2 free films tackle evolution from different directions

Human Zoos (1 hour)

Are we made in the very Image of God? Evolutionists say no, and Human Zoos explores some of the implications of their beastly thinking.

The Programming of Life 2: Earth (1/2 hour)

Our planet is incredibly fine-tuned for life, and yet amazingly robust in its provision for that life. This film explores how unlikely it is that the Earth would just happen to have everything that we need in exactly the proportions we need. This is a fantastic sequel to Programming for Life which explored just how impossible it would have been for life to have come about by chance. You can watch that one for free too, right here.

The cautions I would add are that the scientists consulted run the gamut from six-day creationist to intelligent design proponent to theistic evolutionist, and there seems a sort of “scientism” at work here (Science as the sole arbitrator of truth). That said, the overall argument they make – that the evidence shows that the Earth is uniquely and clearly designed for life – is one we can endorse wholeheartedly.

Why haven’t we heard from ET?

cowalienSome 70 years ago physicist Enrico Fermi looked up at the stars and wondered where everyone was at. With billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, it seemed inconceivable to him that ours would be the only planet to evolve life. So where was everyone?

His query is now called Fermi’s Paradox, and on March 18 a group of about 60 scientists met in Paris to share their latest theories as to why we haven’t heard from any of our galactic neighbors. Live Science’s Mindy Weisberger shared some of their creative ideas:

  • The “zoo hypothesis” – Earth is like a galactic animal reserve where aliens are leaving us alone to be observed in our natural habitat.
  • We’ve been quarantined – aliens know about us, but don’t like us.
  • Aliens are trapped by their superplanets’ intense gravity and they can’t come out to meet us.
  • Aliens have come and gone, dying off before we had a chance to connect with them.

Three days after the Paris conference Cosmos dug deeper into Fermi’s Paradox with an even more vexing question: where are all the “von Newmann probes”?

What’s a von Newmann probe, you ask? Well, back in the 1960s, mathematician John von Newmann argued that a sufficiently advanced civilization would be able to build a space probe that could mine raw materials on other planets and use those to make replicas of itself. These replicas would, in turn, build other copies. And as the process repeated, the number and spread of these self-replicating “von Newmann probes” would expand exponentially until, as Cosmos’ Lauren Fuge put it, “in a relatively short space of time – perhaps as little as 10 million years – the galaxy would be teeming with these exploratory machines.”

But there are no hordes, teeming or otherwise. So, again, where is everyone?

The Cosmos article offered, as a possible explanation, astrophysicist Duncan Forgan’s “predator-prey hypothesis,” soon to be published in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Astrobiology. Forgan argues that “self-replication could result in encoding errors” and that maybe some of these coding errors could lead to some of these probes taking a predatory turn. If they did, then perhaps the reason we don’t see these teeming hordes is because the predatory probes are hunting down and destroying the other probes.

Hmmm….

While these various hypotheses make for incredibly creative speculation, they all share one thing in common: there are no facts to back them up. In fact, the only “evidence” for any of these theories is that aliens haven’t contacted us.

So why did scientists bother meeting to swap what amounts to untestable, unverifiable, just-so stories? Why did Live Science and other media outlets bother covering the Paris event? And why did Cosmos think Forgan’s theory worth sharing? 

They covered them because these stories – to the undiscerning – seem to offer an explanation to Fermi’s Paradox and the problem it presents to evolutionary theory. But they’re just stories. And what does it say about the theory if its defenders are willing to hype stories that the public will mistake for scientific, factual, or evidence-based?

Here’s a different sort of hypothesis to consider: what if ET just isn’t out there? What if life, instead of being easy to come by, only happens via miraculous means? And God only did so here on Earth?

It’s worth noting that there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against the possibility of life being on other planets. But while the Bible allows for life on other planets, evolution would seem to demand it – if life can just happen, then someone else should be out there. It’s only when life is miraculous that it becomes understandable that it might be rare.

