Many readers have written in to ask us to respond to “Darwin on the Right: Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution,” by Michael Shermer. Shermer is a leading skeptic (publisher of Skeptic magazine, executive director of Skeptics Society, and author of Why Darwin Matters); this recent commentary of his was featured in his “Skeptic” column of Scientific American (October 2006, p. 38).
We are not responding to Dr. Shermer to be argumentative, but rather to explain why the biblical position is incompatible with evolution, and to show Dr. Shermer why his reasoning is faulty. Dr. Shermer may have been able to write a more educated essay had he read one of our numerous articles on why evolution is incompatible with the Bible. See (as a start):
(And indeed, it is interesting that Dr. Shermer, an atheist, would try to convince Christians that evolution fits with Christianity.)
The text of Dr. Shermer’s article is reprinted below in orange, with responses from AiG–USA’s Editorial Team interspersed.
According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics.
Does “present form” allow for variation within kinds, or mean no changes whatsoever? I’m not sure how accurate this wording is (although it is the poll’s wording, not Shermer’s), since such a question would lead me to answer differently depending on further clarification. But regardless, it is no surprise to realize how uninformed the church is. This is what AiG has been saying for many years and is trying to help remedy. We believe that thousands of years of natural selection, speciation, and mutation have resulted in changes in the form of living beings, but not the sort of information-increasing changes that evolutionists (without evidence) claim. These changes resulted in many species of dog, yes—but dogs are still dogs, and will always be dogs.
Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry.
Indeed, religious beliefs—whether Christianity, humanism, or another religion—play a big part in whom people vote for and support.
What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution.
Shermer’s conclusion is in error, for two reasons. First, his conclusion reverses the cause and effect. The correlation between political affiliation and acceptance or rejection of evolution does not occur because politics drive belief; it occurs because one’s acceptance or rejection of evolution drives political affiliation. In other words, a person does not base his belief in evolution on what his political party “says”; rather, he will choose a political party (in part) due to his opinion of evolutionary theory (and related religious issues). Dr. Shermer has committed a common fallacy: wrong direction of cause and effect.
Furthermore, although we heartily agree with Dr. Shermer that there are religious reasons for rejecting evolution, the figures he cites do not relate to this assertion at all!
Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here’s how.
We must assume that Dr. Shermer’s idea of what a “conservative Christian” is differs substantially from ours, as the biblically-based Christian recognizes that Genesis doesn’t give any traction to the idea that we came from an ape-like ancestor, but instead clearly states that Adam was formed directly and miraculously from dust.
Since biblical Christianity and Darwinism are two starkly different models, it stands to reason that some part of one viewpoint will have to “give” to make the two combine logically. Either there will be compromise on the Darwinian model (which is unlikely, since such compromise would be jeered from the so-called “scientific community”), or there will be compromise on the Bible—which results in replacing biblical Christianity with compromised Christianity, thus destroying the whole idea of meshing biblical Christianity and Darwinism in the first place!
Regardless, a biblical Christian gets their view from the Bible; if they compromise with outside beliefs, they are no longer biblical Christians but compromising ones.
1. Evolution fits well with good theology.
In this section, one would expect a reference to what “good” theology is and how it is developed. However, the Bible is not mentioned even once in this section; Dr. Shermer merely refers to a belief in an omniscient and omnipotent God, which could apply to the gods of numerous religions. Dr. Shermer writes as though he presumes a foundation of reason apart from the Word of God can dictate “good” theology. This really is simply man’s ideas about how an omniscient and omnipresent God would act. In other words, the article is saying that good theology is whatever seems reasonable to man.
Yet if there is an omniscient and omnipotent God, this would suggest that this God might dictate “good” theology. If a person doesn’t look to what this God says when developing a theological perspective, then how will he know if the theology is “good”—or for that matter, how will he even decide if “good” even exists?
Christians believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God.
Sadly, many who claim to be Christians don’t believe this, as supported by a Barna poll on acceptance of these attributes of God:
Biblically, all Christians should believe that God is omniscient and omnipotent.
What difference does it make when God created the universe—10,000 years ago or 10,000,000,000 years ago?
Dr. Shermer is leaving out important details in his question. Obviously, he believes it does make a difference—a scientific difference—whether one believes in a ten-thousand-year-old universe or a ten-billion-year-old universe; if he truly does’t think it matters, he shouldn’t have bothered writing this piece. What Dr. Shermer really wants to know is what theological difference long ages make.
