April 5, 2020

Young-Earth Creationist Eisegesis, Part 1

In a recent tweet I had said the following:

Young-earth creationists don't interpret the creation account in Genesis literally, for they deal only with modern English translations. But Genesis wasn't written in the 20th-century for an English-speaking Western audience.

I further clarified, in response to someone, that young-earth creationists have never “presented a responsible historico-grammatical exegesis of the text in its original language and context”—with the proviso that “this does mean a lot more than merely the word yom,” the Hebrew word for “day.”

This had generated a fair amount of feedback (at least for a small Twitter account like mine), but there was one response in particular that I wanted to address in a short blog post because I cannot provide a proper critical review in 280 characters or less. In response to my assertion, @ApoloJedi_ provided four articles which were probably intended as a falsification of my claim:

  1. Russell Grigg, “How Long Were the Days of Genesis 1?Creation.com, October 28, 2008 (accessed April 5, 2020).
  2. Jonathan Sarfati, “Hebrew Scholar Affirms That Genesis Means What It Says!Creation.com, October 22, 2005 (accessed April 5, 2020). Interview with Ting Wang.
  3. Jonathan Sarfati, “Theologian: Genesis Means What It Says!Creation.com, August 17, 2011 (accessed April 5, 2020). Interview with Robert McCabe.
  4. Duane Caldwell, “Creation, Craig, and the Myth of a ‘Mytho-Historical’ Genesis,” Rational Faith (blog), November 18, 2019 (accessed April 5, 2020).

Again, young-earth creationists have spilled several gallons of ink in defending the Hebrew word yom as meaning a typical 24-hour day. It really should be obvious that just about anyone, myself included, is at once both aware of and familiar with this line of argumentation. My point is that this seems to be where their exegesis begins and ends, exploring only this single word.

So I shall assert once more that young-earth creationists have never “presented a responsible historico-grammatical exegesis of the text in its original language and context,” understanding that “this does mean a lot more than merely the word yom.”

Having said that, let’s have a look at these four articles.

1. The first one by Russell Grigg is arguing for the word yom, so that one can be dismissed as failing to address the challenge my claim presented.

2. The second one by Sarfati, from an interview with Ting Wang, does not falsify my claim at all. Wang’s argument for the word yom can be dismissed for the same reason given above. The only other word from the original language he deals with is tobh (“good”), and there he does not present any historico-grammatical exegesis. He simply asserts that the word is used “seven times in Genesis 1, [and] indicates that there was no sin or death or pain.” That’s it. Just this assertion. There is not the slightest recognition or acknowledgement from either Wang or Sarfati that the word tobh has an extensive semantic range, much less any responsible argument for a specific usage in the context of Genesis 1.

3. The third article by Sarfati, from an interview with Robert McCabe, likewise doesn’t falsify my claim. As with Grigg and Wang, here McCabe makes a strong argument for the word yom which, again, can be dismissed as failing to address the challenge presented by my claim. The remainder of the article does not exegete the text of Genesis 1 at all; it addresses things like the Framework Hypothesis, and evolution, and Adam, and so on.

4. The fourth article by Caldwell is a critical response to a position held by William Lane Craig and does not contain any historico-grammatical exegesis of Genesis 1. His argument seems to be that Genesis should be taken as historical, an argument I do not dispute.

Therefore, the challenge which my claim presented remains unrefuted. If young-earth creationists engage in any responsible exegesis at all, it deals only with the word yom. Apart from this, they do not present a responsible historico-grammatical exegesis of the text in its original language and context, as I said.

John M. Bauer
@JohnMBauer1
Approx. 600 words

October 5, 2019

Quotes: Ard Louis

Our modern concept of “Nature” as an entity independent of God cannot be found in the Bible. Instead, the creation passages emphasize a God who “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). That is why, for example in Psalm 104, the point of view fluidly changes back and forth from direct action by God—”He makes springs pour water into ravines”—to water acting on its own—”the water flows down the mountains.” Such dual descriptions are two different perspectives of the same thing. Within a robust biblical theism, if God were to stop sustaining all things, the world would not slowly grind to a halt or descend into chaos; it would simply stop existing.

Ard A. Louis, “How Does the Biologos Model Need to Address Concerns Christians Have About the Implications of Its Science?” Scholar Essays [PDF], BioLogos Foundation (n.d.).

September 30, 2019

Rational Wiki on Theistic Evolution

A young man I know only from Twitter shared a link with me to an article on theistic evolution at Rational Wiki. [1] Within the first couple of sentences I ran into an erroneous assertion, which I pointed out to him with a correction. Then I said to him, “I’m still reading this article, of course, but what was your intent in sharing this? You’d like a response to it?”

He replied that it was just intended to demonstrate that theism and evolution can co-exist but, he said, “I always appreciate a thoughtful response as well.”

So there are two things I would say in response. First, with respect to the co-existence of theism and evolution, there are far better resources than Rational Wiki (which is a genuinely ironic title since their material is typically less than rational). Just off the top of my head, one of the best resources in this regard is the BioLogos Foundation, created by Francis Collins who led the Human Genome Project and is director of the National Institutes of Health. [2] There is also the American Scientific Affiliation, along with its journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. [3] I would also mention the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, particularly the Emeritus Director Denis R. Alexander who wrote possibly the most important book on evolutionary creation, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (2014, rev. ed.). [4] There are also a host of other books I could recommend on this subject, including Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace with Science (2004) and Nancy Morvillo, Science and Religion (2010). [5]

Second, there were some problems with this article at Rational Wiki and they mostly involved the confusion or conflation of different ideas. For example, they equate “theistic evolution” and “evolutionary creation,” as if they were the same thing (they are not). This is an error I’m accustomed to witnessing creationists make—young-earth, old-earth, and intelligent-design—and one that rational people usually manage to avoid. (All the same, it amuses me to observe atheists making similar arguments as creationists.) By the very nature of nouns and adjectives, the term “theistic evolution” makes evolution the point articulated in theistic terms. This is inconsistent with a biblical world-view and an inappropriate inversion of priorities. For Christians, creation is the point and should therefore be the noun, articulated in evolutionary terms (i.e., “evolutionary creation”).