Now here’s a question for our evolutionary friends: if we suppose that dumb, unplanned, undirected luck can create life, why can’t the world’s most brilliant minds, using available blueprints (from living creatures), and working with quadrillions-of-calculations-per-second supercomputers, in laboratories staffed with every device and chemical they could possibly want, manage to make even a single living cell? If living things can come about by chance, why hasn’t anyone created them on purpose?

Looking at evolutionists’ still-lifeless labs we can’t help but ask again: where is everyone?

*****

In 2013 cartoonist Zach Weinersmith crafted a cartoon and gave the talk below on his “Infantapaulting Hypothesis” in which he theorized that the reasons babies are so aerodynamic is because they used to be catapulted into neighboring villages, to increase their chances of finding a mate among a more genetically diverse population. He was satirizing the tendency among evolutionists to indulge in “just-so stories” – to indulge in creative hypotheses that might fit the available evidence but which are not testable. If a fellow who still believes in Darwin’s theory can be this brilliant, insightful, and hilarious in exposing evolutionary flaws, can creationists take this further and be even funnier?   

The limits of the “two-books” metaphor

The Bible and the "book" of Nature

There is an idea, common among Christians, that God has revealed Himself to us via “two books”: Scripture and the book of Nature. The Belgic Confession, Article 2 puts it this way:

“We know [God] by two means:

  1. “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature, as the apostle Paul says in Rom 1:20. All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse.
  2. “Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation.”

But what happens when these two “books” seem to conflict? This happens in the Creation/Evolution debate, where the plain reading of Genesis 1 and 2 conflicts with the evolutionary account of our origins. So, as Jason Lisle notes, that has some Christians thinking that since:

“…the book of Nature clearly reveals that all life has evolved from a common ancestor….we must take Genesis as a metaphor…. we must interpret the days of Genesis as long ages, not ordinary days.”

ANALOGIES HAVE THEIR LIMITS

But that’s getting things backwards. While the Belgic Confession does speak of Creation as being like a book, metaphors and analogies have their limits. For example, In Matt. 23:37 God is compared to a hen who “gathers her chicks under her wings” – this analogy applies to the loving, protective nature of a hen, and should not be understood to reveal that God is feminine. That’s not what it is about.

Clearly Nature is not a book – the universe is not made up of pages and text, and it’s not enclosed in a cover or held together by a spine. The Belgic Confession is making a specific, very limited, point of comparison when it likens God’s creation to a book. How exactly is it like a book? In how it proclaims “God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature.” It does so with book-like clarity, “so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

But in the Creation/Evolution debate some Christians extend this book analogy in a completely different, and entirely inaccurate, direction. It has been taken to mean that Creation can teach us about our origins with book-like clarity. This misunderstanding then presents us with a dilemma: if we have one book saying we were created in just six days, and another saying it took millions of years, and both are equally clear on this matter, then what should we believe?

We need to understand that this dilemma is entirely of our own making. Creation is not like a book when it comes to teaching us about our origins. As Dr. Lisle has noted, it does not speak with that kind of clarity on this topic.

ONLY ONE ACTUAL BOOK HERE

In contrast, the Bible is not merely like a book, it actually is one! It is there, and only there, that we get bookish clarity on how we, and the world around us, came to be.

So, yes, the two-book analogy remains helpful when it is used to illustrate the clarity with which God shows “his eternal power and divine nature” to everyone on the planet. But when it comes to the Creation/Evolution debate, the way the two-book analogy is being used is indeed fallacious. God’s creation simply does not speak with book-like clarity regarding our origins.

We can be thankful, then, that his Word does!

Jon Dykstra also blogs on at www.ReformedPerspective.ca

 

If Evolution is True, What are You? (Noel Weeks)

In the past three weeks, we’ve featured two scholarly essays by Dr. Noel Weeks, as well as a video lecture in which he highlights the arguments of his essay from 2016.

