theistic evolution

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Book Review: “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews offers a witty, heady read for Christians looking to interact with some of the most recent scientific theories. Targeted at Christians who have been befuddled by the latest scientific theories, interested skeptics who want to see if Christianity has anything to say about science, or Christian apologists looking to bolster their scientific knowledge, the book is a resounding success.

Interestingly, Andrews gets the title of the book out of the way quickly. Andrews argues against the common atheistic retort, “Well if God made everything, who made God?” He writes, “Because cause and effect is only proven for the physical world, we can no longer insist that cause and effect are relevant when it comes to the origin of a spiritual entity like God.” I am not sure about the strength of this response. It seems to potentially put God outside the rules of logic, something of which most theists are very wary. A more convincing response, in my opinion, is to simply point out that the concept of God includes necessity. Theistic arguments are designed to show just this–that God is the uncaused ground of being.

Who Made God, however, quickly jumps into stride and doesn’t look back. Andrews lucidly argues that while science can describe events and put them to the test, it cannot explain things in the sense of a comprehensive explanation. Science, for example, “doesn’t tell us why there is [a force of gravity]” (30).

Without slowing down Andrews jumps into a clear explanation of String Theory and its attempts to be a “theory of everything.” Even were science to unify into a theory of everything, however, Andrews point would still stand. The theory would offer descriptions of how things happen, but it wouldn’t explain why the theory itself worked. He also offers a few critiques of string theory, such as the counter-intuitive nature of the theory (48).

Andrews continues on, offering God as a “hypothesis.” He argues that “the methodology of science” can be applied to God (58-59). He argues that Victor Stenger’s God: the failed hypothesis fails on a number of levels. Stenger claims that God “should be detectable: (1) by scientific ‘models'; (2) by scientific measurements… (3) by scientific ‘methods'” (67). Against this, Andrews points out that Stenger is trying to exclude God from existence by “having it both ways.” Stenger argues that God should be detectable, but cannot be because the measurements of science are restricted to the physical. Obviously, this begs the question against theism.

Andrews also addresses nothing, by which I mean the redefinition of “nothing” into “something” often done by atheists (see the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig). He points out that they often use “nothing” to reference vacuum and/or empty space or dark matter. But this is either deliberately misleading or just incomprehensible (97ff). As the atheists who say this often admit themselves, this “empty” space is hardly “nothing.” It is full of energy. But beyond space, beyond the existence of our universe, outside of space and time–that is what is meant by “nothing” (105).

The God hypothesis is vindicated when it comes to the evidence from astronomy and physics. The low entropy state of our universe (117-118), along with its origin (98ff) both point to a creator. Andrews moves on to argue that the origin of the laws of nature must also point to the God hypothesis (138-153). He then goes on to argue that our biological origins, the information found in cells, and the diversity of life have their best explanation with God. To cover these arguments fully would double the size of this review, but I found these arguments just as exciting as the rest of Who Made God. A sampling: proteins and DNA must have information in order to function correctly (181ff); origin of life theories can only be explained with the God hypothesis (196ff);  evolution is nonfalsifiable (214-216); natural selection is a tautology (219-220); junk DNA isn’t junk (234ff); mutations really only help within dynamic populations and cannot lead to new species (230ff [through 240]). Andrews isn’t finished there, however, he tackles arguments for and against mind/body dualism (250ff).

Another strength of Who Made God is the format. There is a summary of each chapter prior to its contents, along with definitions of important terms. Humor is found throughout the work as the author tells funny stories or makes witty comments about the arguments. These aspects increase the readability of the book to a great degree.

This is not to say the book is without faults. Andrews’ treatment of the Ontological Argument was a bit abrupt. I’ve written on the argument before (see my posts here and here). Andrews’ critiques don’t apply to the most current versions of the argument. The most commonly used ontological argument is the modal version developed by Alvin Plantinga and others. This version of the argument doesn’t appeal to human ideas, but to modal necessity and possibility. To his credit, Andrews does point out that some philosophers find the argument compelling.

Another issue with Who Made God is the sometimes unconventional use of philosophical terms. For example, Andrews defines “phenomenology” as “The way phenomena… manifest themselves” (27). Phenomenology, however, is most commonly used (in philosophy) as the study of consciousness. Outside of philosophy, it generally refers to conscious experience or sense experience, not so much about the phenomena themselves. While the definition is not wrong, it caused some confuse, and may confuse other readers familiar with the other, more conventional uses. Another uncommon definition was given for “Monism.” Most often, the term refers to the idea that all of reality is one [i.e. it is all material, or all immaterial]. Andrews definition makes sense in context (he defines it as “The idea that mind is nothing more than the brain at work” [257] but that definition in philosophy of mind is more often used for “reductionism” which Andrews defines differently as well).

However, neither of these negatives outweigh the significant positives found throughout Who Made God. You know that I’m nitpicking when my main critique focuses on a couple unconventional definitions, particularly when Andrews uses valid definitions that simplify the terminology for the reader.

