Dangerous misrepresentations

Dr. Jeff Ploegstra, Biology Dept.—Guest Writer

“The apparent conflict between the biblical and scientific accounts of origins is dealt with in various ways. One is to make a simple choice between them.  So secular scholarship generally rejects the biblical account outright and chooses for the scientific one instead.  Similarly, some forms of fundamentalism hold that belief in the Bible has as a necessary consequence the unqualified rejection of the scientific account.  As Christians who accept the Bible as the infallible Word of God, we obviously reject wholeheartedly the former alternative.  But as Reformed Christians who recognize the authority of general revelation and the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise as a God-given task, we also resolutely reject the second alternative.  Being Reformed means that we accept the problem in all its difficulty.” (CRC Creation study pg. 402)

Professor Walicord believes he is protecting the integrity of Scripture in these articles and I heartily approve his impulse.  I assume he also believes that people are leaving the Christian faith over this issue and I sadly agree.  His solution is to portray everything as simple and crystal-clear.  I would argue that portraying a complex issue this way is actually part of the problem.

Mischaracterizing the situation and people involved prevents Christians from becoming careful and critical thinkers.  It encourages them to trust in faulty understandings, and unreliable resources.  Polarizing rhetoric also pushes people away from self-evaluation and toward unwarranted confidence.

If I were to argue Professor Walicord’s position on his behalf, I would strongly veer away from a number of points that he uses.

First, Walicord cites a petition “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” signed by what he describes as nearly one thousand secular scientists from all over the world.  Secular and scientist are both misleading as collective descriptions of the signatories.  Many are associated with Christian institutions and are from unrelated fields, if scientists at all[1]. I would also surmise many are Christians or theists since there is no required declaration of atheism and the document was authored by the Discovery Institute- who acknowledge their Judeo-Christian ethos and goal to “support the theistic foundations of the west.[2]

Even if taken at face value, this petition would only represent approximately 0.1 percent of the over one million biologists and geologists in the United States alone. As a point of comparison; “the clergy letter”, asserting the findings of modern science and Christian faith can comfortably coexist is signed by close to 13,000 Christian clergy.[3]

Second, Walicord says evolution is unproven by facts.  While there are elements of evolutionary theory are still very open to interrogation and falsification, they are not, I believe, what he implies. There is some validity to the testability distinction of “historical” vs. “observable” science but there are hundreds of thousands of research articles utilizing evolutionary theory and an old earth/universe model which make testable hypotheses that indeed turn out to match observable phenomena

Third, Walicord rightly acknowledges we interpret our observations of nature through worldviews but ignores that we also interpret Scripture through worldviews. Walicord says, “The book of Genesis, which clearly belongs to the genre of historical narrative, is crystal-clear…” The genre and literary nature of Genesis 1 is a debated topic throughout church history[4] (even before Darwin) and across denominations (see the creation studies from the CRC, PCA, and OPC below).

Fourth, lumping people into two camps dangerously oversimplifies. The dichotomy that “The Christian scientist’s worldview is firmly based on (all) the teachings of the bible while the atheist-materialist scientist interprets nature according to his atheism.” does two things: 1) badly misrepresents the host of different philosophical and theological perspectives that people bring to science and 2) implies there is a single, correct, fully understood interpretation of all biblical teachings.

This pattern of polarizing rhetoric insinuates that a non-literal interpretation of Genesis is the same as throwing out the historicity and grounding of all Scripture.  The pattern of mocking, provoking, and dividing (from both sides) has become far too prevalent in contemporary society. This badly mischaracterizes many thoughtful Christians, and such statements are dangerously divisive. Admitting you don’t know everything is not the same as a lack of faith or a capitulation. It is honest and appropriately humble

There are solid theological arguments supporting a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. Ultimately, this is where Walicord is operating from and is the case I would suggest making.

However, there are also solid theological arguments supporting non-literal interpretations of Genesis 1.  It is often hard to admit that there are well-substantiated arguments that the earth is old and living things have diversified over time.  But telling people to pretend that a tiger is a house-cat only gets them eaten.

In the end, debates, blogs, and newspapers should only ever be entry points to important discussions.  These mediums do not necessarily lend themselves to careful, thorough, and nuanced engagement. Individuals are free to think evolutionary theory is untrue. However, I encourage critics to learn more about it so they can be more informed critics. Critique it with conviction, but don’t base convictions on the idea that evolutionary theory is somehow ludicrous or mock-able. When others realize it is not ideed ludicrous, not only does the mocker lose credibility, but so may the Scriptures that s/he has tied to his or her interpretation of the Word and world.

Besides, these discussions have been hashed-out fairly thoroughly already.  If you are interested in developing a more thorough historical/theological perspective, below are several resources from Ligonier ministries, the CRC, the PCA, and the OPC.  There are many other resources available, including a whole host of theology, biology, astronomy, history, and geology courses at Dordt.

 

https://www.ligonier.org/blog/when-science-and-Scripture-conflict-reformed-approach-science-and-Scripture/

https://www.ligonier.org/blog/age-universe-and-Genesis-1-reformed-approach-science-and-Scripture/

http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html

https://www.opc.org/GA/creation.html

https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/creation%20and%20science%20agenda%201991.pdf

https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/response_creation_and_science_1991.pdf

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/21/science/sciencespecial2/21peti.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

[2] https://www.discovery.org/about/

[3] http://www.theclergyletterproject.org/

[4] https://biologos.org/common-questions/biblical-interpretation/early-interpretations-of-Genesis

[5] https://answersinGenesis.org/jesus-christ/resurrection/the-slippery-slide-to-unbelief/

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