Results tagged “evolution” from Reformation21 Blog

Evangelical Evolution?


Given what World Magazine once called a "major, well-funded push" to promote the acceptance of evolution among evangelical Christians, the case must be persuasively made against the compatibility of evolution and the Bible. In answer to a pro-evolutionary stance, I am one of those Bible teachers who believe that the implications of evolution involve sweeping changes to the Christian faith and life.  

While I appreciate the moderate spirit of many who want to find a way to accept evolution alongside the Bible, I find that the more radical voices are here more helpful.  For instance, I share the view of Peter Enns in the conclusion to his book The Evolution of Adam, writing that "evolution... cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on," but requires a fundamental rethinking of doctrines pertaining to creation, humanity, sin, death, and salvation.  But Christian ethics must also be revised.  Enns writes that under evolution "some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful," including "sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one's gene pool," should now be thought of as beneficial.  Even so foundational an issue as the Christian view of death must be remolded by evolution.  An evolution-embracing Christian faith must now see death as an ally: "the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet." 

I am not a qualified scientist and have virtually nothing to contribute to the science involved in evolution.  As a Bible teacher and theologian, my concern is the necessary beliefs that flow from the Word of God.  For the ultimate issue involved with evolution is biblical authority: must the Bible submit to the superior authority of secularist dogma? Or may the believer still confess together with Paul: "Let God be true though everyone were a liar" (Rom. 3:4).  From this perspective, I plan a short series of articles arguing against the idea that evolution is biblically acceptable.  

Evolution vs. Genesis 1

The first topic to consider is our reading of Genesis 1.  It is frankly admitted by evolution supporters that anything like a literal reading of Genesis 1 rules out evolutionary theory.  As Tim Keller wrote for Biologos: "To account for evolution we must see at least Genesis 1 as non-literal."  I would alter that somewhat, since the issue really is not the absolute literalness of everything we read in Genesis.  Rather the question is whether or not Genesis 1 is a historical narrative that intends to set forth a sequence of events.  Evolution requires that Genesis 1 is teaching theology but not teaching history.  But is this an acceptable categorization of Genesis 1?

First, though, does an historical Genesis 1 rule out evolution?  The answer is Yes.  Consider Genesis 1:21, which records that God created species by means of direct, special creation: "God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind."  These "kinds" are species, which did not evolve from lower forms but were specially created by God.  This special creation is highlighted in the case of the highest creature, man: "God created man in his own image; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).  If these verses are presenting a record of history, it is a history radically at odds with the history posed by evolutionary theory.

This raises the question as to the genre of Genesis 1.  Literary scholars teach the widely accepted view that different kinds of literature cue different reading expectations.  So what is the genre of Genesis 1?  According to those who support evolution, Genesis 1 functions as a poetic rather than historical genre.  The argument is that Genesis 1 employs highly stylized language and a repetitive structure.  Keller's white paper argues that Genesis 1 is like the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15 or the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.  It corresponds to more historical chapters by presenting a poetic rendition that must not be taken as the history itself.  Just as Exodus 14 tells the history of the Red Sea crossing, followed by the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15, so does Genesis 1 relate to the more historically acceptable version of Genesis 2 (a subject that will be treated in a later article).  Given this poetic form, Genesis 1 may be ruled out as teaching historical events.

The problem with this view is this: 1) there is a recognizable form to Old Testament poetry and; 2) Genesis 1 is not written in this form.  You can see this by reading Genesis 1 and then reading the Song of Deborah.  

Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Judges 5:1-3 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!  "Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing; I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.

These passages are not written in the same genre.  I would point out in passing, however, that while Judges 5 certainly is a poem, the history it presents is nonetheless true.  This observation challenges the idea that to label a chapter as poetry serves immediately to remove its historical value.  Judges 5:26 celebrates Jael slaying Sisera: "she struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple."  That is pretty much what Judges 4:21 says happened.

While defending the historical potential of poetry, that subject is not germane to Genesis 1.  The reason for this is that the Bible's first chapter has a different genre, namely, historical prose narrative.  Old Testament poetry is shaped by parallelism and repetition.  Consider Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid."  Hebrew poetic parallelism involves the second line interpreting or expanding the meaning of the first.  This is not what we see in the narrative of Genesis 1.

