Friday, June 29, 2012

What Came Before 1960

When the discussion of science arises in our modern time, especially as it impacts the discussion of origins, it is important to look back at a broad range of history over several hundreds of years to discover the many turns and twists. It is important to discover how historic discoveries may impact our understanding of where we are now in our current level of discussion. For example, the current status of the young earth creationist controversy has roots reaching back barely a half century. These young earth believers have acquired the term “creationist” from our popular culture. But the history of creationism goes back much farther.

In 1961 a monumental literary work was published which has great bearing on the creationist controversy and how the creationists present their case to the world even today. John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris produced their magnum opus which was to forever change the terms of the creationist dialogue.  Young earth believers, old earth believers, theologians, and evolutionists of diverse stripes echo dozens of other analysts when they all claim The Genesis Flood, The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications, was a seminal work largely responsible for triggering the modern revival of interest in creationism.

We must digress briefly. The population of the United States has increased about 132 million since 1961. That is roughly a 185% increase. Many of our new residents have sparse clues as to what took place in the conversation concerning creationism before that. John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris wrote their outsized 518-page volume supplementing the brief Genesis account. Many of the 132 million residents our country has added since 1960 fall within the roughly 40% of American citizens who believe in young earth creationism: the earth and its living forms are less than 10,000 years old. This was the beginning of the Genesis creation account. Specifically, this was the beginning of the time, space, matter and energy of our universe. In short, they interpret scripture as claiming the heavens and earth did not exist prior to that time.

Many of our country’s new residents, therefore, especially within the evangelical community of faith, rely upon the authoritative pronouncements of Whitcomb and Morris and their “spiritual descendants” for an important cornerstone of their faith structure. We cannot overemphasize the long lasting effects of the Whitcomb and Morris volume and the many adjunct ministries and educational offshoots which have proliferated from those programs. When I was a young Christian I hungered for a response with which to answer secular scientific challenges to faith, particularly the challenges posed by the paradigm of evolution.

The Whitcomb and Morris aftermath remains as the primary model of creationism within the young earth community. Old earth creationists believe in scientific findings of a very old universe, but subscribe to sudden new appearances of living things without evolution. Those sympathetic to the freshly minted variety of “evolutionary creationism,” have been co-opting the term “creationism” in their extensive negative commentaries on the young earth variety. Finally, naturalists poke fun at any sort of creationism.

We leave our readers with a statement from one our favorite evangelical scholars. Several times we have quoted this scholar fondly, and he remains one of our favorite historians and Christian thinkers. Professor Mark Noll claims, “To the extent possible for a historian who does not believe in Creation Science and who looks to guidance on these issues to practicing scientists who are also orthodox Christians, this paper tries to be as objective as possible.” In a future blog post we shall endeavor to mine Noll’s objective knowledge of science and creationism prior to 1960 as it impacted the church.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Evolution or Creation Miracles

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), popular novelist and Christian apologist, died November 22, 1963, on the day President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. Lewis is remembered for his brilliant thinking and writing on a variety of topics related to the Christian faith. One subject he tackled was the topic of miracles. He argued that we should settle whether or not miracles can occur in principle, and claims a culture bias exists against the possibility of miracles occurring. Herein is the struggle of naturalism vs. supernaturalism most well-defined. The science profession assumes naturalism within every turn of their investigative process. The Christian, in addition, adds the dimension of supernaturalism. There is, therefore, a natural tension between the dimension of the natural and the supernatural. Likewise, there is a natural tension between the non-miracle and the miracle.

Lewis claimed that interference with nature could occur by actions of a supernatural creator. He said the benevolent creator was likely to intervene in reality after creation. In short, Lewis gave credibility to supernatural miracles. In our modern culture, there is a strong bias against the supernatural, particularly with respect to the national cultural icon, molecules to man evolution. The research on Lewis shows him evolving away from belief in evolution and toward belief in creationism.

Old and New Testament scripture passages contain plentiful accounts of miraculous events. But for every supernatural miracle event described there are many hundreds of natural events taking place. Bible characters lived mostly governed by ordinary, non-miracle events. Most Bible characters did not witness any miraculous events in their lifetime. Cluster miracles, such as those at the time of Moses, some prophets, and at the time of Jesus and the apostles are rare indeed and confirmed some sort of special revelation of God to His people.