Denis Lamoureux explained it like this:

The most important word in the term “evolutionary creation” is the noun “creation.” These Christian evolutionists are first and foremost thoroughly committed and unapologetic creationists. They believe that the world is a creation that is absolutely dependent for every instant of its existence on the will and grace of the Creator. The qualifying word in this category is the adjective “evolutionary,” indicating simply the method through which the Lord made the cosmos and living organisms. This view of origins is often referred to as theistic evolution. However, such a word arrangement places the process of evolution as the primary term, and makes the Creator secondary as merely a qualifying adjective. Such an inversion in priority is unacceptable to me and other evolutionary creationists. [6]

And Howard J. Van Till explained the matter in very similar terms:

Views similar to mine are sometimes identified with the label theistic evolution. But that term has some very serious shortcomings. As I see it, it turns the order of importance of divine and creaturely action upside down. Because it appears as the noun, the term evolution … appears to be the central idea. Meanwhile, by referring to God only in the adjective, theistic, the importance of divine creative action seems to be secondary. But that implication would be unacceptable to me. [7]

Third, even though at the beginning of the article they properly understand that theistic evolution is “a theological response to the scientific theory of evolution,” throughout the remainder of the article they seem to forget this point as they criticize this view on scientific grounds. It is a confusion of categories to level scientific criticisms at a theological position. For one example, they refer to deistic views on evolution as “the least scientifically contentious opinion.” Well, deism and evolution are entirely different categories, one theological and the other scientific; it would be incoherent to raise scientific contentions against theological opinions in the first place. Another example is found in their point about Occam’s razor. If such evolutionary processes as natural selection are explainable without recourse to supernatural devices, “then God becomes an unnecessary hypothesis.” True—with respect to scientific work. But didn’t we just admit that theistic evolution is a theological perspective on evolutionary history?

Fourth, they claim that the “scientific” conception of evolution “maintains that the process [of evolution] is unguided.” This is simply false. There is precisely zero science involved in the concept of evolution being unguided. If that is anything more than uncritical prejudice, it is a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one, and almost certainly crippled by fallacious reasoning. The question of whether evolution is guided by a transcendent Creator is outside the competence and purview of science because it is impossible to control for natural processes that are guided by God and those that are not. Scientists don’t draw conclusions about God; they simply ignore the question of God in their work. This is understood as methodological naturalism. A strictly scientific theory is religiously neutral; God is neither included nor excluded. Here I will turn to Denis Alexander and let him explain why:

There is a tradition in modern science not to use “God” as an explanation in scientific discourse. This tradition was nurtured by the early founders of the Royal Society partly in an attempt to let the natural philosophers (as scientists were then called) get on with their job without becoming embroiled in the religious disputes of the time, but also in recognition that the universe is, in any case, all the work of a wise Creator—so using God as an explanation for bits of it didn’t really make much sense, given that God was in charge of all of it. [8]

Finally (and trivially), I cannot figure out what distinction they intended between (a) “theistic evolution and natural selection” on the one hand and (b) “theistic evolution and guided evolution” on the other. On my reading of it, they seem identical. On the one hand we have God guiding such evolutionary processes as mutations, and on the other hand we have God intervening to make certain genetic modifications. That sounds like the same thing to me.

Such were my thoughts on that article.

John M. Bauer
@JohnMBauer1
Approx. 1,000 words.

Footnotes:

[1] Rational Wiki, s.v. “Theistic evolution” (accessed September 30, 2019).

[2] The BioLogos Foundation (web site; Wikipedia article); Francis Collins (NIH bio; Wikipedia article).

[3] American Scientific Affiliation (web site; Wikipedia article); Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (online archive; Wikipedia article).

[4] Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (web site; Wikipedia article). Denis R. Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, rev. ed. (Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2014). [Amazon] The first edition was published in 2008.

[5] Darrel R. Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004) [Amazon]; Nancy Morvillo, Science and Religion: Understanding the Issues (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) [Amazon].

[6] Denis O. Lamoureux, “Evolutionary Creation: Moving Beyond the Evolution Versus Creation Debate,” Christian Higher Education 9, no. 1 (2010): 28–48. Quote is taken from p. 29.

[7] Howard J. Van Till, "The Fully Gifted Creation," in J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, eds., Three Views on Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 172.

[8] Denis R. Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Oxford, UK: Monarch, 2008), 183–184.

September 27, 2019

Quotes: Abraham Kuyper

An entirely different problem is that [which is] so often discussed in England: whether religion permits, as such, the spontaneous evolvement of the species in the organic world from one single primary cell. That question, of course, without reservation, must be answered in the affirmative. We should not impose our style upon the Chief Architect of the universe. Provided he remains not in appearance but in essence the architect, he is also, in the choice of his style of architecture, omnipotent. If it thus had pleased the Lord not to create the species as such, but to have one species arise from the other, by designing the preceding species in such a way that it could produce the next higher, the creation would have been just as wonderful.

Abraham Kuyper, as quoted in Jan Lever, Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1958), 229.

September 15, 2019

Review of John Byl, "Is Evolution Unfalsified?" – Part 3

(Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.)

The following is my continuing look at an article written Dr. John Byl of Trinity Western University in Langley, BC (Canada) intended to demonstrate that the modern scientific theory of biological evolution has been falsified in many (and in some cases important) ways. [1]

Is evolution falsified by failed predictions?


