Saturday, January 04, 2014

Grudem 15d: Challenges to Evolution

The previous post is here.

c. Challenges to Evolution
Grudem spends about seven pages challenging evolution scientifically, followed by a page discussing the negative philosophical consequences of the theory. He acknowledges that Darwin's original theory has undergone some modifications but claims it is still "foundationally similar" enough to Darwin's original position to be open to similar critiques (279). "Natural selection" is his main target, as he draws six scientific objections to evolution from a book by Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trail (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991).

First, natural selection is a "conservative force" that works to preserve the general fitness of a population, not to change its characteristics (280). A hundred years of experimental breeding has produced fairly limited variation.

Second, Johnson targets the notion of "survival of the fittest." In reality, almost any characteristic can be argued as either an advantage or disadvantage. He argues that the notion is a tautology--you call something an advantage because it's what ended up, not because it was a real advantage.

Third, "the vast and complex mutations required to produce complex organs such as an eye or a bird's wing... could not have occurred in tiny mutations accumulating over thousands of generations" (281).

Fourth, he mentions the failure of archaeology to produce a single convincing example of an intermediate type. He references Stephen Jay Gould's suggestion that instead of a gradual process, evolution must have taken place in more dramatic jumps rather than gradual and small incremental development. Johnson accuses evolutionists of circular reasoning here--with no real evidence, scientists suggest in must have happened in jumps because it has to have happened and gradualism doesn't account for the archaeological evidence.

Fifth, Johnson argues that a similarity of design between the molecular structures of living organisms is better explained by an intelligent designer than by the development of more complex organisms from simpler ones.

Finally, Johnson considers the mathematical likelihood of life developing by random chance. His conclusion is that "chance assembly is just a naturalistic way of saying 'miracle'" (284). One source suggests the likelihood of one enzyme molecule by random processes as one chance in ten to the 340 millionth power--a one with 340,000,000 zeros after it.

The one page section that follows then outlines the destructive implications of evolution for modern thinking. 1) Human life becomes insignificant--"Honest reflection on this notion should lead people to a profound sense of despair" (286). 2) There come to be no moral absolutes--morality becomes subjective. 3) We should then not take care of the weak, because of survival of the fittest. 4) The wisdom of the past is less likely to be as valuable as current thinking, including Scripture. 5) We simply become higher forms of animals and the animal rights movement is a natural consequence.

Evolution is anathema enough in Grudem's world for him to take a number of pages to deviate from theology proper and engage in an apologetic against naturalistic evolution. A very important point is that Johnson's arguments mostly attack naturalistic evolution, not theistic evolution.

For example, if Johnson is correct about the mathematical impossibility of an enzyme evolving by chance, it says nothing about theistic evolution, which usually argues that it is exactly at this point that God performed a miracle. A theistic evolutionist might argue that it was exactly at the gaps that God intervened, especially when it came to humanity.

The nihilistic consequences of evolution do not apply to theistic evolution either, not merely because God would have stepped in at the point of humanity's creation but because God loves us, and that makes us of immense value. The consequences section as a whole does not apply to theistic evolution.

History has not been kind to those who have opposed prevailing scientific ideas simply in the name of traditional biblical interpretations. Nor has history been kind to those who argue for God because of gaps in science. Gaps get filled, and people run into faith crises. Grudem himself is eager to say that the "geocentrists" who opposed Copernicus in the name of God had misinterpreted the Bible. But he now potentially stands in the same spot. Who is to say that he has properly taken from Genesis and Romans what God wants us to take?

The wisest position to take, it seems to me, is for faith-filled theologians, Bible scholars, and scientists to engage in an ongoing, healthy dialog. Grudem is surely right that there can be no ultimate conflict between faith and science, not when both are properly understood. But when we ask which side is more likely to have presuppositions interfering with its reading of the evidence, there seems to be no real question. There is no possible world in which those with Grudem's theology would conclude in favor of evolution, but there are countless faith-filled scientists who would be willing to conclude in favor of special creation down to the level of species but who have not. In itself, this observation strongly suggests that Grudem's side is more likely to be wrong.

