Category Archives: Creation

Follow the Evidence?

There was a refrain frequently heard on early episodes of TV’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  Gus Grissom was training rookie crime scene investigators, sharing with them his many years of experience in the field.  Grissom would often say, “Follow the evidence…”  The understanding was that just following the evidence would lead to the perpetrator of the crime.  Following the evidence would lead to the truth. 

In the world of TV crime scene investigation, that might usually work as a sound philosophy.  Even there occasionally writers and producers have explored the possibility that the evidence can be tainted by factors related to those investigating it.  The evidence isn’t always interpreted objectively and thus conclusions (right or wrong) can still ultimately be reached on the basis of prejudice or gut feeling.  The philosophy sounds good in principle, but it doesn’t always work out in practice.

Moving into the real world, the principle of “follow the evidence” is the basic philosophy behind much of Christian apologetics today.  Walk into a vanilla Christian bookstore these days and if they have an apologetics section, likely everything there will be based on this principle.  Lee Strobel is popular with his The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith, and The Case for Christ.  I won’t discount everything he writes in these books, but it should be noted that his basic principle is the same as CSI Grissom:  follow the evidence.  The same is true for the majority of others writing on the subject of apologetics today.  For that reason alone, this principle needs critical evaluation.

In discussions about theistic evolution, the allegation has sometimes been made that young university students are sent into turmoil when encountering the evidence for evolution.  As the story has it, these Christian students were taught creation science at home, church, and school.  They were told how the evidence made it clear that God had created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing) in six ordinary days some thousands of years ago, not millions or billions.  Arriving at university, they encounter a different batch of evidences not previously considered.  This sends their faith into a tailspin and, so the story goes, some of them even end up committing suicide.            

On a superficial level, we can join in bemoaning this approach to such issues.  We can agree that something has gone awry with those young university students.  From the perspective of theistic evolutionists, the problem rests with creation science producing faulty evidence because of certain faith convictions regarding creation.  From our perspective, staking your faith on extra-biblical evidences is always problematic.  Let me explain why.

The Theological Background of Evidential Apologetics      

Evidential apologetics is a method of defending the faith which rests upon the use of evidence.  This system of apologetics is usually traced back to Joseph Butler (1692-1752), an Anglican bishop.  Butler lived during the time of the Enlightenment, also known as “The Age of Reason.”  Serious challenges were being posed against the Christian faith.  Rationalism, the belief that reason could provide the basis of all knowledge, had infiltrated not only society, but also many churches.  Even Reformed theology was affected (or better: infected). 

Butler recognized that Enlightenment philosophy endangered the Christian faith.  In particular, he saw the danger deism posed.  Deism is the belief that God is a clockmaker.  He created the universe and then wound it up like a clock.  He removed himself from it and is no longer intimately involved with it.  According to deism, God takes an arms-length approach to the world.  Butler rightly saw that this philosophy was in conflict with the teachings of the Bible.     

In 1736, Butler published a book entitled The Analogy of Religion.  This work was a response to deism.  It was a defense of the faith.  Butler aimed to show there are no sound objections to the Christian religion.  He said all the evidence, especially the evidence in the natural world, points to the very probable truth of Christianity.  As long as a person doesn’t ignore the abundance of evidence, he or she shouldn’t reject the Bible or any of its teachings.  Unprejudiced minds, said Butler, would see the design inherent in the world and almost inevitably reach the conclusion that there is a Creator.  A fair evaluation of the external evidence would likely push the open-minded unbeliever to accept the Bible.  Butler purposed to demonstrate the truth of the Bible through facts, evidence and logic – and he believed it was not only possible to do this, but also pleasing to God.

