Viva la Evolution?
A response to Denis Alexander
Published: 3 September 2008 (GMT+10)
Composition of images from stock.xchng and Wikipedia.com
Should Christians celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday?
Theistic evolutionist Denis Alexander has a new book coming out, entitled Creation or Evolution—Do We Have to Choose? To give this effort some publicity, Third Way magazine published an article by Dr Alexander, ‘Viva la evolution’, which translates loosely as ‘Long live evolution’ (http://www.thirdwaymagazine.com/334).1 I have many points of disagreement with the article, but here I want to respond to Dr Alexander’s theological arguments and draw attention to the biblical and philosophical flaws in his position.
Dr Alexander argues that Christians should, in the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth next year, ‘be celebrating Darwin enthusiastically, for he has provided us with a great theory that provides the framework for all contemporary biological and biomedical research. All truth is God’s truth.’ This closing statement is the deeply misleading ‘two books’ teaching. It claims that there are two ultimate, equal and independent sources for truth, which are perfectly complementary. These are God’s written word in Scripture, and secondly nature which is interpreted by scientific study.
According to Dr Alexander, (evolutionary) science and Scripture provide two parallel stories, neither contradicting the other, and we can embrace both. Science gives us accurate facts about the past. The book of Genesis identifies the person (God) ultimately responsible for those facts. Science tells us what went on; the Bible gives us the meaning of it. This is the classic ‘fact/value’ divide that has ruined the Christian culture of the West in the recent centuries. The everyday things of life—the things we can see, touch and observe—are handed over to science, relegating religion to just providing a separate interpretation. Science is the reliable teacher of (objective) truths for public life, and Christianity provides (subjective) values for the private individuals who happen to believe it. Science is an unbiased, self-interpreting and near-infallible voice that we can rely on, and it and not religion (which is uncertain and personal) should be our final authority.
In his opening words, Dr Alexander laments that Christians should be wasting their time on talking about evolution when thousands and millions of poor people are living without Jesus (cf. ‘You should be feeding the Hungry’). This false dichotomy is an indication of where Dr Alexander is heading. He goes on to explain that evolution is simply a brute fact with no ideological implications. (By ‘evolution’ he seems to mean mainly common ancestry, as he concedes that the following are all still under dispute—the mechanisms of speciation, the level at which natural selection actually operates, and what the supposed ancestries of living creatures actually are!) We may be descended from monkeys, and be part of the same family tree as gnats and nettles, and we may have only risen above them in the history of the world because our ancestors were the fittest to survive—but these facts, Dr Alexander says, do not mean anything and it is wrong for atheists to use them against Christianity. On the other side of the coin, the early chapters of Genesis give us no real information about anything in the history of humanity or the world. They simply explain that it was the God of Israel who was responsible for what happened. Science tells us what happened: Genesis tells us who was driving it all.
One book, not two
Ilustration by Tim Newcombe
When people try to mix the Bible and evolution, the Bible’s message always suffers.
The Bible does not endorse this ‘two books’ approach to truth, where Scripture and science are each given complementary roles. It is true that the created world is revealing truth to us (Psalm 19), but in the Bible this is always in terms of an immediate and infallible declaration about God’s glory and power (e.g. Romans 1:18), not about the uncertain results obtained as inferences from scientific study. Neither does Scripture teach that its own authority is limited to matters of private interpretation and the providing of values to be added to the information found from somewhere else. The Bible claims to be fully and finally authoritative on every subject on which it speaks (2 Timothy 3:16). It does not limit itself to statements about spiritual truths, but speaks, sometimes at length, though often very briefly, on all kinds of matters relating to e.g. history, geography (the first five books of the Bible in particular) and even biology, which we will come to later. The Son of God declared that ‘Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall by no means pass from the law [i.e. Moses’ writings], till all be fulfilled.’ He himself referred to statements in the Old Testament about the beginning of the world (Matthew 19:4), about the history of ancient cities (Matthew 11:23), about an act done by David as a fugitive from Saul (Matthew 12:3–4), and about the time spent by Jonah inside a large fish (Matthew 12:39). Jesus accepted the clear testimony of the Old Testament in general and Genesis in particular without question, without giving any hint that his interpretations were subject to past, present or future scientific verdicts.
