Evolutionary vs. Scientific Thinking

In a comment to my earlier post Why Talk About Evolution in Church, seeker said:

You might enjoy criticizing my article Is creationism a barrier to faith.

But I also think your assessment of creation science is too steeped in evolutionary, rather than scientific thinking.

Well, you asked for it, so here it is.

What seeker fails to do for me is provide a definition of what he means by “evolutionary” and “scientific” as adjectives describing “thinking.” I have this dream, far too wispy and insubstantial to be called a hope, that someday I will discuss with an anti-evolutionist who will give me credit for having read the Biblical materials, read a substantial amount of material on so-called creation “science” and thus address the position I actually hold, rather than some position they imagine me to hold.

I’m going to comment on the post he suggests, but first I’d like to ask creationists for this definition. I grew up on young earth creationism books. I was taught it in school. It was the official position of the denomination of which my parents and I were members (I’ve since changed). Then I started to look at the scientific merits of young earth creationism, studying books from the other side. The people who first suggested this activity to me were theologians and Bible scholars. My uncle Don F. Neufeld, associate editor of the Adventist Review at the time, commented that he could tell that SDA geologists who led a field trip he’d been on realized that they could not explain all the formations in a young earth framework. He suggested I examine some other viewpoints for myself, and he was not the only one to do so.

My starting point was not books written against creationism, but rather standard books on geology and paleontology, especially such simple materials as road side geology guides. Besides being a great deal of fun, this was quite informative, and convinced me that my uncle’s suggestion–something he never said publicly so far as I know–had been a good one.

What I saw and still see in creationist literature is this: They pick at unanswered questions in evolutionary theory, call them “flaws,” and assume that the alternative must be creationism. What is their science? They start with the assumption that the Bible is the ultimate source of information on everything, continue by imposing a particular interpretation on it, and then force all science to conform to that particular interpretation. I have yet to see any piece of creationist work that does not follow that general pattern. Even when they try their best to present “creation science” from the ground up, one can read between the lines easily enough back to the same pattern.

The best of the young earth creationist books, in my view, is Kurt Wise, Faith, Form, and Time. Wise admits outright that the foundation of his thought is the literal reading of the Genesis accounts as history, and thus he must make the effort to create a scientific model. At the same time Wise finds it necessary to admit to many difficulties with the theory of creationism he proposes, and many gaps that need to be filled.

So here is what I would be looking for from a creationist who wants me to take seriously the accusation that I am “steeped in evolutionary rather than scientific thinking.” First, propose an actual complete model of origins based on creationism (young earth or old earth, but make it consistent). If you include a world-wide flood it must be a part of your model. You cannot separate the two elements as Morris and Parker tried to do in What is Creation Science?. Second, give specific predictions about what should be found in the lab or the field, and show how such predictions are supported.

This whole picking at the pieces of evolutionary theory on the assumption that if evolution loses you win is pretty silly. For a theory to win in actual science it has to be confirmed by making predictions and having those predictions turn out to be valid when tested. Then, of course, evolutionary scientists get to pick at the holes in your model, crowing about every question that is unanswered.

And this is an incredibly important point: Unanswered questions are not a weakness in a scientific theory–they are the strength. They provide opportunities for study, for adjustment of the theory to new evidence, or for new theories to emerge. They are the sea on which the voyage of discovery can continue. There are always unanswered questions, thus there is always new research designed to answer those questions.

But now to the specifics of seeker’s post which he said I might wish to criticize. There are several points on which I would like to comment:

A CBS Poll published Oct 23, 2005 shows that most Americans believe in, *gasp*, special creation. Buahahaha! Silly evolutionists – either Americans are a bunch of boobs, or you are… hmmmm.

It was interesting to me to find this in the first paragraph I read from someone who suggested my thinking was not scientific. I’m guessing that the number of scientifically illiterate people who disagree with their theories falls very low in the concern of scientists who are studying those theories. I would not call Americans “a bunch of boobs,” but I would question the average person’s scientific literacy. I regard my scientific knowledge as fairly weak, and I work hard to improve it, yet most people I encounter in daily life think I am quite scientifically literate. I don’t take that as a compliment to me–I have a lot of work to do. I take it as a negative reflection on science education in general. And after seeing my son’s 10th grade science text, I’m not surprised.