I am not a scientist, but I have heard some scientific responses to the kinds of arguments Johnson makes above. First, he may be right that notions like "survival of the fittest" and "natural selection" are misleading. Chaos theory might suggest that which changes survive may not always be the most advantageous.

Chaos theory might also suggest that while any one specific version of complexity is highly unlikely, the likelihood of some form of complexity developing is likely. I remember an episode of the original Star Trek television series in which silicon rather than carbon based life forms had evolved on some planet ("The Devil in the Dark" episode, first aired June 15, 1967).

Chaos theory might thus suggest that while the likelihood of our specific form of life developing is preposterous, it was likely that some complex form would somewhere. Of course evolutionists reject the way in which the mathematical probability Grudem mentions is set up.

Again, my point is not to say that Johnson is wrong on his science--neither Grudem nor I are competent to be listened to on the subject. But to suggest simplistic answers probably doesn't help anyone. Answers to scientific questions are not a matter of popular common sense. The danger of simplistic answers is that we may set up our children for unnecessary faith crises. How many Christian children have gone into biology, zealous against evolution, and have lost their faith as they themselves became experts? I think we might be surprised to find out how common this pattern is.

Dialog, not shutting down the issue presuppositionally, is the best course of action going forward.


::athada:: said...

Thanks for the summary.

Just came across some "creative editing" by the premiere 6-day organization Answers in Genesis. Doesn't bode well in terms of presenting an honest search for truth, IMO (from 2009 but I clicked through the links, and it is verifiable).

Martin LaBar said...

"the vast and complex mutations required to produce complex organs such as an eye or a bird's wing... could not have occurred in tiny mutations accumulating over thousands of generations"

Maybe not, but Johnson hasn't presented a scientific argument, and, in fact, even if that statement were true, it would be almost impossible to prove that it was.

Michael Behe, the most important -- almost the only -- experimental scientist in the ID movement, claimed that various biological entities (not the eye or the wing) were "irreducibly complex," and that it would have been impossible for them to have arisen by natural selection. His claims have been mostly or entirely refuted by scientific evidence.

Thanks for the post.

Susan Moore said...

I grew up on a farm and will soon have a Bachelors in SCIENCE (because I took science courses, which call for application of learning), and that all did nothing but strengthen my faith. Faith crisis occur when we stare at the seen instead of the unseen; the creation in the seen, the Creator is the unseen.
Good to know you listen well, as my previous church also did.
But as I said, some will work with me, and some will work against me, but regardless, I have zero doubt that His will will be done; where there is lightning, thunder will follow.

Ken Schenck said...

As I always say, "Feel free to disagree." :-)

Susan Moore said...

It's not about you (or me). :-)
I (having been miraculously healed) explained to my former church leaders that they were setting up a self-fulfilling prophesy: They had written a distinction into the church beliefs that declared that God no longer reveals Himself through signs, wonders and miracles, and then they noted in their preaching, ‘Yep, we lay hands on sick people and pray for healing, and, just like we thought, we don’t see healing. That means we are right -God no longer reveals Himself through signs, wonders and miracles.’
Under those circumstance they will never see healing because God is polite. He meets us at our level of faith and grows us from there. As long as we cling to our man-made nonsense, He will wait for us to stop rebelling against His authority. He will wait for a repentant heart, and then grow our faith from there. I explained that they would have to get rid of that distinction in their written beliefs before they could ever hope to see signs, wonders and miracles, and they scoffed. Pride is a killer.
Likewise, if a person sits on the fence and says, “I’ll wait and see what I should believe in”, Jesus will simply sit and wait on the fence with that person (and the people they influence), and that people will never cross the finish line.
We are not called to live in fear or pride, we are called to die to ourselves and walk in faith; to follow Him in trust. Each time we stop walking with Him in faith, He stops, too.
We must remember that Jesus in not Santa Clause: “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent” (Matt.chpt. 11).