Well, from a biblical point of view, it makes quite a bit of difference! First of all, old ages attack the veracity of God’s character, because they force His Word to be an enigmatic lie. Either God was right when He commented on the creation events in Genesis, or He was wrong; and being omniscient, if He was wrong, this means He was willfully wrong or deceptive—that is, lying. This omnipotent and omniscient God (who was there when He created!) gave us the order of creative events in Genesis. Note that the order differs substantially from the order Darwinism gives:
|Sun before earth||Earth before sun|
|Dry land before sea||Sea before dry land|
|Atmosphere before sea||Sea before atmosphere|
|Sun before light on earth||Light on earth before sun|
|Stars before earth||Earth before stars|
|Earth at same time as other planets||Earth before other planets|
|Sea creatures before land plants||Land plants before sea creatures|
|Earthworms before starfish||Starfish before earthworms|
|Land animals before trees||Trees before land animals|
|Death before man||Man before death|
|Thorns and thistles before man||Man before thorns and thistles|
|Cancer before man (some fossils show signs of cancer)||Man before TB pathogens and cancer|
|Reptiles before birds||Birds before reptiles|
|Land mammals before whales||Whales before land animals|
|Simple plants before fruit trees||Fruit trees before other plants*|
|Insects before mammals||Mammals (cattle) before “creeping things”*|
|Land mammals before bats||Bats before land animals|
|Dinosaurs before birds||Birds before dinosaurs|
|Insects before flowering plants||Flowering plants before insects|
|Sun before plants||Plants before sun|
|Dinosaurs before dolphins||Dolphins before dinosaurs|
|Land reptiles before pterosaurs||Pterosaurs before land reptiles|
These obviously can’t both be right, so which one is? The account of a perfect, all-knowing God who eyewitnessed the creative events, or imperfect, fallible men who speculate about the past but weren’t there?
The glory of the creation commands reverence
Creation shouldn’t get the glory; the Creator should. As Psalm 19:1, NIV says, “
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The remnant of beauty still displays the glory of God’s handiwork, but death and suffering show that the world is under the Curse. Both command reverence of God as Creator as well as of God as Judge. Dr. Shermer’s lack of familiarity with biblical Christianity is clearly apparent in this oversight.
regardless of how many zeroes in the date.
And what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces?
Again, this attacks the veracity of God’s character. Six times in Genesis 1, God indicated that He spoke things into existence (“And God said”). Either the Bible is true or false, e.g., in Psalm 33:9, NIV: “
For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
And what good is a god who bears false witness? If God were to have lied in one area, then why trust Him in other areas, such as the gospel? The God of the Bible claims that He cannot lie: “
in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2, NASB).
Furthermore, if it doesn’t make a difference when and how the creation came to be (as Dr. Shermer implies so boldly), then why is he so dead-set on “billions of years” and Darwinism? The truth is, it makes a huge difference, both to Dr. Shermer’s humanistic worldview, and to the biblical worldview.
The grandeur of life’s complexity elicits awe regardless of what creative processes were employed.
Romans 1:25, NIV says, “
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is for ever praised.” Focusing on the “awe” elicited by creation, but ignoring the importance of the Creator’s own Words, shows that this verse is increasingly true.
Christians (indeed, all faiths) should embrace modern science
And evolutionists (indeed, all faiths) should embrace biblical Christianity—as well as true science, based on the biblical worldview.
The idea that Christians “reject” science is either a canard or an outright lie, spread to further ignorance of the real issues. Christians do embrace science! The problem is, Shermer confuses unrepeatable, assumption-riddled, observation-lacking historical science with repeatable, observation-based, experiment-focused operations science. Operations science is the type of science that put men on the moon, helps us build computers and automobiles, cure diseases, etc. Most of these fields of science are well-respected and grounded in continual experimentation in the lab. As biblical Christians, we fully believe in and use experimental operations science.
The other science is called historical science (or origins science). It has little to do with experimentation, and the hypotheses produced require layers of assumption and interpretation because historical science deals with unobserved, mostly unrepeatable past events. Evolutionary stories, radiometric dating, artist’s impressions of dinosaurs, etc., deal with reconstructing the past based on assumptions. These assumptions frequently change or are shown wrong, which results in entire concepts of history being overturned. Because a historical event can never be observed or tested in a laboratory, the trustworthiness of history relies on other bases. An eyewitness account, for example, is superior to extrapolation from the present.
|Operations science||Origins science|
|Deals with:||the present||the past|
|Results in:||repeatable conclusions, technology||unrepeatable stories about the past|
for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.
