Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dr Jelsma Proposes Adam AND Evolution

Dr Tony Jelsma, biology professor at Dordt College, and one of the editors of the Reformed Academic blog, has just posted a series of three articles on, “Religion and Science – A Reformed Perspective”.  A few years ago Dr. Jelsma argued for non-literal creation days and a local Flood. Now he moves on to address the question of the historical Adam.

Dr Jelsma's basic point is that the same God reveals His work through both the scientific study of creation and His Word. Hence they should not conflict. 

Scripture, Dr Jelsma affirms, is infallible and speaks more clearly than creation. Unhappily, however, he effectively silences Scripture by stressing that our human interpretation of Scripture is always fallible. He rejects the notion that, in case of a perceived conflict, Scripture should always trump science. 

Regarding human origins, Dr Jelsma notes, on the one hand, the traditional view that Adam was the father of the human race and his circumstances were exactly as described in Genesis 2-4. He grants the theological consequences of denying a literal Adam:
"If there was no Adam, how can we explain the Fall as the cause of our depraved human condition? How is original sin transmitted through the human race, if not biologically from parent to child? How do we explain (away) Paul’s evident belief in a literal Adam as described in Romans?"
On the other hand, mainstream science asserts that humans evolved from apes. According to Dr Jelsma, the fossil record and genetic evidence argue that the line leading from apes to humans never contained fewer than a few thousand individuals; there never were only two humans. Although Dr Jelsma acknowledges that our knowledge of biology is incomplete, and wonders about the reliability of calculations in population genetics, he does not deny these claims.

How should this clash be resolved?

Commendably, Dr.Jelsma does not want to reject the biblical Adam. But neither does he reject the evolutionary view of human origins.

Instead, he proposes that we "suspend judgment and wait for further understanding." Meanwhile, he seems to accept both views as true. Dr Jelsma grants that this position is difficult, forcing him to maintain a state of "cognitive dissonance" (i.e., mental stress induced by holding two contradictory beliefs). He concludes
"If we are to bring about not just d├ętente between religion and science but the recognition that all knowledge comes from God, considerable humility is required. We cannot understand everything, yet I believe we are called to bring together these two ways of understanding God’s revelation as much as our limited capacities will allow." 
What are we to make of this? A few comments are in order.

1. Science and worldview
Dr Jelsma contends that it seems "disingenuous" (i.e., dishonest, two-faced) to reap the practical benefits of science in daily life (e.g., medicine, technology) while at the same time denying the validity of that same science when it concerns origins. 

But he ignores the huge difference between technology, which is based on experimental science done in the lab, and the speculations of historical science, which require various unverifiable assumptions about the unobserved past. Even the well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged:
Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

The scientific know-how needed to make smart-phones is much better established than, say, the claim that humans evolved from apes.

Further, by "science" Dr Jelsma means mainstream science, which he virtually equates with divine revelation. In so doing, he neglects the fact that mainstream historical science is based on naturalism. Naturalism is an anti-biblical worldview that assumes everything can be explained in terms of purely natural causes, and which rejects the Bible as a source of reliable knowledge.

In science, trustworthy observational data always trump scientific theories. Since we affirm the Bible to be God's inerrant testimony about the historical events it relates, the Bible should therefore guide our scientific theorizing about the past. It is not a question of science versus the Bible, but a question of naturalist-based (mainstream) science versus Bible-based science.

2. Cognitive Dissonance
Dr Jelsma's proposal reflects that of Reformed Academic (April 27, 2010):
"...one can hold both that the theory of biological evolution and the text of Genesis 1-2 are true by suspending judgment as to how they fit together.This is the position Dr. Jitse van der Meer takes in “Humankind: The Image of God and Animal Ancestry”." (see my post Reformed Doublethink)
This is a very convenient stance. It allows one to affirm belief in the Reformed Confessions, including an inerrant Bible, thereby retaining credibility in Reformed circles, while at the same time affirming evolution, thereby gaining credibility in worldly academia.

However, it seems rather disingenuous, to use Dr. Jelsma's word. How can one genuinely hold two conflicting beliefs? One or the other must ultimately prevail, reducing the other to mere lip-service.

Nor is it Reformed. The Belgic Confession stresses that we are to believe without any doubt all things in the Bible (Art.5) and to reject with all our heart whatever does not agree with it (Art.7).This clearly rules out any "suspension of judgment" between a biblical teaching and its worldly opposite. Remember also the words of Christ, "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24), and Elijah, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."  (1 Kings 18:21).

For more on the Reformed view on how God's works relate to His Word, see my post God's Two Books and History.

The genuinely Reformed choice is simple: 
Either (1) we believe what the Bible says, and we respond by rejecting anything contrary to it, 
or (2) we don't.

In sum, I am disappointed to find Dr Jelsma's claim to present a Reformed perspective on science and religion to be unwarranted. 

1 comment:

G.I. Williamson said...

The fact that a College Professor can embrace intellectual schizophrenia as his solution to the conflict between evolution and the Bible is just another reason why I'm convinced the Westminster Assembly when they said God created the universe out of nothing, by the word of his power, in six days and all very good. That is what the Bible clearly teaches, and we who are Reformed have solemnly vowed to always affirm the clear teaching of Scripture regardless of what the currently accepted 'scientific' consensus happens to be. It is sad to see this so openly abandoned.