Darwin’s Day

[This is an approximation of the sermon I preached today at Houston International Seventh-day Adventist Church. The only notes I was using were on my PowerPoint presentation; I tried to reproduce the gist of it after the fact here.]

2009 is a big year for Darwinists. February 12th marked Darwin’s 200th birthday–this past week Houston marked Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday;  November will bring the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Houston is a leader in science research and education, so it isn’t surprising that Houston is participating in the anniversary celebrations. The major museums and many of the colleges and universities will be having displays and lectures to commemorate, and to reinforce, Darwin’s theory of evolution.

It’s a celebration, but in the announcements of the talks one can also detect a bit of defensiveness. Darwinists are afraid–afraid that they are losing ground. A 2005 National Geographic poll of 34 American and European countries asked people to respond to this question: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” The United States placed 33rd (followed by Turkey), with only 40% of respondents saying the statement was true.

Darwinists are especially alarmed at the inroads that have been made by “Intelligent Design,” which they regard as a stealth form of Creationism. Despite losses in Dover, PA, and in Kansas, the issue keeps returning. “Intelligent Design” was the brainchild of Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. His 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box, laid out his arguments. Just as we can tell that Mt. Rushmore is not the product of the ordinary mountain-forming processes of uplift and erosion, so we can see evidence of intelligent design in life. He argues on the basis of what he calls “irreducible complexity,” and gives the mouse trap as an example of a machine that could not be any simpler without being unable to function as a mousetrap. He points to certain cell structures, such as the bacterium flagellum, as an example in nature. If you take away one item in its structure, you don’t have a flagellum that functions less well, you have something that doesn’t function–at least not as a propulsion device. How then could it have evolved through the Darwinian process of random variation and natural selection over the course of eons of time?

It’s really not a new argument; it’s a variation of what is known as the teleological argument for the existence of God as articulated by philosophers from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas. William Paley (1743-1805) compared the natural world to a watch: a glance at its intricate workings tells you it didn’t arise by chance. It was designed. He pointed to structures in the human body, including the epiglottis  and the eye, as indicators of design.

Darwin saw his theory as a refutation of Paley; he believed natural selection showed how complex structures could evolve without divine intervention.

Michael Behe disagrees; he thinks Intelligent Design, as he defines it, is compatible with deep time, common ancestry, and natural selection.

“I have no reason to doubt that the universe is … billions of years old.”

“I find the idea of common descent … fairly convincing”

“… Although some religious thinkers envision active, continuing intervention in nature, intelligent design is quite compatible with the view that the universe operates by unbroken natural laws, with the design of life perhaps packed into its initial set-up.”

It makes you wonder what the fuss is all about. Why do the evolutionists despise and fear him so?–he is one of them! And he sees no incompatibility between evolution and his Catholic faith–as did Pope Pius XII fifty years ago.

Many other religions have also reconciled themselves to Darwinian thought, as noted in a recent Pew study. Last Sunday was celebrated by over a thousand churches as Evolution Sunday, with sermons dedicated to defending Darwin.

No Seventh-day Adventist churches participated. We gather to worship on Sabbath, a day that reinforces in us each week its Biblical rationale:

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:11

Our observance of the Sabbath has been a bulwark against acceptance of Darwin’s theory (though, regrettably,  some Adventist theologians and scientists are beginning to compromise). But we do not despise science. We value scientific inquiry. We have credible science programs in our colleges and universities. Because of this dual appreciation for the rightful role of both the Bible and science, we have investigated the Bible’s claims and those of Darwin. We created the field of “scientific creationism,” as Ron Numbers details in his history, The Creationists. George McCready Price, a Canadian school teacher and armchair geologist, got the ball rolling. He was followed by Harold W. Clark, who was able to beyond McCready’s amateurism because he had a Ph.D. in biology from UC Berkeley. Their arguments were picked up by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb in their 1961 book, The Genesis Flood, and scientific creationism reached a much broader audience. The Seventh-day Adventist Church founded its Geoscience Research Institute in 1958; Morris would help found the Creation Research Society in 1963 and the Institute for Creation Research in 1972.

