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Spring 2003 Newsletter: My Continuing Journey
Publish date: Jun 26, 2009
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Most scientists today regard the theory of evolution as a fact rather than a theory. There are differences of opinion regarding the tempo, mode, and mechanisms of evolution, but the basic concepts of the theory have become an established paradigm.
Even in the religious world, old animosities between science and religion have been largely forgotten and are shrugged off as unfortunate history based on ignorance. After all, the Church has made mistakes in the past and has had to acknowledge its errors in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence against its stand. Science has gained the ascendancy in this battle and inIn the light of the awe-inspiring discoveries and progress in the civilized world attributed to science, who is there who would dare to contradict its paradigms?
The educational systems of the world bear witness to this total regard for the voice of science, teaching only naturalistic worldviews on origins. to the exclusion of all others. Moreover, proponents of the literary critical methodcritics have questioned the Bible not only on issues concerning origins, but on historical content as well.
The theory of evolution is presented in secondary and tertiary institutions as the only feasible theory of origins. Even at the primary educational levels, evolutionary concepts are imprinted in young minds as indisputable facts. Alternative models are regarded with scepticism and even ridiculed.
In spite of these odds, there still exists a large body of people, including scientists, who believe in a personal Creator God and support a literal interpretation of the Genesis account. This fact may astound some evolutionary scientists, but it is indeed true.
In 1999, a book was published in which fifty scientists with PhDs confirmed their faith in a literal Creation account. The book In Six Days-why 50 scientists choose to believe in creation was published after a research scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney challenged the concept that even one scientist with a PhD would advocate a literal interpretation of the Genesis account.
Rising to the challenge, the editor of the book sought to show that many scientists would be prepared to defend their faith on scientific grounds. All the contributors had doctorates from state-recognized universities from around the world and included university professors and researchers, geologists, zoologists, biologists, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, medical researchers, and engineers. Many more would have contributed had space allowed.i
Evolutionary scientists argue that creationism is not science, because it is based on preconceived ideologies that exclude it from the realms of science. They say that religious views and revelations are not subject to the scientific method and the two worldviews on origins need thus to be kept separate.
This sounds like a decent argument, but what if the facts actually fit the Biblical paradigm? Will the facts be ignored simply because they are recorded in Scripture? Would they then be excluded from the realms of science and education? If so, truth would then be excluded from our world on the grounds of having been preconceived. If this scenario were indeed true, then science would be left groping in the dark outside of the defined parameters of truth.
There are only these two possibilities. The world as we know it came into existence by naturalistic processes or it was created by an intelligent designer. No other possible choices exist.
In my own life, I have been confronted with this dilemma and have sat on both sides of this fence. For most of my life, I was a committed evolutionist and presented the theory of evolution to my students as an established fact. I received my training at a secular university, well known for its groundbreaking research and views on evolution. World-renowned evolutionary scientists such as Robert Broom had molded the thinking and direction of the zoology department where I received most of my training. There was no room for any other paradigm. For twenty years of my teaching and research career, I was so committed to the naturalistic view of origins that there was no room for alternative explanations.
As a young lecturer, students who believed in a literal Creation occasionally confronted me, but this made no impact on me. Occasionally we would even entertain creationists at the university and would then delight in tearing their arguments apart and ridiculing their efforts in our subsequent lectures to our students. It was not that we were devious in these endeavors. It was just a matter of the two worldviews being so far removed from each other that the differences were irreconcilable. Our worldview was obviously right; therefore, the other had to be ridiculous.
Thinking back on these events makes me realize that our worldview embraced more than just science. It embraced religion. The Biblical paradigm was rejected in favor of ours and we would defend it vehemently, but were we defending more than a theory of origins? To our minds it was not a theory, it had become truth despite the fact that the origin of all things is not subject to scientific empirical research but must always remain in the realms of faith—faith in a naturalistic process or faith in God.
This conflict between opposing worldviews is nowhere fought as rigorously than at universities. But it is also a conflict that rages at many other levels, including the mind of each person. Yes, there have been attempts to reconcile the two views by propagating some form of theistic evolution, but this halfway measure is equally unacceptable to the atheistic evolutionist who has no room in his paradigm for a higher power. Moreover, there are so many theological problems associated with this compromise that the rigorous Bible believer is also not able to embrace this ideology. The conflict is fierce and it is not possible to resolve it peacefully, as I was to discover for myself.
