Evolution and the fall

Darwin, Creation and the Fall

Darwin, Creation and the Fall – A review article

All evangelicals must accept that if science contradicts the Bible, then science is wrong. But we must also recognise that if science contradicts my interpretation of the Bible, then it could be that my interpretation of the Bible that is wrong, and science, in fact, that is correct. We must therefore be constantly reviewing our interpretation of Scripture in the light of new theological, archaeological or other scientific discoveries.

Often scientific discovery increases our understanding and appreciation of the Bible’s message. But some scientific theories seem opposed to Christian teaching, and, if Richard Dawkins is to be believed, none more so than Darwinian evolution. How we view evolution will have an incalculable impact on how we understand the Bible’s message. It will change not just how we read Genesis, but also our thinking about sin and the fall, and consequently our beliefs about redemption and the work of Jesus Christ. We must therefore be extremely careful in assessing whether Darwinian evolution can be compatible with an evangelical interpretation of the Bible.

Although several books attempt to reconcile Genesis 1‑2 with Darwinian evolution, very few attempt to do so with the doctrine of the fall. A book which wrestles with these issues is therefore to be welcomed. Darwin, Creation and the Fall is a collection of essays by respected theologians and scientists that attempts to demonstrate that a belief in evolution is compatible with an evangelical understanding of scripture. It does so insisting that the fall was a real, historical event.

The book starts with an affirmation of God as creator, and a reaffirmation that Christ is at the centre of the doctrine of creation. Several essays roundly reject various atheist or liberal viewpoints for neglecting or rejecting Christ leading to a failure to understand God’s purpose in creation at all. A major contribution that the essays make is to remind us that it is not only the doctrine of God which is at risk from scientific atheism, but equally the doctrine of man.

Of all the essays, T.A. Noble’s careful exploration of original sin, is perhaps the most stimulating. After surveying historical approaches to original sin, he insists that a Christian understanding of the fall must be understood from the vantage point of the New Testament and in the light of the second coming. Considering the return of Christ can only be done “through revelation and is unknown to human insight… it is not accessible to human science and critical history” (pg 119). But Noble goes on to add that just as the return of Christ will cause monumental change that science cannot know, so also the Fall may have caused an equally radical change that science and historical enquiry are equally incapable of investigating.

Ultimately, however, the book is a disappointment. R.J. Berry’s insistence that the death brought about by the fall is only spiritual and not biological is particularly unsatisfactory. It means he is forced to view the “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21) of creation simply as the problems of pollution and man’s lack of praise to God. Surely the death, disaster and disease which so afflicts our planet demands a more robust response? Equally Berry’s arguments bring into question the significance of the promise of physical resurrection, and the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection, and even whether Scripture is teaching us that heaven is forever when it tells us there is no more death there. Too much is lost, and too little gained. Yet this lead is followed – albeit less dogmatically – by Blocher in a later essay.

It is equally disappointing that there was no discussion on the nature of scientific investigation itself. Since the enlightenment a lot of science has proceeded from the false premise that what we can scientifically test and measure is all that exists. The existence of a spiritual dimension in our world and in ourselves is ignored or rejected by most scientific enquiry. This means that much scientific thinking has literally rejected reality, and is built on a foundation of what is false. Much of the science that came out of the godless Middle Ages would be considered an embarrassment to scientists today, and it is not a coincidence that science advanced rapidly during those periods where a biblical worldview was predominant.

Can you imagine what a difference it would make if most scientists believed that the physical universe was not a closed system, but that there was also a spiritual reality that transcended and affected what we can see and measure? It is of course possible that despite the last century’s slide away from biblical thinking, God in his common grace has redeemed scientific inquiry to the extent that it can largely be relied upon. But that is by no means clear. And, until most scientists take the biblical worldview seriously, many Christians will need far better arguments than those provided in Darwin, Creation and the Fall to persuade them that the Scriptures should be re-interpreted in the light of Darwinian evolution.

A shorter version of this review will appear in the November 2009 edition of the Evangelical Magazine.

Comments

  1. Thought you may be interested in this link: – http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/

  2. http://www.answersingenesis.orgthis is a wonderful website too . Answers a lot of questions that keep tripping people up.

