Friday, 21 February 2014

Following the witness of creation no matter where it leads

At God of Evolution, Tyler Francke targets one of the rhetorical devices employed by science denialists in the Christian church, that of implying evolution is a belief:
Do you believe in evolution?” It’s an incredibly common question in the church today, and at first glance, it may seem perfectly straightforward and innocent enough. 
But it isn’t. Because, unfortunately, it is informed by a presupposition that is completely and utterly false. You see, the underlying assumption here is that accepting evolution is merely a matter of personal preference, along the lines of “Do you like Taylor Swift?” or “Are you a fan of ‘The Walking Dead’?” It implies that there is no objective truth in the matter to speak of, which reduces it to a toss-up, a question of “belief” and personal choice: “Do you choose to believe in this story, or do you choose to believe in this other story?” 
We don’t do this to other scientific questions. We don’t ask people if they “believe in” gravity, or ultraviolet light, or atoms and molecules, or exoplanets, or germs. But, for some reason, we think evolution is a different animal. 
Well, it’s not. There is enough evidence for evolution by common descent to fill libraries and museums all over the planet (and, in fact, it does). The evidence for the ancient age of the earth and universe is even stronger; indeed it is — quite literally — written in the stars
Now, this evidence does not “prove” anything. Evidence is just a record of the past, and like any record, it has to be interpreted. But the one thing that we Christians...cannot do is ignore the evidence. 
The evidence of endogenous retroviruses, identical proteins and pseudogenes, atavisms, comparative phylogenies, nested heirarchies, vestigial structures and organs, fixed-action patterns, continental distribution, island biogeography, ring species, the fossil record, the many observed examples of natural selection at work and so on, must all be explained by any Christian worldview that would seek to supplant evolution as a viable explanation of why life looks the way it does. And, it must not only “explain” this evidence, but it must do so in a way that is more plausible and intellectually satisfying than evolution.
Alas, this is a problem in our community, where one of the best-attested scientific facts in science is treated as a heresy, as one can see in the Doctrines to be Rejected section in some of the more conservative Christadelphian ecclesias, where acceptance of evolution is regarded as a heresy. If the consequences weren't so tragic, it would be laughable. 

The blunt fact is that common descent is true, life has been evolving for billions of years, and humans and apes share common ancestry. No matter how many times fundamentalists in our community push a flawed, human interpretation of Romans 5:12, the evidence from comparative genomics alone will confirm the fact of Darwin's comment that "man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

Over a century ago, CC Walker commented on the possibility that ancient giant bird fossils could be the ancestor of current species:
Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity, nor await with less faith and patience the reappearance of Moses in the land of the living.’ [1]
In the 104 years since then, the fossil record has confirmed the reality of large-scale evolutionary change, but the science of genomics has confirmed that common descent is a fact beyond dispute. It doesn't matter whether we do not like it. Nature has no obligation to change itself to suit our theological presuppositions. As Francke concludes:
If the diversity of life on this planet today is the result of billions of years of evolution — as all of the evidence in numerous independent fields of inquiry indicates — then that’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t matter if it makes us uncomfortable or wrecks our neat theological models. We can’t choose to simply “not believe in” a well-evidenced scientific theory because we’re not satisfied with the way our theological hang-ups to said theory have been addressed. 
We have to live in the same world everyone else does, and we have to address the facts that concern that world. We can’t simply pretend the facts aren’t there, nor can we just wave them away with appeals to God’s miraculous power and expect everyone else to applaud our brilliant non-explanations.
[1].  Walker CC, 'Genesis', The Christadelphian (1910) 47:501