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Author and Biologist Wayne Rossiter speaks about his book and how Christianity makes sense of biology
Wayne Rossiter's Radical Change
Dr. Wayne Rossiter is the assistant professor of Biology at Waynesburg University and author of the books , and Shadow of Oz. This columnist recently had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Rossiter about his book Shadow of Oz. Mind Over Matter
When Dr. Wayne Rossiter entered academia, he was, in his own words, a “staunch and cantankerous atheist.” For him, this wasn’t just a mild disinterest in any form of religion, rather, he took pride in his ability to dismantle religion where it stood. Rossiter had always been, in his words, a “sciencey kid,” studying all manner of science – from chemistry to meteorology – as he grew up. However, as an adult, it was the field of biology where he hung his hat. In school, Rossiter trained in ecology, and did some environmental consulting on and off throughout his graduate studies. In graduate schooI, he studied molecular evolution; and then went on to work on ecology for his PhD.
However, as he was working on his PhD, a radical change occurred in his life. One night, after celebrating what should have been a tremendous accomplishment, Rossiter was unable to sleep. He spent the hours pondering if the success he had just celebrated, or, indeed, anything, really mattered. In his book, Rossiter describes his quandry:
“On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated.” (Shadow of Oz, pp. 4-5)
As Rossiter searched for answers to this soul-crushing quandary, he was led to the steps of the very thing he had so vehemently rejected: Christianity.
Dr. Wayne Rossiter with his family
A Biologist Skeptically Examines Biological Theory
Conversion, says Rossiter, didn’t radically alter his views on science, as some might suppose. Instead, Rossiter became more open to the broader dialogue in biology. Prior to his conversion, Rossiter says in his book that he had been insulated from certain views.
“Advanced education at our best universities is surprisingly insular. Like bobbleheads, we tend to read and agree on the same things, and give little to no countenance to critics of our views.” (Shadow of Oz, pp 3-4).
Now, Rossiter told this writer:
“I began to approach things with skepticism, rather than blind obedience. I began to realize that there are some serious disagreements in the industry with regard to the most basic and essential aspects of biology. I also began to be more critical about the proposed mechanisms that were being used to explain the patterns and structures we see in nature.”
Rossiter began to question if the science being accepted in universities and schools across the nation was sufficient to explain the ordered structure of the natural world.
Surprisingly, the “blind obedience” which Rossiter saw in the field of biology was not exclusive to secular academia. Rossiter was seeing the same thing among Christians. Many Christians, he found, had concluded that Darwinian Evolution was the correct biological theory, and were compelled by their Christian beliefs to work God into the mix somehow in a view commonly known as “theistic evolution.” In the interview, Rossiter told it this way:
“Theistic evolution offers a path towards compatibility between God and evolution, where you can have your secular science and your God too. It’s important to note that we’re not just talking biological evolution. The theistic evolutionists (or as they prefer to be called today, “evolutionary creationists”) are offering a robust creation account that includes cosmic, geological and biological evolution. They really don’t see God actively (directly) doing anything in these areas of evolution. So, in some sense, theistic evolution often looks much more like Deism, though they all affirm the divinity of Christ. Typically, you get something like the cosmological fine-tuning argument, which says that some creator is required to explain the natural laws that permit life in our universe, and then a fairly strict adherence to naturalistic descriptions of all of the rest. I quote numerous theistic evolutionists in my book, in an effort to demonstrate this point.”
However, Rossiter believes that a broader survey of biology is actually freeing. If one takes into account all of the work being done in the field, one is not necessarily compelled to fully embrace Darwinian Evolution. Rossiter says to this writer:
“There are lots of competing theories [to Darwinian Evolution] in the literature today, many of which are compatible with theism. …The great scientists of the world aren’t always great thinkers, particularly on areas outside of their expertise. Really bright scientists make sophomoric blunders in logic when it comes to issues of philosophy and theology. They don’t have all of the answers, and sometimes they’re just plain wrong.”
By not disallowing God, Christians had a great deal to offer the field of biology. However the trend of theistic evolution was muzzling Christians and doing nothing to advance biology. Seeing this, Rossiter took pen in hand and authored his book Shadow of Oz to counsel Christians, and to point out what a broader view of the literature in biology was revealing for those who cared to consider it.
Patterns and Order in Nature
Biology and Theology
What Rossiter found was that people tend to twist theology to match science, or science to match theology:
“I don’t think it works either way. Put simply, you cannot be intended and unintended at the same time. Christianity holds that humans are special, made in the image of God, and that life is not an accident. Most forms of evolution hold precisely the opposite. Something has to give. For most, it’s the theology that must be twisted, reinterpreted, modified or even erased. In my opinion, the theology they’re left with in no way resembles Christianity. This is a God who seems not to care about the particulars when it comes to the unfolding of the universe. Many theistic evolutionists claim ‘open theism,’ where the cosmos is free to ‘create itself’ and the outcomes are not foreknown nor guaranteed. This is also a God who uses Darwinian mechanisms to create. God did not directly create life on earth, or create our species, and this means that there is no room for a Fall of man (or creation) as the Bible describes it. Instead, many theistic evolutionists imagine a cosmos evolving from chaos towards perfection. The God of theistic evolution is one who not only wanted higher organisms to slowly evolve from lower ones by a process that is ‘red in tooth and claw,’ but also a God who creates by a process that is driven by death, malformation and suffering. The mechanism that produces the first walking fish is the same one that produces stillborn conjoined twins in a hospital, or the cancer that killed a loved one.” (from the interview)
What Rossiter has found, however, is that, while many Christians are comfortable to adopt Darwinian Evolution as the obvious reality of things, many secular scientists are struggling with the gaps that plague Darwinian Evolution, and are searching for solutions outside of the theory. Says Rossiter:
“It’s entirely unclear that Darwin’s mechanism can create the patterns we see. Further, a large number of biologists don’t think that life evolved on earth, but that it was seeded here by some alien life form. It sounds crazy, but there’s a rich literature on this theory, and it’s more popular today than it has ever been. It’s not even clear that universal common ancestry is true, and there’s growing evidence against the view. So, the theistic evolutionist seems to be buying into an antiquated theory of evolution, not the views offered by modern theory.” (from the interview)
In his book, Rossiter argues that Christianity and science do not stand in opposition, but may be comfortably married together. Says Rossiter:
“Both make claims about reality. As I argue in parts of my book, direct divine actions take place in the material world, and thus can be evidenced by it. On the other hand, scientific evidences will either affirm or disconfirm certain views of scripture. If life evolved from a single common ancestor that spontaneously arose on earth billions of years ago, then God did not create according to kinds. But, if the evidence suggests that life on earth was not an accident, then that changes the way we interpret the entire unfolding of life. If there’s good evidence for things like the resurrection of Jesus, those evidences will be established by some application of scientific inference.” (from the interview)
In his explanations of how biology and the Bible may be reconciled from a conflict that extends back to Darwin himself, Rossiter’s book has become an important resource for everyone – Christian or otherwise. As Rossiter says:
“Everybody wants to know how we got here and if there’s a purpose to our existence. Christianity offers a robust answer to those questions. Depending on how you answer the question of origins, you will apply it to your understanding of the current working of things. It ends up applying to things like modern miracles, human free will, and even what it means to be human.” (from the interview)