  3. Never mind the Evangelical Magazine Mark, any chance of the shorter version appearing in ‘New Scientist’?

    Your understanding of science and the scientific method are as defective as your dilapidated theology in which you continue to see ‘Christian’ as a synonym for ‘evangelical’.

    It is not.

  4. “Since the enlightenment a lot of science has proceeded from the false premise that what we can scientifically test and measure is all that exists.”

    I think this misunderstands the nature of science. Science is by definition the study of the natural order, the normal patterns of cause and effect by which creation is ordered; it restricts itself to the testable and measurable because this is the sphere of its competence.

    Methodological naturalism is a useful tool to use for studying nature. Just as the microscope allows us to zoom in for a closer look at particular things, so the scientific method allows us to zoom in on the normal workings of the physical order. Using methodological naturalism doesn’t in itself deny the existence of the supernatural any more than using a microscope denies the existence of stars. It’s just a different tool for a different part of reality.

    Now some scientists, such as Dawkins, have got so excited with all the neat things we’ve been able to do with the scientific method, that they’ve said that it’s the *only* way of looking at reality. They take the success of methodological naturalism as proof of ontological naturalism; because we’ve been so good at finding out about nature by looking at nature, nature must be all that there is. This is a very basic philosophical and logical mistake, like biologists insisting that because their microscopes work, there can’t be any stars.

    As Christians, we must insist that although the scientific method a very powerful tool for studying the natural order, it only gives us part of the picture of reality, and that if left in isolation, it gives a distorted picture of reality. It’s a way of modelling reality that for many purposes is very useful and valid.

    But when it comes to investigating God, the supernatural and so on, science is not the right tool. When considering Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, asking “what usually happens in nature?” is the wrong question; you need an historical approach of “what actually happened?”

    The same goes for any possible supernatural action, including Creationism, Intelligent Design and so on. It’s been said, correctly, that these aren’t scientific. What people miss is that just because they’re unscientific does *not* mean they are necessarily untrue and unworthy of investigation or consideration. You just need to use different tools from the intellectual workbox than the scientific method to consider them.

    In short, what we need is not to redefine science to include the possibility of the supernatural. This would take away the very focus that has made science so powerful and useful for looking at nature. What we need is a greater awareness of the limits and boundaries of science, and understand when it is and isn’t useful for investigating truth.

  5. Yes, Caleb Woodbridge, I agree with you.

    It is akin to dismissing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ because it is bad sociology or seeing a tulip as ‘a thin red bubble of blood’ as inaccurate and a waste of time.

    Dawkins, rather like an intelligent estate agent, insists that there is no reason to bring God into scientific investigation. Well, we know that and one of the greatest theologians in history, St Thomas Aquinas, agrees. Science, necessarily atheistic, and theology speak of different things; much as obstetrics and woodworking do.

    However the newfangled idea that Genesis (or ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’) is to be taken literally is simply to miss the whole point.

    ‘Give unto Caesar’ comes to mind.

  6. Although some Christians get confused over the boundaries of science, Dawkins does the same. He doesn’t see the limits of the scientific method – he makes the mistake of thinking the success of science in investigating the natural world somehow validates a naturalistic worldview. That just doesn’t follow at all.

    He also makes the mistake of treating God as a scientific hypothesis. But knowing God requires different methods – humble acceptance of his self-revelation. It’s not possible to subject God to scientific enquiry; he is not a cog in the created order, even a very big and important cog, that can be inferred from gaps in our understanding. He is the creator and gracious sustainer, and it is his ongoing providence that creates the very order that science studies. But Dawkins seems so enamoured with the scientific method that he seemingly can’t conceive of rational belief in God on any other grounds.

  7. Some observations in reply to your last posting Caleb;

    1) Dawkins’ reputation as an evolutionary biologist is unimpeachable. I am absolutely sure he knows where the boundaries of science lie and to suggest that he doesn’t is a bit silly.

    2) I think his anger stems from his belief that fundamentalists and the majority of evangelicals don’t know the limits of theology! (I think I am with him here). An illustration of this is Mark’s claim that ‘If science contradicts the Bible then science is wrong.’