Most theistic evolutionists accept miracles such as the Incarnation of Jesus and His Resurrection. The many New Testament miracles of Christ and the miracles performed by the apostles after Jesus ascended, as well as the notable Old Testament miraculous events are generally accepted, albeit with some skepticism by some. Finally, we reference what we regard as ultimate universal miracles (1) bringing forth the matter of the universe from nothing at the Big Bang Creation event, (2) the sudden bio-chemically complex origin of life from non-life on this earth, and finally, (3) the abrupt appearance of over fifty new phyla of living things in a geological blink of an eye.

Moreover, the sudden radiations of major new phyla after extinction events are more characteristic of miraculous creation events than of the classic theoretical evolutionary scenario. Stephen C. Meyer details the transition of Species A to Species B: Such transitions would involve the simultaneous production of new proteins, then new cell types, followed by new tissues, new organs, new body parts, and finally, a new organism. Transitions between major phyla would entail even more startling changes to body plans. The relatively sudden appearances of fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals after extinction events have been carefully detailed. The miracle scenario is far easier to grasp. In terms of a familiar figure of speech, we might say the miracle of creation process may be far easier to “wrap our arms around” than a naturalistic theory involving many complex contingencies.

Evolutionists of any stripe lean toward a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, the origin of species, and most notably, the origin of man. Miracles such as those described by C. S. Lewis do not satisfy man’s desire to “have it our way” as the hamburger advertisements of decades ago exhorted us. Some feel empowered to have things explained in terms of life’s origins, and particularly, our own human origins, according to the naturalistic plan man has devised to explain it all.

Scriptural language frequently uses the term to “create.” Hebrew “bara” is most often used for “create.” In this sense, we speak of a true miracle. That term connotes the meaning of the direct action of God. It is used in the strongest sense in the first chapter of Genesis, especially for every living creature that moves, and most especially, the miracle of creation of man in God’s image (Genesis and Genesis ). In this sense the miracle of creation is most easy to embrace.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Torn Between What?

One of the paramount goals of our blog is to promote the relationship of science and the Christian faith. Our view is that science is a powerful apologetic tool. A leading organization for upholding the partnership of science and faith is Reasons to Believe whose president is Hugh Ross. It is an old universe progressive creationist organization which proposes that God created different life forms at incremental stages. Our blog takes a similar position that various life forms appear suddenly at intervals, according to the clear record of earth fossil history. The appearance of modern man has been sudden and recent, in conformity with the record, and in agreement with scripture.

There are diverse organizations touting the compatibility of scientific discoveries and scripture. The discoveries of science should convey vibrant harmony with the creative power of God. But there is wide disagreement on one important and fundamental area: the view of origins of life. One very popular organization founded by Dr. Francis Collins in 2007, BioLogos, currently has a large array of well known scholars on board writing blogs and scholarly papers. Most of these well known writers energetically promote their view of theistic evolution. Their views of the evolutionary origins of life are removed from the traditional view of the origin of life in sudden scriptural creation acts. Theistic evolutionists believe God somehow used the gradual process of evolution to create the entire variety of life on earth, including man. The process does not differ from naturalistic evolution except in one respect: God was watching over the process.

In an introductory page the BioLogos website makes several statements in an effort to introduce new readers to their popular website. It claims, “BioLogos is committed to the authority of the Bible as the inspired word of God, and believes it is compatible with new discoveries.” Then, “BioLogos sees evolution as the means by which God created life, in contrast to Atheistic Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism.” And finally, “Christian young people shouldn’t have to feel torn between their faith and their biology courses.”

The BioLogos leadership claims the Bible is the inspired word of God, and implies those biblical words of God signal new beliefs for us. Second, the theory articulated by Charles Darwin and modified for our modern times is God’s chosen means by which life is created, they claim, not by Intelligent Design, and not by an act of creation. We may suppose the process of theistic evolution is distinct from atheistic evolution, supervised as it is by God as they claim.  Finally, we need not feel conflicted by any differences between evolutionary beliefs promoted by our biology courses and traditional beliefs in supernatural creation events described in the Bible by the direct intervention of God.

