Thursday, February 7, 2013

Overview of Origins

Review: Mapping the Origins Debate : Six Models of the Beginning of Everything by Gerald Rau (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill, USA, paperback, 236 pages).

As the title suggests, this book gives an overview of the debate about origins. The author, Gerald Rau examines the scientific evidence in the light of six models. (A model is a conceptual framework, a set of assumptions, for understanding a phenomenon). Dr. Rau's aim is to show that our preference is dictated more by our religious and philosophical presuppositions than by the actual scientific evidence. He hopes thereby to foster more understanding among adherents of the various models. Dr Rau has a Ph.D. (plant breeding) from Cornell University.

1. Overview
Dr Rau begins by stressing that our worldview affects our science. Science uses data and logic, but also needs a foundation of underlying philosophical presuppositions. Therefore, the crucial issue in the origins debate is which presuppositions guide our science. Rau outlines six models:

1. Naturalistic Evolution (NE). Assumes there is no supernatural being.

2. Non-teleological Evolution (NTE). God exists, but has no plan for the universe and does not intervene (John Haught).

3. Planned Evolution (PE). God created the universe to unfold according to plan, but He does not intervene (Howard van Till, Francis Collins).

4. Directed Evolution (DE). God uses evolution, but sometimes intervenes (Michael Behe).

5. Old Earth Creationism (OEC). The universe is old, and God directly created various species, particularly humans (Hugh Ross).

6. Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Note that Rau carefully distinguishes here between three forms of theistic evolution. Since the first two (NTE and PE) assume only natural causes, they are scientifically identical to naturalistic evolution (NE). Only DE (directed evolution) allows for supernatural interaction in the evolutionary process.

Next, Rau discusses how these models handle the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe, of life, of species, and of humans. According to Rau, the universe appears to be expanding, with an apparent age of 13.8 billion years. It is fine-tuned for the existence of life, but no plausible mechanism for a naturalistic origin of life has yet been found. There is great similarity between living things. Small-scale (micro) evolution has no doubt occurred between closely related species. Yet, whether large-scale (macro) evolution has occurred, and whether all living things have a common ancestor, remain open questions.

Regarding the origin of humans, the only real data is a rather small number of fossils and artifacts. Classifying, dating, and relating these all involve varying degrees of inference. Thus the different models will interpret the evidence quite differently. Particularly here, issues involving theology and personal identity are closely interconnected with our view of origins.

Dr. Rau concludes that no model satisfactorily answers all the scientific questions. But each model does contribute something by stressing different portions of the evidence, and pointing out weaknesses in the other models. So they can all learn from each other. Ultimately, Rau notes, each model is closely tied to a particular theological interpretation of Scripture. Thus, changing one's model requires changing also one's view of Scripture. Rau does not explicitly support any specific model. Instead he urges that adherents of the various models be less dogmatic about their position, and more understanding of other views.

The book has an appendix, with some useful tables summarizing the various models, as well as a glossary of the technical terms used.

2. Evaluation
This book gives a good overview of the various models of origins. It clearly shows that our philosophical starting point dictates how we do science, and how we explain the scientific evidence. Dr Rau is best when discussing biological issues, his specialty. In cosmology, I find that he minimizes problems with big bang cosmology, and downplays the feasibility of alternative cosmologies.

If our view of origins depends on our theology, as Rau rightly asserts, then it is crucial to examine the theological implications of the various models. What do they entail regarding Biblical authority, hermeneutics, and Christian doctrine?

Unhappily, the weakest part of this book is its fuzzy treatment of these questions. For example, Dr Rau points out that the denial of the Biblical Adam affects our doctrines of sin and redemption. Yet he simply dismisses these doctrines as only human creations, not divine revelation. Moreover, he seems to suggest that, since we cannot know the mind of the original author, we should reserve judgment on alternative interpretations of the Bible.

However, if our science depends on our worldview, then there are really only two options: (1) mainstream science, based on naturalism, or (2) theistic science, based squarely on the Bible.

It is noteworthy that the only model that Dr Rau associates with an inerrant word of God is YEC (young earth creationism).That puts the choice between either NE (naturalist evolution) or YEC. The other models reflect various degrees of compromise between naturalism and Christianity. Rau contrasts YEC, which interprets external evidence is in terms of the Bible, with OEC (old earth creationism), which often interprets the Bible in terms of external evidence. The theistic evolution models go even further.

