Evolution is just a theory. Then again, so is gravity.
– as seen on a t-shirt.
Is the theory of evolution like the theory of gravity? How are they different? This is just one of the topics that professors John Byl and Tom Goss cover in their book, How Should Christians Approach Origins? In this excerpt they note that there are two very different sorts of science happening here.
It is sometimes argued that it is inconsistent to use modern medicine and technology while rejecting evolution, since both are products of mainstream science. However, we must be careful to distinguish between two types of science: operational science and historical science.
OPERATIONAL SCIENCE is the experimental science done in the lab or in the field. It investigates repeatable events in the present. This concerns most of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy, and the like. It gives us all the science needed for technology, such as in developing smartphones, satellites, cars, planes, cures for diseases, and so on. It studies the present material reality and how it normally functions.
HISTORICAL SCIENCE, on the other hand, is concerned with extrapolating from present observations to the distant, unobserved, and unrepeatable past. This includes various theories and explanations in archaeology, cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, biological evolutionary development, and so on.
These two types of science differ significantly:
Operational science aims to discover the universal laws by which nature generally operates, whereas historical science aims to establish ancient conditions or past causes. Operational science explains present events by reference to general laws, whereas historical science explains present events in terms of presumed past events.
Operational science calculates forward, deducing effects from causes, whereas historical science calculates backwards, inferring past causes from present clues. One problem here is that more than one possible historical cause can give rise to the same effect. For example, in a murder trial, the prosecution and defense may present very different historical scenarios to explain the material evidence.
Operational science assumes methodological naturalism. Since it is concerned with what normally happens, in the absence of miracles, it is reasonable to consider only natural causes. Historical science, on the other hand, seeks to find what actually happened in the past. Constraining ourselves to natural causes amounts to metaphysical naturalism – the further assumption that no miracles have in fact happened in the past.¹
The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged,
Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science – the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.²
In short, the scientific know-how needed to make smartphones is much better established than, say, the claim that humans evolved from [some chimp-like creature].
For our Dutch readers, they’ll want to know that Dr. Ted Van Raalte’s four posts earlier this year about Tim Keller’s views on Creation, has been translated into Dutch. You can find it the original four posts in English here:
Several months ago, Jon Dykstra reviewed the documentary that was developed in conjunction with the book Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Richard Fangrad, CEO of Creation Ministries International’s Canadian branch. There was a book table at the event (which is always a draw for me), and this was one of many very worthwhile resources on offer. In his review, Jon gave the documentary a 10/10 rating, and I can only concur that the book is every bit as valuable in its own way as the documentary is.
There are eight “fatal flaws” to the theory of evolution that are addressed in depth by nine Ph.D. Scientists, including Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, Dr. Emil Silvestru, and others. As in the documentary video, the flaws dealt with are:
Genetics and DNA
The origin of life
The fossil record
The geologic record
Ethics and morality
In his foreword, Dr. Carl Wieland reminds us that the issue of origins is predicated on interpretation of the available evidence, and not on the evidence itself. His insights on this issue are important and worth citing:
“This whole controversy, incidentally, has never been about unearthing ‘facts for creation’ vs ‘facts for evolution’. When it comes to matters of history (as opposed to experimental or operational science, the science that concerns itself with how the world works), the issue has never been the facts so much as their interpretation. We all have the same world – the same ‘facts’… And philosophers of science have long reminded us… that raw, uninterpreted facts never speak for themselves. As the late Harvard professor, Stephen Jay Gould, once wrote, ‘Facts do not “speak for themselves”; they are read in the light of theory.’”
The nine scientists who contributed to this book begin with the following presuppositional framework, in the words of Dr. Wieland: “the straightforward truth of the Bible, in particular the Genesis record, affirmed and taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and authenticated by His rising from the dead.” This starting point, even more than the PhD’s piled up behind the names of the authors of this volume, makes Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels a very worthwhile resource.
This is particularly true for Christian students who will certainly have to wrestle with these issues as they prepare to engage in post-secondary science studies, and deal with them on a foundational level, not merely on an issue-by-issue basis. Given the often technical content of the eight chapters in this book, the material is well-presented, neatly laid-out, and accompanied by a number of helpful graphs, charts, and illustrations. Highly recommended without reservation!
There’s something to be said for short and sweet. Each of the following 10 clips is just 10 minutes or less, with some taking down evolution, some celebrating the Bible’s trustworthiness, and others exploring just how “fearfully and wonderfully” we are made (Psalm 139:14).
1. Our cells’ microscopic power generators – 3 minutes
2. Evolutionary “proofs” that actually show devolution – 1 minute
3. Mutations are causing us to devolve, not evolve – 2 minutes
4. Even the simplest cell is insanely complex – 3 minutes
5. Even a bird’s feathers are amazingly designed! – 2 minutes
6. An introduction to irreducible complexity – 4 minutes
7. Is antibiotic resistance evidence for evolution? – 6 minutes
8. Noah’s Ark – a real boat that was really big…and seaworthy – 10 minutes
9. Dolphins are designed to “see” and hear underwater – 4 minutes
One of the reasons history is exciting is that you often find others who have dealt with similar questions to the ones you’re dealing with. No, they’re not usually identical questions, but they are sometimes similar. When it comes to these similar questions, it’s also interesting to compare the answers given in history to the answers we come up with today. Here at Creation Without Compromise we’re especially interested in the questions and answers that have to do with the relationship between science and Scripture.
