Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Genetic Evolution of Adam and Eve

On June 26, 2000, in Washington, D.C., in the East Room of the White House, "the language of God was revealed." 

That's the way Francis Collins describes his experience that day as he stood next to President Bill Clinton for the public announcement that the Human Genome Project had produced a first draft of the human genome. "Today," President Clinton said, "we are learning the language in which God created life.  We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift."  This phrasing in Clinton's speech--describing the human genome as the "language of God"--was suggested by Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, who is an evangelical Christian and a theistic evolutionist who sees a fundamental compatibility between science and faith.

In 2006, Collins published a best-selling book--The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief--defending theistic evolution, or what he has called "BioLogos," as the best way to reconcile science and faith.  In 2007, he established the BioLogos Foundation to promote this position.  In 2009, he was appointed by Barack Obama as the Director of the National Institutes of Health.  This was controversial for some scientists at the time who worried that his management of federally funded scientific research might be distorted by his religious beliefs.

Collins has also created a controversy among some evangelical Christians who worry that his theistic evolution denies the truth of the Bible, particularly the teaching in Genesis about the creation of Adam and Eve.  This controversy was highlighted in a cover story in the June, 2011, issue of Christianity Today entitled "The Search for the Historical Adam." 

Collins and other evangelical Christians who have adopted his position have argued that the story of Adam and Eve cannot be historically true, because it contradicts the scientific evidence for the evolution of human beings from ancestral species.  Now that we have complete drafts of the genomes not only of human beings but also of chimpanzees and other animals closely related to human beings, Collins and his colleagues argue, we can identify the genetic similarity of these species, and we can reconstruct the genetic history of human evolution from other primate species.  We can also see evidence in the human genome that the human species descended from a common set of founders, approximately 10,000 in number, who lived about 100,000 to 150,00 years ago.

If this is true, then it cannot be true that all human beings are descended from two individuals--Adam and Eve--who were separately created by God in His image.  Here it seems that the Book of Nature contradicts the Book of Revelation.  To overcome this apparent contradiction, we must decide either that we have misread the Book of Nature or that we have misread the Book of Revelation.  The theistic evolutionists like Collins argue that the genetic evidence for human evolution is convincing, but that the Genesis creation story needs to be read as an allegorical story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson and not as a literal history that teaches anything about the science of human origins.  Thus, the debate here is both a scientific debate over the genetic evidence and a theological debate over the biblical evidence.  Both the scientific and the theological arguments for Collins' theistic evolution have recently been elaborated by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight in Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (2017).

This debate has serious consequences for professors who teach at evangelical Christian colleges--like Wheaton College and Calvin College, for example--where the faculty must sign a statement of faith that affirms (at Wheaton College) that "God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race."  Professors who publicly endorse theistic evolution can be fired for violating their college's statement of faith.  And, indeed, a few professors have lost their jobs for this reason.

But what I find most remarkable is that in recent years many of these colleges have allowed their professors to embrace theistic evolution, and this seems to show a general movement in the American evangelical community towards accepting the sort of theistic evolution advanced by Collins and others connected to the BioLogos organization. 

There seem to be two reasons for this.  First, the recent advances in genetic science have produced overwhelming evidence in favor of the evolutionary theory of human origins.  So, for example, the genetic evidence for human evolution from primate ancestors is so compelling that even a young-earth creationist like Todd Wood must admit that this is a "problem" for his reading of the Genesis creation story as literal history, and even the anti-evolutionist intelligent design proponent Michael Behe admits that the genetic evidence for the evolution of humans from primate ancestors is convincing.

The second reason why American evangelicals are becoming receptive to theistic evolution is that in recent years they have been moving away from their fundamentalist literal reading of the Bible and towards a reading of the Bible as shaped by cultural traditions of poetic story-telling that were never intended to be a scientific history.  One indication of this is the publication last year of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible by Zondervan, one of the leading publishers of Bibles for evangelical Christians.  This Bible has been edited by John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, and Craig Keener, Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Seminary, Wilmore, KY.  As the title of this Bible indicates, Walton and Keener provide notes on the ancient cultural traditions that shaped the lives of those who first wrote and read the books of the Bible. So, for example, the Genesis story of creation is compared with other creation stories in the ancient Near East, which suggests that creation story-telling was more about symbolic meaning than about physical existence.

But if we believe the Bible to be truly a revelation of God's eternal truth, then the Bible cannot be entirely a work of poetic fiction, because we must believe that at least some of what it says is a literally true history of God as the Creator of the universe and of ourselves, who cares for us, who gives us a moral law, and who redeems us when we fail to live up to that moral law.  And that history must include supernatural miracles that are beyond the comprehension of natural science.

So we must wonder whether theistic evolution can really reconcile the supernatural faith in the Bible and the natural science of evolution.  Collins claims this can be done if theistic evolution is based on six premises (The Language of God, 200):

1. The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.

2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.

3. While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time.

4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.

5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.

6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature.  This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.

In formulating these premises, Collins indicates that he continues the tradition of theistic evolution that stretches from Asa Gray to Theodosius Dobzhansky to Pope John Paul II.  But the primary influence on Collins' thinking is C. S. Lewis.  Collins' conversion to Christianity from atheism began when he read Lewis' Mere Christianity.  And Collins attributes most of his arguments in defense of Christianity to Lewis's writings.

Notice that while "no supernatural intervention was required" in the unfolding history of evolution, according to premise 4, supernatural intervention does seem to be required in premises 1, 2, and 6.

For premise 1, the initial creation of everything out of nothing was a miraculous act by the Creator.  "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).  For Collins, that is not just figurative language.  That is a factual statement of God's creative activity at the beginning.

For premise 2, God's initial creation of the laws of nature provided the "fine tuning" of the universe--the precise setting of certain mathematical constants in nature--so that the conditions necessary for the eventual evolution of intelligent life on Earth could be satisfied.

Here the appeal to the miraculous creative power of God is the only way, Collins argues, to answer questions that science cannot answer--questions about why the universe came into being, about what came before the Big Bang, and why the universe seems to be so finely designed for us to be here (6, 81).  These are not scientific questions because they are questions about what is outside of Nature--outside of space and time.

After all, even Darwin, as an agnostic, had to confess that "the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us" (Autobiography, 94).

But then I don't understand the need for supernatural intervention that is implied in premise 6.  If the spiritual nature of human beings is unique to them in ways that "defy evolutionary explanation," that seems to imply that while natural evolution could explain the physical body of human beings, divine intervention was required to create the spiritual soul.  This is what John Paul II said in 1996.  It is also what C. S. Lewis suggested in a passage in The Problem of Pain quoted by Collins.  Lewis identified the story of Adam and Eve as a "Hebrew folk tale" that conveyed a moral lesson rather than a scientific history.  Lewis offered this interpretation:
"For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself.  He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated.  The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity.  But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends.  Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say 'I' and 'me,' which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. . . . We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell.  Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods."
Notice how much Lewis concedes to the Darwinian account of human evolution.  The human species evolved from ancestral species over long periods of time.  Then, at some point, "God caused to descend upon this organism" a new kind of consciousness that is unique to human beings and that constitutes the "image of God."  This looks like the same idea that William Tearle suggested in a letter to Darwin (in April 1880).

This seems to require a supernatural intervention for God to create the uniquely human soul, and this seems to be what Pope John Paul II suggested in 1996: natural evolution created the human body, but the creation of the human soul required direct divine intervention.  But why couldn't this have been a natural process of evolution through which "a brain sufficiently complex" for uniquely human consciousness evolved by natural selection?  Why couldn't the human soul arise from the emergent evolution of the primate brain passing over a critical threshold of size and complexity?

That the human mind arose from the emergent evolution of the primate brain is perhaps suggested by Michelangelo's famous Creation of Adam fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Frank Meshberger has pointed out that the image surrounding God and the angels has the shape of a brain, with God's right arm extending through the prefrontal cortex.  Since Michelangelo was known to have performed dissections of the human body, he could have learned enough about neuroanatomy to convey the message that God's gift of human ensoulment was actually the gift of a human brain that could have arisen by natural processes.

