Finding God in What We Know (RJS)

9781587433948Dennis Venema’s final chapter in Adam and the Genome examines his move from a position of Intelligent Design to Evolutionary Creation. It isn’t that he finds the world a random mess with humans as lucky accidents. Rather, he has come to believe that evolutionary mechanisms are God’s means of intelligently designing and sustaining his creation. This is an important point. All Christians believe that God intelligently designed the earth and that humans are created in his image. The issue is really one of process – does science reveal an accurate evolutionary history or not? If so, this will have consequences for the ways in which we might understand and interpret Scripture – but it does not change the fact that God is the Creator.

The Intelligent Design (ID) movement argues that there are firm limits to the power of natural processes and that the origin and structure of life on earth exhibits features that point unmistakably to a designer. The key point is that these limits provide scientific evidence for the existence of this designer. As Christians we believe the designer to be God, but this isn’t a key tenet of ID.

Two significant design arguments advanced by Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution) and Stephen Meyer (Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt) center on irreducible complexity and the genesis of new information content.  Dennis digs into both of these areas of research. He finds the arguments for ID less than compelling (and I agree completely on this). I am not going to summarize Dennis’s analysis – buy the book and read it. Send questions – or set up a discussion group including biochemists and geneticists in the mix. One key point is that, in addition to the popular single site mutation, a variety of other mechanisms can also result in changes to the genome. These include gene duplication, register slippage and whole genome duplication. Many of the changes are neutral, but provide the working ground for the development of new or modified biochemical systems capable of new function. If a modification is beneficial, it eventually becomes dominant in the population.

God in our ignorance. Although Behe, Meyer, and many of their colleagues insist that they are looking for positive evidence for design rather than for gaps that only God can fill, the arguments still have the aura of God-of-the-gaps reasoning. In the conclusion to this chapter Dennis writes:

Over the course of my personal journey away from ID, I came to an uncomfortable conclusion: ID seemed strong only where there was a lack of relevant evidence. Though ID proponents strongly deny the charge, I cam to view ID as a God-of-the-gaps argument. The less one knows about the fossil record, the more compelling ID appears. The less one knows about the details of biochemical systems and how they change over time, the more compelling ID appears. The less one knows about the genetic code, the more compelling ID appears. The less one knows about the organization of the genome, the more compelling ID appears. The origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, and the origin of most complex biological systems are deep in the past, making them challenging, though not impossible, to study. Yet despite the challenges scientists face in these areas of inquiry, evidence continues to trickle in that undermines ID and supports evolution. Have chemists solved how life arose on earth? Not remotely, nor will they in the foreseeable future, if ever. Have biologists determined the detailed mechanism by which every complex biochemical structure arose through an evolutionary process? Not at all, nor will they. Is this good reason to claim that evolution has failed, that God must have created genetic information of complex biochemical structures directly? … The track record of these sorts of arguments is poor, even for the ID movement over the last twenty years. (p. 90)

DNAdsEvolution can be design. We should move away from the idea that evolution and design are mutually exclusive. God can and does work through a wide range of process that we consider “natural.”  The distinction between natural process and divine action can distort our view of God’s work in his creation. The Bible gives us examples of God working personally with his people. Moses saw God, God spoke through visions and through prophets. The incarnation, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is the most important example. But the psalmist can also write “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (139:13) as a testimony to God’s providence, not a repudiation of “natural” embryonic and fetal development. There is nothing inherently atheistic about evolutionary processes. Dennis asks “Could it be that God, in his wisdom, chose to use what we would call a “natural” mechanism to fill his creation with biodiversity adapted to its environment?” and “If he did, would he be any less a creator than if he had done so miraculously?” (p. 90)  I am convinced that God could, in his wisdom, use evolutionary processes and that this is completely consistent with our understanding of God as creator. On this question then, the wisest approach is simply to let the science take its course. We need not jump on every bandwagon, but we also need not fear the ultimate conclusions, whatever they are. We should be more concerned with the metaphysical conclusions that some people attempt to weld onto the science as though they were all one piece.

Finding God in what we know – not in what we don’t know.  Dennis also suggests that ID – the fixation on scientific evidence for a designer – is counter to the Scriptural witness. In Romans 1 Paul writes “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (1:20) Modern science sheds no light on this claim. God isn’t hidden in the details of the DNA or in the complex biochemical mechanisms of the cell. He is present in what we all know and see, from the beginning of the human race (whenever and wherever that was) right up to the present day. “Paul calls us to see God in what we know, not in what we don’t know – and as science reveals ever more about creation, we know more and more about how God chose to bring his creation into being.” (p. 91)

In the next post on Adam and the Genome we will begin to look at Scot’s contribution on Paul and Adam in context from the perspective of a New Testament scholar.

Where do we see God in creation?

What is the signature of design?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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