Evolution, the theory that all life emerged from a branching "evolutionary tree" with a single celled organism being the species that started the whole process 3.5 billion years ago, is frequently the subject of heated debate between Christians and Non-Christians. Young Earth Creationists like Ken Ham, Old Earth Creationists like Hugh Ross, and Intelligent Design proponents like Stephen Meyer and William Dembski frequently attack Darwin's theory in their defense of the Christian faith. But is this really necessary? Is this really worthwhile? And is this beneficial to the advancement of the Kingdom?
I want to argue with a strong "No". I don't think it's necessary, worthwhile, or beneficial to The Church to over concern itself with refuting evolution. Here's why
1: There Are So Many Good Arguments For Christianity's Truth That Do An End-Run Around The Issue
In my book Inference To The One True God: Why I Believe In Jesus Instead Of Other Gods", I presented several arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. The arguments I presented were The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine Tuning Argument, The Local Fine Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, The Ontological Argument, and The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus' Resurrection. I talked about all of these arguments previously on this blog (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), but not in the context of what I now call "The Divine Identity Argument" which is basically taking the attributes of the Supreme Being each of the Natural Theology Arguments show exists with the attributes The Bible ascribes to God, comparing them, and concluding on that basis that because they're identical in every way with no property to distinguish them, that they must be one in the same being.
At the end of chapter 3, I tell my readers that I won't get into the topic of evolution. Why? Precisely because none of the arguments in the book depend on evolution to be false in order for them to be sound. If all life is proven to be descended from a single common ancestor which premise of The Kalam Cosmological Argument would that undermine? Which premise of The Cosmic Fine Tuning Argument would human common ancestry with chimps undermine? Which premise of The Moral Argument would be undermined by the realization that humans are biologically related to all of the great apes? The answer is that no premise of the aforementioned arguments would be undermined. This is especially evident in the case of The Ontological Argument, which is outside the realm of science altogether. The Ontological Argument relies solely on modal logic1 and so is completely immune to refutation by scientific means. Give us all the evidence for universal common descent that you want, but it isn't going to undermine the premise "It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists" or "If it is possible that A Maximally Great Being exists, then A Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world", and so on.
Would realization that all life descended from a single common ancestor via natural selection and random2 mutations undermine the case for Jesus' resurrection? No! It would not disprove any of the 5 minimal facts, it wouldn't provide us with a plausible naturalistic theory to explain them. The Case for Jesus' Resurrection is just as immune to Darwinian attack as all the other arguments in my book.
Besides the arguments talked about in my book, there are other arguments for God's existence such as The Argument From Science, The Transcendental Argument, The Contingency Argument, The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, The FreeThinking Argument, and The Argument From Desire. All of these militate against atheism and work in favor of the Christian Worldview, and none of these arguments can be undermined by any evidence for evolution.
So, I think we should leave the issue of evolution and open question for the unbeliever. There are plenty of good arguments to make the case for Christianity which are immune to Darwinian attack, and therefore, we ought to be focusing more on them than on biological design arguments. When the unbeliever sees that all of these arguments are sound, he will see that Christianity is true, he will give his life over to Christ, and can then he can return to the issue of evolution to see whether this is something he should jettison or continue to hold onto. This is why I've made a case for Evolutionary Creationism being a viable option for people to take even though I've not officially adopted the position myself (see here).
Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about it at all. If one is convinced evolution is false, he can certainly debate the issue with unbelievers and believers alike. However, one should relegate the issue to the same level of importance as the Arminianism/Calvinism debate or the Futurism/Preterism Debate. For example, throughout my entire apologetic career, I have never argued against evolution unless someone asked me why I didn't believe it. If someone asked me for evidence for God or Christianity, I would appeal to one or more of the previous arguments mentioned.
2: It Will Give The Impression That Christians and Christianity are "Anti-Science"
YECs and OECs will probably react to this subheader immediately by saying "But we're not anti-science! We're anti-bad-science!" and "It isn't religion VS. science! It's good science VS. bad science!" You may be right. Evolution may be bad science. It may be inferior to Intelligent Design or special creation models. Nevertheless, the unbeliever doesn't see it that way. He believes the evidence for macro evolution is powerful, overwhelming, to the point where he thinks it is established fact.
