Saturday, 29 November 2008

Creation or Evolution - "Evolutionary Creationism" (Chapter 8)

We're now in the middle of the book, and having done all the spade work DA now summarises his main idea, which he calls "evolutionary creationism", but which is normally called "theistic evolution", i.e., the Darwinian process is God's chosen method for the creation of the world. After this chapter DA will go on to look at some particular areas of interest or difficulty in more detail, in particular how this thesis deals with various theological questions that arise.

DA first of all sets himself the task of clearing the ground by explaining that evolution need not carry any atheistic overtones, and to parade a list of names of those who from Darwin's day downwards (including the man himself) either did not believe evolution had to imply atheism, or who ardently advocated both evolution and Christianity. Concerning the latter, not all the names were familiar to me, but DA was very sloppy in handling two who were. Henry Drummond, despite his involvement in Moody's campaigns, was not as DA describes him an evangelical, but an outright down-grader. DA also uncritically quotes Benjamin Warfield's words describing himself as a "Darwinian of the purest water", with no hint that he is aware that Warfield spoke those words at the beginning of his theological career as a 17-year old freshman (though granted, somewhat above the usual grade of such - he had memorised the Westminster Shorter Catechism by the age of 6!), and that in later years he developed a number of criticisms of Darwin and was not unambiguous in his support of evolutionary theory - certainly he could never have written a book like DA's!

The former point though is more important - it's granted that Darwinism has been a massively successful theory in terms of gaining adherents including legions ready to proclaim their belief that it can be harmonised with Christianity, evangelicalism, etcetera. DA's basic approach to the question of Darwinism's implications is a naive dualism. Scientific theories have no inherent ideological implications; all those are later encrustations welded on by philosophers. Scientists and philosophers work in different spheres, and scientists just go where the evidence leads, leaving it to others to do what they will with their findings. It's amazing to believe that anyone can believe that kind of nonsense in these post-modern days, and I find it hard to believe DA can really believe what he's penning when he writes along those lines. Later on, DA gives some good explanations of how various ideologues used Darwinism to support their various theories (in such fields as economics, Marxism and medicine (eugenics)), but he never gets close to penetrating the heart of why they did so. The closest is when he remarks that some of what happened in the world of eugenics had to do with "the aspirations of nineteenth ccentury educated Victorian gentlemen to create the world in their own image" (p 179). A more incisive insight would have been to observe that all these competitive and individualist theories hung together, including evolution, and that Darwin's theory, far from being a neutral insight into scientific reality, was in many respects simply this kind of 19th century educated Victorian gentleman seeking to form a theory of biology that fitted his views on the world.

DA notes that Darwin was a deist (in the part of the chapter where he's arguing that Darwinism doesn't have to imply atheism), and in another part of the chapter gives a short denial that his view of creation is basically deistic, but that's the closest he gets to actually examining the question of what form of theism evolution implies - that question has already been side-stepped into irrelevance by the conveniently thesis that scientific theories are ideology-free zones. But even Professor Dawkins is ready to concede the compatibility of Darwinism with theism - provided that the brand of theism involved is deism. Darwin's deism is not a coincedence, and his biological theory was not a neutral ejaculation of an unbiased mind. Darwinism is essentially the theory that the laws of nature (however those are conceived of in terms of their relationship to God) make the rise of more complex life forms from simpler ones inevitable - a view well summarised in a Darwin quote DA approvingly supplies:

"There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

As long as certain rules are followed, complex life is inevitable by small and successive stages. That view of "creation" may be compatible with theism, but this point is not under dispute and so DA is offering us red herrings again. The real question at the heart of the disagreement between creationists and theistic evolutionists is, is Darwinism compatible with Biblical theism? i.e. is is compatible with essentially Christian theism? DA defends the legitimacy of believing in both God and Darwin - fine. But what about the Biblical God and Darwin? This is a question that DA is ill-equipped to get to grips with because of his starting point - which is to insist a priori that the Bible just tells us naked theology, science tells us about the physical world, and our job is just to find a nice harmony for the two. DA's answer to the charge that theistic evolution is basically deism is to insist that his theory insists on God's immanence in all the processes in creation, whereas deism is a theory of an absent God who merely set the rules and started the machine going but then takes a leave of absence. But this difference is entirely theoretical - it has no "cash value" as regards anything that ever happens in the physical world. Perhaps these physical events happen by the inevitable working out of natural laws; perhaps they happen because God is immanent in creation and working things according to a perfect order and harmony - but that's an entirely theological question totally unrelated to science or history. The point is that "evolutionary creationism" is functionally the same as deism, whatever it is philosophically - and functional deism is not Christian theism.

DA writes that it is ironic that young earth creationists agree with Dawkins that evolution is inherently atheistic. This is not ironic; it is simply true. He then goes on to blame them of "playing right into Dawkins' hands" by "confusing theology with science" and "setting up a false antithesis". This reflects DA's dualism - Genesis is theology, Darwinism is science, and in principle there's no reason why the two should ever have a problem. The problem is, though, that Genesis makes historical claims and so does Darwinism - it's no "confusion" to compare the two and observe that they differ; the confusion comes in an approach which conveniently side-steps the question at each turn.