It takes great effort to deny that Genesis 1 fits the genre of historical narrative.  Here, we see a structure consisting of a series of waw consecutive verbs.  The waw is the Hebrew letter V, which means "and" when attached to the front of a verb.  When attached to a noun it is disjunctive  -- it stops the narrative flow.  When it is consecutive, before a verb, the waw advances the narrative flow.  "This happened and then this happened and then this happened."  This is what we find in Genesis 1: "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness" (Gen. 1:3-4). Given this construction, literary guides to the Bible commonly identify Genesis as "an anthology, or collection, of stories" in which "narrative is the primary form." Therefore, just like so many other chapters in the Bible which contain divine wonders that the unbeliever will reject, Genesis sets itself forth as recording events from history. Christians are expected to read accounts like this and believe that what is recorded actually happened, however contrary to secularist expectations.

A challenge to this view comes from Jack Collins' description of Genesis 1 as "exalted prose narrative."  On the one hand, he admits "that we are dealing with prose narrative... [and] the making of truth claims about the world in which we live." On the other hand, he says the chapter presents an "exalted" form of writing.  The reason for this is because of "the unique events described and the lack of other actors besides God" and also because of "the highly patterned way of telling it all." By this latter point he means the structure of successive days and the morning/evening pattern.  Because of these features, Collins assets that "we must not impose a 'literalistic' hermeneutic on the text." By this, he means believing that the events happened as the text says they did.  But why the exalted features overthrow the normal way of reading the text is not made evident.  Might the exalted nature of the narrative be a function of the event itself: God's unique creation of all things?  Wouldn't we expect an account of this to be "exalted" simply by virtue of the stupendous events?  And what other actors than God might there be in such an account?  

The reality is that the genre of Genesis 1 is the same as the genre of Genesis 2 through 50: historical narrative.  Therefore the arguments used to remove the historicity of Genesis 1 must inevitably apply equally to the whole of Genesis, with all its teaching about God and man that is opposed to secularist dogma, including the Fall of Adam, Noah's Flood, the Tower of Babel, and God's covenant of salvation with Abraham.  All of these narratives are highly stylized accounts involving exalted and unusual themes, at least from our perspective.  

There is a reason, of course, for isolating Genesis 1 from the rest of the book.  Admittedly, it is more "exalted" a narrative than others - it is the creation account!  But Genesis 1 is also the chapter that most stands in the way of the theory of evolution, for which scholars are determined to find room by warning against "highly literalistic" readings - i.e. ones that take the narrative seriously as history.  And when Genesis 1 has been neutralized, the same approach can be applied to other pesky narratives like Genesis 3 and the Fall of Adam.  After all, there can be no Adam when evolution has been accommodated accepted by our reading of Genesis 1.  So now the danger of a "highly literalistic" reading has advanced to chapter 3.  But, wait, the flood narrative cannot be taken seriously in light of today's science and that narrative is highly structured, too.  It will not take too long before the entire book of Genesis is reduced to historical rubbish.

One of the grand motives, I believe, for accommodating evolution in Genesis 1 is so that evangelicals can stop arguing about science and start teaching about Jesus.  But do we fail to note that Jesus' story begins in Genesis 1?  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God..." (Jn. 1:1).  In fact, when the interpretive approach used to neutralize Genesis 1 as history is necessarily extended by evolution, then the reason for Jesus' coming is lost?  After all, without a biblical Adam as the first man and covenant head of the human race, then what is the problem for which the Son of God came?  Here we see just how right Peter Enns is: evolution is not an add-on to the Bible, it is a replacement.

Dr. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology

This post was originally published at Reformation21 in December 2014. 

Of Gorillas and Men

A few days ago, Harambe the gorilla was shot by the Cincinatti Zoo after a 4-year-old child accidentally climbed past the fence and enclosures--only to tumble into the moat surrounding the gorilla's habitat. Sensing that the child's life was in immediate danger, zoo workers made the prompt decision to shoot and kill the animal. For many reasons this was indeed a tragic incident--not least of which is the fact that silverback gorillas are a regal and endangered species. 

The outcry on the web and social media isn't particularly surprising. There are, no doubt, large numbers of people who speak of animals as if they are of greater value than their fellow human beings. What will never get old, however, is hearing them verbally communicate that they believe such things. In fact, some on social media have gone so far as to say that the gorilla deserved to live and the human child deserved to die. Some on the internet are demanding #JusticeForHarambe, insisting that what happened to this gorilla is "worse than murder." Such thinking, of course, puts gorillas on a higher level than humans. How very odd to hear a human being insist that an ape is of greater value than himself. Meanwhile, the ape cannot even articulate such ideas, nor would he return the sentiment in kind if given the chance. 

