Evolution and Age

I want to begin by thanking Gavin Ortland for his friendly rejoinder to my recent piece on young earth creation. In the spirit of encouraging all such friendly rejoinders, let me here supply a few of my own. I will just locate a few brief comments under his numbered items.

1. First, writing as one who accepts microevolution (variation within kinds) and who does not accept macroevolution (transition from one kind to another), I cheerfully grant his point that some old earthers reject the same kind of evolution that I reject. Not every old earth creationist is a theistic evolutionist. I am happy to acknowledge that, and not begrudgingly either.

At the same time, my post was part of a series responding to BioLogos, which does support theistic evolution, and which has somehow attracted significant evangelical support. Theistic evolution of this kind creates enormous theological problems (all connected to “what is an Adam?”), and I would welcome the participation of creationist old earthers in that debate.

2. Under his second point, Gavin raises a number of reasonable questions — questions that every student of Scripture should want to see carefully addressed. As I respond, please remember that a separate book could be written on each point.

First, on the question of natural evil, my brother Gordon Wilson has written an important article on this subject, and I will supply a link here when I get hold of it. Update: that link can be found here. Gordon’s abstract starts on page 8.

Second, I do not believe that the second law of thermodynamics was introduced at the Fall. Could an unfallen Adam have seen increased entropy by shuffling a deck of cards? “Darn! Another royal flush!” I believe that leaves could rot on the ground in Eden, and that Adam and Eve could eat fruit that was broken down in their stomachs by industrious dismantling enzymes. What happened in the Fall was the river of entropy flooded its banks. The river was always there, but became universally destructive. Paul refers to this when he says that the creation was “made subject to vanity,” or “bondage to corruption.”

“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20–21).

Gavin argues this — “that natural evil began when evil began: that nature fell when angels fell: that creation became infected with disarray and disorder when her first creatures rebelled against the Creator’s design.” I grant that sin existed in the world before Adam rebelled. The serpent was sinning, and then Eve was deceived when she shouldn’t have been deceived. But when the appointed federal head sinned, that was when the creation fell, as I believe Paul is discussing in Romans 8.

Third, I cheerfully grant certain forms of “death” in the Edenic state — microbes, apples, leaves, and so on. I don’t believe the Garden of Eden was made out of high tech plastic. What I reject, and think we all must reject, is agonistic death. When Weston is ripping apart Perelandrian frogs, we all know that this is the introduction of something demented into that world. I don’t want the one who introduced that kind of suffering into our world to be a god who could fashion that kind of agony, smile over it, and repeatedly call it “good.”

Fourth, and I hope this doesn’t derail us, I do believe in the resurrection of certain animals. While discussing 1 Cor. 15, Gavin says “no one sees animal animal resurrection in view here.” Ah, but I do! Can we talk about it? Do you all promise not to laugh?

In 1 Cor. 15:35-39, Paul is discussing the different kinds of resurrection bodies, and he says that these vary according to the different kinds of seed you use. Different bodies are different kinds of seed (v. 38). He itemizes men, beasts, birds and fish, all capable of agonistic suffering. I don’t believe that nature was red in tooth and claw before the Fall, just as I don’t believe it will be that way after the resurrection.

3. I agree wholeheartedly with the hermeneutical point Gavin makes here. We must take the Bible as it presents itself to be taken. To take it literally when it intends something metaphorical is to abuse the text, and also to take things metaphorically when offered literally. Wooden exegesis does not display a high view of the text, but rather something quite opposite. Raw fundamentalism frequently makes this mistake — reading the figurative as literal. But sophisticated believers make the opposite mistake, and just as frequently. More on that in a moment.

This is a section I will probably have to address in more detail later because it is where much of the action is. But just a couple of quick thoughts now.

First, Gavin points to the possibility that expressions such as we find in Mark and Romans are idiomatic.

“So when Jesus says that God made humanity male and female ‘from the beginning of creation’ in Mark 10:6, and Paul says that God’s nature has been seen ‘ever since the creation of the world’ in Romans 1:20, what did Jesus and Paul intend to communicate?”

