On Generalizations

Generalizations are important because they are broad statements about a topic, many times involving related events. In education, making a generalization is a critical-thinking skill because the student must synthesize seemingly independent events into a generalized statement.

On the other hand and by the very nature, generalizations in themselves lack specific details, thus in life, people have the tendency to generalize generalizations, which actually takes them further and further from the truth.

Local weather reporters commonly use this generalization: Hot air rises. On its own, this statement implies that hot air moves upward on its own. Many people also commonly use this statement by focusing on the result, not the cause. For the record, hot air does not levitate. As air temperature rises, its density decreases, thus is displaced upward by denser, colder air that now occupies the space that the warmer air once occupied. Ah come on – don’t you remember the Archimedes story of being in the bathtub, and then running naked through the street yelling I found it!

Life is loaded with misconceptions based on generalizing generalizations that leads us to inaccurate and even incorrect information. Candy does not cause tooth decay, bacteria do; but sugar promotes bacteria activity. Human blood in the veins is not blue, it’s very dark red – yet the blue we see in our arms comes from the interaction of light with body tissues. Plants do release oxygen into the atmosphere as waste in one process, but plants also require oxygen for the same reason as animals.

These are just common examples of misconceptions that are rooted in generalizations. Imagine how many generalizations people misuse and misinterpret in topics as politics and religion. Politicians are masters of use broad, sweeping statements – some of which are accurate and some are not. Some are in the correct context, and some are not. Yet, whether we cheer or jeer the statement largely depends on our view of the one delivering the message, not our knowledge about the topic.

Not long ago, I listened to a pastor’s message to his congregation about creation and evolution. I know this topic is deep, yet I heard a person jumping from one generalization to another. I can only assume the pastor did this to get the message they wanted to deliver. On the other hand, the flock looks to the pastor for guidance and takes the pastor at their word, yet are unknowingly left with inaccurate information as their informational foundation.

The bottom line is simple: No matter the topic, there is a lot to learn about the world. Although new knowledge grows so fast, specialists find it difficult to keep up in their own field. It is difficult to sort through all the factoids in today’s world, thus the responsibility for learning continues to fall on the learner.

On Chasing the Mis- and Uninformed

I haven’t written about the intersection of science and religion in a few weeks, but as the Categories on the right sidebar indicates, I have more than just a passing interest in the topic.  Interestingly enough, the current candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are providing some fodder to ponder.

Michelle Bachmann recently mentioned that God used the east coast’s earthquake and hurricane to get Washington’s attention about Washington spending. Although she is known to proclaim her theological beliefs and interpretations, she is now passing the comment off as humor. If her intent was humor, she exercised a poor choice of words. If she intended to proclaim a theological belief, she not only does not speak for all Christians, her theology does not represent the majority of Christians. After all, God did not cause of drought in Texas to warn the nation against Governor Rick Perry!

Shortly after announcing his candidacy not all that long ago, Governor Perry made an interesting statement about evolution – so I took some time to read the Texas science standards for high school. Although I can make the argument that Governor Perry’s statements about what educators teach in Texas is false, I acknowledge that cracks exist in the standards that could allow religious points of view into the science classroom – a notion that the US Supreme Court ruled against in Edwards vs. Aguillard (1987).

I know that Governor Perry does not stand for the same theology and science that I do, but reading the comments from readers after the articles about his statement was more disturbing to me than what he said. Although I disagree with some of the comments, but too many comments contained numerous misconceptions and misinformation about science, evolution, religion, and the interchange between them that reinforce my notion that too many people are either misinformed or not informed about the topic. I write about this topic because of the misinformed and the not informed.

Although I have not officially crunched the numerous myself (at least not yet), membership in Christian denominations supporting science and evolution easily outnumbers membership to the contrary. It would not surprise me if the split is at least 60/40, and maybe more – thus a larger gap than polling suggests. Then again, I also believe those numbers would support my notion that many churches are not teaching their flock about this issue – thus contributing to the misinformed.

Meanwhile, Governor Perry and Michelle Bachmann continue to rely on engaging the emotions of a misinformed public through their bamboozling rhetoric and their personal theological view. I tagged this video a few months ago waiting for the right time as the comments in this video also support the divide and the notion of the malinformed – yet giving promise & hope of the informed.

On the Evolution-Creation Struggle: A Book

Many years ago, a student entered my science class with a frustrated look and asked, “What is the purpose of history?” Fortunately, my answer is one that I remember and one that I frequently remind myself: To know where you are going, you must know where you are. To know where you are, you must know where you have been – that’s history.

