient, Adam (Romans 5), the firstfruits of the new humanity (1 Corinthians 15). In Christ, all of creation starts over.

and concludes:

This is the problem in a nutshell: Paul says something of vital and abiding theological importance that is anchored in an ancient view of human origins.

The cognitive dissonance is created when one accepts the theory of evolution. So Enns suggests that Paul’s view is wrong. How can this be? Paul, despite being an apostle with the gift of prophecy, was a first century Jew. He wrote from a scientific understanding that was accepted at the time in which he lived but is now known to be incorrect based on modern science.

Paul was an ancient man, not a modern one. Should we expect him, therefore, to share views of the world, of humanity, the cosmos, etc., common to his time? Or, does Paul’s inspired status mean that his view of physical reality transcends his time and place?

What we are really asking here is “What does ‘inspiration’ mean?” That is a huge question, but let’s remain focused on the Adam issue. The question is this: Does Paul’s status as an inspired author of Scripture mean that his views of human origins and the world as a whole are scientifically accurate (since, as the argument goes, a text inspired by God could not give false information)? Does his inspired status mean Paul cannot share the view of the “ancient science” of his first-century world?

These are some serious questions that invite discussion, beyond what can be done in this post. Paul certainly wrote to people using the language and culture in which he lived. The letters that he wrote were written primarily to address problems in various churches, encourage the faithful, and communicate theological truths. Paul was not writing a science or history textbook, but God (and therefore theology) interacts with both. Therefore it is possible to write a scientifically accurate view of human origins that was written primarily as a historical account of how God interacted with His creation.

I am not sure what Enns argues for in the book Evolution of Adam, but in the series he concludes (actually precludes since it was the first post) that Adam is a literary device that helps explain Israel’s origins.

… the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins. … The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

After Enns lays out his general argument for a non-historical Adam, he reminds us that we all must weigh the two options 1) accept Paul’s view or 2) reject Paul’s view. That should open up the discussion for all who wish to engage. Right?

Any version of #1 above is, at the end of the day, or even the beginning for that matter, unrealistic and wrong.

In Enns view there is not room to discuss option #1. If you accept Paul’s view that Adam is a historical person you are wrong and the discussion appears closed. It is only open (for Enns) if you are working through some scenario in option #2.

[rejecting Paul's view of Adam and origins ] is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left “Paul’s Adam.” We are all “creating Adam,” as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.

Enns raises many points on Genesis and Paul in the series. He seems to open a door to discussion but then slams it closed by rejecting out of hand the acceptance Paul’s view of Adam and origins. Why? The evidence can’t be ignored.

I speak as a biblical scholar, not a scientist. But ignoring evidence is not a reasonable option. And reconfiguring the evidence to support Paul’s assumptions of a 6000 year-old earth and two humans as parents of the entire human race is, quite simply, impossible.

are you a man or a mouse?

Francis Collins in his book Language of God explains some of the evidence for a common mammalian ancestor

The study of genomes leads inexorably to the conclusion that we humans share a common ancestor with other living things. …

Even more compelling evidence for a common ancestor comes from the study of what are known as ancient repetitive elements (AREs). There arise from “jumping genes,” which are capable of coping and inserting themselves in various other locations in the genome, usually without any functional consequences. Mammalian genomes are littered with such AREs, with roughly 45 percent of the human genome made up of such genetic flotsam and jetsam.

When one aligns sections of the human and mouse genomes, anchored by the appearance of gene counterparts that occur in the same order, one can usually also identify AREs in approximately the same location in these two genomes.

Some of these may have been lost in one species or the other, but many of them remain in a position that is most consistent with their having arrived in the genome of a common mammalian ancestor, and having been carried along ever since. Of course some might argue that these are actually functional elements placed there by the Creator for a good reason, and our discounting them as “junk DNA” just betrays our current level of ignorance. And indeed, some small fraction of them may play important regulatory roles. But certain examples severly strain the credulity of that explanation. The process of transposition often damages the jumping gene. There are AREs throughout the human and mouse genomes that were truncated when they landed, removing any possibility of their functioning. In many instances, one can identify a decapitated and utterly defunct ARE in parallel positions in the human and the mouse genome. (The Language of God., 133-37)

He concludes:

Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed these decapitated AREs in these precise positions to confuse and mislead us, the conclusion of a common ancestor for humans and mice is virtually inescapable. This kind of recent genome data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that all species were created ex nihilo”.

