Last Lord’s Day evening we began our consideration of the doubts that rise in Christian minds because of assertions, often by learned people, that our faith is unscientific or has been disproved by science. In our first sermon, after considering what is meant by “science” so-called, we focused on attacks that have been made through the ages on the Bible itself as a source of accurate information about reality, history, and, in particular, the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many will say, many have said, that no intelligent person in the modern world can any longer believe what we read in the Bible. That can sound very daunting to an uninformed Christian, all the more a Christian university student who hears such a statement from his or her professor in class.
We said in reply that intelligence has nothing to do with it. You can find equally intelligent people both attacking and defending the Bible. That has always been true and is true today. I remember reading that in the judgment of Owen Chadwick, the eminent historian, Augustine in his day was the most intelligent person in the Roman Empire, and he was obviously a defender of the Bible. C.S. Lewis was as well-educated and brilliant a man as there was in the mid-20th century and he was a defender of the Bible. And so on. We said that the attacks on the veracity and historicity of the Bible, a great many of which attacks have been discredited by further research, better arguments, or simply the passage of time, have always had much more to do with one’s worldview than with the data themselves. A materialist, that is, someone who believes that matter is all there is – the philosophy of many in the American academy today – obviously will not accept as true an account that includes God, angels and demons, and the resurrection of the dead. He won’t believe that Jesus actually walked on water or turned water to wine. Even if you believe that there is reality above and beyond the material world, you will not credit the Bible’s account if it contradicts some principle of your worldview or philosophy of life. Carry such convictions into your reading of the Bible – as people have done from the first century onwards – and you will find something to disbelieve on every page. On the other hand, highly intelligent arguments, arguments based on great learning, have been made all along to the effect that the Bible’s claims can hardly be dismissed so easily, that the historicity of the biblical narrative has been confirmed countless times, down to the very details, that the writers of the Bible were both committed to telling the truth and as astonished at the miracles as any modern person would be, that without the miraculous and, supremely, without the resurrection of Jesus a great deal of history becomes impossible to explain, and that any number of intelligent people who have come to the Bible with firm convictions directly contrary to its teaching have found their former philosophies of life wholly undermined, even swept away, by the self-authenticating authority of biblical revelation.
The fact that the majority of American university professors – most of whom, of course, have no competence in the sciences that bear on the study and interpretation of the Bible – are dismissive of the authority of the Bible proves nothing. The majority of American university professors has often supported ideas that proved to be untrue. Professors have often leant the weight of their prestige to support ideas that most Americans, commonsensical as most people are, knew enough to reject out of hand. What is today’s scholarly consensus will, more often than not, be tomorrow’s superstition or really dumb idea.
I concluded last time by simply observing that after more than two centuries of concentrated modern study – in archaeology, in classical Hebrew and its cognate languages together with its literature, in ancient near eastern history, in Greco-Roman language and history, in a variety of other disciplines – there is no statement in the Bible than has been proved to be untrue. There may be any number of statements that someone has claimed to be untrue, there are most certainly many statements that many modern people do not want to believe to be true, but in scholarship claiming and proving are two very different things and in each case there will be learned scholars with international reputations who will defend the accuracy of the biblical assertion as well as the reasonableness of the Bible’s teaching. That is an extraordinary thing to be able to say about a book so old, so large, written by so many different men who lived in very different cultures, and about a book so full of history and historical details that intersect with the historical records of so many other nations and peoples.
