November 29, 2009

Phil's "Etch A Sketch of Understanding" Proposal

Pianist/comedian Victor Borge used to joke that the first piano ever invented was very boring to listen to, because it only had one large key. It wasn’t a success until somebody finally came along and invented the cracks. 

I wonder if there was a similar problem with the invention of the Etch A Sketch®. Perhaps there was an early version that only had one knob. With one knob, the drawing stylus could only go back and forth along a single straight horizontal line. The novelty would have worn off rather quickly. Not until some genius came up with the idea of a second knob would the vertical dimension be added, and the Etch A Sketch would be on its way to becoming the most popular drawing toy ever invented.

Some of the misunderstanding between faith and science comes from the way the spectrum of creation viewpoints has always been depicted. The viewpoints are always placed along a single line, like an Etch A Sketch with a single knob. One popular version of this one-dimensional continuum was popularized by Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education:

The implication of depictions like this is that there is a single, continuous line, with faith and science at opposite ends. The most literal interpretation of the Bible is the least scientific. Moving in the direction of science means walking away from God. If you continue down this path, you will finally abandon the Bible and faith in God completely, as you embrace the dogma of atheistic Darwinian evolution. 

Unfortunately, this depiction of creation viewpoints is nearly universal. From the “creation science” boom of the 1960s to the more recent “Truth Project” video series, believers have been saturated with teaching that reinforces this assumption. It’s no wonder that people of faith are afraid of science. And with scientists assuming that every step toward faith is a step toward believing in a flat earth, it’s no wonder that people of science are afraid of faith. 

It’s time to recognize that this one-dimensional model is faulty. It’s time to add the second knob to the Etch A Sketch. 

Therefore, in an effort to end this tug-of-war between faith and science, and promote mutual understanding and dialog, I would like to submit my solution. As both a scientist and a believer, I find it to be a much more accurate way of viewing the spectrum of creation viewpoints. And I think it has the potential to be as revolutionary to the faith/science discussion as adding the second knob to the Etch A Sketch. I call it: Phil’s “Etch A Sketch of Understanding” Proposal (for those of you who like acronyms, that would be PEASOUP). 

Take a look at the following depiction (CTRL-left-click on the drawing to open a larger version in a separate window).

Notice that the "Etch A Sketch" now has two knobs:
  • a "science" knob that moves the pointer up and down, and allows you to choose a creation viewpoint based on scientific evidence
  • and a "faith" knob that moves the pointer back and forth, and allows you to choose your religious beliefs. 

And these two knobs, at least theoretically, operate independently, just like the vertical and horizontal knobs on an Etch A Sketch.
    But are the "faith" and "science" knobs really independent? To find out, I have taken the names of some leading scientific and/or religious figures and placed them on this chart according to their scientific and religious viewpoints.¹ If the one-dimensional model were correct, we'd expect all the names to fall along a single diagonal line extending from the lower left to the upper right corner. But in spite of that being the common assumption, that's not the pattern we see.

    The one-dimensional model predicts that all evangelical Christians believe in young earth creationism. Instead, we see them embracing a wide spectrum of scientific viewpoints, from the geocentric view of Gerardus Bouw, and the young earth creationism of Ken Ham, Kent Hovind and Henry Morris, to the fairly recent "intelligent design" model of William Dembski and Phillip Johnson, and the "Biologos" model of a God-ordained process of natural selection described by Francis Collins and Darrell Falk. Even noteworthy evangelical religious leaders, including Billy Graham, Jack Hayford, and Philip Yancey, have gone on record to say that modern science, including discoveries of evidence for biological evolution, are fully compatible with Christian faith and the integrity of scripture.

