THE ILLOGIC OF CREATIONISM
by L R B MANN
The word 'evolution' has become, for some Christians, a
provocation. They have been led to believe that evolution is essentially
an atheistic idea. This misunderstanding has been misused for much
VisioNetworkNZ leader Glyn Carpenter writes (DayStar Sept 03) that
the creationist/evolution argument is "also referred to as the young earth
/ old earth debate". This is an unfortunate confusion. Let's get a clear
understanding of what the terms mean, and what are the various main
beliefs, connected with evolution.
Two main sub-sects of "creationism" exist. One version of
"creationism" asserts not only that all species were created in 6 days but
also that this brief period of biological creation occurred less than
10,000 years ago. That is 'young earth creationism' (YEC). 'Old earth
creationism' (OEC), exemplified by Hugh Ross's 'Reasons to Believe'
organisation of S. Calif., acknowledges the scientific evidence that the
Earth is much, much older, but also asserts like YEC that evolution has not
occurred. The difference between these two sub-sects is of some interest,
but it is different from the dispute between those who believe in evolution
and those who refuse to believe that evolution has occurred.
These differing views on evolution and creation can be diagrammed
as a logic-tree, to be read from the bottom:
theistic evolution OEC YEC
x x x
theism deism atheism
x x x
x x x
The diagram summarises the main logical options.
Start reading it at the bottom.
You can believe in God, or not; this is the basic, most important,
choice in the logic-tree.
If you choose the atheism fork, you can then try like Dawkins etc
to explain how the incomparable coherent complexity of ecosystems, or even
just the functions of a humble bacterial flagellum, could have evolved by
the workings of physical & chemical laws, with no creative planning.
If instead you choose to believe in God, you have an option of a
largely defunct view, deism, holding that God did create the universe but
that he then turned it loose, like a clockwork toy he had wound up and left
to run by the natural laws which he'd created. By contrast, theism holds
that God not only created the universe but also sustains & guides it from
moment to moment.
The tendency known as creationism is - though not usually billed
as such by its adherents - a version of deism in its purported
explanation of life. Proceeding up the logic-tree, within the creationism
branch, we find the two versions, YEC and OEC, holding that, at least
regarding the creation of species of organism, God did it all at the start
and has not done any more creation since then. Although most creationists
are theists because they believe in God's continuing involvement in the
world (in the Incarnation, the Resurrection, God's responses to prayer,
etc), they are deists in their biology - they believe creation was
completed at the start.
Both YEC and OEC are opposed to the mainstream Christian view,
which is theistic evolution, combining traditional theology with scientific
findings that the different types of organism have been created at
successive times over several billion years. God as the maker & sustainer
of the universe is affirmed by theistic evolution. To me as a Christian,
physical & chemical laws are an expression of creative planning, not an
alternative to it. Dawkins just has to accept them as an extraordinary
brute fact, the origin of which he studiously ignores.
Theistic evolution results from reading both the book of scripture
and the book of nature. It relies on faith that God will not mislead us if
we examine honestly what we find in strata, fossils, molecules, and other
aspects of nature that allow us to infer past processes in biology.
Creationists have misrepresented these scientific findings in many ways
(and as a scientist I deeply deplore that misbehaviour, documented in e.g.
Prof. Ian Plimer's book 'Telling Lies for God'). But it is their logic
that is the prime defect of creationism, falsely counterposing the concepts
of creation "vs." evolution, implying that they are somehow incompatible.
Where in this logic-tree does Intelligent Design fit? Exemplified
by the video 'Unlocking the Mystery of Life' and the writings of William
Dembski, this approach to explaining life confines itself to what is called
natural theology, i.e. reading the book of nature with intent to infer
properties of the designer(s). ID's effect is thus at the base of the
logic-tree, helping those who have yet to decide whether organisms are
caused by merely material processes or are designed. This is the Argument
to Design developed by William Paley two centuries ago. It is fine as far
as it goes but is only a tiny, if basic, part of theistic evolution as set
forth by leading Christian scholars such as William Temple, Sir Alister
Hardy, and our own John Morton (see 'Man, Science and God', Collins 1972).
Another leading scholar in natural theology, but taking a broader view than
Dembski expounds, is Neil Broom of the University of Auckland (see 'How
Blind Is the Watchmaker?' IVP 2001). Broom expounds the Argument to
Design as well as anyone, while seeing no theological difficulty in an
ancient biosphere and evolution as shown by science.
My essay available at <http://www.spc.org.nz/Science.asp>
maintains - following Morton - that a more intelligible, direct &
conclusive argument is to insist on all four causes as required to explain
life, rather than relying principally on gaps in scientific understanding
of the evolution of bacterial flagella etc.