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December 14, 2006

The Case for Design

In "Collins’s Case for Evolution," a reader commented that “God ‘speaks’ both through His Word and through creation,” and that sometimes the two do not seem to be reconcilable. He then asks, “could someone please tell me how we CAN fit the Creation-Fall-Redemption understanding with the known facts about the age of the earth, transitional forms, and so forth?”

While I’m not sure what he means by the “known facts” about transitional forms, I agree that the witnesses of Scripture and creation can, at times, appear divergent. But, while every theorist has access to the same material evidence—e.g., the fossil record, common morphology, genetic variation, etc—they each filter the evidence through a grid of presuppositions that cannot be ultimately proven. For example, in the beginning was the Quantum, or in the beginning was God.

Thus the question becomes not which theory can be demonstrated as valid, but which one best explains the evidence. In the case of common descent versus common design, The Discovery Institute has some excellent resources addressing the evidentiary arguments, as does BreakPoint.

Two articles from the latter are: "Against the Ropes with Darwin: The Imminent End of Evolutionary Theory" and "The Science of Design," Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. These are by an author with whom I have some acquaintance—a fine fellow I’m told. Although neither addresses the young-earth old-earth controversy, they both work to dispel the myths that Darwinian evolution is a fact of science based on critical reason, and Intelligent Design a theory of ignorance based on religious faith. In particluar, Part 3 of the last piece examines the evidence from creation against the character of the Christian God as recorded in Scripture.

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Comments

Ted Wilcox

I read the piece on the "imminent end of evolutionary theory" and perused some of the other links. They give me a better grasp of what's going on in the debate about evolution today. The problems with evolutionary theory are well summarized.

If I understand ID theory correctly, it is that since evolution as currently understood simply couldn't have happened, an Intelligent Designer inserting himself at various points in the process makes the most sense.
Christian evolutionists like my brother David (and I hope I'm accurately reflecting his position) are in agreement that the data points to God being involved in the process. To believe it all came about by sheer chance--rolling the dice a billion times and getting a billion snake eyes--as people like Dawkins believe, requires, as David puts it, "more faith" than he posssesses. Instead, he believes, God controlled the dice. Where he and other Christian scientists differ with ID is that while my brother et al argue that the most logical explanation for the arrival of the current species is that God was involved in the process, they believe He did not intervene miraculously. Instead, He used natural means, causing the fantastically improbable outcome to happen as planned.

Their reason for taking such a stance is theological. Citing nineteenth century theologican Charles Hodge, David writes, "...Hodge would call atheistic the views of anyone today who understands natural forces to be autonomous--uncaused and undirected--whether it be Richard Dawkins or Phillip Johnson." ("God and Evolution," p. 75) What I believe he's saying is that those who adhere to ID actually believe that things run along autonomously, i.e., without God--until, at various points, He sees that for things to turn out the way He wants, that He needs to get involved. At that point He performs a miracle.

This morning I pulled David's book (and honestly, I'm not flogging it, it's just that it's the book I happened to read on the subject) off the shelf and flipped to the chapter which had most influenced me. It was one titled "All Life From a Single Source?" He first talked about "minor DNA 'edits' [which] though they do not affect an organism's appearance or function, enable scientists to determine an organism's lineage and to determine, among other things, which living organisms had common ancestors and when. An 'editing' history in the creation of the blueprints indicates a common ancestor, and there are thousands of examples of such realities." He admits that such evidence does not prove a common ancestry, "but it does establish that from a scientific point of view [it] makes a lot of sense." At the same time at the end of the chapter he says, "...There is no logical reason to conclude that the descent of existing life from a common ancestor would be possible in an autonomous universe." That's one example among many of how he intertwines science with his Christian worldview.

My concluding points are: (1) There are many Christian scientists who accept evolution because they sincerely believe it best explains the data. (2) At the same time, they are openly theistic in their beliefs about how evolution happened, making them persona non grata with the majority of their colleagues. (3) Unfortunately such people also become persona non grata with many of their Christian brethren.

All of this, of course, still leaves me scratching my head about how certain scripture themes (though I believe them) fit in. The search continues.