Now I am quite prepared to grant that Jesus and Paul might not have been intending to communicate anything about the timing of the creation. My point was not “what was their point?” but rather, “what were they assuming?” When Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and frequent ailments, I don’t have to believe that his intention was to enable me to argue with teetotalers. What was on his mind was Timothy’s health. What is on my mind is how Paul naturally assumes that wine has some good uses, and so I don’t hesitate to bring it up in a debate with Carrie Nation.

I said above that sophisticated believers tend to herd things into the realm of metaphor — even when the ancient world did not take it metaphorically at all. Gavin gives the stupendous illustration of “heaven, earth, and under the earth.” Every Lord’s Day, I say the Apostles Creed and I say that I really do believe that Jesus descended into Sheol, Hades. I say that because I really do believe it. Peter even uses the proper place name of Tartarus for the lowest pit of Hades (2 Pet. 2:4). Jesus went somewhere, and He announced His final victory over the principalities and powers while there. When the biblical writers used such language, their first readers would have had something in mind that was very different from the views held by cosmological moderns. Plato thought he knew where the gates of Hades were located, and he was not exactly a superstitious lout. I hasten to add that this does not require an earth platter balanced on an endless stack of turtles, but I am maintaining that it is not simply “metaphorical.” Probably the best example I know of in blending ancient and modern cosmologies is the work of C.S. Lewis, which I commend to everybody.

4. Gavin concludes with an invitation to get into the scientific specifics. It is a gracious invitation, and it should most certainly be taken up by those capable of it. I am not a scientist, so am not in a position to respond to him directly. But I do read the work of scientists, and am aware that a lot of young earth scientific work is being done by scientists with terminal degrees from all the approved places. But because they have become heretics, they are frequently not allowed anywhere close to the discussion — having been dismissed as flat-earth, one-toothers. They are exiled from the discussion, and then their absence is used as evidence against them.

Thought experiment: if someone were to organize a national conference on the scientific arguments for young earth and old earth respectively, with a commitment to charitable discussion, which group would be there in an instant? And which group would be the most reluctant? Which group would believe that they would gain credibility by going? Which group would believe they would lose credibility by going?

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Matt
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Matt

Thought experiment: if someone were to organize a national conference on the scientific arguments for young earth and old earth respectively, with a commitment to charitable discussion, which group would be there in an instant? And which group would be the most reluctant? Which group would believe that they would gain credibility by going? Which group would believe they would lose credibility by going? Thought experiment: if someone were to organize a national conference on the arguments for holocaust denial, which group would eagerly accept and which would abstain? Who would gain credibility and who would not? Hopefully we don’t… Read more »

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

Two problems with your position (among others): First, macroevolution is nothing more than the cumulative effectives of lots and lots of micro-evolution. If you take an organism and make a thousand micro-evolutionary changes, you’re going to end up with something that doesn’t look a lot like what you started out with. So to conceded micro-evolution necessarily concedes macro-evolution. Second, there’s this idea among young earth creationists that you can accept all of biology except evolution. That’s roughly comparable to someone saying, “I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe in the resurrection.” Almost all of biology is based on evolutionary assumptions being… Read more »

Keith LaMothe
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Keith LaMothe

“Fourth, and I hope this doesn’t derail us, I do believe in the resurrection of certain animals. While discussing 1 Cor. 15, Gavin says “no one sees animal animal resurrection in view here.” Ah, but I do! Can we talk about it? Do you all promise not to laugh?”

Every time I get to the “and also much cattle?” at the very end of Jonah, I can’t help but think someone was looking forward to centuries of confused hermeneuticists.

Howard
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Howard

The recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye provides the answer to what would happen in your thought experiment.

Matt
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Matt

Yeah but the problem is that YECs brought their science, and it didn’t quite work. Is there anything new in that area?

Matt
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Matt

You could also compare it to a flat earth conference, for something with no moral implications. The question is how much debate and redebate are we supposed to have? It’s somewhere between zero and infinite, but where?

wtrsims
Member

So, one debate between Ken Ham and…. Bill Nye the “Science Guy”… and Matt and co. are ready to declare the case closed?

Whew…. I’m glad we’re talking about thorough scientific study and discussion and not just taking someone’s word because they say we should…. And Matt, neither of your analogies are analogous…. BUUUUUUTTTTTTT, if they were, on the basis of who has eye-witness accounts, YEC, or Creationists more broadly, would be on the side of those who hold to the historical veracity of the Holocaust and who know that you won’t fall off the earth if you walk too far.