If you make you tell people that evolution refutes Christianity, then people will get the impression that to be a Christian, they must abandon the scientific evidence and commit intellectual suicide in order to commit their lives to Christ. As a thinking person myself (to avoid being pretentious, I hesitate to label myself an intellectual), if I had to stop thinking to be a Christian, it would be very hard for me to be a Christian. If I had to abandon solid scientific data to be a follower of Christ, that might be the end of my faith life.
I'm afraid that being too overly involved in arguing against evolution will make us apologists appear, in the eyes of unbelievers, like The Pope who opposed Galileo. The Pope condemned Galileo (as did Martin Luther) because they believed The Bible taught geocentrism. The unbelievers already believe Christianity has had a history of opposing scientific advance (despite the fact that this is false, and in fact, it was a belief in a Creator that God science off the ground in the first place). Do we really want to fuel the fire that is already burning in skeptical circles?
3: You Will Set People Up For Failure
If you say things like what Lee Strobel said, that "If the origin of life can be explained solely through natural processes, then God was out of a job!"3 and "“you don't need God if you've got The Origin of Species,”4 and “In which direction—toward Darwin or God—is the current arrow of science now pointing?”5 then you set people up with a false dichotomy. It is not true that you don't need God if you've got The Origins Of Species. No, God is not out of job if life can be explained via natural processes. As I said in my first subheader, many arguments point to God and Christianity that are immune to being refuted via Darwinism. Lee Strobel even defended some of those arguments in the same book in which he made the above statements? Would Strobel stop believing the Cosmological or Fine-Tuning arguments were valid if he suddenly were re-convinced that evolution were true? Would he conclude that his historical "Case For Christ" was invalidated? If he did, he'd be reasoning illogically. His statements in the introduction of his book are non-sequitors.
God would still be the best explanation for the origin of the universe, the fine tuning of the laws of physics, the fine tuning of our local life permitting region, objective morality, and the possibility of science even being done, even if the reigning evolutionary paradigm were true.
This attitude of Strobel's is evident in the writings of so many Christian Apologists (never mind the non-Christian authors like Richard Dawkins who say things like this). If people have the idea cemented in their mind that evolution = atheism, then if they're presented with a powerful case for evolution and they become convinced, they will simultaneously be convinced that atheism is true. They will, therefore, abandon their faith and be lost to Hell.
When people are presented with the case for evolution (either in college, on a science TV documentary, a social conversation, or wherever), 1 of 3 things will happen.
1: Some, fortunately, will eventually come to see the false dichotomy for what it truly is, and hold onto their faith, embracing a form of theistic evolution instead of apostatizing, like biologist Aron Yilmaz and geneticist Francis Collins.
2: Some will continue to be convinced that their favorite apologists and "creation scientists" and ID advocates were right, and will not be moved by the arguments for evolution, maintaining either a young earth creationist or old earth creationist stance.
3: Some will find the case compelling, remember the dichotomy "God or Evolution" and therefore jettison God.
I think for the sake of that third category of people, we ought to stop characterizing the debate as "God VS. Evolution" as Ray Comfort did in a film that went by that name6, as Lee Strobel did in "The Case For A Creator", and as so many other apologists do in their writings. We should present them with the wide range of views on this topic, and let Theistic Evolution be a viable alternative. We should show them that evolution is not a defeater to the Christian worldview. It's not. That is why I have argued for evolution's compatibility with Christianity in many of my blog posts over the past year, such as in "5 Reasons Why I'm Open To Theistic Evolution", "Does Evolution Leave God Out Of A Job?", "Could God Not Have Used Evolution Because It's A Random Process?" and "Why Evolution Should Not Be A Surprise To Christians", and several others. I want my readers to know that if they can't bring themselves to give up evolution, that's fine. That's not a defeater to the Christian worldview and they, therefore, shouldn't let that stop them from giving their life to Christ.
We should present the special creation/evolution debate as two competing hypotheses of how God may have created rather than as God being the competing hypothesis against evolution. If we don't, we will lose that third category of people.