Here one might well ask, why should Christians re-interpret their Bible in terms of “evidence” that is selected and interpreted from an anti-biblical, naturalistic perspective? And, once we start embracing naturalistic science, where do we stop? As the past century has amply shown, churches that embrace evolution generally end up denying fundamental tenets of Christianity.

In sum, Dr. Rau's plea for Christians to be more open to other models and theologies is unlikely to be heeded by many adherents of YEC. To them, such exhortation to question the plain reading of Scripture is merely a modern version of that sly old challenge: “Did God really say?


Steve Drake said...

Good review! Since Kant, human autonomy is thought to be the final and ultimate reference point in all predication. The presupposition for assigning meaning and value to anything from his methodology has been the human being himself/herself, and not God. Van Til has said that if Kant were right in his view that human reason is ultimate, then there could be no science at all.

Rau is indeed correct that our worldview affects our science, and that science needs a foundation of underlying philosophical presuppositions. It beggars belief that the Christian in believing the unregenerate man's conclusions about the data, is thus clueless and/or willingly ignorant about the philosophical presuppositions that drives and produces those conclusions in the first place.

JohnV said...

Mr. Drake:

May I ask (not that I say you argue this, but for the sake of discussion) whether a science that is driven by, or is dependent on, worldview or philosophical foundation can actually be called science?

To suggest that it does begs the question, doesn't it?

Predication upon worldview, or philosophical predispositions, rules that the results are no more sure than the predication. Who knows what drives the worldview? It might be culture, or parentage, or social changes, or any number of forces outside the realm of an assumed autonomy.

Science founded on worldview cannot really be science at all, because its results are as tenuous as the worldview upon which it is founded. We might all call it science, but is it science? I say that it isn't.

But I do not deny that real science is possible: it surely is possible.

I think that is what makes this website so important to the members of the church: that they won't be carried away by high-sounding doctrines of men, or by men who teach doctrines predicated on their worldviews instead of the Word of God.


Steve Drake said...

Hi JohnV.,
Not sure what you're getting at. Asking for clarification. Are you arguing against Van Til's presuppositionalism?

Jesus, it seems to me, after His Sermon on the Mount, indicates (Matt. 7:13-14, 15-23, 24-27) that we're either in one of two kingdoms. In the example of the narrow vs. wide gate, good fruit vs. bad fruit, and a foundation built on solid rock vs. sand, a contrast is drawn between those who will enter and those who will not enter the kingdom.

Human autonomy, in large part seen through Kant, says that truth is determined by unaided human reason; that the human mind is the only proper interpreter of experience. This seems to me, to be the raison d'etre of all non-Christian thought, and is what Christ asks of everyone who comes to faith in Him to acknowledge and bow the knee.

Do you take exception to this?

JohnV said...

Mr. Drake:

All I'm asking is whether a conclusion of science that is predicated on worldview can actually be called a factual conclusion, whether it can be called science proper. A conclusion is only as strong as its weakest premise.

My question, therefore, centres around the idea of appealing to authority rather than to facts: predication on worldview must appeal to authority, i.e. "most scientists agree that...". This view says that there is no real science since everything depends on worldview.

I'm suggesting that Dr. Rau's list of models denies real science since he does not recognize worldview dependent on fact.

Does it follow that there is no such thing as real belief in God also? Does it too depend on worldview?

Dr. Rau is only listing models of the beginning, and each one is dependent on worldview: I follow what is being said. But it is as if worldview dependent on believing the truth does not exist in his eyes. It is missing from his list. We do not agree with that, do we?


Steve Drake said...

Hi JohnV.,
I'm not sure I can answer your question as to Mr. Rau's epistemological starting point, if that's what you're asking.

Your questions, I think, border on the nature of belief, justification of belief, and what evidence Rau will admit as acceptable proof for how he claims to know what he knows.

The act of predication is presuppositionally dependent. So the question becomes, what presuppositions are you going to use to assert, affirm, proclaim, or declare knowledge of 'anything'.