We certainly don’t deny that we can learn immensely by studying the creation—but again, this is through observational science. In fact, Romans 1:20, NIV says: “
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
In other words, the creation is enough to convince someone there was indeed a Creator—but is that enough? Can this faith save someone? Not by itself: “
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NIV).
By studying the Bible, an ancient text, one can learn who this Creator is—Jesus Christ. What good would it profit to gain immense knowledge and yet forfeit one’s soul?
The Bible explains why the world is the way it is. I’ve often heard in modern perspective that “the present is the key to the past”—but is it? From a biblical perspective, the past is the key to the present! The past explains why there is death and suffering in the world, why we sin, and why things aren’t perfect. It also explains why there is tremendous design and such things as love, truth, and logic in the world.
2. Creationism is bad theology.
Since the previous section didn’t say where good theology comes from, there is no reason to assume this section will say where bad theology comes from. Therefore, let me recap: the authority for good (and, by consequence, the determiner of bad) theology comes from the Bible. As stated earlier, an omniscient and omnipotent god would dictate good theology. The Bible claims to be the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16–17), and therefore should be the source of theology. Bad theology would use means other than the Bible for developing theology (remember, the Curse is in effect, which causes noetic problems for us, yet God never cursed His Word). So God’s Word should be sole source of good theology; any theology that comes from elsewhere will not be perfect. Theology divorced from the Bible can never be fully right; theology opposed to the Bible must be wrong. If you want good theology, start with and stick with God’s Word.
The watchmaker God of intelligent-design creationism is delimited to being a garage tinkerer piecing together life out of available parts. This God is just a genetic engineer slightly more advanced than we are.
It is clear to see why Dr. Shermer’s comments seem so uninformed. Dr. Shermer has lumped “intelligent design” with biblical creation, even though the two models exhibit substantial differences. Many varieties of intelligent design accept aspects of evolutionary history and only believe God somehow “intervened” at times to add genomic information to organisms. (This misapprehension is furthered by those who accept the fossil record as showing millions of years of extinctions and, supposedly, “replacement” creations.) Shermer, obviously not familiar with the subject matter and mistakenly lumping the various theories of “intelligent design” with biblical creation, is thinking of the genetic interventionism and “tinkering” of intelligent design models. The God of the Bible did not do any tinkering at all! In under a week, He spoke everything into existence in perfect form; Genesis doesn’t indicate any tinkering at all!
Speaking the entirety of the universe, including space-time, matter, and energy, out of nothing does not sound like a “garage tinkerer piecing life out of available parts”! Dr. Shermer’ seems to ignore God’s creation ex nihilo of heavenly bodies or His creation of the entire animal kingdom (for example) in only a few days!
Furthermore, what if God used wasteful, death-driven molecules-to-man evolution as His creative process? If the god of vague “intelligent design” is a “garage tinkerer,” then the god of evolution is a sadistic, careless, wasteful god. The God of the Bible, by contrast, spoke all of creation into existence swiftly, efficiently, lovingly, and perfectly. Neither an ounce of ignorant tinkering nor a single death was involved.
(By the way, although Dr. Shermer claims to be addressing Christians, the arbitrary intelligent design god he is referencing is not necessarily the same as the God of the Bible; see Is the Intelligent Design Movement Christian? and The Intelligent Design Movement. Just another of Dr. Shermer’s oversights.)
An omniscient and omnipotent God must be above such humanlike constraints. As Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote, “The Christian idea, far from merely representing a primitive anthropomorphic projection of human art upon the cosmos, systematically repudiates all direct analogy from human art.” Calling God a watchmaker is belittling.
Dr. Shermer is now using the views of a Protestant theologian to try to overturn the clear language of the Bible. While we agree with Mr. Gilkey that God is, indeed, above human constraints and beyond human comprehension (in total), this does not mean God cannot reveal aspects of His nature or actions to us in language we will understand (for example, the Bible’s frequent metaphorical descriptions of God in the Psalms). We are made in the image of God, and though our nature is vastly inferior—in every way—to His, this does not somehow prohibit comparison! And, of course, the very idea that Dr. Shermer can overturn the Bible by making an absolute statement and quoting a theologian is as laughable as me saying, “Evolution must be false,” quoting Ken Ham, and then thinking I’d made my case!
