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Feedback archiveFeedback 2012

Being prepared—facing the tough questions

Published: 21 October 2012 (GMT+10)

William B’s response to Dr David Catchpoole’s article No fence to sit on raised many substantial issues. CMI-Australia’s Dr Carl Wieland responded as follows:

Dear William,

Thanks for your comments. You wrote (replies interspersed below in normal email fashion):

123rf.com/Sergei Popov

Whilst I believe that evolution poses difficult questions and seems to assume so much that evolution takes on the appearance of an intelligent personality; I struggle with other problems with the Christian position.

We certainly would not want to give the impression that Christianity has no problems that need answering, or that it is all a ‘walk in the park’. God seems to acknowledge in His Word the need for (and commends) such things as searching the Scriptures diligently (Acts 17:11), study and effort as part of seeking to ‘rightly divide’ the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15), reasoning together (Isaiah 1:18), being prepared to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15), and demolishing anti-Christian arguments (2 Corinthians 10:5). But often the problems are more apparent than real, and it helps to step back and look at the ‘big picture’. See further on.

For example , what is reality?

This is a question that has plagued deep thinkers who have expended rivers of ink on the question, even though at first glance it seems self-evident. Indeed, in some Eastern worldviews, such a question is pressing and puzzling, since they deny objective reality. But the Christian worldview derived from the Bible teaches an objective and orderly reality, which historically and logically gave rise to modern operational/experimental science. And modern science works; one of its core assumptions is the biblical one: that there is indeed a reality ‘out there’. This reality by definition is independent of what we might say or think about it. One of the biblically derived assumptions/axioms on which modern science depends is that this reality is one which we are in principle capable of experiencing with our senses, and understanding with our reasoning. The Fall didn’t destroy this reasoning ability, but marred it; the cure is reasoning according to God’s revelation in Scripture. (See later in this response for references to articles about how those sorts of axioms in science came from a biblical worldview.)

Since science ‘works’, objective and orderly reality is a belief that can be trusted. It can’t be proven scientifically, because the ‘proofs’ would presuppose this objective and orderly reality. But it has practical results every second of every day which means that both Christians and non-Christians can have a high level of confidence in it. The difference is that atheists must treat this as an axiom, i.e. an unprovable first principle, while Christians can treat it as a theorem deduced from the axioms of the biblical propositions.

If man is indeed fallen, how come NASA scientists have landed Curiosity on the planet Mars?

We are created in God’s image, and while marred, there is still the capacity to reason validly to the right conclusions.

This seems to be a misunderstanding of the Fall. We are created in God’s image, and while marred, there is still the capacity to reason validly to the right conclusions. If it were not so, we could not come to logical conclusions about either scientific things or about God Himself, which would mean that there would be no point in God seeking to communicate propositional truth to us in His Word. (And as my colleague Dr Jonathan Sarfati, renowned for his work on logic, has more than once pointed out, we also could not reason properly from this truth unless human logic and divine logic were the same.) The very existence of the Bible therefore indicates that there are limits to the degree to which that image was marred by the Fall.

The very fact that we are able to reason and find out about how the world works (and thus discover the physical laws which enabled Rover) has a lot to do with Christian assumptions about reality. See The biblical roots of modern science—and particularly also the related articles in the list at the bottom. (This includes one on Francis Bacon’s motivation to recapture some of the pre-Fall reasoning ability and knowledge he believed that Adam had before the Fall; Bacon was a pioneer of the scientific approach).

However, and this is very relevant to your letter, even people who today reject those assumptions are able to (and do) utilize them daily. They, like Christians, have faith in the non-capriciousness of natural law, and the universality of natural law. However, unlike Christians, they have no ultimate basis for assuming this, having rejected a lawmaker/lawgiver who is non-capricious and who created the entire universe. But they do have a basis of sorts in that these assumptions work in practice. E.g. the Mars rover lands where the outworkings of those laws predict, etc.