Naturalistic evolution (called atheistic evolution in the BioLogos literature), and theistic evolution, are both part of a conceptual framework which unifies the theory under a broad umbrella of creative concepts. This network of concepts gives popular substance to the theory and supplies evolution with a strong appeal for the human intellect. Perhaps the strong intellectual appeal far exceeds the scientific value, even though we are carefully groomed to think that as Christians we should think scientifically and “get on board” with the way bio-scientists think. How appealing does this counsel appear to those Christians who have been badgered from within our secular education system to accept the scientific consensus that evolution is a scientific theory? According to the community of bio-scientists who have succeeded in secularizing the science profession since 1870, yes, we now deal with the theory of evolution as science, by definition.

The well-meaning scholars at BioLogos promote only one side of the science of origins. This post cannot deal adequately with the weaknesses of evolutionary theory or the strengths of creationism. Neither can it deal with the purported scientific claims of evolutionist scientists which affirm evolutionary theory with new supporting hypotheses on a regular basis, or critique research on meaningful creation models still in their initial stages of development. We leave such investigations to the creative and energetic investigations of our thoughtful readers.

Instead of jumping on the evolutionary bandwagon, our goal is to honestly face weaknesses in evolutionary theory. By the same token, we encourage seekers to thoughtfully reappraise traditional creationist beliefs with the goal of discovering weaknesses and strengths of research findings using traditional scientific methods. A few more secular scientists are questioning the popular belief that supernatural phenomena are inherently beyond the scope of scientific investigation.

There is much at stake, not the least of which is, “What is the truth about origins?” There are many unanswered questions which need to be dealt with in great humility. Above all, we close with one of the three classic laws of thought which govern all rational discourse. It is called the Law of Noncontradiction. It states that if two religious claims have opposite truth value, exactly one must be true and the other must be false. Both evolution and creationism cannot both be true at the same time. We must be humble as we approach these conflicting claims.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Uneasy Relationship

Modern science is often said to have been birthed in the Judeo-Christian concept that there is one creator, the God of the Old and New Testaments. We observe the created world and we see an orderly universe from the micro-cosmos to the macro-cosmos. The world of nature is orderly and predictable. Scientific methods are predicated on our ability to observe order and predictability. The modern scientific method, therefore, is supported by the Judeo-Christian God who authors the laws governing our world. Early in what has been termed the Scientific Revolution of the last several centuries, few scientists failed to recognize the connection between the reality of an orderly creator and the reality that scientific discoveries and theological truths reinforced each other in a powerful way.

The Scientific Revolution’s most powerful early figures remained faithful to their Christian faith. Dozens of early giants, including Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes and Newton, were unafraid to express their faith in God as the author and sustainer of the created order they studied. As the Scientific Revolution became blended with other modern movements such as the Enlightenment, there was newfound human empowerment in discoveries of science. Multiple volumes of history detail this story. Christians would do well to study the sequence of the relationship between theology and science as it has developed in the past four centuries. Startling changes have been forthcoming.

In a previous post I quoted Randy Isaac, executive director of the American Scientific Association (ASA), an organization of Christians in the science professions. He wrote a lengthy scholarly essay for BioLogos on “Science and the Question of God.” Isaac reminds us of the exalted relationship between theology and scientific discovery in the earliest days, reminding us, “On the one hand, the basic monotheistic Judeo-Christian concept of one divine creator of all things was a significant contribution that helped enable and foster scientific ideas and methodology.” Then Isaac raises an important caveat, “On the other hand, new scientific knowledge sometimes raised troubling questions.”

The discussion then launches into difficult topics which theologians have been debating for centuries. What about human free will? What about God’s providence in a deterministic universe? These topics do not fit neatly with the simple laws of behavior of matter a physicist may describe in his lab reports. Living biological systems, for example, “did not seem to be subject to the simple laws of motion of classical mechanics.” They seem to obey a more complex set of laws. Biology deals with a different set of concepts. Scientists, particularly since Darwin, attempted to resolve “troubling questions.” The troubling questions drifted toward naturalistic explanations for answers.

We now have created a new explanation for life’s origins. The orderly and predictable has been replaced by random mutations, natural selection, and plenty of time. The science profession has fully subscribed to Darwin’s grand theory. The theory of evolution is now the cultural icon explaining life’s origins, particularly since the movement toward secularization of public life between 1870 and 1930. Sociologist Christian Smith in The Secular Revolution has written about this struggle, describing it as a conflict of religious and secular activists for institutional control and authority. Smith and other writers have openly wondered who would be the most influential interpreting the discoveries of science? It now appears those bio-scientists with a naturalistic worldview have won the day for the theory of evolution. A search of high school and college biology textbooks will tell the story.

