Written by: Christopher Sernaque
How Not to Argue Against Evolution: How to Not Convince a Young-Earth Creation Seventh-day Adventist
Title: The title could have been the start of an informative article on why Biblical Creationists should only use credible Biblical and scientific arguments when speaking in favor of the Creation Model and in refuting the Evolutionary model. In fact, there is a need for Seventh-day Adventists to become acquainted with reputable evidences that call evolutionary assumptions into question. There is also a great need for Seventh-day Adventists to cease from using outdated arguments and models which have lessened in their predictive power. Notwithstanding these facts, Spectrum’s article, “How Not to Argue Against Evolution” does not provide solid reasons to accept the validity of the young-earth model and reject the spurious general theory of evolution. Rather, Spectrum’s article argues in favor of a theistic evolutionary reading of the book of Genesis, and all texts associated with the concept of creation.
Adventism has consistently opposed the Theory of Evolution, based on its presumed negative implications for the church’s fundamental beliefs. This antagonism toward evolution was most famously (or infamously) expressed by Clifford Goldstein, in a 2003 Adventist Review article entitled “Seventh-day Darwinians” Through the years church leaders and theologians have made many arguments against this theory and, I contend, many of them are unworthy. This essay will examine some of those arguments to explain why I believe this. In doing so I wish to first differentiate between: 1) an argument for or against some position; and 2) whether that position is true or false. While, like most people, I have a personal perspective on #2, I want the reader to be clear that I am not considering it here, at all. I am limiting, or focusing, my attention on #1 – the quality of some arguments made by Adventists in their effort to defend the classic SDA position contra evolution. Even if evolution is false, making bad arguments to further a true cause is unworthy. The ends do not justify the means. Consider then, 5 types of argument that have been employed by SDA administrative and thought leaders, followed by my critiques.
Response to Hannon’s opening statement:
1. Young-Earth Creation Seventh-day Adventists (YEC-SDAs) do not believe in young-earth creation because the 28 Fundamental Beliefs codify that teaching, but because we believe the Inspired Word of God teaches young-earth creation.
2. We do not speak for church leaders or for theologians, but nonetheless, we will evaluate Hannon’s examinations of several arguments against the evolutionary theory and see in light of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy what constitutes worthiness.
3. As stated in my response to the title of this article, there is a need for sound evidences to be presented against the evolutionary theory. Thus, on this point, perhaps the author and I can agree. There are many arguments that well-meaning individuals have used to defend Biblical Creation, however they fall short of constituting a valid reason to reject the evolutionary theory. For instance, the argument that the evolutionary theory should be rejected because it is a theory is spurious. It goes something along the lines of, “Evolution is just a theory, so it should be rejected.” In scientific terminology, the term “theory” is akin to the word, “explanation.” Thus, the argument “evolution is just a theory, so it should not be considered as an explanation” is similar to saying, “evolution is an explanation, so it does not constitute an explanation.” Seventh-day Adventists should never use any such form of argumentation, however the highlighted statement in the above paragraph should be called into question. Why does the author assume that there are Seventh-day Adventists who are intentionally using “bad arguments” against the evolutionary theory and justifying their actions with the rationalization that, “the ends justify the means?” Those statements seem to be passive-aggressive character attacks on Seventh-day Adventists who hold to a young-earth view of the Scriptures. As stated, I highly doubt that Seventh-day Adventists who promote young-earth creation do so because they are enthralled with the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, rather young-earth creation Seventh-day Adventists hold to their position on creation because of their faith in Christ. We as Seventh-day Adventists hold to our position on Young-Earth Creation because we believe that it is a model that is both consistent with the Inspired Writings of God and a model that is scientifically viable.
Now we will commence in analyzing Hannon’s responses to what he calls the “5 types of argument that have been employed by SDA administrative and thought leaders.”
1. Mischaracterization of what evolution is:
In a 2014 sermon, Adventist General Conference president Ted Wilson declared: “evolution is not a science, it is a false form of religion and part of spiritualism.” This is a very common assertion by conservative Christians, but indefensible. A full exploration of why I say this would far exceed my space constraints, so what follows is only introductory.
• Religion primarily focuses on metaphysics. In contrast, evolution is a scientific theory concerned solely with the natural world. It is descriptive not prescriptive, and appeals only to secondary causes.