Note too that the Fall (leading to the sinful nature of man) is one important reason why repeatability is so important, rather than just trusting one individual’s report, or trusting an ‘authority’ figure, as was so common prior to the rise of the scientific method post-Reformation. Nature is also fallen, so studying Nature alone independent of the light of God’s special revelation in Scripture cannot be trusted to lead to full understanding of it, particularly when it comes to the unobservable, unrepeatable past history of our world. [E.g. looking at a bleeding, suffering world without the revelation of the Fall would ‘naturally’ lead to the conclusion that it had always been thus—CW]

The same men who mostly believe the theory of evolution.

The above has hopefully made it clear that there is no reason to expect that wrong beliefs in one area of science—origins or history—will affect the outworkings of another area, i.e. operational science. The latter uses the tools of experiment and repeatable observation, involving the reasoning that we all have to varying degrees as being in God’s image, though fallen and hence marred to some degree. As someone has said, a non-Christian carpenter can learn how to drive a nail the same as a Christian one. The same goes for an unbelieving physicist or engineer, who can stand on the shoulders of the giants such as the creationist Isaac Newton and others, even making more discoveries and applying them. Note that such a one would be utilizing the very assumptions of modern science that came from a biblical worldview, whether or not this was acknowledged or even known, but the assumptions work. So one can calculate the effects of gravity on orbits, and much more, using e.g. Newton’s laws, regardless of whether one acknowledges that biblical basis. In short, there is a difference between the fact that science works and the axioms that it was based upon. The fact that it works in anyone’s hands serves to underline the validity of those biblically-derived axioms.

They did all of this on the premise that man can explore his world, discover scientific principles that not only increase our understanding of the universe, but cure people of genetic diseases, and improve our health and life expectancy.

Exactly. This is part of the blessing which modern science has brought to the world. And it is not due to any sort of racial superiority that science/technology flowered in Western Europe following the Reformation, but due to the influence of the Bible becoming widespread, hence the sorts of assumptions pointed out in the articles referenced in the above links. [For a detailed discussion of this, and other historical biblical influences on culture that we tend to take for granted, including on such things as law and economic prosperity, see One Human Family: the Bible, science, race and culture]

Then you have the issue of homosexuality. I was taught that homosexuality was evil and a choice. Yet my journey through life has shown me that some people are born homosexual, and that they knew from an early age that they were ‘different’.

I can accept that as a manifestation of sinful human nature and that like anyone else the homosexual needs to repent, but some Christians seem to make it a crusade, as though all homosexuals have chosen to be homosexual.

One always needs to be prepared to distinguish between the views of Christian culture at any point in history, and what the Scripture actually states. This issue of homosexual behaviour is one that requires careful nuancing. It may not be the case that all people can turn their desire on and off like a light-switch. But at the same time that is true for heterosexual desire as well, and the Bible makes it clear that any expression or fulfilment of that desire outside of heterosexual marriage is sin. That has nothing to do with how or whether that person became ‘wired’ that way. The Bible assumes that someone who is unmarried with heterosexual desires is not some robot incapable of making the choice whether or not to express that outside of marriage. Rather, it assumes that they are so capable, and hence holds them responsible for that expression, labelling it sin. Jesus also warned that overt actions begin with sinful thoughts in the heart (Matthew 15:19). The Bible also indicates that becoming a follower of Jesus Christ as one’s Saviour and Lord gives not only the forgiveness of sin, but amazing power to live a fulfilling life and not be enslaved by that sin—whether hetero- or otherwise. This is confirmed by many today, just as it was by the Apostle Paul, who said ‘such were some of you’ who were changed by Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).

As to whether people are ‘born’ homosexual or not, there is much interesting discussion and debate in professional circles on this. They disagree about the degree to which both nature (heredity) and nurture (the influences on one’s life, which can include the choices one makes, including one’s psychosexual development during the crucial years of maturation) are involved in sexual orientation/desire. However, one has to first tune out all the background ‘chatter’ of our politically correct culture which is desperate to show that it is all ‘hardwired’ from birth, even though some gays resist that explanation themselves.