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God is unique among the slew of apologetics books written at a popular level in that it offers a nearly comprehensive argument for Christianity based upon various scientific theories. Despite a few small flaws, I unreservedly recommend this book to all Christians looking to increase their knowledge of biology, physics, and astronomy. Andrews clearly and succinctly explains several scientific theories in terms which are easy to understand, while also showing the relevance for the “God hypothesis.” Readers will come away convinced that when it comes to science, their faith stands on firm ground. Books with scopes this broad most often shine their lights upon lots of topics and illumine none. Readers will find that Who Made God illumines nearly every topic it touches, bringing new insight and clarity into often confusing issues.

Source: Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy free of charge by EP books. My thanks to both Edgar Andrews and EP books.

SDG.

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The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 4

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

I recently read a very interesting article on theistic evolution by Loren Haarsma and Terry M. Gray entitled “Complexity, Self Organization, and Design.” Interestingly, I found what I think are some of the most interesting arguments for the theistic evolutionist position, but I also found some of the hardest objections to the position (scientifically) that I have stumbled across.

I’ll start with the interesting evidence for their position. First, they note that the word “design” doesn’t belong exclusively to the Intelligent Design theorists, because theistic evolutionists argue that God designed the initial laws which gave rise to evolution and eventually humanity. In other words, God foreknew and intended for mankind to evolve, and set up the laws such that we would (or at least that some sentient beings with which God intended to interact would arise, 289).

They further argue that “With the right set of rules, a random, iterative process can start with a simple environment and self-assemble a complex environment” (293, emphasis theirs). The arguments for this position are interesting to me, and I am no scientist, but it seems to me that the three ways from which they argue for this possibility make more sense to me if there is some kind of intelligence behind the process.

The three strategies for self-organized complexity they argue are:

1) Preprogrammed self assembly- “…pieces are designed so that random interactions between them eventually lead to assembly of the desired complex object(s)”

2) Information transfer from the environment- objects incorporate information from the environment through “a process of random exploration and feedback”

3) Interaction among agents- “random interactions and feedback” lead to “increased productivity or survivability” (290)

It seems to me that 1) could be simply incorporated into laws at the beginning of the universe  (but these laws would have to be designed, as the authors point out). 2) seems to me as though it simply couldn’t be totally random. For evolution to work, on the understanding I’ve gleaned from my readings, the complexity would have to aid the survivability of the entity. I think a problem here is that there is no way to determine when/why/how the random interactions suddenly latch onto those things which are helpful. If it truly is a random process, then it would randomly continue to select for characteristics, casting off old ones and making room for new ones.

Incorporating natural selection doesn’t seem like it would help much here either, because then those random selections which are negative would terminate the species. So my problems with 2) are twofold (even granting that God Designed the laws such that these interactions would occur): 1. there doesn’t seem to be an explanation for the process stopping the random selections (and therefore keeping the trait); 2. we aren’t talking about computer algorithms here, we’re talking living entities–if they select the wrong traits, they die.

Ultimately I found these arguments interesting reading, but I just don’t see how they support Theistic Evolutionism more than, say Intelligent Design. The authors do make the interesting point that it could have been the case that God set up/designed the laws such that life would arise, but the ways that complexity is integrated into the process seems to me, at least, to demand further explanation.

Source:

Haarsma, Loren and Terry M. Gray, Complexity, Self-Organization, and Design, in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, edited Keith B. Miller, p. 288-309.

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The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 3

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

Theistic Evolution’s (hereafter TE) primary problem for the Christian is, of course, theological in nature. Perhaps the greatest challenge to TE is the doctrine of original sin. Recently, I investigated what advocates of TE had to say about this doctrine.

Robin Collins argues in his essay “Evolution and Original Sin” that the doctrine of original sin should be redefined into what he calls the “historical ideal” (HI) view (469). Regrettably, I believe Collins fails to provide an adequate theological defense of his view. Further, I believe there is actually a stronger way for TEs to defend against the “problem” of original sin. Collins’ argument has several key features:

1) Adam and Eve were not historical figures, but rather representatives of early mankind, having evolved from hominids (470). Collins does allow that perhaps Adam represents the “stem father” of humanity–that is, representing the first group of early hominids which arose as the human race (486)

2) The Garden story “represents an ideal state that was never realized… Genesis 2 falls into the category of a ‘golden age’ story” (470)

3) Original sin refers to the “sinful choices” of early hominids, the “continuing sinful choices” of their ancestors, and “the resulting bondage to sin and spiritual darkness that is inherited from our ancestors and generated by our own choices” (471)

Collins continues by interpreting Scripture in this light. First it should be noted that Collins takes science as one of the means by which we can interpret Scripture, despite his own assertions that the Bible is not a science or philosophy book (compare 475 to 482ff). He begins by interpreting Romans 1:18-32, but he believes the more important verses are in Romans 5:15-19. Paul writes in Romans 5 that:

“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

These passages seem to suggest that Adam was indeed one man, just as Jesus is one man. Collins argues, utilizing Swinburne’s argumentation in Revelation, that a speaker’s message does not necessarily include the presuppositions as part of the intentional conveyance. One immediate problem with this (though Collins seems to view it as a bonus) is that Paul is seen as either not necessarily believing what he was saying–which seems unlikely–or he was profoundly mistaken in his presuppositions. The statement is to be distinguished from the presupposition. “The statement is whatever the speaker, by public criteria, is seeking to add to the existing beliefs of the hearers” (Swinburne, Revelation, 30). The problem is that I don’t think this argument applies here, for it seems that Paul is not just presupposing that there is one man, but also utilizing that presupposition as part of what he is seeking to add to his hearers’ existing belief. For Paul is saying that it is one man through whom all mankind fell, so, too, is it one man through whom all mankind is saved.

