Friday, 9 April 2010

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God; and the Firmament Sheweth His Handiwork

I often debate creationists and sadly the majority of the time it is not fruitful. I'm willing to discuss anything with them, whether they wish to discuss or attempt to disprove evolution, or whether they want to try to show me why Genesis is literal in their minds. I've found that the majority cannot discuss the science in much detail, but when it comes to Scripture they have some ready made answers based on presuppositions which need removing in order to make progress. Responding to most of them is often relatively easy, but once in a while you come across a rather tricky one. They are not so much intellectual heavyweights, as they are masters of twisting your words and of setting up impressive straw men. One such creationist recently also has a blog and his name is RK Bentley.

In a recent post titled Do The Heavens Declare God's Glory, Bentley has quite a few things to say about theistic evolution. Within this blog article he sets up some impressive straw men, which is why I am writing this now. When discussing with him it became clear that he has no intention of trying to understand theistic evolution, and why should he? His best weapon against it is to make it appear as atheistic as possible and therefore antithetical to Christian sensibilities. In other posts I have discussed these things, so I apologise for any repetition, however, I see it as necessary.

According to Bentley, theistic evolution is nothing more than a pious gloss on evolutionary theory, he even likens it to a God of the gaps approach. Further to this he claims that the God of TE is impotent and indistinguishable from dumb luck. I admire how succinct he is here, it will take time to unravel his misconceptions.

Creationists and atheists have a very upside down view of theistic evolution. Evolution is perceived as the foundation upon which the theism is built. I understand why they see it this way, for an atheist cannot start from a theistic perspective with ease, whereas creationists value scientific truth far more than they realise. For a theistic evolutionist however, God is the foundation and evolution is merely one facet in describing the wonders of creation. Evolution is the scientific gloss on our theism! The late Donald McKay stated that "God is not a link in a causal chain, He is the foundation of all being". What gap does Bentley suppose we are wedging God into?

So is God impotent within creation? Is He indistinguishable from dumb luck? His attack here is two pronged; he manages to attack both the theology and the science in one go. Making God look weak and science appear random is a great ploy to make the reader incredulous, but there is no truth in it. The scientific attack is the easiest to respond to, as anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of evolution should know that it is by definition non-random. As for the theological attack, is God impotent? I would say only as far as He chooses to be. Theistic evolution has many responses to this charge and I sit in the kenosis camp, whereby God limits Himself in order to let nature "be". God was highly competent in the beginning, He got things right first go with a self-perpetuating universe of such grandeur. However, I should add that some theistic evolutionists see things differently, instead seeing God as guiding the entire process from within (I also see it this way, but with a stronger element of kenosis). Either way, God is not impotent.

Bentley's next tactic is to present an atheistic interpretation of the universe, one which is bleak and lacks any hint of the Divine. He tricks the reader into thinking that evolution is an atheistic world-view and gets away with making it sound like the position of theistic evolution. In a recent blog I showed how easily metaphysical ideas are smuggled into science. In an earlier one I gave these descriptions:

The Christian friendly picture of evolution would seem to hold that natural breeding, random mutation and natural cooperation are the driving forces in a world full of constraints resulting in the inevitability of mankind, of altruism and of beauty. On the other extreme fierce and deadly competition driven by selfish genes results in an unpredictable array of diversity in which humans are a fortunate accident

I think this quite effortlessly shows how easy it is to manipulate evolution to suit a world-view. Christians should not be sucked into either the tactics of Bentley or the clear atheistic spin of some proponents of evolution. We should also not be sucked in by Christians who make it more palatable; it is truth we should want.

Bentley uses his atheistic presentation as a platform to state that "rather than believe in the God who is Lord over His creation, TE Christians believe in a god who has hidden himself so well that he isn't seen in his creation". He is almost right. We also see Him as Lord over His creation, but we also believe in the hidden God of Isaiah, the Deus Absconditus. Again, the principle of kenosis helps us understand this, especially through the humility of Christ on the cross. I have spoken at length about this before and intend to again very soon. What Bentley forgets is that faith sees the unseen. As men and women of faith theistic evolutionists are able to see God's handiwork everywhere. We do not need to see His precise fingerprints, but we can look at the work of the Artist and discern hints of brush strokes.

Bentley directly asks a question to Christian evolutionists, he wishes to know where the glory of God is in it. As I have already said, God is the foundation of all being who makes the universe make itself. Evolution is a cruciform process, redeeming death into new life, testament to the power of the Christ. The whole universe unfolded in a manner where order rules over chaos, much like what we see in Genesis. Through the principle of chance, the happen-stance and unpredictability of genetic mutation, God's love is demonstrated; He gives creation the freedom to be. Through the principle of necessity provided by natural selection and natural law we see God's sovereignty; all is ordered and will achieve His goal. Through the fruitfulness of life's diversification we see that the love of God knows no bounds. As people of faith we can see here what a person of no faith cannot.

I can sympathise with Bentley on one thing. He sees cruelty in nature and thus as an obstacle. His basis for this though is flawed. Scripture never claims that God made a perfect world, it only says very good. A creationist sees the imperfections of nature as an indicator of a fallen world and see the fall as only being compatible with creationism. However, the fall is present in theistic evolution; the world is not as God intends. Things are inverted here: creationists see perfection as in the past; theistic evolutionists look to the future. That is not to say creationists do not see it in the future too, but they see it as restoration rather than the ultimate intent of God. Suffering is part of the free processes God has allowed in letting His creation make itself. He suffers along with it and all will be redeemed through Christ's sacrifice when the New Creation occurs. This is not a question that can be answered in a single paragraph; theodicy is an issue no matter what your views. It is always a difficult one and the book of Job teaches us that we will not find all the answers.

In Bentley's final jibe he attacks the use of Scripture by theistic evolutionists. Unsurprisingly we are seen as rejecting Scripture when in fact we respect it more and treasure it for what it can tell us, instead of forcing it to tell us things it was never meant for. So do the heavens declare the glory of God? Yes, absolutely, but it takes faith to see. The weak of faith demand to see God in as many places as possible, this is understandable, but God is not subject to our whim. I will not comment on his last statement, hopefully I have shown that the God of TE is not the lesser God, but as glorious, if not more so, as His portrayal in Genesis.

Instead, I shall stand tall with other Christians in science reciting Psalm 111:2, "Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them."

P.S. I am having some bizarre trouble with the font etc., it seems to change from what I chose whenever I click to publish.

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