Collins would seem to agree with this in so far as he says that "once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required."  He writes:
"But how could God take such chances? If evolution is random, how could He really be in charge, and how could He be certain of an outcome that included intelligent beings at all?"
"The solution is actually readily at hand, once one ceases to apply human limitations to God.  If God is outside of nature, then He is outside of space and time. In that context, God could in the moment of creation of the universe also know every detail of the future. That could include the formation of the stars, planets, and galaxies, all of the chemistry, physics, geology, and biology that led to the formation of life on earth, and the evolution of humans. . . . In that context, evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God's perspective the outcome would be entirely specified.  Thus, God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process" (205).
Asa Gray thought he saw a similar conception of theistic evolution in Darwin's Origin of Species. For example, he saw this in Darwin's explanation of how the eye could have evolved by natural selection, and then Darwin asked: "Let this process go on for millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds [under variation proceeding long enough, generation multiplying the better variations times enough, and natural selection securing the improvements]; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?"

Thus, we can see the eye as intelligently designed by the Creator allowing the eye to emerge from a natural process of evolution, without any need for miraculous intervention into nature beyond the original miracle of God's creation of the laws of nature.

But even if theistic evolutionists like Gray and Collins do not need to believe in the historicity of the Bible's six days of creation, including the creation of Adam and Eve as the first two human individuals, they must believe in the historicity of Jesus Christ's miraculous birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection as God incarnated as a human being.

The apostle Paul seems to teach, however, that the historical reality of Jesus depends on the historical reality of Adam, because the whole story of salvation depends on understanding the obedience of Jesus as the Second Adam overcoming the fallen condition of humanity from the disobedience of Adam (Romans 5:12-17, 1 Corinthians 15:49).  If so, then this seems to demand belief in Adam and Eve as the first human couple.

And yet the first chapters of Genesis do suggest that Adam and Eve were part of a larger human population.  Whom did Cain marry?  Whom did God protect Cain from after he killed Abel?  We might say that Adam and Eve were the leaders of an original population, and then we could recognize both a prehistoric couple and a prehistoric population.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"I Do Not Believe in the Bible": Darwin's Correspondence on Biblical Religion

In September of 2015, this one-sentence letter by Charles Darwin was sold in an auction in New York City for $197,000.  This brief letter could command such a high price because scholars were unaware of its existence for over a hundred years, and it seemed to finally answer one of the most urgent questions that people have had about Darwin--Was he a Christian?  It did not answer, however, a different, although related, question--Does his theory of evolution require atheism?

Written on November 24, 1880, this letter was in response to a letter that Darwin had received the day before from Frederick McDermott, who was a stranger to Darwin.  Darwin was near the end of his life.  He would die a year and a half later at age 73.  (Darwin's correspondence is conveniently available online at the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge.)

McDermott said he desired to read Darwin's books, particularly after he had learned that Charles Kingsley had recommended them.  Kingsley had been a prominent clergyman, university professor, novelist, and chaplain to Queen Victoria; he was also a friend of Darwin's, who was one of the first people to endorse the argument of Darwin's Origin of Species.

McDermott wanted reassurance, however, that he could read Darwin's books without losing his faith in the New Testament.  "I fear my brain is not fine enough to argue out doubts which might be suggested by your works," he wrote to Darwin.  "My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament."  He promised that if he received an answer, he would not send it to "the theological papers" for publication.

Here's Darwin's letter in reply:
Nov. 24th 1880
Dear Sir
I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a Divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.
 Yours faithfully  Ch. Darwin
Darwin was reluctant to speak publicly about his religious beliefs, but he often spoke openly about this in letters that were marked "private."  Among his published writings, the most candid statement about his religious beliefs is the section on "Religious Belief" in his Autobiography, which he wrote in the summer of 1876, for publication after his death.   After his death in 1882, the Autobiography was published in 1887.  But, as I indicated in the previous post, his wife Emma had some passages about religion cut out because they were too disturbing.

If you go to the Darwin Correspondence Project, and search for the letters that mention religion or the Bible, you will find hundreds of letters, many of them addressed to Darwin from strangers like McDermott who want Darwin to tell them about his religious beliefs.  Some of these strangers were concerned about the eternal salvation of Darwin's soul.  A Joseph Plimsoll wrote six letters to Darwin--five in 1867-1868 and one in 1881--that were sermons filled with biblical quotations and pleading with Darwin to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Plimsoll identified Darwin's "development theory" as atheism, and warned him that he would go to Hell for this if he did not ask for redemption.

But one should notice that neither in the letter to McDermott nor in any published writing or private correspondence does Darwin ever identify himself as an atheist or identify his scientific theory as atheistic.  On the contrary, he always insisted that his theory of evolution was compatible with theistic religion, although it was incompatible with a literal interpretation of the Bible as a divinely revealed history of the world.

Darwin's best brief statement of his religious views that is consistent with everything else he wrote about this is a letter to John Fordyce in May 7, 1879:
"It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.--You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point-- What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.--But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note.  In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.--I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."
There are five points here that Darwin repeated in his Autobiography and in his correspondence. 

(1) It is possible to affirm both theism and evolution--to be a theistic evolutionist--and people like Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray show this. 

(2) Darwin thinks his views of this issue should be of no special concern for others, because each person must make up his own mind based on his personal weighing of the pertinent arguments and evidence.

(3) Darwin finds this issue so mentally challenging that he fluctuates in his thinking, and he cannot come to any final conclusion.

(4) In all of that fluctuation, Darwin has never seen any good reasons to be an atheist, in the sense of denying the existence of God.

(5) And yet, Darwin has seen good reasons, especially in his later years of life, to be an agnostic, in the sense of being in such a state of ignorance that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist.

Prior to its official publication date of November 24, 1859, Darwin sent advance copies of The Origin of Species to a few people, including Charles Kingsley.  Kingsley wrote a letter to Darwin on November 18, 1859, which included this remark:
"I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made."
A few days later (December 2), Darwin wrote to John Murray, his publisher, that Kingsley's "capital sentence" should be inserted in the second edition of Origin, "in answer to anyone who may, as many will, say that my Book is irreligious."  This sentence was introduced into the concluding section of Origin as showing that there is "no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one."

Kingsley's "capital sentence" is the first clear statement of the basic idea that is today called theistic evolution or evolutionary creation.  For example, theistic evolutionist Dennis Venema echoes Kingsley's sentence in his new book--Adam and the Genome (coauthored with Scot McKnight)--when he writes: "Evolution . . . may be God's chosen design to bring about biodiversity on earth. . . . Indeed, making an object that can self-assemble would require a design far superior to that of an object that requires manual assembly. . . . I view evolution as God's grand design for creating life" (89).

The best proponent of theistic evolution among Darwin's correspondents was Asa Gray, a professor of botany at Harvard University, who was the greatest American botanist of the 19th century, who was a devout orthodox Christian, and who exchanged hundreds of letters with Darwin from 1843 until Darwin's death in 1882.  The number of these letters peaked in the period of 1860 to 1864, when Gray was the leading American scientist defending both Darwin's science and the compatibility of his science with theistic religion.

In a letter to Gray on May 22, 1860, Darwin said: "Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical."  Darwin and Gray agreed that God did not have to miraculously intervene throughout history to specially create every species and form of life.  But they also agreed that God could have originally created the laws of nature so that natural evolution could spontaneously unfold within those laws.  Darwin thought that the human mind generally, including his own mind, was "instinctively" by an "inward conviction" inclined to see divinely intelligent design at the origin of matter, life, and the human mind; but it was hard for him to see how some divine design at the beginning of everything could be manifest in the seemingly random contingencies of the natural world.   

In his many letters to Asa Gray where he takes up the theological arguments, Darwin repeatedly expresses the frustration of reaching the limits of human reason in trying to resolve fundamental mysteries: "I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect.  A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.-- Let each man hope & believe what he can.--" (May 22, 1860).

There are some fundamental mysteries in the universe, Darwin suggests, and science might never be able to fully resolve these mysteries because of the limitations of human experience and human reasoning.  But it does not follow from this fact of human ignorance that there is no natural explanation for such mysteries, and that we must invoke God acting outside of nature.  To invoke God as the explanation is what Rebecca Goldstein calls the Fallacy of Using One Mystery to Explain Another.  Why is there something rather than nothing?  There is no good scientific or philosophic answer to that question, which points to the problem of ultimate explanation: we can keep passing the buck, but the buck must stop somewhere.  To say that God is the First Cause--the Uncaused Cause of everything--doesn't resolve the mystery because then we have the even greater mystery of how to explain God.  If we can say that God is uncaused or self-caused, then why not say that Nature is uncaused or self-caused?  (I have elaborated these points here and here.)

