A review of the Forum at the recent International Christian Evidence Conference by Brian Colon, a member of the ARS board. See below.
Editor’s Note: This review was written by Brian Colon. In the intereste of full disclosure, John Oakes gave some editing suggestions, but all edits were approved by Brian.
2010 ICEC Forum: Four Christian Views of Evolution. A Review
On Saturday, June 12th 2010, the Apologetics Research Society sponsored a debate between four scientists entitled "Four Christian Views of Evolution". The purpose of this debate was to compare and contrast four different views of evolution that could be acceptable to a Christian. They were: Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism, Progressive Creationism, and Evolutionary Creationism.
The debate began with a ten minute position statement by the four presenters. All four seemed a bit stressed to state their view and to support it with a time limit of ten minutes. My evaluation of their initial arguments follows.
Mr. John Clayton – Intelligent Design
The name of the view that John Clayton was defending is called Intelligent Design. John was less than excited to have his view assigned this title because of the obvious confusion that could arise from such an ambiguous title. Obviously all four of the participants were defending a view that included some form of intelligent design.
A good description of this version of Intelligent Design would go as follows. Evolution with common decent did not occur. Rather than insisting that all living creatures evolved from a common ancestor as described in the "tree of evolution", John suggests a "forest of evolution" where each "kind of flesh" had its own starting point. In other words, humans do not share a common ancestor with birds. On Clayton’s view humans and birds are of different kinds of flesh. Mr. Clayton finds support for this theory in 1 Corinthians 15:39 which reads,
"All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another."
This scripture seems to line up very well with Genesis 1:26:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
However, Mr. Clayton didn’t make his view abundantly clear during his first speech. As soon as Mr. Clayton took the podium it was clear that he was more interested in exposing the false dichotomy of "Science OR Christianity" than to argue for his particular position. He ensured everyone that one needn’t abandon science in order to become a Christian. He said that we should not let anyone tell us "I don’t believe in God because of evolution" because evolution has nothing to do with the existence of God. Most of what Mr. Clayton said during his first speech could have been said by all four participants. In fact when Dr. Anderson took the podium after Mr. Clayton finished, he started by saying, "I’m not sure I disagree with anything you just said."
Dr. Kevin Anderson
Dr. Anderson believes that the world was created in 6 literal 24-hour periods a few thousand years ago. He started his speech by quoting Genesis 1:1 and says that if God was able to create the heavens and the earth, then nothing else would be impossible for him. Therefore we should not dismiss stories like the earth being created in 6 literal days or the worldwide flood as "impossible" because with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).
Dr. Anderson explained that because he is a Young Earth Creationist he is often confronted by people who can’t understand how a person can have a PhD, teach advanced molecular genetics and believe that the world was created in 6 literal days. His response to this was, "Should I expect anything less from the world?" Dr. Anderson equates evolution with atheism and since the world hates God, we should expect nothing less than for evolution to be considered the only rational explanation for the origins of species. The logic of Dr. Anderson’s position went as follows:
Premise 1: The world hates God
Premise 2: Evolution is atheistic
Premise 3: Evolution is preferred by the world because it is Atheistic
Premise 4: The world will always give an atheistic answer to any question asked
Conclusion: Evolution is a worldly theory and Christians should reject it.
Unfortunately, Dr. Anderson broke a few fundamental rules of logic with his argument. For one thing, premise 2 "Evolution is Atheistic" is extremely controversial. The simple fact that Dr. Anderson was sharing the stage with 3 other people who were Christians and believed in evolution should give some clue that evolution is compatible with Christianity. Dr. Anderson’s assertion that evolution is Atheistic is supported by his quote from William B. Provine:
"Of course, it is still possible to believe in both modern evolutionary biology and a purposive force, even the Judaeo-Christian God. One can suppose that God started the whole universe or works through the laws of nature (or both). There is no contradiction between this or similar views of God and natural selection. But this view of God is also worthless … [Such a God] has nothing to do with human morals, answers no prayers, gives no life everlasting, in fact does nothing whatsoever that is detectable. In other words, [Christianity] is compatible with modern evolutionary biology…If [it] is effectively indistinguishable from atheism."