Such sentiments are easily accounted for in our day. After all, the evolutionary narrative is increasingly dominant in western culture. The question evolutionists need to be able to consistently answer is this: "Given the naturalistic and materialistic worldview, by what standard could anyone say that this gorilla ought to have been killed in order to spare a human child?" The only consistent answer with which one espousing a materialistic worldview ultimately can respond is, "arbitrary preference." 

Jack Hanna, the famous zookeeper, was recently asked whether the Cincinnati Zoo made the right decision. Without hesitation he responded, "I agree 1000 percent. Yes. Thank goodness the human being is alive today because of the decision the Cincinnati Zoo made." The instinct for many of us is to praise Hanna for these words. I'm not sure that it's necessarily praiseworthy for someone to say something that should be so evidently true to all of us; but, in our cultural milieu--where sanity has given way to wild delusion--Hanna's words feel like a breath of fresh air. To a man who has just spent days in the sewer, I suppose even the air around a landfill would smell fresh and clean by comparison. 

We as Christians must remember that Christ came to die for humanity. It isn't animals or angels for whom Christ laid down his life (Hebrews 2:14-16). When he came into the world his priority was to restore the breached relationship that existed between God and those who bear his image. His priority was to lay down his life for men. Likewise, we acknowledge and echo Christ's own love for humanity when we say that if you had to choose between saving one human being (of any age) and 10,000 silverback gorillas, you save the human every single time. Both have value by virtue of their being creatures of God, but only one of them is actually made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This doesn't mean that we disregard or mistreat animals. It doesn't mean that we use and abuse creation for our own selfish ends; but, it does mean that in order to have a comprehensible understanding of the world around us, we at least need to know the ontological order of priority. And so we begin with God as Creator, humanity as His image-bearers, and animals as important parts of the creation over which God has made his image-bearers to be stewards. 

In the age of the "easy cause," I suspect Harambe the gorilla and Cecil the Lion have become examples of the sorts of sentimental issue that many are perfectly willing to get behind because they can be trumpeted at little risk and little cost. However, it is disturbing to think that we live in an age when saving a child's life at the cost of the life of an animal causes such fury, as though Harambe was a fellow man. Perhaps the most heartbreaking and disturbing fact is that these same infuriated individuals, when they discover that 125,000 human beings are killed every day at the hand of abortion doctors, don't bat an eye. Walker Percy described our age well: "We're sentimental people and we horrify easily. True, our moral fiber is rotten. Our national character stinks to high heaven. But we are kinder than ever."   

Adam Parker is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (MDiv.) and is the Assistant Editor of Reformation 21. He and his family live in Jackson, MS.

Embracing Evolution: But Which Model?

Contrary to popular opinion, Charles Darwin did not invent the theory of biological evolution. But his famous work, The Origin of Species, certainly gave impetus to an idea that would quickly become orthodoxy in the scientific establishment. In his work he made several significant points that have had profound consequences for how scientists understand the natural world. Darwin did not merely suggest that change takes place over time, which, technically speaking, may be called evolution (though many would prefer to use the word "adaptation," as opposed to "evolution," to describe changes within a given species). Rather, he questioned the concept that species are immutable (i.e., cannot change). 

The idea that change takes place within a species is, of course, not controversial. But Darwin went much further than that. He suggested that new species have evolved over the course of history by a process termed "descent with modification." On this model, all life forms have descended from a common ancestor. Somewhere, at some time, the inorganic (non-living) became organic (living), and from that microscopic ancestor we now have fish, land animals, birds, and human beings. 

For this to happen, Darwin popularized the idea that this took place through natural selection, or what has commonly been termed "survival of the fittest." Darwin's most significant contribution to the theory of evolution was formulating the mechanism that explained the process whereby a single cell produced the variety of life found in the world today. This understanding of evolution is best described as "fully naturalistic evolution," which is how the scientific community generally understands biological evolution. 

The prominent American biologist, Douglas Futuyma provides a helpful explanation of the significance of Darwin's theory: 

"By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialistic theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism - of much of science, in short - that has since been the stage of most Western thought" (Evolutionary Biology, 2).

Futuyma draws attention to an important implication of Darwinian evolution, namely, that theological explanations for origins of life, which includes special creation, are unnecessary because the Darwinian model does not simply content itself with changes within a species, but instead explains how all species came into being in the first place.