The Geoscience Research Institute‘s webpage is a wealth of information about Creationism, including back issues of its scientific journal, Origins. Another resource I’d recommend as a basic introductory text is Ariel A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture.

Creationists have done a good job of raising substantive questions about evolutionary theory. “Intelligent Design” has served a role here. It has raised the question of design, but it hasn’t been able to do any more than that; its proponents have not proposed any way to test for and verify design. Its critics therefore argue it is unscientific.

But there are other questions we can raise. There are missing layers in the geologic column which cannot be attributed to erosion of those layers. There’s the fact that plant fossils are rarely found in quantity alongside dinosaur fossils, raising the question of what they ate. There’s the question of erosion rates, which are easily measured–these suggest that the continents would have been washed away many times in the hundreds of millions of years needed to evolve life according to the Darwinian timeframe.  There’s the question of the “Prebiotic Soup” out of which life supposedly arose; experiments to replicate it, and form amino acids, have involved chemical mixes that cannot be proven to have existed–the scientists “stacked the deck.” Plus, these assume the possibility of spontaneous generation of life from non-life, something Pasteur proved to be impossible. There’s the question of the “Cambrian Explosion,” in which widely varied forms of life suddenly appear in the fossil record without evidence of their ancestors in earlier layers.

The field of cladistics, or biological classification, also raises important questions, notably the lack direct ancestors, or “missing links,” at the points where species are said to branch off. And there are fewer of these than there were a generation ago, because some classic examples, such as the evolution of the horse, have proven to be false.

Another classic example proven false is the embryonic chart of Ernst Haeckel. He attempted to show that all embryos look basically the same, saying it was an evidence of common origin. He argued that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”–that is, the development of the embryo repeats its evolutionary history. Haeckel’s chart was reproduced in countless biological texts, including Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph Levine, Biology (4th ed., Prentice Hall, 1998). But that was the last year that Miller and Levine included it. They tell the story on their webpage:

British embryologist Michael Richardson and his colleagues published an important paper in the August 1997 issue of Anatomy & Embryology showing that Haeckel had fudged his drawings to make the early stages of embryos appear more alike than they actually are! As it turns out, Haeckel’s contemporaries had spotted the fraud during his lifetime, and got him to admit it. However, his drawings nonetheless became the source material for diagrams of comparative embryology in nearly every biology textbook, including ours!”

To their credit, they did what was right:

So, what have we done?

Well, we fixed it!

In 1998 we rewrote page 283 of the 5th edition to better reflect the scientific evidence. Our books now contain accurate drawings of the embryos made from detailed photomicrographs.

But other textbook authors appear not to have gotten the memo. Haeckel’s embryos appear in other textbooks since, including Raven and Johnson, Biology (2002 and 2004), despite Richardson’s proof that they constitute “one of the most famous fakes in biology.”

So Creationists–and even evolutionists, in the last two cases–have done a good job of raising questions. But that’s not enough. This point was made effectively by Randy Olson in his film, “A Flock of Dodos.” Intuition–the sense that something isn’t right–is a good starting point. It’s how all science starts. But it isn’t science unless it goes on to propose a hypothesis to explain the data, tests the hypothesis, and submits the paper for peer review.

Are Creationists doing research and publishing in peer reviewed journals? Seventh-day Adventist scholars are. I could mention many examples. Ariel Roth has worked in the area of the growth of coral reefs, fossil and modern, showing that instead of requiring millions of years to form, the deepest could have been formed in about 5000 years. Harold Coffin and Clyde Webster have looked at the Yellowstone fossil forests; Coffin compared them to transported forests in the aftermath of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, while Webster went further, examined the lava flows, comparing their chemical signature to lava flows of active volcanoes in Hawaii, and demonstrated that dozens of layers of forest were deposited by eruptions that occurred in the space of a couple of years. Paul Buchheim has looked at the deposition of layers in fossil lake beds, demonstrating that they, too, could be formed in much shorter time than has been assumed.

And there is still room for nature to play a hand and surprise everyone. This was the case in the creation of the Canyon Lake Gorge in the Texas Hill Country, which was carved in the space of three days in 2002.

