The Blind Faith of Naturalism (Colson)

Growing up, I remember overhearing Chuck Colson’s “Breakpoint” from my mom’s kitchen radio.  Sometimes I would stop and listen.  I grew to appreciate his commentary, even though I didn’t always agree with all of it.  Here’s part of a previously unpublished memo of Colson’s from around 10 or 15 years ago:

It never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to bet their lives on naturalism; not only is it self-refuting, but to believe it is an act of supreme hubris.  I say supreme hubris because naturalism is the assumption that the only thing that can be known is that which you see and can validate with one of your five senses.  So what the naturalist is really saying is, if I can’t prove it’s true, then it can’t be true.  If I can’t, by physical observation, conclude something is real, then it can’t be real.

Of course, there are all kinds of things in life that we cannot see or apprehend with our senses that are nonetheless true, love being one of the most obvious.  The principle that allows an airplane to fly, the lift created by air traveling more slowly under the wings than over the wings, is a visible principle, but you can’t see the air actually moving.  It is measurable, of course, but still a certain amount of faith is involved in knowing anything.

Later Colson notes how naturalism is self-refuting because a naturalist presupposes that everything came about by chance, by evolution.  The naturalist says that reasonable, intelligent, and rational human beings evolved by chance mutations and evolutionary principles.  How can one prove this by physically observable facts?  Here’s Colson:

…To come to that conclusion, you’re relying on a brain and a thinking process that evolved by chance.  If it has evolved by chance, you have no idea whether it’s reliable.  Attempt to prove to me that an organ that evolved by chance is going to be reliable to always give you the right answer to any particular question.  Or prove to me that this organ has the capacity of knowledge, which is distinguishing what is real from what isn’t.  The answer, of course, is that you can never get there.

The naturalist is proceeding in blind faith.  He is defying what is self-evident, both in nature and the creation and in terms of our moral inclination.  He is, as C. S. Lewis said, like a man trying to lift himself up by grabbing himself by the collar and raising his hands.  He won’t get off the ground, but he will very likely strangle himself.

The naturalist is in the position of assuming that he knows everything he needs to know, and that everything that can be known is accessible to him through his senses.  It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion.  But once you do, you have nothing.  You are defying the evidence.

Chuck Colson, My Final Word, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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The Evolutionary Theory of Religion

In part of his introduction to religion, Winfried Corduan briefly discusses the evolutionary theory of religion – a theory which more than a few people believe today.  Corduan gives three theoretical and methodological assumptions of the evolutionary theory of religion:

1) Religion is an aspect of human culture, which must be understandable without reference to actual supernatural powers….

2) Religion began on a very primitive and childlike level from which it evolved to greater and greater levels of complexity….

3) Religion as practiced among the least developed cultures in the world today must be closest to the religion of early human beings….

Corduan explains those three points a bit, then summarizes by giving an outline of this evolutionary theory:  A) Primitive forms of religion: Mana and magic; B) Animism – visualizing spiritual forces in terms of personal spirits; C) Polytheism then Henotheism; D) Monotheism; E) (the next evolutionary stage).

Corduan then critiques this evolutionary theory of religion(s):

“The biggest problem with the evolutionary model of religion is that the kind of development it describes has never been observed.  Certainly there is a lot of change in the religious life of many cultures.  But the changes may occur anywhere along the line and can proceed in either direction.  We have no record of any culture moving precisely from a mana- [magic] like beginning to a monotheistic culmination, incorporating all stages in proper sequence, or anything even close to it, and the same thing is true for any of the variations of the evolutionary model.  In fact, there is no region in the world where such a sequence is demonstrated by successive different cultures either.”

“The only place that we see it is as a presupposition that scholars continue to bring to the study of a particular religion, …when they just assume that a supposedly lower stage must have preceded an allegedly higher stage.”

“…There are many examples of cultures moving backward or forward in their spiritual development.  Just consider these facts: Japan is a modern, highly industrialized country, but its religion, Shinto, is for the most part animistic, at best polytheistic in nature.  On the other hand, a Bedouin in the Syrian desert, living in a tent as he keeps his camels, may be a strong monotheist.  There definitely is no universal, let alone normative, pattern of upward development in any culture.”

