Monday, 20 June 2011

Rebuttal to Jonathan Dudley.

Jonathan Dudley claims that Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution. This is a rebuttal to that notion. I will define what I mean when I speak of "Christian faith" and analyze the claims made in this article. I will then give an overview of the history of the evolution debate and show how it is nothing new in character.

Let me start with the text of the article. It is reproduced here in entirety in quoted text. My responses to the text are below each section.

Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution - Jonathan Dudley.
In the evangelical community, the year 2011 has brought a resurgence of debate over evolution.

Perhaps to the author there seems a resurgence, but he is almost certainly speaking from how it appears to him. I think it is important to recognise the evolution debate as a debate over the validity of Christian doctrine. Christian doctrine is framed by the words written in the bible. Thus to suggest that this is a "resurgent" or changing debate is to mischaracterize it.

The current issue of Christianity Today asks if genetic discoveries preclude an historical Adam. While BioLogos, the brainchild of NIH director Francis Collins, is seeking to promote theistic evolution among evangelicals, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently argued that true Christians should believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old.
As someone raised evangelical, I realize anti-evolutionists believe they are defending the Christian tradition. But as a seminary graduate now training to be a medical scientist, I can say that, in reality, they've abandoned it.

This is a very bold claim and I do not believe it is in any way supported by the rest of the article.

In theory, if not always in practice, past Christian theologians valued science out of the belief that God created the world scientists study. Augustine castigated those who made the Bible teach bad science, John Calvin argued that Genesis reflects a commoner's view of the physical world, and the Belgic confession likened scripture and nature to two books written by the same author.

Two very pervasive issues that are raised are the above and one more. Science and the bible share a relationship and the  nature of that relationship has been turned into a couple of sound bytes. The first is what is indicated here - the bible must align with science. The second is that the bible is not a science book - as if we can ignore what the bible says when talking about science.

The greatest problem with these two statements is they are not constrained or defined. They can mean pretty much whatever the reader wishes them to mean. When people say, "The bible is not a science book", he might be on either side of the debate. Similarly when they say, "The bible must align with science", they might be on either side of the debate. Thus we need to carefully define exactly the relationship between science and the bible.

The first thing to do is demand that science does not equate to any scientific theory. Evolution is not science. It is a scientific theory. Intelligent design is not science. It is a scientific theory. Relativity is not sciecnce. It is a scientific theory. To misunderstand a theory and define it as "science" is to promote it well above its station.

Of course it is common to, in general speech, talk about evolution or intelligent design or relativity as science. But that should be recognised as simply a common expression, not as a definition.

The second thing to do is to characterize the literary nature of the bible. Clearly it is not a science textbook. There is history, poetry, prophecy, song and parable. But to accurately describe the bible as "not a science book" says nothing about the accuracy or applicability of its content. The bible is not a science book, but the bible does say things about the world that we can test using science.

When we talk about the relationship between science and the bible we must be very careful to understand what science is and what the bible is. Comparing or contrasting the two in a sound byte sentence is no reason to believe any one side's argument.

These beliefs encouraged past Christians to accept the best science of their day, and these beliefs persisted even into the evangelical tradition. As Princeton Seminary's Charles Hodge, widely considered the father of modern evangelical theology, put it in 1859:
"Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science." In this analysis, Christians must accept sound science, not because they don't believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.

This paragraph seems very problematic. The "best science of the day" includes many examples of very bad science. Christians should accept sound science, but they should accept it because they have investigated and thought it through for themselves. And part of that investigation might very well include some historical investigation using the bible.

Of course, anti-evolutionists claim their rejection of evolution is not a rejection of science. Phillip Johnson, widely considered the leader of the Intelligent Design movement, states that all he's rejecting is the atheistic lens through which evolutionary scientists view the world. Evolution, he argues, is "based not upon any incontrovertible empirical evidence, but upon a highly philosophical presupposition."
And to a certain extent, this line of argument makes sense. Science is not a neutral enterprise. Prior beliefs undoubtedly influence interpretation. If one believes God created vertebrates with a similar design plan, one can acknowledge their structural similarities without believing in common descent. No amount of radiocarbon dating evidence will convince someone the Earth is 4.5 billion years old if that person believes God created the world to look old, with the appearance of age.But beyond a certain point, this reasoning breaks down. Because no amount of talk about "worldviews" and "presuppositions" can change a simple fact: creationism has failed to provide an alternative explanation for the vast majority of evidence explained by evolution.

If work has not been done is no evidence against an explanation...

It has failed to explain why birds still carry genes to make teeth, whales to make legs, and humans to make tails. It has failed to explain why the fossil record proposed by modern scientists can be used to make precise and accurate predictions about the location of transition fossils. It has failed to explain why the fossil record demonstrates a precise order, with simple organisms in the deepest rocks and more complex ones toward the surface. It has failed to explain why today's animals live in the same geographical area as fossils of similar species. It has failed to explain why, if carnivorous dinosaurs lived at the same time as modern animals, we don't find the fossils of modern animals in the stomachs of fossilized dinosaurs. It has failed to explain the broken genes that litter the DNA of humans and apes but are functional in lower vertebrates. It has failed to explain how the genetic diversity we observe among humans could have arisen in a few thousand years from two biological ancestors.

...and it is very much the case that this work has and is being done.

Those who believe God created the world scientists study, even while ignoring most of the data compiled by those who study it, might as well rip dozens of pages out of their Bibles. Because if "nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible," it's basically the same thing.

Or they can form their own ideas from the facts presented. We need not rely upon the word of scientists in order to inform our beliefs.

Many think the widespread rejection of evolution doesn't really matter. Evolution is about what happened in the past, the argument goes, so rejecting it doesn't have an impact on policies we make today. And aside from school curricula, they may be right. But the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday. And it is that belief Christians reject when they reject evolution. In doing so, they've not only led America astray on questions ranging from the value of stem cell research to the etiology of homosexuality to the causes of global warming. They've also abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.

Let's examine Christianity. There are two major events recorded in the bible that preclude evolution. The first is the account of the creation of the world. The second is the global flood. In order to accommodate evolution, those two events must be dramatically altered or removed from the fashion in which they are recorded. For creation we have the original account in Genesis 1 and 2 where six days are spent by God making the cosmos, the Earth and all its living things. The aspects of this creation are then referenced throughout the rest of the bible.

For the flood there are hundreds of allusory references to destruction in water throughout the bible. Looking at references to Noah only, we find three major examples that confirm the events recorded in Genesis from Jesus, Hebrews and Peter.

This article has done nothing to address the source of Christian doctrine, the bible. Rather it has insisted that Christians must heed whatever modern day scientist tell us. Thus there is no case presented for why Christians should accept evolution. And most certainly there is no rejection of the bible in rejecting evolution.

One of the first claims in Dudley's piece was the notion that the evolution debate is "resurgent". And certainly one would expect that evolution can only be tracked back a hundred years or so to Darwin. What this misses, though, is the nature of the assault on people who accept as historically accurate the stories in the bible. The assault on that position has likely existed from soon after the events in question happened. The bible is filled with people rejecting the power of God and promoting their own agenda. We can start with the people destroyed in the flood who rejected their creator, the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Pharoahs in the times after Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar and of course the entire nation of Israel of which the bible is a long litany of how they swung toward and away from God throughout history despite His great deeds.

This aspect of the bible is summed up perfectly in 2 Peter 3 where the author tells us how people reject the historicity of God creating the world and the flood. The warnings could not be more clear. Far from losing one's Christianity by rejecting evolution, the Christian is utterly justified in practicing science and sticking to the teaching of the bible.

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