Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obeying Rules of the Scientific Courtroom

Dramatic courtroom scenes portrayed in literature, on television, or in movies are frequently laced with the judge’s exclamation “Objection sustained” or “Objection overruled” in response to questioning techniques by counsel. In such instances, the judge applies rules governing courtroom procedural law. Notwithstanding the desirability of rules governing the admissibility of evidence in a courtroom, there may be cases where sustainment or denial of evidence could sway a jury and affect their ability to render a correct verdict. The judge may not be impartial, or the jury may be biased. In these cases application of such procedural rules may be counterproductive in the quest for justice. Ideologically driven judicial appointments by ruling political parties could result in loading the courtroom bench with a particular judicial viewpoint.

The case for evolution has been tried in the courtroom of professional biological scientists. The judgment that this particular professional community is biased toward a naturalistic worldview is beyond dispute. Under these procedural rules verdicts of science may NOT include the intervention of any supernatural being, namely, God. Beyond that, we must consider hundreds of statements from evolutionary biologists. They procedurally eliminate the supernatural in determining “causal adequacy” for the origin of life forms and apparent design features in living things. In addition they boldly utter metaphysical and ontological statements on the nature of reality and existence. Stated more explicitly, they do not believe in the existence of God.

We may recall verdicts in civil courts of law which were obviously in error due to jury bias, judicial misconduct, procedural errors, or concealment of relevant evidence. Sometimes such verdicts are later reversed. The best examples are the many publicized rape or murder convictions overturned by DNA evidence not accessible at the time of trial. Sometimes convictions are overturned after many years of incarceration of innocent parties. How ironic that our current knowledge of complex, intricate, coded DNA information (three billion bits of digitally coded information) in every body cell supplies evidence that an intelligent mind operated in the past and still operates. We are coming ever closer to overturning the verdict that evolution is true and factual.

My concern mounts that believers in theistic evolution have joined forces with the naturalistic worldview at the core of evolutionary theory. This theory, supported primarily by inference and consensus of scientists motivated by staunch commitment to philosophical naturalism, is plagued by many mysteries. The sudden appearance of new forms in the geological record, the almost complete absence of transitional forms in the fossil record, and the absence of persuasive evidence for the efficacy of the theorized process of natural selection are only a few of those enigmas. Many other questions give us cause to be skeptical of evolutionary claims. Questions on origins should be approached and researched with great reverence for the incredible wonders we observe in functioning living things. Evolution as an elegant theory was certainly worth investigating in the years since Darwin proposed it. In the last half-century, however, the evidence for sudden creation and intelligent design has become stronger. Perhaps in our lifetime the verdict for evolution will be overturned.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Standing on Middle Ground

Believers in theistic evolution find themselves on the proverbial middle ground. They camp between theistic creationists and atheistic/agnostic evolutionists. Some may still wrestle with significant conflicts. Is matter invested with self-organizing capability--the ability to progress naturalistically from “molecules to man?” Or did God perform several or many supernatural miracles along the timeline of bio-history to organize the molecules into complex, living, functioning entities, with modern man in His image a very recent creative act? Everyone would agree that we now have upwards of five million separate species extant on earth today. Many times that number have existed in past ages. Whatever direction theistic evolutionists turn from their middle ground, they see earth life as a mind-boggling plethora of biodiversity.

Answers to questions on origins should be sought with humility. In my personal research, I am struck by the incredible knowledge we have accumulated, yet aware of the knowledge still to be gained. By studying these challenging issues, comparing the evidence and interpretations, we may acquire a clearer picture of reality.

Origins science is a historical science. In contrast, laboratory scientists test their experimental findings under controlled laboratory conditions. Most laboratory science will not effectively answer questions on origins. Historical scientists seek “causal adequacy” for their discoveries. That means independent evidence supports a claim that a specific cause produces a certain effect. If more than one explanation seems “causally adequate,” they attempt to pare down the explanations to just a few and finally, only one. In this process they use abductive logic to produce an “inference to the best explanation.” Their inferences are then tested by comparing the strength of their explanatory power. Many science authors have described this process in great detail.

