Tag Archives: Creationism

Intelligently Designed: Phillip E. Johnson

I had the privilege of joining the University of Berkeley legal scholar, Phillip E. Johnson, for dinner with some friends, several years ago, before he gave a lecture at our church on Intelligent Design. Johnson, who wrote the 1991 landmark book, Darwin on Trial, died in early November, 2019. Professor Johnson, a gracious and kind gentleman, nevertheless puzzled me. Why would Johnson, as a lawyer, spend so much of his intellectual energy, challenging Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution? Why would a lawyer bother with biological science?

Johnson had a been a successful legal scholar, rising to the top level of his career, when in his 30’s, his life began to fall apart. His marriage failed, and he felt like he was going nowhere in his academic career. He then became a Christian, he remarried, and he gradually decided to invest his life in something more, something that really mattered.

When he read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, he was baffled by the logical argumentation employed by Dawkins’ all-encompassing evolutionary worldview. Johnson then made it his mission to understand and expose Dawkins’ logical flaws. In many ways, Phillip E. Johnson was the “godfather” of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement, reinvigorating the late 18th century (early 19th century) Christian apologetics of the British clergyman, William Paley, who first articulated the watchmaker analogy, promoting intelligent design.

By observing the behavior of the Ichneumonidae group of parasitoid wasps, that devour their hosts alive from the inside out, Charles Darwin had rejected William Paley’s argument: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.” Darwin was most well-known for his Origin of Species, but he also extended his arguments in works like his The Descent of Man, suggesting that evolution was an “unguided” and “undirected” process.

Johnson believed that the “unguided” and “undirected” elements of Darwin’s theory had horrific implications that extended beyond the domain of biology. The “purpose-less-ness” advocated by modern defenders of Darwin, like Richard Dawkins, tore at the very fabric of Judeo-Christian culture. Johnson marshaled his legal training against Darwin, combatting against the pro-Darwinian trends within academia.

Johnson’s counter-arguments to Darwin gained sympathy among a growing cadre of intellectuals, including Christians like Michael Behe and Stephen Myers, and many non-Christians as well, including Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies). This eventually encouraged the growth of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank dedicated towards refuting Darwinian evolution. In this sense, Phillip E. Johnson’s “Intelligent Design” movement is not specifically a Christian, biblically-based movement. Technically speaking, the “designer” in “Intelligent Design” need not be the God of the Bible. It could even be some super-intelligent life-form, from the reaches of outer space. Rather, “Intelligent Design” is but one apologetic strategy, that has been used by at least some Christians to defend a Christian, biblical worldview. Yet in many ways, Johnson’s broadly argued case for “Intelligent Design” has been a rallying point, a unifying effort to break the impasse that divides Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s critique against Charles Darwin has been very controversial, even within the church. For one thing, even atheistic scientists concede that there are a number of elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution that are no longer accepted within the larger scientific community. For example, Darwin knew nothing about genetics. We have Austrian monk Gregor Mendel to thank for giving us the contemporary scientific consensus as to how genes actually work… NOT Darwin.

But among Christians, the controversy over Johnson’s work centers around the definition of that slippery word, “evolution.” By “evolution,” does one actually mean “micro-evolution,” whereby small changes within species happens? Or does one mean “macro-evolution,” with large scale biological changes among plants and animals? What is meant by “directed” or “undirected” evolution?

Most Christians are willing to concede the principle of “micro-evolution.” Yet even the most ardent Young-Earth Creationist will argue that “macro-evolution,” at the level of biological families (though NOT beyond that!), indeed did happen, in a highly accelerated manner, after the global flood of Noah, as a means of explaining the extraordinary biological diversity we see today. Proponents of “Intelligent Design” have fashioned themselves as opponents of “theistic evolution,” despite the claim that Michael Behe, one of “Intelligent Design’s” greatest advocates, is actually a “theistic evolutionist” himself! Christians are all over the map when it comes to defining what they mean by “evolution.”

Phillip Johnson’s efforts to see the Intelligent Design movement expand more into popular education stalled in 2005, when a judge in a Pennsylvania federal court, against the Dover School District, ruled that the teaching of “Intelligent Design” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But “Intelligent Design” still lives on, as a vital intellectual force, as evidenced by the popularity of such films as Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Phillip Johnson’s arguments for “Intelligent Design” will surely survive his death. How well they will convince those living in the next generation yet remains to be seen. The larger consensus among academic scientists still rejects “Intelligent Design” as pseudo-science. Some theologians, who possess scientific training, such as Oxford’s Alister McGrath, are concerned that “Intelligent Design” leaves Christian apologetics vulnerable to a type of “God of the Gaps” theology, that does not adequately serve as the best way to defend the Christian faith. Nevertheless, best-selling books by Intelligent Design advocates, such as Stephen C. Myers, continue to be enthusiastically read. All the while, many Young Earth Creationists regard “Intelligent Design” as a halfway attempt to uphold Christianity, that does not go far enough in defending the Bible. I still have lingering questions myself, following my dinner with Phillip E. Johnson, some years ago. Nevertheless, the legacy of Phillip E. Johnson will continue to give many a lot to think about, for years to come.


Does Dark Matter … Really Matter?

Did you know that astrophysicists have found the “missing baryons?”  Why would a Christian care about such a discovery?

 

As Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and president of Reasons to Believe, put it, this discovery helps to solve the mystery of “dark matter,” supporting the modern Big Bang theory, which points to a beginning of the universe. When the Big Bang theory was first developed in the mid-20th century, a problem immediately became apparent, as the theory predicted that there should be a great mass of matter (or energy) existing between galaxies, making up to about 70% or so of the universe. The problem was that researchers could never see it; hence, roughly speaking, the term, “dark matter.”