This quote is the platform on which Dr. Anderson rests his case that "evolution is Atheistic." The interesting fact here is that William Provine is himself an atheist. So to be asked if evolution is compatible with Christianity and then answer the question with a quote from an Atheist seems, to me anyway, to beg the question. Furthermore I would challenge William Provine’s conclusion that God would "have nothing to do with human morals, answer no prayers, give no life everlasting…" etc. on the basis of his premise that he used evolution to create human beings. It seems that his consequent doesn’t follow from his antecedent. This seems to be a complete non-sequitur.
Dr. John Oakes
Next to take the podium was John Oakes. Dr. Oakes was defending the view of Progressive Creation. Like Clayton, he too was not completely happy with the title of his position, saying he preferred the term theistic evolution. The view he represented generally accepts evolution as the most plausible explanation for the origin of species but denies that it a completely random process. He rejects the idea of "Deistic Evolution" in which God set up the initial conditions and walked away. John claimed that God intervenes in subtle ways to influence the path of evolution and possibly even intervenes in dramatic ways as well, with the Cambrian explosion as a possible example. He explained that if God didn’t intervene then we wouldn’t be here. Dr. Oakes finds it hard to believe that a random series of events, no matter how long the time span, would ever produce humans with a soul, intelligence, and the ability to ponder such questions as these.
Dr. Oakes explains that his view is primarily theological in nature, rather than scientific. He realizes the incredible amounts of evidence in favor of evolution and sees no Biblical reason to reject it, but also sees no reason why it should be considered a random, Godless act. He doesn’t believe that the Bible tells him that he needs to reject the idea of common decent.
He rejects the usage of "god of the gaps" arguments (arguments that seek to establish a conclusion of "God did X" on the basis of the fact that we don’t understand how X happened) and accuses the Young Earth position and the Intelligent Design position of using such arguments. However, I’m not convinced that his position is free from "god of the gaps" arguments either. To point to the Cambrian Explosion as evidence that God intervened during the course of evolution, is essentially to say that "We don’t know how most of the animals appeared in the fossil record so rapidly. Ergo, God may have done it."
Dr. Dennis Lamoureux
Last to take the stage, defending the position of Evolutionary Creationism was Dr. Dennis Lamoureux. Dennis started off his presentation by defining the position he was defending:
"The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and design-reflecting evolutionary process."
Dennis’s position seemed to circumvent the "god of the gaps" attack on his position by positing that God used natural processes to bring about human life. This means that he does not see the need to fill any gaps in our scientific knowledge with supernatural events. His position also seems to carry double the teleological attack of the Young Earth Creationist position because he is claiming that the evolution process exhibits design.
One of the main pillars of Dr. Lamoureux’s position was the rejection of "Scientific Concordism" which he defined as:
"The assumption that God revealed scientific facts in the Bible 1000s of years before their discovery by modern science."
He says that a simple tour through the first few chapters of Genesis shows that rather than God revealing scientific facts to ancient Hebrews, he actually condescended to meet them at their level. Dennis showed that things like the firmament, the waters above, and the Sun, moon and stars placed in the firmament were examples of the best science of the day. This is what the ancient Hebrews believed, so this is how God spoke to them.
Dennis suggests that rather than take the early chapters of Genesis entirely literally, we should separate the message of those chapters from the ancient science. For example, the inerrant Theology found in Genesis is that God created the world, He made it good, and that we are made in his image, and we need to separate this from the ancient idea of the world being created in six literal days.
Dr. Lamouroeux then explained that "we’ve been here before." This isn’t the first time modern science has falsified an idea we thought we found in the Bible. This also happened when we learned that the Earth was not the center of the universe. We got past that and Dennis is convinced that we will also get past evolution. He quoted Galileo saying,
"The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven, & not how heaven goes."
