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The Christadelphian | November 2009

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial What is a Christadelphian?
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Thoughts from the First Epistle of John” | George Dolphin
  • Compassion | Thomas Gaston
  • Fellowship in the Gospel 15 – All in every place | Michael Ashton
  • Pause and ponder 34 – What’s in it for me? | Stephen Whitehouse
  • The transfiguration Part 1 | Dudley Fifield
  • The Letter to the Philippians 11 – “Be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1-7) | Mark Allfree
  • Acts of the Apostles 32 – Acts 28:16-31 – Paul in Rome | Paul Cresswell
  • Darwin or the Gospel? | John Morris
  • The hands of the Master | Liz Robinson
  • Providence at work | Roger Long
  • Signs of the times When ‘No’ means ‘Yes’ | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Israel and their land An impasse
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Darwin or the Gospel?

ON November 24 1859, Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, a work which was to cause a furore in Victorian society but at the same time ensure the author’s lasting fame. This month evolutionists are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the appearance of The Origin, concluding a year which has also marked the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth [1] and witnessed the proliferation of new books, exhibitions and television features on the ‘father of evolutionary theory’. There is, moreover, a film with the provocative title Creation – The True Story of Charles Darwin. In 2009, Darwin can do no wrong!

Science versus religion

Scientists in the 1860s gave Darwin’s theory a cautious welcome. Churchmen on the other hand were divided: some were content to accept evolution as a mechanism by which God might have created the world; others were outraged at the obvious attack on the Genesis record and worried about the threat to belief in God, the authority of the Church, and moral behaviour based on Christian teaching. Not surprisingly, when science and religion confronted one another, as they did in the Oxford debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, sparks flew.

Darwin himself may never have intended his theory to encourage atheism: to this day, there is debate about whether Darwin personally abandoned his belief in God. In The Origin, there are indeed a number of references to “creation” and “the Creator”, among which is the following sentence at the very end of the book: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved”. People in Darwin’s own generation were left with the comfortable feeling that one could embrace evolution and still believe in God.

Today most churches, while professing still to believe in God, accept evolution in some guise. The most frequently encountered variants are ‘Intelligent design’ – a compromise avoiding mention of God but recognising a ‘first cause’; and ‘Theistic evolution’ – the idea that life has evolved but that the process has been under God’s supervision.

Increasingly, as a community who believe in a God who made all things by specific acts of creation, we find ourselves isolated. In the USA and possibly other countries creation may be taught in schools as an alternative theory, but in academic life evolution is accepted dogma and a professed belief in divine creation may be an obstacle in certain careers; it is likely in any case to attract ridicule. Public opinion is informed by ‘experts’ such as Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, whose creed is: ‘Evolution is fact. End of story!’ We have to contend not just with the challenge of evolution itself but with the arrogance of its proponents.

Scientific arguments against evolution

Are there then no arguments with which to counter the assertions of the evolutionist? There are indeed plenty, and there are a number of Christadelphian publications providing ammunition for those who want to give a clear answer to a young person under pressure at school, or an enquiring friend. [2] There is creationist literature, too, though here we have to beware of over-simplistic arguments and distortions of doctrine – for example, the belief that Christ was present at creation. Among the many challenges to put before an evolutionist are the following:

  • Evolution does not explain where the universe came from.
  • Evolution cannot demonstrate how life originated.
  • Evolutionists observe small variations in families of plants or animals (as Darwin did with his orchids and finches), and then confidently assert that they see evolution at work. Invariably the variations are no more than modifications within species. Missing links are still missing!
  • Evolution does not have satisfactory explanations for what has been called the ‘irreducible complexity’ of living organisms. The operation of random chance cannot explain how thousands of biochemical processes can come together, all fully functional and all at once, in the amazingly complex living cell. Again, in complex organs like the eye, evolutionists have to explain how, in the very first animal to ‘acquire’ sight, the necessary chemical reactions, muscular activities, and nervous impulses all came together in perfect working order.
  • Evolution has no explanation for man’s unique mental attributes, in particular his spiritual capacity. According to the theory, characteristics develop because they have an evolutionary advantage – yet many of man’s superior characteristics confer no obvious advantage.
  • Evolutionary theory is constantly having to be reassessed. In 2009 Darwin may be in fashion, but actually science has moved on. In January, the magazine | New Scientist published an article contradicting Darwinian expectations and was brave enough to print a cover picture emblazoned with the headline, “Darwin was wrong”. It had to do with Darwin’s ‘tree of life’, where closely related species are grouped together on the same branch or twig, while unrelated species are on more distant branches. Studies on DNA now show that so-called close relatives very often do | not have similar DNA; while supposedly unrelated species can have remarkably similar DNA.