What’s even more interesting, however, is the huge amount of people who believe one can believe in both God and evolution – 90%. So if all those people can believe in evolution and God, why do we push creationism? Why not just leave it alone instead of creating a barrier to faith, by adding something else they must believe along with the gospel?

My position is not that we should ignore the issue of creation vs. evolution because a large number of people think you can believe in God and evolution. Rather, I think we should openly discuss the issue because it is a non-essential of the faith, but more importantly it is an issue that should be settled scientifically. I don’t want evolution enshrined in doctrinal statements any more than creation. A barrier to faith is created when we require a particular view of scientific data in order for someone to be Christian, something seeker certainly does in this post.

Skipping over seeker’s point 1, let me comment on point #2:

2. We must teach and show Christians that faith is about all of life, not just one’s “personal relationship w/ God.”

Just so. But this does not make the theologian better equipped than the scientists to study scientific questions.

3. Teaching a simplistic view of Christian thought causes many to leave or easily dismiss Christianity.

On this point I would simply suggest that teaching something so unscientific as creationism is what is most likely to suggest simplistic thinking.

4. Evolution is not a harmless idea, but a philosophy with grave implications for individuals and society.

I’ll respond to this point in more detail.

Evolution is science, not philosophy. Without doubt people will produce philosophical conclusions from observations of the physical world. This is no surprise. We do that from observed reality all the time. But the theory of evolution is science, not philosophy.

First, in the realm of individual faith, many people are duped by atheism, missing the riches of a relationship with God – God’s love, forgiveness, and hope.

And here we have the amazing bait and switch. Without a word of support, atheism pops into the discussion. The theory of evolution is a systematic explanation of the facts as we have them. Those facts can be, and are, read by people of any faith or no faith at all. That is how science should work.

Evolution provides the atheistic world view with a key pillar to rest on – an explanation of our origins without God.

Here, seeker (and Dawkins, IMV) gives too much credit to evolution. The theory of evolution itself doesn’t explain origins without God. That is supplied by the reader/observer. The ToE says what is. Whether God is to be found somewhere in there is another question. I believe it is equally valid to say that gravity provides an explanation for why objects fall (amongst many other behaviors) without God, and thus makes atheism possible. After all people once believed that God personally guided the planets in their tracks through the heavens.

In fact, noted atheist and ardent evolutionist Richard Dawkins summed it up well when he said

Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist

One of the chief ways we can keep people from the error of atheism is to tear away this pillar of falsehood so that they might come to see Christ and be saved, healed, and transformed.

Of course, the problem here is simply that the “pillar” is not a pillar of falsehood–it is a well established theory dealing with the facts. Until creationists can deal equally well with the facts, they are placing a barrier to the faith.

Let’s compare this to the problem of suffering (or evil). Very few people deny suffering, yet this provides an important argument for atheists. How can Christians believe in a good God who is also all-powerful, but who allows suffering. Something is wrong here. By seeker’s logic, I should deny that suffering exists, because it provides an opportunity for atheists.

I would suggest instead that the best evidence is that if God created he did so through evolutionary means, and we’re stuck with that. Right along with that suffering we Christians have to deal with huge extinction events and millions of years of suffering for living creatures on this planet. Denying it so that our theology can hold up will, in the long run, be no more successful than denying human suffering would be.

Second, many individuals reject Christianity because they believe that science and faith are at odds, and that evolution has disproved the Genesis account of the creation of man. We need to show that modern science was birthed out of Christian thought and reason, and that science (and archeology) overwhelming support scripture, and vice versa. All truth is connected. Science has not proved evolution, nor has it disproved creationism.

If “faith” is defined as accepting a literal reading of Genesis, then science and faith are at odds. I do not believe that they are, simply because I don’t believe that Genesis is science, nor is it history. Something that is not science cannot conflict with something that is. I have no need to reconcile Genesis and science because Genesis makes no statement that can be regarded as scientific. (For purposes of discussion, I would accept any statement that makes a specific prediction about the natural world that can be tested experimentally, potentially falsified, but found to be true. There are a number of statements about the natural world in Genesis that do conflict with scientific data, if it is to be read scientifically.

Third, regarding society, the idea that we are evolving into something better always leads to social Darwinism, i.e. eugenics. Eugenics, which begins with the goals of improving the gene pool via birth control, selective breeding, and genetic engineering, may inevitably lead to the evils of selective abortion and killing of the weak and “genetically damaged”, government control of who can have children, and forced genetic modification “for the good of society.” And sometimes it leads to genocide.