• While scientism is an atheistic world view, evolution itself is agnostic about religion. Its truth or falsity may have implications about whether some theological positions are justified, but evolution – as a theory – has nothing to do with any such implications.
• Like any scientific theory, evolution both makes predictions and is falsifiable. And, like any other scientific theory, it is unrealistic to expect all data to readily fit the theory. But evolution has been successful in predicting and has not been falsified. And there are many obvious ways that it could be falsified . It should be noted, however, that prediction success and to-date failure to falsify does not mean evolution is necessarily true. The same can be said for any scientific theory. Theories are probabilistic and good science is continually subjecting them to critical investigation.
However, when evolution (or any idea) is incorrectly defined, there is a greater risk of employing fallacious straw-man arguments. And, if someone pejoratively mis-defines what they are critiquing, they will fail to gain argumentative traction with a literate audience, severely undermine their personal credibility and, by implication, harm the credibility of the position they wish to advance.
Response to “Mischaracterization of what evolution is”
The assertion that evolution is a religion, is an assertion that has been made by evolutionary professor of philosophy and zoology Michael Ruse. “Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.” (Source: Ruse, M., How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? National Post, pp. B1, B3,B7 May 13, 2000.)
As stated by Hannon in his first bullet point, “evolution is a scientific theory concerned solely with the natural world.” Thus, the evolutionary theory is an interpretation of the field of biological origins through a naturalistic philosophy. Thus, Hannon’s assertion that the evolutionary theory is “agnostic” is incorrect. According to Oxford Dictionary, “Naturalism is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.” Thus, to state that the evolutionary theory does not have any “implications” on whether or not the divine exists is not only seemingly disingenuous, but also wildly inconsistent with the claims of evolutionary scientists. Take note of how evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin bluntly indicates the materialistic and anti-Christian “implications” of the evolutionary theory:
‘Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, 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. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. (Source: Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997.)
Concerning the third bullet point that Hannon mentions, we must first clarify the term evolution. Defining the term, “evolution” is essential to resolving the origins debate because the term “evolution” is often equated with the term “science” as though it is impossible to practice science without adhering to evolutionary notions. Evolution is the naturalistic explanation of the origin of life that postulates that all living organisms share a single common ancestor, which in turn arose through abiogenesis, or life coming from non-life or inorganic precursors. This concept has not been verified, and several of its key tenants have been falsified. There is no mechanism that can explain the sequential steps that nonliving molecules must undergo to become living cells. Furthermore, abiogenesis or the spontaneous generation of life, has never been observationally verified and all experiments intended to induce abiogenesis have been fruitless and inefficacious.
Additionally, though it is impossible for life to arise under evolutionary circumstances, even if evolutionists were granted the origin of the first organism, in order for all organisms to share a common ancestor there must be some genetic mutation or evolutionary process that can be seen to increase the information in the genome. According to Dr. Lee Spetner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, no such evidence exists, “All point mutations that have been studied on a molecular level turn out to reduce genetic information in the genome, not increase it.” “Not even one mutation has been observed that adds a little bit of information to the genome.” Thus, the central pillar of the evolutionary theory has collapsed under the burden of proof. New purposeful genetic information is not produced via mutation and there is no mechanism that can explain how new purposeful genetic information could arise, and for the record it is a statistical impossibility. In connection with his statement, “there are many obvious ways that it could be falsified” Hannon provides a link to a Latter-Day Saint, colloquially known as Mormon, website known as “Science Meets Religion.”
Due to constraints in both time and the length of this response article, I will not address every statement that is made on the LDS website. However, this website lists several ways that the evolutionary theory could be falsified. I will address the first falsifiable test for evolution, not because there are not answers for the others, but because this test is listed first, and it includes a quote from Charles Darwin’s book, “On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.” Here is the quote from the site, Science Meets Religion: Charles Darwin himself proposed a rather strong test of evolution: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." [Darwin1859, pg. 175]. This is the basis of claims by various intelligent design writers that various biological structures, such as the vertebrate immune system or the bacterial flagellum, are "irreducibly complex" -- they consist of multiple components that could not develop in the absence of the others. However, these structures have been exhaustively studied in the scientific literature, and scientists have demonstrated entirely plausible evolutionary pathways.