Side-stepping is what DA does when he comes to address the issue of "naturalism" and whether it's at heart an anti-Christian theology. As seen many times now in the book, the question is neatly dealt with by a clever re-definition of the issue that is then inevitably easy to deal with. DA re-defines "naturalism" to mean "scientific language which does not mention God", and then proceeds to explain the reasons why Christian scientists don't stuff their papers with God-language (because God is everywhere and always present in creation, not just at some parts - we don't want to invoke a false "God of the gaps"). Neat, but useless. The problem with naturalism was never that it didn't include enough God-talk. The problem is the removal of the necessity of a mind - the philosophical decision to rule the questions of intentionality and design out of court, not on the basis of scientific evidence or necessity, but for ideological reasons. Darwinism, view from this angle, is simply the accomodation of biology to the philosophy of naturalism. It's not the absence of "God-speak" that causes Biblical theists issues with it - it's the absence of any necessity for a mind or purpose in the process. That's why Charles Hodge, a predecessor of B B Warfield at Princeton Seminary who DA didn't mention in his survey of responses to Darwinism, concluded his book "What is Darwinism?" with the conclusion "What is Darwinism? It is atheism."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know that your commentary has not yet reached this point, but I thought that I would pass on some comments on DA’s theistic evolution approach. The biggest stumbling block is the issue of sin, and DA does not satisfactorily address it.
In the section of evolution, we are introduced to the fact that Homo sapiens began to emerge 200,000 years ago (p202), and that modern humans can be traced back 50,000 years (p221). I skip the rest of the science because it is not relevant to the main theme here.
In the preface to his models, the author states “ … there is absolutely no evidence that beings prior to H. sapiens were spiritually alive, in the sense of having a saving personal knowledge of God” (p235). The author is thus saying that Homo sapiens prior to Adam were spiritually alive. This is an important point as we shall see.
Model C (p236) is the author’s preferred option so I will ignore the others. “God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers … or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself …” (p236). Perhaps this is the ‘godly line’ referred to earlier, now referred to as Homo divinus. It is important to further note “Certainly religious beliefs existed before this time, as people sought after God or gods in different parts of the world …” (p237). According to the author, the Genesis account of Adam and Eve narrates “the moment at which God decided to start his new spiritual family on earth, consisting of all those who put their trust in God by faith, expressed as obedience to his will” (p237). There is also the observation that estimates of the world population at the time are in the range 1-10 million. The author’s view of Adam and Eve in an historical context is that they “… were not the genetic progenitors of the world’s population, but the spiritual progenitors of all those who since that time have experienced God’s saving grace” (p242).
Snipping for the sake of brevity, the author states in relation to Genesis 3:5, “… it is difficult to interpret the forbidden tree as meaning that they had no actual knowledge of right and wrong prior to the Fall” (p259). The fall introduced an increase in the difficulties of life, childbearing pain, effectiveness as an earth-keeper, but there is no discussion as to whether this applied only to the ‘godly line’, or when it might have spread throughout humankind (p262).
“Paul establishes that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, Gentiles knowing right from wrong through their conscience, Jews through Mosaic law (p264). Romans 5:12 (NKJV) states “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”.
This brings us to the issue that, as far as I can understand, Denis Alexander does not address at all, and represents the biggest stumbling block to his theistic evolution stance.
Sin entered through one man, Adam.
My understanding is that this represents a central tenet of Christianity, yet Denis Alexander suggests to my mind that a new definition of sin is called for. He acknowledges that Homo sapiens knew right from wrong, and I think it reasonable to assume that the ancestors of Adam engaged in rape, murder, assault, theft, adultery, lust, lying, and all manner of immoral excesses, fully aware that they were doing wrong, even allowing for what a particular cultural may have deemed acceptable practice.
Was that not sin?
The author acknowledges that Gentiles sin by denying their conscience, Jews by denying the law (as well as conscience). The author also acknowledges that humans were ‘spiritually alive’ prior to Adam, so why does not the rule for Gentiles apply to humankind prior to Adam?
Either we redefine sin to mean transgressing God’s revelation to Adam and the ‘godly line’ leading to the nation of Israel, or we acknowledge that sin existed prior to Adam. How can sin have entered through one man if millions of people, for thousands of years prior to and contemporary with Adam, were spiritually aware and had known right from wrong? Did they not transgress? Was this not sin?
If theistic evolution be true in the terms outlined by Denis Alexander, then the following options are open to us:
1. Prior to Adam, all obeyed their consciences.
2. Prior to Adam, they did not obey their consciences but this is not considered sin.
3. Paul is wrong when he says that Gentiles sin by not obeying their consciences.
4. Sin is only disobeying God’s revelations through the ‘godly line’.
5. Sin did not enter through one man, Adam.
6. Sin did enter through one man but in this context it actually means spiritual death.
7. Other options that have not occurred to me.
I would be most interested in other views on this subject, but for me, theistic evolution does not work as an explanation simply because I cannot resolve the question of how sin could have entered through one man, when the scenario of TE makes it clear that sin abounded long before Adam.

28 November 2008 23:01