An Evolving Foundation

May 19, 2017

by Scott Oliphint

In the modern period, there has been a concerted and, to some extent, successful effort to divorce science from religion, especially from Christianity. As we noted, that effort moved with lightning speed after the introduction of the theory of evolution.

The subject of evolution could occupy volumes. We will be brief in our discussion. There were evolutionary theories prior to Darwin and many that developed since Darwin. As a general rule, when the term “evolution” is used, it almost always includes the idea of an unguided process of species development and change. There are theories of evolution that are “theistic.” They suppose that a god guided the process from the beginning. For the vast majority of people, however, “evolution” means an unguided process of biological development.

Without question, evolution has become the dominant concept in biology and other like sciences. Not only is it dominant, but for some it is the only respectable position to hold.  The noted scientist Richard Dawkins in his enthusiastic support of evolution, said, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

Though Dawkins may be speaking in hyperbole, Christians recognize that to say you don’t believe in evolution is like saying you don’t believe in air or sunshine. Such a statement will normally produce, for those who hear it, either pity or vitriol. You will be looked at as either naïve or ignorant. How could someone not believe in evolution in the twenty-first century?

How could someone not believe in evolution in the twenty-first century?

Stating the Challenge

There are a multitude of answers to that question, but we should recognize a couple of things in response. First, the theory of evolution itself has gone through numerous changes and mutations since its ascendancy in the last hundred years. The theory of evolution is actually numerous theories of evolution, each one attempting to explain how life can begin with something that is nonliving. Second, the main reason that Darwin’s theory caught on and developed is not, in the first place, because it was a completely new and previously never conceived theory. Ideas like Darwin’s can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Greece.

Instead, the main reason Darwin’s ideas were affirmed and promoted is because they were planted in the soil of the Enlightenment. Since the Enlightenment was intent on abolishing all external authority and was wanting to find the answers to life’s questions by way of human reasoning and experimentation alone, evolution was the significant hinge that allowed the Enlightenment door to swing open as wide as possible. With a theory of evolution in place, we could all now affirm that from the beginning to the end of life, we are in no need of a god. The world, as a matter of fact, runs on its own steam and is not a product of any causing and controlling deity.

But there is a problem with this Enlightenment/evolution view. The problem is not its popularity; that much is certain. Dawkins’s statement shows how strongly people hold to some view of evolution. The problem is that the theory is utterly incoherent.

The incoherence is this. Someone who believes that evolution is a random and chance-produced process believes also that the universe is only natural (not in any way supernatural) and only made up of matter, or “material” (nothing immaterial or spiritual). Everything that we believe, on this view, is produced somehow by the material that makes up a human being. All of our beliefs are a product of the matter that composes our bodies.

Evolutionary Incoherence 

Now let’s suppose this is true: Everything we believe is produced only by the material of our bodies. Then the question to ask is, How can we have any guarantee that our beliefs are true? Certainly, what we believe might help us in adapting to our environment, and evolution loves the notion of adaptability. But whether our beliefs are true cannot be determined simply through the material workings of our brains and bodies. What our brains produce would be no more than the random production of bubbles in a carbonated drink. In each case, the outcome is simply a product of the material that has been randomly put together and produced in us.

Any theory that is based only on the natural and the material will never be able to make sense of the world.

Belief in unguided evolution that some cling to so tightly is itself a product of a random collection of bodily materials. It has no more to commend it than the random, chemical production of carbonated bubbles. It may provide a way for us to affirm that anything we believe is true. Though the theory of evolution is embraced, inculcated, and celebrated by so many, the reality is that it has no foundation. It has no way to make sense of its own theory. And a theory that cannot make sense of itself is, by definition, incoherent. To have no foundation is not simply an academic problem; it is a problem that goes to the very heart of what is true and why it is true.

I can illustrate the problem of a lack of foundation this way. I was speaking one evening to a group of university students about the Bible and about God’s revelation in all of creation. After the meeting was over, I went to the back to the room to get some coffee. A man came up to me and introduced himself as one of the professors of physics at the university. He also told me that he was an atheist. But then he said something that was remarkable. He said, “What struck me about your talk is that as I teach physics as an atheist, I have no way to affirm or argue why the laws of physics are the way they are. All I can teach are the laws.” This man recognized that even though he was an accomplished physicist, he had no way, no foundation, that could guarantee him that the laws were laws and that the world would continue to run in a regular and predictable pattern. All he could do was state the laws.

This is why the theory of unguided evolution cannot have a solid ground. People have, for thousands of years, recognized that the world, the universe, needs some kinds of organizing and unifying principle if we are going to study it and affirm its laws and its potential. Without such a principle, all we have is a random series of events that just happen to produce something we now call human beings. Only an Enlightenment mentality could embrace and promote the idea of unguided evolution. Any theory that is based only on the natural and the material will never be able to make sense of the world. No matter how loudly it shouts, “This is true!” there remains no place to stand. It is shouting into the void.

Finding a Foundation 

In the history of science, the recognition of a unifying principle of nature found its true home in Christianity. Christianity gives us a true beginning point, a genesis, for a proper understanding of human life. In Christianity, we find out that God created human beings in a singularly unique way, by breathing in the breath of life. That in-breathing distinguished human beings from everything else in God’s creation. It also embodied human beings firmly in God’s creation as those who were meant to oversee and tend the rest of what God has made (Gen. 1:28–30).

Given the historical novelty of modern science, together with the incoherence of evolutionary theories, the real question to ask is not why someone would believe Christianity in the face of modern science, but why someone would believe modern science in the face of Christianity. The answer is all too obvious. The Enlightenment was not an argument that human beings were self-sufficient; it was a declaration that they wanted to be. Modern science has done nothing to discredit the truths of Christianity; it has simply dismissed them.

Belief in Christianity, unlike belief in unguided evolution, has a foundation.

As we have seen, Richard Dawkins provides a clear example of this kind of declaration. In his book The God Delusion, he says this: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” This is not a statement of open-minded and “scientific” curiosity, nor is it a statement of “scientific” objectivity.

Anyone who thinks as Dawkins does, or in similar ways, will be all too happy to embrace a theory that leaves such a God completely out of the universe. The problem is that for Dawkins, any pettiness, any unjust, unforgiving, vindictive, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal behavior on the part of any person, anywhere, at any time, can only be a product of their material and natural makeup. If that is true, then these characteristics are no more important or morally repulsive than randomly produced carbonated bubbles. It is difficult to see, on Dawkins’s own theory, why any of these kinds of materially produced behaviors are a problem.

Belief in Christianity, unlike belief in unguided evolution, has a foundation. Its foundation is what God has said, first in his Word and also his world. With that foundation, science can be grounded. Without it, there is no place left for the scientist to stand. He is unable to produce the coherence needed for science to thrive.

This piece is adapted from K. Scott Oliphint, Know Why You Believe, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 154–159. Used with permission of the publisher.

Scott Oliphint

Dr. Oliphint (PhD, Westminster) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at WTS.

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