The above statements make reference to Professor Michael Behe’s work, “Darwin’s Black Box” where he persuasively and rationally made the case that the bacterial flagellum is an irreducibly complex structure. Professor Behe describes irreducibly complexity as, “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.”
This LDS website Science Meets Religion, on a hyperlink in the rest of the quoted paragraph, goes on to cite Kenneth Miller’s claim that the type-three secretory system was the evolutionary precursor to the bacterial flagellum. This claim has already been refuted. There are two hypotheses that are consistent with the theory of Intelligent Design. Firstly, the bacterial flagellar system, with its 30 parts and biosynthetic pathways, is actually the structure from which the type-three secretory system is derived. In other words, the type-three secretory system does not explain the origin of the bacteria-flagellum, rather the secretory system is a device that has lost the genetic information required to be a bacteria-flagellum. Secondly, the type-three secretory system could be an independent system that is not related to the bacterial flagellum. I suspect that the former of these two-options is the most accurate.
As we continue to address Hannon’s third bullet point, let us now return to the subject of genetic information. What constitutes the information in the DNA molecule is the specific arrangement of the four nucleotide bases, guanine, adenine, thymine and cytosine. According to Dr. Werner Gitt, of the Technical University of Aachen, “When its progress along the train of transmission events is traced backwards, every piece of information leads to a mental source, the mind of the sender.” When subjected to the “critical investigation” that Hannon speaks of, the evolutionary theory does indeed “break down.” The evolutionary theory requires genetic information, not just to “change” but to increase. However, there are limits to the changes that can occur in organisms. To quote Dr. Carl Wieland of the University of Adelaide, “The limits to change are set by the amount of information that were originally present in the genome from which to select.”
Thus, we find that the general theory of evolution, is a naturalistic philosophy that has been falsified when one considers the scientific evidence against the theory, such as irreducible complexity or genetic information. At this point, we move into the second argument that Hannon mentions.
2. Using consequences as an argument
Note: Because Hannon’s next few sections are lengthy, they have been shortened for brevities’ sake. Please see the link to Hannon’s article to read the rest of his four points in their entirety.
This is where a perceived undesirable consequence is used as an argument against accepting something being true. The problem is that any consequence is completely irrelevant when considering truth or falsity. Since any religious group, such as Adventism, holds positions it regards as true, then challenges to those positions can be perceived as threats. The core problem here is the difference between position-holding and truth-seeking. The former has a vested interest in preserving the status quo. The latter is agnostic about outcomes.
Let’s say you make some argument to me, that X causes Y and, by the way, Y is bad for me. This might be merely descriptive, giving me a heads-up about consequences. But if you continue to say or infer that I ought to reject consideration of the argument because of those bad consequences, than this is proscriptive. It tries to de-legitimate the argument, or at least discourage me from objective consideration – due to negative consequences. Such considerations are irrelevant to the truth/falsity of Y, and thus are an inappropriate way to argue. In Baldwin’s article – as with others in the book – he employs pejorative language in describing the consequences. This is visible on pp. 115 & 121, where he uses phrases like “undermine the atoning power of Calvary”, “swept under the rug”, and “demolish the gospel”.
Response to Using consequences as an argument
Hannon’s second-segment opens with what seems to be a carefully laid word trap. Hannon is arguing from an analogy he is trying to pull from Acts 19 and apply to the Creation and Theistic Evolution question. He, by implication, is making the claim that YEC-SDAs are merely “holding the status quo” whereas those perusing other alternatives to young-earth creation are “truth-seeking.” Earlier in his article Hannon made mention of the fact that he believes that YEC-SDAs believe in young-earth creation because of evolution’s “presumed negative implications for the church’s fundamental beliefs.” Has Hannon considered that perhaps YEC-SDAs have come to their position after studying their Bibles, not because they blindly believe whatever the “28 fundamental beliefs” say? There is another problem with this second-segment. Hannon references a man by the name of John Baldwin and begins to quote from Baldwin’s book. However, what question are the quotes from Baldwin designed to answer? This second segment is a straw-man argument that posits an answer to a question that is not specified. The question, that was not asked in the article, but seems to be the question that Baldwin was trying to answer is, “Is the theory of evolution, which entails the common ancestry of all organisms and the abiogenesis of the first life, compatible with the Inspired Word of God, specifically the opening chapters in Genesis?” While I cannot speak for Baldwin, if that was the question that was asked than an appropriate response would have been along these lines:
Is the Evolutionary theory Biblical?