Well, there’s a statement that starts out bad and deteriorates in a hurry. First, evolutionary theory doesn’t state that we are evolving into something better. Popular versions often express it that way, but that is not evolutionary theory. “Better” is not a term that can be defined broadly and objectively in science in any case. A creature can become better suited to an environmental niche, but then a change in the environment can suddenly make the “better” creature “worse.” As with almost any topic, the problem with the word “better” is that one must define better for what.

Second, just because something happens naturally doesn’t mean we should enshrine it in law, morals, or philosophy. One could equally well argue that no medical should be provided, and that eugenics is positively excluded based on evolutionary theory. After all, the universe has a mechanism for inheritance, adaptation, and the creation of variety (without any implication of purpose), so who are we to interfere through neonatal care or through planned genetic culling?

Lastly, there are many theological implications of evolution which are at odds with Christian theology. These differences can not be ignored if you want a coherent, integrated system of truth and thinking. Most people who believe in God and evolution probably have an unbiblical view of God in order to make a harmony of these two.

In other words, evolution disagrees with one’s theology so one discards evolution no matter what the evidence.

I disagree with that position. But further, I think that if one better defines one’s theological positions in consideration of new scientific discoveries one often improves one’s understanding of theology as well as science. It is not we overturn all theology; rather, we sharpen, refine, and clarify theology. Do I believe some different things about God because I now accept the theory of evolution? Yes. Did those cause me to reject essential doctrines? No. Of course, let me note that the issue here hinges on what one defines as essential.

Further, I should point out that if I became convinced that I was wrong on an essential doctrine I would find it essential that I change, since following what I believe to be right is an essential of personal integrity, a most essential doctrine.

For my list of elements of a Biblical doctrine of creation, see God the Creator.

One further note here–I favorably comment on Kurt Wise and his book Faith, Form, and Time, at least in the sense that Wise is very honest about his presuppositions. But there is an extreme danger in Wise’s position, I believe, because he knows and has stated that his view goes against the best scientific evidence, yet he believes that he must believe what he does because of the way he reads Genesis. That is a position that must, at least, put extreme stress on one’s personal integrity.

Evolutionary theological implications which differ from Christian theology include:

I appreciate that seeker provides a list. Often I’m told that evolution is inconsistent with Christian faith and that if I don’t agree, I must know nothing of Christianity. Lists are helpful.

Man’s Origins – an accident of chance, not created with a purpose

Evolution is not actually a random process. Selection operates according to rules. Just as an object falls according to natural laws, so living things inherit characters and evolve according to laws. It is not the task of science to provide purpose. Science observes what is.

For some reason creationists think that unless God interrupted all natural processes in order to create the first human being in a completely different way, human beings cannot be special and cannot have a purpose.

How is it that being formed from the dirt–and God could have used agents to make that form–is somehow more dignified than evolving from a single celled creature?

Man’s Nature – just a higher animal, not made in the image of God

You may conclude that from evolution; I do not.

Value of Human Life – same as any animal, not made special with immortal soul

First, I would not expect science to comment on immortal souls, except to say that they have not been observed in the field or tested in the laboratory. Second, my religious faith teaches me to value human life. I cannot see even the slightest reason why the process by which human life came to be. An eternal God is no less involved in the process of millions of years than he is in the act of a moment.

Man’s Purpose – to preserve our genes, not know, love, and serve God

Again, science doesn’t determine purpose. Science observes what is. If “what is” constitutes the sum of our purpose, then we’re pretty pitiful. But I know of nobody who lives according to such a narrow definition of purpose.

Morality – a human construct, not a divine law with penalties and blessings

If God is necessary to morals, it would not matter how God brought human beings into existence. It would only matter that he did.

In conclusion, what I don’t see in this post is any suggestion of a reason why my thinking is not scientific. I’d really enjoy seeing a creationist–especially a young earth creationist–point out to me how “evolutionary thinking” differs from “scientific thinking.” Thus far, I fail to see any scientific thinking happening in the YEC camp.

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  1. Thank you for this excellent post. I’ve found it distressing to be told in essence (as I have been) that if I do not agree with a creationist, literal reading of Genesis that my Christianity is in doubt. I’ve found this same argument from atheists who define Christianity to include a literal reading of Genesis, and then tell me that if I identify myself as a Christian I MUST believe in the existence of a “bearded old sky-daddy” who went “poof” to create the world.