The argument that Paul and his hearers shared the presupposition of one man, and therefore this is not part of his intended message, misses the context of Paul’s message. For Paul makes this statement in his letter to the Romans, not to fellow Jews who shared his presuppositions! Therefore, it seems to me that although the “one man” part of the statement could be taken as a Pauline presupposition, it is also part of the message conveyed. He is intending to add to his hearer’s existing belief (borrowing from Swinburne’s phrasing) that one man fell for all and one man atoned for all. This message is almost vacuous on an account which inserts possibly thousands of hominids in for the first “one man” (something Collins has no hesitation doing, see page 481 “…understand Adam… as theologically representing both everyman and the very first members of the evolving group of hominids that had gained moral self-consciousness”). I see no reason to accept such an interpretation textually.

I’ll leave out Collins’ interpretation of Genesis 1-4 for now, as I believe summing it up in the above points is sufficient. Rather, I want to turn now to an evaluation of his argument. First, I note that it seems necessary to add to the above outline of Collins argument the following clause:

4) Scripture is not inerrant–it is inspired in the sense that God “enlighten[s]” humans to “grasp new truths about the nature of reality and God” (473)

I reject 4 as incompatible with sound formulation of doctrine. I’ll not specifically address his argument point-by-point as that would fill up too much space. The main problem with Collins’ account of original sin is that it trivializes certain Bible passages (notably Psalm 51:5) and misinterprets others. But I don’t want to get into the finer details of his account. I think that Collins’ account is actually extremely weak. Only those willing to accept point 4) above will be able to take such a view on original sin as possible. Is there a way for TEs to avoid this uncomfortable assumption? I think there is.

Original sin, on TE, can be almost what it is on other views. The key feature is to point out (as Hugh Ross, an Old Earth Creationist does) that it is only human death that is explicitly seen as the consequence of sin. Thus, God can be seen as letting evolution happen until beings capable of moral reasoning evolve, then specially creating souls within humans or setting souls up in such a way that they emerge from humans (the latter view seems less plausible, but I’ll ignore that for now). God chose two specific hominids, planted souls in them, and placed them in a garden. The rest of the Genesis story can be taken fairly literally, with some modifications here and there, and original sin loses no meaning. Thus, the TE needs to acknowledge special creation of 1) The universe/matter/etc. and 2) Human souls. This doesn’t seem like an implausible “out” for the theistic evolutionist.

Finally, I want to address a few minor points in Collins’ essay. The first is that he seems to think special creation is somehow a negative thing. When critiquing other views, for example, he asserts that if God brought Adam and Eve into the garden to speak with them, He’d have to teach them a language, “which would involve a major act of special creation” (493). This is counted as a negative against a sort of Old Earth Creationist account. But I’m then curious as to what Collins thinks of the creation of the universe! Surely this “special creation” is an even more major act than teaching some animals to speak a language! I don’t see any plausible way for a Christian to use the presence of divine action as an argument against other views. Second, Collins seems to reveal some tendencies of agreeing with Intelligent Design (p. 496ff, for example, he argues for “theistically guided evolution”–how does this differ from ID?).

Thus, I think Collins’ view of original sin on TE is actually a weaker argument than that which can be made. I think the theistic evolutionist can augment his/her view with some acts of “special creation” and thus maintain a view that allows for inerrancy of Scripture without having to twist it as much as Collins does. Perhaps, however, I’m merely reflecting my own tendencies rather than accurately representing TE. If this is the case, however, and TE simply cannot coincide with the doctrine of inerrancy, for example, then I find this a strong reason for rejecting TE, particularly in light of competing models like intelligent design or Hugh Ross’s RTB Model.

Sources:

Collins, Robin. “Evolution and Original Sin.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Edited Keith B. Miller. Wm. B. Eerdman’s. 2003.

Swinburne, Richard. Revelation. Oxford University Press. 2007. (A later edition than that cited by Collins, I’m utilizing my own text)

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The Life Dialogue: The Interaction of Science and Faith

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

While I’ve explored some of the major perspectives of this debate within Christianity, one element I’ve left untouched is the different approaches people take on the interaction between science and faith.

This interaction can be seen in (at least) four ways:

1) Faith and Science are both accurate and support each other in a mutually beneficial relationship–this view, interestingly enough, is advocated by all sides of the dialogue I’ve explored before: intelligent design, old and young earth creationism, and theistic evolution

2) Faith and Science discuss completely different realms, and as such are both accurate, but independent and non-overlapping–this is often referred to as the “Independence” theory or “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” (check out this post for an interesting exploration of this possibility)

3) Faith and Science are at odds, and we should favor Faith–this view is often advocated by those who feel uncomfortable with scientific discoveries they may feel challenge Christianity and Scripture

4) Faith and Science are at odds, and we should favor Science– this view is often favored by those who believe their religion must “keep up” with current science

Now, it seems to me that 1) should be the favored position by those interested in the interaction between science and faith.