The scientific process of abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation) has been used throughout the history of modern science. Science philosopher Charles Peirce (1839-1914) developed the concept more formally as foundational support for the process of scientific discovery. The method is still in use today as an effective means to acquire causally adequate explanations for big questions in science, such as the enormous bio-complexity on earth. Using abductive reasoning, the creation and intelligent design hypotheses are among the most causally adequate scientific explanations of what we observe to account for the origin of earth’s diverse life forms. Additionally, creation and/or design have significant explanatory power centered on the actions of the infinite, omnipotent God of the Bible.

Theistic evolutionists stand on middle ground with respect to scientific truth discovery. They subscribe to the firmly entrenched contemporary philosophy that any suggestion of divine intervention is not scientific. Therefore, they are forced to claim the evolutionary ground inhabited by naturalistic scientists. But there is a strange irony in their embrace of evolution as a naturalistic process. Theistic evolutionists are not warmly received by the larger community of naturalistic scientists. Since they believe God “created” by an evolutionary process, they are accused of being in the theistic camp and marrying their Christian religion to science. Intelligent design theorists are also accused of using design proposals to promote their religion. Naturalistic scientists, therefore, do not spread the welcome mat for theistic evolutionists. And neither are creationists and intelligent design believers welcomed.

Is there a remedy for theistic evolutionists standing on the uncomfortable middle ground? The remedy may rest in their acknowledgement that abductive reasoning indeed does provide a scientific explanation for the origin of biological information. Such an acknowledgement describes the deliberate intervention of God as causally adequate to explain the origin of coded information in the DNA of every living cell, since coded information is the product of a mind. By comparison, naturalistic explanations are deficient in their causal adequacy when tested by their explanatory power. Further, the middle grounders should consider rejecting the worldview of naturalism now controlling the thinking of a majority of the world’s bio-scientists. Finally, they may consider a commitment to truth discovery above their commitment to “science” as defined by the contemporary science community.

Commitment to truth discovery supersedes the adherence to 21st century science philosophy which permits no supernatural explanations. Science, by definition, is discovery of knowledge of our world--present and past. Creationists and ID believers need not reject the use of science in support of their beliefs. Rather, they may use long-established science processes in their quest for truth concerning origins.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Deep Roots of Evolution

Some of the best reasons to be skeptical of evolutionary claims come from the statements of naturalistic evolutionists. They do not acknowledge either divine origin of the universe or its divine sustenance. Theistic evolutionists claim to believe in a God who originated the universe and in some way sustains it even to this moment. The naturalistic evolutionist never has a need to invoke the supernatural, either in the past or in the present. Theistic evolutionists are in danger of acquiring an identical mindset.

Naturalistic evolutionists are driven by the worldview of naturalism. Our universe, they claim, self-originated and sustains itself to this moment. All observed effects result from a previous physical cause. Every conclusion concerning reality in the field of origins is driven by philosophical (metaphysical, ontological) naturalism.

When we consider the merits of theistic evolution, it is impossible to divorce it from naturalistic evolution which was, in turn, birthed from the womb of philosophical naturalism. Theistic evolutionists may wish to humbly consider the following statements of naturalistic evolutionists. The statements are philosophically homogeneous. They have a consistent connotation. Consider these brief statements penned by several famous naturalistic evolutionary scientists:

Niles Eldredge: He (Darwin) taught us that we can understand life’s history in purely naturalistic terms, without recourse to the supernatural or divine.

Julian Huxley: In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created; it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion.

Richard Lewontin: We are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.

Ernst Mayr: The Darwinian revolution was not merely the replacement of one scientific theory by another, as had been the scientific revolutions in the physical sciences, but rather the replacement of a world view, in which the supernatural was accepted as a normal and relevant explanatory principle, by a new world view in which there was no room for supernatural forces.

Michael Ruse: And it seems to me very clear that at some very basic level, evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely, that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts of things, come what may.