Today’s venture into history takes us to the late 1700s. By and large Reformed theology had been devastated by philosophical influences associated with the Enlightenment. There were only a few holdouts who could be described as confessionally Reformed and orthodox. One of them was Bernhard De Moor (1709-1780).
After serving for several years as a pastor, De Moor took up a position as professor of theology at the University of Leiden. In this capacity, De Moor lectured at length on a textbook published by his teacher and friend Johannes à Marck. These lectures were later published in massive seven-volume set with the catchy title, Commentarius perpetuus in Johannis Marckii Compendium theologiae christianae didactico-elencticum. De Moor’s book is regarded as the high water-mark of Reformed orthodoxy. It was a comprehensive overview of Reformed theology as it stood at that time.
Dr. Steven Dilday has taken on the massive task of translating De Moor’s magnum opus into English. He has been making it freely available online here. He began in late 2012 and, at this moment, he is currently in chapter 2. This is obviously going to be a project that stretches over many years!
One of the topics dealt with in chapter 2 has to do with the relationship between science and Scripture. I would like to briefly survey what De Moor writes on this. Here we can observe a Reformed theologian from about 200 years ago dealing with questions similar to what we face today. If you’re interested in reading the English translation of Dr. Dilday for yourself, the topic begins at this blog post. But I think you will find my summary a little easier reading…
Broadly speaking, De Moor is dealing with Scripture in chapter 2. In section 21, he begins by noting that the Bible does have a primary subject: true religion. The Bible is mainly about “the right manner of coming to know and of worshipping/serving God for the salvation of man as sinner and the glory of God…” However, Scripture does also speak of other things related to this primary subject. These other things include natural, historical, and genealogical matters.
From there, section 22 of chapter 2 deals with the fact that Scripture speaks truly. De Moor insists that God’s Word speaks truly about all things, including natural things. This is directly connected to the fact that the One who inspired these writings is the Spirit of Truth.
Here one has to remember that De Moor is commenting or lecturing on a textbook of Johannes à Marck. De Moor mentions that à Marck points out an alternative hypothesis, namely that “Scripture in natural matters speaks according to the erroneous opinion of the common people.” The philosopher Baruch Spinoza advocated this position, and so did theologian Christoph Wittich. De Moor also notes that the English theologian Thomas Burnet took this position in regards to what Scripture says about creation and the Flood. Just prior to that, he also points out that this was the view of Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698), a Dutch theologian heavily influenced by Cartesian rationalism.
Now I want to pause here for a moment and mention something important about Bekker. Bekker argued the hypothesis mentioned by De Moor in relation to demons. Specifically, Bekker taught that the angels (including demons) are not real, but the good angels in Scripture merely speak metaphorically of God’s omnipotence. Bekker also taught the Eve was not tempted by a literal snake in the garden, nor was Christ literally tempted by Satan – it was merely a dream. At issue was Bekker’s way of interpreting Scripture. Dutch theologian Wilco Veltkamp has written a dissertation which delves into this. In a December 2011 article in Nader Bekeken(see here), he explained the connection between the hermeneutics of Bekker and that of theistic evolutionists today. The connection is a refusal to start with the authority of Scripture and submit to Scripture through to the end of an issue.
Going back to De Moor, this hypothesis gets several points in response, beginning with the observation that its foundation is preconceived human opinion rather than Scripture. De Moor points that the Bible was inspired in all things by the Spirit of Truth. Scripture calls God the God of Truth. This hypothesis makes him a liar. Moreover, God is omniscient and he knows that of which he speaks. He would also never deceive us or leave us in error. If this hypothesis were true, De Moor writes, we are at liberty to interpret Scripture as we please and there would no longer be any certainty as to what it actually says. De Moor quotes Augustine as he insists that none of the canonical writers erred. He finishes responding to this hypothesis with a reference to article 5 of the Belgic Confession, “We believe without any doubt all things contained” in these canonical writings.
De Moor then adds some nuance to the discussion. He notes that while the Holy Spirit “never speaks according to the errors of the common people,” he can accurately relate errors made by people. Further, De Moor acknowledges that Scripture does sometimes speak according to external appearances. For example, the Greek in Acts 27:27 literally says that the sailors with Paul suspected that some country was “drawing near to them.” Of course, the land wasn’t approaching the ship, but it is common to speak in that fashion and no one errs in so speaking.
There is one more objection that De Moor addresses – this one also comes from Spinoza. It’s one that is still trotted out today, albeit in a different form: Scripture is not designed to teach us concerning natural matters or science. Instead, the intent of Scripture is to make people obedient. Today’s version usually refers to faith or salvation rather than obedience. But certainly we do hear today as well that the Bible is not a “textbook for science” and such things. How does De Moor respond? He affirms again the primary purpose of Scripture is to teach true religion. However, that primary purpose does not exclude subordinate ends such as teaching people the magnificent natural works of God. One does not rule out the other. Finally, it would out of place to suppose that the Holy Spirit would use errors to carry out his purposes. He would never give anything contrary to the truth – it would be out of character for him.