    Presumably, those who believe that the Protestant Bible in its present form (or maybe King James form) is “the ultimate source of information on everything,” as you so well put it, get that belief from the ultimate source of information on everything. Could you tell me where in the Bible (if anywhere) that claim exists? I’ve looked, but remain puzzled. In other words, what is the Biblical basis for the belief that the Bible is a literal history and science document?

    (I’ve commented here before under just “Julia” but added the final initial recently when I discovered another person posting comments on some of the Science blogs under the same name.)

  2. I’ve looked, but remain puzzled. In other words, what is the Biblical basis for the belief that the Bible is a literal history and science document?

    I’ve just completed a book When People Speak for God discussing just that issue. Having given my shameless plug for the book, let me tell you that a great deal of my material on the topic is available on the web.

    The backbone is my essay Inspiration, Biblical Authority, and Inerrancy. For my follow-ups, see the “Biblical Inspiration” category from the right sidebar to this blog, and the similar category on my Participatory Bible Study Blog.

    If you check the “Creation and Evolution” category, you’ll also find several essays on how the various views on creation amongst Christians read Genesis.

  3. The answer to the “Creation” and “evolution” questions is coming out later this summer, with the book called “Moses Didn’t Write About Creation!!”. It explains exactly what six of those seven days were, and the time period they occured in. It will mark the end of current creationism, explaining what God was showing Moses.

  4. It would be hard for us to have a conversation on this, because your condescension is so thick it would be like climbing uphill through dirty axle grease.

    I made a small comment and you take me to task for not writing a tome with definitions to boot? Cool your jets captain!

    Tomorrow, I am preaching at my local church, so don’t have time to answer you point for point. But let me briefly say this:

    1. Perhaps you can do a little self-examination, and, using your impressive intellect, postulate on what ideas might be evolutionary thinking rather than scientific? Are the two synonymous in your opinion? Then what do you think a creatoinist would say?

    2. I was an evolutionary believer, trained as a biochemist, and switched to being a YEC sympathizer. Funny how people change sides.

    3. Creationists HAVE proposed full orbed models for origins. The problem is that first assumptions (all was created at once) or a big bang are both unprovable, though we could call the creation model “rapid appearance” to get rid of the God assumption. From THAT point we can build models that should incorporate existing data and make predictions. Also, we could figure out how we might falsify our models.

    In my opinion, the problem is not that creationists haven’t provided models and predictions, but that evolutionists a priori reject any first cause that involves a creation event, even though they have their own unexplained primary singularity pre-existing the big bang. So that discussion is a non-starter unless you grant the creation their first assumption, and let them build their scientific models on that. If you don’t, you will continue to make your claim that creationists have no models for scientific phenomenon, and I will move on.

    4. As for why so many educated scientists believe evolution, and why so many Americans doubt, self-congratulating evolutionists like to point out that this is just a matter of education – so that even while they don’t come out and call these Americans “boobs,” that’s really what they mean, or at least communicate. But my own answer is not education, but Mass Delusion based not on the power of evolutionary science (most science past and present succeeded without needing evolutionary thought), but based on evolution’s power as a world view that answers for them ultimate questions of origins, meaning, and the non-role of God in life. Evolution helps them reject the biblical God. Look, even demons believe that God exists, but that doesn’t make them Christians, or saved from eternal perdition.

    5. You said “But this does not make the theologian better equipped than the scientists to study scientific questions.” I would say that scientists have lost their objectivity when it comes to origins and evolution, as mentioned in the Mass Delusion article. Not only have they lost their objectivity when it comes to evolution, but the influences of pharma money and the need to publish or perish, and the politics of science have deeply corrupted modern science.

    Science has done much for us, but when evolution stepped in, scientists entered the realm of philosophy and origins, and got lost in their philosophy. We worshipped science for years, but people are realizing that modern science, as powerful as it is, is also corrupted by politics, and not be trusted without skepticism. You might enjoy the post Science as Salvation – A Cautionary Tale.

    Scientists have, unfortunately, lost their credibility, and need to be questioned. Does our doubt mean we think we know better? No, it only means that us “theologians” can comprehend science, and can also see the influence of bad assumptions and world views that affect scientific conclusions and interpretations of data. Non-scoentists are stoopid, even when it comes to science. They’re critical, and can be pretty good at it.

    You act like scientists are the priests of truth, and non-scientists are too dumb to question them.

