Rejecting Either/Or

lamoureux-coverDenis Lamoureux has a new book out: Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! In this engaging and readable book he builds on his strong background in biology and theology to explore the question of evolutionary creation. The first chapter, Trapped in “Either/Or” Thinking sets the stage. Denis opens with the story of a student in class angry at her parents, Christian school, and pastors for teaching her that “Satan had concocted the so-called theory of evolution,” that she “had to choose between evolution and creation” and that “evolutionists cannot be true Christians.” He moves on to tell his personal story of being raised as a Christian then becoming an atheist in college convinced that evolution was true and that Christianity wasn’t. He returned to faith while in the military stationed on Cyprus, but was still trapped in either/or thinking. He became convinced that evolution was a lie against which Christians should battle and believed that all “real” Christians accepted a young earth and a six day creation.

Denis felt called to engage in the battle between science (evolution) and Christian faith. He began by pursuing a PhD in theology. In this course of study he learned to view the Bible through eyes of faith, but more sophistication; after being shaken to the core by a revered professor: “one day after class I cornered my professor in a hallway and asked him directly, “What do you think about the idea that the world was created in six literal days about six thousand years ago?” He answered bluntly, “It is an error.” I can still remember how the word “error” rattled my soul. … This was the very first time in my life I had met a real Christian who said that creation in six days is wrong.” (p. 28) This was a first step toward understanding.

Willing to accept an old earth, evolution still seemed a worthy foe, synonymous with atheism. A second PhD in biology, focused on the evolution of the jaw, convinced him that the theory of evolution is grounded in solid empirical evidence. Transitional fossils abound when one knows what to look for. Denis outlines some of this evidence in his second chapter Opening God’s Two Books. He started this journey with conviction of a call from the Lord to defeat evolution and defend (young earth) creation. He goes on: “In retrospect, I now see that God did indeed call me to attack atheistic interpretations of evolution and defend the belief that the world is his creation.” (p. 44) The mature call as he now understands it didn’t take the form he had originally imagined, but God spoke to him where he was and prepared him for the task.

The power of language. As Christians we pursue truth, and either/or thinking – the false dichotomy of evolution or creation is not a productive way to pursue truth. To see this it is useful to carefully define some terms. Denis starts here in chapter three.

Creation is a religious belief not a scientific statement. Belief in creation only requires belief in a creator. “The Christian doctrine of creation does not deal with how the world was created, but rather focuses on who created it.” (p. 47) Denis fleshes this out with a discussion of the doctrine of creation.

Evolution is a scientific theory. As such it is neither theist or atheist. “It simply asserts that the cosmos and living organisms, including humans, arose through natural processes over billions of years.” (p. 48) Evolution includes the evolution of the cosmos, the geological evolution of the earth, and biological evolution of the diversity of life. The science itself doesn’t address the question of a creator. It deals only with the physical processes. In chapter two, discussing his work in embryology and jaw development, Denis references Psalm 139:13-14: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. As Christians we don’t separate natural development from God’s action in our formation as persons in our mother’s womb. “We believe that the Lord creates every person through his ordained and sustained embryological mechanisms.” (p. 42) Likewise we can picture God creating the heavens, the earth and the diversity of life through “natural” evolutionary processes.

Even though these three sciences dealing with evolution do not make any mention of God, I firmly believe that every natural process discovered by evolutionary scientists was ordained by the Creator. I also believe that God sustained these processes during billions of years of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution. (p. 49)

Purpose. The scientific terms for purpose and lack of purpose are teleology and dysteleology. As Christians we believe that there is a purpose to the world – we base our teleology on God not science. The lack of purpose, or dysteleology, is likewise a belief statement not a strictly scientific statement. Denis argues that evolution, despite the claims of some atheists and some Christians, is not inherently dysteleological.

Intelligent design. The next chapter will dig more deeply into the concept of intelligent design. Here Denis makes the point that the bible and most Christians affirm intelligent design in the sense that God intelligently designed the cosmos. However, “Intelligent design is a religious belief, it is not a scientific theory. And, no, design is not scientifically detectable.” (p. 54)

lamoureux-3-2Metaphysics/Physics. Finally Denis introduces the Metaphysics-Physics principle. The figure to the right is based on Figure 3-2 in the book. Denis argues that it is important to realize that metaphysics and physics are complementary. Physics deals with the study of nature. “To employ the Greek word for “nature,” science investigates phusis. The English terms “physics” and “physical” are derived from it. (p. 55) Science, based on observations and experiments, theories and laws, explores the nature of our cosmos. We have learned a great deal, and we continue to learn. Metaphysics moves beyond physics. “The Greek preposition “meta” carries the meanings “after,” behind,” and “beyond.” Therefore, after we have finished our scientific investigations, we inevitably think about metaphysics and ultimate beliefs that are behind or beyond the physical world.” (p. 56) Acts of faith, accompanied by both intuition and reason, connect physics and metaphysics.

Christians make an upward step of faith connecting physics to religious belief in a purposeful and designed world. Atheists make an upward step of faith connecting physics to a random and dysteleological world. We also all make downwards steps of faith connecting our belief in purpose and design or lack of purpose and design to the scientific observations.

Creationists are not those who reject evolution and possibly believe in a young earth. Creationists are those who believe in a creator. Evolutionists are not those who reject creation, but those who accept the scientific theory of evolution. It is possible to be both an evolutionist and a creationist. Denis introduced the term Evolutionary Creation to describe his belief (more on this later).

How would you respond to the argument that creation and evolution are mutually exclusive?

Does the discussion of metaphysics and physics as complementary realms of knowledge make sense?

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