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Feedback archiveFeedback 2014

Why is theistic evolution so problematic?

Published: 4 May 2014 (GMT+10)

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Richard M. is a theistic evolutionist who has often emailed CMI over the years, passionately, even at times angrily, railing against the aims of our ministry, at other times seeking to dissuade us with reasoned argument. These exchanges have, not surprisingly, ‘gone nowhere’, and so we often do not engage anymore with his objections. However, recently he wrote objecting strongly to Bill Johnson’s November 2013 article German imperialism and the African Holocaust. Dr Carl Wieland responded to him, and he wrote again, which we publish below, along with Carl’s further comments. This is published in the hope that it will provide useful teaching and other points to use in discussions with similar theistic evolutionary objectors.

We first reproduce Richard M.’s letter in full, followed by the same letter with Carl’s responses interspersed.

Dear Carl
Thank you for your direct and prompt reply to my concerns, which I expressed rather forcefully. I do fear, however, that you have for many years mis-characterized what you call my “track record of hostility to biblical creation”, despite my several attempts to explain myself. My objections to the creation account in Genesis are not based on a hostility to Christianity. They are based on your persistent insistence that these verses must be taken literally (or ‘plainly’, as you all like to say). This point of view, which flies in the face of centuries of hard-won scientific knowledge, has led creationists to erect a framework (façade?) of scientific inconsistencies, contradictions, and special pleadings that has given YEC a deservedly low (virtually zero) level of influence in the scientific community and in the community of thoughtful lay-people. I, like millions of Christians (including those who share my denominational affiliation), see the early chapters of Genesis as laying the foundation of the Scriptures by informing us of the particular underlying patterns of thought and explanation that the Hebrew people used as their shared explanation of how things came to be. This clearly distinguishes our bible from the mythological foundations of the many other ancient civilizations, and some more recent ones. It marks the Judeo-Christian approach to the universe as being distinct from the many competing viewpoints. But to pretend that it also describes the physical events of our origins in terms that are consistent with modern science does an injustice to the reasons for its inclusion in the canon of scripture. Surely the moral and spiritual messages of parables such as The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan do not rise or fall on the question of whether the characters in these stories actually existed. Or do you claim that they do?
I also have something to say regarding the Nazi motif that permeates much of the (your)creationist literature. A simple search of your website, using the single term ‘Nazi’, yields at least 80 articles that attempt to link evolution with the activities of the Third Reich. As a scientist who has been following the topic of evolution for over 50 years and finds (as do the vast majority of my colleagues) that the evidence is compelling, I feel a personal insult in having my views conflated with the philosophy of Nazism. That CMI and others do this on a regular basis indicates that they find that ‘guilt by association’ is a tactic that will further their aims. And the further implication (as often expressed by J.S. of your organization) that Christians who accept evolutionary theory are unwitting tools of the devil has gone a long way to characterize the ethical structure of CMI and other like ‘ministries.’ Do you really think that this kind of calumny is an effective evangelistic tool to use with those who don’t hold with your minority viewpoint? Or does the widespread rejection by the scientific community that your ideas encounter serve as some sort of vindication of your particular interpretation of Scripture?
Please do communicate with Mr. Johnson article author—Ed.] that ‘plausible deniability’ of his motives requires a more subtle expression of his implications than his tired ‘Blame Darwin for the evils of the Nazis’ approach to Christian apologetics.
Regards, Richard
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Dear Richard,

You wrote:

Thank you for your direct and prompt reply to my concerns, which I expressed rather forcefully. I do fear, however, that you have for many years mischaracterized what you call my “track record of hostility to biblical creation”, despite my several attempts to explain myself.

CW: I have not overlooked those attempts by any means, but none of them have ever altered the basic facts concerning your campaign. As I seek to explain in responding herewith to your comments, one more time, but without committing to reopening the many long and fruitless exchanges between CMI folk and yourself.

My objections to the creation account in Genesis

CW: Richard, your own words confirm exactly what you quoted from me above, i.e. a “hostility [aka ‘objections’] to biblical creation” (aka ‘the creation account in Genesis’]”

are not based on a hostility to Christianity.

