Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: More Than Myth?

Review: More than Myth? Seeking the Full Truth about Genesis, Creation, and Evolution, P.D. Brown and R. Stackpole, editors (Chartwell Press, 2014).

This recent book defends Old-Earth Creationism (OEC), also known as "Progressive Creationism". It consists of 11 chapters, written by 7 different authors, including one by Dr Hugh Ross. It is edited by Dr Paul Brown, science professor at Trinity Western University, and Dr Robert Stackpole, a Roman Catholic theologian.

The authors presume that mainstream science is basically correct in its view of history (e.g., the earth is taken to be billions of years old), but that God directly intervened at various times, starting life and creating new species. The Genesis creation story is said to "more than myth", giving us a paradigm within which to explain the scientific evidence. The book thus aims to give us a middle position, between theistic evolution (TE) and young earth creationism (YEC).

1. Problems with Evolution

One chapter, by Casey Luskin, gives a useful review of top scientific problems with chemical and biological evolution. These problems are:

1: No viable mechanism to generate a primordial soup.
2: Unguided chemical processes cannot explain the origin of the genetic code.
3: Random mutations cannot generate the genetic information required for irreducibly complex structure.
4: Natural selection struggles to fix advantageous traits into populations.
5: Abrupt appearance of species in the fossil record does not support Darwinian evolution.
6: Modern biology has failed to yield a grand "tree of life."
7: Convergent evolution challenges Darwinism and destroys the logic behind common ancestry.
8: Differences between vertebrate embryos contradict the predictions of common ancestry.
9: Neo-Darwinism struggles to explain the biogeographical distribution of many species.
10: Neo-Darwinism has a long history of inaccurate predictions about vestigial organs and "junk DNA."
11: Humans display many behaviors and cognitive abilities that offer no apparent survival advantage.

How about theistic evolution? Could God have used evolution as a means of creation?

Michael Chaberek, in his chapter, thinks not. He considers two versions of theistic evolution. In the first, God directly creates only the first living organism, "front-loaded" with enough extra information so that, over billions of years, it generates all other species, using purely natural laws. Chaberek doubts whether it is possible for early organisms to survive if they are carrying massive amounts of extra DNA which are to be used only much later on in the evolutionary process. A second possibility, where God "guides" evolution, requires His constant supernatural action. This, Chaberek concludes, boils down to just another form of creationism. 

Here Chaberek omits a third possibility, where God "front-loads" the universe at the initial creation, so that, later on, various molecules meet at just the right place and time to form the first cell. God could have fine-tuned this initial "front-loading" to  ensure that, at set times, cosmic rays, for example, will hit organisms at just the right place so as to cause genetic mutations leading to higher life forms. In this model of theistic evolution, God is needed only to supernaturally set just the right physical constants and initial conditions. Thereafter, the universe evolves via purely natural laws. The main problem with this form of theistic evolution is that it contradicts what God tells us His Word.

2. Interpreting Genesis 1

Several authors argue against the Literary Framework view of Genesis 1, contending that the creation days are sequential and chronological. Nevertheless, none defend literal days. They maintain that the YEC rejection of so many scientific findings entails that the universe was created with a deceptive "appearance of age." This they deem inconsistent with the nature of the Biblical God. 

Instead, the authors promote the "day-age" view of Genesis 1. 

Aside from Biblical shortcomings (e.g., Gen.1:5 defines the creation day to be a period of light followed by a period of darkness), the scientific problem with this position is that the order of events in Genesis is quite different from that of mainstream science. 

For example, Genesis has the order: Day 3 - grasses and fruit-trees; Day 4 - Sun; Day 5 - fish and whales ("sea creatures, great sea creatures"), Day 6 - land mammals and reptiles ("livestock, creeping things, beasts of the earth"). 

Mainstream science, on the other hand, has the order: Sun (5 billion years ago), fish (440 million years ago), reptiles (360 million years ago), land mammals (120 mya), grasses and fruit trees (40-65 mya), and whales (40 mya). 

