‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Friday, 29 August 2008

Review: Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?

Denis Alexander has a new book out; Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose? This is an interesting and important question to ask, but Alexander doesn’t deal with the complexity of the question particularly well.

The question can be answered as no, we don’t have to choose. All Christians accept that microevolution has occurred, including the pioneering creationist Henry Morris, and Alexander acknowledges this; but he downplays the question of the scale, speed and direction of evolution, believing instead that evolution should be accepted as a universal scientific theory. Creationists believe that evolution is limited to change within species, perhaps with limited speciation. It is clear that in his book Alexander seeks to adapt Scripture to fit with the currently accepted evolutionary scientific theories. According to Alexander’s scheme of things, Scripture is not allowed to shape science, but science is allowed to shape the interpretation of Scripture even when that science is open to change, as is often the case. This approach is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, not least because it places the interpretation of Scripture at the mercy of changeable science and the latest 'fashionable' scientific theories.

There is also a dualistic separation of science and faith in this scheme, and Alexander (p.185) comments that there is one great dualism between creation and the Creator, although the New Testament reveals that Christians and the Church are designed to be God’s tabernacle, a temple of biological flesh in which God seeks to dwell in unity with all believers. The dualism in separating matter and spirit though derives from Galileo where science offers the how questions about the world, while faith provides the why questions. This position was though derived from the Islamic scholar Averroes who brought the works of Plato back into western thought. Platonism divides the material from the spiritual in a strict dualism. However, Judeo-Christian theology is interwoven with real physical events as can be seen for instance throughout the Bible where the miracles of Jesus have prophetic, theological significance. But Alexander argues that the Creation account was never meant to be considered a miraculous series of events, again playing fast and loose with theology to support his weak argument.

Thomas Torrance instead argued that there should be no division between nature and the supernatural in Christian theology, and Alvin Plantinga has asserted that Christians are perfectly entitled to conduct theistic science starting from what is known from faith and Scripture. However, Alexander doesn’t address such comments from leading theologians, but places more faith in the word and work of scientists and in effect relegates the importance and character of theology to a place of subordination to science. Another Christian theologian, Gavin d’Costa, has argued that theology needs to be ‘prised free of its subservience to the Enlightenment model of the university,’ because theology is instead based upon revelation by the Holy Spirit. D’Costa argues that the real intellectual threat to theology does not come from atheists, but from ‘…theologians who don’t do theology properly.’[1] Alexander does provide a few useful insights in the opening chapters on the Genesis account, but spoils this because he is forced to interpret Scripture in light of his own view of science, not questioning the foundational assumptions of such science.

Alexander provides some useful material on microevolution and limited speciation that may be observable in nature, but having raised interest in such observable science, he then moves on quickly to discuss unobserved macro-evolutionary changes. Sadly, many Christians will not spot the subtle shift in reasoning here, but be blinded by a false authority in science, (when no such authority can exist because of the nature of true science). His book in fact has some notable endorsements by theologians, such as J.J. Packer, who seem beguiled by evolution and do not seem too concerned about the consequences for faith. At times Alexander speaks of evolution as being established truth, but also notes in other places that scientific explanations can only be ‘consistent with’ the evidence. The apparent contradiction does not seem to bother him. His strong commitment to Darwinism is really based on faith, but he leaves the impression in the mind of the non-scientist that macroevolution is proved scientifically.

Alexander is in fact involved with Theos and his own Faraday Institute in a project that seeks to ‘Rescue Darwin’ from ideology and therefore to undermine both atheists and creationists as a ‘plague on both your houses’ according to Paul Woolley of Theos.[2] Alexander then is seeking to argue that evolution was developed as a purely scientific explanation and is therefore compatible with Christianity. This approach is really quite na├»ve (and that is the kindest thing I can say about it) as it fails to address the overwhelming evidence that various non-Christian ideologies influenced Darwin’s work. A number of sources from philosophy and the field of economics and social theory, such as Thomas Malthus, Auguste Comte, Adam Smith, Erasmus Darwin and David Hume, influenced Darwin. We would challenge Denis Alexander, Theos and Faraday Institute to address the strong evidence that Darwin’s work was never free from such ideological foundations.