Matt
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Matt

Not sure what you mean Wesley. No one has eyewitness accounts.

There were more debates in the past, but OK: how many debates would you like to see?

wtrsims
Member

Well regarding eye-witness accounts, if one accepts the Biblical account of creations and interprets it as it presents itself, then we have an account given by Moses regarding the life Adam who, according to that account, was present 6 day/night periods after the initial point of creation. I’d assume that Genesis was primarily communicated to Moses through the LORD, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the creation story, in at least pieces, was one told throughout Israelite generations. Regardless, Scripture says that someone was there and witnessed at least the terminal stages of creation and had access to communicate… Read more »

Jonathan
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Jonathan

The folks at Answers in Genesis make a distinction between what they call “historical science” and “observational science”. By their reckoning, the evolutionary account of our origins is part of the unobservable past, can never be fully replicated in a lab experiment, and thus belongs under the category of “historical science”. Moreover, all scientific inquiry that purports to explain the existence of life must conform a priori to what they claim is the “eye-witness account” written by God in the Old Testament. The evidence, they argue, does not speak for itself but requires a worldview, the only legitimate worldview being… Read more »

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

Wesley, the Biblical account of creation is directly at odds with all other available evidence. Which is why most scientists simply aren’t interested in having a debate on the subject. Which is easier to believe; that a single book written during the bronze age got something wrong, or that all of the smart people in white coats who do science for a living somehow managed to miss the evidence for creationism? You know, Occam’s razor. And by the way, we don’t even need to get to the question of historical evidence, because species evolution continues to take place and is… Read more »

Chris Segroves
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Chris Segroves

Eric, To your point one. Yes, that was a working theory, then came along the irreducible complexity wrench in those works, and now we have a gimped understanding of macroevolution that doesn’t fit with observation. Your second point is laughable. Almost all of biology can be done with out any reference to macroevolution. Most times you see evolution mentioned, it is either an example of micro evolution, a word that can be deleted from the paper with no harm to the paper, or a piece of creative writing (a paper trying to prove evolution). Howard, Did you watch that debate?… Read more »

David
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David

Eric, As part of my job, I am involved in extramurally funded research on a particular bacterium (I am the principal investigator, by the way, so I am not trying to attach myself as a peripheral member of a research team). I can tell you, friend, that there is incredible genetic diversity in bacteria, and I am convinced that most Christians do not understand the degree of plasticity within species like bacteria. However, we do not see new species arising before our eyes, and no matter how nuanced we might wish to define what constitutes a new species. By the… Read more »

Jeff
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Jonathan:

The entire thing is based on the presuppositionalist apologetics of Van Til. The evidence either “confirms” what they already believe, or requires further “research” in order to find an explanation consistent with the YEC worldview. The national conference proposed by Pas. Wilson’s thought experiment would be a complete waste of time.”

I think you are quite correct that the issue is about worldviews. Replace Van Til with Darwin. YEC with evolutionist.

mikebull1
Member

Eric “First, macroevolution is nothing more than the cumulative effectives of lots and lots of micro-evolution.” That’s a faith statement. There is no evidence for this claim. And you need to deal with the fact that just about all variation is the result of a loss of genetic information instead of a gain. The process is working in the opposite direction. “…there’s this idea among young earth creationists that you can accept all of biology except evolution.” Evolutionary theory is pretty much irrelevant to experimental biology, except on paper. Just like car maintenance has little to do with the Ford… Read more »

mikebull1
Member

Pastor Wilson

I appreciate your clarity. On “death” before the fall, it seems to me that a good way to put this is that there were consumables before the Fall. That is not death. The Fall made Adam, his offspring, and animals, all flesh and blood, consumable. God ended animal sacrifice by becoming consumable (flesh and blood) and rising from the dead (bread and wine).

