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Monday, February 28, 2005

Evolution vs. Creation, again. Why does it matter? 

I missed this week's Vox Apologia, although the topic is one that interests me a great deal. I just ran out of time. It was on the subject of evolution vs. creation, and whether it matters. There are a number of excellent posts up. Here's RazorKiss' entry, for example:
We dare not, we must not, and we cannot look an enemy in the face - and turn away as if it is irrelevant. We made that crucial mistake when this enemy first appeared - and we dare not continue. We cannot look at naturalism - at evolution - and spit in our Creator’s face by saying “so what if they deny you?” Romans warns us what excuses exist, for those who deny their Creator. None. His Creation, regardless of attempts to deny it’s Creator, stands as a testament to His power, His majesty, and His creativity - as do we. Despite the philosophical dexterity accompanying the devaluation of man, while simultaneously exalting his attributes - we should take it as a warning. If we exalt the natural - we dethrone the supernatural - we dethrone God - and take His place as the pinnacle. When we take over the pinnacle - we set ourselves up as God.


I'm going to argue that the evolution vs. creation debate does matter, which of course comes as a surprise to no one. But while many who defend the Christian perspective on the matter are content to argue for some theistic hand involved in the existence of the world, while not really disagreeing with a great deal of the popularly believed science on the matter, I intend to argue that any account of the origin of the universe that doesn't conform to the Genesis account creates the exact same philosophical and theological problem as a completely atheist account of our origins.

I have argued before that people hold to their view of the origin of the universe for entirely other than scientific reasons, and that this is just as true of the so-called defenders of science as it is of anyone else. I make this claim because I have a high level of confidence that nobody, literally nobody, has seen enough data to actually have observed enough to take their position purely on the basis of science. Certainly nobody I've ever argued with has. What they have done is that they have heard other people talk about what they've seen, and what their interpretation is, and they've read books and seen pictures, all of little bits and pieces of work that other people have done, and they are told a certain story about what all of it means, and they accept that story. Certainly many individual scientists have done a great deal of hands-on work on certain fields. But one guy knows a lot about biochemistry, and accepts the story on astrophysics, zoology, botany, and the rest. Another guy might be a great astronomer, but know nothing about living things. Check out this post by PZ Myers, for example, a die-hard defender of evolution:
Don't ask me about the subject of the title; I know little about it. I've confessed before to my zoological bias, which means plants and bacteria don't get the attention they deserve here. Fortunately, I can tell everyone to go read the summary of angiosperm phylogeny at Niches. While I don't know as much about flowering plants as I should, I can at least appreciate their importance and recognize an interesting evolutionary story when I see it.

He doesn't know much about the subject, but he likes the story. That's what ties them all together- the story. There is a certain story about how everything happened that they all like, and so all of their data is interpreted in terms of that same story. Details might be adjusted from time to time; question marks left where the data and the story don't match; but fundamentally the story stays the same.

It reminds me of the debate about systematic theology sometimes. Some theologians say systematic theology is bad, because you force Biblical data into an interpretive grid instead of letting the data speak for itself. My answer to that has always been that that's what everyone does; it's just how humans think. The difference is, if you own up to a system, then at least you have the opportunity to check your system against the data, and adjust the system if necessary. If you are unconscious of your system, you will distort all of the data to fit, while never being aware that you're doing it.

I want to start my system with one simple premise: "Thus says the Lord".

This will of course render me ignorant, insane, and dangerous in the eyes of many. That's OK. But we all have a choice between building our thinking on the word of God, or on my own mind. These are the only two options, and I choose the first.

After I've chosen the first, and then I read Genesis 1-2, there's only one choice- the world was created in six days by the supernatural power of God. And if I read more of the Bible, I discover that this all happened probably less than ten thousand years ago. As I argued here, I believe Genesis because I love Jesus, because He saved me from my sins, and Jesus always assumes the absolute truth of the Jewish Old Testament, everywhere He speaks. This is why I am a creationist, because I choose to accept a particular authority.