There is, of course, as we said last time, another major area of controversy regarding the scientific or intellectual integrity of the Christian faith. This is, of course, the challenge to the biblical doctrine of creation presented by the theory of evolution, the reigning “creation story” of the modern western world. Several years ago an ad appeared on the side of London buses. It wasn’t a typical ad, selling some product. It was rather a statement in large letters that read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The campaign was sponsored by Richard Dawkins, the well-known popularizer of the theory of evolution. The two ideas have long gone hand in hand – evolution and atheism (either atheism of the dogmatic type or practical, functional atheism, a worldview that simply leaves God out of account) – and Dawkins is determined to make sure that people appreciate the implications of evolution: there is no God, there is no heaven or hell, there is no transcendent meaning to human life, so we are left to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die. [D. Axe, Undeniable, 264]
Though people, sometimes even Christians, have sought to argue that the ideas of God and faith and eternal life are not inconsistent with the theory of evolution, Dawkins knows better and modern western history is proving him right. Evolution’s ascendance and Christianity’s collapse – both as accounts of the origin of life and as civilizational worldviews – have gone hand in hand.
We know the story; everyone does by now. Somehow – everyone admits nowadays that we don’t know how, indeed, that we can’t even imagine how – in some primordial soup the first living cell capable of reproduction accidentally emerged. Living cells capable of reproduction are, we now know as Darwin did not know, fantastically complicated things. Reproduction, as we know and as Darwin should have known, absolutely requires immense biological sophistication. Anyway, somehow – again an increasing number even of advocates of the theory now admit we don’t know how, indeed we cannot begin to explain how – that single cell was the progenitor of subsequent generations of simple living cells that, again by accident, by genetic mutations accumulating over several billions of years, were transformed into the wonderful array of life that we see today, from bacteria to elephants, from weird aquatic creatures that live in the greatest depths of the world’s oceans to human beings. The revolution brought about by the comparatively new fields of biochemistry and statistics, which together now make it possible to measure the probability of a biochemical event happening at random, has cast a pall over that scenario, but for now it remains the reigning creation story. Advocates of evolution are sticking with it, indeed, they must stick with it. It’s all they have. That story of gradual change over vast periods of time has been repeated so often that people have come to believe it, largely without thought, certainly without any real understanding or appreciation of what is being claimed.
Now there should be no question that this creation story, what one skeptic calls “the great cosmogenic myth” of the modern world has massive social and religious – which is to say massive human – implications. [M. Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 358] The modern world as we know it is inexplicable without the theory of evolution. It has profoundly reshaped modern life in ways that most people are hardly conscious of. The removal of God – the existence of God, the fear of God, God as the foundation of moral judgment – from the public life of modern nation states and societies, especially in the west – would not have happened – certainly not to the extent that it has – without the triumph of the theory of evolution. As a substitution for its predecessor, the general conviction that the world and everything in it, including we human beings, are the purposeful creation of the infinite personal God, evolution has profoundly reshaped the western concept of human life and human freedom. For example, the sexual revolution, including its fundamental principle that human beings are free to live as they please and without regard to some divine purpose reflected in the nature of human life, gains its authority almost entirely from the substitution of a personal creation story with an impersonal one, a creation story invested with transcendent meaning being replaced by a story that evacuates such meaning from human existence. Nature loses its authority if it has no creator who has stamped his purpose upon it; it loses its meaning if it is, in fact, a gigantic accident.
People, young people especially, fed a steady diet of propaganda on behalf of this creation story understandably come to believe it, no matter that almost everyone is possessed of an instinctive skepticism that accidents, random and without purpose, no matter how many over no matter how long a time, could have produced the wonders of nature and, supremely, could have produced human life as we experience it ourselves. It continues to baffle the academic community that the ordinary American, educated in public schools and conformist colleges and universities, continues to entertain doubts about the theory, but most Americans do. And the reason for that should not be difficult for anyone to understand. Accidents happen all the time but they don’t produce perfection; quite the contrary. Lots of accidents together don’t produce new inventions, especially inventions that are marvels of engineering that far surpass anything human beings are capable of inventing. We all have by intuition the suspicion that we’re being asked to swallow an account of the origin of life that is more fairy tale than explanation, a collection of what even some advocates of evolution have scornfully described as “just so” stories, like those in Rudyard Kipling’s famous book, how the leopard got his spots and so on. If evolution is true there should be clear, unequivocal answers to certain questions.