To get around this, Hugh Ross and Greg Moore, in their chapters, postulate that Day 4 denotes when the Sun first became visible on the surface of the earth, not when it was created. However, according to mainstream science this event took place some 2.5 billion years ago, still well before the fruit trees of Day 3. 

Further, Moore restricts the sea creatures on Day 5 to only marine mammals (e.g., whales), and the "creeping things" of Day 6 to only rodents. Fish and reptiles thus need no longer be accounted for, as they are then not specified in Genesis 1. Yet, since each day's work is finished before the next commences, this still entails that all grasses and grains were created before all marine mammals, who in turn preceded all land mammals. This order still clashes with that of mainstream science.

In short, the day-age theory has problems with both Scripture and mainstream science.

3. An Historical Adam and Eve

The book argues for a literal Adam and Eve, directly created and with no animal ancestors, from whom all other humans descended. Dr Fazale Rana, in his chapter, counters scientific claims that genetic evidence proves (1) human descent from lower life forms and (2) human population size was never less than 10,000. He contends that the genetic diversity could well be explained in terms of an initial human pair. Robert Stackpole shows how theistic evolutionary views of Adam Eve (e.g., symbolic or evolution-plus-ensoulment) contradict Scripture, distort the nature of God, and cloud the doctrine of salvation. 

All this is very good. The problems start when Rana and Stackpole defend their own OEC position. For example, one might ask: when was Adam created? and what are we to make of hominids before and after Adam?

On the basis of genetic evidence, Rana puts the origins of humanity at about 150,000 BC. Nevertheless, on the basis of archaeology, he opts to place the creation of Adam at 40,000 BC, with the appearance of sophisticated tools and art. To accommodate this with Genesis 5 & 11, he asserts that the Genesis genealogies (which put Abraham about 2000 years after Adam) are not meant to be chronological but have only a theological function.

Adam and Eve (created at 40,000 BC) are said to have been the first creatures that uniquely bore God's image. All other hominids (including presumably human look-a-likes before and after 40,000 BC, Neanderthals who lived until 20,000 BC, etc.) were mere animals, created by God for some purpose, but allowed to become extinct. According to Rana, "they were not spiritual beings made in God's image." 

Adam, though virtually identical in DNA to his hominid neighbours, is said to differ in rationality, behaviour, and communication skills. Is that plausible? Mainstream neuro-science claims spiritual properties (thinking, willing, feeling) are all products of the brain, which is in turn determined by genetics. On that basis, one might expect Adam's DNA to differ significantly from that of his soul-less look-a-likes. 

Further, what does Rana do with the Australian aborigines, who, according to mainstream science, have been in Australia continuously since 50,000 BC? They could hardly have originated from an Adam dating from 40,000 BC. 

In sum, the authors fail to construct a plausible scenario that fits the Biblical Adam (let alone a Biblical Noah) into mainstream history.

4. Intelligent Design

The chapter by Paul Brown defends intelligent design (ID) as an alternative to evolution, or, at least, to the notion that the whole of life can be explained as one continuous, strictly natural process. ID claims that actions of agents in this universe may leave marks--features of design-- distinguishable from actions of natural laws alone. Design can be found in the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe so as to make life possible. It can also be in the amazing complexity of even the simplest cell. In particular, design is indicated by the fact that life is full of codes and information. There is much similarity between biological systems and systems such as language and computing, which involve intelligent agents.

These are pertinent points. Nevertheless, ID as such does not rule out the possibility that the designer may have used evolution, perhaps via our example of "front-loaded" theistic evolution, as outlined above.


One minor drawback is that the book has no index. Also, the end-notes for each chapter are all placed at the end of the book. This makes them inconvenient to access; it would have been better to have them as footnotes on the bottom of the page.

This book contains useful information and interesting ideas. However, in its goal to develop a plausible third way, I believe it falls short. One the one hand, its proposed reading of Genesis is unconvincing, too much constrained to fit the OEC agenda. On the other hand, even its revised reading of Genesis still clashes with mainstream chronology.   


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