A Christian can and should affirm that in the beginning God created basic kinds of animals, which over the years subsequently diversified. The term microevolution has been used to describe this process. So, in an example that Darwin used, a group of finches happened to migrate to an island. On the island a combination of mutation, inbreeding, and natural selection caused these finches to develop different characteristics from the ancestral population on the mainland, which is known as microevolution. Even among humans microevolution occurs. God created Adam and Eve, but from this ancestral pair we see a fair amount of diversity today. 

Understood in this way evolution is not controversial. As Jonathan Wells has argued, Darwinists respond to their critics by claiming that evolution means change over time. "But," says Wells, "this is clearly an evasion. No rational person denies the reality of change, and we did not need Charles Darwin to convince us of it. If 'evolution' meant only this, it would be utterly uncontroversial" (Icons of Evolution, 5). But does microevolution provide an explanation for the processes responsible for creating life in the world as we see it today? 

Darwinists answer that the creative force that produced complex animals, for example, from a single-celled predecessor over billions of years is in general the same mechanism that produces variation within animal and plant species that we witness today.

Critics of Darwinism, as well as Darwinists themselves, typically distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution, though both sides understand the magnitude of the distinction differently. Simply put, microevolution explains change within a species, but macroevolution explains the changes that occur above the level of species. Macroevolution explains how a species splits into two (i.e., speciation). One of the best-known Darwinists, Ernst Mayr, remarked that macroevolution (i.e., transspecific evolution) is an extrapolation of the events that take place within populations and species at the microevolutionary level. Thus, according to Darwinists the difference between micro- and macroevolution ought not to be exaggerated. The same processes that cause within-species evolution (microevolution) are responsible for above-species evolution (macroevolution). When the idea of speciation is added to Darwin's view of natural selection the resulting theory is seen as a sufficient explanation for the rise and diversity of life.

Natural selection occurs in order to maintain and increase the genetic fitness of a population. Individual animals with genetic defects generally do not survive to produce offspring. Darwinists use this fact to build their theory that natural selection not only maintains the genetic fitness of a population, but also provides an explanation for how a single cell - or many different cells? - produced over the course of billions of years the variety of living organisms that we see today. The mutations that sometimes take place among species are almost always harmful. However, according to Darwinists, in rare cases a mutation will prove to be an advantage and thus improve the organism's ability to survive and reproduce. If the favorable mutation spreads throughout the species it may possibly provide the basis for further improvements in succeeding generations. Speciation, via favorable mutations, can be broken down into small steps over millions of years. These steps were purposeless natural processes that did not require the belief in special creation. In Stephen Jay Gould's much-acclaimed book, Wonderful Life (New York: Norton, 1990), he suggests that evolution could not be expected to produce the same outcome. Humans may not necessarily result a second time because evolution is a purposeless/directionless force that relies on random mutations. Richard Dawkins refers to this process of natural selection as "the blind watchmaker."

The transitional or intermediate forms of life needed to accomplish the process of natural selection required, in Darwin's own words, the "accumulation of infinitesimally small inherited modifications, each profitable to the preserved being" (The Origin of the Species, 74). The fossil record did not, however, provide the empirical support that Darwin wished for. He attributed the paucity of evidence to the incompleteness of the fossil record, but hoped that later discoveries would vindicate his theory.

Unfortunately for Darwin, the fossil record did not provide the evidence to support his theory, which led Stephen Jay Gould to admit that "All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt. Gradualists usually extract themselves from this dilemma by invoking the extreme imperfection of the fossil record" (The Panda's Thumb, 189). Gradualism, while not supported by the fossil record, nevertheless remains the best explanation for the majority of evolutionists because they cannot think of a more plausible alternative. However, not entirely satisfied with the fossil record, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed a new theory for explaining both the fossil record and the present diversity of life called "punctuated equilibria/equilibrium." This theory provided these paleontologists with an explanation for the patterns found in the fossil record.