Randy Isaac continues: “Some secularists of the day did not wait for philosophical clarity and accuracy (Bowler, 2001). They seized the chance and proclaimed Darwin’s theory of evolution as a triumph of science over classical religious ideas. It seemed to them that the final frontier of science could now, at least in principle, pre-empt theological explanations. It didn’t matter that the details hadn’t been worked out. What mattered was that science had a path to answering the question of life without invoking a deity.” During the late 19th century two famous men popularized the warfare between theology and science. John William Draper in The History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, and Andrew Dixon White in A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology, framed the warfare imagery.

It was later proved “that the supposed research reported in these books was not sound.” But among those who prefer to believe the “warfare” thesis, the damage has been done and is still ongoing. Many Christians are seen as anti-science. The authors of many theistic evolutionist publications such as those promoted by BioLogos frequently intone sentiments such as “getting on board with science.” It is implied that any pro-creation and anti-evolution positions are out of the scientific mainstream. The creationist positions, even if they are old earth creationists, are becoming less and less popular among some segments of evangelicalism while evolutionary positions are gaining a foothold. It is a major area of significant disagreement concerning what Christians actually believe, not to mention what is actually true.

Our blog has dealt with the uneasy relationship between theology and science in dozens of posts over the past five years on the central issue of origins. At the same time, we desire to restore the healthy relationship between theology and science which existed when the Scientific Revolution was in its youth. We long to restore a healthy harmony to the dual relationship of theology and science.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Origins Straw Men

A common recurring problem involves numerous errors of reasoning by those presenting their arguments. These errors are usually meant to fortify their argument’s weak points and weaken the case of the opponent. Phillip E. Johnson penned a popular little volume over a decade ago entitled Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. One of his chapters was entitled “Turning Up Your Baloney Detector.” He listed a number of popular examples of baloney used selectively in the presentation of arguments. Johnson could have termed his baloney detector “straight thinking” with a less humorous effect.

One example Johnson cited was the frequently cited “straw man” argument. This argument “distorts somebody’s position in order to make it easier to attack.” It is one of numerous betrayals of straight thinking in the presentation of a line of argument. In this argument the position being attacked is more easily assailed than a stronger defensible position. Most people who subscribe to one argument or another spend substantially more time reading text affirming their own personal viewpoint than material critical of their perspective. Therefore, they may be strengthened by material they choose to read and be immune to the deficiencies in the arguments they endorse.

Enter the fabled straw man. Many modern commentators choose not to make a distinction between different categories of creationism. They choose to highlight the popular view of young earth creationism over old earth creationism because this view is far easier to attack. In short, young earth creationism has been made to look foolish by those who opt to overlook the Creator and His role in miraculously creating and intelligently designing the features of our cosmos. The reasons are simple: the weight of evidence from the community of science professionals points unequivocally to a very old earth, a very old cosmos, and a Big Bang event which even secular scientists acknowledge to be the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy in our universe. In the minds of the secular world, as well as most others in our day, the term “creationism” has been co-opted by those who believe in “young earth creationism.” The assignment of the term “creationism” to mean “young earth creationism” is a straw man coup of monumental proportions in our culture.

In a recent BioLogos scholar essay, Randy Isaac, executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of Christians in the science professions, wrote an article entitled “Science and the Question of God.” He stated, “In this essay, the term creationism refers not to the doctrine of creation but to the extrapolation of one view of such creation into claims of science. Specifically, it refers to the idea that scientific truths can be found in the Bible and that science properly done will concord with those truths. It is most easily identified with the view that the earth is only about 10,000 years old.” Isaac is not the only writer who presents the straw man argument, both theistic and atheistic/agnostic. Isaac refutes the young earth view and cites the backlash against it. Old earth creationism is barely mentioned as a viable counter-proposal in many similar articles. Yet, the old earth creationist perspective of extinctions and sudden new species appearances is far more easily defended, juxtaposed with the weaknesses of evolutionary theory. It is my view that old earth creationism is not easy to refute, based on evidence.