    6. You said “Evolution is science, not philosophy.”

    Actually, it is both. But the big problem is that evolutionists deny that, and in many cases, don’t see it at all. As I said, self-deception and delusion.

    7. You said “And here we have the amazing bait and switch. Without a word of support, atheism pops into the discussion. The theory of evolution is a systematic explanation of the facts as we have them. Those facts can be, and are, read by people of any faith or no faith at all.”

    Um, first of all, you should obey the dictum “never attribute to malice what can be accounted for by ignorance.” This is not a bait and switch, but really an ad hominem attack aimed at making me look bad, rather than anwering the claim.

    I am saying that many people use evolution to reject God. I should perhaps have said the God of the bible. They reject the God of genesis. Or they become overly liberal and just look at the OT as some metaphorical treatise rather than a historical narrative.

    This is a real impact of evolutionary belief, and I was pointing that out. If you doubt it, perhaps you missed Dawkins quote about atheists being intellectually fulfilled by Darwinism. Darwinism is a pillar of atheistic and other anti-Christian world views. If you deny such, I’d again say you’re willfully missing the obvious.

    8. “The theory of evolution itself doesn?t explain origins without God. That is supplied by the reader/observer. ”

    Whatever, this is just semantics. Giving a depressed man a gun and then wondering why he shot himself is what you are doing here. “But it wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the gun’s fault” are both true statements by the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law. You are just dancing with technicalities here. While Darwin may not have intended all of these consequences, they are real and have been noted by many, including Darwin himself.

    9. “Of course, the problem here is simply that the ?pillar? is not a pillar of falsehood?it is a well established theory dealing with the facts.”

    An “established” theory is not a fact. In the case of evolution, not only is it only established as a philosophy of science and not a very good model, it adds virtually nothing to science except an artful and fanciful theory of origins that appeals to the minds of men. Claims that evolution are a fact are nonsense (see step 4 on this page – you are using what I call the “fait accompli” argument. Shut down debate by saying “no one of any intelligence disagrees.”

    10. If faith is defined as accepting a literal reading of Genesis, then science and faith are at odds.

    Now you are entering into my area a bit more. But let me say only quickly, if you use logic to establish the genre of your writing, you first must interpret it according to its literal style. If it is parable or metaphor, it would not do to interpret it as historical narrative. However, reading Genesis reveals that it is intended as historical narrative, so that is primarily how it should be read. Rejecting that is to reject sound logical interpretation of texts. If, however, you are rejecting a literal reading of Genesis because you believe in evolution, and so CAN’T believe in speical creation, you have proved my point.

    In conclusion, what I don?t see in this post is any suggestion of a reason why my thinking is not scientific.

    Nice straw man. I didn’t say that I was answering that question, only that my post was related and you might find it interesting. On another day, I’ll explain to you how your love for evolution has clouded your science. But maybe the delusion post might make sense, as well as 10 Ways Darwinists Help Intelligent Design. Suffice it to say that

    – you appear to assume evolution to be fact, which to me is intellectual suicide
    – you fail to recognize or separate the philosophy of Darwinism from the scientific model

    I’m sure you’ll find none of this satisfactory, and find all kinds of supposed faults with my answer. Why am I sure? Because I’ve argued with evolutionary believers before, and you sound like one of the faithful.

  5. Just two brief notes for now:

    It would be hard for us to have a conversation on this, because your condescension is so thick it would be like climbing uphill through dirty axle grease.

    It’s always interesting to watch someone dump condescension on one group of believers, in this case theistic evolutionists, but then complain of condescension when called on it.

    For example, how is this for condescension?

    I’m sure you’ll find none of this satisfactory, and find all kinds of supposed faults with my answer. Why am I sure? Because I’ve argued with evolutionary believers before, and you sound like one of the faithful.

    Putting that alongside accusations of mass delusion, and we have some fun going.

    I made a small comment and you take me to task for not writing a tome with definitions to boot? Cool your jets captain!

    You suggest that I critique your essay. What precisely did you expect?

    As I have some time, I’ll respond to some other points, probably promoting your comment and response to a post of their own.

  6. Hi.

    Well, it has happened.
    Paperback: 432 pages
    Publisher: PublishAmerica (August 6, 2007)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 1424182204
    ISBN-13: 978-1424182206
    Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches

    The truth of Genesis is now out for all to examine.

    Herman Cummings

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