Michael L. Hawley's Author Website
Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight
-ReligiousTolerance.org - Book of the Month for June 2011 seen here.
"The general wisdom in North America is that one must either:
- Accept the accuracy of the Bible text and thus embrace Creationism, or
- Accept the Theory of Evolution as truth and consider the book of Genesis as myth.
Hawley explodes this as a myth. Starting from the facts found in nature, one can harmonize evolution and Genesis. A remarkable accomplishment. One of the most important books I have read in the past 12 months."
The following is my interview in the Buffalo Spree, June 2011
Darwin, Michael Hawley, and God: BFF
By Bruce Adams; Photo by KC Kratt
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 leader 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 on of them is mine. On the nonreligious 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 an advocate of the scientific process. But science has come to be viewed skeptically by a segment of the public that believe 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 belief [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
Bruce Adams is an artist, writer, and educator.
…Consider the following comment: “Scientists are mere humans, and have insignificant powers of reason as compared to God. Since the Bible is perfect, any man-made scientific theories that conflict with the Bible must be wrong.” You, as a Christian, may strongly believe this claim, especially since the community of Christians that you associate with also believes this. You may even be convinced that the Holy Spirit has inspired your thinking, since God is obviously on your side. Additionally, Satan may very well be behind the misguided egotistical scientists. For many, it boils down to God’s perfect revelation over man’s limited ability to reason.
The above claim about revelation over reason has a major flaw in its logic. The comparison is not between God and man; the comparison is actually between man’s interpretation of God’s Word and man’s interpretation of nature. When the words of the Bible enter your mind, you must interpret its content. Interpretation is unavoidable. Even the clearest Bible verses must be put into context, and this requires interpretation. Just as theologians interpret the facts of Scripture, scientists interpret the facts of nature. Ultimately, it is a case of human interpretation vs. human interpretation...
...Is gravity a fact? Surprisingly, the answer is no, and just as surprising it never will be, regardless of the reality of its existence. If this confuses you, it is because we in everyday life use the word, fact, differently than scientists do. We generally use it as an explanation that has been proven beyond all doubt. If someone’s explanation or argument is proven, then it is considered fact. For example, if the doctor diagnoses your ailment as the flu and explains it was caused by a flu virus, we consider this explanation a fact since it is accepted beyond any doubt. Scientists do not consider this explanation a fact, even though they are completely convinced it is correct. Fact in science has a different connotation than a proven explanation, equating it strictly to observable evidence. A scientific fact is not an explanation, it is the evidence used to support an explanation. In the case of gravity, a scientific fact is planets orbit the Sun or objects fall to the Earth. The explanation of these facts is gravity.
We also use fact as to mean evidence, but not all evidence is created equal. Evidence used in arguments/claims fit into four general categories and each category has inherent strengths and weaknesses when it comes to searching for the truth. These categories are hearsay-based, experience-based, authority-based, and empirical-based. All can produce convincing results, but some do a better job than others in pointing to the truth. all too often introduces error into the process and there is no way to verify it satisfactorily...
…The following is my response to this article, which was edited by a colleague of mine, Bruce Adams, and then published in the Buffalo News on March 15, 2002:
“In Richard’s attempt to refute evolution, he wrote that evolution is just a theory, referring to it as “bad science.” As a science teacher, I wonder if Richard knows what good science is. He apparently falls prey to two erroneous assertions that creationists are fond of making. The first is that a theory is “just a guess.” The second is that theories, if “proven”, become facts. Both claims demonstrate a failure to understand the scientific process. In science, when a question is posed such as, “Why are elephant and dinosaur fossils never found together?” Scientists apply knowledge and experience to arrive at an explanation. This explanation is called a hypothesis; an educated “guess” not yet confirmed. To confirm a hypothesis, evidence is gathered in the form of fact – pieces of data – that either support or refute it. If they do not support the hypothesis, it is discarded. If they do, a theory is born. Unlike a guess, a theory must be supported by evidence. But that’s not the end of the process. The theory is then published in a professional journal for peer review so that the rest of the world can attempt to shoot holes through it. Here is where theories really survive or fail. The statement, “once a theory is proven, then it is a fact” is actually “bad science.” Is gravity a fact? No, and it will never be. What is a fact, is that things fall. The accepted explanation, supported by facts, is called gravity. Does Richard consider gravity unproven? The beauty of science is that it is self-correcting. If the facts refute a theory, it is eliminated. Evolutionary theory has been scrutinized by experts for more than 150 years, and it continues to survive as the only fact-based explanation for the diversity of life.”