First, 4) seems unacceptable because it endorses giving up truths of Scripture or belief as scientific discoveries emerge. This also means that faith must change as science does. This is not an attack on science; rather, it acknowledges that science can and does often change to correct theories, etc. Take the following hypothetical situation: science advocated some position z which seemed to be in confrontation with doctrine y, but then later science found that z was untenable–instead, it was x which was more likely, and x served as scientific affirmation of y. This convoluted scenario seems problematic for those who endorse 4), for they would give up y at first, but then would they take y as true again once x was advocated?

3) seems equally unacceptable because the opposite scenario would work to show potential absurdities in such a view. On this view, take the following example: science takes position z which serves to support the doctrinal position y, but then new discoveries are made which show that x is really the case, which goes against y. The scientist, however, can run multiple tests that demonstrate beyond a doubt that x is indeed the case. It doesn’t seem to me to be intellectually honest to say that x is not the case. Doctrine y would need to be evaluated Biblically and evaluated to see if it really fit the picture, not only that, but x and z would have to be evaluated Biblically.

2) seems to fare little better. Clearly there are places that science and faith will overlap, as has been demonstrated in this series of posts on the Life Dialogue. It seems as though the advocate of 2) would have to argue that any apparent overlap between science and faith is really just that: apparent. It seems to overlap but in reality it does not. However, the advocate of 2) could simply advance the argument that perhaps these positions do overlap in a sense, but the overlap doesn’t matter, as they are investigating different parts of reality. Faith explores the metaphysical aspects of a situation, x, while science explores the empirical aspects.

So why do I prefer 1)? I take for granted that faith explains reality. The claim, for example, that “God exists” seems to me not only obvious, but demonstrably true. Science also explains reality. Thus, as I accept that both science and faith explain reality, I believe that they must operate in a mutually beneficial way: where one has nothing specific to say, the other takes over, where they both have things to say, the interplay will occur. But I see no reason to deny aspects of faith for science or vice versa. Thus, it seems to me that the Christian doesn’t need to deny science, but neither should he/she deny aspects of her faith.

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The Life Dialogue: Old Earth Creationism 2

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

Last time I wrote about Old Earth Creationism (OEC), I referred to Hugh Ross’s More than a Theory. Perhaps the most interesting part of Ross’s “Reasons to Believe” (RTB) Model was that in order to harmonize a seeming mix of creationist, intelligent design (ID), and theistic evolutionist (TE) views, the model argued that humans were specially created. This was, I perceived, partially to avoid the problem that can be leveled against TE or ID, which is that man died before sin, which goes against Scripture. Thus, by asserting that mankind was specially created, and only died when humanity fell into sin, the RTB Model avoids this charge.

I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t only for theological reasons that the RTB Model made this argument. Rana and Ross (hereafter I’m going to say “RR”) argue in Who Was Adam? that there is reason to believe that Adam and Eve were specially made by God. RR assert that while the fossil record does indeed show evidence various hominids (distinguished importantly from humans), none of these can be seen as evolutionary stages or transitional forms that lead to humans.

The RTB model holds that God created the first humans through divine intervention, that all humanity came from Adam and Eve, that humanity originated in a single geographical location, that God created Adam and Eve fairly recently (10,000-100,000 years ago), that humanity’s female lineage would date later than the male lineage, that God prepared Earth for humanity’s advent and created humans at “a special moment” for humanity, human beings share physical characteristics with animals, that humanity displays distinct characteristics from animals, that life spans of humans were much longer at one time, that a universal flood shaped early human history, and that humanity spread from somewhere in or near the Middle East (RR, 43-51).

Clearly, I don’t have time to outline the entirety of their argument in a post. I’m only going to hit on the major points.

RR argue that molecular anthropology point to humanity’s origin from a mitochondrial Adam and Eve (73 and the pages surrounding). This is due to DNA evidence pointing not to multiple origins, but simply one X and one Y chromosome giving rise to the rest of humanity. This is evidence supporting a number of points in their model outlined above.

The next stage in their argument reflects the same idea that I’ve expressed before: different views of the same evidence are possible. I see ways to take the data RR presented here as evidence for evolution, but I also see how it can be interpreted as support for OEC. RR point to the fossil record, which contains various hominids. The archaeological evidence, however, does not support anything more advanced than the most basic usage of tools for these hominids. This, they argue, reflects the “image of God” in humanity. Early humans (contrasted here with hominids) arrive with complex tools immediately, religious beliefs and practices, etc. (77ff, 139ff).

