An Interview with Ron Frost: Does it Really Matter What We Teach?

Nov 11, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) Ron, first of all, please tell us about your education and past experiences?

To make it short (the answer could run pages), I received my B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1969 and my M.S. (1971) and Ph.D. (1973) from the University of Washington. After teaching briefly at Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech I received a tenure-track position at the University of Wyoming and have been on the faculty there for 32 years. I started meditating nearly thirty years ago and have been a Buddhist for over 20 years. Around 15 years ago participated in a 3-month long seminary where I studied the teachings of Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Since then, I have made weeklong solitary meditation retreats nearly every year.

2) Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter-Did some supreme being, in his or her spare time, create the earth, the moon, the sun, the stars as well as beer? OR this this whole mess evolve over many years and years and years?

Maybe. There is no way to determine scientifically whether there is a Creator behind the phenomenal world. However, if there was a Creator, the creation must have followed a process that is consistent with the scientific evidence for the age of the universe and the processes that lead to the formation of the Earth.

3) Ron, I have to tell you, I am astounded at the number of religions- you have the Baptists, the Unitarians, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Mormons, the Catholics, the Protestants and the Jews as well as many others. If there were a Supreme Being, who invented gravity, why would he or she not have a common denominator of religion?

The best explanation of this is hidden in the Zen saying: “When the wise man points at the moon, all the fool sees is the finger.” There is a common denominator to religion and that is the mystical experience, which, in the above saying, is the moon. The mystical literature of the World’s religions, are strikingly similar to each other, despite the deep differences of the doctrines of each religion. The problem comes because it is impossible to describe the mystical experience in words; one can only point at it with symbols.

Because symbols have multiple meanings, each religion uses different rituals and different doctrines to bring their congregation to realization of this experience (in the saying above, these doctrines and rituals are the finger). Mystics see the commonality of religion (i.e. the moon); Fundamentalists believe that their doctrine is the only one that is valid (i.e. they see only the finger).

4) Tell us about this book you have written.

In this book, I try to find a middle ground in the evolution debate. My Buddhist practice has shown me that there is a mystical dimension to life and in my scientific work I have dealt with rocks that are billions of years old. What I have tried to do in this book is to note that (to me at least) there are two incontrovertible truths to reality. First, the scientific facts for the history of the Earth and life that occupies it are robust and indisputable. Second, we are immersed within a spiritual dimension, which is the energy that produces the world’s religions (see the answer to question 3). If you take these two facts as premises when you interpret the facts of evolution, you get a very different theory of evolution than the one that is commonly presented.

5) Now, Ron, I am very interested in geology- I wish I had taken a course in it in college, and maybe I still will in my spare time, but what do we learn from quartz, and various other rocks out there in the field?

From the study of geology we learn about the chemical and physical processes that have produced to the Earth as we know it. I study geology because I find it thrilling to unravel processes that produced the Rocky Mountains. As the result of my studies, when I drive across Wyoming or the other states in the Rocky Mountain west I can see beyond the scenery to the history that that scenery contains. For example, when I look at the Teton Range, I can see the recent (in the last few million years) rapid uplift of the range recorded in fault scarps, the rifting of Siberia from North America (at about 700 million years ago) recorded by the big dike on Mount Moran, and the earliest Himalayan orogeny on Earth (at 2.7 billion years ago) recorded in high-pressure rocks in the northern part of the range.

6) Why study rocks-minerals-and what implications do rocks and minerals have for evolution?

It depends on how you look at rocks and minerals. Perhaps you are only interested in ore minerals and how they were deposited or in the origin of petroleum and how to find it. Those are entirely valid reasons to study geology – after all our modern economies depend on these resources. If you have these interests, understanding evolution is not important. However, many minerals are time capsules. They contain uranium and other radioactive elements and analyzing the abundances of the uranium and lead isotopes in these minerals can give very precise ages to the formation of the mineral. The use of these minerals has provided a very detailed picture of the geologic history of the Earth over the last 3.0 billion years. The record between 4.56 and 3.0 billion is a bit more fragmented but over the past decades it, too has become more detailed.

7) Why do so many people have trouble with using the word “theory”? Why can’t we discuss a theory of evolution as well as a theory of creationism?

A theory is a paradigm that is designed to explain how a group of facts are related. In the evolution debate both sides lose sight of the fact that there is a profound assembly of facts for evolution. The universe IS 13.7 billion years old, the Earth IS 4.56 billion years old, life HAS taken a wide range of forms that have become progressively more complex during Earth history. The theory of evolution is a way to explain the relations among these facts; creationism is not. There are no scientific facts that can be explained by creationism that is not explained by evolution. The “facts” that are put forth by creation science are a mixture of half-truths and non-truths that have no relevance the question of the origin of life on Earth. The fact that teaching creationism (or intelligent design) in school has lost every court case shows that there is nothing driving creationism apart from a literal interpretation of the Bible.

8) You live, you die, and that’s it. End of story. Convince me otherwise?

I cannot. You simply cannot use rational arguments to prove (or disprove) spiritual statements. Death is a truly tragic occurrence if you think that you are only your body. A common feature of spiritual practice and near-death experiences is the realization that aspects of your consciousness come from outside your body. If you have not had that experience then the idea that aspects of your consciousness will survive death sounds completely wacky.

9) Why should I read your book and why should I buy your book? Who needs to read your book and buy it?

There are some people who should not read my book. Those people who occupy the fringes of the evolution debate and whose minds are completely closed to other arguments, ardent Young Earth Creationists and atheists for example, should not bother to read the book – it will only annoy them. Those people who want to understand the currents below the evolution debate and want to understand that there is a middle ground in the debate might find this book worth reading.

10) What have I neglected to ask?

What is the meaning to life?

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