Darwin wondered whether the instinctive tendency of the human mind to see intelligent design in the universe could be trusted, or whether it reflected an unreasonable propensity of evolved human nature to anthropomorphic analogy.  He wrote about this in The Descent of Man, in explaining the evolution of religious belief.  The "belief in unseen or spiritual agencies" seems to be universal.  The simplest hypothesis to explain this, Darwin suggested, is that as human beings are aware of how their minds prompt them to act, and as they imagine that other human beings have the same mental agency in their actions, they are inclined to explain natural forces in plants, animals, and physical things as showing mental agency analogous to human minds; and this can lead to belief in supernatural minds that exercise intelligent agency in the world (Penguin Books, 2004, 116-118).

Recently, evolutionary psychologists have elaborated a Darwinian theory of religious belief as arising from a "hyperactive agency detection device"--that just as we believe in the existence of other human minds that we cannot directly observe, so we believe in the divine mind from projecting our mental experience onto the world.  As I have observed in other posts (here and here),  some of these Darwinian psychologists (such as Justin Barrett) see this as showing that Darwinian science is compatible with the truth of believing in God, others (such as Jesse Bering) see this as exposing belief in God as a fictional construction of the evolved human mind. For those like Barrett, religious belief is an adaptive truth. For those like Bering, religious belief is an adaptive illusion.  So, as Darwin indicates, it's not clear as to whether we are warranted in trusting our evolved propensity to religious belief.

Thus, as Asa Gray observed, "Darwinism may bear an atheistic as well as a theistic interpretation" (in his review of Charles Hodge's What Is Darwinism?).  So, if you're an atheist like Richard Dawkins, you can see Darwin's theory of evolution as making it possible for you to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (The Blind Watchmaker).  But if you're a theist like Gray or Francis Collins, you can see Darwin's theory of evolution as showing the beautiful natural order that arises through laws of nature originally designed by God.

If you are a theistic evolutionist, however, your theism cannot be based on a literal interpretation of the Bible as a history of the world that was created in six 24-hour days, including the miraculous creation of Adam and Eve as the two individuals from whom all human beings descended.  While Darwin is open to the thought that the general laws of nature were originally created by God, he cannot take seriously the stories in the Bible about God's miracles as being literally true.

For example, Darwin received letters from people who were looking for ways to make his theory of human evolution from animal ancestors compatible with the story in Genesis about God creating Adam and Eve in His image, and thus set apart from the other animals.  But Darwin saw no need for this, because he did not see the Genesis account of creation as a divine revelation of a literally true history.

Leonard Jenyns was one of the people to whom Darwin had sent early copies of The Origin of Species.  Jenyns was an Anglican vicar and a naturalist, and he was one of the few naturalists to whom Darwin sent a letter in 1844 revealing Darwin's views on the transmutation of species.  Jenyns wrote to Darwin on January 4, 1860.  He indicated that he partly agreed with Darwin's theory of how species evolved from ancestral species.  But he was not convinced by Darwin's claim that "all organic beings that have ever lived on the earth, had descended from some one primordial form."

He was also worried that Darwin's theory as applied to human evolution would contradict the Genesis creation story:
"One great difficulty to my mind in the way of your theory is the fact of the existence of Man. I was beginning to think you had entirely passed over this question, till almost in the last page I find you saying that 'light will be thrown on the origin of man & his history.' By this I suppose is meant that he is to be considered a modified & no doubt greatly improved orang! I doubt if t his will find acceptance with the generality of readers--I am not one of those in the habit of mixing up questions of science & scripture, but I can hardly see what sense or meaning is to be attached to Gen: 2.7. & yet more to vv. 21, 22, of the same chapter, giving an account of the creation of woman,--if the human species at least has not been created independently of other animals, but merely come into the world by ordinary descent from previously existing races--whatever these races may be supposed to have been.  Neither can I easily bring myself to the idea that man's reasoning faculties & above all his moral sense, could ever have been obtained from irrational progenitors, by mere natural selection--acting however gradually & for whatever length of time that may be required.  This seems to be doing away altogether with the Divine Image which forms the insurmountable distinction between man & brutes."
In Darwin's letter of reply (on January 7), he passes over the question of the Divine Image quickly: "With respect to man, I am very far from wishing to obtrude my belief; but I thought it dishonest to quite conceal my opinion.-- Of course it is open to everyone to believe that man appeared by separate miracle, though I do not myself see the necessity or probability.--" 

In 1871, in The Descent of Man, Darwin did provide an evolutionary account of human reason and the moral sense as uniquely human, and yet derived from mental capacities shared with other animals, and without any reference to the Creation of Adam and Eve in God's Image.  If one agrees that "man is descended from some less highly organized form," and that "man is the co-descendant with other mammals of a common progenitor," Darwin concluded, then one "cannot any longer believe that man is the work of a separate act of creation" (Descent, Penguin edition, 2004, 676).

Twenty years after his exchange of letters with Jenyns, Darwin received a letter from William Tearle (in April 1880), who was worried that Darwin's theory was "antagonistic to the strict reading of the Bible."  He suggested to Darwin a new way to interpret the Bible's "Let us make man in our image": "May man not have been previously created, as an animal of a superior order, and God seeing that all living creatures required a head, and earthly master, he marked man as the most suitable, and then fashioned him after his own image."  (A similar interpretation of the Genesis creation story was advanced by C. S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain.)

Darwin's letter of reply (April 16, 1880) was brief and dismissive:
"I am sorry to say that I can be of no assistance to you.--Any remarks which I might make on your letter would as far as they had any influence, add to your doubts on subjects which you consider sacred."
 "In my opinion every man ought to weigh for himself impartially & anxiously al the arguments for & against any revelation ever having been made to man.--"
In an earlier letter (to Bartholomew James Sullivan, May 24, 1861), Darwin was dismissive about an article attempting to reconcile Genesis and science: "I am weary of all these various attempts to reconcile, what I believe to be irreconcilable."

But even if a literal reading of Genesis as natural history is irreconcilable with Darwinian natural history, the contradiction might be overcome by reading Genesis as telling stories with theological meaning that were never intended to be read as literal natural history.  Recently, some evangelical Christians who are theistic evolutionists have taken this position, which denies the historical reality of Adam and Eve. 

But many evangelical Christians now worry that this would deny the core doctrines of orthodox Christianity, while also denying the importance of the idea of humans created in God's image in supporting the moral dignity of human beings as endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.  I will say more about this in future posts.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Darwin and the Bible

For the first edition of his Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin put two epigrams opposite the title page.  The first was from William Whewell's Bridgewater Treatise: "But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this--we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws."

The second was from Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning: "To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, 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 endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both."

Darwin thus intimated to his reader the relationship of his book to the Bible.  In defending his "theory of natural selection" as superior to the "theory of special creation," The Origin of Species has been seen by many biblical believers as an attack on the Bible's account of God's creation of everything in six days, including His creation of Adam and Eve in His image.  But these two epigrams suggest Darwin's way of presenting his theory as compatible with the Bible.

The quotation from Bacon conveys an idea that was often used by early modern scientists to justify their natural science as a worthy activity for a biblical believer--the metaphor of two books: one can read God's word in the Bible, or one can read God's works in nature.  These two books were often identified as revealed religion and natural religion.

The quotation from Whewell conveys the thought that God's works in nature are not so much miraculous interventions by God that break nature's order but the divine establishment of the general laws of nature.  This is the idea of the metaphysics of dual causality that Darwin introduces in the Origin--God's establishment of general laws constitutes the primary causes of the universe, while the natural scientist studies the secondary causes that govern the observable world.  (I have written about this in a previous post.)

This makes it possible to interpret Darwin as what today would be called a theistic evolutionist or an evolutionary creationist--like Francis Collins and others associated with Collins' BioLogos organization.  In the beginning, the evolutionary creationist believes, God created the natural laws of the Universe and then allowed the natural evolution of everything to occur within those laws.  This allows the biblical believer to accept both the religious truth of biblical creationism and the scientific truth of evolutionary biology.