RR argue that humanity came about when the conditions were exactly perfect for human civilization (97ff). This, combined with various arguments against the common descent of man from hominids (including the argument that there is no clear way to set up such a chain [139ff]), scientific analysis of and arguments refuting ideas that we came from either neanderthals (179ff) or chimpanzees (199ff), and finally examples of how “Junk” DNA is actually useful lead to the conclusion of RR’s argument:

“Genetic studies of human population groups signify that humanity had a recent origin in a single geographical location from a small population, with genetic links back to a single man and single woman… The research also demonstrates that humanity and human civilization arose relatively recently near (or in) the Middle East to fill the earth… The archaeological record reveals a veritable explosion of human culture–anthropology’s ‘big bang’–which marks the appearance of God’s image… At no other time in human history has the biblical account of humanity’s origin held greater scientific credibility than it does today… man is the crown of God’s creation (248-250).”

It seems to me that RR make a fairly strong case for their side, but the evidence they present could be easily used by theistic evolutionists (arguing within Christianity here) as well. Thus, I don’t think RR have definitively shown that the RTB Model is superior in regards to the origins of man, though they have offered a compelling argument that ties in with the rest of the RTB. Taken as a whole, I believe the RTB Model offers superior explanatory power in a number of aspects. Not only that, but as seen in Who Was Adam? it avoids the theological argument against views like Theistic Evolution or Intelligent Design.

I continue to find the RTB Model perhaps the most compelling of any side of the Life Debate within Christianity. As I’ve noted before, I don’t see any reason to throw myself in fully behind any of these views. Rather, I intend to pick and choose based on my presuppositions. In all things, however, Christ has preeminence (Colossians 1:15ff).

Sources:

Rana, Fazale and Hugh Ross. Who Was Adam? Navpress. 2005.

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The Life Dialogue: Christian Presuppositions and Science

This is part of a series of posts on the debate within Christianity about how life diversified on earth (i.e. evolution, creationism, ID, or something else). See other posts in the series here.

I’ve been reading a whole lot of material on this debate for this series of posts. I’ve been reading from all sides of the debate. As such, I’m often presented with completely conflicting views of interpretation of the same data or conflicting views about overall methodological approaches.

Thus, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how it is the Christian should interact with this whole debate. It dawned on me as I was eating dinner today (and reading through a creationist magazine–I like to multitask) that most of the driving force behind this whole debate may simply be with the methodology. There seem to be two major groups within the Christian community who are arguing on this issue. One group asserts that Christians absolutely must keep up with science, and that this means jumping on board with the entire methodological approach inherent in contemporary science. The other group asserts that Christians should indeed keep up with science, but should do so while acknowledging that God is going to be intricately connected at all stages.

This is perhaps the absolute center of the entire debate. What presuppositions do Christians have when entering the “life dialogue” (as I’ve called it)? I tied this almost immediately with Paul K. Moser’s idea in The Elusive God that philosophy should be done differently by Christians, who assume God exists, and therefore focus philosophy around God. Should not science also be done differently by Christians?

What I mean to say is that basic to the Christianity is the idea that God not only created the universe and all things visible and invisible, but He also loves and interacts with that same creation. For Christians interacting with science, I think this must mean that Christians should enter any kind of scientific inquiry acknowledging that there are points not just historically (as in the case of Jesus or any number of Biblical events) but also biologically, astronomically, etc. (see Psalm 19:1-6 for reasons to think this). This doesn’t support a “God of the Gaps” proposition, in which God is thrown in anywhere that science can’t describe, but it does support a God who interacts with the universe.

The problem is that mainstream science does not share such propositions. Unfortunately, despite Christian origins of science (see here), science today seems to take naturalism as absolutely true. Thus, it is simply not a fair field of play for Christians. I see this happening often in theistic evolution. It seems to me that many some Christians seem to think that we can never assert that God did something (other than the things recorded in the Bible) in physical history. But I don’t see any reason why Christians should be encouraged to embrace wholly the naturalistic presuppositions of contemporary science. Christians, I think, should instead try to use their own paradigms to interpret scientific data. If God is seen as creator and sustainer of the universe, what does that mean for biology, astronomy, physics, or other fields of scientific inquiry? I don’t think Christians should have to operate under a naturalistic worldview in order to explore science.

Christians should make use of science. I would never argue otherwise. My point is that Christians shouldn’t be Christians in one realm (outside of science), but atheists in another realm (within science).

So what does this mean for the “life dialogue”? I tend to think that any view of the diversity of life that attempts to completely cut God out of the equation is ultimately deistic or atheistic, not theistic/Christian. Questions for Christians in this debate could be “What does this mean to our relationship with God?” or “What was God doing during this time span?” If the answer to either question is “nothing”, then it really doesn’t mean that much to the Christian. I believe that all truth will have relevance to our relationship with God. God is never inactive. He doesn’t passively sit back and “let it happen.” This can be seen in Scripture (see Psalm 104 for a particularly wonderful account of God’s interaction with the world).

Thus, as I continue in this “Life Dialogue”, I’ll be analyzing positions based on these presuppositional questions as well: What do these accounts of the diversity of life teach us about God and what do they mean to us?

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The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 2

This is part of a series of posts on the means by which life came about within Christianity. See other posts on the topic here.

