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Atlanta, 26 August 2015

Since returning from Canada last week, life's been exciting. Our church celebrated its 10th anniversary. North River has grown from 40 families in 2005 to an amazingly diverse and vibrant church family of 1200. Sunday was also my wife's birthday; the only present she asked for was Tea at the Ritz -- so tea it was! Very English, very nice (just like Vicki). And we had our 30th wedding anniversary! (The first wedding in the young London Church of Christ.)

Yesterday I taught a virtual seminar in the Ezra Project, pioneered by my friend Arturo Elizarrarás, evangelist and teacher in Mexico City. I got to speak on one of my favorite topics: preaching. Hundreds of students in 10 nations took part. In Mexico alone, nearly 30 cities logged on! How encouraging that so many brothers and sisters in church leadership recognize the need for constant growth in handling the scriptures. This kind of training can have a great knock-on effect, too, from better feeding the flock to raising up more disciples trained in the Bible.
Recap: Design
Before we begin our discussion of Evolution, let's recap what we covered last week:
  • God's world shows unmistakable traces of design. Natural processes follow rational laws -- laws anticipated by scientists whose strength was their confidence in a God of reason. Thus the argument (for God's existence) from design moves from design to designer.
  • While design is highly suggestive of intelligence and purpose, it doesn't prove God. Nevertheless, it makes the theist's position more plausible than the atheist's. We should not hesitate to point this out.
  • The "Intelligent Design" people are on track in attributing intelligence and design to an Intelligent Designer. The stunning levels of complexity indicate a God. Yet we don't need to posit a miracle (like ID) every time an unbelievably intricate biological structure develop. God is able to work his will through a lengthy process just as easily as through immediate creation. 
  • As for the origins of the world (cosmology), there are but three possibilities: the cosmos is uncaused, self-caused, or externally caused. Science refutes the first two, so we're left with the third: something or someone outside caused the universe to come into being. Considering not only the vastness of the cosmos but also its design features (complexity, order, beauty, function, mathematical precision), the best explanation is God.

Evolution: From Satan?

One day I was walking the streets of London, sharing my faith in Christ, when I was invited to a service in progress. I agreed to join. The group was small, and their central doctrine was that the Theory of Evolution lies behind all the ills of our modern world, and is Satanic. If you accept evolution, you cannot be saved; but if you renounce evolution, then you can be a true Christian. The group welcomed me, until they discovered that I didn't agree evolution was a salvation issue. Their dogma may not have been flexible, but their church service was, and for the next hour the chairs were rearranged so that everyone faced me. I was grilled by their pastor in a special "convert Douglas" session. Alas, I remained an infidel, refusing to give up my faith in the Bible and science.

This may serve to remind us, as the Answering Skeptics series moves into a mini-series on Evolution, that for many this is a sensitive subject. For others it is only intriguing, awakening a sense of wonder in those who study it. And yet for a significant number, for good or bad, evolution is a decisive issue, determining whether people believe in God.
  • Evolution is sensitive because many (mainly inside the borders of the U.S.) equate modern biology with rejection of the Bible. For them, acceptance / rejection of evolution is a shibboleth indicating whether someone is a true believer. Where I currently live (Cobb County, Georgia), pressure from parent groups once forced the placement of stickers in school science textbooks, conceding that "Evolution is theory, not fact." (More on that next week.)
  • It's intriguing because the level of detail is fascinating and the science that reveals the dynamics of life is cutting edge. As we respect God's "Book of Works" we are blown away by his wonders in the biological world! The experience is not unlike worship. Some have come to faith, in fact, because of evolution. They were overwhelmed by the beauty of biological evolution. One eminent example is Francis Collins, possibly the most recognizable scientist in the U.S. today, especially since his team at NIH successfully sequenced the entire human genome. The Language of God is his bestselling story of how evolution brought him to faith in the God of the Bible, and is well worth reading. (See the photo below.)
  • And evolution is a decisive issue because many Christians leave God when forced to choose between what they learned in Sunday school and what they're learning in bio class. Similarly, far too many seekers are driven away by the anti-science stance of some churches. When presented with a choice ("It's Evolution or God -- pick one!"), it's hardly a surprise that many, now better informed about the science, are conflicted. 
Disputable matters
Today we're not going to weigh the evidence for or against evolution. (We will touch on some of that next week.) The point of this article is to emphasize that we should resist a false choice, and especially when it's connected with false consequences (you'll go to hell if you endorse Darwin).

Evolution is not a matter of salvation. Most Christians would agree that it's a "disputable matter" (Rom 14:1). As with other issues, the truth baldly stated could cause a "weaker" brother to stumble, and so it is incumbent on those who are better informed to be sensitive to those who are not. Paul wrote, "Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother... Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil... Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding" (Rom 14:13-19).