This is suggested by Darwin's echoing of the language of the biblical creation story in the eloquent last sentence of The Origin of Species: "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."  The phrase "by the Creator" was added to this sentence in the second edition of Origin

In 1863, Darwin read an article in which the author said that explaining the origin of life requires "a creative force, . . . which Darwin could only express in Pentateuchal terms as the primordial form 'into which life was first breathed.'"  In a letter of March 29, 1863, Darwin wrote about this: "I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion, and used the Pentateuchal term of creation, by which I really meant 'appeared' by some wholly unknown process.  It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter" (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters, ed. Francis Darwin, p. 272).  Some of Darwin's religious critics have quoted this remark as evidence that he was not serious in his use of the biblical language of "creation" and "Creator," and that it only shows how he "truckled to public opinion."

In any case, we see Darwin here admitting that the origin of all things is an unresolvable mystery for him that creates an opening for religious belief in some First Cause.  In his Autobiography, Darwin said that when he was on board the Beagle, he was a very orthodox Christian, who quoted the Bible as the unanswerable authority on morality.  But then in the first few years after his return to England, 1836-1839, when he was first developing his theory of natural selection, he thought a lot about religion, and "disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete" (Autobiography, ed. Nora Barlow, pp. 85-87).  Some of this writing about his loss of religious belief was cut out of the first publication of the Autobiography in 1887 by Darwin's son Francis at the request of his mother, who said that she wanted to avoid any offense to the feelings of Darwin's friends who were believers.  (I have written about the struggles of Darwin and his wife Emma over religious questions here and here.)

When he was writing The Origin of Species, Darwin reports, he felt compelled "to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist."  But then this belief gradually became weaker, and he began to doubt whether the human mind could ever fathom the meaning of a First Cause to everything.  "I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems," he admitted.  "The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic" (Autobiography, pp. 92-94).

The biblical language in the last sentence of the Origin is one way that Darwin tried to convey this "mystery of the beginning of all things."  But his language is not exactly the same as what Genesis says. Darwin says that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one."  Here's the biblical verse, in the King James translation: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7).  Moreover, it is said, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27).  So, in the biblical story, God's breathing the breath of life into man to make him a living soul is a special creation of humanity as uniquely set apart as the image of God from all other life. 

Genesis also says that God called the first man Adam, and then Adam named the first woman Eve.  Thus, it seems that all of humanity is descended from these two individuals specially created by God.  But in Darwin's story, the Creator's breath of life animates one or a few forms of life; and apparently, as Darwin made clear in The Descent of Man, human beings were not specially created by God, but rather they evolved naturally from some ancestral species of animals.  Also, Darwin never speaks of Adam and Eve as the first two human beings.

This difference between the Bible and Darwin is more bluntly indicated in one of Darwin's notebooks from 1838 that was not written for publication: "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the interposition of a deity, more humble & I believe true to consider him created from animals" (Notebooks, 300).

The first chapter of Descent is entitled "The Evidence of the Descent of Man from Some Lower Form."  After surveying the similarities between man and the lower animals, Darwin concludes the chapter with remarks resembling his comments in his notebook: "It is only our natural prejudice, and that arrogance which made our forefathers declare that they were descended from demi-gods, which leads us to demur to this conclusion [that human beings are evolved from lower forms]. But the time will before long come when it will be thought wonderful, that naturalists, who were well acquainted with the comparative structure and development of man and other mammals, should have believed that each was the work of a separate act of creation" (I:32-33).  Although it's not completely clear, the reference here to the false belief in human beings being "descended from demi-gods" could be a reference to the creation of Adam and Eve.  If so, this could be a denial of the teaching that human beings were created in God's image.

Darwin returns to this point in the last sentence of Descent:
"I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system--with all these exalted powers--Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin" (II:405).
The reference to the "god-like intellect" of human beings suggests that there might be some truth in the biblical idea that human beings bear the image of God.  But, still, Darwin argues, all of the "noble qualities" of humanity can be explained as products of a natural evolution from lower animals.

To support this conclusion, Darwin offered evidence of the anatomical, behavioral, and mental similarities between human beings and other animals.  But since he did not understand genetics, Darwin could not recognize the genetic similarities that might support his argument for human evolution from ancestral animal species.

Now, with the growing knowledge of the human genome and of the genomes of other species, and of the techniques for comparing genomes, it is now possible to infer the pathways of human genetic evolution from other lower forms of life.  That provides new evidence for testing evolutionary theory.  But it also raises new questions about whether the science of human genetic evolution is compatible with the biblical creation story of Adam and Eve, or whether that science must deny that story.

Once again, we must wonder whether the two books--the Bible as read by faith and Nature as read by science--are compatible or contradictory.  In recent years, that question has created a great intellectual and spiritual crisis for many Christians--particularly, American evangelical Christians.  It has been called the search for the historical Adam.  That will be the question for my next few posts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Is Genesis History? The Dishonest Silence of a Young-Earth Creationist Film

Is Genesis History? is a documentary film that promotes young-Earth creationism.  It was written, directed, and produced by Thomas Purifoy.  Del Tackett takes the central role in the film as he travels around the world to interview over a dozen young-Earth creationist scientists.  The photography of beautiful landscape scenery is excellent.  The film has been shown in some theatres around North America.  Today, the film was released for buying as a DVD, downloading, or renting for streaming.  It's easily available at Amazon ($5 for streaming).  It's about 1 hour and 45 minutes long.  It's well worth watching.

This film is an engaging presentation of some of the arguments for young-Earth creationism as based on scientific evidence.  It shows the remarkable mental agility of the scientists supporting this position against the evolutionary theory embraced by most scientists today.  The film was produced primarily for church groups, homeschooling parents, and private Christian schools, where Christian parents want to teach their children that evolutionary science must be rejected as an atheistic attack on the Bible, and that the historical accuracy of the Bible as showing six-24 hour days of Creation, Noah's Flood a few thousand years ago, and a total of only 6,000 years of cosmic history since the Creation can all be defended as consistent with scientific evidence.  Moreover, as is made clear at the end of the film, this teaching has a moral purpose, because rejecting young-Earth creationism must discredit the Bible, and thereby deny the moral authority of the Bible, which necessarily brings a moral relativism in which there will be no standards of right and wrong for human life.

The underlining rhetorical strategy of this film is dishonest silence.  By that I mean that in presenting the case for young-Earth creationism, the film is carefully silent about points that would weaken this case, which is dishonest because the film tries to deceive the viewer into thinking that there are no serious objections to the case being presented.

The most fundamental dishonest silence is the premise from the beginning to the end of the film that there are only two paradigms or worldviews that one can take in judging the historicity of Genesis.  Either one adopts the "conventional" view that explains everything through natural evolution over millions or billions of years and denies the Biblical teaching of Creation, or one adopts the "historical Genesis" view that explains everything as guided by the miraculous interventions by God over 6,000 years as set forth in the Bible.

This is dishonest because it tries to trick the audience into thinking that young-Earth creationism is the only form of creationist science.  In fact, as I have indicated in my previous posts, old-Earth creationists (like Hugh Ross) see God as carrying out His creative acts of miraculous intervention over a deep time of millions or billions of years, and evolutionary creationists (like Francis Collins, Dennis Venema, and Deborah Haarsma) see God as carrying out His creative design through the natural processes of evolution over a long span of deep time.  If Del Tackett had interviewed Hugh Ross and Francis Collins, the film could have started a serious discussion among Christian scientists with different points of view that could have stirred some deep thinking in the audience.

Even Paul Nelson, who is interviewed in the film, now admits that he was wrong to speak in the film about "two paradigms"--"the conventional paradigm" and the "biblical history paradigm."  Nelson is a Senior Fellow of the Discover Institute, the organization that promotes Intelligent Design Theory as an alternative to evolutionary science.  ID has been called "Intelligent Design Creationism."  But the ID proponents have strongly rejected this label, because they want to claim that they are not Biblical creationists.  Nelson and others at the Discovery Institute are Biblical creationists, even young-earth creationists, but the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute does not allow them to identify ID as creationism. 

The reason for this rhetorical strategy is that the U. S. Supreme Court in 1987 said that teaching Biblical creationism in public school biology classes is an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and therefore the Discovery Institute needs to say that teaching ID as an alternative to evolution in public school biology classes would not be unconstitutional, because ID is not creationism. 