In 2017, two independent teams of researchers were able to develop a method whereby they could detect the existence of the “missing baryons.” For those Christians who believe that the Bible affirms, or is at least not in conflict with, the idea of an ancient universe, of millions of years, this discovery appears to point towards the existence of so-called “dark matter,” helping to solve a persistent riddle, as to what was missing in the Bang Bang cosmological model. There is still a lot more to learn about so-called “dark matter,” and neither this discovery, nor the Big Bang theory necessarily “prove” the Bible. But for Christians who hold to an Old Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible, like astrophysicist Hugh Ross, this discovery is yet another piece of evidence in favor of the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

Ironically, many Young Earth Creationists have been fighting against the notion of dark matter for decades. Why? Because if dark matter really exists, it would help to bolster the Big Bang theory, and thereby undercut their interpretation of the Bible, namely that the earth and universe is only about 6,000 years old, contrary to the consensus of modern science. Now, there are at least some Young Earth Creationists, such as Danny Faulkner at Answers in Genesis, who are saying that the question of dark matter is really irrelevant, and that Young Earth Creationists, like astronomer Faulkner, should embrace the existence of dark matter in their alternative proposals. This is quite a concession.

But for those who believe that the evidence supporting the modern scientific consensus for the Big Bang is, at least, in some sense, consistent with what the Bible teaches, namely, that the universe had a beginning (“In the beginning”…. see Genesis 1:1), dark matter is not a problem at all. For if the universe had a beginning, it stands to reason that you will also have a Beginner!

Now, with a God who works miracles, a Young Earth Creation is still possible. Many of my dear Christian friends are Young Earth Creationists, and they have several thoughtful reasons for holding to their position. But the story of dark matter raises a good question: As a Christian, what is easier to defend when talking with a non-believer? The idea that science coheres with the Bible, or that science is in conflict with the Bible?


Does Carbon-14 Radiometric Dating Undermine the Bible (or Confirm It)?

Some Christians are not fans of radiometric dating. They believe that radiometric dating has been used to attack the Bible. These Christians seek to honor God’s Word, so the motives behind the argument against some scientific practices, such as Carbon-14 dating, are well-intentioned. Nevertheless, this approach can be confusing, if not wrongheaded, for the simple reason that Carbon-14 dating actually presents strong evidence for the Christian faith (and not against it).

How can that be?

Carbon-14 dating is but one of several radiometric dating methods, whereby scientists can determine the ages of things, by examining how quickly certain substances have decayed over time in a sample. Substances, like Carbon-14, will slowly break down, at a rate determined by the radioisotope’s half-life.

Radiometric dating methods, like with Carbon-14, get a bad rap among some Christians, in that the science of radiometric dating is used to suggest that the earth is really, really old… as in millions of years old… which runs contrary to a common view, that the earth is only 6,000 years old. However, it should be clarified that Carbon-14 dating, specifically, can only measure things in terms of thousands of years old, and not millions. But the calibration principle behind Carbon-14 dating, when applied to other substances with a much longer half-life, like potassium, allows scientists to measure dates in the range of millions of years. Therefore, the concern about radiometric dating in principle remains.

But how many Christians know that Carbon-14 dating actually has been used to confirm the Bible? Let me describe a few examples. Continue reading


Supporting Vaccination: Loving Our Non-Believing Neighbors

Many of you have been hearing about recent measles outbreaks across the country. What is so sad about this situation is that vaccination is probably the most effective means of preventing the spread of measles. But when we learn that many of the “anti-vaccination” people are evangelical Christians, the story gets even more distressing.

Folks, many Christians are divided over many things, including how we should be thinking biblically about science. But this is one issue where Christians should be united, if not for the sake of our own families, but also for the sake of our witness to our non-believing neighbors.

Consider this, of the three primary creationist positions, regarding faith/science issues facing the church today (Young Earth Creation, Old Earth Creation, and Evolutionary Creation), all three have leading ministries endorsing the use of vaccines, such as Creation Ministries International, Reasons to Believe, and Biologos, respectively. The fact that all three of these groups, which differ in so many other respects, speak of one mind regarding the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, is a remarkable testimony.

Unfortunately, too many people make the step of drawing from statements, by evangelists like Gloria Copeland (below), that you do not need vaccines (flu, in Copeland’s case), and that we can simply trust in Jesus.  Yes, we should trust in Jesus, but this does not mean that we should not take prudent steps to protect our health and the health of others around us. Nothing in life is risk free, but Christians should stop passing on debunked stories as to the supposed link between autism and vaccines. The benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks.

In an era when so many non-Christians have such suspicions towards evangelical Christians, it would greatly speak for the Gospel if Christians can take the step of making sure we approve of vaccinations, in word and deed, as an expression of love towards our non-believing neighbor.


Did Abraham Receive the Call to Go to Canaan While in Haran, or in Ur?

Answering this question is actually a fairly easy one to tackle. But there are two ways to go about it, and each way gives us a different picture of what the biblical writer is trying to do in Genesis.

In Genesis 11:26-32, we get the story about Terah, the father of Abraham (whose name was slightly different at this point, “Abram.”):

When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran (Genesis 11:26-32 ESV).

In summary, Abraham’s family moves from the land of Ur (in modern day Iraq), to Haran (in modern day Turkey), an area about half-way along the journey, across the Fertile Crescent, well short of reaching Canaan.

Continue reading


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