October 13, 2012
Kwon Mega inquires,
Wondering if you saw Is The Christian Evolutionist An Oxymoron?, by Bruce Charlton, and your thoughts on the matter.
We recently touched on this at Dangerous Idea. The answer depends on what one means by “evolution.”
Firstly, I think there is no significant problem about a Christian being scientifically or professionally interested in evolution in the sense of adaptation within the human species.
I agree. There’s nothing anti-biblical in the concept of adaptation. In the same way an intelligent programmer future-proofs code, I would expect a supra-intelligent God to create with malleability, allowing creatures to adapt to environmental change. In the same way the Constitution is dead without malleability, species would also suffer from rigidity. After a few paragraphs exploring these concepts, Bruce turns to the next question:
The tricky question comes in relation to the evolution of humans as a ‘species’. This is superficially the question of whether or how humans as a form evolved from non-human things (other forms of animals), and the assertion that this happened wholly by contingent and undirected natural selection acting on genetic (and other) variation.
Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. First off, everybody needs to realize that we’re no longer talking about pure science. The “evolution” that atheists take on faith is pure science plus unfalsifiable, unscientific atheist metaphysic. It’s important to realize that “evolution,” to the atheist, is an amalgam of science and philosophy. Bruce reduces the question further:
Now, on the face of it, this cannot be acceptable to a Christian as a description of reality—but we need to focus upon what is it exactly that cannot be acceptable to a Christian.
Before continuing my reading, I guessed that Bruce would address the “undirected” part of the aforementioned citation. I was right:
What is absolutely unacceptable is to believe that the assumption of zero divine influence is the whole truth of the matter.
I agree. This is in line with what I just said: that, “evolution” to the atheist is an amalgam of science and philosophy. This is why folks like John Loftus are so misguided in their claims. They’re either dishonest outright, or they fail to realize that the “evolution” they allege as problematic for Christianity is not pure science: it’s pure science plus unfalsifiable, unscientific atheist metaphysic. Or, as Bruce calls it, a built-in assumption. He continues:
…if the built-in assumption is (for whatever reason) taken to be the discovered truth, then this would obviously be unacceptable to a Christian, because it directly contradicts Christian revelation in multiple ways, both fundamentally and superficially.
I agree. I would also point out that this remains true whether we’re debating YEC or OEC. Both require an act of God as intentional agent. I suppose the only place I may differ with Bruce is that I don’t think “natural selection” poses any problem for Christianity—unless of course by “natural selection” one smuggles the built-in assumption we just identified. I agree with Gould that natural selection is not sufficient to explain the dataset. Recall that Gould took people like Dawkins to task for that very assumption, even going so far as to label it “Darwinian Fundamentalism.” Bruce writes:
But the actual details of what happened and how it happened to get from non-humans to humans by pure Natural Selection change with bewildering speed—sometimes more than once a year: a single bone sometimes overturns the current fragile consensus. This rapidity of change and lack of consensus means that this is emphatically not the kind of science which can be relied upon—and indeed it is not relied upon. The story of human evolution by Natural Selection merely functions as a story—more or less interesting according to taste.
If by “not the kind of science which can be relied upon,” Bruce means, “not the kind of science which can be relied upon to deduce unassailable truths about God or the world,” then, again, I agree. This is why I’m usually careful to use the phrase, “contemporary evolutionary narrative,” instead of plain old “evolution.” The “evolution” the atheist endorses is not pure science: it’s a narrative concocted from an atheistic interpretation of scientific data.
I might be misunderstanding when Bruce says, “indeed it is not relied upon.” Almost every day I come across cocksure atheists like Dawkins, Myers, Coyne and their sycophants who rely on the contemporary evolutionary narrative to provide (what they think to be) unassailable truths about God or the world. They do so with unshakeable, dogmatic faith, despite loud protestation to the contrary and hypocritical lambasting of those who embrace different faiths.
Halfway through the post, Bruce shifts gears into scientific realism vs. scientific anti-realism. Since things aren’t always black-and-white, I try to treat claims on a case-by-case basis. There are some claims I am a “scientific realist” about, meaning, I believe the observations reflect that which is true or extant in actuality. That water boils in response to heat is an example. No extrapolations or assumptions are required to accept this as “really true.” Anybody can run the test for themselves and see.
On the other hand, I am a scientific anti-realist about other claims, for example, “the universe began 15 billion calendar years ago,” not because people can’t run tests—for they most certainly can—but the conclusion contains a heavy stack of assumptions and cannot even get off the ground without gross extrapolation, not to mention all the difficulties we’ve learned about “time” since Einstein. These claims are clearly in two different categories. Shifting gears again, Bruce writes:
Yet, it seems that historically one significant purpose of Natural Selection [as it] applies to the origin of the human species seems to have been (sometimes deliberately, sometimes implicitly) its application to replace and destroy Christianity.
Yes, yes and yes. Satan is no fool. He knows how gullible and proud we are, and the false dichotomy is one of his favorite lines of attack. When he can’t lie outright, he twists the truth. Regarding evolution, Satan twists the truth, offering false opposites, pressuring the victim by appealing to their pride and whispering in their ear: “Believe science. Believe the facts. Don’t side with those religious loons.” People are perishing in untold numbers as a direct result of this fallacious strategy. Bruce concludes:
So, a Christian could legitimately engage in evolutionary thinking abut the origins of Man so long as he recognized the assumptions built into this game, and did not mistake these assumptions for discoveries, and did not attempt to make the outcomes or conclusions of this game into something with any necessary real-world functionality or relevance.
I agree. As always, we should be wise as serpents, gentle as doves. Thanks Kwon Mega for pointing me to the post. I hope my thoughts prove useful.