Endorsing an evolutionary belief structure born, as it is, of naturalistic parentage should trigger extreme caution. The naturalist agenda extends beyond simple scientific beliefs promoted by the science professionals of our day. Naturalism is a worldview capable of deforming our religious beliefs. Therefore, skepticism is a healthy response to the paradigm of evolution relentlessly promoted by citing the consensus of the scientific community. The Christian community should be extremely circumspect in its endorsement of “theistic” evolution. Evolution is founded upon many questionable conclusions of contemporary consensus science. It germinated from and is now rooted in the naturalistic worldview.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who's in Charge?

The horrific scenes of devastation in Japan and the unfolding news of damage to nuclear reactors from one of the most powerful earthquakes in history has gripped and grieved us all. Some people ask the default question, “How could a loving God allow such a scale of death and destruction?” This question pales to triviality when we humbly seek instruction from the Old Testamnet Book of Job, one of the greatest examples of inspired and inspirational literature ever written. Job was a righteous man who feared God. Two of the four tragedies which befell Job resulted from natural disasters entirely beyond his control: one from fire; one from a great wind. In neither case was the event judgment for Job's personal evil.

During Job's dreadful trials, Elihu was one of four counsellor friends. He was more mindful of God’s divine providence than Job’s three other friends who tended to be harsh accusers. But Elihu still cautioned Job against questioning God’s justice, stating that God sometimes uses pain to chasten man. The world is ruled wisely by the Creator, Elihu said. God is not unjust, even in the most harsh circumstances. But this is a lesson sometimes far beyond human understanding.

Early in Elihu’s monologue he offered Job advice that wisdom in such matters comes from God: “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding” (Job 32:8 NIV). Further, he declares, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:12). On a more reassuring note, Job’s friend Elihu continues, “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15).

Geological and meteorological events of enormous variety and magnitude have unfolded and been woven into the event fabric of earth since it became a solid planet. Stepping back in time and gazing on the big picture, not just the image of one or a few isolated, tragic, disturbing events, may put recent events in a different, if not happier perspective. J. Tuzo Wilson (1908-1993), pioneer plate tectonics theorist, described our earth as a “…living, mobile thing.” He was referring to crustal plates which grind and scrape together, driven by giant convection currents, periodically releasing unimaginable amounts of pent-up energy. Japan’s quake was the result of a thrust fault, one plate diving under another. The upper plate had been compressed by the lower. When it suddenly fractured in response to the enormous forces, 300 miles of coastline moved eastward up to eight feet and the deadly tsunami was generated.

Long-term, such tectonic plate movements actually recycle earth minerals in a beneficial way. It has been happening for millions of years on this earth. Violent thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, great floods, droughts, volcanoes, forest fires, and many other types of seemingly harsh events all have a long-term benefit for mankind, if not a short-term benefit. The processes of our “living, mobile” planet have produced an earth which supports the lives of over 6½ billion people. Looking at “the picture from 30,000 feet,” we may better understand, as Elihu stated, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong.”

Finally, after listening to the words of his friends and of God Himself, Job replied, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thrwarted.....My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:2,5). This utterance was an act of profound submission and worship, far exceeding human wisdom.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Naturalism's Grip

Correct Science--->Correct Worldview--->Correct Theology…..This flowchart has some significance with respect to truth discovery on origins questions. Currently there is strong pressure coming to bear on the evangelical community to accept theistic evolution. The claim is that belief in TE is completely compatible with evangelical Christian faith. The more I study this issue, the stronger my belief that the claim is not true. The embrace of TE comes with epistemological baggage.

Evolutionary theory conforms with a worldview of naturalism, one of the major categories of worldview sometimes used synonymously to atheistic materialism. Essentially, naturalism posits that the explanation for everything we observe, present or past, reduces to a matter-based reality. Material causes explain everything; nature is all there is. In the past two centuries the science profession has endorsed what amounts to a worldview of naturalism. Many movements within science have risen and faded within the practice of science--positivism, scientism, and scientific realism to name a few. These are not worldviews. They are methodologies and philosophical outlooks related to the practice of science. Naturalism, however, is a major worldview.