Corduan says quite a bit more, which I don’t have the space to note here.  The main point is a good one, however: though the evolutionary theory of religion(s) is accepted and presupposed by many people today (in biblical studies and school classrooms), it is suspect and very much open to critique.  In fact, as Corduan notes, it has enough holes and inconsistencies in it that it isn’t really a viable position to hold.  But more on that later….

For more info, see the intro to Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions by Winfried Corduan (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012).

shane lems

Mythical Adam = Mythical Gospel

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?: Biblical and Scientific Responses Many of our readers probably know that some in broadly Christian circles debate whether Adam and Eve were real, actual, historical people.  Some believe, based on the theory of evolution, that Adam and Eve were either not the first humans or they are simply myths or symbols God used to describe some truths.  Historic Christianity, however, has strongly and firmly insisted that Adam and Eve were actual, historical people – the first two humans, the first people God created.

Michael Reeves, in Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, makes an excellent biblical, theological, and logical case that Adam and Eve were in fact historical people.  His essay is too large to summarize here, but it is worth quoting a few parts of it.

“[In Romans 5:12-21] Paul could hardly have been clearer that he supposed Adam was as real and historical a figure as Christ and Moses (and Abraham).  Yet it is not just Paul’s language that suggests he believes in a historical Adam; his whole argument depends on it.  His logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolical one (Adam).”

“If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall.  With a mythical Adam, then, Christ might as well be – in fact, would do better to be – a symbol of divine forgiveness and new life.  Instead, the story Paul tells is of a historical problem of sin, guilt and death being introduced into the creation, a problem that required a historical solution.”

There is more to Reeves’ excellent argument.  His closing statement, which I’ll conclude with below, is a summary of the main points:

“The historical reality of Adam is an essential means of preserving a Christian account of sin and evil, a Christian understanding of God, and the rationale for the incarnation, cross, and resurrection.  His physical fatherhood of all humankind preserves God’s justice in condemning us in Adam (and, by inference, God’s justice in redeeming us in Christ) as well as safeguarding the logic of the incarnation.  Neither belief can be reinterpreted without the most severe consequences.”

Michael Reeves, “Adam and Eve” in Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (chapter 3).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths

The Dawkins Letters I’m thoroughly enjoying David Robertson’s The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths.  This book is a chapter-by-chapter response to Richard Dawkins’ well known title, The God Delusion.  I’ll come back and write more on this later; for now, I want to point out the great counter argument Robertson gives to Dawkins’ Darwinian explanation of morality.

Dawkins defines goodness as altruism and says that humans tend to be altruistic towards people of our own kin – that’s how we’ve evolved genetically.  On top of this is a reciprocal aspect – that people are nice to each other so people are nice to them in return.  Dawkins also says that people are sometimes nice because they want to show off.  One other thing he writes is that kindness and sympathy are blessed Darwinian mistakes.

Robertson deconstructs this evolutionary view of morality:

1) First, it does not seem much of a morality.  It is still primarily focused on the Selfish Gene.  It is all about me, me, and mine.  As a Christian I believe that the Bible teaches that human beings are fundamentally selfish and self-centred – however the Bible is not content to leave us there.  There is something better.  Christ came to challenge and to deliver us from the self-centredness which you [Dawkins] glorify as the basis of morality.

2) Second, it is deterministic.  There is no concept of free will, choice, or responsibility.  We are only ‘good’ because we are programmed to be that way.  If my will is not free then you cannot blame me if I only do what I am genetically programmed to do.  The trouble with such an approach is that it legitimises all kinds of behaviour; from the drunkard claiming it is in his genes to the rapist saying that he is only doing what he has been programmed to do.  On the other hand, if I am free and responsible for what I do, then I cannot be genetically programmed.  I do not doubt that there are genetic factors in all aspects of human behavior but I cannot believe that every human being and their actions are governed by such determinism.  A crucial part of being human is having the ability to choose.

