Sunday, September 23, 2007

Do you know why you don’t believe?

Driving home Friday I was appalled to hear Lee Strobel1 explain why he doesn’t believe in theistic evolution on the Bible Answer Man show (9/21/07 edition). I wasn’t appalled that he doesn’t believe in it; it was his reasoning that got to me.

The importance of clear thinking

It’s ok to disbelieve theistic evolution2, or any old-earth or young-earth position, but you need to be able to give a reasonable answer as to why. The reason I’m so concerned is that nonbelievers will judge us based on the quality of our reasoning – even when they’re not so picky about their own!

If you give a nonbeliever a poor reason for not believing in something, you reinforce various unfortunate notions about Christians and thinking including:
- Christians can’t/don’t think.
- Christianity requires blind faith.
- Christians don’t care to know what the other side really believes.

These stereotypes harm Christians in academia, hinder bringing people to Christ, and make it more difficult to take Christianity into the public square. On top of that, if Christians look dumb, it makes Christ look dumb. We cannot permit that.

Strobel and theistic evolution

When asked about theistic evolution, Lee Strobel described macro-evolution as a random, undirected, and purposeless process. Therefore, he thinks that theistic evolution is implicitly contradictory because it does not leave room for a creator. I would argue that this is true of Darwinian evolution, but this doesn’t necessarily apply to theistic evolution.

Macro-evolution may be summed up as “descent with modification.” The idea is that a change will occur in a creature’s genetic code. It will get passed on to its progeny. If this change makes the progeny superior to their competitors, those with the change will be more likely to reproduce than those without it – thus preserving the change. Such changes slowly accumulate over time until a creature is born that is fundamentally different than its ancestors – a new species.

The above may be an undirected process (aka Darwinism), or it may be divinely (or otherwise) directed. If one believes that there are stages in a naturalistic system that require intelligent guidance or supernatural assistance (e.g.,
abiogenesis, the origin of information, chirality, certain special physical features, or consciousness), the system could be described as theistic evolution. (Incidentally, adherents can believe that most species were created by the somewhat automatic evolutionary system and still believe that humans are a special creation.) To put it bluntly, theistic evolution is defined as macro-evolution that required divine assistance.

Again, I have no problem with Strobel not believing in theistic evolution. But by mischaracterizing that position to the BAM audience he made it more likely that those Christians will later mischaracterize it to others who will recognize that they don’t understand the position; this will make them, and by extension Christ, look bad.

We owe it to our Lord and to our unbelieving neighbors to think carefully about everything we believe and everything we do not believe. Anything less is not loving our God with all our minds.

(1) For the record, I respect Lee Strobel's work and have many of his books. His connection to apologetics is part of what causes my concern.

(2) I'm certainly not convinced.

You may also be interested in You are what you eat...and hear, see, and read


Vinny said...

I think Strobel does his readers a great disservice by portraying himself as an investigative journalist because it leads them to believe that he is giving them a balanced picture of both sides of the debate. I think Strobel's fans believe themselves to be well equipped to deal with skeptics' arguments, when in fact they don't what skeptics believe or why.

ChrisB said...

Strobel's books do deal with skeptical arguments, but I think his books would be stronger if he let actual skeptics make their case rather than trying to do it for them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Jon said...

I think that part of this problem lies in the word "evolution" as it is defined. Strobel took it to mean macro-evolution--"a random, undirected, and purposeless process." Others take it simply to mean variation over time. You distinguish between Darwinian and theistic evolution.
Coming from a non-scientific educational background, I do not believe that the word has been well-defined, and I believe this is on purpose.

For example, I read a book recently on the topic of teaching evolution in school (the self-described "unbiased" book was for it). The author relied in heavy part on the slippery definition of evolution for many of his arguments. In one place, it meant cosmic evolution. In another, breeding dogs. He did not qualify his use of the word; it was left to the judicious reader to figure out what he was doing. When this technique is applied and not detected (and I find that it is applied a lot), any dissenting response can only be perceived by the establishment as Strobel's was: Ignorant, unintelligent, etc.

To his credit, Strobel defined against precisely what he was arguing. Instead of criticizing him, we should do as you do and define the term, or perhaps even better, make evolutionists define the term themselves. Hiding behind a slippery, ever-changing definition should always be called out and never accepted as the basis for an argument.

ChrisB said...

Proponents of naturalistic evolution are a notoriously slippery bunch; they often use evidence for micro-evolution as if it supports macro-evolution. We do have to be diligent about making them define their terms and watch that they don't try to equivocate.

On the show, Strobel clearly stated that he meant macro-evolution, and he stayed consistent. My concern was when he equated naturalistic evolution and theistic evolution.

Like the new "beard" :-)

Phil Swaim said...

A good post. I actually believe that if evolution is true, it was a mere tool God used in directing His creation. God influences our lives in so many ways small and great. Can He not influence small or great changes in dna?

Ultimately, most YECs are just as bad as the extreme atheistic evolutionists. if you don't agree with them, they both will cast you out of their church and paint you as an apostate, ignorant, or both.