    Conversely, we find that scientific viewpoints, at least those in the upper half of the chart, are represented by a wide range of religious affiliations. "Intelligent design" (which has only been around since the mid-1990s) has spokespersons ranging from conservative Del Tackett (of the "Truth Project" series) to Jewish comedian Ben Stein and agnostic conspiracy theorist David Berlinski (both of the movie "Expelled").² And when it comes to Darwinian natural selection (supposedly the domain only of ardent atheists such as Richard Dawkins), we find that one of Darwin's biggest promoters (who was largely responsible for promoting Darwin's theories in the United States) was botanist Asa Gray, whose faith was rooted deeply in the tenets that would later become the basis of Christian fundamentalism.

    For those of you who have always assumed, based on your religious or scientific training, the one-dimensional model of faith and science, I hope this gives you a new way to think about your world view. "It gave me something to think about" is probably the most frequent comment I get about my blog. If that's the case, I'm achieving my goal. We don't discover truth by just parroting what we've been taught by previous generations.

    So if you consider yourself a believer, it's OK to explore the "science" knob of your Etch A Sketch. You'll find out that you can do so without having to move your "faith" knob in the process.

    If you consider yourself a scientist, try exploring different settings of your "faith" knob. You'll discover that you can do so without having to compromise your integrity as a scientist.

    And if you consider yourself both, as I do, and you find yourself somewhere outside of the old one-dimensional continuum, rest easy. You're in good company.

    ¹ Placement is meant to be approximate, so please don't complain if you think someone's name should be shifted slightly to the left or right.
    ² Interestingly, Christians who embrace "intelligent design" didn't seem to notice that the motivation of most of the spokespersons in "Expelled" had very little to do with Christianity.


    1. Hey Phil,
      Excellent! Loved it. Who could possibly forget this model (oops, don't shake).

    2. A while back I came to a similar thought about the desirability of a two-dimensional matrix rather than a uni-dimensional linear organization. I'd make one revision in yours above: Intelligent design, as represented by the various positions held by Fellows of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, span an area within the matrix rather than a point on one of the dimensions. To give but one example, Paul Nelson is an ID proponent, at least officially, but is also a YEC.

    3. Thanks for the comment, RBH. Yes, as I was coming up with this model, I realized that “Intelligent Design” covered quite a range. Your suggested categories of “instant”, “serial”, and “continuous” creation certainly might have worked better. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen that discussion before I wrote this.

      I wasn’t setting out to create a new model when I wrote this, as much as to find a creative way to respond to objections of those who assume religious and scientific viewpoints are inextricably linked together. Treating them as independent axes, and using the “Etch-a-Sketch” illustration seemed to be an effective way to communicate this to a wide audience. It’s nice to discover (after the fact) that others have offered similar proposals.

    4. In preparing a presentation for a bible study, I wanted a simple graphic to represent the ranges/differences of belief re: Creation theories -- and I like yours the best! Have you considered adding a few more names to the left side, corresponding to more 'big names' in the debate/book circuit? I would love it if this graphic was in a permanent state of fine-tuning (no pun intended) :)

    5. Thank you. You are welcome to use any of the material on this site, as long as you reference the source.

      I am open to letting the graphic evolve (pun intended) in response to comments. I did use many of the 'big names' with which I am familiar, most of which are included in this list: Leading Figures

      Your list may be different from mine,so I am open to your suggestions.

    6. Of course all credit to where credit is due -- plus no one would believe that I am smart enough to compose such graphics on my own :)

      Your 'Leading Figures' link is a great spot to start, and (for me) suggests other names that might be added. In no particular order, here are some names for you to consider: Tim Keller, William Lane Craig, John Ankerberg, Stephen Meyer, Alister McGrath, RC Sproul, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, Norman Geisler. To me, these are either past or current 'big names' in Creation theory and/or Apologetics.

    7. Great graph, thanks for putting it together! I love the idea of including the additional names, but I would like to see Hank Hanagraaff on there too. I really think that people are interested to see where these men are camping at the moment in relationship to each other (the so called in-house debate guys), and certainly some of the living ones might even be "shifting" a bit from time to time (I guess pun intended -yes why not). And that would be very interesting wouldn't it, to see some "shifting" and so forth?