How did life originate in the first place? Can random genetic mutations actually create the wonderful and fantastically complicated systems upon which life depends? Can we even imagine how the vast discontinuities of nature were bridged by accident: from one celled organisms to complex ones; from fish to amphibians; from terrestrial animals to birds; from the highest apes to human beings, and so on? We are constantly told that those gaps were bridged, but plausible scenarios are missing and so are the fossils of the intermediaries, though there should be many more intermediate forms – part way between one species and another, one body type and another – in the fossil record than those of the fixed species at either end of the process. We have the amphibian, we have the reptile, we have the squirrel, we have the bird, all of them, vast numbers of them in the fossil record of life, but we don’t’ have is all of those steps that must have occurred in between.
You will have noticed this as many others have, even if you hardly ever read anything about the current state of evolutionary theory. There will be in the newspaper, from time to time, the excited announcement of some new discovery that is supposed to have some bearing on the theory, provide some sort of proof of it. But the excitement quickly dies down and comes to nothing, and we hear nothing more about it. However, you will rarely read in the paper that scientists have concluded that the process duplicated in the lab or the fossil whose discovery was trumpeted on the front page actually didn’t prove anything at all – the fossil was misidentified or the lab experiment was rigged or couldn’t be reproduced or whatever – but that is what usually happens. When was the last time you read in the newspaper a story about all the unanswered questions that bedevil the theory or the growing odds that these questions will never be answered convincingly? These have been a bad fifty years for the evolutionary sciences. Origin of life research has been stymied at every turn and has largely ground to a halt, prominent paleontologists have publicly admitted that the intermediaries can’t be found among the fossils, and the biochemists continue to discover new dimensions of the fabulous complexity of the simplest living creatures, making their accidental coming into existence more a pipe dream rather than a serious possibility.
But, interestingly, the consensus remains largely unchallenged. Why? Well one explanation often offered is based on Thomas Kuhn’s influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In Kuhn’s telling loyalty to an existing scientific paradigm will continue until and unless there is a plausible alternative. So, for example, the Ptolemaic cosmology, that had the earth in the center and the sun and the planets orbiting around it, continued to be defended, no matter that it required ever more implausible rationalizations, until Copernicus made a heliocentric cosmology understandable and so a viable alternative. It is a good example because that Ptolemaic cosmology for a long time had fierce defenders in the academy who were scandalized by the criticism of it being raised by heretics such as Copernicus in much the same way that the defenders of evolution lash out at critics of the theory in our day. The reason there is no plausible alternative in this case is not, of course, because people don’t know what the alternative would be; it is because they are simply unwilling to accept it. The alternative is that the universe and everything in it was created by the infinite/personal God, a God capable of inventing such fabulously complex and wonderfully adapted creatures. For them that is not a plausible alternative no matter the problems with their theory or the strengths of the other.
Many people nowadays tend to be, because they are encouraged to be by the drumbeat of the media, impressed by the weight of scholarly opinion. We live in the age of the so-called expert. We are to defer to them, no matter that every crackpot idea will be supported by some, and often many, so-called, often self-styled “experts” of one kind or another. After all, so the thinking goes, these biologists and paleontologists (people who study fossils) know a lot more than we do. We should defer to their judgment. I am not nearly as impressed. Why? Not because I know a lot about biology or about fossils. I don’t. I’m not impressed because I know a lot about scholars and because years ago I got a PhD.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. When you begin PhD work in any field – highly specialized work, high register research that requires you to learn what everyone else in the field thinks about the subject you are studying – it doesn’t take long to lose your rosy view of scholarship. You quickly realize that there are a lot of people with good brains whose opinion you wouldn’t cross the street to learn, even their opinion about issues in their own field. Their conclusions are predictable, conformist, and have much more to do with their worldview, their cultural or philosophical commitments, than they do with facts or arguments. There was a fellow doing a PhD in New Testament at Aberdeen when I was studying there who was submitting Paul’s letters to various tests to determine which of them were actually written by the Apostle himself. Predictably he eliminated most of them, including a few virtually all scholars, even the most skeptical, accept as genuinely Pauline. No one paid any attention to his PhD dissertation and no one should have. But there are a lot of scholars in the NT field who argue the way this man did all the time. They are impervious to sensible objections and counter-arguments because their conclusions have little to do with the data themselves and everything to do with their worldview; their religion if you will – what they will believe and what they want to believe.