When evaluating Butler’s approach, we have to remember the importance of what we call presuppositions.  These are our most non-negotiable beliefs or assumptions about the way the world really is.  Butler was an Arminian and one of his presuppositions was that man hadn’t fallen so far as to completely corrupt his thinking.  He didn’t confess the doctrine of pervasive (or total) depravity found in the Canons of Dort, but repudiated it.  This had consequences for his system of apologetics.  So did another related presupposition:  the freedom of the will of fallen man.  According to Butler and other Arminians, fallen man retains free will to choose for or against God.  He need only use his faculties rightly in order to make the right choice. 

While Butler saw the dangers of the Enlightenment and wanted to combat deism in particular, the weapons of his warfare were earthly and unscriptural.  We might wish that Butler was a mere footnote in the history of Christian apologetics, but unfortunately his approach became widely accepted.  Much of what we see today in non-Reformed (“evangelical”) apologetics finds its historical roots in the Arminian apologetics of this Anglican.

Evidential apologetics, historically and in its modern form, makes its case based not only on the evidence (and the nature of evidence), but also on a certain understanding of human nature.  According to this system, human nature isn’t pervasively depraved.  The human intellect isn’t fallen or dead in sin, only weakened or sick.  Neutrality isn’t only possible, but a reality.  When confronted with the evidence, and with perhaps a little help from God, an unprejudiced person will recognize the truth and turn to the Bible and believe it.  This is Arminian theology applied to apologetics.              

Unfortunately, this system has been appropriated by many involved with creation science.  Many creation scientists have been Arminian in their theological convictions, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It’s only consistent for Arminians to adopt evidential apologetics, whether in general, or whether specially applied to the question of origins.  Inconsistency emerges when Reformed believers adopt this approach.  “Following the evidence” isn’t our way.      

A Biblical Approach

When we approach the question of evidence, we need to do so with biblical presuppositions.  There are several of them we could discuss.  However, in the interests of time and space, let me restrict our discussion to two of the most important.  These are the presuppositions — the non-negotiable beliefs that will govern how we consider the place and use of evidence in apologetics.

The first is our confession regarding the nature of fallen man.  As Ephesians 2:1 puts it, the unregenerate person is dead in transgressions and sins.  This spiritual death extends to all the parts of a fallen human being:  heart, mind, and will are all without a sign of life.  When it comes to the Christian faith, fallen humanity doesn’t have the capacity to interpret the evidence rightly.  What fallen people need is regeneration.  They need to be made alive by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit needs to open eyes so that they may see, understand, and believe.  The Holy Spirit does this work of regeneration through the Word of God.  Therefore, the Word of God, not external evidences, needs to be the focus of our apologetical efforts.  From a Reformed perspective, apologetics involves bringing the Word of God to bear on unbelief to expose its futility and to vindicate and commend the Christian worldview.     

A second necessary presupposition builds on that.  We always start with a belief that the Bible is God’s inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word.  Those doctrinal positions are not conclusions that we reach through reasoning and proofs.  They are held in faith.  We hold to what is called the self-attesting authority of Scripture.  That means the Bible attests or confirms its own authority.  It doesn’t need to be proven.  The Bible claims to be the Word of God and we receive it as such.  This is a settled truth for Christians.  Therefore, the Bible is the basis and standard for all our apologetics.  We’re defending the Bible and the biblical worldview, but the Bible is also the guide for how we defend the Bible.  The Bible gives us the means and strategies to use in defending the Bible.

Where does that leave external evidences?  Well, for one thing, we don’t build our system of apologetics upon them.  Instead, our system has to be grounded on the Word of God.  The Word is the supreme authority, not outside evidence.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t promise to regenerate people through external evidences.  He does promise to do that through the Scriptures, though it isn’t inevitable in every case, obviously.  What’s more, because evidence is always interpreted evidence, and the interpretation is always done by sinful minds, evidence must always be evaluated according to the supreme standard of the Word of God.  Since there are no neutral facts or neutral methods for considering the facts, the Word must always be recognized as standing over the facts.  It must be the grid through which the “facts” are sifted. 

