On Darwinism vs. Design (a response to the Richmond Center for Christian Study) {pt.1}

[Update: Part 2 has been posted]

Chris Daniel, Executive Director of the Richmond Center for Christian Study posted this article titled The Origin of Life: Darwinism vs. Design. In it, he unpacks why he thinks agreement with evolution is an incorrect posture for Christians and how “Intelligent Design” is the superior and clearer stance to take.

I consider Chris a friend. He led the Reformed University Fellowship at VCU when I went there and our campus ministries worked together on several occasions. He is a great man of God, a brilliant teacher, and an articulate apologist for the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, my feelings on this topic are no secret, and my heart has broken frequently over these discussion (and has become angered some times). As I started writing out a little comment on the post on their site, it turned into a full-fledged response, which I’ll break up into two posts today and tomorrow. Please refer to his article for any references I make that seem to have no context. Here’s part 1 of my response. Part 2 is here:

I usually don’t comment on these things, but it breaks my heart to see this written, especially by someone in such a position to heal so many wounds culturally and ecclesially. To make such secondary matters like these even have the appearance of such primary importance only further alienates the vibrant life of the mind and discourse from Christian life.

You talked of the student that was open to coming to Christ only to attend his college “Darwin Day” and then begin to struggle with it.  Perhaps that student that was so shaken over “Darwin Day” was only shaken because he was offered the exact same philosophy by the campus ministry as he was offered in his biology class: only one can be true; choose us or them. How could it be helpful to offer such an unnecessary ultimatum to our college students, and thereby only increase their chances of doubt and falling away?

Can the Bible and Science Contradict Each Other?

You said that they can, but when that happens the Bible must always win. I don’t think that phrasing is helpful. It’s not that the Bible always wins; it’s that the God that is revealed in the Bible always wins. This may seems like semantics, but it’s important. It forces us to ask ourselves “so how has He revealed himself in this Bible?”

And when you ask that question you not only begin seeing that this question is more complicated than you originally thought, but you begin to nuance your thinking and so instead of simplistically taking verses out of their original cultural context and saying “take that, Darwinists!”, you get a fuller picture of a God who has moved in history, using many kinds of writings, storytellings, and cultures to reveal himself in this Bible.

Five Views of Origins

  • Naturalistic Evolution: Atheistic, only matter and energy exist, life can arise only by chance or necessity.
  • Deistic Evolution: God created the universe but never intervenes, life is left to arise by chance or necessity.
  • Theistic Evolution: God used evolution to bring life about, intervenes at the origin of life and (maybe) the human soul
  • Progressive Creationism: God created the universe, then created various forms of life at different points in history
  • Fiat Creationism: God created the universe and all of life pretty much instantaneously

There is (at least) one more “View of Origins” that you did not mention that I think mostly characterizes Christians that don’t think Evolution negates the claims of the Gospel. I guess–in your terms–you could call it “Theistic Creative Evolution”. It is the belief in a constant, intimate, beautiful, active, dynamic and God-glorifying interplay and dance between Creator and creation. Just as we as Christians have Christ within us, before us, and behind us constantly guiding and moving us, we are still freely acting, moving, and changing. To simply say that we change and grow over time does not negate the action, sovereignty, and intimacy of a loving God.

Also, some of the most respected and well-known men and women in Church History have held to the views that the Creation account need not talk of something scientific or historical to be “true” and that God could have reasonably used evolution as his means of creation (as it looks like he did). Origen, St. Augustine, John Calvin (paragraph 15), C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, J.I. PackerN.T. Wright, B.B. Warfield (or see Calvin link), Alister McGrath, Derek Kidner, Mark Knoll, John Stott, Teilhard de Chardin, Herman BavinckTremper Longman, Meredith Cline, Asa Gray, Bruce WaltkeArchbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Pope Pius XII, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, the entire Episcopal Church, the entire Anglican Church, and the entire Roman Catholic Church all fall in this category. Are we really to so quickly dismiss all that they say and think as “grave” errors?

Who Has the Burden of Proof?

I am still baffled why this whole burden of proof thing seems so compelling to some. Not only do I feel like evolutionary biologists have more than proven their case, but even if they hadn’t, I don’t know why this is so big of a deal. Just because the “most obvious” perception of the universe had been that the earth was at the center of it all–therefore meaning that the heliocentrists (persecuted by the Church) had the “burden of proof”–it doesn’t mean their findings were any less true in the long run.

Why Darwinism Fails-False Assumptions

You talk of the VCU Biology Textbook that seems to so quickly and vehemently rule out religious explanations for things. Yes, scientists are human, too. They have been belittled, attacked, and seen funding cut in states and regions hostile to their mission and desire for truth. So yes when this topic comes up, scientists get just as frustrated and sarcastic as many “design” advocates. You also say scientists just can’t seem to realize that there’s a difference between empirical science (where you can limit yourself to naturalistic explanations) and historical science (where you can’t rule out an intelligent agent). Really? Are they all simply blind?

The problem with this is that evolutionary biology doesn’t merely study artifacts and historical left-overs; they study present empirical realities that seem to point to something in the past. A geologist can look at a rock formation that appears–on the basis of all of the centuries of study available–that it was formed by the wind and rain, and he has no responsibility to “have” to consider an intelligent agent in making the rock look like that.

Some things have such the force of consistency, evidence, and predictive power that you need not import unnecessary “intelligent agents” in their explanation. Evolution has support and evidence at every level of discovery from astronomy down to genetics; we even design medicines with the genetic assumptions of evolution behind them–and they work as predicted.

Click here for Part 2.


10 thoughts on “On Darwinism vs. Design (a response to the Richmond Center for Christian Study) {pt.1}

  1. I was thinking the same thing when I saw the 5 views of origins listed – my view is not there!

    If we describe God as a composer rather than a designer, several more options become available. A basic illustration : We thank God for healing, while the engine that provided healing was completely by chance. What is God’s role in that healing? Perhaps the same as with evolution. God is under and behind all creation, sustaining it and directing it, but yet also using natural processes that we can decipher.



  2. I love this part: It’s not that the Bible always wins; it’s that the God that is revealed in the Bible always wins. This may seems like semantics, but it’s important. It forces us to ask ourselves “so how has He revealed himself in this Bible?”

    Love it.


  3. Couple of points: so-called naturalistic evoution is not inherently “atheistic.” it makes no claims about the existence or non-existence of any deities. It merely asserts that life as we know it developed through entirely natural processes.

    Second: Wow. How different this is from the approach of the Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville VA, one of the oldest campus-related such centers in the US.


  4. Also…

    The post you linked is more sad evidence that Christians who don’t really understand how science works–and in particular the evidence for evolution–should not speak so boldly and dogmatically on the topic.


  5. interesting stuff.

    On quibble I have is the link you put to show Calvin would accept a non-literal reading of Genesis is actually to someone arguing he wouldn’t:: unless the link is just to the arguments of Warfield that are (seemingly well) refuted by the author.


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