Even theistic evolutionists work to establish the credibility of naturalism. They actively lobby to diminish creationism and related popular theories of intelligent design. Theistic evolutionists and deists propose that God was the creator of the universe in the beginning and sat back to observe how things developed, perhaps even injecting a little of His own direct input now and then. God knew and cared, perhaps, how each random cosmic ray would impact the mutation process and help drive evolution. But even naturalists acknowledge they do not know how the sudden appearance of complex life was accomplished. A few theistic evolutionists may credit some sort of supernatural miracle, but many theistic evolutionists stubbornly hold out for a naturalistic explanation for life’s origin. This is a mysterious phenomenon.

The straw man fallacy has a colorful imagery. Straw men are not real, and they are easily destroyed. The arguments represented by the straw man fallacy are neither strong nor are they worthy of our consideration. Instead, our proposals should be tempered with straight thinking.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Evolution or Creation?

Every living thing on this earth at this instant has a genealogical history. Scientists recognize a principle termed “causal adequacy.” We might say our immediate parents were the cause of our current existence insofar as they contributed to the entirety of our genealogical makeup. We are linked on the chain of “causal adequacy” back through time.

It is this chain of causes which triggers an ongoing vibrant discussion in our culture. The science community is committed to promoting the cultural view of evolution as an understanding of our origins. Along with this understanding, the evolutionary community proposes that our ancestral line of “causes” may have crossed over into a different species at various points in the very distant past. The continuous chain of links with past organisms becomes very muddled if we trace our human ancestry. We might inquire if the changes demanded a slow conversion from one link to the next? Or at what point, we wonder, does one species transition to a new species? Does this happen within all the specimens of the species? Many similar questions arise. Solid answers to these questions are assigned to the theorists. Adherents of evolution are not much troubled by such details of plausibility.

We could theoretically trace the ancestry of every sub-human species alive today through the “causal adequacy” sequence described above if we had unlimited historical information. There are millions of species extant in our day. There were countless additional millions of species alive in the past ages since the sudden onset of complex life on this planet. In theory, we could write a “causal adequacy” chain of links for every one of today’s species and every one of earth’s past existing species. Is it appropriate to theorize on a genealogical sequence for every species? Does the blur of tangled information ever become more coherent over time as the grand theory of evolution plays out on the stage of plausibility? Does Darwin’s theory of mutation, natural selection, and lots of time generate respect for the credibility of the grand theory of evolution with which our modern scientific culture is enamored?

How could we describe the incredible scenario of this “causal adequacy” series to describe what has happened to generate life on Planet Earth? We could explain it or name it in a variety of different ways. We could portray it as the naturalistic cultural icon of our time. It has virtually captured the heart and soul of not only our bio-science professionals, but a large number of evangelicals who are now staking their claim with a popular cultural icon. Many of our evangelical brethren have found it necessary to seat themselves at the dinner table of scientific credibility. Unfortunately, in the minds of the secular, naturalistic science community, we are not always welcome at the table. The two groups make for strange dinner partners. The evangelical theistic evolutionists are not on the same page with the community of evolutionary bio-scientists who are steeped in their naturalistic philosophy.

We note with increasing sadness that many verses of scripture proclaiming the apparent work of God’s creative power are increasingly ascribed to the figurative, the allegorical, and the metaphorical. The glorious passages such as Genesis 5:1 and Isaiah 45, as well as hundreds of others, are not really descriptors of transcendent miracles, our evolutionist friends instruct us. Rather, they are to be explained as accounts of the evolution of the entire array of earth life. God did it using the processes of random selection, mutations, and lots of time, we are taught. The evidence of multiple sudden proliferations of new species is to be ignored in favor of evolution, one of the foremost cultural icons of our day. That the process of evolution functions as theorized stands as mere wishful thinking weakly supported by the real evidence.

In dozens of posts our blog has repeatedly developed the ideas that creationism is a supernatural process. We have offered evidence in support of our ideas. Human life, and indeed, all of earth life, has its “causal adequacy” chain of links ending in many acts of supernatural creation. The chain of links does not vanish into a hazy, evolutionary morass in the long distant past. Evidence demonstrates human life, as well as the life of every other species, is traceable back to a creation event. Scripture is packed with creation events. The record of nature is the record of many sudden appearances of new life along earth’s historical timeline. The Bible does not describe the actions of God as the observer of the evolution of living things. Instead, Scripture presents our God as the God of creation.