Now, is it belittling to call God a watchmaker? Perhaps—if we refer to God as “merely” a watchmaker and ignore the vastness of His character that “watchmaker” fails to capture. The Bible certainly shows God to be much more than a watchmaker; thinking of God as nothing more than “Creator” is not enough for salvation, as it completely ignores the “Savior” aspect of His character. But, in the right context and with proper reverence, referring to God as a “watchmaker” is no more belittling than referring to Him as a “shepherd”—which He Himself did, in John 10:11! Some people might consider the grimy vocation of a shepherd an unfitting description of God, yet God, in His Word, clearly analogized Himself to a shepherd several times.
And, once again, it looks as though Dr. Shermer’s confusion/lack-of-awareness on the difference between a tinkering intelligent designer and the God of the Bible is interfering with his comprehension of the matter as a whole. We would actually agree that developing a theology based on ID wouldn’t result in “good theology.” But creation (as a concept) isn’t based on the induction of intelligent design (man’s ideas), but rather is what the Bible teaches (God’s Word). Dr. Shermer does not seem to be familiar enough with biblical creation to even attempt to refute it!
3. Evolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human nature.
Strangely, Dr. Shermer doesn’t mention that the Bible has explained original sin and the Christian model of human nature for thousands of years, nor that the ways used to explain original sin with evolution are incompatible with the Bible.
By destroying the biblical doctrine of original sin through a vague, evolutionary “explanation,” this undercuts the reality of sin and our need for Christ. And it’s not only Christians who recognize the need for a literal Adam. Read what atheist Richard Bozarth writes:
Christianity has fought, still fights, and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of god. Take away the meaning of his death. If Jesus was not the redeemer that died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing.
Ultimately, the evolutionary attack on the church is an attack on the foundation of Christianity. However, the church largely ignored the attack for many years; the modern creationist movement is being used by God to reverse that trend. It is time for the church to step up and stand on God’s Word, not on man’s fallible ideas.
As a social primate, we evolved within-group amity and between-group enmity.
The omnipresent and omnipotent God disagrees with this, as Genesis 1 and 2 makes it clear that humans didn’t evolve from an ape-like ancestor, but rather that man was made from dust and woman was made from Adam’s side. God also makes a distinction between man and other animals in that we are made in the image of God. In whom will you place your faith: an all-knowing God or imperfect men who like to tell stories about what they didn’t witness?
By nature, then, we are cooperative and competitive, altruistic and selfish, greedy and generous, peaceful and bellicose; in short, good and evil.
The problem is, this distorts why we are, “by nature,” this way. If God used evolution to create us, and evolution made us good and bad, then how is it that we are morally responsible for our sin? How was Christ’s sacrifice necessary?
Moral codes and a society based on the rule of law are necessary to accentuate the positive and attenuate the negative sides of our evolved nature.
So society is the final basis of law and morality, not God? Does that mean Nazi Germany was in the right during its extermination campaigns? What about modern terrorists? If we reject the Word of God, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong? Societies are just as fallible as people.
4. Evolution explains family values. The following characteristics are the foundation of families and societies and are shared by humans and other social mammals: attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms. As a social primate species, we evolved morality to enhance the survival of both family and community.
So, following Dr. Shermer’s logic, if one says those things are good, then why not rape and murder, which could also be “good” for certain families and in certain contexts? Furthermore, since one of the key mechanisms of evolution is chance, then that would mean morality is simply a result of chance! Why is it that Dr. Shermer credits morality to evolution, but doesn’t do the same with the many ills in society?
Subsequently, religions designed moral codes based on our evolved moral natures.
Again, this is incompatible with the Bible, which teaches that God put morality in place in the beginning. If humans designed moral codes, then what authority do they have or how does a person decide which code is right?
5. Evolution accounts for specific Christian moral precepts. Much of Christian morality has to do with human relationships, most notably truth telling
Why is truth telling a valuable “asset” for evolution? If one really wants to follow “survival of the fittest,” then why not lie to get one step ahead?
and marital fidelity,
Again, if survival of the fittest is the goal, then maximum gene distribution is ideal, and marital fidelity just gets in the way of this!
because the violation of these principles causes a severe breakdown in trust, which is the foundation of family and community.
Evolution describes how we developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust.
