Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hit it with "The Origin of Species"

(In response to cyberkitten.)

How do evolutionists react to scientific evidence when it conflicts with their metaphysical committments? Here is one representative example excerpted from Darwin's God by Cornelius G. Hunter (Brazos Press, 2001) 69-71.

One problem with the fossil evidence is its abrupt character. If we are to believe that evolution occurred, then according to the fossil record large evolutionary change probably happened in relatively short periods, with little or no change in between....Paleontologists estimate that over the last 600 million years the major groups in the fossil record made abrupt appearances....As one recent paleontology text put it, "The observed fossil pattern is invariably not compatible with a gradualistic evolutionary process." There is a problem either with the fossil record or the idea that evolution is gradual. To make the data compatible with the theory, "undiscovered fossil forms can be proposed" or "unknown mechanisms of evolution can be proposed." But neither of these ad hoc hypotheses is known to be true or untrue. (1)

Such ad hoc hypotheses are often used by evolutionists to try to explain the "Cambrian Explosion"...[which is] estimated to have taken place almost 600 million years ago over a period of no greater than five million years, it initiated virtually all the major designs of multicellular life with barely a trace of evolutionary history. In a geological moment, the fossil species went from small worm-like creatures and the like to a tremendous diversity of complex life forms, including virtually all of today's modern designs.

Evolution did not predict, nor can it provide a detailed explanation for, abruptness in the fossil record. But evolutionists are not alarmed, for the Cambrian Explosion does not refute evolution. They point out that observed rates of small-scale change are sufficient to account for the abrupt changes observed in the fossil record.

And how do evolutionists measure these rates of change? They measure rates of small-scale changes within species. For example, traits in guppies, such as growth patterns, were found to change when the guppies were placed in a new environment. The guppies, of course, were still guppies, but evolutionists argue that the rate of change observed is theoretically sufficient to account for any of the abrupt changes seen in the fossil record. We could argue, against the evolutionists, that there is no justification for assuming that such small-scale changes fall into the same category as large-scale changes. But it is important here to understand the thrust of the evolutionists' argument. They are not showing that evolution is compelling or even likely; they are merely saying that evolution is not proved false by abruptness in the fossil record.

It certainly is true that one cannot use biology's big bangs [vis. Cambrian Explosion] to absolutely disprove evolution, but this simply points out how adaptable evolution is to whatever evidence comes along. One might think that evolution requires evidence of slow, gradual change, but in fact evolution can also accommodate abruptness in the fossil record. Why should we accept a theory that does not provide compelling explanations or bold predictions but rather molds itself to whatever evidence comes along?

Rather than being falsified by abruptness, evolution simply adopts it. We are told that big bangs like the Cambrian Explosion do not call evolution into question; they define it. They help answer the question how evolution occurred, not whether it occurred. For [Geneticist Steve] Jones...the Cambrian Explosion is a failure not of Darwin's theory but of the fossil record. Yes, for some reason shells appeared all of a sudden, but they must have evolved from soft shell creatures that leave no mark on the geological record.(2)

The fact that the Cambrian Explosion does not refute evolution does not mean that the abruptness problem is resolved. There are all sorts of unlikely theories that otherwise cannot be falsified. What science needs are likely explanations for its observations. And the array of vague explanations about how evolution could have produced big bangs such as the Cambrian Explosion does little to help. Their speculative nature reveals what little hard evidence there is that evolution is the right explanation and, in spite of what evolutionists maintain, how big a problem the Cambrian Explosion is for evolution.

(1) T.S. Kemp, Fossils and Evolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 16.
(2) Steve Jones, Darwin's Ghost (New York: Random House, 2000) 207.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Doctrinal Dominoes

There is an ongoing conversation at Dawn Treader regarding the inerrancy of scripture, and some of the comments refer to the opinions of the popular NT scholar Bart Ehrman on the matter. In order to refresh my memory on some scholarly response, I re-read an article I first found back when Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus, was all the rage, written by another NT scholar and author, Daniel B. Wallace. I quote from his conclusion:

...what I tell my students every year is that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than protect their presuppositions. And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines starts to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. It strikes me that something like this may be what happened to Bart Ehrman. His testimony in Misquoting Jesus discussed inerrancy as the prime mover in his studies. But when a glib comment from one of his conservative professors at Princeton was scribbled on a term paper, to the effect that perhaps the Bible is not inerrant, Ehrman’s faith began to crumble. One domino crashed into another until eventually he became ‘a fairly happy agnostic.’ I may be wrong about Ehrman’s own spiritual journey, but I have known too many students who have gone in that direction. The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say rather that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope. But if a student views doctrines as concentric circles, with the cardinal doctrines occupying the center, then if the more peripheral doctrines are challenged, this does not have a significant impact on the core. In other words, the evangelical community will continue to produce liberal scholars until we learn to nuance our faith commitments a bit more, until we learn to see Christ as the center of our lives and scripture as that which points to him. If our starting point is embracing propositional truths about the nature of scripture rather than personally embracing Jesus Christ as our Lord and King, we’ll be on that slippery slope, and we’ll take a lot of folks down with us.