Rick Reeser

As a retired science teacher, I was on the Kansas State Science Curriculum Committee last year when we, as a minority, held sway with the State School Board to allow students to criticize Darwinian Macroevolution. There are now lots of persuasive evidences for a much shorter and sudden creation than I was lead to believe in and know about in high school and college.
There is a major effort among educators and politicians to hide and otherwise suppress data and facts that have come to light that is critical of evolution in its interpretation. Unfortantely, most science teachers, schools, and politicians are in favor of continuing this suppression, as it is uncomfortable to them to have this evidence come forward.
But, there is another overriding issue. Origins studies are inherently religious in nature. They do not usually fit into the strict definition of science, but rather into the interpretation and extrapolation of data into a philosophy. In fact, EVERYONE has a religious philosophy, just that some are theistic and some are atheistic. Some have allowed the atheistic philosophy to hold sway in the public forum. It is common knowledge that evolutions interprete all data in light of evolution. Case in point was the cover article in th June issue in the early to mid '70s in National Geographic when Dr. Richard Leakey found a skull in Africa and determined that it contradicted the theory of evolution, so they decided to consider it invalid because it did not fit into their pet theory of evolution. This is done often. Also, dating is admittedly cyclical. In the early '70s, I asked a professor at the Colorado School of Mines how he knew this layer of rock was that old, and he told me that it was because of the fossils in the strata. I asked him how he knew the age of the fossils, and he told me it was because they were found in that strata. That's convenient.
But, the real issue has to be the religion issue. I have seen people hold onto their religious (atheistic) views just as adamently as theistic people. Whose religion is America going to follow? Are we truly an athiestic country now? I heard one politician and some educators here in Kansas basically say that it is better to teach strict naturalism (atheism) only, even if it is wrong, since to do otherwise might lead kids to think that there is a God! WOW!

Ted Wilcox

This discussion has caused me to start surfing the web to see what Christians have written regarding both the science and theology of an old earth and/or evolutionary viewpoint. The American Scientific Affiliation (an organization of scientists who are Christian but many of whom believe in an old earth) has much to say. One paper, by George L. Murphy, a Lutheran pastor, was titled "A Theological Argument for Evolution." Here's a sample:

'What about the effects of sin? Physical pain and death were in the world before humanity but there was no sin, no willful turning from God (Rom. 1:18-32). That changed when the first humans chose to disobey God, The introduction of sin into the creation put a new and terrible meaning on the death that had gone before. It was no longer a purely physical process, the stopping of bodily machinery, but part of the dissolution consequent upon creation's turning from its Creator. The effects of the sin of the first humans radiated forward and backward in time.

'It is interesting to compare this picture with that of Athanasius. He allowed that the first human, even on the right road and in a state of innocence, might have been subject to physical death. But he understood the penalty for eating of the forbidden tree in Genesis 2:17 to be more than this kind of death. The Hebrew moth tamuth is emphatic - "Thou shalt surely die" (KJV). But Athanasius, working with a Greek translation, saw here a two-fold death: "But by 'dying ye shalt die,' what else could be meant than not dying merely, but also abiding ever in the corruption of death?"'

Murphy actually argues that evolution makes MORE theological sense than the alternative because by placing man in such close relation to the rest of creation it better accounts for why the rest of creation fell with man and must one day be redeemed.

Further investigation reminded me that Christians believing in the possibility of an old earth have been around for a very long time. Augustine, for example, said it was unclear what "days" in Genesis meant--whether 24 hours or longer.

In another ASA paper, a scientist defended the scientific evidence for an old earth. On the basis of ice cores alone, he said, "a continuous count of layers exists as far as 160,000 years."

As Mr. Reesor implied, our presuppositions can determine how we view evidence. It's very true that our culture vividly illustrates the Romans 1 truth that people CHOOSE to disbelieve the evidence for God right in front of their noses. But speaking of presuppositions, it could also be argued that assumptions of a young earth might cause a Christian scientist to summarily dismiss evidence which another Christian scientist might find compelling.

On one level I don't really care which viewpoint in this debate wins out. We'll have all eternity to get to the bottom of it (if it even interests us there). What I particularly care about (besides wanting to alleviate my theological disquietude) is that unqualified individuals don't bring discredit to the name of Christ by their public arguments. Recently I viewed a debate on a Canadian TV show with a Christian host. The three guests included an atheistic evolutionist, a theistic evolutionist, and young earth creationist. The latter guest, one would have thought, should have been pretty good since he was head of an organization devoted to the topic. However, as soon as the discussion strayed from his stock arguments, he clearly was in over his head. It was embarassing. I think it's a scenario that's happened far too often on the North American scene and given weight to a caricature of us Christians as being naive and anti-intellectual. I salute the work of this website, and others, in the effort to counteract that impression.

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