"According to philosopher Karl Popper," Dr. Byl said, "the essence of science is that its theories should be potentially falsifiable. A scientific theory should make clear predictions that can be tested." Well, the philosophy of science is a hotly debated subject but let's find out where his argument is going. Maybe I am a bit naive when it comes to this subject but, at least for the time being, I tend to agree with that position—namely, that a proper scientific theory should generate testable predictions or at least be falsifiable in principle ("potentially"). If no empirical evidence could ever falsify a theory, if there is no conceivable way that it could ever be proved wrong, then it is not scientific.

Incidentally, this is precisely why creationism disqualifies itself as scientific, the examples of which are legion. I encountered yet another one as I was paging through the fifth edition of Refuting Evolution (2012) by Jonathan Sarfati. He suggested that all organisms could possess DNA molecules with a carbon-based structure (as they do) or they could display a variety of different forms (such as a silicone-based biochemistry), and either way would look like design—maybe a single designer with an extensive toolbox, or multiple designers with alternative ideas on how to construct life. In other words, the evidence for design is whatever we find. Even a common genetic program "may or may not be the case for common design," he said. So the conclusion is design, no matter what, a conclusion safeguarded from ever being falsified by any evidence. [2]

On the other hand, Darwin's theory of evolution has made countless predictions, most of them indirectly or inadvertently but some that were very specific, and the theory has not yet been falsified. Descent with modification from a common ancestor has predicted the universality of the genetic code, the consistent distribution of fossils in the geological column, intermediate species including their general morphology and location, molecular clocks indicating evolutionary patterns of descent that correspond with biogeographical patterns, and on and on. Entire books have been written exploring the countless predictions that would follow under the assumption of evolution being true, the vast majority of which are driving fruitful scientific research in the lab and in the field.

But let's see what Dr. Byl will argue using this falsifiability heuristic principle. Referring to a personal web site belonging to an intelligent-design proponent, he claims that this Cornelius G. Hunter has listed over twenty "false predictions of evolutionary theory." [3] All right, here we go. I think he means to highlight certain things predicted by evolution that is not borne out by the evidence, testable predictions that were falsified. And, of course, once a theory has been clearly falsified it ought to be discarded. For example, if we found dinosaur and modern human fossils in the same sedimentary layer alleged to be 80 million years old, that would falsify evolution (but it would go a long way in supporting young-earth flood geology).

What about Cornelius G. Hunter's list?


Hunter, who is responsible for the list, had other ideas. Contrary to Dr. Byl, his argument is that specific hypotheses relevant to evolution have been falsified but not the theory of evolution itself. [4] "Falsified predictions are sometimes used to argue a theory is false," Hunter said, but such a "naive falsificationism is flawed and not used here." Let that sink in a little. He also went further and said that these "false predictions do not demonstrate that ... evolution is false." So you can understand my confusion over Dr. Byl's aim or intention in citing Hunter.

But then even Hunter's list itself is flawed and questionable, regardless of his intent. I only got as far as the first article which Dr. Byl had highlighted, regarding the claim that "the DNA code is not unique." This has supposedly been falsified. But the analysis Hunter provided was so manifestly flawed that I didn't bother reading any of the other articles. Let me show you what I mean.

Hunter said that the genetic code "arose so early in evolutionary history, in the first primitive cell, [that] the code must not be unique or special." Umm. What? It is difficult to make out what his point is. Honestly, how does the genetic code arising so soon in evolutionary history lead to the conclusion that it's not unique? Is there a hidden premise at work? I thought that maybe if I read further, including the material he cited, it would start to make sense.

But no, it didn't. He quoted Francis Crick who said that "there is no reason to believe ... that the present code is the best possible." That's not a claim that the code isn't unique, only that we have no reason to think it's the best possible. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But consider this: If X is not the best possible yet it's the only one of its kind, then it's unique. That's just what the word means. Crick also said that this code "could have easily reached its present form by a sequence of happy accidents." Since it is possible for unique things to arise by a sequence of happy accidents, this likewise doesn't support Hunter's straw man. Hunter also refers to Bruce Alberts, who said that "the code seems to have been selected arbitrarily." Another claim about its development, not its uniqueness. [6] Finally, he cites Mark Ridley who said that the code is "a 'frozen accident'," by which he means that "the original choice of a code was an accident; but once it had evolved, it would be strongly maintained." [7] Once again, this is about its development. There is no claim here that it isn't unique. Not a single statement to the effect that "the DNA code is not unique" or special.

In fact, all these claims seem to constitute a good argument that the genetic code is indeed unique or special—it is the universal, one-of-a-kind code found in all organisms, "from bacteria and archaea to plants, animals, and humans, the instructions that guide development and functioning are encased in the same hereditary material, the DNA [molecule]." [8]

Hunter concedes that "somehow the DNA code evolved into place but"—and here is where he veers sharply away from his referenced material—"it has little or no special or particular properties." How on earth did he draw that conclusion? The reality is quite the contrary, and I have an extensive library upon which to draw if there is any doubt regarding what evolution predicts regarding DNA. Since Hunter's logic was invalid, and it seemed he wasn't even making the point which I think Dr. Byl was aiming for at any rate, I stopped reading his list and returned to Dr. Byl's article.

Is evolution falsifiable?


Evolution certainly is falsifiable, and I have described some of the ways that could be done.

According to Dr. Byl, the theory of evolution has been so heavily modified to accommodate all the available data that it has "become much more cumbersome" with ad hoc tweaks and revisions, such that it "is no longer elegant nor simple." I have not seen that in my reading of the relevant literature and Dr. Byl has not succeeded in arguing otherwise here. The theory is contained in a simple and elegant statement, that the origin of species is best explained by descent with modification from a common ancestor. That's it, that's evolution. Not only is that how the theory is understood in the science books I have in my library but even in creationist books from Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis ministry, which defines evolution in essentially those same words. [9]

Everything else buzzing around the theory are supporting (or competing) hypotheses regarding the mechanisms by which evolution occurs (e.g., Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, the adaptationism debates, etc.), or the rate of evolutionary changes (gradualistic or punctuated), or the Lemarckian implications of epigenetics, and so on, falsifiable hypotheses that are tested and either accepted (and re-tested), modified (and re-tested), or rejected (and taken out with the trash). [10] These hypotheses are supposed to flesh out the details of the theory (if they hold up), but not a single one of them changes the theory at all. It still is, as it has been for more than 150 years, descent with modification from a common ancestor. (Think about this in slightly different terms: If a hypothesis about planet formation was wrong, would that falsify the heliocentric theory? Of course not.)