1. The evolutionary theory explicitly contradicts the Bible. i.e. the order in which organisms arise evolutionarily contradicts the order that is described in the Bible. (See chart in third section for further examples)
2a. A contradiction is necessarily false, or “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”-Amos 3:3
2b. A contradiction is naturally a lack of harmony; thus, the evolutionary and Biblical accounts cannot harmonize.
Conclusion: Because the evolutionary account contradicts the account in the Bible the evolutionary account cannot be accepted being Biblical.
However, the question that Baldwin was answering is unspecified. Had he been asked, “May you please give an example of biological data is inconsistent with evolution?” and he responded by saying that evolution contradicts the Bible, he would not have been answering the question. Baldwin was trying to make the case that claiming to uphold both the Bible and the evolutionary theory is inconsistent, and thus his points about evolutionary theory and the Bible contradicting were valid. YEC-SDAs do not hold to our position because it is “status quo” we hold to it because we believe that the Bible teaches young-earth creation. With that we find ourselves contemplating Hannon’s third section.
3. Calling the SDA position “biblical”
1. Christians generally, not just Adventists, have a habit of conflating their interpretation of the Bible with absolute certainty, by labeling it the “biblical view”.
2. This sort of “inequality by conflation” can add unjustified authority to human interpretation. I think it is usually done innocently, but still has a harmful effect. It involves the self-deceit known as the Argument From Ignorance. That is, we cannot imagine how we could be wrong in our interpretation of something – therefore we must be correct, since we can’t come up with any believable alternative. And this is most difficult when the limit of our hermeneutical creativity is constrained by the shape of our world view.
3. This is especially relevant in the faith/science controversy stemming from how Genesis is interpreted. Our world view is heliocentric, but the author(s) of Genesis had radically different mental models. We read Genesis, almost invariably with our mental models driving implicit assumptions about what the text is saying. It seems plain to us, thus we must be right. It would be very helpful, in every contentious difference of religious understanding, if we could keep the qualifier “to the best of my present understanding” firmly in mind as we seek truth. Given humans’ often embarrassing history of error, such humility is surely warranted. But when we “baptize” our interpretations by giving them the label “biblical view” – we invalidly try to substitute God’s authority for our own.
Response to Calling the SDA position “biblical”
To quote Young-Earth Creationist Sir Isaac Newton - considered by many to be the greatest scientist of all time - “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by men who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” I cannot speak for every YEC-SDA, but if I am going to speak about a subject, I make it a personal effort to do research and study the topic for myself prior to presenting it in spoken or written form. Hannon seems to make it a crime for a person to claim that their beliefs are based off of the Bible. There is nothing wrong with that claim, if the idea can be supported by the Scriptures. For instance, I am assuming that both Hannon and I agree that Jesus Christ was literally crucified. It does not take long to find scriptural evidence to support that position. (Matthew 27:31-53, Mark 15:20-38, Luke 23:26-46, John 19:16-30) Would Hannon say that I am merely conflating my view with the Bible’s account? No one person should exalt themselves to the level of the Godhead and claim that they have an all-knowing wisdom, but where does Hannon believe that we can say, “thus saith the Lord?” The Bible says, “Come and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18). One of the basic principles of logic is the law of noncontradiction, which states that two propositions that contradict each other cannot both be true. Here is a chart that lists a few ways that the Genesis account and the Evolutionary account contradict each other:
Those are just a few examples of how the Bible’s record stands in opposition to the evolutionary theory. Because the Bible’s Account of Creation contradicts the vast history of the Evolutionary Eons, how can both be true at the same time? Cleary, the earth cannot be created prior to the sun and stars and at the same time the sun and stars were created before the earth. If language has any meaning at all, both of those ideas stand in opposition to each other. This is not about any one person’s interpretation, this is a simple comparison of both ideas side by side. When compared, they are different and firmly resist all efforts to mold them into a conglomeration. With the notion of whether or not the evolutionary narrative is compatible with the Bible, let us turn to Hannon’s four section.