Last time I wrote about theistic evolution I mentioned I was quite excited to get into some the scientific side of the debate. I delved into that a bit with my first post on old earth creationism as well as in my post on young earth creationism. While I think that perhaps the biggest problem with theistic evolution from a Christian view is theological, I do believe it is important to examine the scientific aspect of all sides of the debate as well. Thus, I turned to Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, a work full of essays on theistic evolution, to give me the scientific aspects of theistic evolution.

Common descent is central to the notion of atheism. Often, common descent is the source of objections to the theory of evolution (Miller, 152). Common descent is the assertion that all life on earth is descended from an “unbroken series of ancestor-descendant relationships to a single ancestral life form” (Miller, 152). Perhaps the most frequent objection to this is the sparse distribution of the fossil record.

Miller argues that the fossil record, rather than being incapable of demonstrating common descent, provides “persuasive evidence for macroevolutionary change and common descent” (153). He quickly qualifies this statement, pointing out that most often people either assert that the fossil record is so sparse that nothing can be demonstrated by it or that it is so complete that all details can be brought to light.

Miller then points out the vast problems with trying to fill in a fossil record which, according to evolutionary theory, covers hundreds of millions of years. Some of these problems include the infrequent fossilization of soft bodied or thin-shelled organisms, environmental factors such as weather, scavengers, or water levels, erosion, irregular sedimentation, etc. (154-156).

Transitional forms also encounter the problems of classification. The way species are categorized can directly affect whether a species is seen as a transitional form. “The grouping of organisms in a classification scheme does more than describe nature: it also interprets it” (158). Miller goes on to discuss two types of classification: the Linnean and cladistic classification. Linnean classification views species as types. One individual is seen as the ideal “archetype” of the species, while all others are compared to this “archetype” and then seen as types or offshoots of this individual. This, argues Miller, “exclude[s] transition[al fossils] by definition” (158, emphasis his). Cladistic classification, by contrast, assumes an evolutionary scheme and places animals into overarching schemes based on such assumptions. Thus, species may not be grouped so much by common characteristics as they are grouped by characteristics seen as having a common ancestor (159).

Interestingly, this section seems to echo one of the statements I remember from a talk on Young Earth Creation I listened to on campus, in which the speaker stated that often scientists can look at the same evidence and come up with completely different interpretations–even though the evidence is the same. I’ll be keeping this in mind in my future interactions with the varied positions in this dialogue. Here, it seems the cladistic classification is preferred, though one may ask whether this is because one wants to presuppose evolution and move from there, or if it is because the fossil record points more readily towards evolution. Did the evidence lead to the classification or did the classification lead to the evidence?

Transitional forms often are attached to misconceptions. Miller warns against assuming that such a form would appear as a logical step from one type of animal to the next. Rather, he states that “Such forms will be unlike anything living today”. This is because “transitional forms are found by moving down the tree of life into the past, not trying to jump from limb to limb” (161). Thus, when thinking of transitional forms, rather than seeing a kind of orthogenesis (one step at a time) that would suggest, perhaps, species 1 => species 2 => species 3, the view should be a branching phylogeny which looks more like a tree than a straight line. Thus, transitional fossils could be radically different from the species to which they gave rise (163).

After this point in his chapter, Miller goes into some examples of just these types of transitions viewed in the fossil record. His examples include reptile-to-mammal evolution, a land creature-to-whale evolution, horses, tapers, rhinos, etc. having a common ancestor, and others (164-180). Due to such transitional evidence in the fossil record, Miller concludes that “transitional fossil sequences between higher taxonomic groups are a common feature of the fossil record” (180).

One may question Miller on a number of points in this chapter. The different classification systems is one presupposition that must be made. Another objection that came to my mind as I was reading was the definition of transitional fossil. Again, it seems as though the definition may be changed to fit the theory, rather than the theory changed to fit the definition or the evidence. Why couldn’t it be that transitional fossils are just what intuition suggests, and there really aren’t too many? Rather, the assumption seems to be that other fossils may be used for the transitions. Why make such an assumption? Is there any reason to push the transitional definition to the usage Miller is endorsing? I don’t know.

I enjoyed Miller’s chapter greatly. It is always nice to get a breath of fresh air amidst my readings of analytic philosophy or epistemology. I have enjoyed this series greatly, and I can’t wait to continue.

Finally, in closing, I would like to note two things again. The first is my stance on this whole debate: I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, I believe that God did and does directly intervene in creation and the universe, and I believe that God has been and always will be the creator and sustainer of the universe. Thus, I am biased, just as anyone who approaches such questions is. Second, I have noted before that this series is meant to be for the in-house Christian debate on these matters. I’ve had a number of caustic comments thrown my way from those uninterested in such a debate. I welcome non-Christians to the discussion, but only if they can participate in a civil manner.

Miller, Keith. “Common Descent, Transitional Forms, and the Fossil Record.” Edited Keith Miller. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.  Wm. B.Eerdman’s. 2003.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Dialogue Continues: Intelligent Design

This is another post in my series on the origins of life, the debate/argument within Christianity. See other posts in this series here.

I recently finished reading The Making of an Atheist by James S. Spiegel and while the book was by no means about the origins of life, one quote in particular made me think about this series I’ve been doing. Spiegel writes, “Once life appears, the only remaining rational debate should be among theists–as to how God did it, whether through special creation, natural selection, or some combination of these means. The issue of origins should be an in-house theistic debate” (50, emphasis mine).