Conclusion


Contrary to Dr. Byl's conclusion that evolution has been falsified in many ways, some of which are significant, nowhere in his article did he successfully make that case:

1. If evolution is falsified by Genesis, he failed to demonstrate that exegetically.

2. And it cannot be falsified by origin-of-life problems because life evolved irrespective of how it arose.

3. What about the fact that macroevolution has never been proven or observed? First, no one can seem to agree on precisely what "kinds" represent taxonomically so it is impossible to evaluate that claim. Second, human lifespans are breathtakingly short on geological timescales, so of course it hasn't been observed. Third, theories are either fruitful or false but they are never proven.

4. Does the fact that evolution has no commercial application falsify the theory? I really don't see how. And I further dispute Dr. Byl's rhetorical strategy of redefining evolution so that it no longer includes variation in a species population (change in allelic frequencies).

5. On my view, if evolution was inherently naturalistic, then it definitely would be false—but it's not naturalistic.

6. The fact that a host of unanswered questions remain doesn't somehow falsify the theory (non-sequitur). It's just good science in progress.

7. What about the alleged failed predictions? It has not had any—yet. Various proposed hypotheses supplementing the theory have met with either success or failure, but these are not themselves the theory. As pointed out, if we invalidated a hypothesis about planet formation, that would not falsify the heliocentric theory which it served. (It's so important to understand the proper difference between hypothesis, theory, and law.)

At the end of the day, evolution is definitely falsifiable, but it has not been falsified. If young-earth creationists presented a responsible exegesis of Genesis 1 consistent with sound hermeneutic principles, taking into consideration the original language, its ancient Near Eastern cognitive and cultural context, the intent and understanding of the original human author and audience, and so forth—you know, a literal interpretation—which showed that it is describing the dawn of natural history, the physical or material origins of all things, then evolution would be soundly falsified. Or, going the scientific route, if they were to find evidence consistent with a global flood but contradicting evolution—again, simple things like the fossil remains of some canine "kind" in early-Devonian deposits, impossible given evolution but the sort of evidence that would be abundant and easy to come across given creationist flood geology—then that would effectively falsify evolution.

Until then, it's falsifiable but not yet falsified.

John M. Bauer
@JohnMBauer1
Approx. 1,800 words

Footnotes:

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] John Byl, "Is Evolution Unfalsified?" Bylogos (blog), August 28, 2015.

[2] Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Evolution, 5th ed. (Atlanta, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2012), 83.

[3] Cornelius G. Hunter, "Darwin's Predictions" (personal web site), c. 2015. Hunter used the free hosting services of Google, so I was prejudicially skeptical of its credibility because of my cynical disposition. To me this was tantamount to Geocities or Angelfire—although it suddenly dawns on me now that most people are probably no longer familiar with those ancient free web site services from the 1990s. Hunter's personal blog is Darwin's God.

[4] Contrary to how Hunter expressed himself, these are actually not predictions of evolution as a broad scientific theory. These are hypotheses proposed as supplemental evolutionary details, some of which may turn out to be wrong.

[5] Francis Crick, "The origin of the genetic code," Journal of Molecular Biology 38 (1968): 367-379. Citation provided by Hunter.

[6] Bruce Alberts, D. Bray, J. Lewis, M. Raff, K. Roberts, and J. Watson, Molecular Biology of the Cell, 3rd ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1994), 9. Citation provided by Hunter.

[7] Mark Ridley, Evolution (Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1993), 48. Citation provided by Hunter. My copy is a 3rd edition and has slightly different wording: "The code is then what Crick (1968) called a 'frozen accident.' That is, the original coding relationships were accidental, but once the code had evolved, it would be strongly maintained." Mark Ridley, Evolution, 3rd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 59.

[8] Francisco J. Ayala, The Big Questions: Evolution, ed. Simon Blackburn (London, UK: Quercus, 2012), 90.

[9] Ken Ham, general editor of the three-volume New Answers Book series, likewise admits that evolution is understood in terms of all life on earth coming about "through descent with modification from a single common ancestor." See the "Glossary" in Ken Ham, ed., New Answers Book 1 (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), pp. 355–365.

[10] See for example R. E. Michod and D. Roze, "Cooperation and Conflict in the Evolution of Multicellularity," Heredity 86, no. 1 (Jan 2001): 1–7. See also "Does Evolutionary Theory Need a Rethink?" Nature 514 (Oct 2014): 161–164.

September 1, 2019

Review of John Byl, "Is Evolution Unfalsified?" – Part 2

(Click here for Part 1.)

The following is my continuing look at an article written Dr. John Byl of Trinity Western University in Langley, BC (Canada) intended to demonstrate that the modern scientific theory of biological evolution has been falsified in many (and in some cases important) ways.

Is evolution falsified by excluding God (naturalistic)?


(Technically this wasn't one of Dr. Byl's arguments. He simply took it for granted that evolution is naturalistic and went on to make an argument about its explanatory shortcomings. However, I wanted to isolate and address this naturalistic presumption because, if it were true, that would fatally undercut the theory in my opinion.)

