The problem with “Evolution” in Christian Apologetics (Part 1)

A friend/comrade/apologetics buddy/companion pondered on the discussion of evolution within the framework of Christianity/Christian Apologetics recently. Can I call you buddy Zach? Pretty please? I’ve also been meaning to collect my thoughts on the subect. Guess it is a good time to get my feet wet.

Credentials: done 200- and 300- level biochemistry and microbiology as part of my undergrad degree, also did the Coursera course on “Genetics and Evolution” which I passed with merely a few more points to distinction. Worked (as in a paid employee as part of a profession) in an academic microbiology lab/R&D lab. Also completed the Darwinism and Intelligent Design course offered by Trinity College of Florida with an A- grade – which IMO, is worth it if you ever need a “dummy’s guide to the evolution/Intelligent Design” and a run-down of the who’s who on both side by someone who did his PhD on the history/rhetoric of science on precisely this issue.

I would like to split my thoughts 3 fold:

Part 1 (This post)  endeavors to deal with the general problem with dealing with the evolution problem in a Christian apologetics context

Part 2 will attempt to deal with the Intelligent Design topic (spoiler alert: I think it’s cool, it’s worth knowing, yet at the same time it is a dangerous red-herring)

Part 3 will try to deal with a meta-game of dealing with evolution if it were to be brought out when one is discussing Christainity

Problem 1: Definition of “Evolution” and the word game
The problem when someone brought out the word “evolution” is that there are at least 6 definitions of evolution in the academic sense as pointed out by philosophers Michael Keas and Stephen Meyers:

1) Change over time

2) Change in Allele frequency in a gene pool of population – e.g., the Hardy-Weinberg equation, Wright’s coefficient of inbreeding

3) Limited common descent e.g. Darwin’s Finches, Pepper Moths etc.

4) The mechanism of limited common descent i.e. natural selection acting on random mutation

5) Universal Common Descent

6) The “Blind Watchmaker” thesisi.e.  Neo-Darwinian Evolution i.e Universal Common Descent via natural selection acting on random mutation

Here’s the thing: the Modern Theory of Evolution a.k.a. the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis encompasses all these ideas. Remember when Francis Collins was pinged for claiming “Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics. – well, I’ll feel the same way too if the Modern Synthesis was somehow deleted tomorrow, even if I disagree with the Neo-Darwinisn Evolution.

Complicated yet? It’s going to get worse: the word “random” here means different things to different people. For example, Ernst Meyer (of which Alvin Platinga cited in his book “Where the problem really lies”  = excellent book even if I disagree with some of his premises) in defining “random mutation” refers to “there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational need of an organism in a given environment”. Yet Charles Darwin, in his original formulation in the fourth chapter of the Origins of Species, implies the use of chance and probability in his model:

Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? (Darwin 1859)

When you cannot even define “random mutation” without equivocation, what does “guided mutation” means? One man’s ‘random’ is another man’s ‘chance’… heh.

Now, definition (6) is a composition of (5) + (3 & 4). (5) in turn is a leap of (3) by itself. But even if universal common ancestry is true – and the evidence for me is weak –  how do we know  (6) therefore is true? Either via the fallacy of composition, or via induction – but the latter is also where an appeal to Methodlogical Naturalism often comes in as a decision principle. More on that next.

The common strategy to the response have been to try to simplify the definition of “evolution” down to the main 3 “microevoution//macroevolution/Neo-Darwinian Evolution” (which is actually a result of Michale Denton’s influence on the ID movement). IMO? Good sloganeering, but not academically vigorous enough to convince most who actually have studied the subject… which leads directly to problem 2)

Problem (2): the philosophy of science, methods and presumption of science and methodological naturalism

As if the definition problem isn’t enough, this is the 2nd Order question which most people, even myself, are simply inadequate to deal with because the philosophy and history of science simply isn’t taught any more – it is something you got to study for yourself. Unless you have generous parents or a scholarship or something.

In very simplistic terms: IMO, the discussion of methodological naturalism is an effect and byproduct of the realism/anti-realism debate in science. The Scientific Realist position – which I hold as an engineer (to quote a certain Dr Michael Walmsley: “you do the math wrong, and the bridge falls down” – one can see why engineers tend to be awfully realistic about the world eh? ), holds to 5 essential tenets as quoted from The Philosophical Foundation of a Christian Worldview:

SR1: Scientific Theories are true or approximately true

SR2: The central observational and theoretical terms of a mature scientific theory genuinely refer to entities in the world. These terms make existence claim

SR3: Given two rival theories, it is in principle possible to have good reasons for thinking which is more likely to be true or approximately true. Rationality is an objective notion and conceptual relativism (i.e. what is rational for one person or group should not necessarily be so for another person or group since rationality itself is relative to a person, scientific community or theory) is false

SR4: A scientific theory will embody certain epistemic virtues (simplicity, clarity and absence of internal and external conceptual problems)

SR5: The aim of science if a literally true conception of the independent external world.