It has always been a stretch, considering the social stigma in most families/cultures, to imagine that someone wakes up one day and says to themselves that they think it is a good idea to have a desire for the same sex. But it is also wrong, and unnuanced, to think that it is as simple as saying that all homosexual behaviour is the consequence of being hardwired from birth and there are no choices involved. There are practical real-life examples that show otherwise, for one thing, as alluded to above already. I have found it to be of help to study the testimony of ex-practising homosexual Pastor Sy Rogers, who avoids the extreme views in either direction, and whose analysis seemed, at the time I studied it, thoroughly biblical.

Then there is the thing about physical/mental handicaps. Christians are taught that this is all a result of sin, but some Christians have family members or friends who are mentally/physically handicapped.

I would be staggered to find a Christian teaching that a specific handicap is the result of someone’s sin. This would contradict Jesus Himself, because He taught that the man blind from birth was not the result of his or his parents’ sin (John 9:1–7). He further taught that the people killed by the collapse in that day of the Tower of Siloam were neither more nor less sinful than Jesus’ hearers (Luke 13:4). But all sickness, suffering, disease and death itself is the result of sin in general, i.e. if Adam had not rebelled, such things would not be in the world. That is greatly different from claiming that particular suffering must be connected with particular sin. See the articles in our Q and A section on death and suffering.

Yet in Psalm 139: 14 David says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made … ”
verse 13, “For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Indeed, because God still sustains all things (Colossians 1:17), He does knit us together in a direct way as well. This is not lessened by the discoveries of astonishing machinery in the human body, and particularly the way in which the DNA mechanism operates to construct people with its ingeniously designed programmed mechanisms. Rather, one is in awe of the way in which the Creator and Master Designer set it up.

The Fall clearly involved a partial removal of some of that perfect sustaining, so that now there is the possibility of ‘glitches’ arising in the machinery.

However, the Fall clearly involved a partial removal of some of that perfect sustaining, so that now there is the possibility of ‘glitches’ arising in the machinery. Somehow, in His sovereignty, He is able to oversee even the operation of a marred creation, using ‘bad things’ to bring about His overall plans and purposes. A key example was using the terrible evil and injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion to bring about a far more wonderful cosmic good.

So on one hand we have God saying that he shaped/formed David in the womb, but in Leviticus 21:18 God says, “No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed.”

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Scripture/poor teaching. This is not a rejection of the person, specifically and importantly it is not saying the person cannot come to God. Jesus’ own teaching made that clear.

(As a side comment, I have disabled/handicapped people in my own family, one of whom has just died after a protracted illness. She came to Jesus just as we all can, and died as His child and is with Him now.)

This was all a part of the Levitical laws which were mostly for symbolic purposes—and clearly so, if one reads the whole context and understands the ‘big picture’. In the Old Testament, the Passover Lamb is a forerunner of Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. That Lamb had to similarly be without ‘stain or blemish’. Now that was referring to physical blemishes, but it was not because God has/had something against physically handicapped sheep, but rather because this symbolized the need for the coming Messiah to be a totally sinless substitute. I.e. without spiritual blemish. Which is only possible, of course, if He is God. While at the same time He needs to be of Adam’s line to be our Kinsman-Redeemer (see The Incarnation: Why God became man), thus both fully human and fully divine.

There is much other symbolism in the Levitical laws, which have to do with ritual purity and cleanliness (see for example Are we allowed to eat all animals today?). These are often twisted; for example, the commands to Israel to keep themselves from being tainted by foreign nations had to do with keeping the line of the Messiah free from religious contamination, but are often used to justify racism. However, studying the Bible makes it clear that the separation commanded is along religious, not racial lines, or else Ruth and Rahab would not have been accepted. Their ethnicity was not an issue once they had accepted the true God of Israel. (See here, too, my book One Human Family: the Bible, science, race and culture)

So Christians applaud surgeons and doctors who strive to find cures for all sorts of illnesses and genetic disorders, but the Bible says that these things are as a result of original sin.