Examples like these destroy the idea that modern science can make statements without coming under the Bible’s scrutiny. It is as certain a finding of science as any that dead men do not rise. The Bible, though, asserts that the most important fact in all human history is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead—and that by His life we may also live (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Unbelieving theological liberals reject miracles a priori, so will tell us that dead men do not rise, and that therefore the resurrection stories must be given another meaning—such as saying that the vision and power of Jesus live on, though not His body. Evangelical Christians rightly reject this idea, because it gives the opinions of men more weight than the plain words of the Bible. Attempting to harmonise evolution with the Bible is the same mistake.
The issue is one of authority. Dr Alexander is claiming for ‘science’ a voice equal and greater in authority to that of Scripture. In his article, he begins by asserting that evolution is an indisputable fact, and that the reliability of peer-reviewed journals establishes it. Here we come face to face with another modern secular myth: that of the impartial scientist, the value-free investigator of reality who comes to his work with no bias, is able to rise above his culture and background, and to sift the evidence until he reaches a certain conclusion. This view of man does not come from the Bible, but from the Enlightenment, a seriously anti-Christian movement whose ultimate aim was to replace the Bible with man as the final arbiter of truth. What the Scriptures actually state about man is that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17:9) and that unbelieving men are continually involved in a battle to suppress the truth about God, our Creator (Romans 1:18ff).
Ultimately science, at its best, represents man’s current thoughts and ideas about reality, based upon many guesses and uncertainties. It is always subject to future changes in the light of new research. It is fallible and has often gone down vastly mistaken paths. Few people today will defend racism or eugenics on scientific grounds, though they did in the past. In this very decade, mothers have been jailed as child murderers and then freed as scientists changed their minds on how to interpret the statistical likelihoods that their babies died naturally—known as ‘cot deaths’.
In contrast to all of this, the Bible is perfect, complete and unalterable (Psalm 119:89, Proverbs 30:5–6). It is the authoritative voice of God and can never lead us astray (Psalm 119:105ff). It contains its own rules for interpreting itself, and if these are obeyed then we cannot be led into any error by it (only by ourselves). The ‘two books’ idea is, in the final analysis, a form of blasphemy, bringing the perfect word of God down to the same level as the ideas of self-deceived, fallen man.
We see the effect of this error in one of the examples that Dr Alexander uses. He asks the question, ‘How do we understand the Fall in the light of evolution?’ To him, evolution is a fact; but the Bible’s account of the Fall is highly flexible, and we must adapt our interpretation of it in order to fit in with what Darwin said. God’s word is not a fixed body of truth which can interpret itself and then be used to judge other ideas. That prime role goes to evolution, which then gets to pass its verdict on how we are allowed to understand the Bible. What this ultimately means is that nobody even had a chance to understand the Fall properly until Charles Darwin came along and gave us the missing science. Generations of Christians limped along with missing knowledge and could never have hoped to get a proper understanding through it. This blasphemy is the result of making the opinions of men of equal authority with that of God.
What of Genesis itself?
It is the text of Genesis itself which deals the most telling blows to Dr Alexander’s theory. In his view, the creation account really says no more or no less than if Moses had written ‘The God of Israel is the one who created everything’, and left it there: a word about who did it, nothing more.
What Moses actually wrote is vastly more than this. The conflict between the idea of common ancestry and the Bible is not difficult to understand. Genesis 1 describes separate acts of creation which result in living creatures which reproduce ‘after their kind’. Birds reproduce after their kind, and fish after theirs. Man, though, the crowning glory of creation, is of another kind—he was made in a separate act of creation, from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7; see also 1 Corinthians 15:39). In Darwinism, reproduction has unlimited powers—every living being ultimately forms a single family tree with every other. In Christianity, reproduction happens within limits (the Genesis kinds), and we are explicitly told that man exists in his own distinct family which was not created out of one of the others.