If you have more time, and if you caught on to Dr. Weeks’s very endearing lecture style from the last video, you will no doubt find very helpful this online lecture by Dr. Weeks, given at the Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Tampa, Florida. He spoke on the topic, “If Evolution is True, What are You?”

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Weeks opens with a cute story—and did I mention that he also has a charming style of lecturing : )—about a zoologist improving the lives of zoo animals. Gibbons at the Santiago Zoo had to learn to press levers to get their food. After learning this, the gibbons were given the choice to have their food for nothing or by working for it. Surprisingly, they chose the latter, and the zoologist suggested that the gibbons were “enjoying” themselves. But, says Weeks, she “caught herself,” for she realized that she was looking at animals from our perspective, which is no longer permitted in the animal sciences. Instead, we ought to think of ourselves in terms of animals. He asks: Which way should we look at ourselves? Who are we? If evolution is true, who are we? 

As Christians we must think from the top down, from God to us. Evolutionists think from the bottom up, from atoms to life to animals to humans to, perhaps, the gods.

The lecture then seeks to explain how we in the West came to these two ways of thinking. Whereas the top down account is from Christianity, its the bottom up account that needs to be explained.

Explaining the Bottom Up View

Weeks begins with the Enlightenment and its scientific discoveries and the idea of a regular world ordered by laws. Next he mentions the European Wars of Religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Seeking to get away from this, European thinkers moved towards Deism in their thinking. By this they could get rid of fanaticism. They also reflected on the regularity of the universe, its laws. God drifts further and further back, creating just the simplest atoms which slowly arrange themselves. The more God is considered to be distant, the more the system drifts to atheism.

Coming to the late eighteenth century Weeks introduces the Scottish economist Adam Smith and his views of economics, competition, and efficiency. A law of competition came to be seen as something good. Greed is okay because everyone benefits.

Here, like a good detective, he drops a clue. You’ll have to listen (21:40).

At around the 20 minute mark Dr. Weeks explains in very clear and helpful terms the development of racial theory in the 19th century. People sought to approach the problem from a “rational” and “scientific” mindset, and combined Adam Smith’s theory of competition with this. Decimation of natives was considered to be a “law of nature.” One race is simply “pushed out of business.” Weeks thinks this is appalling. What happens when some powerful culture considers a certain race to be “inherently evil”? The “Final Solution,” presented as scientific and rational. It makes us shudder to think of it.

At around the 25 minute mark he shifts from questions of race to questions of social class, alluding to how Marx and Engels depended upon evolutionary theory.  They argued that history shows an unstoppable progress of one class overcoming and destroying another. This, they said, is normal and good. It must not be stopped, and if you try to stop you must be destroyed.

Getting back to whether religion causes all the violence in the world, he asks, “Is the cause religious? Is that what we have to deal with, or is there another cause? If non-religious theories, racial theory, Nazism, Communism, can lead to people being murdered in the millions, is the problem religion or is it something else?” (around 27:30).

Weeks teaches us how Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin took the  theory of competition and applied it to the development of animal and human species. This is where the earlier clue comes back (34:30). Again, you’ll have to listen. 

The Bottom Up View Forgotten

Weeks points out a fundamental problem connected to his opening story: “According to evolutionists] we’re not supposed to think of animals in human terms. [But ] isn’t that how we think of them in the theory of evolution? Some are more successful, some are more entrepreneurial than others” (around 35:30).

Using the example of photocopiers not handling paper clips very well, Weeks introduces “the problem of intelligent design,” which is that chance does not work well in an extremely ordered, complex system. It doesn’t make sense. One cannot maintain the well-ordered system of the universe by introducing chance changes.

In order to explain the lack of evidence for these “chance moments” by which change was introduced, Stephen Gould argues that evolution involves long stable periods without change and then moments of “terror” when change occurs so suddenly that no evidence for the change remains. A handy explanation for a theory lacking evidence!