The theory of evolution was proposed as "a naturalistic explanation of how the diversity of life came to be," Dr. Byl said. As I have come to understand things, this is a misleading statement at best and it has to do with that ambiguous term, "naturalistic." What is it supposed to mean here? Dr. Byl does not make that clear so I must draw from what I have studied previously. According to most sources, from young-earth creationists to Christian philosophers, to say that evolution is "naturalistic" is to imply that it excludes or "rules out any supernatural activity of God in the origin and development of life and of humans," [2] which is consistent with the usage described in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, it must be acknowledged and understood that science, including evolutionary science, "presupposes methodological naturalism but not philosophical naturalism, and the two should not be confused" (emphasis mine). [3]

The scientific theory of evolution is a natural explanation but it is not a naturalistic one. It describes natural processes but that does not somehow magically rule God out. Christians are supposed to understand that the order and function of creation are sustained and governed by God through ordinary providence (i.e., second causes). Jesus Christ, "through whom also [God] created the world [...] upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:2–3). "All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col. 1:15–17). "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). [4] This presupposes the nearness and activity of God. As Daniel Macleod put it, "All the second causes owe their potency to [God], and the whole system is effective only because of his indwelling power." [5] So again, as I said, speaking of natural processes—even describing them in exquisite detail—does not somehow rule God out. Indeed it cannot, for this is his world. [6] (Atheists like Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne describe evolution in naturalistic terms, but then they're atheists so of course they do. And yet, according to the apostle Paul, they know better.)

Does the theory exclude or rule out God? No. As a strictly scientific theory, it is religiously neutral; God is neither excluded nor included. Is meteorology atheistic for not invoking God in its account of weather? Is biochemistry atheistic because it doesn't include God in descriptions of molecular structures? When someone asks me how a computer works, is my explanation atheistic if it doesn't involve theological language? These questions are rhetorical because the answer is most obvious: "Of course not." This is a point elegantly made by Denis Alexander who understood that the absence of specific references to God in an explanation does not render it suddenly naturalistic. "Naturalism," he points out, "is the philosophy that there is no God in the first place, so only an atheist can provide a truly naturalistic explanation for anything." [7]

As a matter of fact, neither evolution nor science is naturalistic (and yet both evolutionism and scientism are). They neither include nor exclude the "special or supernatural activity of God." They ignore it—and that's a good thing. Here I will return to Alexander and let him explain why:

There is a tradition in modern science not to use "God" as an explanation in scientific discourse. This tradition was nurtured by the early founders of the Royal Society partly in an attempt to let the natural philosophers (as scientists were then called) get on with their job without becoming embroiled in the religious disputes of the time, but also in recognition that the universe is, in any case, all the work of a wise Creator—so using God as an explanation for bits of it didn't really make much sense, given that God was in charge of all of it. [8]

Copernicus and Galileo are famous illustrations of when science becomes "embroiled" in theological disputes of the time, constituting a part of that historical, valuable lesson that we learned. Also, there is an element of delicious irony in the fact that creationists point to life's intricate complexity as evidence of God's workmanship or design when the scientists who discovered this complexity did so by setting aside the question of God and forcing themselves to pursue strictly natural explanations. Their scientific discoveries should be repugnant to creationists and rejected by them, not embraced and used by them—if they were to be consistent, that is.

At any rate, the limited competence of science does not extend to spiritual questions about the nature or activity of God. The degree to which creation is sustained and governed by God through ordinary providence is a theological question outside the purview of science. It is not as if we have "purely natural processes" for most things while invoking God is required for some other things (e.g., origin of life), for God is the creator and sustainer of the whole show, which means there is no such thing as "purely natural processes." That notion should be unintelligible to Christians. Honestly, we are not deists, so it would really do us a lot of good to stop sounding like deists.

Is evolution falsified by unanswered questions?


But even as a natural explanation of our planet's biodiversity, "there still remain huge gaps" in the theory, Dr. Byl said, and he lists 12 examples, such as: the existence of some species whose biogeographical distribution has not been explained by evolution; the complete lack of support for evolution from the fossil record; the inadequacy of natural selection to explain the spreading of certain traits within populations; the failure of molecular biology to map out a cladistic "tree of life"—and so on. (It is Dr. Byl who vouches for the accuracy of these claims. I reserve some serious doubts about a few of them.)

It is not clear how this is supposed to falsify evolution. What Dr. Byl has actually done is provide a vivid illustration of how science works. There are questions—a nearly unlimited number of questions ranging from trivial to substantial—and science is in the business of exploring them, with good science being done when every new thing we learn uncovers a host of new puzzles. Essentially, science is unending. This is not how theories are proven false, it's how they are proven fruitful—by uncovering ever more areas for further research and understanding. Science does not promise the final, complete, and absolute truth. In its na├»ve form it progressively approximates truth, but in its ideal form what it offers is the promise of endless questions with the potential for proving us wrong at any moment about something we thought we knew. Honestly, scientists will tell you that this is what gets them out of bed in the morning.

For example, let's assume for the sake of argument that there really are some species whose biogeographical distribution has not been explained by evolution. I have a hunch that's probably true. The thing is, that cannot count as a demerit or a strike against evolution because that's precisely the very nature of good science. Honestly, something lacking a cogent explanation commends itself as a question ripe for fresh hypotheses, for research and study. It doesn't indicate the poverty of a theory but it's fruitfulness because it's still generating things to investigate. Moreover, leaving something unexplained does not mean that evolution is false. That does not follow. It's not as if we are to consider theories as false unless and until they can explain every last conceivable thing.

The more difficult the question, the better. Let's see if we can figure out how those species came to live where they do and their relatedness to other species. We can study their life cycle, their behaviors, their genome, their habitat and more, proposing hypotheses and testing them. (Interestingly, there is currently an effort to map the genomes of all 1.8 million known species on the planet, something like the Human Genome Project but for all life on Earth.) As Dr. Byl showed, questions remain about the evolution of sex, of consciousness, of ethics, questions about convergent evolution, or the role and importance of natural selection, and so much more. Rather than counting against evolution, this is simply the nature of good science. So many genuinely challenging questions, curiosities, puzzles, and with more being added all the time.