But this is the dirty secret- that's what everyone does. PZ Myers accepts the authority of the article he quoted above, because it tells a story that he likes. All people, including all scientists, do this all the time, because no scientist has access to all, or even more than a tiny fraction, of all of the relevant data. Even a biologist doesn't dig up all the fossils himself. And he never even sees many of them. He sees pictures in books, and takes someone's word for it that they look like what the book says they look like, and mean what the book or the journal says they mean.

There's nothing inherently wrong with doing this. Again, it's what we all do, all the time. I believe that there are some interesting political events going on in Lebanon right now, but I have no first-hand information of that at all. I have chosen to accept the authority of the news reports I have read. And where I suspect a bias, that is, where the reporting of facts and interpretations does not fit the story I have chosen to believe, I adjust accordingly.

Now to the self-appointed priests of rationalism and empiricism, this is an extremely foolish and blinkered way to think. But all that means is that they are ignorant of their own thought process, and therefore unable to adjust the story they have chosen to believe.

Every attempt I have ever read or heard to interpret Genesis 1-2 in any way other than a young-earth, six-day interpretation has been an attempt to accommodate the biblical account to the "facts" of modern science. The interpretation of the text are always discussed, but when you dig into it, you discover that interpretation is always a secondary concern, and the primary concern is making the text "fit" the science. But accommodations of that nature never work, because what is being attempted is to accommodate two stories, two philosophies that fundamentally contradict each other. One philosophy is the one that says that we think God's thoughts after him, and that all truth is learned by first submitting myself to God's proclamation of truth. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". The other philosophy says that man is the measure of truth, that I decide the facts and the meaning of things; that I decide what is right and wrong. You have to make a choice. You have to pick one of these stories; you cannot have both. This is the choice to worship the creature rather than the creator. If the Bible is true, then the atheists and unbelievers who claim to be scientists have no ability to tell me anything relevant about the origins of the universe. They have no wisdom; their minds are given over to darkness as punishment for their rebellion; they are fools. And why should I attempt to modify the holy Word of God to acoommodate the ravings of fools? They may be very good at describing things that they can see. They may be good at building things. But they have nothing to say about any issue to which the Bible speaks.

Of course, the other implication of this train of thought is that while it is immensely important whether I believe evolution or creation, it is not all that productive to argue about it, except when there is already a broad agreement on the philosophical underpinnings of the debate. But if someone does not believe the Bible, then I do not expect to convince them of creation, any more than I could convince them that Jesus actually walked on water. Both he and I believe what we believe because of issues that have nothing to do with science.

Doubt me? Go read some of those blogs that are written by supposed defenders of science. They spend almost their whole time raving about philosophy, and they attack people like me not in scientific terms but in philosophical terms. They hold a level of hatred toward people like me that cannot be explained by simple differences in scientific opinion. They claim that defenders of creation are liars and evil people. But if science is their concern- the simple aggregation of knowledge- why would they care about a disagreement over a fact, or even about a liar? If a man is a liar, then real scientists will have nothing to do with him, as they constantly claim. Then the development of knowledge will not be affected at all by that liar. He might fool some rubes; he might get some government money or get some stickers put on some textbooks, but so what? No, their hatred can only be explained by the fact that their philosophy is being attacked; their religion; their God.

The first thing that the devil ever said to man was, "Has God really said?" Satan's attack has always been an attempt to twist the word of God to mean something other than what it means. We must not accommodate that attack at all. So, creation vs. evolution is important primarily because the word of God is important. We must understand that the real point of attack is not on science, but on the credibility of the word of God. The devil's always been good at arguing, and the defenders of evolution are too. But if we remember what the attack is really about, and what we stand to lose, then we will not be fooled.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ed "What the" Heckman for posting my late entry to Vox Apologia VII. Go check it out- lots of good red meat there.

ANOTHER UPDATE: One more quick related thought, here.

Comments:
Consider it added. :-)
 
Interesting reading. I've linked to you from here.
 