In 1987, one of the creationist textbooks used in public schools was entitled Creation Biology.  After the Supreme Court decision, the title of this book was changed to Of Pandas and People, and the word "creation" was replaced with the word "intelligent design," while the word "creator" was replaced with the word "agency."  All of the other writing remained the same.  So, clearly, this was an attempt to teach religious creationism under the nonreligious sounding term "intelligent design." 

In 2005, in a case involving the public schools in Dover, Pennsylvania, where Of Pandas and People was a textbook, a federal judge ruled that this was unconstitutional, because teaching "intelligent design" was a deceptive way of introducing religious creationism into the public schools.  One crucial piece of evidence for the judge was provided by the testimony of Barbara Forrest, who had studied the various drafts for the book Of Pandas and People. In an early 1987 draft, this sentence appeared: "Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view."  In a later 1987 draft, one word of this sentence was changed: "Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view."  She had found the missing link in the evolution from creationism to intelligent design: "cdesign proponentsists"!  Nelson is silent about all this in the film.

Almost every interview in the film has some dishonest silence.  For example, Tackett interviews Kevin Anderson, a microbiologist who is Director of the Van Andel Creation Research Center, Chino Valley, Arizona.  He argues that dinosaurs were created by God only a few thousand years ago.  As evidence for that, he praises the research of Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist, who has presented evidence (in Science in 2005) that the fossil bones of T. Rex dinosaurs contain soft tissues.  Paleontologists have generally assumed that soft tissues decay so quickly that dinosaur fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old cannot have any preserved soft tissues, and so they initially refused to believe Schweitzer's report.  Anderson points to this as evidence that the young-Earth creationists are correct about the dinosaur fossils being only a few thousand years old.

Anderson is completely silent, however, about the fact that Schweitzer has identified herself as a "Christian evolutionary biologist," who criticizes the young-Earth creationists for distorting her research.  She says that there are two ways to interpret her findings: "either the dinosaurs aren't as old as we think they are, or maybe we don't know exactly how these things get preserved."  While the young-Earth creationists take the first interpretation, she takes the second.  In her recent research, she has argued that the iron particles associated with soft tissues might preserve those tissues over very long periods of time. 

Schweitzer has said that she thinks "the creator is revealed in the creation," and that God creating the world so that it can naturally evolve over billions of years is the greatest tribute to God's beautiful design: "That makes God a lot bigger than thinking of Him as a magician that pulled everything out in one fell swoop."  Here she agrees with Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, quoting Charles Kingsley, in believing "that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws."

Tackett and Anderson are very careful to remain silent about this in their discussion of Schweitzer's research.  And, more generally, the film is silent throughout about the idea that Schweitzer offers that natural evolution and divine design are not opposed, because natural evolution is divine design.

There is also significant silence in the interview with Todd Wood, who has been the subject of my previous posts.  Wood summarizes his thinking about how natural evolution occurs only within "created kinds."  So, for example, the created kind of cats can diversify into different species by natural evolution, but still these species are all cats, and thus this conforms to the Biblical account of how God created the kinds of life.

Wood is silent, however, about how his theory of created kinds (or baramins) rejects the creationist theory of special creation of fixed species that Darwin refuted in The Origin of Species.  And thus he is silent about how creationists had to change their interpretation of the Bible to be consistent with Darwin's science.  If he had spoken about this, this might have created an opening in the minds of the audience for evolutionary creationism: If God can create "kinds" with the natural potential for evolutionary self-development into many different species, why couldn't he also create the world with a natural potential for evolutionary self-development into all forms of life at all taxonomic levels?

Wood is also silent about some of his thinking about human evolution.  He does mention his claim that human beings belong in the same "kind" with Neanderthal.  But he says nothing about his admission that the "biological similarity" of humans and chimpanzees looks like evidence for their common evolutionary ancestry.  This came up in my previous post.  Since the interview with Wood is the only point in the film where human evolution is discussed, it's remarkable that Wood and Tackett are so careful to avoid talking about the genetic evidence for human beings evolving from primate ancestors.

There are more moments of silence in the interview with Danny Faulkner, an astronomer.  Faulkner refers to the universe being only 6,000 years old, and he leaves the audience with the impression that this is stated in the Bible.  But he doesn't indicate that this dating comes from James Ussher rather than the Bible, and that the young-Earth creationists must assume an Ussherite worldview that cannot be found clearly in the Bible.

Faulkner is also silent about his famous debate with Hugh Ross, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  In December 2009, Faulkner and Ross debated the question of whether the scientific evidence and biblical teaching supported a young age (6,000 years) or old age (billions of years) for the Universe.  The debate was carried out before a panel of 13 evangelical Christian astronomers who evaluated the debate.  These astronomers were affiliated with prominent institutions such as the University of Chicago, the University of California, Cornell University, and NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, Caltech.  After a long deliberation, the 13 Christian astronomers all signed a statement that concluded: "It is our professional judgment that the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly supports a universe that is billions of years old."

Faulkner and Tackett had to carefully keep silent about this, because if they had brought this up, this might have forced the audience to think seriously about what it means that most evangelical Christian astronomers are evolutionary creationists rather than young-Earth creationists.

Still, I recommend watching this film, if only to study the popular rhetorical techniques of young-Earth creationism.

Another critique of this film--concentrating on the geology of the Grand Canyon--can be found at the BioLogos website.

This film reminded me of another film--with 200 proofs why the earth is flat.

Like the other film, this film makes arguments that might sound persuasive to anyone who hasn't heard the good objections to these arguments.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (12): Todd Wood's Baraminology

In my previous posts, I have mentioned Todd Wood's young-Earth creationist theory of baraminology--the idea that species have arisen through a limited evolution of species within created kinds (baramins).  In 1941, Frank Marsh coined the term baramin from the Hebrew words for "create" and "kind."  In 1990, Kurt Wise coined the term baraminology as a label for the creationist science that would elaborate and test Marsh's theory.  Over the past 20 years, Wood has continued to work out this theory.  Notably, all three of these people can be identified as serious scientists.  Marsh had a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Nebraska.  Wise earned his Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University, where he studied under Stephen Jay Gould.  Wood earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Virginia.  The critics of creationism cannot say that these men are ignorant of science.

For some years, Wise and Wood were together at Bryan College (named after William Jennings Bryan), located in Dayton, Tennessee (the site of the Scopes trial in 1925).  It should be noted that William Jennings Bryan was an old-Earth creationism, and so he would have rejected the young-Earth creationism of Wise and Wood.

                                                                     Todd Wood

Kurt Wise

Wood has produced this video--"Understanding Created Kinds with Bunnies"--to illustrate his idea of baraminology as worked out through statistical analysis of biological traits to find clusters of species.

Of all the creationist writing on Galapagos, the most impressive in its scientific rigor and comprehensive coverage of Galapagos is Wood's book A Creationist Review and Preliminary Analysis of the History, Geology, Climate, and Biology of the Galapagos Islands (2005).  It occurs to me that a serious project for thinking through the scientific and theological meaning of Galapagos would be to organize a tour of Galapagos on a yacht with 16 passengers who would represent the full range of positions on creationism and evolution; and prior to the voyage, all the passengers would read Wood's book along with some evolutionist writings on Galapagos.  While sailing around the islands, these people could then debate the meaning of their observations of Galapagos in the light of the differing positions represented in their readings.  Hey, I'm ready to go again!

Here's one passage from Wood's book that summarizes his conclusions:
"In contrast to natural theologians of Darwin's younger days, today's creationists affirm a single creation event and a single global catastrophe with recolonization of the earth by land animals from Ararat.  The young-earth creationist framework precludes re-creation of species, 'centers of creation' for modern organisms, and even species stasis.  Thus, the species of the Galapagos were not created in the islands nor in any nearby center of creation. Instead, the Galapagos were certainly devoid of life immediately after the Flood (Gen. 7:21-23), whether the islands formed during or after the Flood.  The ancestors of Galapagos plants probably sprouted from propagules that formed large vegetation mats during and after the Flood.  The land animals must have sprung from ancestral stock that survived the Flood on the Ark, explaining their affinities with South and Central American species. In modern creationism, the question of how animals colonized the islands remains an important issue to be addressed" (2005, 170-71).
He says that he accepts "a chronology similar to Ussher and Lightfoot" (Wood and Murray 2003, 35).  So, I assume this means he accepts Ussher's dates--4004 BC for the Creation, 2350 BC for the Flood.  The evolution of all the species we see today would have happened in a period of rapid diversification shortly after the Flood, perhaps within a few hundred years. He never comments on the problem that the Bible never specifies these dates.