3) Third, your [Dawkins’] secular morality is not, as you admit, absolute: ‘fortunately however morals do not have to be absolute.’  As you indicate it is changeable according to the whims of society.  If indeed as we are, as your favourite philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, ‘tiny lumps of impure carbon and water crawling about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded,’ there seems to be no basis for absolute morality. …If there are no absolutes then there is no absolute standard to judge by.  And if there is no ultimate standard then we are left with anything goes, might is right, or the whims of a changing and confused society.”

4) Finally, your [Dawkins’] absolute Darwinian philosophy cannot logically and consistently argue for morality because, to put it bluntly, there is no good or evil.  As you so brilliantly describe it… “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any injustice.  The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’  That then is the atheist basis of morality – no justice, no rhyme nor reason, no purpose, no evil, no good, just blind pitiless indifference.  Despite the best efforts of atheistic philosophers… this basis is severely lacking, being little more than a utilitarian ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ without ever defining what ‘good is.’

I’ve thought about this before quite a bit, and I think Robertson’s arguments are correct – one glaring weakness of the atheist religion is the lack of basis for morality, good, and evil.  For more info on this, read Dawkins’ discussion of morality in The God Delusion, and then read chapter eight of Robertson’s excellent book, The Dawkins Letters.  

shane lems
hammond, wi

In

Evolutionary Fundamentalists

Darwin on Trial  (This is a re-post from July, 2012)

I’ve heard about Phillip Johnson’s book, Darwin on Trial, but until recently I haven’t read it.  And I’m very glad I finally did. This book does not deal with superficial issues.  It gets right to the heart of the matter by examining the logic, presuppositions, and religious aspects of Darwinism. Darwin on Trial captured my attention immediately in the first chapter when Johnson said that the book was going to explore “whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism” (p. 14).  In other words, is evolution based on fact or faith?  Does Darwinism start with fact or with faith?  Here’s Johnson:

“I do not think that many scientists would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle, without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that it is true.  But there is an important difference between going to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible alternative, and going to the evidence to look for confirmation of the only theory that one is willing to tolerate.  We have already seen that distinguished scientists have accepted uncritically the questionable analogy between natural and artificial selection, and they have often been undisturbed by the fallacies of the ‘tautology’ and ‘deductive logic’ formulations.  Such illogic survived and reproduced itself for the same reason that an apparent incompetent species sometimes avoids extinction; there was no effective competition in its ecological niche.” (p. 28-9).

You may have to read that paragraph again to see the depth of critique there.  Johnson later says, along those same lines, “It is one thing to say that there are gaps [in the fossil record], and quite another thing to claim the right to fill the gaps with the evidence required to support one’s theory” (p. 48).  Here’s one more quote to give you yet another angle on Johnson’s point.

“The fossils provide much more discouragement than support for Darwinism when they are examined objectively, but objective examination has rarely been the object of Darwinist paleontology.  The Darwinist approach has consistently been to find some supporting fossil evidence, claim it as proof for ‘evolution,’ and then ignore all the difficulties” (p. 86).

To be sure, Johnson doesn’t just make these claims over and over.  He supports them with examples from scientists and scientific studies.  In reading the book, I learned about the basilosaurus, saltationism, mutations, natural selection, materialism, and so forth. It isn’t for beginners!  Furthermore,  Johnson’s work is well documented, so the curious reader can trace out some of his arguments.  If you have not yet read this book and are interested in this topic, I strongly recommend it.  It isn’t just for Christians; I’d give it to friends or family members who hold to evolution but are willing to learn and be challenged. (If you do get Darwin on Trial, you probably want to get the newest updated edition – from 2010 I believe.)  Though others may disagree, I believe the book shows that Darwinism is indeed a sort of religious fundamentalism.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Hodge on Darwinism

Here’s a dated but helpful book on the issue of evolution and Christianity: What is Darwinism? by Charles Hodge.  In just over 100 pages, Hodge talks about different theories of the beginning of the universe and its existence.  He specifically hones in on Darwinism, including Darwin’s view of natural selection and teleology.  Hodge also explains other Darwinists’ positions and those who opposed Darwin’s evolutionary theory.  Hodge clearly studied the matter in detail; you can tell by reading this booklet that he knew the issues well.  It’s not the easiest read since it is over 100 years old, but it is worthwhile (and free on Kindle).  Here are a few random excerpts – which should be read in light of the entire booklet, of course.