But we have to be honest and acknowledge that there has been plenty of un-scientific creationism as well; frauds have been proposed by hucksters–and accepted by gullible creationists. We can mention the various claims of having found human footprints in the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, TX, or Ron Wyatt’s fantastic claims of having found Noah’s Ark and the ark of the covenant. I remember as a kid hearing people suggest that dinosaurs never existed; either the fossils were put together in the wrong way or God tricked us by putting phony fossils in the rock. Some have suggested Satan made dinosaurs, or that man “amalgamated” them through cross-breeding, creating “confused species.” But what species we know today could have been crossed to create a brachiosaurus? I think of the scene where this dinosaur first appears in “Jurassic Park.” He didn’t look at all confused to me–though the fictional scientists did! But I loved the look on their faces, a mixture of disbelief and awe and wonder and a giddy desire to get closer. That’s how we should approach these magnificent extinct life forms, seeing them as examples of God’s marvelous creative power.

Creationists have also been guilty of playing a kind of “bait-and-switch.” This happened in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. That was the school district where they required teachers to read a short statement in biology classes suggesting “Intelligent Design” was an alternative, and if they wanted to know more about it they should read the book, Of Pandas and People. In the court case it was demonstrated that earlier editions had spoken of “creation”–this edition simply replaced “creation” with Intelligent Design. The “smoking gun” was this passage in a draft:

“Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view.”

They wanted to insert a theological belief into the public schools, and they did so by a sleight-of-hand, using “Intelligent Design” as code. And the Judge caught them, and determined they were unconstitutionally seeking to bring a religious belief into the public schools.

We Seventh-day Adventists, though we are proponents of creationism, do not see that we must introduce it into the public schools. We believe Jefferson was right to advocate that the first amendment erects a “wall of separation” between church and state. We do not see it the place of the government to advocate religious beliefs–even those we agree with.

We may use science to show that our belief in Creationism is reasonable, but we cannot pretend that our belief comes from any other source than Scripture. Let’s not be embarrassed to affirm it. We keep the Sabbath, and believe in Creationism, because we accept the plain teaching of Scripture:

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:11

And we see that Scripture raises other important issues, questions that must be answered by those who think that Christianity and evolution can be combined. A book that details many of these is John Baldwin, Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of the Atonement.

One of the key arguments Baldwin makes is this. The Bible says the creation was “very good.” It says (Rom 5:12), “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…” But Christ paid “the wages of sin” by his own death. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26 ). And having destroyed death, God creates the earth anew, free of sin and death:  “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).

Evolution says, on the other hand, that death predated humanity by billions of years. If that is true, Christ’s death does not pay “the wages of sin, ” and we can’t have hope that death will be destroyed. Embracing evolution destroys both the atonement on Calvary and our hope in the Second Advent.

Proper understanding of Creation takes on a new importance in the last days, as we read in Revelation 14:

“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters’” (Revelation 14:6-7).

Let me highlight one phrase: we are to worship the one who “made heaven, and earth, and the sea.” There’s one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used–the Sabbath commandment. Here in the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14 is a clear allusion to the Sabbath in the center of an eschatological warning about worship.

Consider the phrase, “the fountains of waters”–it’s an allusion to another passage, the “fountains of the deep” that erupted in the flood. God’s warning of judgment to come asks us to consider both the Creation and the flood, assuming the historicity of both.

The same connection is made by Peter:

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:3-7)

Attention was focused on the judgment message of Revelation 14 in 1844–the same year Charles Darwin published a preliminary “Essay” that was foundational for his later volume, The Origin of Species. We as Seventh-day Adventists can take that as providential–at the very time Darwin was proposing his theories of natural selection, God was raising up a people to proclaim God as Creator, worshiping him on the timeless memorial God gave of Creation, the Sabbath.

Let’s hear again the angel’s message. What does it tell us to do? Fear God, give glory to him, and worship him. To “fear” God comes from the Greek phobéomai, a word which itself comes from the Greek, phébomai , “to flee.” The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses it to translate the Hebrew terms for “to be afraid” or “to tremble”; to “reverence.” We need a vision of God’s majesty, as seen by Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and John. We’ve tamed him down; but he’s not tame, as C. S. Lewis said–he’s a roaring lion. We need to approach him with fear and trembling and awe.