As I have already indicated in previous posts, what is most remarkable about baraminological creationism is how much it concedes to Darwin.  The creationism that Wood rejects--"re-creation of species, 'centers of creation' for modern organisms, and even species stasis"--is the "theory of special creation" that Darwin rejected in The Origin of Species.  Wood agrees with Darwin that the "theory of natural selection" is a better explanation for the species endemic to Galapagos than the creationist idea that God specially created each of those species for Galapagos.  According to Wood, "Darwin correctly deduced that species on the islands had evolved by natural selection," although he incorrectly deduced that all species evolved from a common ancestor over a long period of time (2005, 4).

The baraminological creationists say that the biblical creationism rejected by Darwin was actually "unbiblical," because it misinterpreted the Bible as teaching that each species had to be specially created by God.  The problem, Wood indicates, is that in the Bible's account of creation, the Hebrew word min ("kind" in King James English) is an "imprecise term" that was translated as "species" by Saint Jerome in the Latin Vulgate of the Bible and by biblical creationists generally up to Darwin's day (Wood 2008, 8). But since the baraminological creationists have recognized that Darwin refuted the theory of special creation, they now realize that min should be interpreted as a term for a group of plants or animals at a taxonomic level higher than species, designated by the technical term baramin ("created kind"), which is at or near the taxonomic rank of family (Wood 2005, 57).  But such an intricate interpretation of the Bible's language contradicts the claim of the baraminological creationists that their position rests on "clear biblical teachings about the past" that require no interpretation.  Indeed, this baraminological interpretation of the Bible is so hard to see that almost no readers of the Bible saw it until Frank Marsh proposed it in 1941; and even today most readers of the Bible don't see it, and many biblical creationists actively criticize it.

In principle, baraminological creationism is truly scientific in so far as it can make falsifiable predictions that are open to empirical testing.  It makes four general predictions.  (1) All species of plants and animals are grouped into baramins at or near the taxonomic level of families, as identified by a biological similarity that sets species within the group apart from species outside the group.  (2) Baramins do not have any common ancestors. (3) The genomes of the species within a baramin show a genetic mechanism that caused a rapid speciation within a few hundred years that stopped a few thousand years ago. (4) These baraminological patterns are consistent with the biblical account of creation.

Marsh believed that organisms belonging to the same baramin were identified by their God-given ability to hybridize.  Wise and Wood believe that hybridization is a sufficient but not necessary sign for identifying baramins.  Wise and Wood propose that baramins "merely occupy a continuous region of biological character space," and consequently, baramins are identified either by the continuity between species or by the discontinuity between larger groups (Wood 2005, 53-54).  Wood employs various statistical methodologies for detecting patterns in biological traits that show continuity or discontinuity at the taxonomic level of families.

Wood uses this statistical methodology to classify the Galapagos species into baramins.  So, for example, Wood sees evidence that all of Darwin's finches in Galapagos belong to a single baramine (geospizine).  In contrast to those creationists who have argued that Darwin's finches are too similar to be separate species, Wood agrees with the Grants that these finches have evolved by natural selection into separate species.  And yet, Wood insists, this is speciation "within a created kind" (Wood 2005, 108-25, 187-88).

Similarly, Wood sees the other endemic species of Galapagos as belonging to distinct baramins.  So that, for instance, the Galapagos penguin belongs to the baramin family Speniscidae. The three booby species--blue-footed, red-footed, and Nazca--belong to a single baramin. And the lava lizards, the land iguanas, and the marine iguanas all belong to one baramin--the family Iguanidae--that was on the Ark.  In this case, the hybridization on South Plaza Island of marine and land iguanas proves that they belong to the same baramin.  (I have written about the hybrid iguana in a previous post.)

Wood also accepts the Darwinian explanation of how the ancestral species for the endemic species of Galapagos migrated from the South American mainland to the islands.  Wood, however, sees this as part of the migration of animals from Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in what is now Turkey.

Wood rejects the Darwinian claim that this speciation that one sees on Galapagos took millions of years, because Wood is committed to an Ussherite biblical chronology that requires a short span of two hundred years or less.  For this reason, old-Earth creationists like Hugh Ross have identified young-Earth creationists like Wood as "hyperevolutionists" who believe in "ultraefficient biological evolution" that can create thousands of new species in a few hundred years, which seems ridiculously implausible unless there is some amazingly fast mechanism for such evolutionary speciation (Ross 2015, 116). 

Wood only briefly acknowledges this criticism in a few sentences (Wood 2005, 58).  In fact, it's his only reference to old-Earth creationism.  He doesn't answer the criticism except to say that young-Earth creationists have proposed some mechanisms for explaining rapid diversification of species.  He mentions his own proposal--that transposable genetic elements ("jumping genes") with an extremely high rate of producing beneficial mutations could explain rapid speciation after the Flood (Wood 2002).  But, surprisingly, he mentions this theory in only three sentences in his Galapagos book (Wood 2005, 58, 187, 196); and he does nothing to show how this explains speciation in Galapagos.  As far as I know, he has never presented any evidence that such a mechanism exists. So it seems that he has no good answer to this criticism from the old-Earth creationists.

Another problem for Wood and the young-Earth creationists generally is that they don't have a good explanation for what Wood recognizes as "biological imperfection" or "any biological phenomenon that appears to be contrary to our understanding of the nature or intentions of the Creator" (Wood 2005, 144).  David Hull, a philosopher of biology, once wrote an essay on "The God of the Galapagos."  He asked:
"What kind of God can one infer from the sort of phenomena epitomized by the species on Darwin's Galapagos Islands?  The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain, and horror. . . .
". . . The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical.  He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray" (Hull 1991, 486).
Wood fervently disagrees with Hull:
". . . Based on the preliminary work I have presented here, I would say that just the opposite is true.  The organisms of the Galapagos reveal a wise and caring Creator that endowed His creatures with amazing abilities to survive in hostile and unpredictable environments, despite the influence of sin and the Curse.  This is exactly the kind of God to whom I would not only pray but also trust with my life" (Wood 2005, 199).
It is not clear, however, that this explains "biological imperfections" like siblicide among the Galapagos boobies.  As I have noted in a previous post, tourists who are initially charmed by the Galapagos boobies are disturbed when they learn that Nazca boobies lay two eggs and then allow the older of the two offspring to kill the younger, because only one can be reared to maturity.  Wood says that creationists explain something like this as an imperfection that comes from the God's Curse for the Fall of Adam and Eve.  But as he indicates, this doesn't seem to explain the "intrabaraminic variation" among the boobies: although all three booby species belong to the same baramin, only one species (the Nazca booby) shows this genetic propensity to siblicide (Wood 2005, 144-46).  If the divinely created propensity to siblicide is God's Curse on boobies because of the Fall, why does it appear only among the Nazca boobies?  The alternative Darwinian explanation is that this is something that arose from an evolutionary process that was not designed by God.

Of course, the creationists might say that we can't rightly hold the boobies morally responsible for their behavior, because only human beings were created in God's image, as moral and spiritual beings, and thus set apart from all other animals.  Here is a clear disagreement with Darwin, who once wrote: "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity, more humble and I believe true to consider him created from animals" (Darwin 1987, 300).

If human beings were not "created from animals," but specially created in God's image, as the Bible teaches, then it would seem that the human species should be in a baramin of its own, showing little or no biological similarity with other animals.  One would think, therefore, that this is a falsifiable prediction of Wood's baraminological science.

Wood recognizes the remarkable biological similarity between human beings and chimpanzees at the level of their genomes--about 98%.  He does not admit that this falsifies one of the predictions of his creationist science.  But he does say this is a "problem" for creationist science, for which he has no solution (Wood 2006).

Wood considers the possibility "that God created humans and chimpanzees with identical genomes."  and he says: "Theologically, the high similarity of humans and chimpanzees reinforces our spiritual--not physical (Ecc. 3:18-21)--distinctiveness from the animals. It is the image of God that makes us human not some intrinsically valuable genetic element" (Wood 2006, 12).

