Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Re: origin of life, young earth/old earth, etc. Any recommendations where to start?


Thanks for your message.

[Graphic: "Darwin on Trial" by Phillip E. Johnson, Amazon.com]

My policy is not to get involved in private discussions on creation, evolution or design, so as per my usual practice when I receive a private message on those topics, I am posting my reply to my blog CED, after removing your personal identifying information.

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 2:13 AM
Subject: hello from Minnesota

>Dear Stephen,
>My name is AN, and I live in ... Minnesota.
>I've been a Christian for about 11 years now, and up until now have never researched the issue of the origin of life, young earth/new earth, etc. I have never been much into science ... Anyway, my interest has been pricked because I have 3 young children that we are homeschooling. I figure I'd better come to some sort of position on the matter. I have now stumbled across your blog.

I was in your position back in the late-1980s when my two children encountered evolution in high school. I became a Christian in the mid-1960's and adopted an Old-Earth/ Progressive Creationist position after reading James Jauncey's "Science Returns to God" (1961) and Bernard Ramm's "A Christian View of Science and Scripture" (1954). That is, my position then was that God had created each basic kind de novo over millions of years, but without common ancestry (my position now is Progressive Mediate Creation and I do accept universal common ancestry).

Probably the two main things that stuck with me from reading those two books was, first Jauncey's point that even if evolution were proved to be true, it would merely be the method which God used to create:

"However, there is evidence on every hand that the conflict seems to be disappearing. There are a great number of biologists who at least tentatively believe in evolution, but who nevertheless are active members of Christian churches and find no problem at all. The general attitude is that even if evolution were proved to be true, instead of making God unnecessary, it would merely show that this was the method God used." (Jauncey, J.H., "Science Returns to God," [1961], Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1962, Second Printing, p.20)

and secondly Ramm's point that both the Bible and nature are two books with the one Author and so they ultimately must agree:

"If we believe that the God of creation is the God of redemption, and that the God of redemption is the God of creation, then we are committed to some very positive theory of harmonization between science and evangelicalism. God cannot contradict His speech in Nature by His speech in Scripture. If the Author of Nature and Scripture are the same God, then the two books of God must eventually recite the same story." (Ramm, B.L., "The Christian View of Science and Scripture," [1955], Paternoster: Exeter UK, 1967, reprint, p.25)

I regard those sort of broad framework truths as more important than the comparatively minor details that are fitted into them (see also below).

However, from the mid-1970s, marriage, children and career pushed creation/evolution issues on to the backburner, and so when my two high school children in the late-1980s started being conflicted with what they were learning in school and from their YEC church youth group leaders about evolution, to ease their conflict and keep things simple, I told them that even if evolution were proved to be true, it would merely be the method that God used to create.

I still think that my advice was sound, and that even YEC parents should tell their kids that ultimate fall-back position because there is a very real danger that at high school and more so at college or university, they may discover their teachers have more evidence and arguments for evolution than their parents or church prepared them for and they might give up on Christianity itself (especially if it is presented as a sharp either Christianity = YEC or evolution).

>I have to admit that I am completely overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. I also feel like it's too late in the game for me to be able to make any educated decision myself regarding all the different scientific viewpoints I'm being presented with. I'm a little disillusioned, and yet I guess I'm compelled to move forward and start investigating nonetheless.

I actually don't think that every Christian needs to become an expert on creation/evolution, just as they don't need to become experts on theology or the original languages of the Bible. I even think it is OK for a Christian to personally think that God created everything in six literal days and then move on to the really important truths of Christianity and Christian living in the New Testament. They are right on the primary issue that there is a God who created everything, how long He took and how exactly He did it being comparatively secondary issues.

Then it would only be a problem if such a Christian, while meaning well, started teaching others on scientific matters that they knew little about. Interestingly, St. Augustine in the 4th-5th centuries AD mentioned the problem of enthusiastic but ignorant Christians pontificating on scientific issues:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.... Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." (Augustine, "The Literal Meaning of Genesis," Newman Press: New York NY, 1982, pp. 42-43, in Young, D.A., "The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1995, p.17)

>My default position is "I just don't know", which is where I think the majority of Christians would have to put themselves if they were honest, and didn't blindly follow a particular presupposition. If that's where I ultimately have to end up, I want to know I arrived there in an educated fashion.

There is no shame for a Christian layperson admitting "I just don't know" on scientific issues, especially on evolution because there is so much confusion on the topic, not least by evolutionists, who as Cambridge University paleontologist Simon Conway Morris noted in the prestigious scientific journal Cell, evolutionists "only point of agreement seems to be: `It happened'" and "Thereafter, there is little consensus":

"When discussing organic evolution the only point of agreement seems to be: `It happened.' Thereafter, there is little consensus, which at first sight must seem rather odd." (Conway Morris, S., "Evolution: Bringing Molecules into the Fold," Cell, Vol. 100, pp.1-11, January 7, 2000, p.11)

Indeed if there is any shame it is in not admitting that one doesn't know. I still remember in the early 1990s when I joined my first creation/evolution forum on Fidonet, becoming interested and reading a creation/evolution book, YEC Gary Parker's "Creation: Facts of Life" and thinking, "I cannot make head nor tail of this"!

It is because I still remember how little I knew when I first started in this debate, and realising that people like yourself are coming new to it every day, that I try to have links to major terms and persons that I refer to, so readers who don't know what or who they are can click on the link and find out.

>Any advise, recommendations on where to start?