Many scientists, if they had their way, may wish to include the idea of naturalism in their definition of science. This inclusion would be unfaithful to what is generally recognized as an acceptable definition of science: “Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language). We should be reminded that naturalism is not part of the definition of science. Rather, it is a philosophical appendage of science, a heavily promoted adjunct deeply codified within the science profession. This codification has prevented scientists and non-scientists from proposing or considering creation or intelligent design as an “inference to the best explanation” on rare occasions. Beyond that, creationism and intelligent design are mocked and scorned, even characterized as “ironically on a path toward doing considerable damage to faith” by Francis S. Collins, prominent theistic evolutionist author.

Some popular theistic evolutionist authors conflate science and faith in their book titles and writings. Darrel Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science (2004), and Karl Giberson’s The Language of Science and Faith (2011), by InterVarsity Press are examples. The conclusion urged upon us is that science supports evolution. But science does no such thing. Various interpretations of scientific data support evolution. The philosophy of science supports evolution. Media culture and our own subjective mindset support evolution. A substantial majority of scientists support evolution. This battery of support for evolution does not, of course prove evolution. In that strict sense neither evolution nor creation can be proven. Instead, we make inferences to the best explanation by carefully and rationally weighing the evidence.

The field of science is understood to have a naturalistic underpinning. It is difficult to separate this naturalistic mindset from any conclusion made under the banner of science because only naturalistic answers are permitted for any question posed. Metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism is the ruling paradigm of science. For almost all discoveries in science this paradigm is not controversial. Carried over to questions and conclusions on origins, however, strict adherence to naturalism may exclude the possibility of truth discovery.

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In 2007 I was the speaker at a Reasons To Believe Chicago Chapter monthly meeting. The topic was “Naturalism.” I invite you to read a transcript of the talk with the following Ankerberg Theological Research Institute link. Note the distinction made between metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism and methodological naturalism in the text.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Worldview Wars

There are many different definitions of worldview. Various sources list from four to ten major categories of worldview. The definitions and categories overlap, but there is a basic consistency. James W. Sire, Christian author of The Universe Next Door, defines worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”

This is a wide ranging definition. Whatever affects our worldview, as Sire defines it, is a serious, even solemn matter. Our upbringing, our education, our circle of friends, our church, and our culture--all of these contribute to the formation of our worldview. One author, whose thoughtful analysis I respect, has made a startling statement about another factor which shapes our worldview. Del Ratzsch, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, has declared, in Science and Its Limits, that “Our worldviews, in short, are now inescapably shaped by science.” Few people are consciously aware of the importance of science in shaping our worldview.

Many people in our society are impacted by scientific claims, perhaps without specifically considering their influence on our worldview. Whether we attend to the latest claims of the pharmaceutical industry, the incessant reminders about man’s purported influence on global warming, or the drone of scientists repeating the claims of evolution and how it gives unity and coherence to our view of reality, science is indeed center stage. Ratzsch warns, “If science has become an ineradicable part of our worldviews, and if our picture of science is skewed, then other parts of our worldviews that must adjust themselves to that skewed picture are at risk of undergoing deformations of their own. That raises a further crucial question. If mistaken conceptions of science go deeply enough into our worldviews, might it even be possible for the resulting deformations to touch aspects of our religious beliefs?” Ratzsch concludes by saying, “We had better know.”

One example of a religious belief deformation is provided by our view of the literality of the Biblical Adam. Theistic evolutionists do not acknowledge Adam was a real person. This means we must see the many Genesis references to Adam, his activities, and the events described in Genesis 1-4 and beyond as figurative or allegorical. When the Apostle Paul in his epistles refers to Adam as he does in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15, theistic evolutionists must assume he is talking about related doctrinal issues as mere symbolism. In turn, we may then be free to be skeptical of the veracity of almost anything in scripture. What creation events or miracles described in scripture will we accept as true? Which ones will we reject as untrue? We may be entering the territory of the slippery slope.

Evolution has been accepted by the larger community of science professionals. We are instructed not to fear the “science” of evolution. Rather, we are told we should accept this science and integrate it into our belief system. In this manner, science molds our worldview, and our worldview, in turn, affects our religious beliefs. Stated explicitly, faulty science may adversely impact our worldview and a faulty worldview adversely impacts our religious views.