“Give glory to him” comes from the Greek, dóxa, itself a translation of the Hebrew term, kābôd. One one level it refers to the brilliance of God’s presence; when we “give glory,” it means acknowledging or extolling God’s greatness and power. It means lifting him up in praise, exalting him on high.

And to “Worship him” is to throw ourselves down before him–from the Greek, proskynéō, literally to bow down in adoration and worship before God’s majesty. We need to rethink what we do in worship. Too often our worship time can be a busy time; we have announcements, and we chit-chat, and the kids run underfoot, some are watching DVDs, others eating and drinking or playing. We need to recover the kind of worship called for here–it starts by recognizing who God is, this awesome God who created the universe with a word, glorifying him, and throwing ourselves at his feet.

The First Angel’s Message also tells us our task: to proclaim the everlasting gospel to all the world. And that starts here, and now, when we walk through this door to go back out into the world.

Judgment is coming–and that mean’s Darwin will truly have his day. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom 14:10). “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).

13 thoughts on “Darwin’s Day

  1. “Evolution says, on the other hand, that death predated humanity by billions of years. If that is true, Christ’s death does not pay “the wages of sin, ” and we can’t have hope that death will be destroyed. Embracing evolution destroys both the atonement on Calvary and our hope in the Second Advent.”

    No s*** sherlock. Evolution threatens your insane christian death cult. You drooling imbeciles will eventually be found only in insane asylums, and in my opinion that’s where you belong now. I never heard of anyone more f***ing stupid than you are. You’re a disgrace to the human race.

    Your comments in one sentence: “Modern biology threatens my childish beliefs, therefore the biologists are wrong.”

    Breathtaking stupidity. You’re out of your f***ing mind ***hole.

    Have you ever in your life made any effort to study the discoveries of modern science, without getting your information filtered by professional liars for J****s? That’s the problem with you cowardly ***holes. You’re willfully ignorant. You are only interested in what supports your childish belief in magic. If it was up to me you ***holes would be hunted down, forced to wear straitjackets, and locked up. Insane people like you shouldn’t be allowed in public.

    • Well. Such polite language. I don’t normally post stuff like this–and this fellow had like five or six similar posts. I’ve combined two of them here.

      It definitely reinforces a point Randy Olson’s made in “A Flock of Dodos”: he said he’d much rather spend time with the Creationists he met, despite his disagreements, than with the evolutionists he interviewed, who shared an arrogant nastiness.

      And yes, I do indeed believe in angels.

  2. One of the things I find striking about those on the other side of this ideological divide is the level of anger and fear. One of the tenets of our great nation is the ability to agree to disagree. Freedom of thought and expression. Years have passed and traditional liberalism has gone by the wayside. Long gone are the days of genuine, sincere people able to say, ‘I don’t agree with your opinnion, but I’d die in order for you to keep your right to have it.’ Thanks for your insightful article.

  3. Bill,
    My wife and I attended a seminar held at Loma Linda University by the Geoscience Research Institute. We were disgusted and angered that these guys were all advocting a “third choice” between biblical creationism and Darwinism. They were so stealthy and underhanded in their approach that it was sickening. Their third choice of course was theistic evolution over millions of years. These guys refuse to even look at the overwhelming evidence for a young universe and young earth that is presented by the Institute for Creation Research here in San Diego. This group of scientists at ICR has completely overthrown radiometric dating through their RATE program. Dr. Russel Humphreys has a fantastic video showing that the evidence for a young universe is much greater than the supposed evidence for billions of years. His credentials and those of the others at the ICR are impecable.

    By the way, regarding the vulgar comments of your first responder, you have to give him credit. His outrageous expression of his hatred of Creationism and Christianity is really identical to how most of the secular scientific community feel about the creationists. Their feelings are just as deeply saturated with hatred as Bobxxxx’s, but they usually attempt to hide their true feelings behind their distortions of the objective data.