I tend to agree. This series of posts seeks to foster that very in-house debate. Intelligent Design is another option I will explore in this ongoing series.

Intelligent design (hereafter ID) is often dismissed outright in discussions of this sort. Creationists see it as evolution-in-disguise, while theistic evolutionists view it as creationism-in-disguise. So what is it? Some of this aversion may be due to the fact that the modern ID movement suffered greatly in its definitions. Initially, due to the wide range of scholars involved, it weakened its scientific position in favor of a more theological one. Recently, however, this has been turned about.There is much discussion among theists and non-theists alike about the viability of ID, but it seems clear that ID is here to stay. Books like Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer continue to draw flak from all sides, but they also continue to push thinking minds to stretch and consider the ideas contained therein.

William Dembski is seen by some as the father of the modern ID movement. His book, Intelligent Design is a good introduction (though it is quite heavy both scientifically and philosophically) to the movement.

“Intelligent design is three things,” according to Dembski, “a scientific research program that investigates the effect of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action” (Dembski, 13). ID is based on empirically testing for design within systems (109). According to ID, mutation-selection mechanisms cannot account for the diversity of life (113).

How exactly is design discovered empirically? It is based on probability calculus, among other means (130). Central to ID is the notion of “irreducible complexity”. “A system is irreducibly complex if it consists of several interrelated parts so that removing even one part completely destroys the system’s function” (147). Dembski argues that this is a fully empirical question, “individually knocking out each protein constituting a biochemical system will determine whether function is lost. If it is, we are dealing with an irreducibly complex system. Protein knock-out experiments of this sort are routine in biology” (149).

Another important notion is complex specified information. This needs explanation, and it is explanation that naturalistic evolution cannot provide (167-169).

Dembski’s book is monumentally important for those Christians wanting to explore the origins debate. In the appendix he answers many of the objections to ID (God of the gaps, not science, etc.).

Theologically, ID could be subject to the same objections I would raise against theistic evolution. Why death before sin? Specifically, why human death before sin? Interestingly, ID can serve of an example of what a friend of mine suggested in my first post on Old Earth Creationism: combining various explanations as one sees fit. Take Hugh Ross’s RTB model, which argues that humans are specially created. One could easily combine this model with ID to make the model even more challenging to standard evolutionary models. Not only that, but this avoids the theological error inherent in theistic evolution (more on theistic evolution and possible ways to solve this problem in an upcoming post).

I have never claimed to be a scientist. The more science I read, the more I realize that in such a vast ocean of work, I can never even begin to unearth the tip of the iceberg. Thus, my scientific analysis of ID amounts, basically, to only being able to judge it on what I know. I have read rebuttals to arguments for irreducible complexity, but I remain unconvinced by these rebuttals. I find Dembski’s argument rather convincing, though some examples he uses may need to be rethought.

Thus, after my first go-round, in which I explored theistic evolution, old earth creationism, young earth creationism, and intelligent design, I must say that my mind is less muddled than before. Picking and choosing from these theories can be quite fun. Not only that, but it can expand one’s faith walk. I encourage fellow Christians to expand their borders. Think about these hard questions. Most importantly, judge all things by God’s Word, the Bible. The Word of God stands, unchanged, forever. Jesus has died for our sins once for all. This does not change. Science continually changes (not an argument against science). The Christian should base his/her worldview on the foundation: Christ the Cornerstone.

I’m looking forward to round two!

Dembski, William. Intelligent Design. IVP Academic. 1999.

Spiegel, James. The Making of an Atheist. Moody Publishers. 2010.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Origins Debate Within Christianity

This post is a collection of links to the series I’m doing on the “Argument within Christianity.” I’d make it all nice and pretty if I wasn’t computer illiterate. I will update this post as my series continues.

Introductory Post “The Argument Within Christianity: Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Creationism?

Theistic Evolution 1 Theistic Evolution 2 Theistic Evolution 3 Theistic Evolution 4

Old Earth Creationism 1 Old Earth Creationism 2 Old Earth Creationism 3

Young Earth Creationism 1 Young Earth Creationism 2 Young Earth Creationism 3 Young Earth Creationism 4

Intelligent Design 1 Intelligent Design 2 Intelligent Design 3

Christian Presuppositions and Science

The Interaction of Science and Faith

Guest Post 1: Matt Moss Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

The Argument Begins: Theistic Evolution

This post is the second in a series discussion the Argument about Creationism/Intelligent Design/Evolutionism in Christianity specifically. Click here for links to the rest of this series.

Theistic Evolution is probably the group I am farthest from, largely because I do still see some problems with the evolutionary theory (noting that I am no scientist or expert in the field) and I also have problems with the theological arguments advanced by Theistic Evolutionists in supporting their view.

I have decided to start off by reading a selection from Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, edited by Keith B. Miller. I start with Theistic Evolution because I want to survey fairly as many sides of the debate as possible. The article I started with is called “Christology, Evolution, and the Cross” by George L. Murphy.

