Monday, July 18, 2011

Dual Denial

Theistic evolution (TE) is currently a hot button issue in significant circles of the evangelical community, particularly on college campuses. This could turn out to be a healthy phenomenon, or it could become a trigger for divisive strife. A healthy outcome is possible if all parties approach the discussion by committing themselves in Christian deference to a sincere search for truth.

What origins view must we abandon if we accept TE? Acceptance of TE means denial of direct agency in the design and creation process. There is strong evidence leading to the inference of direct, divine creative interventions of life on earth--fiat creation. This is a position TE adherents stoutly reject, deferring instead to a naturalistic account. Exquisite structures possessing obvious hallmarks of design, such as the basic unit of the living cell, are extraordinary for their design features alone. But in reality, every living thing on earth from simple bacteria to the human body manifests unique design structures accompanied by remarkable functionality.

It is difficult to overlook the marriage of structure and function in the world of living things. In light of the evidence, it is difficult to sidestep the conclusion of operative intelligent design. One prominent proponent of TE describes intelligent design as a ship “headed instead to the bottom of the ocean.” Intelligent design and supernatural creation have been described as irrational, or worse. Instead, what appear even more irrational are desperate statements of negativism and denial with respect to design and creation.

More troubling is denial of traditional interpretations of Judeo-Christian Scripture. Biblical creation passages explicitly use Hebrew verbs such as bara to indicate direct creative interventions by God. In many instances bara signals creation of something ex nihilo, out of nothing. But bara always signals the action of God Himself. In the view of most theistic evolutionists, passages describing creation events no longer need be viewed as God-breathed writings, but rather, as human productions. Accounts of appearances of new life forms, formerly regarded as creation events, may now be interpreted as the outcome of naturalistic evolution, they claim.

Books by self-proclaimed evangelical Peter Enns stress new concepts regarding the “problems” of Old Testament Scripture interpretation brought to light by modern biblical scholarship. Enns claims the new interpretations resolve “significant cognitive dissonance.” He refers to conflicts between consensus-driven evolutionary scientists and scientist/theologians who interpret ubiquitous design features and sudden innovations in the fossil record as instances of divine creative acts, in conformity with orthodox scripture interpretation.

Science thrives on its ability to amend its own conclusions based on new research findings and new scholarship. Evidence for design in the universe and its living things is becoming progressively stronger while evidence for organic evolution becomes progressively weaker. Nonetheless, biological scientists as a whole remain firmly committed to evolution. It is my judgment that the paradigm of naturalistic molecules to man evolution has not been shown to be true. Science historian Thomas Kuhn has written about paradigm shifts in science--gradual accumulation of anomalous data eventually resulting in the overturn of a long accepted, shared pattern of accepted beliefs within a community of scientists. We may be due for a paradigm shift in the coming years.

Most Catholics and mainline Protestants have long been on board with the evolutionary paradigm. Only in the last few years has TE become an issue in large segments of the evangelical church. The origins issue is a matter to be approached with sincere humility. What happened in history past is a matter of fact, not merely a matter of opinion. The agency of change in the past cannot be established by direct observation. Our blog has extolled the value of “inference to the best explanation” when we study the historical sciences.

We have two witnesses helping us to discover origins truth. One is the historical record of the rocks revealed by conventional scientific method. The other is inspired scripture. Pauline M. Mills penned one of the most popular worship hymns of all time in 1963, “Thou Art Worthy.” Its lyrics are based on Rev. 4:11 (KJV): “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”