Re: Evolution's Imperative (was Def'n of Science)

Jonathan Clarke (
Mon, 22 Mar 1999 07:51:49 +1100

Greetings again Vernon

Vernon Jenkins wrote:

> Greetings Jonathan:
> Thanks for writing.Let me respond publicly to the comments in your
> earlier email:
> > Your response to Kevin clearly illustrates that the issues to you are > not scientific, but a nexus of metaphysical, theological and
> > philosophical. I would agree with this analysis, which is why I think
> > it is pointless discussing the scientific evidence for, or objects to
> > any evolutionary theory when the real reasons you, or someone else for
> > that matter, object to it, are on another plane entirely.
> You are not entirely correct here. I had no intention of excluding
> science from your list - but it has to be a science according to its
> finest traditions. I don't believe evolution qualifies, (a) because its
> standing depends more on the subjective opinions of its adherents than
> on any hard evidence and, (b) because it is more speculation than true
> science.
> > >
> > > Evolution is "the cumulative change in the characteristics of
> > > populations of organisms over succeeding generations, resulting in
> > > species totally different from remote ancestors (Chambers) - whether
> > > by chance, or by divine intent."
> >
> > Your definition acknowledges the possibility that God is sovereign in
> > evolution. So what is the problem?
> >
> One obvious problem concerns the order of creation given in Genesis 1,
> where we read that birds were created before land animals. Unless you
> can suggest an appropriate evolutionary scenario to meet this
> requirement, we have to conclude that an evolutionary-minded God has
> contradicted himself in the opening words of his Book.

Only if we insist that it is a) an historical account and b) in sequential order. There is a considerable body of learned opinion (including the
church fathers) that it is neither. Even if you do not agree with, it should caution you not to dogmatically hold that it is both historical and

> > > (2) In attacking the early chapters of Genesis (which Jesus
> > > obviously believed), it raises questions about the Lord's ministry
> > > and directly challenges the Bible's claim to be a work of God -
> > > specifically intended to instruct man in ways that are righteous and
> > > acceptable to Him. (2Tm.3:16,17).
> >
> > Evolutionary theory only challenges some readings of Genesis, not all.
> > In the same way it only challenges the attempts of those to make it
> > authoritative in ways it was never intended to be. How does it
> > question our Lord's ministry? I this claim is often made, but I have
> > never seen it adequately substantiated.
> I think it more reasonable to believe that when God inspired men to
> write those books which we now find incorporated in The Bible, he meant
> what he said! Why, on the basis of a theory for which no hard evidence
> exists, are you able to conclude that God's word was never intended to
> be authoritative? What reason - apart from your personal faith in
> evolution - can you possibly have for saying that?! How can you risk
> preferring the opinions of men to the words of the Living God?

For the record I affirm that I believe the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and normative. Please do not assume that I believe "that God's word
was never intended to be authoritative". However, the Bible must be properly interpreted. Just because it is inspired does not automatically
protect us from getting hold of the wrong end of the stick.

You are certainly free to believe that evolution is "a theory for which no hard evidence exists." However you must admit that there are many of
this list who are far more knowledgeable about organic evolution than either of us who believe that there is good evidence. They are professionals
in the field. Are you as cavalier with the expertise of doctors or mechanics?

I have just as much faith in evolution as I have in a vegemite sandwich (somebody as already mentioned peanut butter). The only difference is it
is a bit more useful (I don't like vegemite). Organic evolution is useful as it helps me make sense of the fossil record, ecological patterns, and
decide whether I should take a course of antibiotics. I certainly don't have a "personal faith in evolution". I don't pray to evolution, trust in
the grace of evolution, seek the blessing of evolution, any more than I do with relativity or plate tectonics. I don't know anybody who does.

> You ask how the theory calls our Lord's ministry into question. In his
> view, what we now refer to as the Pentateuch, or Torah, was absolutely
> foundational to it, as, for example, Lk.16:19-31) makes clear.