Interesting. The argument that the presence of “junk DNA” all but proves a common ancestor because God is not the author of confusing and misleading information. However I see incredible parallels to the argument Enns is making. According to Enns, Paul clearly wrote and taught that Adam is the first human and parent to all other humans but that interpretation must be rejected. Why? Because “junk DNA” proves Paul was wrong.

With apologies to Collins, I rewrote the last paragraph as a response to Enns argument:

Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed the poetic/mythical Adam in the Scriptures in such precise positions as genealogies and  major theological treatises to confuse and mislead us (as well as his apostles and prophets), the conclusion of a historical Adam is virtually inescapable. This kind of Biblical data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that Adam is a literal device used to explain Israel’s origins.

one man’s junk is another man’s functioning genome

Enns wrote that for those willing to move to option #2

you have left Paul’s Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion.

Considering the fact that “junk DNA” is still undergoing research and revision among scientists and that our understanding of genetics is still in its relative infancy – the human genome was only mapped in 2003 – I think that Enns may be overstating the case regarding evolution. Jonathan Wells, who has a Ph.D in Molecular and Cell Biology Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, was interviewed in Salvo magazine (Aug 2011) about his latest book The Myth of Junk DNA. He suggested:

Actually, Collins no longer relies on “junk DNA.” In 2007 he announced in an interview for Wired magazine that he had “stopped using the term.” In 2010 he wrote that “discoveries of the past decade, little known to most of the public, have completely overturned much of what used to be taught in high school biology. If you thought the DNA molecule comprised thousands of genes but far more ‘junk DNA,’ think again” (The Language of Life, pp. 5–6).

Christians should not be afraid of science, however they should also not be afraid to challenge and explore the theories proposed by science. We should be good Bereans of both the theology and the science we are taught. Science is great for explaining how the world works now but we should be wary of accepting the latest scientific explanation for what happened in the past.  As for me, on this day I will settle for Paul’s Adam over the one I would create and shape based on my own understanding or the theories of “junk DNA”.

Enns on Experts, Evolution, and Evangelicals (Part 2)

Peter Enns  has released a new book called The Evolution of Adam. Peter Enns kicked off the Evolution of Adam Blog tour this week, where he states the problem and reason for writing the book:

But I feel the most pressing issue Christians face is the hermeneutical one: if evolution is true, what do I do about what the Bible says about Adam and Eve?

In this series of posts we are examining three themes from an article  written by Enns for the Huffington Post entitled Once More, with Feeling: Adam, Evolution, and Evangelicals along with recent posts on his blog related to the topic of evolution, Christianity, and Adam/Eve. These are:

  • If evolution is correct, than the Biblical narrative regarding creation and Adam/Eve is not.
  • Evangelicals wrongly assume that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins”
  • People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.

In Part 1 the first two were addressed. Here we address the third theme. Part 3 is also available.

People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.

In the HuffPo article, Enns tells us that we must accept the explanations given to us by the experts:

Then you have the mapping of the human genome. It’s a done deal: humans and primates are 90-something percent related genetically. The best explanation for it, geneticists tell us, is that humans evolved from primates. Since my greatest scientific achievement is doing puppet shows with dissected feral cats in high school biology, I feel I have no right to contest — and I likely speak for many other evangelicals in that regard (emphasis added)

This is fully developed in Part 4 of a series by Enns on recurring mistakes made in the Adam/Evolution discussion.

Since evolutionary theory is the product of scientific investigation, it follows that those best suited to evaluate the scientific data and arguments are those at the very least trained in the relevant sciences—or better those who are practicing scientists and therefore are keeping up with developments.

…  As much as biblical studies requires some training and expertise, it is much more the case in the sciences. The years of training and experience required of those who work in fields that touch on evolution rules out of bounds the views of those who lack such training. (emphasis added)

In case we missed this point, Enns reiterates it:

My point is that serious scientific questions require serious scientific training—which only a fraction of the earth’s population can claim to have.

My point is that most of us do not have a place at the table where the assessment of evidence is the topic of discussion.