There is a place for evidence in apologetics and in the debate about origins.  Evidence from outside the Bible can corroborate the Bible’s teachings.  However, it isn’t the starting place, nor is it the authority.  Moreover, external evidences can be fickle.  What was thought to be evidence in one generation can turn out to have been misinterpreted by the next.  How do you stay off what one writer called “the evidentialist roller coaster”?  How do you stand firm against humanists and theistic evolutionist compromisers?  Not by retreating to evidence, but by standing firm on what the Word of God teaches.  And by evaluating all evidence in the light of the Word of God.  That also means being open to the possibility that external evidences, whether for or against biblical teaching, may be wrongly interpreted.  When it comes to evidences, one should retain a level of skepticism.  After all, creation scientists and humanists/theistic evolutionists are all human beings, prone to sin and to mistakes.  The only firm foundation is the Word of God.              

Conclusion

“Follow the evidence” might be acceptable for fictional TV characters, but in God’s world his children can’t accept this procedure when it comes to apologetics.  To “follow the evidence,” as if we are all neutral observers of the world is to sell out on our fundamental presuppositions.  It’s regrettable that the surge of interest in apologetics has led some in our Reformed community to dabble with evidentialist apologetics.  It’s sad too that we have often imbibed these apologetics as mediated to us through some creation scientists and their organizations.

Thankfully, in the last number of years, some creation scientists have adopted a Reformed, presuppositional approach to the question of origins.  Most notable are Dr. Jonathan Sarfati and Dr. Jason Lisle. Dr. Sarfati is associated with Creation Ministries International, and Dr. Lisle with Answers in Genesis.  Some time ago I reviewed Lisle’s book, The Ultimate Proof: Resolving the Origins Debate, and I commend it to you as a good example of how to apply Reformed apologetics to this issue.  Some of Lisle’s final words in The Ultimate Proof provide a suitable conclusion:  “Our defense of the faith comes from learning to think and to argue in a biblical way.  God is logical, and we should be too.  God tells us that all knowledge is in him (Col. 2:2-3), so we should train ourselves to recognize this fact” (173).


Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 1)

Creation Without Compromise

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective, Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Mosher, John H. Walton.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.  Hardcover, 659 pages.

This massive volume attempts to make a theological and scientific case for theistic evolution.  It might be appropriate to describe it as the theistic evolution “Bible.”  All the authors are Wheaton College faculty and the material in the book is drawn from a Wheaton general-education science course, SCI 311 Theories of Origins.  Of the five authors, only one (John Walton) is a theologian; the others are scientists.

I am not a scientist and therefore not really qualified to interact meaningfully with many of the scientific claims made in Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (USTO).  I am going to limit myself to evaluating and interacting with the biblical and theological claims.  While reading, I did…

View original post 906 more words


I Recommend

I don’t often share links in this space, but I’ve got three that I shared on social media today that are definitely worth passing on here too:

January/February 2020 Reformed Perspective

If you’re not familiar with it, this is a great Reformed magazine and it’s available as a free download.

Church Should Be Your Excuse for Missing Everything Else

Regular habitual church attendance is essential for spiritual health.  As the author says:

…the reality is that I have never known a casual attendee to thrive in any meaningful capacity. I have yet to meet another pastor/elder that can testify to the exemplary faith of the professing Christian who abdicates regular church attendance. I have witnessed seasons of growth from them, yet I have simultaneously witnessed a stunted growth because invariably, they are sporadically absent from the ordinary means God has given them for their maturity, encouragement, and perseverance in the Christian faith. More often than this stunted growth though is no growth at all, or worse, a “back-sliding” of sorts.

Jesus Devastates an Old-Earth

When it comes to the age of the earth and similar issues, why don’t we just listen to our Lord Jesus?  After all, he was there “at the beginning.”  He knows what he’s talking about.