  4. Bill, nice sermon. Let me comment on a few things:

    1. I have never had the impresson that the Geoscience Research Institute is advocating some type of theistic evolution, as Bill Diehl is proposing. Both James Gibson and Tim Standish came and guest lectured for our “Issues in Origins” class at the seminary (as they do every year for that class) and neither of them hinted at any such idea. It seems to me that they are big proponets of ID/Creationism.

    2. Believing that the universe is billions of years old presents no challenges to ID-advocates or students of the Bible. I am not sure what the problem is. Nothing in the Bible would preclude us from subscribing to the Big Bang Theory – which says that the universe (in distinction from the earth) is some 16 billion years old. Similarly, even if geology proposes that this EARTH is millions of years old, we don’t necessary have to get bent out of shape with such an idea. Genesis tells us that before God created this earth as we know it, the earth was “without form and void.”

    3. Our views on the separation of church and state do not prevent us from calling for ID to be presented as a viable option in public schools. Intelligent Design does not necessarily need to be loaded with religious jargon. Just as we would not be especially excited about teachers in public school talking about homosexual marriage as a legitimate option (and we would object, when it comes right down to it, on religious grounds), we need not concede to the idea that only evolution must be taught in public schools.

    • When ID becomes a scientific theory–when it analyzes data, presents a hypothesis, tests it, and submits it to peer review–then it will legitimately have a place in science curricula. Till then I think the Darwinists are right–it’s just sleight-of-hand for those creationists who think it the job of the public school to teach religion.

      But nothing is stopping it from being discussed in philosophy, writing, speech, or current events classes–or even in science classes when students raise questions of the teacher.

  5. You and I disagree on this then, Bill. I think many ID scientists are caught in a catch-22. It is challenging to get articles published in peer-reviewed journals when those peers are religiously committed to Darwinism.

    I definitely do not think it is “sleight-of-hand,” as you say. David Berlinski, for example, is a secular Jew who has no “Creationist” agenda to push, and yet he is a huge advocate of ID. As you have pointed out as well, Michael Behe doesn’t seem to be a “dyed-in-the-wool” Creationist, either. My impressions of Bill Dembski are very similar in the interviews I have seen/heard with him.

    • The fact is, they haven’t bothered to submit papers on ID–Behe certainly hasn’t. They haven’t even proposed how you might test for it. It is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one. I wish they’d admit it and move on.

      It’s definitely sleight-of-hand when it is being pushed in schools–that was well demonstrated in Dover when they looked at the editing history of the Pandas book. All they did was cut “creation” and insert “design.”

  6. Have you read “Darwin’s God,” by Cornelius Hunter? I would highly recommend it. I don’t know that you’d necessarily disagree with what I am going to say, but perhaps you would: Evolution is a philosophical (perhaps even theological) theory – at least that was Darwin’s original intent. Evolutionists start with philosophical presuppositions – the same thing ID proponents do, I will grant you – and then work from there.

    The only difference between ID/Evolutionary scientists is the conclusions that are drawn from the set of data. The problem is, when evolutionists “analyzes data, present a hypothesis, test it, and submit it to peer review,” as you say, they are doing so only on the micro-level – something mosts scientists can agree on. But their hypothesis as to the origins of life – which is being taught as pure science – is not verifiable or testable either. Thus, there is a double-standard going on (at best). Macro evolution is always assumed in the scientific community, but never explained or demonstrated. That is what is so hypocritical.

  7. Bill, I agree with the separation principle extolled in this statement:
    “We Seventh-day Adventists, though we are proponents of creationism, do not see that we must introduce it into the public schools. We believe Jefferson was right to advocate that the first amendment erects a “wall of separation” between church and state. We do not see it the place of the government to advocate religious beliefs–even those we agree with.” However, aren’t you engaging in revisionist history and perhaps wishful thinking when you suggest this is the SDA church’s position w/r/t teaching of creation “science” in public schools? I seem to recall the Adventist Review talking up our church’s leading role in the 1981 Arkasas trial (“Scopes 2”). The following website has the testimony of prominent SDA creationists (GRI employees).


    BTW, just found your blog site and enjoyed it.

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