The Anti-Realism position is best defined as disagreement with some or all tenets and taking an awfully Post-Modern position (“that truth cannot be confidently known”): and have multiple variants e.g. phenomenalism, operationalism, pragmatism, constructive empiricism.

Methodological Naturalism (MN), in short, is a anti-realist position: rather than formulating a scientific explanation on the basis on how it actually is in the world or trying to come close to its real-life approximation, it seeks to formulate scientific explanations as , for example, paradigms of scientific culture (c.f. Thomas Kuhn) or most pragmatic way to do science (e.g. Michael Ruse) by appealing to reasons to use naturalism as arbiter of what is science and what isn’t. Now, I am almost certainly going to get pinged  by someone who have studied more on this (Which convenient leads to problem 3) : but as I said, I am no philosopher or historian of science.

I reject methodological naturalism on the basis that I am a scientific realist grounded on the Christian worldview: associating thunders with powerful deities because both are perceived to be powerful is epistemically faulty. Appreciating thunder as a Creation of God in the sense that a Creator put in fine-tuned natural laws (e.g. strong force, weak force and gravitational force interactions that led to thunder being possible) to make that possible is NOT an epistemically-faulty postulate or even belief unless one has good reasons to eliminate the existence of God.

Arbitrarily ruling out explanations on the basis of success of naturalism in one way or another, however, is subjective and entirely one’s perference. Now, obviously progress of science isn’t that easily definable in black-and-white terms (c.f. the history of the atomic model ) – and this is where I need to read up more on the interactions between scientific realist vs scientific anti-realist ( Karl Popper vs Thomas Kuhn would be something I love to read up on): but this is where subjective opinion comes in. If you’re a scientific anti-realist who also happens to be a naturalist, you’ll hold on to MN – which conveniently leads to why you would hold on to Neo-Darwinian evolution. On the other hand, if you’re a scientific realist, you would decide on the basis on how much you know and how much you don’t know. I find the latter to be much more… honest.

Damn them presuppositions.

Problem 3) The problem of Argument from Authority, Existentialism and scientism

Dr Ravi Zacharias characterized the present culture as the product of “popularisation of the Death of God movement”(c.f. “Responding to the Times” lecture) – out of which, for me, was the creeping in of existentialism and Post-Modernism. The act of citing PZ Meyers, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne etc. as authority on the issue of origin has come to define who you are… and who your opponents aren’t. The interest on discussing the ontology of your beliefs and your conclusion on the basis that you might possibly be wrong just isn’t there any more… nor any interest in being able to walk into a discussion with both parties thinking that each other may potentially be closer to the truth.

Problem 4) The Genesis 1 question and hermeneutics

You almost certainly cannot discuss evolution without eventually leading to Genesis 1. The problem? Existentialism and emotionalism in the Christian church has led to the emptying of intellectual activity from the church. Learning good hermeneutical principles AND the interest to study the Bible without referring to the then cultural context (“sitz-im-leben”) is considered part of CHRISTIANITY DELUXE. 

I have to say this because I am someone who have swapped multiple positions. I started out, in my teenage years, as a Young Earth Creationist who justify his belief on the appeal of possibilities. At university, I have come to be an Evolutionary Creationist – but embedded within that is the agnosticism about Christianity. When I found apologetics, I became an Old Earth Creationist who strongly backed Intelligent Design. As my interest in apologetics as a mean of evangelism grew – and thus, the need to pick up theology as a hobby, I actually became a non-concordist: started with going into Genesis 1 as a ANE mythology model by Soden and Miller  to now switching to the Analogical Days interpretation given by C.John Collins, whom I met while in Auckland and whom I found his work and logic to be very persuasive. Meanwhile, I love to tell people that I am a theistic evolutionist while also agree with the Intelligent Design proponent just to troll and confuse people. After all, since you can’t convince them anyway, might as well confuse them amirite?

But you cannot really discuss this with earnest in most churches these days can you? 2 reasons from my observations and theorising:
(a) most churches simply aren’t interested in engaging minds – no opportunity.

(b) in what JP Moreland best summarized, most churches (and the Christians within them) have taken the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as “source of knowledge through Scripture only” instead of “Scipture as ultimate source of knowledge” . Coupled that with the lack of interest in hermeneutics, it is not hard to see why the Young Earth position remains a popular option. I was once given the comment by someone: “I am surprised that you are a Christian apologist yet you do not defend the Young Earth position”. I suspect I came close to the feeling of Jesus’ aghast as his disciples picked up the crumbs and bits of fishes and the end of the feeding of the 5000.

I have encountered people who love to have straighforward answers on the evolution question within the Christian framework. For me, there simply isn’t any.

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