Truth Project 5: Science (What is True?)

The fifth tour of the Truth Project is a two-part lecture dealing with science. Del begins with the Bible’s statement, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19), and points out that there has been a tendency since the Fall to look at what is plain (i.e., God’s creation and ordering of the world) and ignore it. Del notes the difficulty of answering the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” from a purely naturalistic point of view. He also points out that if what we see in the world is random, then we would have no need to study it. But since we can see that the universe has order, that makes it difficult to claim that it is the product of chance.

Del then turns to look specifically at Darwin’s theory of evolution. He cites several sources as saying that evolution is a fact beyond dispute, then attempts to undermine it by appealing to William Paley’s argument for design. Such modern apologists for evolution as Richard Dawkins define biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” and Del thinks that he (and others like him) are ignoring the obvious: namely, that if the universe looks designed, then it must have been designed.

In the second half of the science tour, Del continues to take aim at evolution. He questions it first based on molecular biology, then the fossil record. Before looking at molecular biology, he quotes Darwin as saying, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” This, Del says, is precisely what has happened through study of molecular biology. He cites Michael Behe as saying that the flagellum and the inner workings of the cell are “irreducibly complex,” meaning that they could not have come about through the kinds of modifications that Darwin wrote about.

Del then turns to question evolution through appeal to the fossil record. He points out the paucity of evidence gathered through the fossil record and scoffs at Stephen Jay Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium,” which was presented as a possible way around the lack of transitional forms. He also argues that the difference between the beaks of the varieties of the Galapagos Finch that Darwin observed can be explained as temporary differences that oscillate back and forth depending on the availability of certain types of food.

Del then wraps up by saying that statements like these made against evolution are met with derisive comments. Why? Because, Del says, we are not just dealing with a scientific truth claim, but a philosophical truth claim. Evolution, he says, is a worldview which people will desperately hang on to because the consequences of rejecting it turn them face-to-face with the reality of a creator. If evolution is true, then there was no Adam and Eve and original sin. If there is no original sin, then there was no reason for Jesus to be a redeemer. And if there was no reason for Jesus to be redeemer, then there was no reason for him to come, and Christianity is nothing.

To his credit, Del realizes that this is a controversial subject. Before the tour started, he included a statement to the viewer asking him or her to hear him out and weigh whether his argument is true. I hope that I was able to give him a fair hearing, and here is what I came away with:

I agree with Del that science has a great deal of difficulty explaining why there is something rather than nothing, and even how life came from non-life. And I agree with Del on the reason for this: namely, that science is not capable of addressing philosophical issues like that. Because of the success of science coming out of the Enlightenment, some began (and continue) to claim that science is omnicompetent – that is, that it can do anything, including providing explanations for philosophical questions like why we are here. Del is right to point out this shift and the difficulty involved in it.

I also think that Del is right to point out the willful ignorance of people like Dawkins and Francis Crick, who say that biology studies things that appear to be designed, but really are not.

However, I’m not so sure that Del is adopting the best strategy by taking on evolution lock, stock and barrel. One reason for this is that there are many intelligent Christians (including many Christians who work in the sciences) who find no contradiction between their Christian faith and a belief in evolution. I am no scientist – the only science courses I took in college were a biology class and a chemistry class, which were enough to satisfy the general education requirement – but if people like Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, find no contradiction between their faith and their support of evolution, then I am all right with that.

58% of Catholics, 54% of Orthodox, 51% of mainline Protestants and 24% of Evangelical Protestants believe in evolution
58% of Catholics, 54% of Orthodox, 51% of mainline Protestants and 24% of Evangelical Protestants believe in evolution

Another reason that I’m not sure that attacking evolution by substituting Intelligent Design is the best strategy is that it seems to me like a “god of the gaps” way of viewing science. If we believe in a “god of the gaps,” we believe that those natural phenomena that we can’t explain otherwise must have been brought about by God. But what happens when we are able to explain those natural phenomena? Our “god” is diminished.

