Q&A/Darwin, Michael Hawley, and God: BFF
"“The contradiction goes away once the misconceptions go away. I wrote my book for Christians of all flavors, so I purposely take the most restrictive position to show that even a literal interpretation of Genesis is not in conflict with science.”
Into the raging battle between religious belief and scientific reasoning rides a peacemaker carrying a bible in one hand and an Archaeopteryx fossil in the other. His name is Michael Hawley, and as an evolution-defending evangelical Christian, he’s something of a walking oxymoron.
Hawley holds several degrees in science and science education, focusing on geology, geophysics, fossil distribution, and microstratigraphy. The retired U.S. Navy commander and aviator is currently enjoying a second career as a science teacher at Tonawanda City High School. Armed with an extensive knowledge of biblical scripture, Hawley claims that religious belief and science are compatible, at least where it comes to the book of Genesis. His reasoned arguments on the evolution/creationism dispute are outlined in his first book, Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight (Aventine Press). In a clear, personal, non-confrontational style, Hawley defines the differences between the scientific process and religious dogma, clearing up many misconceptions about both along the way.
I found your book to be entertaining and informative.
Thanks. It’s exciting because I’ve been getting similar responses from others. The most memorable reaction was from an early manuscript reader prior to publishing. He’s evangelical, and after reading it he switched churches. He literally walked up to his pastor and began asking pointed questions on this issue, then he left.
You state in your bio that you assume biblical inerrancy, yet you support the scientific view of evolution. On the face of it that would seem to be a contradiction.
The contradiction goes away once the misconceptions go away. I wrote my book for Christians of all flavors, so I purposely take the most restrictive position to show that even a literal interpretation of Genesis is not in conflict with science. God explains the creation of the entire universe in just a few short pages. This requires very general wording, which means there are dozens of interpretations, including interpretations that are in agreement with science. Which one is correct? It’s my contention that where scripture meets nature, we can verify God’s written revelation with another of his divine revelations—nature. When God says, “The Heavens declare the glory of God,” he is saying nature itself reveals.
The broken flashlight of the book’s title refers to erroneous assumptions and wrongheaded approaches people—mostly the faithful—use to sort out truth from myth. Can you elaborate a little on that?
If we accept the Bible as divinely inspired revelation, then we believe it contains truth, which will be revealed through correct interpretation. The problem, again, is there are over 30,000 different Christian denominations. They can’t all be right. It is my contention that early theologian Thomas Aquinas got it right. Aquinas points out [that] from a Christian perspective there are actually two perfect revelations from God: His word and his works, meaning nature. Instead of filtering the numerous biblical interpretations through observational evidence in nature, anti-evolution creationists filter the evidence through a favored interpretation of Genesis. If the two conflict, they reject the evidence.
So religious leaders have it wrong?
Yes and no. Many religious leaders see no conflict between science and their faith. Christian denominations influenced by John Calvin, such as the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Dutch-Reformed, felt threatened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by an emerging worldview centered around rational human thought brought on by the Age of Enlightenment, and many of today’s leaders have inherited this mistrust.
What has the reaction been to your book?
[From] those that have read it within the religious community, I’ve received a very positive response. For example, the mega website ReligiousTolerance.org selected [it] as their June 2011 book of the month. The founder contacted me and said there are three books he read this year that changed his thinking, and one of them is mine. On the non-religious side, I was contacted by Dr. Theodore Steegmann Jr., professor emeritus of anthropology at UB. He was very impressed, and told me the book had quite an impact upon him. He says he now has a better understanding of who evangelical Christians are and why they take the position they do.
You seem to be a big advocate of the scientific process. But science has come to be viewed skeptically by a segment of the public that believes it’s just another belief system.
I think the best response to that comes from the world of cognitive neuroscience. The emotional center of our brain is the limbic system. When we make decisions based upon our values and beliefs [i.e., religion], cognitive neuroscientists using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) observe increased activity in the limbic system. The intellectual center of our brain is the cerebral cortex. When we make decisions based upon the analysis and evaluation of facts—as in science—there is increased activity in the cerebral cortex. If science is just another belief system, then we should see increased activity in the limbic system, and this is simply not the case.
So if I say, “I believe in evolution,” how am I different from someone who believes in the biblical account which puts the world at only 6,000 years old?
You would not be different doctrinally if both of you belonged to the same Christian denomination, since belief in evolution does not involve one’s faith. Belief in both evolution and a young earth, though, is quite incompatible since evolution requires a much longer period of time.
You must have had some rip-roaring discussions with your evangelical friends.
I have. Once I was challenged by an acquaintance in front of a large group of believers anxious to hear our discussion. He commented on how ridiculous it was not to believe in a global flood and a young earth. I asked, “Who in the Bible received God’s commandment, “Go forth and multiply and replenish the Earth?” The acquaintance replied, “Noah.” I then said, “Noah was the second. God first commanded Adam with the identical phrase. God did not say “plenish;” he said re-plenish, meaning to refill. This means the most literal interpretation requires you to believe there were people before Adam and Eve just as I’ve been saying all along. Are you telling me you do not take the Bible literally?” Having no answer, he got quite upset.
Michael Hawley’s website is www.searchingfortruthwithabrokenflashlight.com.