The trouble is, in trying to answer an ‘expert’, we can so readily be wrong-footed. Few of us have advanced qualifications in the relevant sciences, and if we fail to hold our own in discussions about fossils, for example, or if we reveal our ignorance of current molecular biology, we shall be deemed to have lost the contest!

The armour of faith

But we have other weapons in our armoury. Though there are sound scientific arguments against evolution, we would often be better concentrating on the perfectly legitimate arguments of scripture and the challenge of the Gospel. This is an area where we can have total, albeit humble, confidence. Let us build up another series of bullet points based on what the Bible reveals – matters on which, for the believer, there is no shadow of doubt:

  • God exists. “There is no God besides me, a just God and a Saviour” (Isaiah 45:21).
  • God created all things: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
  • All that we know of God tells us that He is | involved in His creation; not a Creator who was there at the start and then no longer wished to intervene: “God, who made the world and everything in it … in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-28).
  • “God created man in his own image … (to) have dominion … over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27,28). Compare this statement with something that Darwin wrote in | The Origin: “We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities … still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” While admitting that man has “noble qualities” evolutionists always tend to underplay man’s higher attributes and try to narrow the gap between man and the beasts. Man is a special creation: true, in terms of his anatomy and physiology, he shows similarities to other creatures but man is endued with higher intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual powers. Man is capable of worship; he has the intellect to cope with language, music, art, abstract thought, invention, exploration, and so on.
  • God has revealed Himself and man has no excuse for not knowing His purpose: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made … so that they are without excuse … Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God … (but) exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:18-25).
  • God works in miraculous ways, outside the laws of contemporary science. The creation of life, from the amoeba to man, is a miracle; the intervention of God in the Flood; in the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea; in Elijah’s raising of the widow’s son; in the virgin birth of Jesus, the Son of God, his transfiguration, resurrection and ascension – all these, and many more happenings in scripture, are miracles. To deny miracles is to deny the Gospel.
  • The Bible itself is a miracle: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Human authors could never have produced such a coherent and consistent account of God’s ways.
  • Prophecy is a further miracle, and we can point to the many instances when God’s prophetic word has been fulfilled: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10).
  • God has set moral standards and given commandments; He has defined sin and decreed death for disobedience, but has also provided a way of salvation from sin and death: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). How does this square with ‘the survival of the fittest’? According to evolution, we are masters of our own destiny, set to attain greater heights of perfection; according to the Bible we are creatures debased by sin, in need of redemption.
  • The Gospel is good news not just about salvation but also about life after death. Evolution has no hope to offer for the future: “If the dead do not rise, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
  • Prayer – answered prayer – is a fact to which we can all testify. God guides and blesses in unseen ways the lives of His children.

What do the above have in common? These tenets of our faith are all, in terms of humanistic thinking, unscientific; everything about the Gospel is in the realm of the supernatural and therefore outside the bounds of science, as people understand that today.

Passion and persuasion

Would this second list of proofs cut any ice with evolutionists? If Richard Dawkins read the above, he would of course ridicule the attempt to present Bible miracles, fulfilled prophecy, prayer etc. as evidences in favour of creation as against evolution. But if we put the above points with conviction and passion to more reasonable people, some might be persuaded. To us, these are not theories or fantasies but incontrovertible facts. We cannot prove them in a physics or chemistry laboratory, but we accept them in faith based on sound evidence – the evidence of the empty tomb, of saved lives, of answered prayer. There must be many in the world today who believe in God and yet are deeply sceptical of those who promote evolution as proven fact. There must be many who are disillusioned by archbishops who, in regard to Genesis, or the virgin birth, are ‘not too sure that we can take these things literally’. Some of them would surely be receptive to a clear message of certainty and hope, a Gospel without compromises. Herein lies our opportunity.

Without apology, we must be robust in our faith: “Always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Meekness is important: arrogance or bigotry will not help our cause. Let us by all means admit that we do not know the answers to all those questions about dinosaurs, or the age of the earth, or precisely when life began. But we do know that God created and sustains this earth, and has given believers a hope of eternal life. All the atheist can offer is the empty slogan which appeared on London buses earlier this year: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

The Bible – and the book of nature

It may seem strange to conclude with a quotation from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, but opposite the title page of earlier editions stand the following wise words of Francis Bacon: “To conclude, therefore, let no man … think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.” In other words, Bible study and (proper) science both have their place, both are worthy of the disciple. But science does not answer eternal questions: if man wants to know the meaning of life, it is the Gospel, and only the Gospel, that has the answer.

JOHN MORRIS

[1] See The Christadelphian, February 2009, page 57.

[2] See, for example, Creation or Evolution? by Brother J. M. Hellawell, and Evidence for Design by Brother D. M. Pearce.

 

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