He then restated this quote for us today by saying:
"The intention of the Bible is to teach us THAT God is the Creator, and not HOW God created."
According to Lamoureux, this quote puts a lot of things into perspective. Perhaps we expect more from the Bible than the Bible was intended to do. Perhaps certain passages of the Bible can be true without being literal.
After the opening speeches, there was a period when each of the participants took turns being cross-examined by the other three, followed by an opportunity for each participant to answer the cross-examination. In this part of the forum, a few swords crossed and sparks flew, but generally, the tone of the speakers was very respectful. Dr Anderson was challenged that in order to accept his view, Christians would be required to throw out what we know about geology, cosmology and biology. He countered that the Young Earth position can hold its own and that, in fact, they do plenty of research and publish it in refereed journals. It was pointed out to Dr. Anderson that he presented no evidence for a young earth. He countered this with the claim that the existence of very low levels of Carbon-14 in deep coal deposits and, indeed in all carbon-deposits is proof that these deposits are only a few thousand years old. If they were billions of years old then they should be radioactivly dead. Dr. Lamoureux responded that these low levels are the result of background radiation creating an extremely low level of natural C-14 and do not support the young earth position at all.
Dr. Lamoureux was challenged by all three of his opponents that he was too willing to give up the historical meaning of the first few chapters of Genesis. His opponents were very hesitant to throw away the historicity of Adam or to accept that a soul or a spirit can evolve. Dr. Lamoureux did not back off on his position at all, but instead claimed that Paul himself believed in "ancient science," given his description of things "In heaven, and on the earth and under the earth." (Philippians 2:10) He mentioned good evidence for the evolution of humans from lower primates (Dr. Oakes had already presented evidence for evolution of humans as well).
Mr. Clayton and Dr. Oakes were not as strongly challenged during this part of the forum, but that may have been because Clayton so clearly came with the intent to find common ground between these four positions. In fact, although he was very concerned about the damage the Young Earth position can do to the faith of young believers, he seemed to have no unresolvable differences with Oakes and Lamoureux. Dr. Oakes defended his position on non-random, God-influenced evolution from theology rather than scientific evidence, which made his position hard to evaluate or critique on a scientific basis. This may explain why his view was not as strongly challenged.
So, who "won" the debate/forum? That, as with all debates of this nature, is a matter of perspective, but it seemed to me that Dr. Lamoureux presented the clearest, most rational and consistent view which could be easily understood and defended in the time allowed. Dr. Oakes presented an interesting, even novel position which is very attractive, as it combines the best of science and theology, but his argument was a bit abstract and, not being based on scientific evidence, was a bit hard to evaluate in comparison with the others. His attempt to disavow "god of the gaps" arguments combined with his mention of the Cambrian explosion could be seen as inconsistent. If Mr. Clayton’s goal was to demonstrate that there is no inherent contradiction between science and the Bible, then he won, regardless of what anyone else did. However, his defense of traditional Intelligent Design was not very well focused. If anyone "lost" the debate, it was Dr. Anderson. Of the four, he was the only one who attacked straw-men rather than presenting sound scientific evidence or good biblical arguments to defend his position. He seemed to be debating atheism rather than the three other Christian views of evolution, almost as if he were not aware that some believers see no inherent conflict between evolution and Christianity.
A positive of the forum is that all four presenters acted as gentlemen-as Christians. There was no sign of the typical disrespect, sarcasm and ad-hominem arguments which have been so common in many discussions between Christians of such widely variant views on evolution. It was clear that all four were without reservation willing to, as Dr. Lamoureux said to Dr. Anderson, "pass the communion cup" to one another. If the goal was to settle the question of which is the best "Christian" view of evolution then it was a failure (the organizers said this was not the goal!). If the goal of ARS was to raise the issues surrounding Christian ideas about evolution and to demonstrate that Christians can discuss these issues without rancor, it was a success.
Brian Colon July, 2010