Indeed, and that is utterly consistent in looking at the whole biblical ‘big picture’. Because firstly we are not talking about individual sin, but about original sin, the Fall and the subsequent Curse. And secondly the Bible (particularly the teachings of Jesus and His examples) throughout draws a clear distinction between the following two things:

  1. The fact that bad things are a result of the Curse.
  2. The fact that in acting to locally and temporarily alleviate the effects of the Curse, we are not only not opposing God’s will, we are in fact doing things He calls ‘blessed’. For example, the Curse brought enmity person vs person, but “blessed are the peacemakers”. The Fall brought sickness and violence, yet look at the way in which Scripture regards those who bind up wounds, and heal (see the parable of the Good Samaritan, and also Christ’s own example in healing).

So it seems to me that both Evolution and Christianity have philosophical problems, and a case could be made for saying that both beliefs require faith—not reason alone.

First, I would hope that reading this will temper your concerns about many of these problems. Also, as far as faith goes, we have never indicated that reason alone is what Christianity (or indeed any belief system, including secular materialism, the root of evolution) is all about. But the word ‘faith’ is often misunderstood in the Christian worldview. The Bible never calls us to blind faith but to reasonable faith. It is a matter of trusting, and faith in the Bible is not contrasted with reason but with sight. Thus it is not some irrational ‘leap in the dark’, rather there is considerable ‘reason for the hope’ as 1 Peter 3:15 puts it. When Paul was preaching to King Agrippa, had the King come to belief (as he almost did, by his own statements), that would have still meant an element of trust. However, as Paul pointed out, it was not on the basis of some irrational notion, but on the basis of what would have been the ‘talk of the town’—the events surrounding the Resurrection and the many eyewitnesses. This is because, as Paul said to the King, this thing had not been “done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Thus the King had knowledge of many of the details, so it would have made sense for him to have become a Christian on the basis of Paul’s reference to these things. I.e., although it would not have been his choice which saved him (the Bible makes it clear that we can only give God the credit for our salvation, not our own wisdom), it would have been a rational choice.

I hope that will have been of some help. I invite you to study further on these things on creation.com, but please feel free to write again if you come across issues that you have been unable to find answered on creation.com using our search engine and Q and A section.

Kind regards,

Carl W.

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Readers’ comments
Peter N., Australia, 21 October 2012

Good questions and excellent answers. Thanks for covering so much in a short space but with links to follow up for more detail.

Too often people do not have the answers and it is common to blame religion and Christianity for our problems. But so much that is wrong with the West is because we have failed to defend and promote the fact that our democracy, freedom, rule of law, scientific advances, and many social institutions such as unions, free schools and hospitals, did not just happen, but arguably arose, took root and blossomed ONLY because of Christianity. On this topic, I recommend the book "How Christianity Changed the World" by Alvin J Schmidt.

The book: Strained Relations, The Challenge of Homosexuality by Bill Muehlenberg is an excellent resource for exploring the social science and public policy concerns re homosexuality. Chapter 5 is entitled: Once Homosexual Always Homosexual? It also has a Biblical and theological section, plus testimonies of former homosexuals. Many of the 700+ references quote homosexual sources.

Mat H., United Kingdom, 23 October 2012

I was concerned with this statement:

"So it seems to me that both Evolution and Christianity have philosophical problems"

Evolution is a scientific theory and therefore not open to philosophical scrutiny (despite what the philosophers claim), evolution is open to scientific scrutiny only.

As for any scientific theory, it must be able to explaining the data from experiments and phenomena observed.