The theory of punctuated equilibrium, coming from such eminent evolutionists, such as Gould (who often appeared on the television show, "The Simpsons") and Eldredge, provides perhaps the most significant reason why Reformed theologians can affirm natural selection, but not natural selection in the Darwinian sense. After all, Darwin could not provide significant examples of natural selection that could be empirically tested, and so he relied on his argument by analogy. Darwinists insist that micromutations account for variability within a certain population of animals. In connection with this premise, natural selection directs evolutionary change. Ernst Mayr recognized that the Neo-Darwinian (synthetic) theory has not received universal approval from scientists. He writes: 

"A well-informed minority [...] including such outstanding authorities as the geneticists Goldschmidt, the paleontologist Schindewolf, and the zoologists Jeannel, Cuénot, and Cannon, maintained until the 1950's that neither evolution within species nor geographic speciation could explain the phenomena of "macroevolution," or, as it is better called, transpecific evolution. These authors contended that the origin of new "types" and of new organs could not be explained by the known facts of genetics and systematics. As alternatives they advanced two explanations, both in conflict with the synthetic theory: saltations (the sudden origin of new types) and intrinsic (orthogenetic) trends" (Populations, Species, and Evolution, 351).
Mayr provides insight into a debate among evolutionists that maybe provides the most compelling reason why Reformed theologians, who have had little or no scientific training, should refrain from embracing the Neo-Darwinian version of origins.

Darwin's gradualist model led him to confess, "if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down" (Origin of the Species, 142). Darwin was absolutely correct, and that explains why various prominent evolutionists have received a great deal of criticism, and at times ridicule, for suggesting that Darwin's theory of phyletic gradualism cannot explain complex structures and organisms (such as mammalian hair). The Berkeley geneticist, Richard Goldschmidt, argued that Darwin's gradualist model could only explain variation within the species boundary. Far from abandoning evolution altogether, Goldschmidt claimed speciation must have occurred through large-scale jumps called macromutations, otherwise known as "quantum evolution." This idea provided the answer to the bridgeless gap separating micro- and macroevolution. In his book, The Material Basis for Evolution, he argued for a type of "hopeful monster," a new species with the capacity to survive and propagate. Goldschmidt's theory was initially greeted with ridicule, but Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge took up his cause with their own theory of punctuated equilibrium. Eldredge describes the problem that Goldschmidt tried to address:

No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seemed to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yields zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change -- over millions of years, at a rate too slow to account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that's how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution (Reinventing Darwin, 95). 

In other words, Eldredge and Gould noticed two features in the fossil record that were inconsistent with Darwinian gradualism. First, most species show no directional change; and, second, new species abruptly appear in the fossil record. Natural selection cannot account for these peculiarities, argued Eldredge and Gould. 

In light of these problems with the modern Darwinian synthesis, Gould asked in the title of his now (in)famous article, "Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?" In this article Gould writes:

"I well remember how the synthetic theory beguiled me with its unifying power when I was a graduate student in the mid-1960's. Since then I have been watching it slowly unravel as a universal description of evolution. The molecular assault came first, followed quickly by renewed attention to unorthodox theories of speciation and by challenges at the level of macroevolution itself. I have been reluctant to admit it - since beguiling is often forever - but if Mayr's characterization of the synthetic theory is accurate, then that theory, as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as text-book orthodoxy" (p. 120).

As in the case of Goldschmidt, this proposal was met with a good deal of criticism. Gradualists responded that adaptive macromutations are impossible and have nothing to do with evolution. Thus, gradualists like Dawkins, who are not persuaded by the theory of punctuated equilibria, retained their belief that evolution by micromutation is the only viable alternative. Slow, gradual evolution by a combination of mutations (not "macromutations") acting concurrently with natural selection provides the best explanation for the natural world according to the majority of Darwinists.

Punctuated equilibrium, with its claim of stasis, represents a significant departure from the standard gradualistic model that Darwin pioneered. Some scientists, even Dawkins himself, have been careful to downplay the significance of this debate. Dawkins called it a "minor dispute" that "has been blown up to give the impression that Darwinism's foundations are quivering" (A Devil's Chaplain, 199). But Dawkins is clearly downplaying the significance of this debate so that creationists will have one less weapon in their arsenal. Indeed, the debate warranted a book by philosopher of science, Kim Sterelny, titled Dawkins Vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2001). The very emergence of punctuated equilibrium (evolution by "jerks") in opposition to phyletic gradualism (evolution by "creeps") suggests that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is far from proven. 

Some Reformed theologians have perhaps been a little too eager to accept the claims of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis without understanding properly the lively debate among evolutionists on the actual mechanism of fully naturalistic evolution. Before we try to synthesize our theology with Darwinian evolution, we should at least understand the various models that we're faced with, if we insist on making a choice between the two major schools of thought.

For my part, the contrasting models above fail to persuade me that I need to baptize Darwinian evolution with certain Christian truths that are non-negotiable...because, after all, what is negotiable and non-negotiable is a slippery slope, if history tells us anything.

Pastor Mark Jones's thumbs are growing.