Darwinism is ultimately the creation story of naturalism and atheism. It seeks to explain how, without any external involvement or outside control, the living world developed. It tells us that there is no need for any oversight or guidance, because the law of natural selection working upon random mutations inevitably leads to every niche being filled. Dr Alexander summarises this view well when he says, ‘On a planet of light and darkness you need eyes, so eyes are what you’ll get’. You’ll get them by the inevitable working out of the Darwinian process. The book of Genesis, on the contrary, states that eyes and every other part of the body were not the result of a gradual and lengthy development. They were the result of an immediate divine Word—‘let there be … and there was.’ Evolution teaches that the world began in a chaotic state and has slowly been rising to a more complex and ordered state over the passage of vast amounts of time. The Bible says that the world was created in a number of immediate and distinct acts, and then fell into a state of corruption because of the entrance of sin (Genesis 1–3).
A telling science
Ultimately, ‘theistic evolution’ is a contradiction in terms. Evolution asserts that the world already contains within itself the powers needed to develop all of its order and complexity. Christianity claims on the contrary that the order and complexity of the world comes from outside the world, not from within it. It did not come from a series of inevitable events over a long period of time, but through immediate responses to the voice of God.
It is helpful to step back and look at what theistic evolutionists are not saying, as much as what they are saying. It’s worth noticing that, like others, Dr Alexander does not attempt to take the account of Genesis and show how its narrative perfectly follows the same sequence found in Darwinism. He does not argue that evolution was taught either explicitly or implicitly in the Bible long before science described it in its own way, or even that there were lots of telling clues that we can now notice with hindsight. He does not show us how Jesus or the apostles took the early passages of Genesis and used them in the same way that he does. No—he simply argues that Genesis does not contain any information that has any overlap with history or biology, and that it leaves us the space to insert anything we like into the gap. This way of arguing gives the game away. Ultimately there is no way that anyone would read the book of Genesis and think, ‘Ah, yes—evolution!’ The best that theistic evolutionists can hope for is just to persuade us that Genesis doesn’t really have any bearing on the subject, leaves us a large silence, and then they come in with evolution to fill that void. Increasing numbers of Christians are waking up to the fact that there is no biblical or theological integrity in this method. Moses was not only inspired by God in order to refute the mistaken creation ideas of pagans and polytheists in the east. He was inspired by God to give a true account to all peoples in all times, also refuting ancient and modern naturalists who believed that the world developed itself through impersonal processes. He was inspired to explain that the world was created by God in six days, each of which was a day with an evening and morning, the kind of day that came to be marked out by the action of the sun and the moon. On each day God spoke and immediately it was done. Moses was not only inspired to refute polytheists who were already living, but also mistaken souls who would be born many centuries in the future, such as Charles Darwin.
- Spanish spelling would be ‘evolución’, with the ‘c’ pronounced like ‘th’ in ‘moth’. Return to text.
You can see an example of human evolution in race. People who live closer to the equator, like in Africa, have darker skin to protect them from the sun and from getting skin cancer. People who migrated farther north evolved lighter skin so they can obtain more vitamin D from the Sun with their limited exposure and keep from getting rickets. Also, I just got a DNA test from 23andme.com and it says I am 3.1% Neanderthal. So, I have some Neanderthal in my family tree. I believe it is important to know your roots. Most Europeans have between 1-4% neanderthal, but most Africans don't have any. Neanderthals most likely had red hair and light eyes, and they buried their dead.
Michael, this is a trivial issue for creationists, whose model far better explains, and in fact welcomes those results. See How did all the different races arise? in this downloadable chapter from CMI's The Creation Answers Book. Re Neanderthals, creationists were among the most excited of all to hear about these results, as it confirms our conviction that they were part of our One Human Family, the title of my recent book on our close relatedness and all its implications. But, you would have been able to find out all this, and more on Neanderthals, by using the search engine on creation.com first, as the feedback rules specify.
Evolution is gradual change over time we can believe in
We believe in gradual change over time, too. The elephant-in-the-room question, of course, is whether the overall type of change, including the net direction of that change, involves a mechanism capable of generating the massive amounts of new, functional genetic information required to transform microbes into microbiologists, and is it heading in the right direction? The answers overwhelmingly emerging today for those openminded enough to be able to see through the ruling paradigm (which always hangs on, as history teaches us, long after it becomes untenable) are no and no. See The evolution train's a-comin' (Sorry, a-goin'--in the wrong direction, and also this interview with a Cornell geneticist whose work on mutations convinced him we are heading for extinction, not evolution (and the timeframe involved made him into not just a creationist, but a Genesis creationist, i.e. young world.