By citing the verses from Ecclesiastes, Wood confirms the point made by Hugh Ross (2015, 58-60, 267-68) that there are many creation-related passages in the Bible outside of the opening chapters of Genesis.  The verses from Ecclesiastes are particularly interesting in indicating the biological similarity of humans and animals:
"I think to myself: where human beings are concerned, this is so that God can test them and show them that they are animals. For the fate of human and the fate of animal is the same: as the one dies, so the other dies; both have the same spirit [ruwach].  Human is in no way better off than animal--since all is futile.  Everything goes to the same place, everything comes from the dust, everything returns to the dust. Who knows if the human spirit [ruwach] mounts upward or if the animal spirit [ruwach] goes downward to the earth?" (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21)
Wood wants to see here a distinction between the physical similarity of humans and animals and the spiritual difference, so that human beings are the only spiritual animals.  But notice that humans and animals are said here to have the "same spirit," using the Hebrew word ruwach. 

Was Darwin right about human beings as "created from animals"?  If all the evidence supported this conclusion, would Wood accept it?  Perhaps Wood would agree with Kurt Wise who once wrote:
"Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand." (Wise 2000, 355)
Notice what Wise is saying here.  His biblical faith takes priority over scientific reasoning.  His biblical faith dictates young-earth creationism, and thus he looks for scientific evidence that supports that faith, but his faith commitment does not depend on any scientific evidence.  Therefore, no scientific evidence for evolution could ever convince him to change his mind.  Ken Ham said that in his debate with Bill Nye.  Similarly, Wood said this in a blog post:
"Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

"I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution. (Technically, they could also be deluded or lying, but that seems rather uncharitable to say. Oops.)

"Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn't make it ultimately true, and it doesn't mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don't be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don't idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe that's not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you."
"Faith is enough.  If God said it, that should settle it."  So, again, belief in young-earth creationism is not based on scientific evidence.  It's based on biblical faith--or rather on faith in a young-earth creationist interpretation of the Bible.  Someone like Wood with that young-earth creationist faith is motivated to look for scientific evidence consistent with that faith, but that faith is not falsifiable by the scientific evidence.  Without that faith, Wood candidly admits, looking at the evidence would support evolution.

But perhaps it is not fair to say that biblical creationism is not falsifiable in any way.  After all, Wood is candid in saying that he developed his theory of baraminology as a creationist substitute for the theory of special creation--the theory that God had specially created every species, and that species were immutable--because that theory had been refuted by Darwin.  Wood also had to develop a special interpretation of the Bible that would be consistent with his theory.  Therefore, Wood indicates, the older creationist science and creationist interpretation of the Bible were falsified by Darwin's evolutionary science.

So those who go to Galapagos, who listen to the Darwinian explanations of their naturalist guides, and who then look at the evidence for evolutionary adaptation in Galapagos will see that the evidence there really does support the truth of evolution.  But those who go to Galapagos with faith in the young-earth creationist interpretation of the Bible will interpret the evidence as showing that God created "kinds," and that the only possible evolution has been within those "kinds," as an expression of the genetic potential originally designed by the Creator.


Darwin, Charles. 1987. Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844. Eds. Paul Barrett et al. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hull, David. 1991. "The God of Galapagos." Nature 352: 485-486.

Ross, Hugh. 2015. A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy. 2nd expanded edition. Covina, CA: RTB Press.

Wise, Kurt P. 2000. "47." In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, 351-55. Green Forest, AR: Master Books. (Available online.)

Wood, Todd. 2002. "The AGEing Process: Post-Flood Intrabaraminic Diversification Caused by Altruistic Genetic Elements (AGEs)." Origins (GRI) 54:3-34.  (Available online).

__________. 2005. A Creationist Review and Preliminary Analysis of the History, Geology, Climate, and Biology of the Galapagos Islands. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

__________. 2006. "The Chimpanzee Genome and the Problem of Biological Similarity." Occasional Papers of the Baraminology Study Group. Number 7, pp. 1-18.  (Available online.)

__________. 2008. "Species Variability and Creationism." Origins Number 62: 6-24.  (Available online.)

Wood, Todd, and M. J. Murray. 2003. Understanding the Pattern of Life. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (11): Creationist Ecotourism

As far as I know, Lester Harris was the first creationist scientist to lead a tour of the Galapagos in the early 1970s.  Later, the Institute for Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, began leading creationist tours of the Galapagos in 2000.  In 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, the ICR organized a tour of the Galapagos that provided the material for a documentary film--"The Mysterious Islands"--released in 2011.  John Morris speaks about that ICR trip here.

Then, in 2011, Answers in Genesis--the creationist ministry of Ken Ham, best known for its "Creation Museum" in Kentucky--sent one of its scientists--Georgia Purdom--on a two-week tour of the Galapagos organized by a homeschooling organization ("Living Science") in Atlanta, Georgia.  Most of the people on this tour were parents and homeschooled high school students.  Purdom was to provide creationist scientific instruction for the trip.  Purdom has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from The Ohio State University, and so she is an example of a scientific creationist who is a real scientist.  The aim of the trip was to collect material for a homeschooling instructional program in science using Galapagos as evidence.  Later, in 2013, Answers in Genesis produced a book--Galapagos Islands: A Different View--edited by Purdom that was partially based on the earlier tour.  Purdom wrote a series of blog posts (here) on her 2011 trip.

                Purdom sailed on the Galaxy, a Galapagos yacht designed for 16 passengers.

           A video of Michael Shermer interviewing Georgia Purdom at the Creation Museum

What this shows is that the ecotourism in Galapagos is not just for secular humanists--like those in the tour groups for my two trips--but also for fundamentalist creationists.  All tour groups have to have a naturalist guide approved by the Galapagos Park Service, who will present a purely Darwinian interpretation of what is seen in Galapagos.  But creationists can also bring their own instructors--like Purdom--who can add a creationist commentary.  Moreover, this creationist interpretation of Galapagos can be promoted through books, films, and lectures, and in creationist instruction through churches, homeschooling programs, or private Christian schools.  This supports a vigorous debate over creationism and evolution in countries like the United States, even when there is no attention given to biblical creationism in public school science classes.

The Institute for Creation Research invited Donna O'Daniel to be the lecturer on scientific creationism for one of their tours of Galapagos.  She reports that their Ecuadorian naturalist guide was so fascinated by her lectures that he asked her about God's plan of salvation, and before the tour was over, he made a profession of faith in Christ (Purdom 2013, 86).

So what I have called global liberal ecotourism can allow for an open intellectual debate about Darwinian evolution and biblical creationism in explaining the origins of life and the universe.  A liberal global order makes this possible because it promotes the tolerance and freedom of thought that allows such a free debate about the great questions of life, and also because it promotes the economic prosperity and educational attainment for growing numbers of people that allow them to travel to places like Galapagos and to study the natural history of the Earth and the Universe as well as theological texts like the Bible.  This is one great illustration of how liberal modernity improves not only the material conditions of life but also the moral, intellectual, and spiritual excellence of humanity.

To understand the complexity of this evolution/creation debate, one needs to see that there are many possible positions that one can take.  There are at least five positions.  One can be a naturalistic evolutionist (like Richard Dawkins), an evolutionary creationist (like Francis Collins), an old-Earth creationist (like Hugh Ross), a young-Earth creationist (like Ken Ham), or an intelligent-design theorist (like Stephen Meyer).

The naturalistic evolutionist says that the Earth and all life on the Earth have evolved by purely natural processes over billions of years. 

The evolutionary creationist says that God originally created the laws of nature (perhaps beginning at the Big Bang) that have produced by purely natural processes the evolution of the Earth and life over billions of years. 

The old-Earth creationist says that God created the Universe billions of years ago at the Big Bang and then created all the forms of life that we see in the fossil and paleontological record studied by scientists. 

The young-Earth creationist says that God created the Universe and all forms of life about 6,000 years ago over six 24-hour days as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. 

The intelligent design theorist says that the Universe and all forms of life show evidence of having been designed by an intelligent designer, but we cannot be sure by science alone that this intelligent designer is the God of the Bible, and in any case, the science of intelligent design must not depend upon the Bible.