A real reason to stick with evolution is it is what works in the world God created, in seven yom, or however long God took to create it. It has nothing to do with "liking the story."

I find it interesting that you key on the age of creation. The Bible offers no justification for doing that. James Ussher's calculations about the age of the Earth, done in about 1688, were done as an execise in science. So you're clinging to 17th century science, and nothing Biblical, when you start there.

And I can't help the feeling that you've missed the message of Genesis I. That chapter was added to scripture (though not as the first book!) after the Babylonian capture. It is done in poetic form for a very good reason, to make it easy to memorize. The Israelites were kept for several generations captive outside of Zion, and they were surrounded by people who worshipped differently. In fact Genesis I details the Babylonian creation story very closely, with a key difference: Where the Babylonians talked about about the creation of gods, the Israelites noted that those things the Babylonians worshipped were actually created by the God of the Israelites. Mountains, oceans, trees, animals, etc., etc. -- all created by God.

The message was that God is the creator, and that God created out of love. And, the message said, regardless of how others may say creation occurred, God is the motivating force behind all creation.

There is nothing about a quick, 144-hour creation. There is nothing about a very new creation, with lots of false clues to mislead those who wish to study God's creation (that is yet another, theologically shaky part of creationism that you ignore completely). Genesis tells us in two different (and sometimes contradictory) stories that God is behind it all.

To Christians like Darwin and Wallace, that was no problem. God is behind creation? Evolution is what creation manifests to us -- God must be behind it, even if we don't know exactly how (none of the creation stories in the Bible is long on methods of creation).

Evolution gives us information to fight disease and enables us to make better crops and animals to eat. Healing and feeding -- two of the more important ministries of Jesus.

Creationism starts with a tortured, unnecessary view of the Bible, and leads to a rejection of the manifestations of God's creation.

If we may know the worth of a tree by its fruits, which of these trees is more likely closer to God?

Ed Darrell
 
Ed,
It's purely a speculation that Genesis 1 was added after the captivity, and also purely speculation that it isn't the Babylonian story which is a perversion of the Genesis account. You simply assume these things, because they fit your theology better.

Genesis is chock full of dates and ages, and these place Adam no more than 10,000 years ago. There might be a little variation on that, what with skipping generations and the like, but it certainly isn't millions. If Genesis 1 isn't accurate, then neither is any of Genesis.

Genesis 1 teaches the message you say they do. But they teach more than that. They show how God created the empty structures of creation- space, the world, the sea, etc, and then filled them with the moving things. The order of creation explicitly denies the evolutionary framework, which has the stars forming first and then everything else out of the stars. But in Genesis 1, the sun comes on the fourth day. The message is clear. This contradicts the pagan view that the sun is the source of life and all things come from the sun. Genesis 1 teaches that the sun comes from God. You point this out in your paragraph, but fail to mention that if it didn't actually happen the way Genesis 1 relates, then the account makes no sense.

And again, just a few chapters up in Genesis 3, we read about man getting into serious trouble because he, at the behest of the devil, twisted the word of God to say something it's not saying. You seem to miss that lesson, Ed. Or is Genesis 3 just a fable too?
 
Matt,

You can call it speculation, but it's an awfully amazing coincidence that the order of creation the Babylonians used is the order cited in Genesis 1 -- which differs from Genesis 2 and other accounts in scripture. Genesis 1 is directed against Babylonian religion; if you wish to call that "pagan," fine -- but one can study the Babylonian documents. One can study the formation of the canon. It's much more than conjecture; Josh McDowell makes much of the copies of scripture that exist, but when those copies present evidence that contradict Darby, suddenly it's "conjecture?"

Genesis 1 has no dates or ages in it. Nor does Genesis 2. Later stories have crude dates. Nothing in scripture says, "Oh, by the way, if you count backwards from this point, you can figure the exact age of the planet." Nor is there any reason we should do that. Ussher did it as a science experiment, as I noted. I find it untenable to use 17th century science as a basis to reject 21st century science -- especially when Ussher warns us that we should not do that (he was, after all, Bishop of Armagh).

