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Cracks in the evolutionary facade

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Archives / 1995 / September

 

 

Cracks in the evolutionary facade

John T. Baldwin
John T. Baldwin, Ph.D., is an associate professor of theology, Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

 

 

Is Darwin invulnerable? Is the evolutionary theory of origins so formidable as to make Christian faith in Genesis weak and obsolete? Not so. Fresh winds blowing across the academic world indicate that scholars are raising new questions on Darwin ism. Samples:

Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker attempted to under cut the argument from perfection. He assumed that the first small incipient stages of a future eye on the way to completion might have had vision. Kenneth T. Gallagher shows how unconvincing this assumption is, 1 pointing out that incomplete stages of a future eye could not have vision, thereby fatally undermining Darwin's theory of origin. No Darwinian biologist has yet adequately addressed this critique.2

Can life and human consciousness be reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry? No, argues Michael Polanyi.3

John Cobb, Jr., asserts that subjectivity cannot arise from objectivity, thus indicating that from its own materialistic resources and without help from a divine power, Darwinian evolution can not occur.4

After subjecting Darwinian theory to the principles of probability theory, mathematicians Sir Fred Holye and Chandra Wickramasinghe expressed surprise how so simple and so decisive a disproof of the Darwinian theory has escaped the attention of social scientists for so long. "There can, we think, be no explanation other than intellectual perversity."5

Contemporary German advocate of polymeric chemistry Bruno Vollmert writes: "The stricter my argumentation takes place in the frame of the exact sciences by treating the biological evolution in the sense of Neodarwinism as a process by chance, that is to say (the terminology of polymeric chemistry) as a statistical copolycondensation, the less I am afraid to understand the world as the creation of an almighty creator as an alternative to Darwinism."6

Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould challenges the rate of Darwinian developmental theory: "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips... of their branch es; the rest is inference, . . . not the evidence of fossils .... In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and 'fully formed.'" 7 Gould, of course, re mains an evolutionist, but faithfully reports his findings as problematic as they may be to traditional Darwinian developmental theory.

Pierre Grasse of the University of Paris speaks out on the implications of the lack of transitional forms: "From the almost total absence of fossil evidence relative to the origin of the phyla, it fol lows that any explanation of the mechanism in the creative evolution of the fundamental structural plans is heavily burdened with hypotheses... We do not even have a basis to deter mine the extent to which these opinions are correct." 8

The reference to hypotheses may suggest some form of a mechanism of change, but what are the causes for the orientations and living functions? Grasse's confession is significant: Perhaps "in this area biology can go no farther: the rest are metaphysics." 9 In this confession, do we possibly have a beautiful concordist between science and religion? On its own terms biology surveys all its causal options and concludes an inability to account fully for the biological forms studied, implying the need for some form of causality other than the Darwinian paradigm. Faith can supply the needed trans-empirical causality: the Divine Creator of heaven and earth.

The illustrations can be multiplied, but suffice to note that a fresh scholarly skepticism of evolutionary theory is growing in academic circles. Of even greater interest is the opening of a window of opportunity for a serious academic hearing of creation and science, provided the principles are presented in a scholarly, accountable fashion in light of the most recent re search.

A window of opportunity

Just as Karl Earth's Somerbrief is said to have fallen "like a bomb on the playground of the theologians" in 1918, 10 so in 1991 Plantinga's "When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible"11  and Johnson's Darwin on Trial 12 have fallen like two bombs on university departments of religion. Stunned scholars are scrambling to respond.

Strikingly, both studies claim that bio logical facts interpreted from an empirical standpoint fatally undermine Darwinian theory.

Evoking the probative argument from perfection concerning the development of the eye de novo, Plantinga asks: How can one biologically "en visage a series of mutations which is such that each member of the series has adaptive value, is also a step on the way to the eye, and is such that the last member is an animal with such an eye[?]" His point is that on "Darwinian assumptions, none of [these steps] could be the path in fact taken ... so how could the eye have evolved in this way?" 13 The answer is that the eye could not have developed in this fashion. Plantinga insists that these considerations suggest that the Christian needs a scientific account of life that is not restricted by "methodological naturalism." 14 No wonder the academic community is reeling.

Johnson offers an evaluation of Darwin's theory from the perspective of a teaching trial lawyer at Berkeley. After critically, carefully, and thoroughly surveying the evidence for Darwinian naturalistic biological evolution, he concludes that viewed strictly from the point of view of logic and the principles of scientific research, the Darwinian theory of origins "is not supported by impartially evaluated empirical evidence." 15 Thus Johnson asks, "Why not consider the possibility that life is what it so evidently seems to be, the product of creative intelligence?" 16 Because of the cogently expressed skepticism of Darwinian theory by Plantinga and Johnson, evangelical scholars supporting theistic evolution, such as Van Till and Hasker, are understandably on the defensive. However, in the several exchanges that have been published among the latter three scholars, two significant developments17 need to be noted.

Scientific respect for creation

Perhaps for the first time in recent history, proponents of some form of special creation are being treated with respect rather than with the usual opprobrium. This is an important new development. For example, Ernan McMullin, director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, and a colleague but an outspoken critic of Plantinga, admits that it is worthwhile to consider Plantinga's argument be cause he [standing in the Calvinistic tradition] not only is a well-known philosopher of religion, but also presents a very "sophisticated sort of defense of special creation."18

Van Till salutes Johnson and Plantinga by saying that when compared to traditional scientific creationists, their cases are "more persuasively formulated," 19 rendering them worthy of being addressed. In a lecture delivered in February 1993 Michael Ruse, Darwinian philosopher of science, surprised an audience of evolutionists when he complimented Johnson by saying that he > correctly shows that "evolution akin to religion involves making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions which at some level cannot be proven empirically."20 These illustrations indicate that the wall of defiance against serious consideration of creationism may be cracking in segments of academia.