Georgia Purdom is a young-Earth creationist.  In her first blog post on the Galapagos, she observes:
"I will be traveling to the same place that Charles Darwin did over 170 years ago. My observations about the islands may be very similar to Darwin’s, however, the implications of those observations for the past will be very different. I will be starting with God’s Word as the truth about the past but Darwin started with man’s opinions about the past. My conclusions about the past will be supported by what I observe, whereas many of Darwin’s conclusions about the past (i.e., molecules-to-man evolution) were and remain unsupported by what he saw. Isn’t it amazing the difference one’s worldview can make?"
 Here, and in all of her work, she follows the lead of Ken Ham, as in his debate with Bill Nye, the subject of my post here.  And, like Ham, she adopts the position of Todd Wood in arguing that the "created kinds" (baramins) that were created by God 6,000 years ago and that travelled on Noah's Ark evolved naturally into all the species that we see today, including those in Galapagos, because God endowed His created kinds with the potential for such future adaptive speciation.

Also like Ham, she insists that one's inferences from observational science about past history will depend on one's worldview, so that her worldview from the Bible will lead to different conclusions about the past than were drawn by Darwin, who had an unbiblical naturalistic worldview.  So when people tour the Galapagos, they can see the same things that Darwin saw, but whether they agree with Darwin's conclusions about the deep evolutionary history of life will depend upon whether they agree with his worldview.  The naturalist guides in Galapagos have been taught to assume Darwin's worldview.  But a creationist like Purdom can teach her fellow tourists to see Galapagos through the biblical worldview. 

Or, as Purdom says in her interview with Shermer and in her book on Galapagos, she sees the world through God's truth--as conveyed by the "clear biblical teachings about the past" (Purdom 2013, 91)--as opposed to seeing the world through unreliable human opinions.  When Shermer suggested that the Bible is open to many different interpretations, Purdom responded by insisting that the young-Earth creationists don't interpret the Bible at all, because they accept the "clear biblical teachings" without imposing any human interpretation. 

Is that true?  Consider this remark by Purdom in an article coauthored with Tom Hennigan and Todd Wood:
"Creationists in Darwin's day were asleep, lulled into a false sense of security by the unbiblical claims of natural theology and 'species fixity.' The Origin of Species changed all that, and the sleeping giant of the creationist community woke up. Though we don't have all of the answers, even 150 years later, creationists have made a lot of progress" (Purdom, Hennigan, and Wood 2009, 75).
So, prior to Darwin's book, creationists believed that the Bible taught that God had specially created all species as fixed.  Darwin's book then refuted this idea of the created fixity of species by showing that species could change and new species arise.  Modern creationists, like Purdom and Wood, now must argue that the earlier creationists were actually "unbiblical" in their interpretation of the Bible as teaching the fixity of species.  Does this mean that Darwin forced creationists to change their reading of the Bible, so that the Bible would not be seen as contradicting what Darwin had discovered about the transmutation of species?  Or would Purdom say that the earlier creationists ignored the "clear biblical teachings about the past" that included the teaching that species are not fixed and that new species can arise by natural selection, which is shown by the appearance of new species adapted to the Galapagos?

In a blog post where she describes cruising near the islet of Daphne Major, where Peter and Rosemary Grant have conducted their famous research with Darwin's finches, Purdom writes:
"The Grants' research has been very important in developing our understanding of natural selection.  However, they often use the word 'evolution' in their publications, implying something much larger scale is occurring than in reality."
So Purdom agrees that the Grants have shown how new species can arise by natural selection, but she denies that this is really "evolution."  Apparently, she is restricting the word "evolution" to "macroevolution at a taxonomic level higher than species," so that the evolution of new species by natural selection is not really "evolution" in her sense.  Here she is assuming Wood's "baraminology"--the idea that God's "created kinds" are not species in the modern taxonomic sense, because they correspond to some higher taxonomic rank, perhaps "families."  But is this really one of those "clear biblical teachings about the past"?  If it is so clear in the Bible, why did it take so long for some creationists to see this--with the help of the writing of people like Marsh, Wise, and Wood?  And why do many creationists today disagree with this reading of the Bible?

The theory of baraminology as developed by Wood runs throughout Purdom's book on Galapagos.  For example, Gordon Wilson writes: "God created the various kinds with great genetic capacity to adapt to an array of habitats.  The differences the Galapagos species exhibit in size and shape from their mainland ancestors could arise after many generations of natural selection (and other mechanisms) that successfully bring out those divinely designed traits best suited to their new home" (p. 39). (See also pp. 53, 62-72, 76-78). 

But we must wonder whether the scientific evidence supports this theory, and whether it is one of those "clear biblical teachings about the past."  Purdom and Wood claim that this theory really is scientifically falsifiable, and that it is clearly taught in the Bible without any need for human interpretation.

So, for example, Purdom and the other authors in her book on Galapagos assume a young-Earth creationist dating of history: the Universe was created in 4004 BC, Noah's Flood ended around 2350 BC, and the Galapagos Islands and all the species endemic to Galapagos arose within a few hundred years after the Flood (pp. 6, 14, 21, 43).  Is this one of those "clear biblical teachings about the past"?  Is this supported by scientific evidence?

Purdom and the other authors often cite verses of the Bible.  But when they give their dates for the 6,000 years of universal history, they do not cite any biblical verses.  They don't do this, because the Bible does not specify those dates.  The Bible does not say that God created the heavens and the earth on 4004 BC.  Nor does it say that Noah's Flood began to subside on 2350 BC.

In his debate with Bill Nye, Ken Ham said that "when we add up those dates in the Bible, we get 6,000 years."  Remarkably, Nye did not question him about this. In fact, the Bible never "adds up the dates" to say that the Universe is only 6,000 years old.  Ham's dating of Creation comes from Archbishop James Ussher's book Annals of the World, published in the 17th century.  Ussher claimed that if we count up the lifetimes of the people in the Bible and follow the genealogies, we can date the day of Creation as October 23, 4004 BC.  Actually, Ussher found it impossible to "add up the dates" without going to historical evidence of chronology outside the Bible, because the Bible never lays out the whole chronology.  Ussher's book has over 12,000 footnotes citing secular sources (like Xenophon and Herodotus).  So the dating of Creation does not seem to be one of the "clear biblical teachings about the past."

The Christian church has generally agreed--as indicated in its early creeds, such as the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed--that orthodox Christianity includes the belief that God created the Universe and human beings at the beginning of history.  But the exact dating of this Creation has never been specified as necessary to the Christian faith, because the Bible does not clearly state the date of Creation.  So the young-Earth creationists like Ham, Purdom, and Wood are imposing their own Ussherite interpretation on the Bible.  The old-Earth creationists make biblical arguments for the conclusion that the Universe is possibly billions of years old, just as most scientists today believe.

The young-Earth creationists insist that the "six days" of Creation in Genesis 1 are six 24-hour days.  The old-Earth creationists insist, on the contrary, that a literal reading of the Bible suggests that these six days could have been long periods of time.  Hugh Ross in his book A Matter of Days lays out the biblical and scientific evidence for this view.  Jon Greene has summarized the biblical evidence for old-Earth creationism.

Does the scientific evidence for the age of the Universe support young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or evolutionary creationism?  In December 2009, Danny Faulkner (a young-Earth creationist) and Hugh Ross (an old-Earth creationist) debated the question of whether the scientific evidence and biblical teaching supported a young age (6,000 years) or old age (billions of years) for the Universe.  Faulkner is one of the authors in Purdom's book.  The debate was carried out before a panel of 13 evangelical Christian astronomers who evaluated the debate.  These astronomers were affiliated with prominent institutions such as the University of Chicago, the University of California, Cornell University, and NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, Caltech.

After a long deliberation, the 13 Christian astronomers all signed a statement that concluded: "It is our professional judgment that the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly supports a universe that is billions of years old."

Here's a video of the Faulkner/Ross debate:

We might wonder what Darwin would say about all this.  Would he take the side of someone like Richard Dawkins, an atheistic evolutionist, as Purdom assumes?  Or would Darwin see evolution as an expression of what Wood and Purdom call "mediated design"--in which God carries out His plan not by creating something entirely new but by working through the existing laws of nature?

The latter possibility is suggested by Darwin's adoption of the traditional Christian metaphysics of "dual causality," which I have considered in previous posts here and here. God creates the original forms of life at the beginning, but then He allows the "secondary causes" of nature to carry out His plan.  Darwin conveys this in the last sentence of The Origin of Species: "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."

In Galapagos, we can see some of those "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful."


Hennigan, Tom, Georgia Purdom, and Todd Wood. 2009. "Creation's Hidden Potential." Answers Magazine, January-March, 70-75.

Purdom, Georgia, ed. 2013. Galapagos Islands: A Different View. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.