Sometimes it takes a team of experts to diffuse a bomb. Whereas one man may take his time carefully constructing a bomb, once it is activated time becomes precious to minimize its damaging effects. The give and take regarding ideas that happens in the world of book writing and publishing is a bit like this. One writer may spend years carefully crafting his work, and when it hits the shelves the effect is a bombshell. (At least that’s the hope of all authors!) The hotter the topic, the great potential for an explosive impact. When this happens, critics don’t have a lot of time to respond. Often it is strategically wise for an editor to assemble a team of experts for a timely response before the public gets the idea there are no critics. I imagine this is the scenario that gave rise to Dr. Norman Nevin editing a book called Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (SCEE) which is a response to Denis Alexander’s bombshell book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? Alexander represents the case for theistic evolution. Nevin and his team argue against the theory of evolution from biblical and scientific grounds.
SCEE is a helpful book in that it provides the other side of the Creation or Evolution debate a chance to offer expert testimony from a different perspective. Combining both biblical and scientific responses in one volume makes this book feel like it’s two books in one. This approach typically has certain strengths and weaknesses. Strengths include:
- Essays written by authorities who are academically current on their particular topic
- A rapid response to controversy
- A response that is broad and thorough
- A large number of authors that potentially appeals to a wider readership
Common weaknesses are:
- Repetition of material and argumentation
- An uneven feel to the flow of the book
- Some authors and chapters appear weaker alongside others
- Gaps in critical response
- Only authorities chosen who support the editor’s position
- Lack of author recognition may detract from the persuasiveness of the book’s thesis
- Responses from multiple disciplines (e.g., biblical, theological, and scientific) can make the book partially inaccessible to the average reader
Indeed Nevin’s book contains each of these strengths, but unfortunately SCEE also does not escape these common weaknesses.
Enough with the generalities. So what about this particular book? I sympathize with the thesis of SCEE, which is that Christians should not embrace the theory of theistic evolution on both biblical and scientific grounds. The Bible and theology experts argue that the overarching story of Scripture cannot hold together in a coherent fashion if the biblical account of creation is replaced with the tenets of evolution. They make this case in the first half of the book, albeit a little repetitively. In the second half, a variety of scientists with pedigrees and positions at various prestigious universities argue forcefully for the theory of Intelligent Design as opposed to theistic evolution. This section of the book is meant for the college educated layman, although it seems to me that the level of technicalities sometimes transcends the intended audience.
One of the big strengths of SCEE is its debunking the myth of “junk DNA.” It wasn’t too long after the human genome was mapped that evolutionists began trumpeting their interpretation of large sections of DNA as “evolutionary fossils” that point to genetic evidence for blind natural selection and mutation. These non-protein coding sections of DNA were dismissed as junk because some scientists concluded they have no current biological function. Although Christians argued that perhaps science needed more humility and more time to discover potential functionality in the DNA, evolutionists refused to grant the thesis that “junk DNA” may just be misunderstood yet quite functionally important. Lo and behold, less than 10 years later the peer reviewed scientific journals are teeming with documented discoveries that formerly named “junk DNA” is actually quite useful. How ironic that Darwinists have been pleading for more than 150 years for more time so their theory will show up in the fossil record, but they are unwilling to grant a few years to scientists who suspected we have much to learn about the newly mapped human genome! It turns out that the category of “junk DNA” and its corresponding theory of evolutionary genetic fossils are both defunct.
The creationist and Intelligent Designs perspectives leave a few gaps that I wish were addressed. There is little discussion of the various dating methods used by scientists to gauge the age of the earth and other features of the universe. The position of the book seems to assume a young earth, although this is not entirely explicit. On the biblical side, the authors appear to believe that Genesis and the rest of the Bible teach a literalistic hermeneutic that supersedes observable science. Hence positions outside the 6-day/24-hour creation week are treated as sub-biblical and slouching toward atheistic evolution.
Outside of these gentle criticisms, I am thankful that SCEE is available. Christians who have been influenced and persuaded to embrace evolution by reading authors such as Denis Alexander, Francis Collins, and others like them should reserve judgment until they have read another perspective. This volume, despite its limitations and weaknesses, is strong enough to shed reasonable doubt on the theory of evolution.
Adam Versus Claims From Genetics, by Vern Poythress