Why did evolution have to resort to such explanations? Fundamentally, because Adam Smith’s theories about human entrepreneurial ways were applied to animals, whereas in fact animals are not human and do not have such innovative and entrepreneurial ways (around 41:00).

If evolutionists would embrace the consequences of their theories, and view our ethics coming up from animals, we would have a world like Nietzche’s, Marx’s, and Hitler’s.

The Top Down View Restored

Weeks then properly surprises us by stating that the problem of people killing each other is not a problem of world religions or of biological theories. Ultimately it is a human problem. We are all inclined to sin. We can only understand the problems in our world if we accept the truth that we are the children of God and we rebelled against him. That’s the problem that we need to grapple with.

The speech ends here, at the 45 minute mark. Following this was about 30 minutes of discussion, also recorded.

And, by the way, we are open to donations to fly Dr. Weeks over here to North America to deliver for more of his high quality speeches, given in his very endearing style.

2016 Gaffin Lecture (Noel Weeks)

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 10.38.21 PM.pngWe’ve pointed out this video already, but thought it should receive a post of its own. Dr. Weeks’s lecturing style is so winsome that we think you should watch just to praise God for his ability to deliver his lecture with such clarity and yet without any notes.

The lecture was delivered in 2016 and serves as an excellent summary of a scholarly article written by Dr. Weeks that appeared in the Spring of 2016 in the Westminster Theological Journal and reviewed by us in our most recent blog post.

You can get to the video by following this link.

Critique of John Walton (Noel Weeks)

This blog post provides a simpler account of a scholarly essay by Noel Weeks called, “The Bible and the ‘Universal’ Ancient World: A Critique of John Walton,” Westminster Theological Journal 78 (2016): 1–28.

But first an introduction.

The titles of several of John Walton’s books make clear his view that the Bible comes from an ancient world that we no longer understand . . . unless we accept Walton’s explanations of how these ancient cultures worked and thought, and then apply Walton’s reconstruction to re-intrepret the Old Testament.

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(IVP, 2009)
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(IVP, 2013)
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(IVP, 2015)

Apparently the books are selling well, for IVP has turned this into a “Lost World” series with one more volume per year, for 2017, 2018, and 2019. In every case the premise of the volume is that Western readings of the Old Testament have grossly misunderstood the meaning of the text by ignoring the Ancient Near Eastern context. For example, The Lost World of the Torah (i.e., of Gen–Deut), due to come out in Feb 2019, argues that “The Ancient Israelites Would Not Have Understood the Torah as Providing Divine Moral Instruction,” and “We Cannot Gain Moral Knowledge or Build a System of Ethics Based on Reading the Torah in Context and Deriving Principles from It” (the book’s theses have been announced online). Presumably the Ten Commandments, part of the Torah, do not provide moral instruction? We shall find out when the book is published.

As with all of Walton’s books, this raises questions about how much we can assume that there was such a thing as an Ancient Near Eastern mindset that was shared across very diverse cultures and several millennia. Weeks’s article from 2010 pointed out enormous problems with this assumption (we reviewed this in a previous blog post).

Enter a second essay by Weeks, directly challenging Walton.

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Weeks begins by pointing out that the crucial weakness in Walton’s method is the belief that the ancient world and our modern world are so vastly different that the Bible’s conformity to thought patterns of the ancient world—as reconstructed by Walton, we hasten to add—and its differences from our world, can be taken for granted. As a result of this assumption, Walton doesn’t need to make careful distinctions in his evidence from the ancient world. Weeks, however, shows how important it is to evaluate the evidence much more closely than Walton does.