This is why virtually any area of scholarship has a long history of schools of thought that flourished for a time, even dominated the academic landscape for a time, and then faded away to be replaced by another. People, even academic types, grow weary of sameness, of repeating the conventional wisdom, and, after enough time, the criticisms will have accumulated to the point that even the academic in-crowd, used to having to justify their conclusions only to other like-minded scholars, have to take them seriously. The history of New Testament scholarship is exactly like the history of scholarship in physics or biology in this respect.
But there are other reasons why a scientific consensus remains unchallenged. In the University culture of our modern world heresy is punished and punished severely. We’ve seen how this works recently in regard to gender theory or the politics of racial diversity on American university campuses. People in the university lose their jobs if they say something impolitic, if they disagree publicly with the prevailing narrative, even if they do so accidentally! Well for a lot longer time it has been the case that if a biologist or a paleontologist has doubts about evolution, he or she learned, and very quickly, to keep quiet about them. Their job may very well depend on it. Indeed, if they wish to have a job in the first place, the very last place they would mention such doubts would be in the interview for a faculty position. Every survey confirms that there are a lot more doubts among academic types than are ever publicly admitted.
Furthermore, it isn’t only intimidation imposed by others. We all crave the acceptance of our peers and that craving perhaps more than anything else explains why ideas, sometimes even preposterous ideas, ideas we now look back on with amazement that intelligent people actually embraced them – like the clothes we wore in the 1970s, for example! – become commonplace in a population. We want to be accepted; we want to be liked; and we know that uttering unconventional and contrary opinions is a sure path to ostracism instead of acceptance, or, at least, we fear that it will be. It was the child, remember, who didn’t know better, who observed that the emperor had no clothes!
R.C. Sproul – if you know his life story you may have heard this – took his seminary studies at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church USA divinity school. When Sproul was a student at Pittsburgh there was only one evangelical, Bible-believing faculty member, the church historian and theologian John Gerstner, whom Sproul has ever-after honored as his mentor. Fortunately, Gerstner was a very learned man with a strong disposition and did not hesitate to speak his mind. He was undeterred by the fact that he was a minority of one. He was enough of a church historian to know that the majority is often wrong – in fact it’s usually wrong and often galactically wrong. He more than held his own on a faculty of men who did not share his theological viewpoint and in a church that did not share it either. While R.C. was a student at Pittsburgh, another student arrived who was brilliant, a young man possessed of a powerful mind. Sproul says that the faculty actually had to develop some special courses for this fellow just to keep him interested and to teach him something he didn’t already know.
Sproul recollects having a conversation about the faith with this brilliant student. He was commending Bible-believing Christianity to him and the fellow was expressing his doubts. “If that view of the faith is correct, if the Bible really has that sort of authority over our thinking,” this fellow student asked, “how come Gerstner is the only one on the faculty who believes that?” Here was a guy smarter than almost anyone in the room, but he was determining the truth by counting noses! That is what human beings do – even very smart human beings – a very great deal of the time. And there is no question that this is what has given the theory of evolution much of its social authority and has insulated it from public criticism. It is the favored view and, for many scholars, that is enough, quite enough, to make it true.