Gradualism and Punctuated Equilibrium
At the university where I received my undergraduate training and spent a substantial part of my academic career as a lecturer and researcher in zoology, most of my colleagues believed in the traditional model of Darwinism in that they embraced gradualism. However, the neo-Darwinist view of punctuated equilibrium, championed by Stephen J. Gould of Harvard University and others, was also well supported, resulting in many heated debates in the evolution discussion classes.
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.ii
The punctuated equilibrium model (the idea that change is not gradual over time, but that organisms experience long periods of stability or equilibrium, and that these periods of stability are interrupted by punctuated periods of rapid change during episodes of environmental change) was born out of necessity, because the fossil record does not seem to support the gradualistic model.
The fossils speak of an explosion of life forms, which we call the “Cambrian explosion” where life forms literally exploded into existence, including even the phylum Chordata to which humans belong. The idea of punctuated equilibrium was born to deal with this dilemma. Of course, this has time implications as well, since rapid change implies shorter time periods than would be required for gradualism.
It is quite incredible how flexible the scientific fraternity is in accommodating changes in existing time paradigms as long as they remain within the framework of the evolutionary paradigm. Hundreds of millions of years can be dropped out of the geological column without too many feathers being ruffled, but should a creationist dare to challenge existing time frames, then even the warring factions in the evolution camp stand united in their condemnation.
The leap from punctuated equilibrium to Creation is really not that great. With Creation, we would expect the sudden appearance of diverse life forms just as we see it in the Cambrian explosion.
My Personal Conflict
The sequence of change in evolutionary thinking described above is also a summary of my personal “evolution” in terms of my understanding of these issues. As an undergraduate student I subscribed to gradualism. As my insights were broadened at the postgraduate level, I fell into the neo-Darwinist camp and supported the punctuated equilibrium model. However, when I was challenged by the veracity of the Bible with regard to its historic and prophetic statements, I was compelled to reassess my views on the Scriptures in general.
One of my greatest problems, however, concerned the question of origins, and this compelled me to study this issue in detail. I was so deeply rooted in the evolutionary paradigm that it took much research to even entertain the possibility of an alternative model of origins, but I was fortunate in that I was granted the opportunity to visit many sites around the world that provided evidence for Biblical catastrophism and contradicted the gradualistic paradigm.
Based on the evidence, I gradually changed my views. I was to find out that scientists do not take to this change of heart lightly. The concept of a divine origin for the universe and life is contrary to the evolutionary mindset, as the geneticist and evolutionary proponent Richard Lewontin so clearly writes:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of the failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.iii
Indeed, the materialistic worldview leaves no room for a Creator, and that is why they cannot allow a “Divine Foot in the door.”
The battle lines are very distinct between the creationist and naturalistic views on origins. Thomas Huxley, who is famous for championing Darwin’s cause and even received the nickname “Darwin’s bulldog” for his efforts, put the issue in a nutshell when he asserted that no one can be “both a true son of the Church and a loyal soldier of science.”iv
Richard Dawkins, England’s preeminent Darwinist, writes in The Blind Watchmaker, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”v He then sets out to convince his readers that this appearance is deceptive and that there is no need for a designer. Scott C. Todd, of the Department of Biology at Kansas State University, states it even more boldly, saying, “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”vi
I considered myself an atheist, but I was probably more like an agnostic. I did not believe in God, but there was room in my thinking for esoteric views on the elevated status of humanity, though I did not practice them nor belonged to any group that did. I grew up in a Christian home but had never studied the Bible as such. At best I considered it a book of allegorical stories and myths with perhaps some valuable moral teachings.
When I was confronted for the first time in my life with a more intense study of the Bible, I was astonished at some of the amazing insights that I gained not only in the realms of morality, but also in the fields of history and prophecy. Since that initial start, I came to accept the Word of God as the most trustworthy book I have ever read. This Word has power to change lives, to lift people up and to give hope in the face of human hopelessness. It challenges one to test its trustworthiness, saying, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).
My change of heart regarding the question of origins and evolution was not instantaneous—no blinding flash shifted my paradigms—and it was also not emotional. It was the result of a long and hard road in search of truth. It is my intention to share the evidence I discovered with others, and to invite them to sift the evidence for themselves. If it is truth, then it will stand.