Carl Wieland responds

Actually, there are such people as professional philosophers of science, some of them highly qualified and experienced in the practice of science as well. They (along with many of their scientist colleagues in academia) will tell you that scientific theories are all philosophy-laden; there is no such thing as the naive layman's view of science as a simple set of 'hard facts'. This is especially so when it comes to science of the past, especially origins, which is value-laden, interpretation-dependent and assumption-based to an even greater idea than 'everyday' (operational, or experimental) science. Some wide reading in the philosophy of science would be useful for every intelligent and enquiring layman, and I commend it to you in any case, regardless of our differences in terms of Christianity, evolution and so on. You will also learn a great deal, if I may be so immodest, from many of my own learned colleagues who write on such matters on creation.com. A good place ot start would be browsing the articles in this section: creation.com/science-questions-and-answers.

Mat H., United Kingdom, 4 December 2012

Most philosophers, even philosophers of science have little if any experience in the construction of mathematical models and/or data analysis of experimental or observational resuls. Therefore they are unaware of the "nitty-gritty" of science which is important when reying to understand the nature of science and how it is performed.

". This is especially so when it comes to science of the past, especially origins, which is value-laden, interpretation-dependent and assumption-based to an even greater idea than 'everyday' (operational, or experimental) science"

This statement concerned me a great deal. I have often heard from creationists ; Same data different interpretation. This couldn't be more further from the truth, data is analysed, not interpreted. The analysis of data is used to obtain general trends from the data set from which unique conclusions can then be made. It may be the case however that the data set is of particularly poor quality or that it isn't big enough to do decent data analysis which can lead to non-unique conclusions, however in thqt case, more experiments/observations are required to get decent data sets.

The terms "operational science" and "origins science" are only used in the creationist literature, you won't find them in any science textbook of any worth, so it seems that this is a rather unnatural partition of science in general. I will add that science is all about finding out how the underlying processes that don't change and using these processes to explain past and present data.

Carl Wieland responds

Matt, one truly wishes that there were more emphasis on philosophy of science in undergraduate studies, perhaps even high school. The analysis vs interpretation distinction you wish to draw is both fluid and variable. By your own opening statements, you show how you yourself are referring to operational science (aka experimental science). You're right that creationists are the main users of terms like origins science and operational science, but that is largely because if we used experimental and forensic science, people would mistakenly narrow it down to e.g. exclude certain from the former observational approaches and outcomes where no experiments as such are carried out, or in the second case limit it to 'crime scene investigation'. Let me see if I can spell it out clearly: operational science is all about how the world operates (hence the name) in the present: e.g. what is matter made of, what are the observed regularities in the way the world works (laws of science, etc.). Examples of disciplines utilizing this approach: physics, chemistry, molecular biology. The other methodology is all about establishing what happened in the past, and clearly the same approach does not easily transpose between the two. Examples of disciplines utilizing historical science (I personally try not to use 'origins science', as it narrows it too much): archaeology, paleontology, and yes, CSI.

Clearly the world and human reasoning is far too complex to fit too neatly into such boxes, but they are extremely useful and important ways to keep the issues of interpretation, and the role of assumption and bias in such interpretation, at the forefront of the discussion. Even Nobel Laureates, according to US arch-skeptic Michael Shermer, with whom I agree on this point, would have difficulty defining the scientific method more rigorously than ultimately, that which scientists do.

Consider historical geology and your closing attempt to show that interpretation is not involved, which actually does the opposite. Our knowledge of present processes that you mention (gleaned through operational science) merely acts as a set of constraints on our interpretation of the data, it does not force the interpretation into an inevitable outcome. Were it otherwise, there would be no decades-long controversies in historical geology, with people passionately defending alternative scenarios--even within the overall secular, naturalistic, antibiblical paradigm.

Finally, your last four words, i.e. 'past and present data'. There is no such things as past data. All the data exists in the present (even the light we see in our telescopes that originated from a star in the past exists in the present), though it can be very pertinent to any understanding of what likely happened in the past. (E.g. a chunk of pottery in an archaeological dig, the hundreds of bird and mammal fossils found in dinosaur rock that fail to make it into dinosaur-era' exhibits, etc. etc.)

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