But we shouldn’t capitulate in that way. Actually, if we were tempted to believe evolution, we should certainly feel the force of that temptation waning in our time. You don’t have to be a scientist, a specialist in biochemistry or paleontology, to have firm convictions on this score. You are entirely competent to make up your own mind. Remember, even every specialist is an amateur like you in other areas of evolutionary science. The cell scientist isn’t a paleontologist, the biochemist isn’t a zoologist, and so on. There are, actually, comparatively few scientists who spend their lives surveying the big picture. And a good many of those are perfect examples of the biased observer we have been talking about, men and women whose worldview has closed them off to sensible objections no matter how firmly based on observation and research. So, remember these things.
First, there has always been a significant minority of skeptics whose inability to accept an evolutionary theory of origins was based directly on what they knew, on the evidence in their own field of learning. George Bernard Shaw described the reception afforded Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859 by saying, “the world leapt at Darwin.” Paleontologists knew very well that the intermediaries required by the theory were missing from the fossil record, but it didn’t matter in the final analysis. Why? Because the elite culture of the western world wanted Darwin to be right! It is much the same today. Skeptics have been raising punishing objections to the evolutionary scenario all along, objections which remain as formidable today as ever. But they are ignored. Why? Because everyone knows evolution is how life happened.
Second, it doesn’t take a PhD to know that when answers to these objections are actually given they are unconvincing, often even desperate. Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge did the best that very bright fellows could do to explain why, since evolution must be true, what ought to be a universe of transitional forms are missing from the fossil record, but even the evolutionary community howled at their proposal. For the rest, it was a problem that didn’t need an explanation because, after all, we know that evolution is how life happened. If the missing links are still missing well, there must be an explanation somewhere. No evidence or lack of evidence is allowed to disprove the theory.
The critical problem being raised today is how the fantastically complex information system that exists in the living cell and is essential both to its function and, especially, to its reproduction, could have appeared accidentally, even in small increments over large periods of time. The challenge is very serious. If you can’t get a protein, the tiny biochemical engines that power that information system and other things that make a living cell go (there are millions of them in every cell), I say, if you can’t get a protein by chance you can’t get the information system – the DNA of the cell – and without that system there can be neither function nor reproduction. Everyone knows that. But it is appearing more and more to be the case that the probability of a protein arising by chance is so vanishingly small that we may actually be looking at the formal disproof of the entire theory of evolution. One calculation made back in the 1980s fixed the probability of such a thing – the accidental formation of a functional protein – to be so small that it could be represented as one in 10 to the fortieth power. And lest you fail to appreciate the size of that number, it represents a number far greater than the number of atoms estimated to exist in the universe. How likely would you be to happen by accident upon that one atom you needed to find among all the atoms in the universe? It gets worse. More recent calculations put the probability of such a thing happening at many trillion times less than one in 10 to the fortieth power. And, remember, at every step along the way of evolutionary development, and there are millions upon millions of such steps, these impossible odds must be faced again and again. It is all very well to say that evolution is credible because, after all, it happens step by step. But now it appears that every single step is fantastically unlikely, so unlikely as to be simply impossible to conceive.
How do advocates of the theory respond? Well, interestingly, they don’t deny the math. Math has always been evolution’s problem. They simply ignore it as they have always done. Somehow, they say, it can’t be that difficult because we know that evolution is what happened. How do they know it happened if the record of it isn’t in the fossils and the mechanism of it – biochemical mutations accumulating over time – cannot supply the raw material? You can’t have selection unless you first have something to select. How do they know? Well, because we all know that evolution happened. How else could life have come to be? You don’t have to believe me when I tell you this; read for yourselves. I urge you to do so.
But, third, that isn’t all evolutionists do. They also rage against anyone who dares to advertise the problems. Character assassination is commonplace in scholarship but the evolutionary community has raised it to an art form. Only heretics cast doubt on the true religion and heretics should be burned at the stake. And heretics in evolutionary religion are tarred and feathered and quartered before being burned! And all of that happens often without their even bothering to read the offending book.