 


Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “Imago Dei”

Though it’s been a dead language for centuries, Latin continues to be bandied about in theology.  And in Reformed churches, we love our theology, which means we’re going to inevitably encounter some Latin.  Today’s expression is not a difficult one to figure out:  imago Dei.  The first word is clearly related to our English word “image,” and “Dei” is a form of Deus, “God.”  So:  the image of God.  Why not just say “the image of God”?   I don’t know for sure, but you do save two words, five letters, and two spaces!

Imago Dei is used in reference to humanity.  Human beings are “the image of God.”  It’s easy to say that; it’s much harder to explain.  At the very least, it means there is something in humanity that reflects God.  God has some attributes that cannot be reflected in human nature — for example, we cannot reflect his omnipresence or omniscience (comprehensive knowledge).  But we can, in some measure, reflect his love, wisdom, and goodness.  We can communicate with him and with one another.   These things are part of what it means to be imago Dei.

The Scriptures first tell us of this truth in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Now there are those who say that the fall into sin meant that humanity lost the image of God.  This is based, I believe, on Ephesians 4:24 which encourages Christians “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” This seems to indicate that becoming a Christian involves a recovery of the image of God — regeneration gives us a new nature which is again the imago Dei.  Heidelberg Catechism Q and A 6 uses the language of Ephesians 4:24 and confesses that at the beginning man was created good and in God’s image, “that is, in true righteousness and holiness.”  It seems to be implied that we lost this image with the fall into sin.  Thus, some say, if you are not a Christian, you’re not the image of God.  God has only restored his image in the regenerated.

Now if Genesis 1:27 and Ephesians 4:24 were the only passages bearing on this, we might be able to agree and leave it at that.  But Scripture says more.  Even Genesis says more in 9:6 — after the fall, after the flood:  “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”  Killing a human being is a weighty matter because of the imago Dei.  Cursing a fellow human being is treated the same way in James 3:9.  The Holy Spirit speaks of the tongue:  “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”  That’s not a reference to cursing fellow Christians, but to cursing people in general.  In general, all people are thus made in the likeness of God.

Evidently we need to make some kind of distinction here.  Theologians have sometimes distinguished between the image of God in the narrow or moral sense and the image of God in the broader sense.  Ephesians 4:24 refers to the former; Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 refer to the latter.  The fall into sin shattered the imago Dei in the moral sense and horrifically vandalized (but didn’t obliterate) it in the broader sense.  Sin has affected both, but to varying degrees.  Regeneration begins to restore and refresh both.

One reason why a proper understanding of the imago Dei is so important is that it directly relates to human dignity.  Being image-bearers means that we human beings all have inherent dignity and worth.  Our value comes not from who we are in ourselves, but because of who we were created to reflect.  As Psalm 8 poetically states, we were created as the pinnacle of God’s creation, second only to the Creator himself.  So, when we look around us at our fellow human beings, we are looking at the image of our Creator.  Though shattered and vandalized, it’s still there and therefore they’re all valuable.  For each precious image-bearer, God wants us all to be part of his image restoration project through the sharing of the gospel.


I Believe in Theistic Evolution

My most recent post at Creation Without Compromise.

Creation Without Compromise

I recently realized I believe in/affirm theistic evolution.  Depending on your perspective, have I sold out or have I finally come to my senses?  Neither.  Let me explain.

It has long perturbed me that those who affirm or allow for Darwinian macroevolution to be compatible with a biblical worldview will sometimes call themselves “creationists” or will claim to believe in/affirm biblical creation.  They do this knowing that biblical creation is usually understood to refer to a view that holds to God having created in six ordinary days on a timescale of some thousands (rather than millions or billions) of years ago.  By claiming to believe in creation they lay concerns to rest, whereas all they have really done is disguise their true position.

Stephen C. Meyer has helped me to see I could do the same thing with theistic evolution.  Meyer wrote the “Scientific and Philosophical Introduction” to Theistic Evolution:…

View original post 637 more words