We can deny the pagan claims without having to reject science. Claiming scripture has authority over God and God's creation is rather a stretch, even to deny pagan beliefs. IMHO, of course.

No, I haven't missed Genesis 3 at all -- which is why I take creationists to task for twisting scripture. The how and when of creation are not salvation issues. Changing the time of creation, allowing God 14 billion years to prepare a place for humans in a methodical fashion, does nothing to change the time that God's image was instilled into humans (if indeed it was such a short time ago), nor does it say anything about sin.

It does allow us to understand how to be better stewards of creation, how to cure diseases and feed the hungry. Isn't that what Jesus urges us to do?

Ed Darrell
 
Matt,

You can call it speculation, but it's an awfully amazing coincidence that the order of creation the Babylonians used is the order cited in Genesis 1 -- which differs from Genesis 2 and other accounts in scripture. Genesis 1 is directed against Babylonian religion; if you wish to call that "pagan," fine -- but one can study the Babylonian documents. One can study the formation of the canon. It's much more than conjecture; Josh McDowell makes much of the copies of scripture that exist, but when those copies present evidence that contradict Darby, suddenly it's "conjecture?"

Genesis 1 has no dates or ages in it. Nor does Genesis 2. Later stories have crude dates. Nothing in scripture says, "Oh, by the way, if you count backwards from this point, you can figure the exact age of the planet." Nor is there any reason we should do that. Ussher did it as a science experiment, as I noted. I find it untenable to use 17th century science as a basis to reject 21st century science -- especially when Ussher warns us that we should not do that (he was, after all, Bishop of Armagh).

We can deny the pagan claims without having to reject science. Claiming scripture has authority over God and God's creation is rather a stretch, even to deny pagan beliefs. IMHO, of course.

No, I haven't missed Genesis 3 at all -- which is why I take creationists to task for twisting scripture. The how and when of creation are not salvation issues. Changing the time of creation, allowing God 14 billion years to prepare a place for humans in a methodical fashion, does nothing to change the time that God's image was instilled into humans (if indeed it was such a short time ago), nor does it say anything about sin.

It does allow us to understand how to be better stewards of creation, how to cure diseases and feed the hungry. Isn't that what Jesus urges us to do?

Ed Darrell
 
Matt,

You can call it speculation, but it's an awfully amazing coincidence that the order of creation the Babylonians used is the order cited in Genesis 1 -- which differs from Genesis 2 and other accounts in scripture. Genesis 1 is directed against Babylonian religion; if you wish to call that "pagan," fine -- but one can study the Babylonian documents. One can study the formation of the canon. It's much more than conjecture; Josh McDowell makes much of the copies of scripture that exist, but when those copies present evidence that contradict Darby, suddenly it's "conjecture?"

Genesis 1 has no dates or ages in it. Nor does Genesis 2. Later stories have crude dates. Nothing in scripture says, "Oh, by the way, if you count backwards from this point, you can figure the exact age of the planet." Nor is there any reason we should do that. Ussher did it as a science experiment, as I noted. I find it untenable to use 17th century science as a basis to reject 21st century science -- especially when Ussher warns us that we should not do that (he was, after all, Bishop of Armagh).

We can deny the pagan claims without having to reject science. Claiming scripture has authority over God and God's creation is rather a stretch, even to deny pagan beliefs. IMHO, of course.

No, I haven't missed Genesis 3 at all -- which is why I take creationists to task for twisting scripture. The how and when of creation are not salvation issues. Changing the time of creation, allowing God 14 billion years to prepare a place for humans in a methodical fashion, does nothing to change the time that God's image was instilled into humans (if indeed it was such a short time ago), nor does it say anything about sin.

It does allow us to understand how to be better stewards of creation, how to cure diseases and feed the hungry. Isn't that what Jesus urges us to do?

Ed Darrell
 
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