Robert Brenchley said...

there are loads of intermediate types out there. Start with Archaeopteryx;it was discovered in the 1860's, and it's still unclear whether it should be classified as a dinosaur or a bird.

::athada:: said...


It should also be noted that for every intermediate type found, two more "gaps" in the fossil record appear, thus the illusion of a dearth of transitional forms.

Form A from 100 MYA
Form B from 20 MYA

We found one! So...

Form A from 100 MYA
Form A2 from 50 MYA
Form B from 20 MYA

See... another gap in the fossil record! ;)

Susan Moore said...

Wow. Thanks Pastor Huffman! My old list included, “Isolative, pensive, introverted, and fearful of change.” My new list includes, “Extroverted, engaging, adventurous, and not afraid to grab the cage and shake it right off its moorings…”
I HAVE grown!! Actually, come to think of it, one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in the last few years is modulation. I see myself as a gregarious, joyful lion, and I have had to learn that although my intentions are never to harm, my claws and teeth are lion sized and sharp and therefore can seem scary and require even greater care to cover or conceal when I am around fragile humans, or ones who do not realize that they are joyful lions, too.
Praying for you all as you endure this winter storm.

Ken Schenck said...

Do you want me to pass your comment on to her?

Susan said...

Sure! Thanks! :-)

John Pieret said...

Again, my point is not to say that Johnson is wrong on his science--neither Grudem nor I are competent to be listened to on the subject.

Of course you are! Johnson is not a scientist, much less a biologist. He is a lawyer. You have every right to be listened to on the subject as he is!

Rick DeLano said...

I commend the author for pointing out the logical inconsistency of reading Genesis literally wrt evolution, and refusing to do so wrt geocentrism.

Any consistent biblical world view will reject the Copernican Principle, and will have done so four centuries before the cosmologists finally caught up:

Susan Moore said...

Do you believe ax heads can float?
What else of the Word are we not to take literally? And to whom has God given authority to answer that question?
And, in regards to Genesis 1, what exactly are we told to not take literally –what other part of the Bible is the world waiting for us to delete?
The options, as I see them, are these two:
Is the fallen world waiting for us to delete the miracle of the order of what was created? That is to say, light before the things that give of light, the atmosphere before the gasses that filled it, living plants before the oxygen to sustain them, the 24 hour day before the making and the movement of the celestial bodies?
Or does the world have difficulty believing that they are to worship and serve the Creator only, and not His created things?
Or do people, in their pride, have difficulty fathoming themselves to only be some of the created things, and not the creator? Is obedience to God’s authority and submission to His will the issue for them?
So now we’ve come to the option the world really likes –let’s just delete God.
If you give Satan an inch, he’ll take a mile…
(But if you resist the devil, He will flee from you (James 4:7). These words are faithful and true!).

Susan Moore said...

So now I’ve learned that not taking the Bible literally is a precursor to cessationistic thinking –get rid of literal interpretations and then it is only a matter of time before all evidence of Scriptural signs, wonders and miracles are gone as well. Which is doubly curious, in my mind, because the Evangelicals that are cessationistic in their beliefs choose to take literally the part in the Bible about only men leading the church and home.
It may be true that the very people who stake their claim as the Bible being inerrant and the sole foundation for their faith, are the same people who determine what the Bible will mean to them. Perhaps that’s why there are so many different brands of Bible for sale.
I see all the different Protestant churches taking what they want from Scripture, and leaving (or deleting) the rest of it. But until there is unity in the Church, Satan will continue to pick it apart.
One only needs to look at wild animals to see the wisdom in unity. Herds will come together in a milling circle and put their babes in the center, with themselves between their babes and the predators, and face their horns and teeth at the predators. A herd that does not become fearful or tired, and lose their resolve, will win out.
And yet we call the beasts dumb.
Perhaps, then, the call is not for unity, but for wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

Susan Moore said...

Oops. I meant to say, in two responses up, "living plants before the carbon dioxide to sustain them".
That is to say Genesis 1 gives the account of God creating the living plants prior to His creating the animals and humans that breathe out carbon dioxide that the plants need to sustain their life.
This is the earliest Biblical evidence of our eternal, loving God not only creating life, but single-handedly sustaining it as well.
And it occurred way back on day three of Creation, sort of a half-way mark, if you will.

