Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Reader Responds: Christianity and Evolution

In December, we received a new comment on our “Introductory Post” which perhaps our readers may not have noticed, and in reply to our reply, we received a 4200-word essay. Instead of tucking it away in the comment thread there, we invited the author, Calvin Wieske, to run it as a guest post. We appreciate the tone and degree of engagement br. Wieske exhibits, and while some of what he writes we have already addressed elsewhere on this blog, we will be responding to this in due course as time permits. [Update 5 March 2013: We accepted a comment by William Sikkema addressing many of the scientific matters, and Freda Oosterhoff offers a general response; see the comments.] However, we wanted to demonstrate our openness to dialogue by publishing his remarks without delay. Calvin Wieske is member of Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church and a graduate of McMaster University with an Honours B.Sc. in Earth and Environmental Sciences. He describes himself as a young-earth creationist with a special interest in creation science, and has applied to a few schools to obtain a Bachelor of Education this fall and aspires to continue his education, D.V., in the future.

Br. Wieske's original comment and our reply are copied here for convenience to set the stage for his new contribution.

Calvin Wieske: I also applaud the purpose and vision of this blog as a forum for the debate and study of both “…the relationship between worldview and academic theories” and the “…varying degrees of conflict between faith and academics” as mentioned in your introductory post. Having read through a number of articles and collected papers on this blog, along with the personal profiles of the contributors/editors, however, it appears that the four managing blog editors confess to be old-age creationists. Is this true? And if so, would you consider this blog to be an open discussion on the conflict between christianity and science? Or could it be perceived to be a somewhat biased forum for old-earth creation apologetics? In no way do I wish to imply that the intent is to be biased, I am simply wondering if we could avoid the possibility of such bias by perhaps enlisting one or two young-earth creationist contributors/editors to ensure fair treatment of both sides and ensure balanced discussion. This could also discourage viewers from wrongfully assuming that most (if not all) ‘academics’ hold to an old-earth creation theology. Is there merit to my comments or am I coming across as judgemental? I look forward to your response.

Reply by Reformed Academic: We appreciate your letter, Calvin, both for its pleasant tone and because it allows us to explain once more the approach we have been following on this blog. You are right in stating that we are focusing on old-earth creationism. We are doing so, however, not because we oppose or fear an “open and balanced discussion on the conflict between Christianity and science,” but in order to encourage and promote such a discussion. As you have undoubtedly noticed, the old-earth approach appears to be no longer acceptable in the Canadian Reformed Churches. Instead, young-earth creationism is widely promoted as the only possible and acceptable biblical view, such in blatant opposition to a well-documented Reformed tradition, which allowed the discussion of various other theories. (On this Reformed tradition see our blog post “Young-Earth Creationism: A History”; an essay, incidentally, that was also submitted to Clarion but was rejected as unsuitable.)

The immediate reason for establishing the blog was, in fact, the sudden decision of Clarion to censor material written from an old-earth-creationist point of view. This happened about four years ago. Since then, Clarion has steadfastly supported young-earth creationism, denounced old-earth creationism, and continued to close its pages to articles attempting to explain the latter view. In short, young-earth creationism gets all the attention in our printed media it could possibly desire; it is also taught in our schools and occasionally even proclaimed from our pulpits. You will understand that we therefore see no need to invite young-earth-creationist contributors/editors to join our ranks. We do, however, accept and publish comments by people who disagree with us, including young-earth creationists. Indeed, we welcome such comments and the discussions to which they give rise.

We realize that many of our church members approve of the current CanRef attitude because they believe that any deviation from a literalist explanation of Genesis 1 is dangerous, even heretical, and must therefore be forbidden. We understand that position, but, although some of us have held it in the past, we no longer subscribe to it. We have given the reasons in several of our blog postings. One argument, as noted above, is that it is against the tradition of our churches, and indeed of the Christian Church as such. Different viewpoints on apparent conflicts between Scripture and science have traditionally been allowed, already in the early church. In addition to the essay mentioned in paragraph 1 of this response, we refer you to the work of Dr. Peter J. Wallace, particularly to his essay “The Doctrine of Creation in the History of the Church,” which you can also find on this blog under “Collected Papers.” Another reason is that declaring a young-earth interpretation of Genesis 1 to be the only acceptable biblical approach creates unnecessary and dangerous stumbling blocks both to fellow-believers (not least to our students and academics) and to “seekers.” Aware of the advances in medicine, technology, and so on, which were achieved, in God’s providence, by modern science, many find it difficult, indeed impossible, to agree to the demand that, in order to be a Christian, they must denounce well-established and fruitful scientific theories as deceptive. We ask for a free and open discussion of the issues at stake first of all to help these people. We do it also, however, for the sake of our churches as such, which we fear are succumbing to a type of “fundamentalism” that is foreign to their tradition.

Here follows Calvin’s essay in response. We welcome the critical engagement of our readers. As all of us are busy, we don’t expect to respond ourselves very quickly though.

Christianity and Evolution:
Bias, Fraud and the Question of Compatibility

A guest post by Calvin Wieske

Thank you for your reply! I apologize for the delay, but I wanted to ensure due diligence in a response. In fact, I used to think that an old earth was plausible, and that it did not really matter biblically. I am no longer of that opinion, however. Again I applaud your joint venture to encourage and promote open and balanced discussion on this controversial topic, and It is my intent that what follows will be written accordingly.

I have indeed noticed that the Canadian Reformed churches tend to encourage a young-earth view, while encouraging the exclusion of old-earth doctrine from both the classroom and the pulpit. From my experience, there is a good reason for this, which is similar to that which you have put forward for starting this blog. The need for this blog as described in your reply to my comment on “Introducing Reformed Academic” was, if I may summarize, “…the sudden decision of Clarion to censor material written from an old-earth-creationist point of view…[while] young-earth creationism gets all the attention in our printed media it could possibly desire”. What is not mentioned is that modern secular science pushes evolutionary thinking in all forums, whether it be public schools where it is taught as fact, or the news, where fossils are frequently trumpeted as being the latest “transitional form” or “evolutionary breakthrough”, when closer scrutiny reveals a lot of extrapolation, and very little hard evidence. In addition, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic and other programs including the BBC’s Emmy-winning “Walking With…” documentary series bring the distant evolutionary past right into your living room in high definition, neglecting to mention that the events portrayed are merely artists’ renderings of scientific conjecture. In fact it might be said that evolution gets all the attention in mass media it could possibly desire. This has undoubtedly led to the hesitation of Canadian Reformed publications to contribute to our continual exposure to evolutionary rhetoric.

Nonetheless, you are not evolutionists, but old-earth creationists, and I understand this. However, the famous English biologist and evolution advocate Thomas Huxley was adamant that evolution and special creation were mutually exclusive, stating, “evolution excludes creation and all other kinds of supernatural intervention”. [Evolution and Ethics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1894), p. 6)] In fact, throughout my post-secondary education, this lack of compatibility was a fact that was agreed upon by the vast majority of my professors, and I don’t think it would be remiss to say that most modern secular scientists share this sentiment. This is not surprising since the theory of evolution is a logical result of the belief that God does not exist and the subsequent need for an alternative explanation of life as we know it. Therefore, it is no longer a question of whether the creation days can be seen as non-literal or non-twenty-four hour days, but a question of whether evolution undermines the Bible, and therefore attacks all that we, as Christians, hold dear.

It is no secret that evolution depends on long ages. How else could advanced life forms come from nothing, or even from eternal, lifeless matter, without supernatural intervention? In fact, materialism (the theory or belief that matter or energy is all that exists) is the driver of evolution, and this, coupled with uniformitarianism, creates the biased worldview of secular scientists. Prominent atheist, evolutionist and critic of creation and intelligent design Richard Dawkins admits, “the fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some ten billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing - is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.” [“From Tale to Tail on the Path of Pilgrims in Life”, The Scotsman, 9 April 2005.] The late paleontologist Dr. Stephen Jay Gould in his 1977 article “Evolution’s Erratic Pace” (reprinted in his 1980 book The Panda’s Thumb) admits, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as a trade secret of paleontology. Evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.” This is why Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge developed the idea of “punctuated equilibrium” which describes the history of life as long periods of evolutionary stability ‘punctuated’ by rapid instances of evolutionary branching. In fact, even the word ‘rapid’ here is misleading, as it usually translates to instant appearance of new forms in the fossil record, with a glaring absence of precursors. This theory is in direct contrast to the more common theory of gradual evolution and the work of Charles Darwin, who admitted he must throw out his entire theory if the geological record did not show, “intermediate varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life.”

This is not to say that scientists have not produced examples of ‘transitional forms’ from the fossil record, but rather that they have failed to uncover a definitive record of evolutionary transitions over time, as their predecessors had predicted they would. In fact, these ‘transitional fossils’ are actually distinct creatures, whose status as ‘evidence’ is open to interpretation, and whose fossils often appear (and/or disappear) from the fossil record around the same time as their so-called ‘evolutionary descendants’. The coelacanth is a well-known example of a so-called ‘transitional fossil’, assumed to be a transition between fish and tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) because of its lobe-like fins. It was believed to have evolved into its modern form around 400 mya (million years ago) and then become extinct 65 mya, as was documented in the fossil record. This was debunked in 1938, when a fisherman caught a live coelacanth off the east coast of South Africa. Since then, many more have been caught and some have even been photographed in their natural habitat. Rather than be embarrassed by their mistake, scientists’ put some of these ‘primitive’ fish in museums and ironically label findings such as these (there are multiple examples) “Lazarus” taxa, after Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. In the same way scientists coin other oxymoronic terms such as “evolutionary conservatism” or “evolutionary stasis” to explain how an animal remains identical despite over 400 million years of environmental fluctuations, not to mention the selective pressures caused by the evolution of everything else in their environment (as their theory predicts). Animals like the coelacanth are described as ‘primitive’, because of their perceived lack of evolutionary progress, regardless of the fact that they often exhibit unique, complex traits that allow them to survive in their environment (in this case, a ‘primitive’ fish ironically survives 400 my of so-called evolution-driving selective pressure by not evolving).

Examples such as this are useful for illustrating the bias of secular science, as dictated by their worldview. Another example is the term “convergent evolution” which is used to explain how animals from different (theoretical) lineages have acquired ‘analogous’ traits independently, presumably by independently evolving different structures numerous times for the same function (e.g. wings, which have the same function, but completely different structure and origin on bats, insects and birds). In contrast, “divergent” evolution is used to describe different uses and functions of ‘homologous’ structures that have presumably originated in a common ancestor, but have ‘evolved’ for different uses (e.g.. various animals share a similar limb structure made up of a humerus, radius and ulna, which are used for vastly different functions). In this way, evolutionists cover their bases by making the evidence fit their theory, thereby proving that they are not searching for the truth, but rather seek proof for their worldview, regardless of the evidence.

In a rebuttal to Herman van Barneveld’s comment on “More About Origin and Operation Science: A Response” by Jitse van der Meer, brother van der Meer says, “I expect that deeper insight into the causes of the evolution of new body plans (jellyfish, worms, sea urchins, insects, mammals) will come from developmental biology – the study of embryonic development”. In fact, studies on embryonic development in the past have accomplished the opposite. Evolutionarily we would expect the embryonic development of ‘homologous’ traits in two different species to be similar if these traits were inherited from a common ancestor. Instead, however, studies on the development of ‘homologous’ traits have yielded (evolutionarily) surprising results. One such example is the development of digits (fingers and toes) in frogs and humans. Humans develop a spade shaped structure, followed by the digits (e.g. fingers) differentiating as the cells between them are destroyed by apoptosis (programmed cell death). Frogs, on the other hand, grow their digits outwards from a ‘bud’ by way of cell division at growth points (Futuyma, D., Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates, Massachusetts, U.S.A, 2nd ed., p. 436, 1986). This is remarkable since it essentially indicates that the development of these ‘homologous’ structures could not come from shared genes. Some might say then that this is an anomaly, where what appear to be ‘homologous’ traits, are simply similar structures that evolved independently. This is not an obscure example, however, as embryonic development of ‘homologous’ structures differs widely in other animals as well, even in salamanders and frogs which are both amphibians (Fröbisch, N.B., and Shubin, N.H., “Salamander limb development: Integrating genes, morphology, and fossils”, Developmental Dynamics 240(5): 1087-1099, 2011 cited in Statham, Dominic., “Homology Made Simple”, Creation 34(4): 43-45, 2012).

The point here is not that secular scientists are biased while Christians are not, but rather that we are both biased, and our differing worldviews dictate how we interpret the evidence. In other words, the fallacy lies in evolutionists’ interpretation of the evidence. In addition, this illustrates how the evidence has not created their worldview; rather their worldview was firmly established before they began examining the evidence. In the past this may not have been as prominent, as the secular worldview was not as rampant and at that point it could perhaps be argued that some Christians hypothesized the potential of an old earth based on their scientific study. If this was so, however, they were relatively few, and I believe many of them would have retracted their views had they seen the blatant anti-Christian bias of scientists today, as well as the continuing lack of evidence to uphold their theories.

In a continued response to Herman van Barneveld’s comment on the aforementioned article, Jitse van der Meer states, “today the fossil record is sufficiently complete to be confident that there are strata with marine fossils such as corals that contain no fish because at the time there were corals, but no fish. This cannot be explained as the result of Noah’s flood, for instance, because it would have mixed up corals and fish”. This betrays a bias in interpretation along the lines of what I have mentioned above. Strata with marine fossils such as corals, which lack fish, could indeed be interpreted to indicate that fish had not yet evolved, from an evolutionists’ point of view. From an unbiased point of view, however, what we see are diverse corals which recent research, including that of a team led by David Miller of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia), reveals that corals are complex organisms which are estimated to have 20-25,000 genes, potentially 2,000 genes more than humans! In addition, the lack of fish in coral bearing strata no more proves the nonexistence of fish than the lack of the coelacanth in the last (alleged) 65 my of rock strata proves its extinction. In fact, this phenomenon is relatively common, a result of fossil bias due to the effects of differing organism mobility and hydrodynamic sorting. While corals are sedentary, fish are mobile, allowing them opportunity to escape fossilization events (catastrophic burial for example). In addition, upon death, many animals including fish tend to bloat, causing them to float and degrade before they can be fossilized. These are also reasonable explanations for the relative lack of human fossils in geologic strata. In general, the effects of differential mobility, hydrodynamic dispersion, habitat, anatomy and other factors are well known to create bias in the already sparse fossil record which I will not go further into at this point.

Jitse van der Meer also states, “Herman has been misled by scientific creationists to think that there are no transitional fossils. The fossil record does include fish with legs, fish with lungs, dinosaurs with feathers, mammal-like reptiles etc.” I have already mentioned the coelacanth as evidence of this erroneous thinking, and might add that ‘primitive’ ‘transitional fossils’ known as lungfish (freshwater fish which can breathe air with their lungs) can be found living today in Australia, South America and Africa. These ‘primitive’ animals have been created with unique systems that allow them to survive seasonal drying of their habitat by breathing air and estivating (a form of hibernation) in mud, another example of miraculous ‘evolutionary stasis’ to an evolutionist presumably. I could go on, but you get the point, there are always two sides to the story that must be explored.

Van der Meer then explains, “New information is added to the genome of plants and animals by duplication of existing genes followed by mutation of the duplicate as well as by duplication of entire chromosomes”. This is indeed true to a degree, but one must only look to the incidence of Down’s Syndrome in humans (which is caused by a partial or complete third copy of chromosome 21) to see the adverse effects this generally has on the recipient. Van der Meer adds, “Mammals have four sets [of homeotic genes] on four chromosomes. It is generally accepted that they arose by two successive chromosome duplications and subsequent mutations in the duplicate genes.” Generally accepted by secular science, perhaps, but there is certainly no proof of this. Van der Meer is correct, however, in noting, “There is, however, a far more serious problem, namely that of the origin of genetic information. There is strong evidence from polymer chemistry against a molecular mechanism that produces genetic information where there was none before.” This is, in my opinion, one of the largest nails in the coffin of evolution.

Contrary to Darwin’s predictions, therefore, Dr. Gould points out a problem that can’t be ignored, namely the lack of definitive scientific evidence of evolution and an old earth, despite years and years of biased study and the teaching of evolution as fact in schools, museums, tourist attractions and elsewhere in the public forum. Perhaps this is why creation science has “flourished mightily over the past three or four decades” against all odds, as mentioned in the introduction to “Young-Earth Creationism: A History”. In fact, Dr. Oosterhoff, in her article introduced in that blog posting, admits that The Genesis Flood (1961) by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris “conquered not only fundamentalism and much of American evangelicalism as a whole, it found adherents also in conservative protestant churches…Seventh-Day Adventists and Southern Baptists…several members of Reformed and Presbyterian churches [and] even had adherents among Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses.” Was this an accident, or by design? Were these people all misled, or perhaps was God using these men to bring the church back to the Bible? Admittedly, The Genesis Flood contains some examples that are outdated with new scientific developments today, not unlike secular science textbooks of the day. Why is it, then, that its legacy of young-earth creation science lives on?

This is a loaded question. Perhaps it is the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. Perhaps it is the instant ‘explosions’ of life followed by loss of diversity and relentless extinctions that we see instead. It may even be the fact that the evolution movement has been so anti-religious that it is a backlash against the attack of science on the church. What is clear is that for most of written history, the church believed in twenty-four hour creation days, because they had no reason to question it. With the increase in scientific knowledge, new theories were born and there have been numerous young-earth and old-earth theologians since. Calvin and Luther held to a young-earth, as did Augustine, although he allowed for varying lengths of the creation days. Kuyper, Schilder, Bavinck and others allowed an old-earth but none professed evolution, and many of their contemporaries differed on their theories of old-earth creation between the Gap Theory, Day-Age Theory and Framework Hypothesis, among others. But you know all this, so what is the point? The point is that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to conclusively prove or disprove either old-earth creationism or young-earth creationism with our existing scientific evidence. A couple reasons for this include incomplete data and biased interpretations but we are also impeded by the physical, temporal and intellectual limitations that we face as fallible, fallen humanity. Does this mean that we should give up this discussion? I think not.

Brother van der Meer continues in his rebuttal to Herman van Barneveld, “For [creation scientists,] science is a means to show that the Bible is true, not a means to glorify God by studying his works. This became clear after various experiences with scientific fraud on their part for the sake of harmonizing science with Scripture. I am referring to their claim of having found human and dinosaur footprints in the same rock, known as the Paluxy River affair, their selective use of radiometric data in an attempt to undermine the credibility of an ancient earth, their claim that the observed exponential decay of the Earth’s magnetic field proves that the Earth cannot be more than about 10,000 years old known as the Thomas Barnes affair.”

Surely this is a bold accusation, besides being a vast generalization. Admittedly, there have been some regrettable instances in the past where perhaps religious fervour, lack of due diligence and other factors contributed to Christian scientists presenting fraudulent or incorrect data. Perhaps some of this fallacious information was even presented knowingly, with manipulative intent. Does this mean that all Christian scientists are guilty of this? And are we better than them? Is this not the human nature that we all struggle with? In Psalm 53 David writes, “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (vv. 2, 3 NIV 1984) The problem is, not one of us is perfectly knowledgeable, nor without sin. This is not to be an excuse, however. True science demands that fraudulent and outdated arguments be swiftly exposed and corrected by peer evaluation, as many young-earth creationists have done in regards to the aforementioned controversies. In contrast, we could examine the work of respected German evolutionist Dr. Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel’s altered embryo drawings are famous frauds which were not only a manipulative lie, they are often defended to this day, and are even included in science courses and textbooks, regardless of the fact that they have been admitted fakes for years. A quick background and an example of evolutionists defending these falsified drawings is available in this video from the Discovery Institute.

An article from LiveScience called “Oops! 5 Retracted Science Studies of 2012” by columnist Christopher Wanjek sheds more light on this topic. Mr. Wanjek notes, “It seems that an increasing number of scientific studies are just plain wrong and are ultimately retracted. Worse, a study published in October 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (uh, if it’s true) claims that the majority of retractions are due to some type of misconduct, and not honest mistakes, as long assumed”. Mr. Wanjek’s obvious sarcasm aside, it is clearly evident that secular evolutionists are prone to the very ‘scientific fraud’ that van der Meer paints as a defining character of young-earth creationism. Creationists openly admit the bias that comes with their belief in God as our creator, while secular scientists claim to be objective. Van der Meer appears to accept the secular claim that belief in a godless evolutionary process does not create bias in scientific study. I would contend that this is naïve at best. The point here is not to be combative but to establish that science, in theory, is supposed to be an unbiased, objective interpretation of the world around us by means of the scientific method. In reality, however this is rarely the case. Am I saying that human error, bias and fraud force us to abandon scientific study and embrace skeptical, cynical or agnostic attitudes? Certainly not. I think we all agree that the study of God’s Creation is an excellent way to improve our knowledge of God’s incredible power and majesty as well as improve the lives of many who are struggling in a fallen world. It is important, however, to remember the limitations of our fallen world, including that of man, and avoid putting our experiences, studies and perceptions of this world above the infallible revelation we have been given in the Bible.

The one thing that is constant, trustworthy and true throughout the ages is the holy, infallible Word of God. Should not the Bible, therefore, be both the starting and finishing point of such discussion? It is true that long ages and theistic evolution were considered a possibility by some Christians in the past, but it is also true that these Christians were partially relying on misleading, outdated or biased information, while anticipating future scientific findings that never came to fruition. It is also true that humans are sinful, fallible and prone to bias and Christians are by no means exempt from the consequences of these flaws. It is my opinion, therefore, that today’s church has only recently come to understand how at odds evolution is with scripture, and this has undoubtedly been a contributor to the censoring of old-earth ideas. In her aforementioned article [introduced here], Dr. Oosterhoff admits, “Disagreements on this issue are as violent as they have ever been and belong to the most divisive issues among conservative Christians”. Is this not perhaps a reason in itself to censor it from certain publications at the discretion of the editor? This Reformed Academic blog may be used freely as a forum for the discussion of various academic topics, but in a periodical whose mandate differs from this forum, perhaps censorship was the right choice, in order to maintain unity in the church and avoid creating schisms and unrest. One might argue that if periodicals such as Clarion and Reformed Perspective would like to avoid these schisms then they should also censor articles defending young-earth creationism. I would contend that since young-earth arguments do not require a re-interpretation of scripture, and since they are consistent with the belief of the majority of subscribers, the editors of these magazines would be hard pressed to find a reason to do so.

Finally, I would like to submit for your consideration a challenge to your accusation that the Canadian Reformed Church has unfairly censored and attacked old-earth creationists. Dr. Oosterhoff notes in her article, “The Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches…does not take an official position on the matter”. Isn’t this precisely to avoid “binding consciences” or creating “divisive issues” among Christians? In addition, our confessions do not condemn old-earth creationism directly, nor are people labeled as heretics or excommunicated for such ideas, at least not by the church as a unified body, despite some being of the opinion that this should be the case. On the other hand, “Young Earth Creation: A History” refers to Korean Christians as “creationist propagandists” and other young-earth creationists as “anti-Darwinists” and “anti-evolutionists”, which is itself divisive and accusatory language (although perhaps it is not meant as such).

Overall, both reading science into the bible, and describing creation from the bible have led to embarrassments in the past, such as accepting the Greek theory of four elements, the existence of a solid dome ‘raqi’a’ or ‘firmament’ in the sky which holds water, a geocentric theory of the universe, a flat earth, and other ideas which we have since corrected. It is important then, that we look at the Bible as the only infallible source of knowledge, and avoid extrapolating beyond God’s Word. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul reminds us take care in all aspects of life since, “Everything is permissible-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible-but not everything is constructive” (NIV 1984). I believe that Reformed Academic was created with verse 32 of 1 Corinthians 10 in mind, “do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (NIV 1984) as explained in the introductory post. Nonetheless, the devil seeks to twist even our best intentions, and I maintain that the tendency to set secular science above a literal reading of the Bible is unwarranted by the evidence and undermines the very doctrine which you seek to protect. The Devil would love to see these discussions cause divisions in the church, to separate us from God and our neighbour. We must keep this in mind so that we are not judgmental, but rather discuss our differences peacefully as brothers and sisters in the unity of Christ, in a spirit of mutual edification. In this way we can work together to hold off the attacks of the Evil One, for “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV 1984)

Calvin Wieske
Ancaster, ON


William Sikkema said...

I would like to address some of the points which Calvin Wieske raises.

Incompatibility of Christianity and evolution

Indeed most secular scientists would say that evolution is not compatible with Christianity. However, this is not a scientific statement; it is a philosophical statement. Science never has been, nor ever will be, able to address things like meaning, purpose, or philosophy. I firmly believe that science and theology will not be in conflict, because they are the study of two of God’s books (Belgic Confession Article 2).

Also, science is more than just the blind confirmation of our own presuppositions, as Calvin makes it seem. Scientists, as individuals, may seek to prove what they already think, but this is not true of science as a whole. If it was, we would still think that the sun goes around the earth, and that there are only four elements. Scientific data does not typically lend itself to more than one interpretation. For the most part, the combined data and conclusions of many scientists coming at an issue from many, many different angles are resoundingly clear!

As an example of his view, Calvin claims that because scientists have defined “contrary” forms of evolution - convergent and divergent - they are simply covering their bases, allowing them to rescue their presuppositions of evolution. The two are not contrary forms of evolution, they are just two ways in which evolution works. Convergent evolution happens because certain features work really well in the world. My favourite example of convergent evolution is the evolution of the camera eye. I believe it has come about in seven different lineages, and in each lineage, it shares features such as a focusing lens and many other features, down to the rhodopsin molecule that starts the signal transduction cascade to let the cells in the retina know that they’re receiving light. The fabric of the universe, in this case the nature of light, dictates that some structures work really well, and others don’t. It’s no surprise that you see these structures that work really well arise independently of each other. (Another example is that the hydrodynamics of water dictates that a streamlined body is more adapted to moving through water than others.) Divergent evolution is not the opposite, it’s another form of evolution, where two similar structures can be used for different things, such that the selection pressures on each are different. These two types of evolution work side by side and balance each other, so that you get structures that work well, but are quite diverse. I fail to see how this tension between the two types of evolution is evidence against evolution, or evidence of presupposition proving on the part of scientists.

Intermediate fossils?

One of Calvin’s main points is that we don’t see a complete record of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not really a problem for evolution. Fossilization is a sporadic process, and will not capture a complete picture of what happened over time. In light of this, Calvin says that Dr. Gould wrote that there was no definitive proof of evolution based on paleontology. However, Dr. Gould was writing in 1977, and the study of evolution has come quite a ways in in 36 years. Since then, scientists have sequenced our own genome, and many others. Even if we had known nothing about the fossil record, there is strong modern genetic evidence from these studies that (seemingly unrelated) organisms are related.


William Sikkema said...


Phylogeny Construction

Calvin says, “Evolutionary trees…have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches.” In fact, true phylogenies do not even have data at the nodes! Data only exists at tips of branches. See figure 1, which is a phylogeny constructed from a family of bacteria that have been growing in a flask since the 80’s. Scientists know the original genome of the bacteria, and every 500 generations or so, they took a sample out and later sequenced its genome. At some point, the bacteria changed and acquired the ability to use a different food source than glucose. Even though they know all the common ancestors that make up the lines connecting the different nodes, no organisms are placed on the lines themselves. They are always found at tips, because this is simply the way phylogenies are drawn. Another example would be figure 2. The phylogeny on the left has only two organisms (A and B) that diverged from a common ancestor at some point. Say one finds organisms on the red and blue dashes of the lines. These organisms are now given their own tips, and are drawn as in the phylogeny on the right. Most of the organisms we can place on phylogenetic trees are extant organisms (meaning they exist in the present), but there are a few organisms from the past that we can place because we have recovered their DNA, and know their genome. (Notably, the denisovans and the neanderthals.) These phylogenetic trees are predictions based on characteristics (and recently, entire genomes). Thus, they are not prone to speculations about the fossil record, or anything that happened in the past. We have a faithful record of the past in every single cell of our bodies! It was pretty difficult to read, but it’s most certainly there! Even if no one had ever considered the idea of evolution before, as soon as we cracked the book of our own genome, it was right there, staring us in the face, blatantly obvious.


William Sikkema said...


Homologous features

Yes, many features that were thought to be homologous (that is, of common evolutionary origin) given their similarity (including the apparent similarity of embryos of different organisms) turned out to be completely unrelated. However, this inability to distinguish between homologous features and only apparently related features no longer exists due to the advent of genomics. For every organism, there are several billion features that we can digitally and unambiguously determine. These features are the base pairs in their DNA. These features establish homology very, very well, as seen in this example.

There are certain redundancies in the human genome that allow multiple sequences to code for exactly the same protein. For example, for a typical protein there could be 10 to the 240th power ways of getting the exactly same protein with different DNA sequences. [This number is massive, but to get a sense of scale, take every single subatomic particle in the observable universe (there are about 10^80 of them) and replace each one with an entire universe. Then do that again for every subatomic particle that exists.] Thus, if you want to know if a given protein (or feature) is homologous between certain organisms, all you have to do is compare the DNA sequences. A protein has the very same effect in the organism regardless of its DNA sequence, but common origin is discernible by examining the DNA sequence. Because the probability of two sequences lining up randomly is astronomically small, if the DNA sequences are the same, they are homologous; that is, the evidence for common ancestry is stupendous. It is like assigning two children to each separately build a 10 by 40 Lego-brick wall, using blocks of four different colours, and finding that the two walls had the very same sequence of colours all along the wall; clearly they copied each other or another common source for no reason, given they were just asked to build a wall.

However, there’s even stronger evidence for homology in our genome. There are “broken” genes that exist in our genome. As a hypothetical scenario, say there is a protein Y in your genome that is not really necessary, so it can be broken without any severe effects on you. One of your parents somehow acquired a mutation that broke protein Y before you or any of your siblings were born. You would inherit this “broken” version of protein Y. If you knew the genomes of your siblings and your cousins, how would you tell which genomes were your siblings’, and which were your cousins’? You could look for the broken version of protein Y. Even if your cousins somehow had protein Y broken, the chances of it being broken in exactly the same way are miniscule. (Here are further examples on the same topic.)

In fact, this is the case with humans and great apes: we both have broken versions of a gene that is required to make vitamin C. It is exactly the same mutation. There are an astronomical number of ways to “break” this gene, but we somehow share the same one. Yet, this is not one isolated example, but one of hundreds. If we were indeed unrelated to apes, and instead God created each species individually without common ancestry, why would God create us in such a way that it looked so much like we are related?

Whole genome duplication

Trisomies that reduce function, like Down’s Syndrome, are exceptions, rather than the rule. Especially for simpler organisms and plants, genome duplication is no problem. Most food you buy from the store has undergone 1 to 3 whole genome duplications in very recent and demonstrable history. Strawberries are tetraploid, and grains are hexaploid. Calvin says there is no proof for genome duplication in human history. Here is a 2005 article which gives such evidence.


William Sikkema said...


Mechanism of information production

Dr. van der Meer writes, “There is strong evidence from polymer chemistry against a molecular mechanism that produces genetic information where there was none before.” Here he is talking about abiogenesis, and this is true in that context. Evolution does not touch on the origin of life, it only deals with pre-existing life, and how it changes from that point. I tend to think of abiogenesis as an intelligent design phenomenon. However, I’m quite wary of relegating God’s role to that of the gaps - that which we do not yet understand. However, in the context of evolution, there is plenty of evidence that mutation, tempered by selection, is a very good way to produce new genetic information in the context of evolution. Your immune system even does this all the time during V(D)J somatic recombination in B and T lymphocytes. Essentially, two blocks of DNA are brought together by the excision of intervening DNA, and are joined up by fragments of DNA randomly generated by the enzyme TdT. These randomly generating sequences that “glue” the pre-existing immunoglobulin domains together make up the loops that reach out from the tip of the antibody so that it can bind to various things. These loops, which are randomly generated, are selected for by a variety of processes to weed out the ones that bind to “self” antigens, and to cause the ones that recognize antigens present on pathogens to reproduce. This allows our body to produce antibodies which will be able to recognize an infinite repertoire of potential antigens, which is necessary to combat the ever changing (read: evolving) world of pathogens.


William Sikkema said...


Scientific Fraud

Calvin says that “secular evolutionists are [also] prone to...‘scientific fraud’”. This may be true of individual scientists, but the validity of a theory is not wrapped up with individual papers. The validity of a theory is based on a large body of evidence that has been around for some time. In addition, a scientific theory’s validity is based on the number of unrelated lines of evidence pointing towards it. If there is only a single phenomenon that is explained by this theory, it’s not likely to be correct, but when thousands upon thousands of independent lines of evidence point the same direction, the picture becomes quite clear, and the theory gains validity. Evolution is one of those theories. Its validity is not based (even remotely) on the falsified drawings of Ernst Haeckel, or Joe Schmuck. It has been around for a very long time, has very good evidence for it, and is not going to be easily dismissed by young earth creationists, however they might try.

Todd Wood is one of the few young-earth creationists to realize this, and while he still holds to a young earth, he realizes that the evidence for an old earth and evolution is overwhelming and that creation science needs to come up with a coherent YEC model, which does not yet exist.

Here’s a quote from his blog; keep in mind that this is a committed young-earth creationist talking.

“Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.” (Emphasis his)

Biblical Basis

Calvin writes, “The one thing that is constant, trustworthy and true throughout the ages is the holy, infallible Word of God. Should not the Bible, therefore, be both the starting and finishing point of such discussion?” Yes, the Bible should be the starting and ending point of discussions like these, but it should not be used as a scientific textbook. And it is crucial to distinguish between the Bible and interpretations of the Bible. I’m convinced that the so-called “traditional” way of interpreting Genesis is not “traditional” at all. The true meaning of Genesis was recently hidden by all the layers that a western, scientific worldview has piled on. It’s very, very hard to peel these layers away, but men much more intelligent than I have managed to do so. John Walton is one of those, and here’s his book which explains what Genesis meant to the original hearers (before westerners tacked on science to the bible in the form of young-earth creationism).

William Sikkema
(third-year biotechnology and honours chemistry double major)
Langley, BC

Frederika Oosterhoff said...

I appreciate Calvin Wieske’s attempt to start another discussion on matters that are of concern to us all. To show my appreciation and to contribute to what I hope will be a balanced exchange, I will in what follows engage with a number of his arguments. I focus on statements that are of a general nature, leaving those concerning technical-scientific issues to my blog partners and other experts. I apologize for the length of my response. My defence is that I need the space to do full justice to Calvin’s essay. He asks serious questions which deserve serious answers. I sincerely hope that the discussion will be mutually helpful. It is probably too much to expect that we will reach full agreement, but I do hope that the exchange will lead to a better understanding of each other‘s position. That by itself will be an important gain.

Calvin begins by stating that our CanRef media are wise to censor material written from an old-earth point of view and to promote, instead, young-earth creationism as the only acceptable approach. After all, he argues, public schools and the secular media promote evolutionary thinking in every possible way. Christians are inundated by evolutionist propaganda, and we therefore must be provided in our own schools and media with what I might call “safe havens.”

I appreciate his concern, but suggest two corrections. Firstly, he seems to imply here that the choice is between young-earth creationism on the one hand and materialistic, atheistic evolutionism on the other. But that point of view is erroneous: there are various intermediate positions. One of these is old-earth creationism, which of course has traditionally been accepted in our churches. Building on that tradition I myself have, with the apparent approval of editors and readers, for years introduced old-earth-creationist material to Clarion, and I do not believe that by doing so I have exposed the readership to “evolutionary rhetoric,” as Calvin suggests. Nor, I should add, do I believe that he really wanted to accuse me of this; I rather think that it was a “slip of the tongue,” something to which we all are prone. I mention it, however, because it underlines a tendency among us to condemn as heresy any and all non-literalist interpretations of the Bible, from versions of traditional old-earth creationism all the way to secular, materialistic evolutionism.

In the second place, I believe that Calvin places too much trust in the efficacy of what I called safe havens. It can indeed be argued that “modern secular science pushes evolutionary thinking,” and although much of what we are taught in the media and at secular educational institutions concerns the scientific theory as such, there is indeed also much that must be identified as evolutionism. These two are often equated but are in fact altogether different. Evolution is a scientific theory and as such has nothing to say about the existence or non-existence of God. It can, as countless orthodox Christian scientists, philosophers, theologians, and laypeople believe, be reconciled with belief in divine creation and providence. In that respect it does not differ from other scientific theories, such as heliocentrism. Evolutionism, on the other hand, is a philosophy, a world view, even an ideology. It is a materialistic one, claiming “that nature is all there is, was, or ever shall be.” In particular, therefore, it denies the existence of God, of divine creation and divine providence, and of the biblical teaching that human beings are made in God’s image.


Frederika Oosterhoff said...


The problem with this ideology is that it bases itself on the scientific theory of evolution; its adherents do all they can to convince us that it indeed flows directly from that theory. Few people realize that these philosophical evolutionists abuse the authority science has in our culture to promote their own anti-Christian agenda. [For more on this, see Jitse van der Meer’s paper entitled “Ideology and Science”, introduced in this blog post.] And so, unfortunately, the evolutionists are quite successful in convincing their audience. Not only unbelievers, but also many sincere Christians continue to equate the theory with the ideology. And that is especially dangerous because the scientific theory of evolution is by now well established. It is supported, as the saying goes, “by several converging lines of evidence,” serving as an explanatory theory in biology, genetics, and paleontology, while it is also consistent with theories and observations in geology, astronomy, and cosmology. If we take the practical outcomes of these sciences seriously (and let’s be honest, we all do) it follows that we have to take the theory of evolution seriously as well. Especially those among us who study and work in the sciences can hardly avoid doing so. This being the case, are we correct in placing our trust in our safe havens? Is it not essential that we and our students are taught what evolution is really about, so that we can distinguish it from evolutionism and at the same time be made aware of not just its strengths but also its limitations?

That question, I am convinced, must be answered in the affirmative. In short, I think that the best approach is to meet what is considered the enemy “head-on.” This means, among other things, that the theory of evolution as such (and not a loaded version of it, and certainly not evolutionism) be taught at our schools, at least in the senior grades. I have argued this before – see my blog post “Teaching Evolution at our Schools – Why and How.” That post (and the workshop I directed under the same title) was not well received. My contrary arguments notwithstanding, critics saw my effort as an attempt to promote materialistic evolutionism and thereby to risk the Christian character of our schools and the spiritual well-being of our students. I was not really surprised at that reaction, but am convinced that it is mistaken. Rather than harming ours students, teaching evolution at our schools helps protect them by offering opportunities for critical evaluation.

Of course, I am aware of my critics’ arguments and understand their fears. I too have heard stories of young people who lost the faith when confronted with the evolutionary theory. I believe, however, that that danger is greatest for those who have been taught by their parents, their teachers, even from the pulpit, that evolution is false, that there is no real evidence for it, and that it has been dreamed up by scientists for no other purpose than to deny the truth of the Christian faith. When then these students meet the theory for the first time and become aware of the evidence, they will indeed be confronted with a very serious challenge. That challenge, it seems to me, is greatly reduced if they have been prepared, and also if they learn that there are many other believers who have faced a similar challenge and from whose experience they can benefit.


Frederika Oosterhoff said...


If this still sounds like revolutionary proposal, I suggest that you consider the following: What if we were told to believe, for the sake of our souls’ salvation, in an earth-centred solar system, or even in an earth that is four-cornered and established on pillars? These descriptions too we read in the Bible. But as it happened, Christian theologians in the past did not insist on literalism. Neither did Reformed theologians. Think of John Calvin, who taught us the well-known and important principle of divine accommodation. Although the Reformers did not like Copernicanism, they did not forbid it either. I know that there has been the odd Reformed scholar in the past, and there may still be today, who tried to prove the truth of some sort of geocentrism, but they remained exceptions. Yet they had a point: if we are really bound to a literalistic reading of Scripture we have to be not only young-earth creationists, but also geocentrists. I therefore don’t understand Calvin Wieske when he suggests that if we look at the Bible “as the only infallible source of knowledge, and avoid extrapolating beyond God’s Word,” we must reject geocentrism. Why don’t we have to be literalists in this particular case? But perhaps I misunderstand Calvin Wiekse’s argument.

Although I compare the acceptance of evolution with that of heliocentrism, I admit that the former theory presents the more serious challenge to the faith. I will come back to that in a moment. First, briefly, two other points. About half-way through his paper Calvin mentions that in interpreting evidence we are all influenced by our worldview. This is true, but it is not true that there is no possibility of objective knowledge, and yet that seems to be implied here. In any event, I would suggest we do not seek our refuge in a postmodernist kind of subjective relativism but realize, and warn each other, that that’s a two-edged sword which Christians should never consider using. Moreover, there is, as Calvin admits in the same breath, evidence to the contrary. I think he is referring here to 18th and 19th-century geologists, many of them Christians, who concluded, basing themselves on scientific evidence, that the earth was older than Christians had assumed, and that it was impossible to explain the geological layers with reference only to the Flood. Here is one of many examples that worldview does not necessarily dictate the interpretation of evidence. And apart from that, how can an adherent of postmodernist relativism ever explain the practical effectiveness of science? Don’t we all make a grateful use of its findings in such areas as technology and medical science? The other point concerns Calvin’s reminder that God’s Word is the beginning of all wisdom. With this I wholeheartedly agree. What I question is the implied conclusion (a conclusion made explicit by some young-earth creationists) that the Bible serves as a scientific textbook. In fact, I don’t believe Calvin actually wants to promote that idea. He wisely speaks of the Bible as infallible, and not as inerrant in the latter-day “fundamentalist” sense.


Frederika Oosterhoff said...


Lastly, by way of conclusion, I return to the challenges which the theory of evolution poses for Christians. My concern is not first of all with the assumptions of a very old earth and cosmos, with developmentalism in a general sense, or with the need to read Genesis in a non-literalistic way. More serious in my view are scientific conclusions such as those concerning the existence of pre-Adamites, which for many throw doubt on the historicity of Adam and Eve as the ancestors of all humans. I have no answers to all the questions these specific scientific conclusions evoke. I do know that sincere, well-informed Christians find much of the scientific evidence convincing – their Christian worldview notwithstanding. And I pray, as Herman Bavinck did a century ago when considering the challenges posed by modern science, that it will please God to lighten our darkness. What I am convinced we should not do is reject the scientific conclusions as inspired by the devil and/or as scientifically baseless. A better way is to join the many orthodox Christian scientists, theologians and philosophers who, following the example of earlier Christian thinkers, try to help us come to terms with the findings of science. Our policy of ignoring the work of these people, or, if it can’t be ignored, of condemning it without further ado, is not helpful. Ostrich policies never work (and please realize that I don’t use this term in a derogatory sense). Our students, and we all, badly need more realistic, more solid help and advice.

F.G. Oosterhoff
Hamilton, ON