In the 17th and 18th centuries higher criticism of the Bible fostered a belief among many that the Bible was not a supernatural production but rather, a natural production. Stated another way, many skeptics were given license to doubt the supernatural authority of many scriptural writings. This process continues unabated in our day. Scripture is held to have no authority over what we believe in areas of doctrine or practice, because many higher critics do not accept some of the Bible as reliably true for a variety of reasons.

Honest and responsible scholarship intended to discover the true meaning and trustworthiness of scripture is a desirable activity. But when the motivation behind textual criticism is rooted in fundamental distrust or doubt, Christians should be extremely cautious. When many overarching questions are confirmed or denied by the truth or falsehood of the historicity and literality of the Biblical Adam, we must be humbly cautious as we attempt to acquire and preserve correct scientific views, worldviews, and religious views.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Having Our Cake...

Evangelical theistic evolutionists are mounting a more serious campaign directed toward evangelical creationists. Theistic evolutionists believe we are all the product of a naturalistic process which flowed from the earliest one-celled life, sometimes called LUCA (last universal common ancestor) to the modern humans of today. More specifically, all organisms now living on earth descended from only one in the distant past. Specific claims of divine creative events culminating with the creation of Adam and Eve as literal persons are to be rejected.

One appealing consequence of believing in evolution is that it may satisfy our natural tendency to be somewhat skeptical of claims involving supernatural or miraculous acts in favor of what some have described as an elegant theory. Beyond that, evangelical theistic evolutionists state we may also believe the Bible with respect to the claims of Christ and His redemptive work, be born again, follow Him, and thus be regarded as a Christian. "Having it both ways" may be appealing. We may say, in the parlance of a centuries-old English idiom, that this is a classic example of “Having our cake and eating it too.” On one hand, our embrace of theistic evolution would enable us to achieve a hoped-for positive outcome: respect. From what segments of society would it come? To name a few, the respect would come from the greater community of biological scientists, a majority of people in the field of public education, most people in public media, and many of our friends even in Christian denominations which have long endorsed evolution.

On the other hand, what negative outcome could we avoid by endorsing theistic evolution? We could avert rejection and scorn by members of the groups mentioned above. I have personally dialogued with relatives and friends in the academic world whose respect in that community would diminish substantially were they to “announce” openly as pro-creation or anti-evolution. Since evolution has been pronounced scientific in near reverential terms and is so recognized by our cultural elite, the risk of being discredited is avoided. No one enjoys being dishonored.

Recently I crossed paths with a neighbor during my afternoon walk. The conversation was pleasant and wide-ranging. First we remarked about the great horned owls hooting in stereo-sound at that moment. The hoots were probably related to defense of their territory, we decided. In that yet snow-covered woods, the great horned owls had already laid their eggs even though it was only mid-February. In an example of conversation flowing from one topic to another, our talk soon turned toward nature’s wonders and the vast age of the earth. Something I said prompted him to ask, “Are you a creationist?” My affirmative response generated a mixture of surprise and mild amusement. Creationism, even the old earth variety, does not engender respect from many segments of our indoctrinated culture. A study of secular media and productions of theistic evolutionist organizations affirms the point.

The question is not whether evolution meets the criterion of being “scientific” according to standards for the operation of science set forth by the science professionals in our day. The question is whether evolution is true. It is a sad and sometimes unfamiliar fact that there is good science and there is bad science. If theories such as evolution or global warming are touted as “scientific,” many people accept that pronouncement as good enough reason to believe it without ever reading extensively, thinking deeply, or questioning the claim. How does the science work? What presuppositions motivate the scientists? How are such claims justified? Is there evidence which contradicts the findings? These are a few of the questions frequently not asked, especially by the people who relentlessly promote the evolutionary paradigm.

Several years ago, after lengthy conversations, I was challenged by a good friend to write my position paper on evolution. I accepted the challenge and wrote the paper primarily from the standpoint of the science involved, leaving out theological scriptural challenges to evolutionary theory, even though such challenges are numerous and significant. It is my opinion that much evolutionary science is deficient science and is heavily agenda-driven. I also focused on the heavy tactics of persuasion used by evolutionists. I invite readers to check out the article on the John Ankerberg Show website, linked below, entitled Science…Evolution’s Missing Link? Jim Virkler