Ken Schenck said...

What I hope you'll consider Susan is that there are Christians out there with as much faith as you have who can reconcile their faith, even their faith in the Bible, with theistic evolution. I am not personally arguing that it is the right position, since I'm not a scientist. But I have enough history with the blindspots of fundamentalism to think there needs to be a space for faith-filled scientists who think the evidence points to evolution, whether they prove to be wrong in the long haul or not.

New Life Concrete said...

Dr. Schenck,

While I appreciate the entire message here, what you conclude with - in my opinion - gets at something that is ultimately plaguing our society as a whole:

"Answers to scientific questions are not a matter of popular common sense. The danger of simplistic answers is that we may set up our children for unnecessary faith crises."

Look at the Global Warming community as but one example. GW is not science (neither is it common sense)…it is consensus. If it were science, like say gravity, there would be no debate. There would be no evolution of terminology from Global Warming to Climate Change to whatever the horizon holds; it would be Global Warming and the science thereof. Consensus, and what one group propagates via various media, somehow becomes the new "proof" that must irrefutably disproved rather than substantiated, at least in today’s America.

I'm sure the parallel could be made theologically as well as I hear more and more about the Church not teaching, witnessing, and proclaiming about THE JESUS, rather about THEIR JESUS. In one of my early classes with Dr. Bence, we read Kinlaw's "Let's Start with Jesus" and I was blown back at what I learned. Maybe the Church should start with it, too?

How He reaches you is different than how He reaches me. His calling on your life and the other commentators in this thread, as well as me, is uniquely different, but He is the same Jesus. Like gravity, having but one principle that proves it every time (says me the non-scientist...I believe you know what I'm trying to say though), there is but one Jesus. When we teach Him as He is in our eyes instead of how He is in the Word, we begin teaching as a consensus, and that is dangerous.

God bless
Ben Douglas
IWU - B.S. - 2013

::athada:: said...


To avoid further cluttering Schenck's blog, feel free to contact me outside of the comments section. I'm an IWU grad (Biology, 2007) and a scientist. As most of us do, I went through a lot of changes during undergrad, and of course Schenck et. al have been great in helping me process it all and come out the other side in one piece. Stick with him on the theology side of things, I'd love to share on the science bit. I had a foot in both the religion and science depts so I can speak to how they integrate faith & science from either side.

Stay warm!

MDLeamon said...

I appreciate your comments. I have found the BioLogos web site fery helpful. I prefer their term Evolutionary Creation to Theistic Evolution.

Susan Moore said...

Dr. Schenck, I’m very relieved to know that evolution is not what you put your faith in!
I know people will believe whatever suits them, whether it be true or lie; the cult I was exposed to as a 5 year old taught me that.
My goal is to stand in front of Jesus on the Day of Judgment and have Him recognize and know me, and as many of my friends as possible. That way, we get to spend eternity together.
My area is eclectic, on the edges of the boundaries of the local university. I’ve spoken with many science students and some teachers who ‘believe’ in evolution, but yet none have been able to justify their faith without rewriting, deleting or picking and choosing from what they want to believe the Bible says or doesn’t say. It seems anyone who is willing to rewrite the beginning of the Bible is willing to rewrite or deny the entire thing.
That, to me, is overwhelmingly sad. Because that means as much as I may like that person, as long as they are willing to change the Word into representing something He does not, I will not be spending eternity with him or her.
Doctors, nurses, counselors, and social workers all treated me when I was mentally ill. They told me taking the medicine and going to counseling was the right thing to do. So I never questioned that, because what they told me supported my desire to handle my problem myself instead of turning it over to God. I just wanted to be normal.
But God ended up miraculously healing me, anyway. And I realize that although I am no longer psychotic, I am far from ‘normal’; I have never been more a Christian alien in this foreign world.
My prayer is that He will heal all of them, too.