Saturday, 4 October 2008

Creation or Evolution - preface

In his preface, Dr. Alexander (henceforth DA) begins by telling us that his book pre-supposes the entire authority of the Bible and so is mainly written for Christians; fine. He then goes on to say that the creation/evolution debate has generated too much heat and not enough light, and that we need to make sure we disagree in a loving way. The disagreement, he says, is not over an essential and central biblical doctrine. The fact that God created and sustains the universe is essential and central; but just how he did so is a peripheral matter (the methods and mechanisms), an in-house debate in which we must speak with love to one another and on which we can fellowship whilst in disagreement.

OK, since we're being asked to, let's get our cards on the table. Many fine Christians have endorsed Darwinism, and creationists are no more immune from using harsh or intemperate language than anyone else in heated matters is. It won't be hard to use Google to find people who are both creationists and staggeringly rude, as well as Christian Darwinists who speak respectfully and edifyingly.

We have an early clue, though, from this introduction as to where the book is going to go. The Bible, we are going to discover, is basically empty of the significant content as to any of the how, where or when God created. It just tells us, in a wonderful way that omits any details that relate to time or space, that he did. That's a slight overstatement, as Dr. Alexander will allow a few peripheral details that don't conflict with Darwinism to come in - but no others. The Bible gives a nice ethereal spiritual interpretation of the world; Charlie tells us the hard facts of history and science.

The "central / peripheral" distinction, if pushed in this way, ends up begging or obscuring the key question. Does Darwinism by its innate tendency undermine the Christian doctrine of creation? Is its nature to take away the foundations of Christian belief concerning a perfect creation at the beginning, a disastrous all-encompassing fall, the entrance of death to spoil God's "very good" creation, a plotline and favoured line from the beginning until the coming of Christ as Saviour? Does the idea of evolution inherently imply some form of naturalism or deism (Darwin himself was a deist)? It might be possible for a man to introduce a family of termites in his basement without suffering any damage... but in the normal course of things there is only going to be one ending.

It's one thing to note that embracing Darwin is not an automatic sign of damnation. Well and good. But the real question is whether Darwinism undermines the actual gospel way of salvation. Here, creationist and atheist agree - if one is true, then the other can't be. One implies this and the other implies that, and between this and that there is fundamental contradiction. The world was created very good and fell, or it began in chaos and has undergone gradual improvement since. God ordered all things by an immediate word at the beginning, or order only comes through ongoing and continuing processes which are still active today. Either one is true, or t'other - but not both. We may both embrace Christ as Saviour; but if your teaching undermines the Biblical gospel, you'll have to allow me the freedom to say so without accusing me of being unloving.

It's interesting, then, to come to the end of DA's book and read the postscript, because by then times have changed! Now that the case has been made for the full compatibility of the Bible with Darwinism as God's method of creation, we learn that Christians who assault the teaching of evolution "are embarrassing", and they "bring the gospel into disrepute". They are ignorant and creating significant barriers to unbelievers to faith. They are a red herring which distract people from doing something useful. They are like the man in Matthew 25:14-30 who buried his talent in the ground (Dr. Alexander doesn't actually go on to spell out the parable's implication that presumably we'll be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth). I didn't really feel the lurve there. Perhaps, I wondered, Dr. Alexander's opinion changed in between writing one and the other? Or perhaps it was just that he got out of different sides of bed on the two days he wrote those bits? Or amnesia struck between the beginning and the end? Or perhaps he's just softening us up at the beginning, and then when he's made his case and thinks he's persuaded us, he tells us what he really thinks?

The preface ends with the statement that DA hopes we'll end up agreeing with him the "Book of God's Word" and the "Book of God's Works" are in full harmony. I don't think any creationist ever doubted that... it's just whether either book has any harmony with Darwinism that we're a little bit skeptical over. The interesting question will be, as DA's book develops, how is he going to interpret those two books? Which interprets which? Which is authoritative and infallible, containing sufficient rules to interpret itself, and which is subject to the fallible judgments of fallen and foolish man? Are these two equal books, or are there differences in them that will affect how we relate them? We'll see...

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