CW: I didn’t ever claim they were based on that, of course, since I know you claim to be a Christian. I am referring to your (repeatedly demonstrated) hostility to attempts to affirm biblical creation as truth. By that I mean the history of creation as recorded in the Torah, and as clearly understood by

  1. The average 10-yr-old.
  2. The overwhelming majority of scholars, church leaders and Christians in the pew prior to the advent of long-agism in the Enlightenment. Plus orthodox Jews.
  3. A virtual unanimity among Hebrew professors (heads of dept) at leading universities today. Despite their not believing it as history, they know from the language itself that this is what the writers intended to convey. See creation.com/barr.
  4. The NT writers and the Lord Jesus Christ, surely the ultimate arbiter. He saw Genesis and its characters as real history, and people as present at the beginning of creation, not towards the end. See Jesus and the Age of the Earth. How does it make sense to claim to be His follower but to deny what He affirmed?

Furthermore, and importantly, Gospel-critical doctrines depend on this history for their logical consistency and coherence.

Gospel-critical doctrines depend on [Genesis] history for their logical consistency and coherence.
They are based on your persistent insistence that these verses must be taken literally (or ‘plainly’, as you all like to say). This point of view, which flies in the face of centuries of hard-won scientific knowledge,

CW: First, if it were the case that the biblical framework (a good world, ruined by sin, to be restored through Christ with the lifting of the Curse) were contradicted by facts, which this handy sound bite of yours implies, then an intellectually honest position would be to abandon any pretence at Christianity. Because of the way in which the entire logic of the Gospel (God’s solution to sin and death) depends on that history (of how sin and death entered the universe).

Second, you clearly are not up with the way in which long-agism was established. Neither Huttonian ‘cycles’ nor Lyellian uniformatarianism were based on either experiment or observation in the first instance. Gould for example admits that Hutton’s hagiographers have falsified history in this regard, and that Lyell was less empirical than the catastrophists of his day. Dr Terry Mortenson has a PhD in the history of geology. His book The Great Turning Point is a very important and worthwhile read in this regard. You would see that the issue centuries ago was not ‘scientific knowledge’ at all. [Rather it was philosophical rejection of biblical history.]

has led creationists to erect a framework (façade?) of scientific inconsistencies, contradictions, and special pleadings that has given YEC a deservedly low (virtually zero) level of influence in the scientific community and in the community of thoughtful lay-people. I, like millions of Christians (including those who share my denominational affiliation), see the early chapters of Genesis as laying the foundation of the Scriptures by informing us of the particular underlying patterns of thought and explanation that the Hebrew people used as their shared explanation of how things came to be.

CW: In other words, weasel words to one side, it is supposedly the ‘creation myth’ of the Hebrews. You are clearly saying that things did not happen in this way, hence what purports to be history, and what Jesus took as history (and what every reasonable person has the right and mandate to take as intended to be historical) is not actually that. So Jesus’ endorsement of the OT as the actual words of God makes your stance a very serious thing indeed.

This clearly distinguishes our bible from the mythological foundations of the many other ancient civilizations, and some more recent ones. It marks the Judeo-Christian approach to the universe as being distinct from the many competing viewpoints.

CW: Ah, you mean it is a superior non-historical origins myth to the other non-historical origins myths? Whether so or not, this evades the real issue, that early Genesis is presented as history, and as foundational to much of NT doctrine. When I was an atheist and evolutionist associating with the Young Humanists, we regarded your sort of positions as deserving of mirth and contempt. At least those we disparaged as ‘fundamentalists’ were being consistent and intellectually honest within what we regarded as their ‘scientifically ignorant’ framework.

But to pretend that it also describes the physical events of our origins in terms that are consistent with modern science

CW: What you obviously mean, but it’s worth spelling out, is ‘But to pretend that Genesis describes things that really happened’ …

This theological/spiritual significance is not in spite of, but precisely because of, the fact that these events truly took place. Both in Exodus and Genesis.
does an injustice to the reasons for its inclusion in the canon of scripture.