Matt
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Matt

David, I don’t want you to take this as being any creepier than necessary, but for some reason I can’t decide if I want to high-five you or hug you. Perhaps by your good fortune, I can do neither. Thanks anyway for your post.

timothy
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timothy

david, Thanks for the rebuttal of EtR. Herein my two pence of rebuttal from the popular science cheap seats. In my opinion, the science of Evolution is as settled as the scientific answer to The Cosmological Argument and the scientific answer to Abiogensis; that is not at all. Yes, there are theories for the beginning of the Universe and the origin of life, but they are inadequate and scientists know that they do not know. From my reading, the same holds in the study of Evolution–the scientists know that they do not know, and it is getting worse! I highly… Read more »

prayersofadoration
Member

I don’t want the one who introduced that kind of suffering into our world to be a god who could fashion that kind of agony, smile over it, and repeatedly call it “good.”

Why not? Is this more than an aesthetic reaction? You do hold that God is ultimately responsible for everything that comes to pass, right?

My point was not “what was their point?” but rather, “what were they assuming?”

Well, what were they assuming? Timing?

Benjamin Polge
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Benjamin Polge

Just to build off what @MikeBull said, I think scriptures paints a decent picture of what that entails. Repeatedly we are told that life is in the blood. So that would include everything in the “agonistic death” list. Also, when the Bible describes plant “death” it uses words like “wither” and “fade”. I think it’s fairly clear that the Garden included a wide variety of self-replicating food sources (plants, bugs, etc) and a huge microbial infrastructure which we’re just now realizing the importance of.

Jonathan
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Jonathan

Jeff, for what it’s worth, I don’t believe the dispute is between a “Christian” and “Darwinist” worldview in any meaningful sense; the vast majority of people from all religious backgrounds, properly educated in the sciences, have no trouble accepting the arguments favor of evolution. I will concede that a negligible fraction of the total, do resort to Van Til’s presuppositional arguments to resolve the tension between the evidence and their religious beliefs. For example, Answers In Genesis, the preeminent creationist organization in the United States (and by implication, the world) has about 5-6 doctoral employees. For everyone else, the conflict… Read more »

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

David:

Speciation is occurring whether you choose to believe it or not:

http://scienceblogs.com/observations/2010/04/24/evolution-watching-speciation/

Spend ten minutes on google and you’ll find lots of other instances of new species emerging.

And I’ll take your word for it that if you came out of the closet as a disbeliever in evolution it might cost you your job. But so would an earth science professor who came out as a disbeliever in plate tectonics, and so would a biology professor who disbelieves cell theory. And yes, the evidence for one really is just as clear as for the other.

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

Timothy, there probably isn’t an “average” rate of speciation since no two events are alike. In general, it will be slower for larger flora and fauna than for single celled organisms. Some species come and go fairly quickly; others have been around for millions of years. Speciation events are unique snowflakes. The number of mutations, likewise, isn’t going to have any meaningful “average” because no two speciation events are alike. A few mutations may be sufficient for one speciation event, and millions may be required for another, And your third question, about the need for a creator, is a meaningless… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

…there probably isn’t an “average” rate of speciation since no two events are alike. In general, it will be slower for larger flora and fauna than for single celled organisms Oh, please. Pick one. Large, small, any species where it has evolved* from a previous species to a new species. You know where it was at point A and now it is a point B. By your science, you know how it got from A to B. You also know how many mutations occurred to get from A to B. You also know how much time it took to get… Read more »

David
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David

Hi Eric, In terms of the phenomenon described in the science blog entry you linked to, people were aware of this before Darwin. If Darwin had burst on the scene and simply described this, then everyone would have yawned. What Darwin was trying to explain was what no one has observed – the atheistic generation of life. How that life is defined has become more nuanced as scientists have better understood how the theory has difficulties explaining the questions that are actually being debated, and not the substitute issues that are sometimes trotted out. I cannot tell if you are… Read more »

Barnabas
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Barnabas

I look at the science as it currently stands without a presupposition of a 6 day creation and without a presupposition that the supernatural does not exist. It certainly looks like the Earth is very old. There are some big holes in a completely materialistic view of biology that the theist would say indicates supernatural intervention, those being origin of life, Cambrian explosion, origin of man, the astronomical odds that Earth would have all the necessary conditions in place to support life, etc. The materialist would say that those are just areas for further discovery. I agree that presuppositionalism kills… Read more »