For the past, several years I have done may share of reading about the interchange between science and theology, especially around the topic of evolution. Not all that long ago, I noticed a certain book on the library shelf, but I admit, knowing the reputation of the writer I didn’t proceed. Good news is that I gave in and I’m glad I did.

The creation-evolution debate continues today – many times in a religious context. However, this debate has a story – it has a history that should help us understand today. As it turned out, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Michael Ruse, 2005) examines this historical perspective.

Although the core of the debate lies in the 1700s, Dr. Ruse starts the story with a view of Aristotle’s (the Great Chain of Being) that served as the baseline for many philosophical perspectives. Awareness of the thoughts before, during, and after Charles Darwin’s writings is paramount to understanding the situation.

While I differ with Dr. Ruse’s views about God, he primarily focused on the history – thus held-back his perspective until the final chapters. Surely, one can argue that Ruse injects his perspective throughout the book through his view of history, but I challenge critics to show me any unbiased analysis. Bottom line – The Evolution-Creation Struggle is worth reading because it helped me better understand the misunderstanding and misconceptions held by many.

On a Lost World

In my continuing quest to study the interface between science and theology, my need to learn more about the interpretation of the Book of Genesis led me to another series of books. Thanks to the booklist at Biologos, I started with The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by Dr. John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (the school from which Billy Graham graduated).

The paperback book is short (192 pages includes notes and an index), and organized into 18 propositions – the individual themes that organizes the content. The book is easy to read and understand, thus a good read for anyone generally interested in the topic or those struggling with the science-theology conflict centering around Genesis , including pastors, science teachers, and laypeople. It serves to stimulate thinking while serving as a starting point for further study of Genesis regarding origins.

On several occasions, Dr. Walton openly challenges the meaning of “taking the Bible literally” when it comes to determining the meaning of ancient literature as Genesis. He challenges studying the text through the eyes of the modern age, including today’s knowledge of science, thus emphasizes that in order to gain a literal understanding, one must do the following:

  • Read the text in the context of the times
  • Translate words based on their use, grammar, syntax, and understanding of the times the author wrote the text
  • Determine the author’s intent and what the audience would be understand
  • Identify any significant events of the time for context

One of the key to Walton’s discussion is around the Hebrew word bara. Meaning create, Walton continually provides two meanings: to create something new (a material look), and to create order (a functional perspective). Walton also examines Hebrew words meaning day, earth, Sabbath, humanity, and a few others, and intertwines his propositions into an interesting collection.

Instead of providing specific details about Dr. Walton’s conclusions, I will simply recommend The Lost World of Genesis One for study and discussion as his perspective is interesting and engaging. Meanwhile, for me, it is on to Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.

Text’s background at Biologos

Book at Amazon

On Building a New Ark

Answers in Genesis (AIG) is a Christian-based organization with a vision to serve as a catalyst to bring reformation by reclaiming the foundations of our faith which are found in the Bible, thus  proclaiming the absolute truth and authority of the Bible with boldness.

In May 2008, their $27 million Creation Museum opened in northern Kentucky across from Cincinnati to promote their understanding of creation and a young earth (less than 10,000 years old). A few months ago, AIG announced plans to build (near the museum) Ark Encounter, a $170+ million, 800-acre theme park based on the story of Noah.

In November, the Kentucky Department of Tourism tentatively approved $43 million dollars in tax incentives pending further analysis. Shortly thereafter, Governor Steve Broshear (D) announced his support for the incentives in the name of jobs for Kentuckians.

AIG does not hide its intent to intent to evangelize its message. In the spirit of getting money from wages and various consumer expenditures, the state of Kentucky is willing to put public money into an organization who promotes a defined religious dogma.

The Lexington Herald-Leader supported the state’s incentives by stating the following:

If a church or a religious organization sought the same incentives for the same purpose, there would be clear reason to object on constitutional grounds. Ark Encounters is a private company seeking to make a profit off of a biblical theme. (3 Dec 2010)

I do not live in Kentucky, so I won’t complain. Nor will I attend Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum simply because they are against my theology and my science. However, I can ask questions.

  • Would the citizens of Kentucky and its state government officials financially support other Christian groups to develop their ventures?
  • Would the citizens of Kentucky and its state government officials financially support a non-Christian religious organization wanting to build a tourist attraction?