VIRGINIA BAPTIST FORUM: Evolution is uncertain

I am responding to previous letters by Marylee Sturgiss (April 23), John Klink (March 12) and Spencer Williams (May 7).

Ms. Sturgiss, please allow me to humbly treat the various issues you raise in your response to Mr. Klink in an effort to bring more clarity to this often confusing issue. My purpose here is not primarily to defend Mr. Klink or a specific interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis (indeed, I would not identify myself as a young-earth creationist as Mr. Klink seems to do), but to make sure that other Virginia Baptists are treated to the most accurate presentation of the issues at hand.

In your first paragraph you strongly aver that there is in fact a dichotomy between the Bible and science, or rather, “more like an abyss of 4.6 billion years.” The simple problem with this is that you set up the young-earth creation view of Genesis 1 as the only viable interpretation of the Scripture and then beat this straw man about the head rather than acknowledging the several other interpretations of the passage.

What about the old-earth creation (also known as the Day-Age Theory) position that has no problem with the earth being several billions of years old? Also legitimate is the literary view of Genesis 1 which holds that the Genesis story is not trying to deal with the age of the earth at all but rather demonstrating God’s glory and power over all other pagan deities in his creation of the world.

Additionally of note in the first  paragraph  is  your assertion that Mr. Klink argues that all “science is a religion called secular humanism.” I confess I cannot find such a claim anywhere in Mr. Klink’s original letter. He does argue that many try to reinterpret (falsely in his view) Genesis 1-11 along the lines of secular humanism. Yet nowhere in this argument do I find the assertion that all science is necessarily secular humanism.

Regarding what kind of evidence he offers to defend his view “that evolution is some part of a 150-year-old plot,” again I do not find such a claim in his letter. It appears you are criticizing his holding to the position of biblical inerrancy because such a view is an all or nothing approach which threatens to collapse into complete biblical rejection if an error were proven to exist within the pages of Scripture.

You need to make sure you define what exactly you mean by evolution. Evolution comes in two major forms: macroevolution and microevolution. Macroevolution is what Darwin had in mind when writing his monumental work and deals with large scale changes in whole species guided by blind chance, random mutation and natural selection (according to Darwin’s mechanism). There are no solid cases in which macroevolution has ever been positively observed in nature.

Microevolution, on the other hand, deals with changes on a small scale within individual organisms or populations of organisms in which small adaptations happen over time as prompted by various environmental factors. Microevolution is broadly accepted as fact and has indeed been observed in numerous cases, including those which you cite.

Darwin acknowledged in the pages of Origin of Species that if a transitional form was not discovered his entire theory would be falsified. Furthermore, he simply let the gaps in the fossil record of his day explain the missing form. In other words, he had no positive evidence for his theory but trusted that some would be found eventually.

Well, we are still waiting today. Darwin’s theory depends on various species appearing slowly over the course of the fossil record. The problem with this is that according to the fossil record, this did not happen. Instead, at the beginning of the Cambrian period, nearly all of the species we know about today appear all at once and fully formed. Darwinian macroevolution simply cannot account satisfactorily for this.

For your second example you transition to the field of microbiology. You are right in saying that “it is much easier to perceive evolution in microbiology,” as long as you understand the the kind of evolution you perceive there to be microevolution, not macroevolution. The example of the appearance of staph infections in hospitals is a great example of an observed microevolution. You cannot make the intellectual jump from bacteria which are not resistant to antibiotics becoming those which are (and are still bacteria) to apes becoming humans through incremental changes over time.

From my reading of Mr. Klink’s letter, nowhere does he present himself as “anti-science.” Instead, he simply endeavors to bring recognition to the limits of science.  His statement, “Science cannot prove the theory of evolution, nor the biblical scenario of creation,” is most accurate. If you will do a bit more research on the current state of the Darwinian evolution-intelligent design debate you will quickly discover that evolution is far from a settled theory, let alone a “strongly-supported theory.” Microevolution is safe from challenge, but macroevolution rests on flimsy arguments, tentative-yet-unobserved mechanisms, and a lot of faith that answers will eventually become available.

Finally, when you made reference to secular humanism early in your letter, it concerned me somewhat as this is a philosophical position that stands in contradiction to a healthy Christian theism. Secular humanism is a worldview that rejects theism and the supernatural in favor of the belief that humans are the measure of all things and are literally limitless in their potential for self-perfection through advances in reason, science and technology.

And yet secular humanism is not the only philosophical position upon which the theory of Darwinian evolution rests. It also relies heavily on philosophical naturalism, which again rejects theism a priori in favor of a strictly natural understanding of the workings of the world. Neither of these positions are accurate descriptions of reality as revealed not only through the Bible but also through reason and experience.

And trying to argue for a median position that accepts Darwin’s mechanism but attributes it instead to God is not a sufficient choice either. Darwin’s mechanism is naturalistic: it necessarily excludes God from the picture. Simply trying to force God into the picture is an artificial attempt to reconcile Christian theism with a worldview aggressively opposed to it.

So in answer to your rhetorical question, “Will not God permit his servants to accept evolution and still be Baptist?” -- perhaps he will, that is not my place comment. But here are two corollaries to consider: 1. The tone of this question seems to belittle those who would reject evolution as untenable with their faith -- a position I hope has in the church been shown to be acceptable over the course of this quickly expanding response. 2. Christians, whether Baptist in their ecclesiology or of any other tradition, should have a healthy debate over the veracity and proper place of evolution in the church, but they absolutely cannot accept the philosophical underpinnings of Darwinian evolution.

As a final challenge to you, Ms. Sturgiss: Why do you find yourself so driven to defend Darwinian evolution against the challenges of the account of creation presented in Scripture?  If there are other viable explanations of the creation of the universe and everything in it which do not specifically support a particular set of religious beliefs would these not also be important for our students to learn?

Jonathan Waits, Church Road