4: It Will Tarnish The Reputation Of Christian Apologetics
In a Facebook conversation a while back, I asked why more Christian Apologists weren't Evolutionary Creationists. If you don't count people at The BioLogos Foundation and the defensive apologetics they do7 then the number of Christian Apologists who are Evolutionary Creationists is fantastically low. I can name them on both of my hands and still have fingers left over: (1) Allister McGrath, (2) N.T Wright, (3) Tim Keller, (4) Dinesh Desouza, (5) Gregory Boyd, (6) Alvin Plantinga, and (7) Francis Collins. The list is longer if you include "Dollar Apologists"8 like Zachary Lawson and Keith Francis, but it still seems to be a disappointing minority. Some people have said C.S Lewis was an Evolutionary Creationist, but his writings are ambiguous enough to where one could say he merely considered EC an option, much like William Lane Craig does.
My friend Richard Bushey told me in the comment section of that conversation that most theistic evolutionists dislike Christian Apologetics. Now, I don't know if this is true or not, nor do I know why that's the case if it is. If it is true, I have a hypothesis as to why that would be. It might be the case that many who became theistic evolutionists were previously bombarded with a specific type of Christian Apologetics; the kind of Kent Hovind and Ken Ham, the type of Answers In Genesis and ICR, and they equate "Christian Apologetics" with Evolution bashing. Since they think evolution is true, and they think Christian Apologetics is a synonym for evolution bashing, it makes sense why they'd be opposed to it. So many personal testimonies featured on The BioLogos website had people telling of their journey to theistic evolution directly out of an Answers In Genesis type of environment.
When I hear the term "Christian Apologetics", I think of people like the philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig masterfully defending The Kalam Cosmological Argument or The Fine-Tuning Argument, or I think of Lee Strobel presenting the case for the preservation of The New Testament documents, or I get images of Gary Habermas defending The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus' Resurrection. But for these theistic evolutionists, they might get a completely different mental image when they hear the term "Christian Apologetics". They might get the image of Kent Hovind saying that Behemoth was a dinosaur, of YECs talking about how the amount of moon dust proves the Earth is no older than 6,000 years, or of Ken Ham telling them "You must accept either God's infallible Word or Man's fallible word". Their personal experience with apologetics was mostly anti-Darwin, it set them up with a false dichotomy, it made them afraid of looking at the other side's case for fear of destroying their faith, and now "Apologetics" has left a bitter taste in their mouths. A lot of them now embrace fideism and spurn an evidential approach to faith altogether.
I'm afraid that even Old Earth Creationists like Lee Strobel and Hugh Ross will only fuel the impression that "Apologetics = refuting Darwin" with their "God or Evolution" attitudes. We should not let this happen. We should not let a caricature of apologetics emerge in the culture's eyes. This would undercut one of the reasons to do apologetics in the first place. As Dr. William Lane Craig wrote, "It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the Gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women."9 and "If Christians could be trained to provide solid evidence for what they believe and good answers to unbelievers’ questions and objections, then the perception of Christians would slowly change. Christians would be seen as thoughtful people to be taken seriously rather than as emotional fanatics or buffoons. The gospel would be a real alternative for people to embrace."10
One of the reasons to do apologetics is to change the cultural perception of Christians and Christianity. This is not our primary motive to do apologetics, of course. Our primary motives are (1) Winning unbelievers to Christ and (2) Equipping Believers to defend their faith when skeptics ask them to give the reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15). But a secondary motivation is to change the culture's perception of Christians and Christianity. I think we will have succeeded when Christians are no longer portrayed in films and television as emotionally driven idiot weirdos and are instead depicted as thoughtful intellectuals, and when people hear "Christian" and think of a left-brained individual whose heads are filled with arguments in need of examination.
However, the prominent anti-Darwinianism of contemporary apologetics, I'm afraid, will do Christendom more harm than good. We Christian Apologists should focus more on the arguments that have nothing to do with Darwin's theory, show the world evolution is compatible with Christianity and is not a defeater to it, and leave whether the theory is true or not an open question. If we don't, I'm afraid Christian Apologetics will get a bad rap both among the unbelieving world and among Theistic Evolutionists.
5: The Bible Says Not To Set Up Unnecessary Stumbling Blocks
In the first century, very shortly after our Lord rose from the dead, a debate broke out over whether Gentile converts should be required to adhere to the Mosaic Law or not. They talked it over for a while and came to a conclusion: "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." (Acts 15:19).
"Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." (Acts 15:22-29)
I think a parallel argument could be made about evolution. We shouldn't make it more difficult for unbelievers to become Christians. It's hard enough as it is, if for no other reason than having to give up their life of sin. To force them to give up what they deem valid science, as well as their sinful lifestyles, is, in my judgment, to put an unnecessary burden upon unbelievers.
I do not think it's healthy for The Church or the world for refuting evolution to be near the top of The Christian Apologist's list of priorities. I'm not saying detractors of macro evolution shouldn't speak out or debate against people who adhere to it. All I'm saying is that the issue should be relegated to one of secondary importance. I want to conclude this blog post with two quotes:
"I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course, I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God." - Billy Graham11
"During the Allied invasion of World War II, hundreds of life-like rubber dummy paratroopers were dropped into the French countryside. These distractions drew German fire away from the Allies and wasted a great deal of the Germans' ammunition and other military resources. While the Germans were busy firing at dummies, Allied troops were busy sneaking behind enemy lines. The real battle was taking place elsewhere, while the unwitting Germans were squandering their firepower and energy on mere rubber dummies. I submit to you, as Christians we are attacking the “rubber dummy” of evolution, while the real enemy slips past us unnoticed and unchallenged. How will we answer God on judgment day when He asks us why we pointlessly besieged so many distractions, meanwhile the real battle was taking place elsewhere?" - Aron R Yilmaz12
1: Modal Logic has to do with what is possible and impossible, what is necessary and logically impossible.
2: It's important to note that when evolutionary biologists talk of "random mutations", they don't mean the mutations are "random" in the sense of having no purpose, or having occurred devoid of meaning or a goal in mind. Christian Apologists have ceased the term "random mutations" to argue that theistic evolution is incoherent as it posits God guiding an inherently unguided and purposeless process. But that's not what "random" means in this context. Rather, "random" simply means that the mutations are unpredictable from a human point of view. No one can predict when and where a mutation will occur and in what species. They happen spontaneously, without warning. They're "random" much in the same way that the result of a dice roll is "random".
3: Strobel, Lee. The Case For a Creator: A journalist investigates scientific evidence that points toward God. Zondervan, 2004, 19.
4: ibid, 22.
5: ibid, 24
6: Ray Comfort, "God And Evolution: Shaking The Foundations Of Faith", https://www.amazon.com/Evolution-vs-God-Shaking-Foundations/dp/B00EDHHGXK
7: There are two kinds of apologetics: Offensive Apologetics and Defensive Apologetics. Offensive Apologetics makes the case for Christianity's truth. Offensive Apologetics presents arguments and evidence to show people why they should believe that Christianity is true. Arguments in Offensive Apologetics consist of The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine-Tuning Argument, The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus' Resurrection, and many more. Defensive Apologetics, on the other hand, seeks to refute some argument that is brought up as a potential defeater to the Christian Worldview. When Apologists respond to accusations that the doctrine of Hell makes God evil (as I do in my recent book A Hellacious Doctrine) or respond to "The Problem Of Evil", they are engaging in defensive apologetics. I believe BioLogos definitely does apologetics of this latter type. Their goal is to show the world that evolution is not a defeater to the Christian Worldview. I agree with them and highly recommend their material. Go to www.biologos.org to learn more.
8: A "Dollar Apologist" is an apologist who mainly draws on the work of scholars to make his case for Christianity, but isn't an academic or has a lot of degrees. As Zachary Lawson put it: "It's like the difference between your friend who plays the guitar really well and Led Zepplin". A Dollar Apologist, like myself, is to be contrasted with someone like William Lane Craig, or Gary Habermas, or Hugh Ross. They are experts in their fields, I draw on their expertise. They're "Led Zepplin". I'm just "the guy who plays guitar really well".
9: William Lane Craig, from the article "Apologetics: Who Needs It?", http://www.reasonablefaith.org/christian-apologetics-who-needs-it
10: William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, David C Cook, p. 18.
11: Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997. p. 72-74
12: Yilmaz, Aaron R. Deliver Us From Evolution?: A Christian Biologist's In-Depth Look at the Evidence Reveals a Surprising Harmony Between Science and God (Page 198). Sehnsucht Publishing. Kindle Edition.