The reaction of my colleagues to my change of heart stunned me. For the first time I experienced the fervor of united opposition from the other side of the battle line. The conflict has convinced me that we are not just dealing with scientific paradigms where opposing scientific views and theories are discussed in the spirit of congeniality. This is a spiritual war. Evolution versus Creation is a religious battle, and compromise is impossible.
A Raging War
The first time that I presented a lecture in support of origin by design, the reaction was overwhelming. A young female postgraduate student asked why, in the light of all the evidence in favor of Creation, had it been necessary to rob her of her religious convictions she had prior to her university career. Indeed, such is the power of evolutionary training. Students are trained to disregard the teachings of the Bible in favor of the evolutionary model. The prominent evolutionist E. O. Wilson confirms this loss of faith:
As were many persons from Alabama, I was a born-again Christian. When I was fifteen, I entered the Southern Baptist Church with great fervor and interest in the fundamentalist religion: I left at seventeen when I got to the University of Alabama and heard about evolutionary theory.vii
The young student’s boldness in our evolution discussion class caused a major furor. For the first time I witnessed the raw anger of those whose evolutionary views are challenged. From that day onward I was treated like a man with leprosy. I was senior lecturer at the time, with numerous graduate students working under my supervision, but the tide of bitter opposition and the cold war I experienced made it impossible for me to continue my work unaffected and I offered to resign.
This led to an interesting cycle of events and discussions, which finally ended in the office of the rector of the university. Surely a compromise was possible. Surely I could teach within the evolutionary paradigm and keep my convictions to myself. Prosperity lay before me with academic advancement, but the price was too high. I left the university convinced that the days of my university career as zoologist were numbered. After all, which university would appoint a zoologist with creationist views? I had spent my life studying biology. It was in my blood and I had worked tirelessly to get where I was. It was indeed an empty feeling that flooded through me as I left the gates of my alma mater.
Amazingly, it was not long after this event that other universities asked me to teach courses related to my physiological training, where my views on origins would not impact on the students. However, the topic would never quite go to rest because I was constantly invited to act as speaker on the subject of origins and to take part in panel discussions. I am grateful for the tolerance I did find among some scientists, and for the fact that the doors of my university career did not close altogether.
I was however very surprised when I was eventually appointed as professor and chair in zoology at one of the large universities in South Africa. This position held many challenges, particularly since my views were known to all involved. In fairness to all parties, I chose not to interfere with the teaching of the evolutionary theory by my colleagues or invited guest speakers that taught courses on evolutionary theory to our graduates. However, if asked to deliver a discourse during extra-curricular hours, I would consent to such requests. Needless to say, this led to much unhappiness on the part of some, particularly since many of the students would change their views when confronted with the other side of the story. How can students choose between paradigms if they are not exposed to the different views whatever they may be?
After endless sparring over this issue, the final conclusion was to be expected. An investigation with outside adjudicators was conducted in an attempt to diffuse the largely underground conflict. One of my colleagues bluntly stated that one could not conduct science if one believed in a literal Creation. This statement, however, brought about considerable debate. The constitution of South Africa guarantees religious freedom, but sadly it appears that this freedom does not address the real issues since it apparently cannot grant one the right to believe what God says on the question of origins.
Many scientists have come to realize how immensely improbable it is that life could have developed out of non-life. Many scientists are embracing the creationist paradigm, including many graduate students and scientists from all walks of life. Even renowned zoologists have come to me personally and have admitted to me that they also believe in a literal Creation. Some have done it secretly and some have dared to defend creationism openly. It is only to the degree that knowledge is made available that people will be empowered to make choices. Those who are not prepared to even listen to the evidence are not reflecting the true spirit that should actuate all true scientists:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
i John F. Ashton (ed.), In six days-why 50 scientists choose to believe in creation (Australia: New Holland Publishers, 1999).
ii Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (York: Heritage Press, 1963).
iii Richard Lewontin, “Billions and billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997): 31.
ivThomas Henry Huxley, Darwiniana: essays (New York and London: D. Appleton and Co., 1893): 149.
v Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books, 1986): 1.
vi Scott C. Todd, “Letter to the Editor,” Nature 401 (September 30 1999).
vii E. O. Wilson, “Towards a Humanistic Biology,” The Humanist (September/October 1982): 40.
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