I think that Del is right in many of the things that he says about science, but he has unfortunately chosen the wrong “bad guy.” The bad guy here is not the theory of evolution, which, as I mentioned, many Christians who work in the sciences believe in. No, the bad guy is scientific naturalism, which says that the only real things are the things we can examine through science. This is the worldview that needs to be addressed. In this debate, evolution is just a red herring. Unfortunately, many young people who have been raised in the church are taught to believe that their faith is incompatible with evolution, and then go to college and become convinced that evolution must be true. Then they are faced with a false dilemma between science and faith, and guess which one loses?


10 thoughts on “Truth Project 5: Science (What is True?)

  1. Elliott,

    Don’t worry – I, at least, am reading and benefiting from them. How have the discussions afterwards been?

    1. E: I’ve only read the first one so, but I found it very interesting. You are also a dandy reviewer, so if nothing else, you’ll probably help many people decide whether to recommend the series to their churches or not.
      Congratulations again, by the way.
      Love, Mom

  2. Michael,

    The discussions are going well. There was not much controversial about the first four tours. The fifth was a little more tricky. In the beginning, we all talked about the good points of Del’s presentation. Then I realized that we weren’t going to talk about the issue of theistic evolution unless someone brought it up, so I asked whether the group thought it was possible to believe in evolution and be a Christian. Those who answered “yes” were definitely in the minority, but even those who didn’t were not defensive – which was all I could ask for. I’m not there to try and poke holes in Del’s arguments (though I do have to struggle against a fault-finding tendency); I just want to help people to see the broader picture. I want to help people to be able to understand these issues from a different perspective, even if they eventually disagree with that perspective. So far, I like the tone that the group has.

  3. My group is going through this and I’m so depressed. You’re being very charitable, but so far, I’m largely finding this series to be short-sighted, intellectually dishonest, and counter productive. I agree with all that Dell _affirms_, but why is every week focused on what he’s going to attack? Surely God gives us more than just bad news…

    (This coming from a frequent L’Abri participant familiar with Guinness and Zacharias.)

  4. What concerns me is that all the hooraw about evolution is in support not only of the failed doctrine of inerrancy, but of the requirement within it that the creation account be read as history when there are other valid forms of literature in which that account shines as explantion of elements of the human condition.
    Oh, “Inerrancy” as “failed doctrine?” Not because it is not true, but because it places the emphasis on Bible as authority without clear direction that the Bible MUST be a tool of the Spirit and its lessons subject to review in the Spirit. How many denominations are very Bereans for searching the scripture with a fine tooth comb, but miss the Spirit of God’s love completely? Jesus castigated the Pharisees in John 5: “39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

  5. Um…the Bereans are commended by scripture, so that’s not really on target.

    Whatever the supposed/alleged conflict between Genesis and evolution, I believe that a Christian must start and end with Scripture. Searching and loving the Word of God isn’t optional.

    BUT that’s not as fundy as it sounds. A literal six-day view of Creation is an *error in interpreting scripture* and NOT a fault (or error) in scripture itself. God’s word is truth; our minds our fallen. There is little in the Hebrew to suggest 24-hour days, nevermind the simple logic of asserting solar days before the Sun was created! None of these reflect poorly on scripture, only on its stewards.

    The deficiency in Inerrancy as a doctrine has more to do with having too SMALL a view of scripture than too large a view.

  6. “Um…the Bereans are commended by scripture, so that’s not really on target.”
    And I was not berating the Bereans or anyone else for searching scripture, but for depending on scripture alone or especially not working in the Spirit in which they were written. I believe that Christians must start and end in the Spirit Jesus promised for our guide.
    By the way, “The Word of God” is MUCH larger than the book. If you doubt me, try reading John 1 substituting “Bible” every place you see “Word.”

  7. Elliot, I’ve found these reviews extremely well written, and succinct. So well done and thank you. You have the ability to identify the good as well the faulty.

    Regarding ID, I tend to think that it is not so much the finished articles but all the processes, which God ‘designed’. In other words, God made evolution. God made mathematics too.

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