De Moor concludes this section with an intriguing reference to an Order of the States of Holland and West-Friesland, dated September 30, 1656. This order actually prohibited the interpretation of Scripture by nature, rather than the other way around. In other words, at one point there was Dutch legislation maintaining that Scripture is to be the lens through which we interpret nature. De Moor deems this legislation “altogether pious.”
It’s important to remember the era in which De Moor lived – it was the heyday of Enlightenment rationalism. The Bible was under attack by those who said that it could stand in the face of reasoned scrutiny and scientific developments. Intelligent people could not take the Bible seriously at face value. In that milieu, De Moor stood for the absolute authority of the Word of God. He promoted confidence in the infallible and inerrant Scriptures, also when it came to the relationship between Scripture and science. He was not a rationalist – no, he was addressing rationalism and doing so on the basis of Scripture. Those promoting theistic evolution today, especially in Reformed churches, need to ask themselves whether they are carrying on the heritage of theologians like De Moor or betraying it.
Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. In this booklet it is evident that authors John Byl (who blogs on evolution and creation at Bylogos) and Tom Goss put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate.
In just 42 pages they gave an overview of:
the difference between historical and operation science
why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma
why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles
the basics of materialism and naturalism
what the various origins positions are
why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution
how dating methods can be unreliable
what books would be good for further reading
And that isn’t even all of it!
Both authors are professors, and one, John Byl, is Canadian Reformed. He has his Ph.D in astronomy, and if this slim book has you ready for more, then you’ll want to take a look at his larger and more comprehensive God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe. But this smaller book, at just 42 pages, is an ideal size to give to any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. You won’t find any better!
The book concludes with Resource Pages that list two dozen books – these are the very best books on various aspects of the origins debate. So not only is this is an excellent introduction, it also points you to where you can go for much much more.
You can pick up a copy – or two or three (these would make such a great give away!) – at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.
A NEW BOOK EXPLAINS WHY DOUBTING DARWIN
IS A MATTER OF COMMON SENSE
by Jon Dykstra
There’s no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but books that blow it up are more rare. But even among the second sort Douglas Axe’s Undeniable is special – he explains why evolution isn’t merely wrong, but is, in fact, so completely inadequate an explanation for life’s origins that even children can see through it.
In Romans 1:20 God tells that through His creation He has made His presence known to all – none have an excuse. So it shouldn’t surprise us that from the earliest age children intuitively disbelieve Darwin’s theory. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:
“By elementary-school age children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists.”
And it isn’t only children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:
“Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.”
Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent.
Why is that?
It’s because it’s hard not to see how well crafted creation is. We’re confronted with the undeniable reality that the marvelous animals we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete. When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – “five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease” – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, “some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are.” An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art.
This intuition is available to all. As he’s says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:
“The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years.”
ON WHY EVOLUTION IS A NON-STARTER
There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:
“Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.”
It’s no different today:
“[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik’s] own diagnosis…is admirably frank: ‘Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.’”
As Axe puts it,
“What’s left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn’t explain how things originate?”
ON WHAT EVOLUTION LACKS
Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can’t get innovation even on this tiny scale – enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?
“The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did.”
Evolution isn’t living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:
“Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind ‘We never said he could dunk a basketball…or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.’”
Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme’s efficiency. But it can’t make anything new. As Axe puts it, “As a finder of inventions, Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but…it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler.”
So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:
“Invention can’t happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how…. What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident.”
ON WHY THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK EVOLUTION CAN WORK WONDERS
Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can’t begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the “more advanced products of human technology” with one of Creation’s simplest creatures.
“Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection.”
This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world’s most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 “needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table,” its living rival “does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size.”
“The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls.”
Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man’s more impressive accomplishments.
So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn’t compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection.
This is ridiculous.
Evolutionists point to time as their theory’s savior – inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years?
What’s behind this objection is only another example of why even a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge.” Even if we grant time and countless trials we still know ingenuity – especially on the scale of living things! – can’t manifest itself. Creativity needs a creator. Inventions aren’t created by accident.
“The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump…may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion, trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself.”
Axe set out to show that doubting Darwin is a matter of simple common sense, and he’s done a good job of it. This is going to be a pivotal book – the sort to get people riled up and talking for years to come.
Axe is an Intelligent Design proponent, not a creationist, but this is a book that creationist can embrace. His argument is that biology blows up evolution – to that we can all agree. Unlike most in the ID community, he isn’t hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book.
This is an accessible book for anyone who has any appreciation for biology. He’s written this for the non-scientist, and yes, there were a few spots where I found it tough slogging, but once I got through them the rest of the book was a breeze. I’d recommend this for anyone with an interest in biology and the evolution/creation debate – this is an exciting, and more than anything else, encouraging book. God has created all of life as a wonder beyond explanation! Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how much and how often mainstream science ridicules those who don’t believe in evolution, it is the Darwin’s doubters who are on solid scientific ground.