Barnabas
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Barnabas

I would say that I see God in the gaps but even if those gaps were filled I see God in the natural as well as the supernatural.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I’d assume that Genesis was primarily communicated to Moses through the LORD, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the creation story, in at least pieces, was one told throughout Israelite generations. We can assume what we want, but there is no evidence in the Bible for any of these theories. For that matter, if God is telling these things to Adam or Moses, why doesn’t he just tell us today? Anyone can write a book, but a voice from the heavens is much harder to dismiss. At the end of the day, whatever creation story you adhere to, no… Read more »

RFB
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RFB

Matt,

Q: “…if God is telling these things to Adam or Moses, why doesn’t he just tell us today? Anyone can write a book, but a voice from the heavens is much harder to dismiss.”

A: “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Joseph Hession
Member

Which is easier to believe; that a single book written during the bronze age got something wrong, or that all of the smart people in white coats who do science for a living somehow managed to miss the evidence for creationism? You know, Occam’s razor.

Thanks EtR. Boy did I need a laugh.

But seriously, let’s all take turns listing something the white coats have gotten seriously wrong. Let’s see how many we can come up with. No repeats.

I’ll start: Y2K.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Matt, The notion you are looking for is “Irreducible complexity”. Many examples have been found, check out evolution news and views, ICR, or AiG for examples. Examples exist, and let’s not be tempted to say they can’t be real because “scientists” don’t believe in them. Because scientists didn’t believe in Galileo’s theories either at the time. When power and $$ are on the line, its amazing what you can deny. Also another way to disprove macro evolution is phylogenetics. The mathematics behind the study states that any two metrics used to study the same set of taxa should result in… Read more »

Gordon Wilson
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Gordon Wilson

Hi Eric the Red, You are correct if you qualify your statements to mean that modern secular biologists believe evolution is the only unifying theory that makes sense of biology. Yes, they think that evolution is as central to biology as the resurrection is to Christianity. But Christians shouldn’t be catechized by unbelieving scientists. They are wrong-headed on this matter and many others. You can do very good science in immunology, pathology, genetics, biochemistry, epidemiology, etc. etc. and draw very sound conclusions from your research and not have it at all depend on macroevolution being true. Microevolution is fact, macroevolution… Read more »

Matt
Guest
Matt

Let’s rather not be tempted to ascribe the continued dominance of evolution to some kind of vast conspiracy. Irreducible complexity has been rejected. Who knows what the future will bring, but so far evolution has survived all challenges.

As for power and money, imagine the riches and fame going to anyone who toppled one of the great scientific theories of our age. If any of the challenges had merit, we’d know by now.

timothy
Guest
timothy

Not really. We know that plate tectonics created the Himalayas, but that doesn’t mean we have much of any idea how many shifts it took, how big the shifts were, how long it took, etc. Do you deny that we can then say that the Himalayas were created by plate tectonics? Really? The dates of the rocks are known, the time and distance the plates traveled is known and there is no average rate of travel? Your attempt to dismiss the argument by comparison to the supposed evolutionary path does not hold either. If we get from one phyla* to… Read more »

Marc
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Marc

Doug, if you put the creation of Satan somewhere in the six days, and his rebellion and casting out of heaven between day 6 and the temptation of Eve, you solve some more problems to do with the existence of natural and moral evil when God said, “It is very good.” Love the post, the last paragraph of which I intend to share with colleagues.

timothy
Guest
timothy

The following comment is two comments from the “you are new around here” thread that I think are better off here. Eric the Red wrote: —————————————————————— With respect to my not responding to David’s comment, I don’t respond to a lot just because I usually find myself discussing with three or four people at the same time, and responding to every single point just gets unwieldy. I believe David is mistaken that we don’t have unicellular organisms evolving into multicellular organisms, but I’m going to have to do some research to back that up. I’ll be back as soon as… Read more »

denn
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denn

Picking up on a slightly different view… The two creation stories in Genesis 1 – 2 appear to carry two different world views, and imop reveal two different schools of thought. On day six, God made male and female in his own image, while in the second story, God made Adam from red clay, then made Eve from a part of Adam. Does this mean that Eve was a clone? If so then something clearly happened here, because no female [not even transgender] looks like a man under normal conditions. Why not look at Genesis 1 from a different worldview?… Read more »