The two camps
The father of contemporary Young Earth Creationism was Henry M. Morris (1918-2006), who stated, “There are only two basic world views… creation or evolution.” Despite the scientific evidence for the age of the earth, he claimed “There is no evidence that the world is old.” Morris's opinion brooked no compromise: “Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution.” (I once wrote to Morris, and to his credit he replied personally, although he didn't answer my questions, instead only enclosing a stack of pamphlets I'd already read.)

Exemplary of the other side, the late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) wrote: “Now at last you can be properly humble in the face of your maker, which turns out not to be a ‘who,’ but a process of mutation with rather more random elements than our vanity might wish.” Yet as an evolutionist, Hitchens reached way past Darwin in his conclusions. The Origin of Species admits there is a God. Even 20 years later, Darwin wrote, in a private letter, “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.” 

For Darwin, who was more agnostic than atheist -- he continued to wrestle with faith issues throughout his life, and continued to support foreign missions -- there was no need to choose between his theory and the Almighty. Most of Darwin's early supporters were churchmen, in both England and in the United States -- thinking persons who understood the why of life on earth, but looked to science (God's book of works) for the how. Things soon became polarized; within a few decades evolution became a highly charged issue. 

I considered myself a Young Earth Creationist from age 16 to 20, then an Old Earth creationist (the earth is billions of years old -- just as old as it appears to be -- yet God assisted the natural processes of evolution with the occasional miracle). By 2005 I was a evolutionary creationist (a high degree of trust in both science and the Bible). I've read enough books on the topic (nearly 100) and attended enough conferences to know how passionately people can feel about this issue. When I present on science, I strive to be fair with the facts, while also taking a broad look at the history of the Christian church, which has often found itself on the wrong side of science. My DVD for high school and college students is Science & Faith: Enemies or Allies?. In my Evolution Debate with Scientific American's Michael Shermer (we've debated each other three times), I refused to choose between science and faith, and obviously believe you too should refuse to be coerced into a false choice.

Must we Choose?
Perhaps you have a stake in the game. You may accept the evidence that the world is ancient; that most species have gone extinct; the biological world is in constant flux; and you realize Genesis 1 was written to tell us of the wisdom and orderliness of the Creator, not to be used as a timeline. While continually weighing the issues, you're striving for intellectual integrity. We're on the same side. Refuse to be pressed up against a wall, or to declare a position too quickly. Take your time to carefully weigh the evidence, in the confidence that God's Book of Works will not mislead us, any more than will his Book of Words.

Many noted believers refuse to be drawn into the fray, whatever their leaning. I appreciate the perspective of evangelist Billy Graham: “I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God.” If Graham and others are right, evolution should be a non-issue. It should not be used as a test of fellowship. And we ought to conduct ourselves in an attitude of respect towards whose who may disagree with our conclusions.
Ecclesiastes or Science: Choose Now!
For centuries the church taught that the sun orbited the earth. There seemed to be abundant biblical ammunition to defend the geocentric model while blasting all alternative views out of the water. For example, the Bible says "The sun rises, and the sun sets, and hurries back to the place where it rises" (Ecc 1:5). Is this true or not? What would you say to someone who demanded that you choose between the sun rising and the scientifically correct "earth rising"? Is it worth fighting over? Probably not -- but in the 1500s this was a hot potato. Copernicus had to keep his view under wraps, and in the 1600s Galileo endured censorship and house arrest, even after proving the old geocentric model was hopelessly flawed. Might this be a parallel to the current uproar over evolution? 

Appealing, or appalling?
I realize that some of my readers are thrilled that I'm addressing the findings of modern biology, while others are probably appalled. Please bear with me, and if you're planning to send an email, kindly wait until the third installment (Evolution C). In the meantime, keep in mind that the enemy isn't evolution, but atheistic evolution. The first is neutral with respect to God; the other is anti-God, and should be rejected. Further, it's a mistake to judge someone's salvation on the basis of scientific knowledge; we're saved by faith, not by knowledge. It's one thing if someone rejects God -- clearly that's not my brother in Christ. Yet it's quite another if he's only rejecting my interpretation of Genesis. In that case, there's ample room for fellowship, even if we disagree, and we will do well to remember Paul's advice in Romans 14.

Next week we'll examine the several aspects of evolutionary biology, also addressing the most common objections to evolution. The week after that, we'll offer some suggestions on how to respond to someone who's using evolution as an excuse not to believe in God or the Bible. 
Jacksonville, Greenville, Norfolk
This weekend I'll be in Jacksonville to teach the 8th lesson in Paradigm shifta radically new approach to evangelism. As I mentioned last week, you don't want to miss this series! The next weekend we're in Greenville SC for the Southeastern Evangelism Conference, Compelled. I'll co-teach a class with North River's Tom Brown, "Loosening the Bible Belt," on reaching the religious south. Later in September it's on to Norfolk for a teaching day at the Hampton Roads Church, and then we head to Geneva, Switzerland, where Vicki and I will speak in the European Bible School.

For your prayers and support, thank you.
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