4. Conflating Theistic Evolution with evolution generally
1. Theistic Evolution (TE) is the idea that God set evolution in motion, and usually adds the idea that God has actively directed it throughout time. In other words, what science believes has taken place is then indeed God’s chosen and guided plan. Now, in my experience, both from reading and conversation with co-religionists, there is a strong tendency to conflate TE with the much broader category of evolution, generally.
2. But is it necessary to make God the active driver of evolution, the one who has chosen death and suffering as creation’s mechanism? Not at all. It is only necessary to assign God the role of allowing it to occur this way, if it did, since God is sovereign. And many Christians already take this approach on another, directly parallel, issue – the Problem of Evil. Every theodicy worth considering has, as one of its arguments, the differentiation between God allowing evil – as a necessary consequence in playing out the free-will experiment – vs. directing the evil, which would be inconsistent with the necessary character of a good God.
3. Now please recognize that by conflating evolution generally with the more onerous and restrictive choice of Theistic Evolution, it is then necessary that no other believable explanatory options exist. That is, if evolution and TE are really the same then, at minimum, one cannot imagine any plausible alternative scenarios. But this is not the case. And note that we need not prove that some alternative type of evolution narrative is true, only that it is tenable. Remember that TE – or any other flavor of evolution that moves into the metaphysical realm – is being conceived with next to no hard information, either revelatory or naturalistic. Most everything involves significant speculation. So one merely needs to propose even one plausible alternative where God has not chosen this path, but instead only allowed it. And one component of a believable story could be to introduce the possibility of Satan’s involvement in Earth’s history, with the presumption of his downfall far earlier than Eden, the exile of the fallen angels to this planet, with their collective intelligence and a lot of time on their hands. Again, there is no requirement to prove any such scenario is true, only that it might plausibly be true considering how little we know. But this is sufficient to deprecate Theistic Evolution from an inappropriate “perch” of being the necessary, God-ordained, method – with the accompanying severe problem of God being the direct agent of suffering.
Response to Conflating Theistic Evolution with evolution generally
1. The idea of God actively directing evolution over the course of billions of years is not taught in scripture and is not possible under the several time constraints outlined in the Bible. Here are two:
a. The Photosynthesis and Pollination Problem: As evident from the comparison chart, plants were created on Day 3, before the sun was created on Day 4, and the pollinators on Day 5 or 6. If these days are millions of years of time, how on earth could plants have survived eons without being pollinated or undergoing photosynthesis?
b. Adam was created by God on the 6th day of creation and lived through the 7th day. There is absolutely no way that the 7th day could even be 1,000 years because Adam died at 930 years (Genesis 5:3-5).
2. Here Hannon has just transformed God into a deistic God. It seems that, in Hannon’s view of origins, God was the mere catalyst to get the singularity expanding and then simply let everything run its course from there. His answer to his YEC companion is illogical. Death and suffering are the result of sin. (Romans 6:23) The reason why God currently allows death and suffering is to eradicate sin, the Bible makes this abundantly clear. (Job 23:10, Hebrews 5:8-9, Colossians 1:24) Why, before the entrance of sin in the universe, would God punish His creatures with death and suffering? Hannon never answered this objection.
3. Here we find Hannon seeming to advocate some version of the Gap-theory, an idea spawned in 1780 by Thomas Chalmers. The gap theory is just another creation compromise that is attempting to funnel billions of years of time into the Bible. There are also numerous problems with the idea. The gap-theory places the fall of Satan in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, when in actuality, Satan fell prior to the creation-week when he began his rebellion in Heaven. The gap-theory also contradicts scripture because it indicates that the Earth was cursed and subsequently judged because of the sins of Satan, not the sins of man. Yet, the Bible clearly states that it was the fall of man that brought about the curse and judgement on the earth. (1 Corinthians 15-26, Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 5:12-21) The most conclusive evidence against the gap-theory, is that there is no “gap” in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2! There is absolutely no manner in which a “gap” of eons of time can be inserted in between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, because the Hebrew grammar used in these verses nullifies any notion of a gap. The Hebrew conjunction “waw”, or “and”, at the beginning of Genesis 1:2, is a grammatical bridge that connects verses 1 and 2.
5. Attacking people who question the church’s position or rationale
This issue can have a benign face that can mask a potential underlying problem. It can manifest itself when someone, typically a church member, engages in criticism of one or more belie