Then why is it that virtually all sexually reproducing animals, even many that supposedly mate for life, still have more than one “partner”? Why is it that evolution built some sense of fidelity into humans (although many would argue against that)? What is the evolutionary advantage of faithfulness?
Likewise, truth telling is vital for trust in our society, so lying is a sin.
Why would truth or trust be “right” in an evolutionary framework—or at least, why would they be any more “right” than other opposing behaviors that survival of the fittest has (supposedly) preserved?
6. Evolution explains conservative free-market economics. Charles Darwin’s “natural selection” is precisely parallel to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”
(By the way, Dr. Shermer should say “creationist Ed Blyth’s ‘natural selection’,” especially since Blyth published his model about a quarter century before Darwin.)
Of course, how is Dr. Shermer’s argument any different from stating that “The Bible’s ‘creation’ is precisely parallel to theories of design and engineering”? Just because evolutionary models have some similarity to economic models doesn’t make the former true any more than saying “the benevolence of Santa Claus is precisely parallel to the benevolence of Mother Teresa”!
Darwin showed how complex design and ecological balance were unintended consequences of competition among individual organisms. Smith showed how national wealth and social harmony were unintended consequences of competition among individual people.
Actually, Darwin’s theory doesn’t show how design can come naturally, as scientists have never found any natural medium that produces new genetic information. (Natural selection doesn’t give rise to information but only selects information that is already there—see Natural Selection vs. Evolution. And mutations only cause downhill informational changes.)
Furthermore, the “ecological balance” that competition produces is a death-driven struggle for food and other resources, the murder of certain animals by other animals, and numerous mass extinctions. What kind of “balance” is that!?
Nature’s economy mirrors society’s economy. Both are designed from the bottom up, not the top down.
It is ridiculous to try to prove an idea by simply analogizing to something people agree with. We could say that Santa Claus mirrors the UPS (or FedEx or DHL, so we don’t sound partial)—they all deliver packages worldwide. Yet that doesn’t somehow make Santa Claus real!
And, of course, it’s interesting that Dr. Shermer even uses the word designed, since that clearly implies a designer. Purposeless mutations, shaped by chance forces, struggle, and death, neither seems like design nor implies any creative designer.
Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation
It is nice to see that Dr. Shermer did not refer to evolution as an absolute fact, although we wouldn’t say it is a theory either—it is a hypothesis at best, a hypothesis about an unrepeatable past.
Regardless, the Bible provides an excellent scientific foundation. In fact, many scientists like Newton, Faraday, Boyle, etc., built their science on the Bible and ended up developing entire fields of science. In modern times, creationist Dr. Raymond Damadian invented the MRI, which has nothing to do with evolution. Entire fields of study, such as baraminology, are exciting fields of research that are based on the Bible. The Bible, indeed, provides an excellent foundation for science and for understanding why we can even trust our thoughts in the first place.
for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced.
As we’ve seen, the core values of Christianity are clearly from the Bible, not evolution. The two simply don’t mix—and it’s not an attempt to mix “true” science with a religion; it’s an attempt to mix one religion—naturalistic humanism—with another. Humanism, which has the foundation of molecules-to-man evolution, and biblical Christianity, which has the foundation of creation. The religions don’t mix, as we’ve seen. They are looking at the world with two different sets of lenses.
However, some Christians and evolutionists compromise their religions. When Christians accept the millions of years taught by Darwinians, they come up with strange views such as gap theory, progressive creation, the framework hypothesis, or theistic evolution. It is sad that Christians dilute Christianity with this other religion.
But in the same way, many evolutionists try to “steal” aspects of biblical Christianity, such as:
In other words, some evolutionists don’t consistently apply evolution and ignore the actual consequences of the evolutionary worldview—consequences such as survival of the fittest in day-to-day life. They really want the morality of the Bible, and don’t want to face what a world would actually look like without biblical morality.
The senseless conflict between science and religion must end now, or else, as the Book of Proverbs (11:29) warned: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”
Most Darwinians will agree that humans are, indeed, one big family—both the evolutionary worldview and the Bible teach this, though in very different ways. But why ask Christians, who trust God and His Word, to stop trusting it and accept fallible man’s ideas about past instead? That brings trouble on the family as a whole—trouble that began in Eden and has continued ever since.
We find it fascinating that someone who doesn’t trust what God says in Genesis will suddenly quote part of a warning given in Proverbs. What good is it to believe one part of the Bible or its aspects and not the rest?
The Editorial Team at AiG–USA
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