The essay is exclusively a theological one; it is dealing with the issue of Christology in light of evolution. Murphy argues that God, on evolution, can be seen as working in the world just as He worked in the world through Christ. Christ humbled Himself when he became man. So, too, argues Murphy… “God voluntarily limits his action in the world, rather as a parent limits what he or she does to allow a child to grow and gain some understanding of its world and control of its environment and life” (372).

Further, Murphy argues against those who may accuse Theistic Evolutionists of being deistic in nature. He states that “God does not simply stand above the evolutionary process and make it happen. In the incarnation God becomes a participant in the process…” (375). Thus, God does in fact participate in a very theistic manner.

Further, Murphy raises a point I find very interesting (if initially somewhat strange). If evolution is true, then God coming as fully human includes that evolutionary history within mankind. Thus, Jesus, the incarnate God, literally takes the sins of the world upon Himself. Not just the sins of mankind, but all things. Murphy cites Colossians 1:20 (here in context with 19) “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Murphy argues that on Theistic Evolution, people can take this quite literally. Being fully man and fully God, Christ was taking on the reconciliation of all things (having the history of creatures’ DNA), not just mankind. Jesus is the liberation that all creation was looking toward (385).

I find these points something to think about for a while, but I must object to Murphy’s view on a few aspects. Murphy, following the quote cited from page 375, states that God is redeeming the “…losers in the ‘struggle for survival’–for in the short run Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate are the survivors. And the resurrection of the crucified means that natural selection, important as it is as an evolutionary mechanism, is not God’s last word. There is hope for those who do not survive” (375).

I’m really not sure what to make of this. I think that Murphy is reading way too much into these verses. It seems that he does this often–reading evolution into parts of Scripture that don’t even seem to closely reflect it (if, indeed, any of Scripture can be said to reflect evolutionary theory, a claim that I find dubious at best). But taking his argument as it stands, it seems fairly interesting. Looking at the large scheme of things, a Theistic Evolutionist can offer an apology for Christianity from an argument of this sort. Why does God use death (natural selection) to bring about good (i.e. humanity and later redemption)? The Theistic Evolutionist can now answer “Christ is the answer” (just as one may answer with Covenantal Theology the problem of evil). Christ came in order to give God’s final answer to the perceived wrongness of the world. He came to promise an eternal life and redemption to all creation. It’s certainly a very different view than anything I’ve read before, and one I will contemplate as I continue my studying.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced by Murphy, but I think that he has shown me that the Theistic Evolution side does take Scripture seriously and that they are very sincerely Christian. He notes that “Every aspect of genuine human nature is saved only by… God in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ” (379).

There are some major problems with Theistic Evolution that I maintain. The first is an explanation of the “Image of God” in mankind. If man is simply evolved from lower lifeforms, what is the “Image of God”? Further, how does one perform Theistic Evolutionary exegesis (not eisegesis) on God’s special creation of man out of dust? The second major problem is original sin. If the wages of sin are death, how was their death before sin? These are questions that stand unanswered as of yet in my reading, and I don’t see any easy answers forthcoming.

Some criteria, on my view, for an acceptable explanation of the origins of life include: 1) God’s specific interaction with nature in a theistic, rather than deistic sense (and I believe Murphy may have dealt with this on a small scale in his essay) 2) An adequate explanation of original sin and its meaning with creation and the origins of life (and must thus include an account of redemption through the divine Christ), and 3) An adequate explanation of the special creation of Adam and Eve. These points still have some pretty heavy weight against theistic evolution.

I want to note that one very valid point that Theistic Evolutionists make is that, as far as scientific inquiry goes, critics of evolution must offer a competing scientific model. It’s all well and good to criticize evolution and point out the flaws in the theory, but what can replace it? One may try to answer that this seems like a positivistic claim- why should we, as Christians, have to argue within current scientific means for a Creationist account? I think that this counter is ineffective, however, as it is true that scientifically speaking (not philosophically or religiously speaking), one must offer a competing model if one wants to overthrow the current one. This is a question I will be exploring in the future, as I have read parts of works in which competing models are indeed offered (such as Intelligent Design or Hugh Ross’s “Creation as Science” model).

I’ve been getting into a bit of a rut with what I’ve been reading, and this kind of makes all of it fresh again. I’ll be interspersing theological articles and books throughout. For me, the most important thing in this debate is Scripture and sound doctrine. Whatever side is right is that which stands closest to the absolute authority and truth of God’s Word. I’m looking forward to looking at the scientific aspect of the debate, in order to see how the sides present their cases.

For further reading/sources:

Murphy, George L. “Christology, Evolution, and the Cross.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Edited Keith Miller. 2003.

Theistic Evolution – Perspectives.

Works I will be referencing/reading as part of this series:

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation

Mere Creation. Edited by William Dembski.

Ross, Hugh. Creation as Science.

Ross, Hugh. More than a Theory.

Behe, Michael. The Edge of Evolution.

Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box.

Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 1.

Van Fange, Erich. In search of the Genesis World.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator.

Collins, Francis. The Language of God.

Rehwinkel, Alfred. The Flood.

Dembski, William. Intelligent Design.

-many more

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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