...Robert Riggins in his article, Do You Believe in Evolution? (2002), comments upon this particular question, “Do you believe in evolution? It’s easy to say “Yes!” but that’s not right. The problem is that the question itself is wrong. It’s like the old “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question: either a yes or a no give the wrong impression…. The problem is the phrase “believe in”… is the trap….The phrase believe in in common parlance seems to mean to take something literally for which there is little or no objective evidence.”
This is precisely the reason why many evolutionary biologists will not give a yes or no answer to this particular question. It suggests that they have accepted biological evolution regardless of the physical evidence. Recall that the scientific process filters out claims based upon conjecture. Conforming to the evidence is everything. The goal is to know evolution in order to discover the truth. When someone says to me that they do not believe in evolution, I usually follow up with the question, “Well, what is evolution?” Never have I received a correct answer, which tells me that their belief (or disbelief in this case) comes not from their head but from their heart. In effect, someone is disagreeing with something that they have no idea what they are disagreeing about…
“I had always believed in Roger’s complete innocence. In my view, he had no motive, means, or opportunity to do this crime. I now know that I was wrong.”
When listening to McCloskey speak prior to the DNA test, it was obvious he had complete confidence in Coleman’s innocence. What convinced the jury of his guilt was that Coleman actually did have motive, means, and opportunity. Among other evidence, he had a prior conviction for rape, he was near McCoy’s house the night of the murder, and he had access to it. McCloskey even knew something the jury did not know; he failed a polygraph test. His intuition, along with a few selected facts, made him believe Coleman was an honest man doomed by a series of unfortunate coincidences. In this case, his reason to ignore reason failed him...
...In the spring of 1997, members of a cult called Heaven’s Gate led by Marshall Applewhite committed mass suicide by drinking a lethal mixture of Phenobarbital and vodka. The members believed that Applewhite was Jesus reincarnated. There was no evidence for this, but they believed it without any doubt. This belief was so strong that they followed Applewhite into death. Applewhite explained to his cult members that “inner beings” in a spacecraft traveling alongside comet Hale-Bopp are coming for them. He told them they must commit suicide so that their inner beings will be transported onto the spaceship. The spaceship will then take them to another planet where their cult co-founder, Bonnie Nettles (who had recently died of cancer), is waiting for them.
Interestingly, members of Heaven’s Gate bought an expensive telescope just prior to Earth’s encounter with comet Hale-Bopp, but they returned it soon after. The storeowner asked why they were returning the telescope. They claimed that it was defective because they could not see the spacecraft! Their belief was so strong that the possibility of there not being a spacecraft next to Comet Hale-Bopp was completely out of the question. Contradictory physical evidence did little to weaken their belief that a spacecraft was on its way...
...In 1987, skeptic and magician James Randi had a private investigator secretly record faith-healing sessions with a scanner and tape recorder. The scanner picked up Popoff’s wife, Elizabeth, saying, “Petey, can you hear me?” She was secretly reading the prayer cards to Popoff through a radio into his hidden earphone. On the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Randi showed a clip of Popoff deceptively yelling to the audience, “Harold”. Popoff’s wife then said in the earphone, “Cataracts”. Popoff followed with, “God is going to burn those cataracts right off your eyes!” Randi stated to Carson, “Popoff says God tells him these things. Maybe he does. But I didn’t realize God used a frequency of 39.17 megahertz and had a voice exactly like Elizabeth Popoff’s.”
Both, Al-Sahaf and Popoff, purposely deceived their audiences. They had hidden agendas that had nothing to do with truth. The above quote by Thomas Cooper, an American educationalist and political philosopher, offers us help in discovering the truth. The solution is honest examination. Since truth invites examination, then examination is the path to truth...