I learned a long time ago that when a person is unwilling to face, to admit, and to reckon with objections to his viewpoint, there is no need to pay any further attention to what he says in support of it. This happens all the time in fields I am familiar with – biblical studies and theology – as it happens in every other field of learning. It is a form of human pride – a problem that bedevils every human being – to be both sure of oneself and unwilling to admit that you might be wrong, even completely wrong. It is also a form of insecurity, likewise a chronic human condition.
Take, for example, the long-standing debate over the millennium. I am always willing to listen to the arguments of a man who candidly admits that his viewpoint – pre-, post-, or amillennial – is subject to some punishing objections. He believes it for these reasons but is willing to accept that there are good reasons why the advocates of the other positions haven’t found his arguments persuasive. After all, no matter what position one chooses, he will have to disagree with men whose authority in biblical and theological scholarship is unquestioned. Such scholars know the arguments for the other positions and don’t find them persuasive and can tell you why. So when a young man tells me – and young men have told me – that postmillennialism, for example, is the only intelligent or the only responsible position, I think, “Well, there is a young man who doesn’t know very much and has a great deal to learn. He does not yet understand how difficult a task it is to harmonize all the data provided in Holy Scripture. He clearly has nothing to teach me because I at least know that the question is far more complicated than he imagines it to be.”
Well so it is with the life sciences or paleontology. I lose interest immediately in the opinion of someone who won’t face up to problems, objections, and unanswered questions. And you should too. Any evolutionist should be willing to say and say publicly, “Our theory absolutely depends on the possibility of getting a protein by accident, and we don’t have the foggiest idea how that might have happened. That’s not divulging a fact that people don’t know. It’s just being honest. The fossil record is missing the intermediate steps, and evolution requires that there should be more of them than of the fixed species in the fossil record. I have no idea why they are missing.” Almost no ne will admit such obvious things. And very few advocates of evolution face up to the problems! So, in conclusion, let me tell you what I think about the challenge posed to the Christian faith by the theory of evolution. I think about it as Malcolm Muggeridge did. He wrote:
“I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books in the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.” [The End of Christendom, 59]
When Paul says that “God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made,” he is articulating an intuition that human beings can suppress only with great effort. Of course human life is not some gigantic accident. Of course the marvels of consciousness – that is, the ability to view oneself, to think about oneself, to look upon oneself, cannot be explained by a long series of mutations. Of course the power of sight, of hearing, and of speech did not originate in utterly random events. To think so is absurd. You know it; I know it. It is remarkable to me how a theory that predicted certain outcomes but has been contradicted by accumulated evidence at every turn for the past century and a half has yet remained the consensus of scholarship. But then, it isn’t really remarkable. It has happened before many times; it will happen again no doubt. If man will not believe in God he will believe in anything! Evolution is what rebel man desperately wants to be true. No wonder his touching loyalty to the theory come wind, come weather.
But what we do know is that sooner or later the objections accumulate so much mass and weight that the theory can no longer hold them back and gives way. I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but any reasonable person can see this coming. If you can’t find intermediates in the fossil record – masses of them, as the theory demands there must be – if you can’t get a protein by accident, as the theory demands, evolution cannot be true. It’s teetering now, though you wouldn’t know it unless you were reading widely. What scientists who are advocates of the theory are admitting to one another in house is enough to prove that they are at sea and can’t see a safe harbor. The theory of evolution has always been a house built on sand; it will come crashing down eventually.
You should know something about this. Read a good book. I recommend a brand new book by Douglas Axe entitled Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life is Designed. It will be good for your faith and it will give you confidence in speaking to others about what are, after all, the most important questions every human being must answer: how did I come to be and to whom do I owe my life?
The more I read the more I believe that evolution’s collapse may happen in my own lifetime. Something eagerly to look forward to. In any case, this is not the time, definitely not the time, to abandon the ship of faith because someone tells you that God did not create the world; instead, the world and all it contains, including you and I, just happened. Don’t jump on the bandwagon when others are starting to jump off.