The scientific answer, especially about origins, is predicated on the presupposition of human autonomy ala Kant, without relation to God's knowledge as enscribed in Scripture. For the Christian, this would be the wrong presupposition to start with.

JohnV said...

Mr. Drake:

I think we agree that the point of departure for Dr. Rau, going by the definitions of the models as Dr. Byl recapped them for us, is presuppositional.

I agree with Dr. Byl that the middle three models can be summed up into one: theistic evolution.

I suppose I take exception to the the line of argument posed by theistic evolutionists that, for example, God creating Adam can mean anything; including its opposite, that Adam had forebears, which even an allegorical meaning would otherwise conclude. That would, then, render the Bible's own testimony void of any true content on that point.

What they are saying, in effect, is that nothing at all, not even God's Word, the surest thing we have, can be beyond reasonable doubt; because understanding depends on worldview. Then they follow that up by asserting that evolution is beyond reasonable doubt.

But I would say: It can't be both!


JohnV said...


The partial sentence,
"the line of argument posed by theistic evolutionists that, for example, God creating Adam can mean anything; including its opposite, that Adam had forebears, which even an allegorical meaning would otherwise conclude."

should read,

"the line of argument posed by theistic evolutionists that, for example, God creating Adam can mean anything; including its opposite, that Adam had forebears, which even an allegorical meaning would conclude otherwise."

Steve Drake said...

Yes, I think I see your point, however a theistic evolutionist who says God could have created Adam, including its opposite, and/or forebears, doesn't understand what he's saying. It's not what God could have done, it's what He told us He did do, and your statement that it would render the Bible's testimony void of any true content correct.

We believe God's Word is the surest thing we have because we start there presuppositionally. This is not true with non-Christian thought.

The Christian who doesn't start presuppositionally with God's Word, starts someplace else. He's adopting the unregenerate man's mindset which will only lead to error in his thinking.

JohnV said...

Mr. Drake:

I agree that theistic evolutions do not know of what they are speaking. It is neither real science nor real theology.

Thank you for the exchange. My intention was not to argue whether we start with a presupposition or not; that's for another place and time. I tried to avoid that issue. Of course you assume correctly that I do not agree. But I think that's another issue.


Steve Drake said...


Have you read Dr. Byl's The Divine Challenge?

JohnV said...

Mr. Drake:

I have not read the book. I've read a review or two, so I am aware of it.

My interest here is in working together to offset the misinformation and misdirection inherently involved in fostering a theisitic evolution, not in disputing about our different views. I need to stay away from points of difference so as not to side track our mutual efforts.

I am aware of, and have discussed with Dr. Byl, the concept of beginning with worldview. He knows my position, and that I will not make it a point of departure between our mutual aim in opposing theistic evolution in our churches.

I'm not trying to excuse my laziness or ignorance. They are there despite my best efforts to fix these foibles.


Steve Drake said...

It's not just theistic evolution though, right? It's the Gap Theory, the Day-Age Theory, the Framework Hypothesis Theory, the Analogical-Day Theory, the Temple-Dominated Theory, and any and all accommodationist theories that set themselves against God's clear revelation in Scripture of 6 days recently in mature form.

We must continue to proclaim this, teach it to our children and grandchildren, in our churches and from our pulpits, for the alternatives to our gospel message from the accommodationist positions when thought through completely are disastrous.

Blessings to you brother! You ought to get a copy of Dr. Byl's book. At least if you won't read it, hand it off to one of your kids or older grandkids!

JohnV said...

Mr. Drake:

Au contraire: I never said I wouldn't read it. I think that Dr. Byl's observation about math (from Godel, as I recall) that consistency cannot be proven, works also in logic. If in the parameters of defined sets, as in whole numbers, how much more in areas where we cannot perceive the boundaries of sets, as in science and philosophy and theology?

I think this kind of critique by analysis is important, very important.

Yes, I agree that your list of theories are included in Dr. Byl's melded middle category of models.

Also blessings to you,

Thank you Dr. Byl for allowing this conversation on your blog.

John Byl said...

Hello John & Steve

Thanks for your comments and exchange. John has indicated that he would like to clarify his position to Steve directly, via personal email. Steve, if you are interested in this, please send me an email so that I can connect you two.