Jeff Hardin (below) is Chairman of the University of Wisconsin’s Zoology Department and a scientist who recognizes the reality of evolution.
He’s also a Christian, who believes in the claims of the Bible.
Hardin’s knowledge of science leads him to reject literalist interpretations of the Bible, like Young Earth Creationism, which make claims about science and nature that are distinctly at odds with the evidence. When the Bible is read in such a fashion as to make it conflict with reality, he believes, it is read wrongly. And he makes it his mission to show that the two, science and religion, are highly compatible.
Hardin calls himself an “Evolutionary Creationist.” Writing for Slate, William Saletan describes Hardin’s brand of Creationism this way:
They believe that God authored the emergence of life and humankind but that evolution explains how this process unfolded. They accept what science has established: The Earth is billions of years old, and all species, including ours, have evolved from other species.
Even at a glance, this approach is certainly preferable to Young Earth Creationism, if only because Evolutionary Creationists do not deny the realities that science uncovers. Young Earth Creationists like Ken Ham, on the other hand, will insist that evidence contradicting (their interpretation of) the Bible is flawed; Hardin suggests that interpretations of the Bible that contradict fact are faulty interpretations.
Hardin recognizes, crucially, that when the two books don’t seem to match, the error might be in his own understanding of the Bible. Rather than reject what science has discovered, he asks how Scripture can be understood better so that it fits the scientific evidence.
… One way God works in people is through science. They learn that their initial conclusions from Scripture — computing the age of humanity, for example, from the number of generations recounted since Adam — are clumsy and naive. To allow God to work in them, Christians must remain, in Hardin’s words, “epistemically open.”
This is, undoubtedly, a more useful and supportable attitude than the YEC alternative. At the same time, while shedding some of the baggage of YEC, Hardin’s is still a worldview susceptible to some of the same types of problems Ken Ham faces.
Hardin’s first message to believers is that they don’t have to choose between mechanical explanation and teleology, the idea that things work toward a goal. You can recognize the ruthless dynamics of evolution, as Hardin does, while maintaining that it follows a divine plan. “God created the world with the intention that we would be here and that we would one day be capable of interacting with him,” says Hardin. To illustrate this paradox, he cites Proverbs 16: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Each natural event seems random, but the overall pattern advances a purpose.
Unlike many of the claims of YEC, these assertions don’t directly contradict our knowledge of science. However, as with religious claims of this nature in general, these are significant assertions about the reality of the world — significant, but unsupported. And, to Hardin, this seems to be just fine.
Hardin asks atheists to be humble about what science can tell us. In his view, it can’t resolve whether God exists.
Which may very well be true, but isn’t largely useful in a discussion about whether or not we should believe something. By Hardin’s logic, we humble atheists should consider the possible existence of fairies, unicorns, and dragons. (And, to be fair, plenty of atheists believe science does have plenty to say about the existence of miracles and other science-defying ideas.)
There needs to be some convincing reason to believe that a God actually exists, not just a “but you can’t prove that he doesn’t.” In this respect, Evolutionary Creationists are no better off than Young Earth Creationists.
Still, as a means of convincing believers to recognize science, it’s a useful argument: you can keep your belief in God, but you should lose the specific claims that are demonstrably false. It’s certainly not a good reason to believe in God, but it’s a good reason to accept reality if your existing belief in God conflicts with it.