“Scientific men must come to recognize practically, and not merely in words, that there are other kinds of evidence of truth than the testimony of the senses. They must come to give due weight to the testimony of consciousness, and to the intuitions of the reason and conscience. They must cease to require the deference due to established facts to be paid to their speculations and explanations. And they must treat their fellow-men with due respect.”

“The man who is trying to be an atheist is trying to free himself from the laws of his being. He might as well try to free himself from liability to hunger or thirst.”

“This, as the whole context [of this part of the discussion] shows, means that a man in order to be entitled to be heard on the evolution theory, must be willing to renounce his faith not only in the Bible, but in God, in the soul, in a future life, and become a monistic materialist.”

“We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic…. The conclusion of the whole matter is, that the denial of design in nature is virtually the denial of God. Mr. Darwin’s theory does deny all design in nature, therefore, his theory is virtually atheistical….”

Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Company, 1874).

shane lems
hammond, wi

How Do Human Beings Differ From Animals?

In one section of his excellent book, Seven Truths That Changed The World, Ken Samples explains how human beings differ from animals.  It might seem like a no-brainer to some, but this is important to remember when evolutionary theories are creeping into Christian circles and churches.  (Note: as usual, I’ve edited this list to keep it brief, though I recommend the entire section and book.)

“Specific qualities and traits set people apart from all other creatures.  According to historic Christianity, and specifically in light of the imago Dei, these acute differences are expected.”

1) Human beings have an inherent spiritual and religious nature.  Nearly everyone pursues some form of spiritual truth.  People generally have deep-seated religious beliefs and engage in intricate rituals.  This defining characteristic of humankind is so apparent that some have designated humans as homo religiosus (religious person).  Though animals can be intelligent, they show no sign of spirituality or of concern with ultimate issues.

2) Human beings possess unique intellectual, cultural, and communicative abilities.  Humans are thinkers capable of abstract reasoning and able to recognize, apply, and communicate the foundational principles of logic.  Only human minds develop propositions, formulate arguments, draw inferences, recognize universal principles, and value logical validity, coherence, and truth.

3) Human beings are conscious of time, reality, and truth.  Humans alone recollect the past, recognize the present, and anticipate the future.  Only human beings pursue the truth, which has led to the founding and development of philosophy, science, mathematics, logic, the arts, and a religious worldview.

4) Human beings possess a conscience, identity, a value system, and legislate moral laws for society.  People have an inner sense of moral right and wrong or good and bad (conscience).  They deliberate about moral choices, feel the pull of prescriptive moral obligation, and conform their lives according to a system of ethical conduct.

5) Human beings are uniquely inventive and technological.  Human innovation has not only lengthened the human lifespan but also brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction.  In this sobering and humbling fact, people once again prove themselves unique among all living creatures.

6) Human beings possess an intense curiosity to explore and understand the created realm.  Birds may look to the star patterns in the sky to guide them in migrations, but humans seek to comprehend the source of starlight and what lies beyond it.

7) Human beings possess aesthetic taste and appreciation for more than just practical purposes.  People distinctly create, recognize, and appreciate beauty.  Humans often create because they are moved by a deep and mysterious sense of the beautiful.

“These seven characteristics clearly place human beings in a different category from the rest of Earth’s creatures.  In many respects humans are different in kind, not just in degree, from the animals.  And the distinct attributes of humankind comport well with what Scripture reveals concerning the imago Dei.”

Kenneth Samples, Seven Truths That Changed The World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), chapter 12.

rev shane lems