Month: February 2012

How Christians Can Affirm Evolution

Renown evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” Dawkins offers his naysayers four wonderful options–ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked! Although brash, his statement reflects the dominant position of science and Western culture on the history of human origins–evolution through natural selection. To hold any other position, particularly if you are a Christian, is to be considered arcane and ignorant. Should Christians embrace evolutionary theory as an explanation for human origins? Can it be squared with the biblical accounts in Genesis? I will succinctly present both a conservative and progressive view. Then, offer a view that reconciles evolution and Christianity but rejects naturalism with Christian faith.

Young Earth, Anti-Evolution 

Conservatives argue that we should deny evolution because the science doesn’t fit with a literal interpretation of the Bible. They point out that the earth can’t be billions of years old since the Bible says the world was made in six days (read 24 hour periods) and that the biblical the genealogies put the earth at 6-10 thousand years old. They protest that there is not enough archeological or geological evidence to support an old earth. As for evolution, they protest the scarcity of transitional life forms in the fossil record. Despite recent advances in genetics, which claim to have found “genetic fossils” in the shared junk DNA of higher organisms which point back to a common ancestor, conservatives are quick to point out that this theory has been overturned and that what was once considered “junk” is actually active in coding for proteins. Should Christians embrace evolution? In the words of Norman Nevin, Professor of Medical Genetics and editor of Should Christians Embrace Evolution: “Our answer is an unequivocal ‘no’!”

Old Earth, Pro-Evolution

Many noted evangelical leaders and scholars do not exclusively accept the old earth theory. Both the day-age (day does not equal 24 hours) and the Framework hypothesis provide alternative readings of Genesis 1 that permit an old age view. We should point out that some evolution is undeniable. Some have used the term “microevolution” to describe mutation within species, which is a documented fact. However, Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of Science and Faith, points out that the distinction between micro and macro evolution is arbitrary. All evolutionary activity is micro, small, and stretched out over vast stretches of time. Consider the evolution of the Ford Model T to the Toyota Prius hybrid. Henry Ford could have never imagined his vehicle could evolve into something as advanced as a Prius, and yet, it did.

Francis Collins avers that genetic research has proven the theory of evolution. He compares the genome to a genetic fossil, which can trace the mutations in human DNA proving evolution. He points out that our DNA and the DNA of other vertebrates is so similar that we have to have come from a common ancestor. It’s not just that we look alike; it’s that our DNA is alike. As for the claim that new genetic studies refute this claim, Collins points out that unlike most mammals, primates and humans require a dietary source of vitamin C. The reason for this is a broken gene. He argues that the shared genetic makeup is due to our common ancestry (the alternative is that God gave us broken DNA). When asked how compelling the evidence is, Collins a Christian, replied: “The evidence is overwhelming. And it is becoming more and more robust down to the details almost by the day.

Evolution-Yes; Naturalism-No

If evolution is true, where does that leave us? Are we to conclude that we have a generally meaningless existence? Reflecting on the implications of evolution, cognitive scientist and philosopher, Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, writes: “An impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless little scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all the agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe.” In other words, Dennett asserts that evolution has nothing to do with a personal God and divine meaning. Dennett is a naturalist. Naturalism infers that our ability to love, act, think, form beliefs, use language, have moral convictions, put faith in God, and do art and philosophy—all originates in random genetic mutation not in universals ideals that have meaning.

This is a worldview that has staggering implications. It is a step away from science into a kind of scientific religion. It is one thing to affirm evolution as a biological process, but it is quite another to make it into a life philosophy. Religion philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, argues for evolution and against naturalism in his dense but insightful book Where the Conflict Really Lies. He asserts that divinely guided evolution, not unguided, random mutation, is what is at work in the evolution of humanity. Plantinga points out that the precise number and kind of mutations to occur from an unthinking, single cell organism to the complexity of a thinking human being is highly improbable. Therefore, there had to be divine guidance in the process. He unites evolutionary biology with divine purpose. To not affirm divine guidance and purpose in evolution is to render all our activities meaningless, fit only for survival. Human mothering, music writing, service to others, sense of connection in marriage and relationships—all meaningless. Naturalism begins to address religious questions like why we exist. There is an awful risk in taking the leap from biological evolution to naturalism because it provides no real basis for morality, for justice, for relationships, and for religion; we simply do those things to perpetuate the human race.

Now, there is a fatal flaw to the naturalist worldview. It asserts that even our thoughts, our religion and philosophy, are simply constructs created to help us survive. They have no true meaning. The flaw in this line of thinking is that if our thoughts are meaningless and a product of survival, who is to say that any of them are correct? Who’s to say that the evolutionary atheists are right? Who’s to say that we can trust any of this naturalist philosophy? Darwin himself had this fear: With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” Darwin himself doubted the implications of naturalism. Naturalism defeats itself; it is not reliable. If naturalism makes it impossible to trust our minds, then it also makes it impossible to trust naturalism! When evolution answers religious questions it reduces us to a collection of purposeless enzymes and cells. Christianity, even with evolution, offers a richer, more meaningful and philosophically coherent life and worldview, anchored in genuine truth, beauty, and virtue.

