A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interacting with apologists from the RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) Connect online community in a forum called “Ask RZIM.” The questions I encountered there are similar to ones I often think about and am asked when I’m out and about. I thought I’d share some of the questions and my responses here on Theorems & Theology.
Ted posted the following thoughts and questions:
Darwinism seems to me to be a ridiculous theory right from the get-go. How is it that Christians who are obviously very smart with PhDs in biology are at all sympathetic? I’ve read Behe, Meyer, Axe, Dawkins, Dembski, and Francis Collins, so that’s kind of my background knowledge. I’ve tried for years to understand what is so compelling, but I just can’t. What do people in the academy see that I don’t? Why does unguided evolution have such a stranglehold?
A Preface of Sorts
Hi, Ted. Thanks for this question. Here’s a preface to my answer: Part of my response below comes from a place of deep passion and sorrow related to topics that touch on the debates that rage over Darwinism in all its forms and the Christian faith. These debates kept me from joining any apologetic conversations or pursuits for decades. They kept me from joining the dialogue until I saw the humble, winsome approach employed by RZIM apologists, mirrored by RTB scholars, to address the questioner behind the question.
On to My Response
First things first. I think John Bloom, a physics professor at Biola, may have the best concise answer I’ve ever heard to this question. Bloom quotes Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin in Bloom’s book entitled, The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, . . . in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.”1
I think that’s spot on!
Lewontin is incredibly astute in pointing out the underlying philosophical commitment driving the paradigm. However, many who adopt and defend Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian evolution, and variations on naturalistic explanations (modern synthesis, extended evolutionary synthesis, neutral theory and common descent, etc.) for all of life’s diversity, complexity, and history may do so rather inconsistently and with very little philosophical self-awareness.
It is quite possible to hold one’s approach to science and one’s spirituality—or (rational) belief or (rational) faith or religion—independently. Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould referred to this as non-overlapping magisteria of science and religion—a view where each holds authority over different aspects of life and the kinds of questions we ask about life and reality.
Questioning the Paradigm
I honestly think most people just accept that evolution is a fact, and they have no good reason to question it. Very few have any motivation to step back and ask, is this really true? And does it matter if it is or isn’t? Very few of us seek coherence and correspondence within our worldview. We are muddles of cognitive dissonance and unexamined lives (and beliefs). Much of the resistance faced by people of faith in science dialogue is due to poor, hurried, dogmatic communication, assumptions about others’ worldview, and a failure to take scientific findings and biblical revelation seriously—let alone search for harmony between the two.
If we really believe God is the Author of Scripture and the Author or Creator of nature and that both (according to Scripture) reveal enough truth about God to serve as the basis of judgment of our response/rejection of God’s clear and ubiquitous revelation, then why do we choose one side or other in the conflict? Why do so many choose to ridicule science or faith as misguided or irrational?
Our approach, especially as Christ-followers, should be to humbly admit that we are seeking coherence and integration of God’s revelation in nature (through scientific discoveries and inquiries) and Scripture. We must offer a path away from conflict and derision of others and their views to invite open inquiry. When we adopt a demeanor of humility, of confidence in God’s desire to be known and choice of revelation, and of respect for others who are all made in the image of God, I believe true dialogue can happen. Then we can begin to openly and respectfully question the scientific data for various kinds of evolution and uncover where interpretation of the data is driven by philosophical commitments, and then dialogue about philosophical differences.
I hope my tone isn’t coming across as harsh in any way; it is not meant to be, and is not directed toward you or the question you’ve asked. My comments are a reflection of how passionately and sorrowfully I grieve over our inability to invite others to join us in humble pursuit of truth. I am weary and sorrowful over people who just talk past each other without caring for one another or about what may really be true. We need to be committed to lovingly, humbly pursuing truth while resting in the confidence that God will reveal truth—his truth—to all who seek it in such a way. But humility is an absolute necessity as we realize we may need to come to differing levels of belief revision.
I think the Darwinian paradigm lacks scientific rigor and is driven primarily by a philosophical commitment to naturalism. But I am willing to say that the scientific data may one day become more rigorous for various aspects of naturalistic explanations of life’s history, complexity, and diversity. Maybe one day, the data will convince me that evolutionary creationism is the place of deepest integration of scientific truth and biblical truth. Maybe. It won’t shatter my world. It won’t even upset me. And it will in no way diminish my utter awe of the power and majesty and brilliance and love of the Creator God revealed in Scripture.
I’ve written a few blogs that touch on some of these topics. Please explore further if you’re interested.