CW: Amazing. Can you see that you are in effect claiming to be able to discern that it was included for reasons other than what the Hebrew professors of today and the majority of the church always gleaned from the text itself (how else?)—namely that this is an accurate, historical origins account. The fact that it has theological significance is no more an issue than that the history of what happened at the Exodus (including that first Passover) has huge theological significance. This theological/spiritual significance is not in spite of, but precisely because of, the fact that these events truly took place. Both in Exodus and Genesis.

Surely the moral and spiritual messages of parables such as The Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan do not rise or fall on the question of whether the characters in these stories actually existed. Or do you claim that they do?

CW: Again I would call you to both exegetical rigour and intellectual honesty. This attempted conflation could not be more wide of the mark, and surely you must know it. As Prof. Barr’s statement (linked to earlier) makes clear, the writers of Genesis “intended to convey” things they claimed really happened, i.e. history. The parables were [in contrast] not presented as real events at all, but as parables, openly and clearly stated.

I also have something to say regarding the Nazi motif that permeates much of the (your) creationist literature. A simple search of your website, using the single term ‘Nazi’, yields at least 80 articles

CW: I.e. assuming this is an accurate report, less than 1% of the website’s thousands of articles contain that term.

that attempt to link evolution with the activities of the Third Reich. As a scientist who has been following the topic of evolution for over 50 years and finds (as do the vast majority of my colleagues) that the evidence is compelling, I feel a personal insult in having my views conflated with the philosophy of Nazism.
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CW: Respectfully, whether you feel personally insulted (even though you or any other present-day evolutionist are not attacked, even by implication, in such articles) is beside the point. The question is again a factual and historical one. I.e. whether it is true or not that the entire philosophy of Nazism was ‘applied evolution’. As one whose mother was raised under Hitler and told me much of what went on, the suggestion that it was anything else is just laughable, even if there were no academic works to show this, like Prof. Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler. See CMI’s cogent review here.

That CMI and others do this on a regular basis indicates that they find that ‘guilt by association’ is a tactic that will further their aims.

CW: This is, frankly, nonsense. We have never claimed this, even indirectly, as a smear against present-day evolutionists. It is trying to show the dangers of a philosophy which leads naturally to such things in sinful man, as it acts as an excuse and undermines the teachings of the Gospel in most consistent thinkers. To see how we properly nuance such things, and how we definitely do not apply Hitlerian racism to the bulk of today’s evolutionists, I refer you to my recent thoroughly documented book One Human Family.

And the further implication (as often expressed by J.S. of your organization) that Christians who accept evolutionary theory are unwitting tools of the devil has gone a long way to characterize the ethical structure of CMI and other like ‘ministries.’

CW: Again, the real issue is whether this is true or not. All of us are capable of being so used, and the very term you correctly use, i.e. ‘unwitting’, belies your attempt to turn this into a smear against the ethics of creation ministries. But I can’t help being reminded of a saying in German: ‘Getroffene Hunde bellen’. The word picture is a pack of dogs into which someone throws a stone. ‘The one that yelps is likely the one that has been struck’. (Given your sensitivities, I hasten to add that nothing personal is intended in the use of this cultural metaphor. It might though help you to consider whence your easily aroused passions, which have led you to write to us repeatedly over the years, denouncing everything we do and stand for, come from. Could it be that at one level, you really know the extent to which your compromise damages and logically undermines the faith you profess, yet would prefer not to believe this or face up to it? I pray that you might reconsider that your allegiance as a Christian should be to Christ and His Word, not to whatever the current worldly wisdom might be).

Do you really think that this kind of calumny is an effective evangelistic tool to use with those who don’t hold with your minority viewpoint?

CW: Well, actually, we are encouraged by the fact that there is seldom a week that goes by where we don’t have some email testimony from around the globe of someone brought to Christ through this ministry, especially its resources. I have just come from a seminar at which one of the attendees was an Associate Prof. and told me how my presentation a few years ago in his city was key to moving him from agnosticism to faith. One of the helpers was a PhD biologist drawn to CMI’s ministry by a recognition of how vital it is to the penetration of the Gospel. And a few weeks before that I was told by a young PhD student in zoology that he had been a card-carrying atheist who came to a CMI seminar to mock and was converted as a result. So, yes, we do think it is effective. I will cite one here still in my Inbox, and as you read it (remember that you were the one who brought up the issue of evangelism) please consider soberly and carefully what it is that you are so vigorously and passionately opposing. Peter W. wrote:

“[I] wish to take the opportunity to thank you all at CMI for your ministry. Before having contact with your ministry, I realise now, that Jesus had been knocking at my door, so to speak, but I had been reluctant to welcome him into my life. As much as I had wanted to fling open the door, I was trapped by the confusion of long age theories and evolution and poor biblical teaching from a previous church.
“With your help and a church that believes and teaches a literal understanding of the Bible, Jesus, I am proud to say, is alive in me. Now I am able to say with pride, ‘’thank God for our ministry," as I now have the confidence to call myself a Christian and be prepared to proclaim the Gospel. Jesus died on the cross. Why did Jesus die on the cross?. With a literal understanding of the Bible, starting with Genesis, it and God’s incredible creation, all makes sense. In saying that, I realise my faith journey has only just begun, but now I can embrace it fully.”
Or does the widespread rejection by the scientific community that your ideas encounter serve as some sort of vindication of your particular interpretation of Scripture?
Remember that CMI is not on about some nuances of doctrine, but rather the ‘Gospel big picture’.

CW: Hardly, and I don’t recall us ever making this sort of claim. But speaking of that majority rejection (and remember too that the majority also hounded the father of antisepsis, laughing soundly at the idea that germs could cause disease, plus countless other examples of overwhelming majorities being wrong in the history of science), I would say the following. Namely, that given the Apostle Paul’s comments in Romans 1 of fallen humanity’s natural tendency to reject God, and give worship and glory to the created things rather than the Creator, (whom they do not like to retain in their knowledge, he writes), what we see happening should not be surprising. Especially the lack of open-mindedness, even vindictiveness, demonstrated as even those who merely believe in a vague sort of ‘Intelligent Design’ are professionally persecuted. Nor, perhaps, should one be surprised that many in the church will be misled into seeking favour from those in ‘cultural power’ rather than remaining faithful to the obvious intent of His Word. Remember that CMI is not on about some nuances of doctrine, but rather the ‘Gospel big picture’ as I often call it; the history of the entry of sin and death into a once-perfect world through the first Adam, thus leading to the need for redemption (of the individual as well as ultimately the entire Creation) through the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Please consider prayerfully where your long-age views and mythologizing of early Genesis (which includes the ancestry of our Lord Jesus as traced also in the NT) consistently leads to. There are many warnings in Scripture of holding to ‘another Gospel’. Whether you are or are not is not for me to determine, but your approach to the Bible leaves a lot of room for concern. We regularly pray for our opponents, and sadly a number of them, like yourself, profess Christian faith.

Please do communicate with Mr. Johnson that ‘plausible deniability’ of his motives requires a more subtle expression of his implications than his tired ‘Blame Darwin for the evils of the Nazis’ approach to Christian apologetics.

CW: I’m not sure what you are referring to here; the article was a soberly written, if shocking, historical account. It documented the horrors that have happened repeatedly when a philosophy substitutes for the social restraint given by the belief that there is a Creator and we will have to give an account. Particularly when the logical corollary of that philosophy gives an excuse for believing that some people are more highly evolved and otherwise biologically superior as a group. That Darwin himself, despite being a gentle (perhaps squeamish even) person, knew of and shared the racist/eugenicist implications of his theory is so well documented by now as to be beyond doubt by any reasonable person. You should know this from having obviously combed through our site for years, driven by goodness knows what. If not, I recommend again my thoroughly documented book One Human Family. In it you will see evolutionist SJ Gould point out that after Darwin’s book was published, biological arguments for racism (which had long been around, and all of which sought to undermine the Bible’s anti-racist history of humanity as closely related) increased by “orders of magnitude”—i.e. 100, 1,000, 10,000-fold.

Sincerely,

Carl W.

Postscript: Following Richard’s initial objections to the article, we did tweak the wording of the article’s last sentence to avoid anyone else being able to misunderstand it. The author was not meaning to imply that Darwin specifically conceived of floggings, etc. only that his philosophy gave an ‘open slather’ to an excuse for the sin of perceiving other people as ‘subhuman’ and that the Nazis were not the first to apply this concept in post-Darwin German history.

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