Sorry? In my Bible this passage, a parable about justice, faith, and responsibility, (among much else) mentions Abraham. No mention of Creation.
Our Lord's use of the figure of Abraham is highly symbolic (unless you actually believe we will spend eternity attached to Abraham's chest). Does
this actually mean that Jesus believed that Abraham was a symbolic figure? Does it mean that he believed Abraham was a literal figure who could be
used symbolically (in common with the rabbinical tradition)? How does this support your argument? So far you have not substantiated your case.

> > > (3) (Evolution's)social consequences are invariably bad. This
> > > observation should put us in mind of our Lord's warning, "
> > > their fruits ye shall know them...
> > Four things here. First only some of social consequences of
> > evolutionary theory are bad, not all. Presumably you would regard the > need for careful use of pesticides and antibiotics that evolutionary
> > theory highlights as desirable.
> Are you saying that these things would never have seen the light of day
> were it not for evolution?

Of course not! But has Susan has pointed out, wise use of the gifts of God's creation requires we understand evolutionary ecology. Otherwise we
will suffer problems of antibiotic and pesticide resistance, among others.

> > Second, the ideologies which have resulted in "some of the worst
> > excesses" (militarism, nazism, communism, unrestrained capitalism,
> > etc.) are not contingent on evolution. All either predated it or an
> > antecedents that predate evolutionary theory. I think it was Bertrand
> > Russell who said something to the effect that "Darwin had the
> > misfortune of serving everyone who had an axe to grind".
> Anti-God and anti-biblical views in were, of course, in existence long
> before Darwin (as Henry Morris points out in 'The Long War Against
> God'). However, there can be no denying that both Marx and Hitler were
> particularly inspired by Darwinian ideas.

Marx inspired by Darwin? Please get your historical facts correct. Darwin's paper was read before the Royal Society in 1858. Das Capital was
published in 1856. Of course the mis-use of anything does not necessarily condemn it, only those who misuse it. Later Marxists used it because it
was convenient, although they preferred Lamark (vis Lysenko) to Darwin. German anti-Semitism had in part Christian roots, however you have not
rejected Christianity because of it.

> > Third, just because a theory can be misused says nothing about
> > its truth or falsity.
> But, describing his creation as 'good' surely seems rather odd if
> evolution were really the means!

Your comment has not replied to mine at all. However, to address yours, why isn't evolution good? Remember we are talking about functional
goodness. If God has declared it good, who are we to say that it is not?

> > Fourth, you seem to be confusing levels of knowledge here,the
> > scientific theory of organic evolution with the philosophy of
> > accidentialism, which operates on a different level plan. It is
> > important not to make category errors when thinking about these
> > issues.
> I believe I see the issues in our discussion very clearly. As I have
> argued elsewhere, evolution at root is unfalsifiable and hence,
> unscientific. It exists as a device whose prime purpose is that of reducing the standing of God in the eyes of those created in his image

You have just illustrated my point. "...evolution at root is unfalsifiable and hence,
unscientific." is a statement about a scientific theory. I happen to disagree with you, but that is beside the point. The issues is whether or
not a theory is a) in principle scientific and b} a valid interpretation of the data. You then immediately say "It exists as a device whose prime
purpose is that of reducing the standing of God in the eyes of those created in his image." This is a theological statement. Again, I disagree
with it, but that is irrelevant for the issue. Because it is a theological it does not follow on from your one on science. Of you do not consider
this an example of category error, then what do you consider to be so?

I would like to see us move forward on this rather than going round in circles. You seem to be unprepared to concede that any theory of evolution
is scientific. OK, then let's try and discuss with your theology. What evidence do you have to support the statement that Darwinian evolution
"exists as a device whose prime purpose is that of reducing the standing of God in the eyes of those created in his image." Please don't mention
Marxism or Hitler again! Do you really think that Darwin was motivated by this? If he was, does that necessarily invalidate his theory? Do you
think that modern evolutionary geneticists such as Franciso Ayala or Sam Berry are thus motivated? I won't include Richard Dawkins here!

> Sincerely,
> Vernon
> Vernon Jenkins
> [Musician, Mining Engineer, and Senior Lecturer in Maths and Computing,
> the Polytechnic of Wales (now the University of Glamorgan), 1954-87]

God Bless