Much of the book is written in a reasonable manner, except in the three-page postscript where he launches a bitter attack against fellow believers. He infers that Christians who reject evolution are ‘dangerous,’ disgraceful’ and therefore ‘embarrassing’ to the gospel, and that such attacks against evolution are ‘divisive and split the Christian community.’ According to Alexander then ordinary Christians are not even allowed to have honest doubts about Darwinism, or if they do they must keep quiet and just trust the scientists to get on with their work. Quite frankly Denis, such comments do not generate trust, but are a cause of further division and distrust. Many will find these comments to be rather arrogant, and it seems to be an attempt at bullying Christian opponents into submission. I cannot see how this is in accord with the gospel of Christ. The work of Alexander and Theos seems to be an attempt to isolate and separate creationists from other Christians, and thus divide the Christian community instead of seeking to include all Christians and build unity. Discussing points of disagreement in a respectful and loving manner is of great importance to the evangelical Christian community. Creationists have genuine concerns about evolution, not least that it is the cause of loss of faith amongst many young people who struggle with their faith. This is because there is a perception that evolution means that Christianity is not grounded in evidence in the material world, but faith is instead just a blind leap in the dark. The type of science Alexander is engaged in is one that divides the material realm from the theology. These issues need to be addressed in a respectful and reasoned manner. Alexander’s comments instead are divisive and unhelpful, and if he finds some of his fellow Christians embarrassing then I would suggest his elevated position at Cambridge is a stumbling block to him. I think in hindsight he will regret inserting this postscript. Denis Alexander’s book, Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose? is published by Monarch Books, (2008).

Andrew S.


Anonymous said...

"Creationists believe that evolution is limited to change within species"


"when no such authority can exist because of the nature of true science"

Ok. I'm convinced my 2 minutes have been wasted. I'm outa here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this review. It helped make up my mind wether or not to buy this book.

God bless you,

Josh J said...

Please don't base your decision not to read the book just on this review. For a start, the argument on this blog regarding his "dualism" is not only very well addressed in the book (i don't know how the reviewer missed it), but it is very poorly defended here!
The post-scrip will of course upset some, but given the argument and unfolding evidence and examination of scripture (including historically orthodox readings) in the book, this is the only conclusion possible.
I have bought two copies of this book already, and it's provoking much healthy discussion at church.

Diogo Kyrillos said...

Your comments seem so strange that makes me wonder if we really read the same book! While Dr Alexander puts clearly that he looks first to the scriptures, you say he is imposing science to the bible. While he criticises the "god of the gaps" in Intelligent Design, you say he doesn't consider the developments of science (Of course in his 40-year career he saw many scientific breakthroughs that changed our perspective in different areas).

In the postscript he says how dangerous is when one criticizes what one doesn't understand, and this works for pretty much everything! If I don't understand about astronomy, I should not say that an astronomer's idea is wrong. If Richard Dawkins don't understand about theology, he should not criticize it (that is why I don't read The God Delusion: he is criticizing something he doesn't know about!). I could relate to Dr. Alexander when he said about Christians embarrassing themselves, as I heard Christians (without never studying archaeology, palaeontology nor biology) saying that evolution can't be true, simply because it is not in the bible (as if the bible was a biology book).

You comment that "According to Alexander then ordinary Christians are not even allowed to have honest doubts about Darwinism", is a very serious and totally false accusation if you really read the whole book, especially because it is directed written to non-scientist Christians, the ordinary believer! It seems you have a load of pre-conceptions about Denis Alexander, which influenced your review, and you should be ashamed of yourself for such comment. Unfortunately this review made me loose interest on your blog and I am glad I didn't base my decision whether reading the book upon it.

Stuart Simmonds said...

I was given a copy of this book as something I should consider because I am a confessed crationist believer. I became a Christian primarily because when at college I was confronted by evolutionist teaching and was confused over many issues. A creationst Astro phyicist came to my collage at that time and i listened to him speak. It confirmed in me a deep sense of gratitude not only to him but the the creationist movement in general. i came to a position of personal faith in christ shortly afterwards.
The main reason for writing here is the the question of epistemology. This is the stiuddy of how we know. We know about God because he revealed himself. without revelation we know nothing. God has revealed himself to us all in two main ways: the creation and the person of his Son: Jesus Christ. This is the primaruy question
and the if i may the essential querstion. Is the bible the word of God or not. I can categorically say for my self for it was revealed to me. That yes it is.
Each of us has the opportunity to put this book the written record to the test. if God is true then in His mercy he will reveal himself to you. The pre-requisite if it can be called that is a willingness to listen to it read or read it for oneself.

in my view the turth is: faith comes by hearing the word of God.

Stuart Simmonds