First, he points out biases in the textual evidence (mostly clay tablets) from Mesopotamia, that is, the land of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians:

  • 100s of 1000s of Mesopotamian texts versus a few dozen from Israel (besides OT)
  • 90% of Mesopotamian texts are economic or administrative records but the biblical text of the OT is not of that sort
  • the 10% of the Mesopotamian texts remaining are mostly for divination & exorcism
  • next, it’s unclear whether the few Mesopotamian texts that could compare to the Old Testament represent matters central to Mesopotamian thought
  • also unclear whether Mesopotamian scribes recorded views of their own culture & time or simply repeated past stories for other reasons
  • further unknown whether the average person in Mesopotamia thought in the way of these few texts or whether such views belonged only to the elite

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Weeks concludes, “When all these reservation and qualifications are taken into consideration, the simple quoting of a Mesopotamian text as the background to the OT is implausible” (6).

Weeks next reviews the evidence from Egypt, then from Hittite sources, and then from the Transjordan area. The only site that provides texts of ancient myths is Ugarit, on the Syrian coast (7). But Ugarit has no creation account, nor do the Hittite myths (8). The only creation account, from the Enuma elish, is actually about the superiority of the Babylonian god Marduk. The dating of the document’s origin is likely late second millennium B.C., too late to have been consulted by Moses (9).

Weeks asks whether even ten references over two thousand years and two cultures can establish a common view, and then adds that “on some crucial points Walton is more likely to have two than ten” (10).

Walton’s key arguments next receive scrutiny.

  • First, about creation in Genesis not being about the origin of things, but only their functions, Weeks provides two counter examples from Babylonia (11).
  • Second, the particular functions that Walton ascribes to each day of creation are rather out of line with his claim to convey the ancient mindset, for he chooses very abstract functions, such as time, the architectural design of cosmic geography, fecundity, etc. (12).
  • Third, the idea of creation as temple where God came to rest just like all other ancient gods lived in temples is challenged by the fact that these gods were often described as living in other gods’ temples or even reposing outside a temple, and especially, having their more permanent residence in a heaven (13–14, 18).
  • Fourth, the assumed “scientific naiveté of the ancient people in apparently thinking of the universe as a three-tiered structure is false. While such texts exist, other, different texts from the same cultures also exist (14–17).
  • Fifth, the importance of the seven-day period in general does not need to be questioned, but its purported tie to the length of time for building a temple fails (19).

Interestingly, Weeks concludes that Walton has not only made the Bible more like the surrounding cultures, but he has also made the surrounding cultures more like the Bible (18). And, we might add, both as unlike today as possible.

In a major section of his paper, Weeks also critiques Walton’s application of his method to Scripture more broadly, but for our purposes we will not describe this (21–6).

He concludes,

In summary I am not impressed by the whole approach outlined here. There is no recognition of the difficulty of discerning a uniform mind of the ANE. Individual extra-biblical texts are turned into representations of the whole huge chronological and cultural span. Even more striking are claims that are simply false (26, bold here and in following paragraphs added).

The tendency of [Walton & Sandy’s] system is to push any real impact of God on the world further into a grey area . . . They reject Deism . . . but their system has the same tendency . . . The points of interaction between the deity and the physical world are postulates of faith without tangible physical evidence. [However], the biblical text is clear that when God interacts with the physical, the physical world is actually, visibly changed (26).

Structurally this approach is very similar to the neo-orthodox thesis of a Word of God within the Scriptures but not synonymous with the Scriptures (27).

In other words they make no attempt to set forward a method by means of which we might climb out of the language of an ancient time into the message for us. I suspect that they do not tell us because they already know what parts of the text are objectionable. Whether is it the parts that do not fit Kantianism or the parts that make the modern unbeliever scoff, it is modern problems that really drive them. I fear they have fallen into the trap they wished to avoid (27).

We need to see that the Bible stands over against both the ancient world and the modern world. It does so because God is distinct from the creation he made and yet he impacts upon it (28).

For those who prefer to get the gist of this article in video format, you can watch Weeks’s lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary, posted online. I’m sure they’ll be happy for the added web traffic 🙂 and you will be happy to listen to his very winsome style of lecturing. A pdf of the article can also be obtained.