However, the most significant current development is that occasioned by the comments of William Hasker. In his response to Johnson, Hasker,21 a severe critic of Johnson until now, welcomes his proposal for a new research agenda to include a call to "paleontologists to interpret their evidence without Darwinist prejudice."22 Hasker magnanimously allows that Johnson's research proposal "could produce a genuinely viable special creationism alternative." 23 Then Hasker articulates a window opening challenge: "I hope [Johnson] will find scientists who are willing and able to undertake the research he has in mind." There it is, an opportunity flung wide open by the scholarly community it self to be informed by the latest science and religion research.

This means that a time of unequaled possibilities lies open before the Geoscience Research Institute and Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities with graduate programs in science to rise to the glory of God in making major contributions, some perhaps of epoch-making significance, concerning issues of origins and neocatastrophism, indicating that true science and inspiration are harmonious after all.

In this volatile environment of contemporary biblical and theological reexamination of the role of inspiration and the natural sciences, responsible strict concordist scholars will surely discover additional new harmonies between Scripture and science about which to write, not only with breathless excitement but above all with deeply compelling academic power. This effort can continue to show that concordist is not an anachronistic effort, but is very relevant indeed in the post-Darwinian age.

In view of these possibilities, John Woodbridge is so right when he observes: "It is ironic that some evangelical scholars are discounting the Bible statements about nature and history at the very time evolutionary thought is in such flux." 24 Now is the time to tremble at the word of the God of creation and not to tremble at the words of Darwin, whose theory is in crisis.25 Strict concordism's day in court may have come. At least the academic ball is in its court. What will the Adventist ministry speak in response? The general community, for the time being at least, is listening.

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1 Kenneth T. Gallagher, "Dawkins in Biomorph
Land," International Philosophical
Quarterly 32, No. 4 (December 1992): 501-
513.

2 For a discussion of the argument from
perfection, its history and cogency, see John
T. Baldwin, "God and the World: William
Paley's Argument From Perfection Tradition--
A Continuing Influence," Harvard
Theological Review 85, No. 1 (1992): 109-120.

3 Michael Polanyi, "Life's Irreducible
Structure," Science 160 (June 21, 1968):
1308-1312.

4 Cobb made this point in a lecture delivered
at the Divinity School of the University
of Chicago in 1982.


5 Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe,
Why Neo-Darwinism Does Not Work
(Cardiff, Wales: University College Cardiff
Press, 1982), pp. 32, 33.


6 Bruno Vollmert, Das Molekul und das
Leben: vom makromolekularen Ursprung des
Lebens und derArten: Was Darwin nicht wissen
konnte und Darwinisten nicht wissen
wollen (Reinbek bei Hambrug: Rowohlt,
1965; reprint 1985), p. 26 in early edition;
quoted in Kurt Hiibner, "Genesis and Mod
ern Theories of Evolution," Man and World
25 (1992): 406.


7 Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution's Erratic
Pace." Natural History 86, No. 5 (May
1977): 14.


8 Pierre Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms
(New York: Academic Press, 1977), p. 31.

9 Ibid., p. 246.


10 Attributed to Catholic theologian Karl
Adam, quoted by John McConnachie, The Significance
of Karl Barth (New York: R. R. Smith, 1931), p. 43.


11 Alvin Plantinga, "When Faith and Reason
Clash: Evolution and the Bible,"
Christian Scholar's Review 21, No. 1
(1991): 25.


12 Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial
(Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1991).

13 Plantinga, p. 25.

14 Ibid,, p. 29.

15 Howard J. Van Till and Phillip E. Johnson,
"God and Evolution: An Exchange," First
Things 34 (June/July 1993): 39.

16 Johnson, p. 110.

17 See, for example, William Hasker, "Mr.
Johnson for the Prosecution," Christian Scholar's
Review 22, No. 2 (1992): 177-186; Phillip
E. Johnson, "Response to Hasker," Christian
Scholar's Review 22, No. 3 (1993): 297-304;
in the same issue, Hasker's "Reply to
Johnson," pp. 305-308; Howard J. Van Till and
Phillip E. Johnson, "God and Evolution: An
Exchange," First Things 34 (June/July 1993):
32-41; Howard J. Van Till, "Is Special Creationism
a Heresy?" Christian Scholar's
Review 22, No. 4 (1993): 380-395.

18 Erman McMullin, "Evolution and Special
Creation," Zygon 28, No. 3 (September
1993): 300.

19 Van Till, p. 381.

20 Michael Ruse's Boston lecture, "Nonliteralist
Evolution," delivered before the AAAS,
was one in a series of presentations by various
speakers on the theme "The New Antievolutionism."

21 Hasker, "Reply to Johnson," pp. 305-308.

22 Johnson, "Response to Hasker," p. 303,
n. 7.

23 Hasker, "Reply to Johnson," p. 308.

24 John D. Woodbridge, "Does the Bible
Teach Science?" Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (July-
September 1985): 205.

25 Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in
Crisis (Bethesda, MA: Adler and Adler, 1986).

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