Saturday, 26 April 2014

Neville Clark's attack on evolution - 5

Clark continues by revisiting the tragic Ralph Lovelock affair, which saw an English Christadelphian disfellowshipped two years after delivering a series of Bible classes in which he explored how to reconcile Genesis with the evidence for human prehistory, which even in the middle of the 20th century was already compelling. Clark’s mistake is not in his recounting of the basic facts, but failing to heed the advice of the arranging brothers of bro Lovelock’s ecclesia and the then editor of The Christadelphian to acknowledge the fact that human life predated Adam, and rationally examine this  point. Clark’s approach is merely to ignore the problem and demonise those who concede there is a problem with the fundamentalist reading of the creation narratives.

My previous posts have shown both the overwhelming evidence against the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from two people living six thousand years ago, and Clark's attempt to rebut both this fact and the scientific evidence underlying it. Remarkably, Clark is also advancing views that run counter to early Christadelphians who while remaining opposed to evolution accepted that life on this planet predated Adam.

Clark’s views have parallels in other faith traditions. The evangelical Christian and geologist Davis Young has noted that many in his community simply refuse to even look at the evidence for human evolution:
“The modern evangelical church is extremely sensitive about open discussion of scientific issues that bear on Genesis 1-11. Enough Christians are so afraid of what might turn up in such discussions that anyone who does try to explore the issues is in ecclesiastical jeopardy. The prevailing atmosphere of fear tends to squelch attempts to deal with these issues. The issue of the origin of humankind is especially sensitive. It seems that the church is afraid to look into paleoanthropology. Where is the curiosity about the physical history of human beings? Among the multitude of evangelical commentaries on Genesis, hardly any of them addresses the problems of anthropology. Geology is often discussed. Some of the commentators have admitted the possibility of a local flood; others are not yet sure of the legitimacy of geological findings. But virtually all of the commentators assume the anthropological universality of the flood without any engagement whatsoever with the archeological and anthropological data relevant to the question of the flood’s impact on the human race. It’s as if the hundreds, perhaps thousands of ancient human sites around the world didn’t exist. [1]
Young’s remark about the ‘prevailing atmosphere of fear’ precluding honest discussion of these issues summarises the position in large parts of our community perfectly. In the aftermath of the Lovelock affair, Christadelphians such as Elwyn Humphreys advised believers to simply close their eyes and ears to any evidence that threatened a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. In parts of our community, the list of doctrines to be rejected includes evolutionary biology, which means that one can be disfellowshipped for accepting a scientific fact. Clark’s none-too-subtle comment about disfellowship shows that even today in 2014, when the fossil evidence for human evolution and genomic evidence of human-ape common ancestry is beyond reasonable doubt, the prevailing atmosphere in many parts of our community is very much one of fear.

In 1964, the British Christadelphian Ralph Lovelock gave a series of addresses titled fairly self-explanatorily “The Origin of Man.” He argued that:
“…a race of man-like creatures existed prior to the coming of Adam. These creatures were man-like in everything except that they had no knowledge of God, and consequently no relationship with Him. Adam was formed, in a way not described, from these creatures and became representative of them. God gave Adam special qualities (powers of leadership and longevity) and a revelation. Adam sinned and was expelled from the garden to die. He made known his way of life to the surrounding man-like creatures and they thereby became men. Adam’s descendants and the man-like creatures were able to intermarry, and from these sources the world was populated (that is, through Adam’s direct descendants, through the direct descendants of the man-like creatures, and through intermarriage between the two.) [1]
Unsurprisingly, this promoted no little controversy, which reached the pages of The Christadelphian with the then editor L.G. Sargent penning a personal (rather than editorial) critical response to Lovelock’s thesis. Sargent recognised that the facts could not be simply dismissed:
“…there is abundant evidence of early “man” at a time which certainly appears to be far beyond the limits allowed by Bible chronology. This must be admitted even after discounting the slender and uncertain remains claimed for a still more remote antiquity, about which there have been such notorious blunders and even downright fraud. [1]
Unfortunately, two years after Lovelock’s series of Bible classes, his ecclesia withdrew fellowship from him. It is to their eternal credit that the arranging brothers of his ecclesia recognised that the basic scientific facts bro Lovelock raised needed to be honestly addressed rather than ignored:
After some time we agreed that we had reached a clear understanding of our respective positions. Brother Lovelock’s views stem from his study of the subject of salvation and atonement, and from his wide reading of scientific writings concerning the origin of man and of other works on the relation of science to Scripture. We are satisfied that Ralph’s position has been conscientiously reached and is sincerely held. His reading has made him aware of a number of scientific problems and he knew that some brethren and sisters, particularly younger ones whose training and occupation brought them into contact with this field of knowledge, were troubled in trying to seek a reconciliation of science with Scripture. 
We wish to make it perfectly clear that we are not closing our eyes to the problems that confront us when the theories of modern scholarship are compared with the understanding and interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis commonly accepted among us, although we would emphasize that there is by no means complete agreement among scientists themselves concerning the ideas they advance, and a so-called fact of one generation may sometimes become merely the fancy of the next. 
At the same time, we are strongly of the opinion that the problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our Brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times.[2] (Bold emphasis mine)
Not everything in the statement from the Watford arranging brothers has withstood the test of time. Their claim that a ‘so-called fact of one generation may become the fancy of the next’ betrayed their conflation of scientific facts with the theories proposed to explain them. The fossil evidence for human evolution has exploded in the last fifty years, while the science of genomics, which alone confirms human-ape common ancestry simply did not exist in their era. Time has shown their assertion to be false.

Furthermore, their claim that tolerating bro Lovelock’s views would result in the end of our community was frankly alarmist:
We could not, therefore, accept the suggestion that both Ralph’s views and the views of our community might be able to live together without destroying the distinctive character of the latter. We are satisfied that the end of such a course would be the end of us as a community, because nothing could prevent a drift to the churches around us, or, for some, a drift to agnosticism. We could, therefore, only recommend to the ecclesia that brother Lovelock’s views, as outlined above, be rejected as contrary to our common faith and understanding, and as ultimately destructive of the well-being of the Brotherhood in true faith and fellowship.[3]
Many Christadelphians have drifted to the churches, or agnosticism without the trigger of evolution. In fact, this drift has taken place against a background of a wholesale Gadarene charge towards young earth creationism and rank science denialism. It is however to their credit that they recognised both the existence of a problem, and the need to honestly resolve it. In the half-century since this episode, those such as Clark are refusing to even acknowledge the existence of these problems, let alone turn their attention to ‘the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study.’ Clark is not contributing towards solving this problem but contributing to it.


[1] Sargent L.G “The Origin of Man” The Christadelphian (1965) 102:344 
[2] Statement from the Watford Ecclesia The Christadelphian (1965) 103:543–544. 
[3] ibid, p545–546.