I get it. Listen, sometimes we experience genuine existential angst about things, such as our identity, our security, our purpose, the meaning of our lives and what have you. On these issues we need and look for clear, immutable answers, something solid that our fleeting lives can grip firmly. But notice that these are spiritual questions answered by the grace and peace of God's covenant promises and purposes secured for us by the shed blood of Christ who is our eternal hope, the author and finisher of our faith. These are categorically different from scientific questions.

The way I see it, science is about grasping the sublime value of unanswered questions and of getting things wrong, all of which can lead to advances in learning, understanding, and knowledge. In my home we emphasize and underscore the value of asking questions. Be curious, imaginative, and filled with wonder. Learn how to form clear and relevant questions and how to develop possible answers (i.e., hypotheses), and then rigorously test them. But also see the great value in getting it wrong, because the potential to learn something new just opened up to you, which is awesome. Incomplete answers leave questions to be addressed, and wrong answers open up new avenues to investigate. We were wrong about atoms being the most basic particle in creation. Then we thought it was protons but, actually, there are more basic things still. And it now seems that we were wrong about quarks. Maybe we'll be wrong about spinons, orbitons, and holons. Being wrong has contributed enormous volumes of knowledge and understanding.

It's just good science.

(Part 3 is forthcoming, where we look at evolution's failed predictions and Cornelius G. Hunter's list.)

John M. Bauer
@JohnMBauer1
Approx. 1,800 words

----------
Footnotes:

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] John Byl, "Is Evolution Unfalsified?" Bylogos (blog), August 28, 2015 (accessed December 24, 2018).

[2] "Report of the Creation Study Committee," Studies and Actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, 27th General Assembly (PCA Historical Center – Archives and Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church, 1999). The Committee defined evolution as "naturalistic" because they did not understand the statement they had referenced from the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT).

[3] J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 358. This point of view has been variously described as "philosophical naturalism," "ontological naturalism," and "metaphysical naturalism," but they all refer to the same atheistic perspective. Also, for an informative, compelling, and balanced discussion on methodological naturalism being the basis of science, read Jim Stump's contribution on pages 106–111 in Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre, eds., Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

[4] Here is a good place to mention the ancient footings secured by Irenaeus and eloquently developed by Karl Barth and other christological supralapsarians, for whom the incarnation and atonement are the purpose of creation from the beginning. See for example Edwin van Driel, Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[5] Donald Macleod, Behold Your God (Tain: Christian Focus, 1990) 50. As cited in the "Report of the Creation Study Committee."

[6] Ruling God out requires more explicit language. According to the PCA Creation Study Committee, an earlier version of the NABT statement had included the term "unsupervised." That would rule God out. However, it would also be unscientific, which is probably why it was removed.

[7] Denis R. Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Oxford, UK: Monarch, 2008), 185–186.

[8] Ibid., 183–184. Emphasis mine.

August 26, 2019

Review of John Byl, "Is Evolution Unfalsified?" – Part 1

Dr. John Byl, from Trinity Western University in Langley, BC (Canada), wrote an article at his personal blog that was intended to demonstrate that the modern scientific theory of biological evolution has been falsified in many (and in some cases important) ways. These include, but are not limited to: being contradicted by the facts of Genesis; failing to start due to origin of life problems; never being observed (macroevolution); and so on. [1] This article was important to me because, as an evangelical Christian who is investigating evolutionary science from a biblical world-view, it could potentially end my search if the theory has been falsified. And I think the author's blog itself is trustworthy and important because its goal is to not only promote a biblical world-view but one that is also consistent with confessional standards in the Reformed faith, a worthy and commendable cause in my view (because my faith draws heavily from the covenant theology of the Reformed faith). So his ideas and arguments are something to take seriously. I would encourage Christians who visit here to do the same, and to read his blog regularly.

In this case, however, I don't think his argument succeeded. What I want to do over the course of a few articles is carefully explain how I responded to the arguments he made, that is, the critical analysis that occurred in my head according to my studies and limited understanding. I think it is important to emphasize that this is simply one Christian's considered analysis and my hope is that people find it helpful in some way. And if Dr. Byl isn't one of those people—I expect he won't be—nevertheless I am grateful for the challenging material he continues to produce.

Is evolution falsified by Genesis?


The strongest argument against any position, of course, is that it is contradicted by Scripture. On this point both Dr. Byl and I firmly agree. "The plain reading of Genesis," he said—

No, sorry. I have to stop the argument right there and explain something I have learned in my theological studies, especially with regard to doctrinal disputes (e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism). In order to argue that a view contradicts Scripture one must start with a responsible exegesis of the relevant texts. As any serious student of Scripture well knows—Dr. Byl included, I'm sure—a plain reading of some modern English translation does not amount to any kind of meaningful exegesis and is not consistent with sound hermeneutic principles. Although the sufficiency of Scripture seems to be boilerplate for confessional documents (e.g., Article 7 of the Belgic Confession), that doesn't obviate the need for responsible exegesis. Just consider the doctrinal conflict which I used as an example. I appreciate a point made in the Westminster Confession of Faith, namely, that since it was the original languages that were directly inspired by God and not subsequent translations, in all controversies of religion the final appeal of the church must be to them (WCF 1:8).

There really is so much going on in Genesis that a plain reading simply misses. For example, consider that "Adam" and "Eve" were in all probability not the names they called each other, as those belong to the Hebrew language which did not exist until about the middle of the second millennium BC. That should then alert us to the fact that these are assigned names which are packed with archetypal meaning and significance, [2] a man named Human (federal head of mankind) with a spouse named Life (whose seed will be the Savior). These possess important covenant relevance and christological hints of the gospel. As Christians we should probably leave the plain reading to personal devotions and go deeper—responsibly, carefully, and honestly—when it comes to theological and doctrinal disputes.