Probably Phillip E. Johnson's "Darwin on Trial" is still the best overall book on creation/evolution to start with, because it not only deals with some of the main evolutionist evidence, but more importantly Johnson, then a law professor at Berkeley University, whose "specialty [was] in analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions that lie behind those arguments":

"Before undertaking this task I should say something about my qualifications and purpose. I am not a scientist but an academic lawyer by profession, with a specialty in analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions that lie behind those arguments. This background is more appropriate than one might think, because what people believe about evolution and Darwinism depends very heavily on the kind of logic they employ and the kind of assumptions they make. Being a scientist is not necessarily an advantage when dealing with a very broad topic like evolution, which cuts across many scientific disciplines and also involves issues of philosophy. Practicing scientists are of necessity highly specialized, and a scientist outside his field of expertise is just another layman." (Johnson, P.E., "Darwin on Trial," [1991], InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, Second Edition, 1993, p.13)

analysed the underlying naturalistic (i.e. nature is all there is-there is no supernatural) assumptions of evolutionists and the logic (or illogic) of their arguments.

The reason why that is more important than the actual evidence for evolution is that evolutionists' (like everyone's) fundamental metaphysical assumptions determine what counts as evidence.

For example, if one's fundamental assumption is that there is no God, then one has no option but to accept "the standard scientific theory" of evolution, "that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'" (my emphasis):

"Facing such a reality, perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer, M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis)

Then, if presented with evidence and argument that God (or an Intelligent Designer) did have a part in this process, one would dismiss it out of hand as simply not possible and one would adopt the next most plausible (or least implausible) atheistic alternative.

Intelligent Design (ID) movement leaders, paleontologist Marcus Ross and philosopher Paul Nelson agree (as I do) with Johnson's point that, "The fundamental differences between the two theories," creation and evolution, "did not stem from any particular historical narrative but rather from what kinds of causes would be allowed in scientific explanation and what would count as evidence" and "that naturalism-that is, not the detailed narrative of evolution, but its underlying epistemology-had become the strongest commitment of modern science since Darwin's time" (their emphasis):

"Johnson, however, glimpsed something that others had missed. To borrow a metaphor from biological classification, we can say that Johnson discovered the popular taxonomy of theories of origins was wrong. In that classification those who accepted creation held the view of six-day special creation and a young earth, while others accepted `evolution,' a 4.5 billion-year-old earth and an even older universe. ... But Johnson's analysis in Darwin on Trial begins by jettisoning this familiar polarity. Setting aside the usual diagnostic markers, Johnson dissects creation and evolution by first inspecting what might be called their epistemological anatomy.
`Evolution' contradicts `creation,' ` he wrote, `only when it is explicitly or tacitly defined as fully naturalistic evolution-meaning evolution that is not directed by any purposeful intelligence. [Johnson, P.E., "Darwin on Trial," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, Second Edition, 1993, p.4]
The fundamental differences between the two theories, Johnson argued, did not stem from any particular historical narrative but rather from what kinds of causes would be allowed in scientific explanation and what would count as evidence. Epistemology-namely, what can be known empirically, and what counts as a scientific explanation-is what truly cuts the origins issue at its joints. At first glance this analysis seems to get it all wrong. Theistic evolutionists-those who accept a 4.5 billion-year-old earth and relatedness of all organisms in a tree of life (through divine purpose)-are sorted into the same group as young-earth creationists, with whom they appear to share only the theological premise of `divine purpose.' But Johnson presses on:
Persons who believe that the earth is billions of years old, and that simple forms of life evolved gradually to become more complex forms including humans, are `creationists' if they believe that a supernatural Creator not only initiated this process but in some meaningful sense controls it in furtherance of a purpose. As we shall see, `evolution' (in contemporary scientific usage) excludes not just creation-science but creationism in the broad sense. [Ibid.]
... The consequences of this reframing of the origins controversy, from a choice between two very different narratives to the question of which epistemology science should adopt, are still unfolding. But already, many years after Darwin on Trial, Johnson's approach has revolutionized the debate. ... This was one of Phillip Johnson's key insights, and it stemmed from his discovery that naturalism-that is, not the detailed narrative of evolution, but its underlying epistemology-had become the strongest commitment of modern science since Darwin's time. The evolutionary narrative changed from one year to the next, sometimes wildly so, depending on the latest discoveries or academic fashions; the naturalistic commitment was a constant, so deep that in most cases it was entirely tacit." (Ross, M. & Nelson, P., "A Taxonomy of Teleology," in Dembski, W.A., ed., "Darwin's Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, pp.262-264. Emphasis original)

>(I do happen to own a copy of Gerald Schroeder's "The Science of God" which I found put down rather quickly because it seemed so radical, but then again perhaps his view is close to your own?)

See my recent comment on Schroeder's "The Science of God." Basically I agree with many of his criticisms of evolution, and arguments for design, but I disagree with his proposed relativistic time-dilation harmony of the Genesis days with modern science.


I hope this has helped.

One can get into this as deep, or as shallow, as one wants to, i.e. how important one sees it. One can (like me), regard it as very important (since if intelligent design is true - let alone Christianity which is true - then "the standard scientific theory" of fully naturalistic evolution would be false, and then the scientific and cultural implications of that will be immense) and try to keep abreast of most books and articles on the topics of creation, evolution and intelligent design and then contribute to the debate oneself. Or if one doesn't have the time or inclination to go that far, one can still keep up to date with the main issues by reading blogs like mine and those listed on its blogroll.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).

Genesis 10:20b-31 20... The Semites21 Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.22The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.23The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshech.24Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, and Shelah the father of Eber.25Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.26Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan. 30The region where they lived stretched from Mesha toward Sephar, in the eastern hill country. 31These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

No comments: