Thursday, March 4, 2010

Response to Clarion’s “Ten Reasons” – Introduction

In past years Clarion, the semi-official magazine of the Canadian Reformed Churches, used to publish articles by both old- and young-earth creationists. In fact, several old-earth pieces written by Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff were published in 2002-03 and are listed in our collected papers. Early last year, however, the editorial committee refused, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, to publish a response by old-earth creationist Dr. Tony Jelsma to an article by Dr. C. Van Dam, which promoted the young-earth theory (Clarion, 27 March 2009). Jelsma was told that the editorial committee had instituted a moratorium on any articles about origins. The reason given was that such articles caused unrest and that a cooling-off period was needed. Various appeals having been rejected, we started this blog in April 2009, beginning with the publication of the Jelsma piece.

Subsequently, contributors heard that the moratorium would be lifted by 1 January 2010. Nevertheless, a series on the history of young-earth creationism, written by a regular contributor to Clarion and submitted for publication at the conclusion of the moratorium, was refused. Instead, Clarion celebrated the lifting of the moratorium by publishing an article by five authors attacking evolution (a topic that had nothing to do with the moratorium). Subsequent issues contained articles by Dr. Van Dam, attacking, as before, old-earth creationism (Clarion, 29 January and 12 February 2010). Meanwhile the article by the old-earth creationist continued to be vetoed as unsuitable. (It had been published in different form on this blog under the title “Young-Earth Creationism: A History.”)

Members of Reformed Academic have reacted to the new policy by means of private correspondence and letters to the editor. They will continue to do so, and they intend to continue to deal with the issue also by means of this blog. The present series of postings concentrates, however, on the article by the five authors. We promised to do so early in February. This article is by W. Bredenhof, W. Geurts, G. VanPopta, J. VanPopta, J. Witteveen, and was entitled “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil”, Clarion, v. 59, n. 1 (1 January 2010), pp. 6-9 [available electronically here - link provided here; our quotes are from the printed edition].

We are now ready to fulfill this promise. It is our intention to deal with the introduction and the “ten reasons” one at a time. The Clarion comments will be given first, followed by our responses to numbered items. These responses are co-authored and also use material contributed by those who have written us privately. After we have finished responding to each of the reasons one at a time, dealing with specific details, we plan to post a concluding general response.

Original from Clarion [numbered for our responses below]

“Over the years, people in the Canadian Reformed Churches have traditionally viewed the theory of evolution as an enemy of the Christian faith. However, recently there have been voices encouraging us to reconsider this stance.[1] This deeply concerns us. Now, just as in the past,[2] we need to be firmly convinced that this theory stands opposed to the clear teachings of Scripture and that it has no place in a biblical worldview. In this article, we want to outline ten reasons why evolution should still be regarded as dangerous and evil and why it should be taught as such in our Reformed homes, schools, and churches.

Before we begin, we need to be clear about our definition of “evolution.”[3] We understand it to refer to a theory about the origins of life and the diversification of that life into various modern-day organisms, including man. According to this theory, all forms of life are related in common ancestry through an evolutionary process thought to have taken place over billions of years. Evolution teaches that all life is descended from a single-celled organism which in turn evolved from inert chemicals.[4] Finally, we note that evolution is not merely a scientific theory but a foundational component of many unbelieving worldviews.[5]

Responses by Reformed Academic

1. Although the authors do not mention us, it is clear that we are the ones they believe are responsible for this encouragement to reconsider the anti-evolutionary stance; in fact, they include some of the contents of our blog without citation. We therefore begin our commentary by quoting from one of our earliest blog postings (29 April 2009): “Concerns have been raised about an article on this blog which appears to promote theistic evolution, i.e., an evolutionary process which took place under God’s guidance. We want our readers to know that the contributors to this blog are by no means in agreement on the scientific and theological validity of theistic evolution, and we further assure them that its promotion is not a ‘hidden agenda’ of this blog.
     “Theistic evolution is accepted, however, among an increasing number of Bible-believing, orthodox Christians. For that reason we believe that we must discuss the theological and scientific issues surrounding the theory among ourselves and also on the blog. It is an issue that we may not be able to resolve adequately but that we also do not, for that reason, want to censor or ‘run away from.’ Informed readers will be able to appreciate the difficulties faced by biologists who encounter what appears to be scientific evidence for evolution but wish to remain faithful to Scripture and the Reformed confession. We do not want to ignore this difficulty and we hope that on our blog the matter can be discussed publicly, in a brotherly way, without acrimony.”

2. It is unfortunate that the authors seem unwilling to address the clear history of our own heritage in which men like Kuyper, Bavinck, Schilder, Ohmann, Faber, while clearly opponents of evolution, all considered the possibility of an older earth. Furthermore, it is unfortunate the Clarion refuses to publish the careful historical study of Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff, an earlier version of which appeared here despite claiming to have lifted a moratorium which lasted (with two lapses) from March to December 2009 on topics regarding origins and Genesis.

3. We applaud the authors’ stated intention to clearly define evolution. It becomes apparent, however, that two different definitions get conflated, as some authors address evolutionism, the naturalistic philosophy and worldview, rather than the biological theory of evolution; furthermore they focus on the application of the theory which addresses human evolution.

4. The biological theory of evolution does not, strictly speaking, include a theory of the origin of life, but just its subsequent development. It is indeed a common misconception, shared even by many scientists, that origin and development are non-problematically of a piece. A Christian necessarily separates origin from development.

5. It is vitally important in any Christian discussion of evolution to make clear distinctions between evolution and evolutionism. It is true that many atheists use the theory of evolution as “proof” of their denial of God, but this denial is not scientifically founded. Evolution is no more than a scientific theory. Evolutionism, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing naturalistic philosophy and worldview which goes far beyond the theory of evolution. It claims that nature is all there is, was, or ever shall be. In particular, it claims that there is no God who has created the universe, who governs it or interacts with it or with anything in it in any way. Adherents to evolutionism hold that all that exists evolved, even if no scientific theory exists or is within reach. They believe that material composition exhausts ontology; i.e., that the only valid thing one can say about anything in the world is a scientific description of what it is made of, what its material origin is, and that any discussion of purpose, value, meaning is simply superstition. They claim that there is no discontinuity between molecules and man; i.e., that there is only a purely naturalistic connection, without God-ordained distinctions, between all things within creation so that ultimately humans and hills and humus are essentially the same, each being just purely natural. They argue that morality and religion are purely human constructs. Often proponents of evolutionism will (illegitimately) tout the theory of evolution as if it supports their philosophy. This is similar to how moral relativists in the early twentieth century imagined Einstein’s theory of relativity as lending scientific validity to their notions. His response – wishing he had entitled his work a theory of absolutes – clarifies that it was semantics, and not the scientific content of the theory, which was being misappropriated.

As will become clear in further remarks, while some regard the biological theory of evolution itself as a danger, the real opponent is instead evolutionism. Evolutionism can be immediately rejected as un-Christian since it claims there is no God. Christians who give serious consideration to the biological theory of evolution, however, fully acknowledge the activity and sovereignty of God in creation, providence, and redemption.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the explanation of the difference between evolution and evolutionism. It had never before crossed my mind that there was a difference.

Corrie Dewit
Langley, BC