National Lutheran News

Intersection of science and religion raises questions, Chicago theologian says

Philip Hefner says “Intelligent Design” arguments are intellectualy dishonest.

Was it a good idea for scientists to create an “onco- mouse,” a creature embedded with human genetic material and engineered to get cancer?

Lutheran theologian Philip Hefner isn’t sure. During lectures at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis May 11-12, the recently-retired professor of systematic theology at Lu-theran School of Theology at Chicago, explained that the creature, devised to enable researchers find a cancer cure, is available from DuPont for $75.

He said, “I hope you’re disturbed, even troubled by the existence of onco-mouse. We need always to ask, when we do scientific research, ‘Are we doing it the right way?’”

Hefner addressed the current controversy over whether to allow evolution or creationism to be taught in public schools. “Both sides believe they’re under threat,” he said. To illustrate, he indicated that national meetings of high school biology teachers now regularly offer workshops on “how to teach evolution” in your classroom. By contrast, Philip Johnson, of the University of California Law School at Berkeley, has recently said, “Every public high school biology teacher in the U.S. is part of a nationwide anti-god conspiracy.”

Hefner said it will not do simply to “teach creation” as if Scripture is consistent. He said there are two creation stories, one each in Genesis 1 and 2. “Historically, Christians have harmonized the two, but there are problems. For example, how and why was woman created? The two versions give different answers.”

He warned that teaching “Intelligent Design” (ID), a version of creationism, can be damaging. Every ID argument, he said, has been refuted by scientists. He gave two examples. ID says fossils don’t show development over time. But, in fact, they do. ID says evolution cannot produce complexity, but the evidence actually shows that it can and does.

He saw ID viewing the Almighty as “God of the gaps” — when we can’t find answers scientifically, God fills in the gaps.
Said Hefner, “The presentations I’ve heard from ID proponents are simplistic and superficial. I don’t have a lot of respect for this movement because it’s intellectually dishonest and theologically inadequate.”

Hefner concluded his three-lecture series by tackling the question, “Can we find meaning in the natural world?”
He contrasted the views of two Harvard University graduates, poet Richard Wilbur and physicist Ste-phen Weinberg. Says Wein-berg, “There is nothing in the universe that suggests any purpose for humanity. We make it up as we go along.”
By contrast, Wilbur believes that the human wish for meaning is un-bounded. “Science can’t demolish that.”

Said Hefner, “I don’t understand how an agnostic can live without meaning or purpose. But such people are taking reason seriously.”

Christians, he said, be-lieve that purpose is “written deep into the fabric of the universe. ‘Love one another’ is not something we construct on our own.”

Said Hefner, “Some scientists think we embrace purpose because evolution is tricking us. Choosing it helps us survive better.”

Hefner argued that the thirst for meaning is an objective fact of nature, adding, “Our meanings are also constructed by our minds, and may be subjective and faulty,” but “thirst for meaning is prewired in our brains. We are forced to choose: is there meaning in life or not?”