    3) it is not as a scientist but as a theologian that he fails. (Just as Mark does in fact!) His failure is rooted in the assumption that the only sort of knowledge that can count as evidence is propositional knowledge. In this, he is supported by other scientists and mathematicians. The majority of analytic philosophers (though thankfully not all) would agree. How strange that a majority of these also have a mathematical or a scientific background!

    4) The questions we might ask are ‘what can I know?’ and ‘how can I know it?’. Questions which philosophers from Socrates through Kant to Wittgenstein have wrestled with.

  8. First of all: I have not read the book Darwin, Creation and the Fall but I did read (a few months ago) the book by Richard Dawkins in which he tries to convince the readers that (to put it simply) what the Bible says cannot be true. Richard Dawkins and probably the vast majority of scientists together with him even assert that there is convincing scientific proof that what the Bible says about God, the way God created everything and the ultimate purpose of mankind is untrue. False.
    I am neither a theologian nor a scientist. Perhaps that is a pity, but I find sufficent comfort in the thought that 99% of the inhabitants of the earth are not scientists or theologians. That means that I myself and the vast majority of my fellow human beings must decide whether to believe the Bible or to believe Dawkins and his colleagues without the ability to read the theological and the scientific books that deal with this subject.
    I myself have decided that I believe that what the Bible says is true, realizing that this decision means that I reject the teachings of Dawkins and his colleagues without having studied their books.
    Why did I make this decision? For a number of reasons:
    — I simply could not understand the more scientific passages in Dawkins’s book. My knowledge and understanding of science are simply not sufficient to be able to grasp the meaning of many of the things that Dawkins teaches.
    — But I do understand the Bible stories as you find them in the Scriptures and as they are explained to us in Christian Church services and in Christian books (written for laymen).
    — I believe the Biblical teaching that though God is invisible and nobody witnessed the way He created everyting, His existence is proved by studying His creation: the earth with everyting in it and on it.
    — Being a father of two sons and a grandfather of three sons ( my daughter in law will give birth to number three in a couple of weeks) looking at my children and grandchildren absolutely convinces me that everything the Bible says about humans being created in God’s image is true. I also believe that everything the Bible says about the purpose of human life is true. Looking at my children and grandchildren I cannot imagine that their existence and their great capabilities are the result of accidental, random developments brought about by scientific laws that just exist, that were not made by some higher power and that serve no purpose.
    — There is a lot of suffering and misery in the world. Yesterday I read about the hundreds of thousands of people who died, were seriously injured and lost all their possessions in the earthquake in Tahiti. It is simply human and simply not unreasonable to look at all this suffering and view it in the light of the Bible on the one hand and the theory of evolution on the other hand. If you do this the Bible places all this suffering in a meanigful context. And it offers comfort and hope: many of the people killed in the earthquake will get a second life in God’s wonderful kingdom which He will establish at the end of our human history.
    If you look at the catastrophe in the light of the books of Dawkins and his colleagues……..there is absolutely no comfort, there is no hope. Unless you get some comfort from the idea that the human race as such has survived the catastrophe and will go on living and developing as if nothing has happened.
    But how many people in Tahiti will be comforted by this idea?
    Let me end my text with a sentence that has the word believe in it: I believe that there is nobody in Tahiti who derives any comfort from any passage in any of the books of Dawkins and his colleagues.

  9. Herbert says:

    Willem, I would be of the opinion that someone suffering in a natural disaster would find more “comfort” in knowing that natural disasters happen for no reason other than geology/atmospherics/etc, rather than believing there is a loving God who nonetheless has brought all this suffering into their lives, perhaps as a judgment on actions they have taken.

    As an atheist, previously a Christian, I have a wonderful sense of freedom in knowing that I’m not having to account for myself to a judgmental deity. I feel a sense of contentment that my attitude to life (not always realised, I should add) very much mirrors that of Christ’s teachings, i.e. be nice to each other and give more than you receive. Always being aware that I should be doing “the right thing” generally gives me that solid rock on which to cling to when previously I would have turned to God.

    When bad things happen, I don’t need to have the extra worry that I’m being punished for something or being tested. I can just get on with trying to understand what I need to do to get things sorted. I’ve only read one Dawkins book (“The Blind Watchmaker”) but other “science” books I’ve read have helped me to understand and appreciate that, however unfortunate and miserable, bad things do “just happen”.

    Herb