The single most crucial element in Dr. Byl's argument is the idea that Genesis describes the dawn of natural history, the physical or material origins of all things. He seems to believe that the universe did not materially exist until that moment—no galaxies, planets, molecules, hydrogen atoms, absolutely nothing but God alone. All of the young-earth creationist material I have ever studied operates with that assumption already in place, as does Dr. Byl here (for he identifies Adam as "the first man" in the sense that nobody existed before him, that is, he had no parents). But it is an illegitimate assumption here because, in this context, it begs the question. Does Genesis regard the dawn of natural history? It is illegitimate to assume the very thing to be proved, so instead let's turn it into a conclusion drawn responsibly from the text. Once that is done, then Dr. Byl could legitimately argue, "This is what falsifies evolution." And it would—permanently. [3]

Is evolution falsified by origin of life problems?


I was not entirely sure what Dr. Byl was arguing here. The first part seemed to be an argument against biochemical theories on the origin of life, but surely Dr. Byl is familiar with the fact that evolution is a theory on the origin of species and their biological continuity. For me, a good memory aid for this fact is remembering the title of Darwin's book. If someone wants to know what evolution is about, the clearest answer is, "It is a theory on the origin of species, explaining it in terms of descent with modification from a common ancestor."

Although this fact seems to annoy young-earth creationists for some reason, evolution is not about the origin of life, or the origin of the solar system, or the origin of the universe, much less the origin of everything (which is the world-view of evolutionism). Rather, evolution presupposes the existence of these things in order to address the origin of species. [4] Most of the books that I have read which deal with the theory, written by scientists and philosophers (including Christian ones), are quite clear on this point. As explained by the University of California, Berkley, at their web site Understanding Evolution, "The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth share a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother." That is the theory, so any critiques thereof must address that specific target, and not engage in a bait-and-switch.

But let us assume for the sake of argument that life indeed could not originate through natural processes. How would that falsify evolution? As far as I can tell, it simply wouldn't—indeed it couldn't, for the theory of evolution presupposes the existence of life. It is a biological theory, hence life is presupposed. Allow me to use different terms to clearly express the salient point as I understand it (and I admit that I could be mistaken): Notwithstanding how life arose, it has nevertheless evolved. Ergo, undermining origin of life research doesn't undermine evolution.

I find myself speculating at times as to why creationists [5] seem to focus so intensely on the problem of life's origin. The only intelligent answer I can come up with, so far, is that there must be this idea that if as Christians we can make a compelling case for God as a necessary condition at this point then we can capitalize on that for various other points of creation. Personally, I could not accept that kind of thinking because trying to insert God at any point tacitly concedes that he’s not already a necessary precondition for every point. Aubrey Moore, a fellow of St. John’s College, Oxford, and curator of the Oxford Botanical Gardens, made the following observation more than 100 years ago: [6]
Those who opposed the doctrine of evolution in defense of a "continued intervention" of God seem to have failed to notice that a theory of occasional intervention implies as its correlative a theory of ordinary absence. And this fitted in well with the deism of the last century. [...] Yet anything more opposed to the language of the Bible and the [church] fathers can hardly be imagined. [...] There are not, and cannot be, any divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with himself. His creative activity is present everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law. [...] A theory of "supernatural interferences" is as fatal to theology as to science.
This perceptive remark has been echoed by others like Robert J. Russell who likewise said, "The problem with interventionism is that it suggests that God is normally absent from the web of natural processes [...]. Furthermore, since God's intervention breaks the very processes of nature which God created and constantly maintains, it pits God's special acts against God's regular action, which underlies and ultimately causes nature's regularities.” [7]

Looking at these origin of life arguments for design, I must echo the sentiment of Cardinal Newman: "I believe in design because I believe in God, not in a God because I see design." [8] At any rate, God is not a conclusion to be reached but an axiomatic presupposition, the necessary precondition that grounds all intelligibility.

Is evolution falsified if macroevolution hasn't been observed?


The second part of his argument had to do with "macroevolution" never being observed in action. Those who have read Dr. Byl's article will know that he defined macroevolution as large-scale change "from one kind of animal to another," in contrast to microevolution or "small changes within kinds." (This was at the start of his article.) First of all, it is impossible to evaluate Dr. Byl's argument because it makes use of an undefined term: No one has any idea what exactly the term "kind" represents, only what it doesn't represent. Until creationists (generally speaking) have clearly defined and scientifically defended that term, it is illegitimate to argue that macroevolution has not been observed because we cannot know what that even means.

Is evolution falsified if macroevolution hasn't been proven?


Second, insofar as a single human generation is too brief and limited to observe large-scale evolution, no one would expect it to be observed in action. And it doesn't even matter that it hasn't been observed because, honestly, that's not how a scientific theory works in the first place! When you have a massive wealth of diverse and seemingly related facts accumulated over centuries from a wide range of independent scientific fields, you need some kind of conceptual structure that helps organize the data into a coherent and intelligible collection. That is the role of a scientific theory. In other words: We don't have a theory in search of observable evidence to support it, we have observable evidence in search of a theory to explain it. Currently, that's evolution, explaining how our planet's biodiversity came about.

And as a theory evolution is not itself true. A shocking admission? It really shouldn't be. It's not the theory that is true but the facts which it attempts to explain. What's true are the facts of paleontology, population and developmental genetics, biogeography, molecular biology, paleoanthropology, archaeology, anatomical homology and analogy, evolutionary developmental biology and epigenetics—and on and on. These are the facts, the empirical observations made of the real world. But how are we to understand and make sense of all these categorically different observations being made? Again, in science that is the role of a theory, a conceptual structure that provides a way of organizing, interpreting, and understanding the massive wealth of data we possess, drawing all the relevant facts together into a coherent scientific model that makes sense of them or explains them—and, even better, it makes predictions that result in new, previously unknown evidence being discovered which then adds to the evidential credibility of the theory.