 

For Further Study (easy to hard):

Adam & Eve

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”

Most people question the reliability of the Bible. You’ve probably been in a conversation with a friend or met someone in a coffeeshop who said: “How can you be a Christian when the Bible has so many errors?” How should we respond? What do you say?

Instead of asking them to name one, I suggest you name one or two of the errors. Does your Bible contain errors? Yes. The Bible that most people possess is a translation of the Greek and Hebrew copies of copies of the original documents of Scripture. As you can imagine, errors have crept in over the centuries of copying. Scribes fall asleep, misspell, take their eyes off the manuscript, and so on. I recommend telling people what kind of errors have crept into the Bible. Starting with the New Testament, Dan Wallace, New Testament scholar and founder the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, lists four types of errors in Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning.

Types of Errors

1) Spelling & Nonsense Errors. These are errors occur when a scribe wrote a word that makes no sense in its context, usually because they were tired or took their eyes off the page.Some of these errors are quite comical, such as “we were horses among you” (Gk. hippoi, “horses,” instead of ēpioi, “gentle,” or nēpioi, “little children”) in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 in one late manuscript. Obviously, Paul isn’t saying he acted like a horse among them. That would be self-injury! These kinds of errors are easily corrected.

2) Minor ChangesThese minor changes are as small as the presence or absence of an article “the” or changed word order, which can vary considerably in Greek. Depending on the sentence, Greek grammar allows the sentence to be written up to 18 times, while still saying the same thing! So just because a sentence wasn’t copied in the same order, doesn’t mean that we lost the meaning.

3) Meaningful but not Plausible. These errors have meaning but aren’t a plausible reflection of the original text. For example, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, instead of “the gospel of God” (the reading of almost all the manuscripts), a late medieval copy has “the gospel of Christ.” There is a meaning difference between God and Christ, but the overall manuscript evidence points clearly in one direction, making the error plain and not plausibly part of the original.

4) Meaningful and Plausible. These are errors that have meaning and that the alternate reading is plausible as a reflection of the original wording. These types of errors account for less than 1% of all variants and typically involve a single word or phrase. The biggest of these types of errors is the ending of the Gospel of Mark, which most contemporary scholars to not regard as original. Our translations even footnote that!

Is the Bible Reliable?

So, is the Bible reliable? Well, the reliability of our English translations depends largely upon the quality of the manuscripts they were translated from. The quality depends, in part, on how recent the manuscripts are. Scholars like Bart Ehrman have asserted that we don’t have manuscripts that are early enough. However, the manuscript evidence is quite impressive:

  • There are as many as eighteen second-century manuscripts. If the Gospels were completed between 50-100 A.D., then this means that these early copies are within 100 years. Just last week, Dan Wallace announced that a new fragment from the Gospel of Mark was discovered dating back to the first century A.D., placing it well within 50 years of the originals, a first of its kind. When these early manuscripts are all put together, more than 43% of the NT is accounted for from copies no later than the 2nd C.
  • Manuscripts that date before 400 AD number 99, including one complete New Testament called Codex Sinaiticus. So the gap between the original, inerrant autographs and the earliest manuscripts is pretty slim. This comes into focus when the Bible is compared to other classical works that, in general, are not doubted for their reliability. In this chart of comparison with other ancient literature, you can see that the NT has far more copies than any other work, numbering 5,700 (Greek) in comparison to the 200+ of Suetonius. If we take all manuscripts into account (handwritten prior to printing press), we have 20,000 copies of the NT. There are only 200 copies of the earliest Greek work.
  • This means if we are going to be skeptical about the Bible, then we need to be 1000xs more skeptical about the works of Greco-Roman history. Or put another way, we can be 1000 times more confident about the reliability of the Bible. It is far and away the most reliable ancient document.

What to Say When Someone Says “The Bible Has Errors”.

So, when someone asserts that the Bible says errors, we can reply by saying: “Yes, our Bible translations do have errors, let me tell you about them. But as you can see, less than 1% of them are meaningful and those errors don’t affect the major teachings of the Christian faith. In fact, there are 1000 times more manuscripts of the Bible than the most documented Greco-Roman historian by Suetonius. So, if we’re going to be skeptical about ancient books, we should be 1000 times more skeptical of the Greco-Roman histories. The Bible is, in fact, incredibly reliable.”

Contrary to popular assertion, that as time rolls on we get further and further away from the original with each new discovery, we actually get closer and closer to the original text. As Wallace puts it, we have “an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the biblical documents.” Therefore, we can be confident that what we read in our modern translations of the the ancient texts is approximately 99% accurate. It is very reliable.

For Further Study (order easy to difficult):