However we do this all the time. Making decisions requires us to make assessments of information even when we lack some training or expertise. Consider this event in the life of our family recently. My daughter was complaining about headaches for some time. After a series of tests including eye exams, allergy tests, monitoring water intake, x-rays, and sleep studies, the doctors concluded that her tonsils and adenoids were swollen. Of the two, the adenoids were the worse and judged to be causing the most problems. In addition, tonsils are debated as to whether they are part of the immune system so our family had to weigh the medical advice we received and do some research in order to evaluate whether to have both removed or only the adenoids. And we had to do this despite the fact that none of us have any medical training.

While the answers involved in answering scientific questions may be complex and most of us may lack the training required to understand all the details, I don’t think Enns intends to say that understanding the sciences is closed to the majority of the earth’s population. While I may not be able to design and build a rocket that can get into orbit or solve the tension between general relativity and quantum mechanics nor will I likely ever be asked to splice genes in a lab, I think I can grapple with and assess a logical argument even if I cannot fully understand all of the scientific evidence presented as part that logical argument to support a hypothesis.

We can do this because some logical arguments are definitively provable through deductive reasoning and experimentation. Concepts like geometric proofs, genetic mapping, and Galileo’s theory that objects fall at the same rate regardless of their mass in a vaccum.

However some conclusions cannot be proven they can only be shown as probable and are based on inductive logic rather than deductive logic. Generally speaking in inductive logic, we are starting with data listed out as premises. Then we draw a conclusion or devise a theory that may explain the data. However that theory or conclusion can only be claimed as valid with a degree of probability. Readers of Holmes adventures will recognize this method.

It is an old maxim of mine that whenever you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. – Sherlock Holmes

The inductive method comes into play when science is not experimenting or predicting things based on observation and mathematical calculations that are happening now but rather is trying to draw conclusions about what happened in the past. In this realm science is more about being a good historian trying to piece together an event from extant artifacts or a detective trying to solve a crime.  Because we can’t go back in time we have to base our  conclusions on assumptions and the information we have or are able to gather now. And that makes us equivalent to a jury trying to evaluate the cases presented to them during a trial.

If you think about we also do this whenever we read a theological text or commentary where various interpretations are given. In the post Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion Part 1, Enns explains how readers come to different conclusions about the genre of the Genesis accounts based on different pieces of evidence that are given:

So, when someone says, “I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as historical events, and here are the reasons why,” that person is not “denying biblical authority.” That person may be wrong, but that would have to be judged on some basis other than the ultimate literalist conversation-stopper, “You’re denying biblical authority.”

The Bible is not just “there.” It has to be interpreted. The issue is which interpretations are more defensible than others.

Here he concludes that some interpretations of Genesis are more defensible – that is more probable – than others. The argument for a particular interpretation is evaluated using inductive reasoning and we all do it regardless of whether we are Biblical scholars or not. Now, if people can do that with Biblical interpretations, despite varying degrees of training and education, without denying the authority of the Bible then it should be assumed that people can interpret the conclusions that science provides without denying science or being scholars. The one thing to keep in mind is that as evaluators of logical arguments we have to be willing to read and learn about the premises used as evidence to support various ideas, critically think and evaluate them, and then determine which conclusions are more defensible than others.

Enns mentions in the HuffPo article the theory that man and apes have a common ancestor from which they have evolved. A simplified form of the argument in logical form goes something like this:

premise 1:man and chimps have between 95 and 99% (depending on how the comparison is done) similarity in their gene sequences.

premise 2: man and chimps have pseudogenes in the same location and sequence.

premise 3: man has 23 chromosomes and a chimp has 24 chromosomes but the gene sequence and location of chromosome #2 in man matches 2 chromosomes in the chimp.

conclusion: therefore man and chimps have a common ancestor and chromosome #2 in man is the result of 2 chromosomes in their common ancestor being fusing together .

The first three premises are written as statements that can be either true or false. They can also be experimentally proven as either true or false by geneticists who can compare the genome mappings from a man and a chimp and do comparisons with the data as it exists today. Here Enns does have a point. Most of us are not geneticists and would not likely have a great understanding of how to map genomes nor would we understand the complexity involved with comparing genomes between different species. We would have a tough time assessing this information.

However we are all able to understand the argument as laid out above and reason through it.  As presented this is a logical argument that presents a possible outcome. But does the conclusion necessarily follow from the premises? Can it be proven that this is the only conclusion possible? This theory may explain the data (premises) in this logical argument but is based on inductive logic. The theory or conclusion can only be claimed as valid only with a degree of probability. It can’t be proven. And it is this conclusion that we all are able to evaluate.