This is what the heliocentric theory does, for example. (Yes, heliocentricism is "just a theory.") It makes sense of otherwise strange planetary motions. It is not itself true, it is just our best scientific explanation of what is true—the celestial bodies and their "wandering" motions—an explanation so powerful that it enables us to intercept planets with satellites and rovers, land scientific instruments on comets (e.g., Churyumov-Gerasimenko), even calculate the location and orbit of a tiny Kuiper belt object roughly ten billion kilometers away accurately enough to perform a photographic fly-by (e.g., 2014MU69, "Ultima Thule"). As falsifiable predictions, these also amount to empirical tests of the theory. In a similar way, evolution is not true, it's just the best scientific explanation we have for all these things that are, an explanation so powerful that it can even allow us to predict what types of fossil we ought to find and where to find them, even before we go looking. [9]

Is evolution falsified by having no useful application?


So Dr. Byl quotes a statement from Jerry Coyne about the theory of evolution being mostly useless practically, a statement that is flat-out wrong. There's no point sugar-coating it. Evolution has bestowed a host of practical benefits, some of which Coyne described in his book Why Evolution is True (2009)—which renders this statement perplexing. (I'm ignoring the bit about it having yielded little in the way of commercial benefits. I found that confusing, as if commercial application is a meaningful criterion in science. It's not. And I'm assuming that Dr. Byl didn't take his quote entirely out of context.)

Quoting a gentleman named Dr. Jerry Bergman, Dr. Byl said that "most university textbooks for the life sciences make little substantial mention of macro-evolution"—whatever that is—"especially not for experimental biology" or for medicine. (I wonder if Dr. Bergman referenced specific universities or textbooks, so that someone could look into his claim.) Assuming this claim is true, if a person thinks about this for just a few seconds he should realize that it may have something to do with the fact that these are not dealing with paleontology or comparative anatomy or what have you. Since they are not dealing with the sort of facts which "macroevolution" is supposed to address, obviously it wouldn't be relevant, so of course it would receive little mention. But how is that supposed to falsify evolution? That was not at all clear to me.

It's also worth noting that Dr. Byl had to split evolution apart into microevolution and "macroevolution," then uncouple the theory from the former (which is defined) so only the latter remains (which is undefined), in order to claim that Darwin's theory is of little use or has no substantial application in textbooks on biology or medicine. Well, obviously. But what is his argument anyway? That "macroevolution" (as he uses it) doesn't happen? It's strange that he or anyone would expect a university textbook on life sciences to mention it at all, then. Or maybe his point is that it does happen but microevolution doesn't lead to it. But that would contradict his Genesis argument about the static nature of "kinds." Honestly, I found it difficult to ascertain what his argument was here, with respect to evolution being falsified.

Setting aside how Dr. Byl uses the terms, for those who are interested the following represents the coherent picture as I understand it (any errors in this picture are mine):

Microevolution is about the variation that exists within a species population (change in allelic frequencies), which leads to macroevolution or speciation events through allopatric or sympatric conditions. These, taken together over geologic time, constitute the evolution of life with its patterns of descent with modification from a common ancestor found in molecular and fossil records. [10]

(Part 2 is forthcoming, where we look at evolution being naturalistic as well as its unanswered questions.)

John M. Bauer
@JohnMBauer1
Approx. 2,400 words

Footnotes:

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] John Byl, "Is Evolution Unfalsified?" Bylogos (blog), August 28, 2015 (accessed December 24, 2018).

[2] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).

[3] For a robust example of such an exegesis, see John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). For a more complete picture, this view should be integrated with Gregory K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004) with some specific help from J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005).

[4] To say that evolution presupposes the existence of these things is to admit that they are relevant and important to the theory, but nevertheless separate from the theory.

[5] At this blog generally, and in this article particularly, when I use the term "creationists" I am referring strictly to young-earth and old-earth creationists of every stripe (e.g, geocentric and heliocentric, fiat and progressive, biblical and scientific, etc.). In other words, my use of the term does not include evolutionary creationists.

[6] Aubrey L. Moore, Science and Faith: Essays on Apologetic Subjects, 6th ed. (1889; London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1905), 184–185, 225. Emphasis mine.

[7] Robert John Russell, "Quantum Physics and the Theology of Non-Interventionist Objective Divine Action," in Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 584.

[8] Letter to William R. Brownlow, April 13, 1870, in John H. Newman, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, eds. Charles Stephen Dessain and Thomas Gornall, 31 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 25:97. According to Denis Alexander, the reason why ID advocates are so convinced that the origin of life and biochemical complexity requires a designer "is that if we calculate the chances of complex things coming into being by random processes then it is very improbable that this will happen. Of course. We all agree on that. [...] [But then] no one in the field believes that life started with complex molecules like proteins or DNA, as [ID advocates seem] to think, so all the calculations about huge improbabilities are a waste of time. [...] Why do creationists and ID folk spend so much time tilting at windmills?" Denis R. Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Oxford, UK: Monarch, 2008), 334. I would also add that their calculations do not ever account for the variable of God's ordinary providence.

[9] A gap in the fossil record between land-dwelling tetrapods 365 mya (e.g., Acanthostega gunnari) and lobe-finned fish 385 mya (e.g., Eusthenopteron foordi) led a research team to Ellesmere Island in northern Canada to look for fossils of what should be an intermediate species. And that is precisely what they discovered, several late-Devonian specimens (375 mya) of just such a species now called Tiktaalik roseae. Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (New York: Pantheon, 2008). See also Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (New York: Viking Penguin, 2009), 37–38. "So we can make another prediction. Somewhere, in freshwater sediments [that are] about 380 million years old, we'll find a very early land-dweller with reduced gills and limbs a bit sturdier than those of Tiktaalik" (38).

[10] "What Do We Mean by Evolution? Speciation, Fossils, and the Question of Information" (Chapter 5), in Alexander, Creation or Evolution, 93–129.