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Monday, February 01, 2016

One Bad Argument Deserves Another

Sometimes better to add nothing ...
The creation/evolution debate goes on, but maybe a little less publicly than before.

In my lifetime, evolution has become the preferred ideology for those seeking election to public office and the only broadly acceptable “scientific” explanation of origins. Even an increasing number of evangelicals are buying in.

As Neil Carter puts it, “Scientists are no longer debating the topic of common ancestry nor the age of the earth. That ship sailed a long time ago”.

Which is too bad, really. Truth does not cease to be truth because people have stopped discussing it and, for the most part, abandoned the search for it.

So it’s a good thing we have the Internet. Google turns up an awful lot of arguments for evolution but, despite its progressive corporatism, has yet to make creationist arguments inaccessible or even hard to find. The thing is, as long as we have such opportunity, it would be great if Christians would use it to put their best foot forward.

Intellectual Missteps from Evolutionists

Evolutionists are not without their own intellectual missteps: attacks on creationists from secular humanism have all the discipline of a high school lunchroom food fight. Anything that might potentially stick to the wall is summarily and uncritically lobbed in our direction. If that doesn’t work they just throw something else. Logical consistency between anti-creation arguments does not seem to be a requirement.

One such series of recent secular jabs at the concept of Intelligent Design is well detailed by Tim Barnett at Stand to Reason in a post entitled “Bad Design is a Bad Argument against ID”. Barnett says:
“I think there are three broad reasons why [the “bad design”] argument is weak:

First, this is not a scientific objection; it is a theological objection. The orthodox Christian must take into account the effects of the fall. This isn’t the very good creation that God created in the beginning. The Christian who holds to ID isn’t surprised at spoiled design. But spoiled design is not no design.

Second, bad design is still design. Does the 2001 Pontiac Aztec need to function as well as a 2016 Chevrolet Corvette for us to conclude that it’s designed? Obviously not!

Third, many examples of bad design have turned out to be examples of good design. For example, Junk DNA was the poster child of bad design. However, new developments in genetics, especially from the ENCODE Project, have discovered that much of the so-called junk DNA isn’t junk at all.”
Barnett makes some solid points, and you can find the rest of his dissection of the anti-ID crowd here. He’s right: arguments from bad design are weak arguments.

I wish many Christians weren’t firing back with the same sort of thing.

The Unverifiable Argument

A former dentist named Jobe Martin has a series of videos on YouTube that make creationist arguments simple for non-scientists. That’s a great aspiration, as long as you maintain the integrity of your argument when you simplify it.

While there are valuable points made in Dr. Martin’s videos, one or two of his more exciting factual assertions don’t stand up to careful investigation. For instance, Martin points out a difference between Hebrew poetry and narrative in an attempt to make it crystal clear that the early chapters of Genesis are intended as history, not allegory. He breaks it down for his audience like this:

Hebrew Poetry
Subject-Verb-Object

Hebrew Narrative
Verb-Subject-Object

Now of course for those who don’t take the Bible seriously, arguments about word order in Genesis are of no consequence anyway. But for have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too theistic evolutionists, this smartly reduces the available options: If the writer of Genesis used Hebrew narrative mode, he is either: (i) a dishonest mythologist; (ii) mistaken or deceived about the historicity of what he wrote; or (iii) a perfectly truthful historian, as I and others would contend. But if narrative genre IS clearly indicated by the Hebrew word order, what the writer of Genesis can’t possibly be is an honest, informed mythologist speaking for God. If he were, he’d have used the Hebrew poetic mode rather than the narrative mode.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? Martin may even be right for all I know, but because his videos do not provide any authoritative consensus of Hebrew scholarship to back up his claims, the argument falls flat.

In fact, a quick Google search shows this argument about Hebrew word order and its meaning has gone on since the tenth century. Does it unambiguously denote genre? The question is still hotly debated by the most respected Hebrew authorities of our day. So at best, Martin seems to have oversimplified the position of Hebrew linguists; at worst, he may have misrepresented it.

What is clear to the average truth-seeker following up on Martin’s claims is that they can’t be easily verified. As such, they are not a terrible useful debating tool.

The Outdated Argument

Another sort of argument that is not particularly helpful is the outdated argument. Unfortunately Dr. Martin resorts to this one as well. In The Evolution of a Creationist, Martin quotes Dr. Gerald Kerkut’s seven evolutionary assumptions:
“There are seven basic assumptions that are often not mentioned during discussions of evolution. Many evolutionists ignore the first six assumptions and only consider the seventh. The assumptions are as follows:
  1. The first assumption is that non-living things gave rise to living material, i.e., spontaneous generation occurred.
  2. The second assumption is that spontaneous generation occurred only once.
  3. The third assumption is that viruses, bacteria, plants and animals are all related.
  4. The fourth assumption is that protozoa (single-celled life forms) gave rise to metazoa (multiple-celled life forms).
  5. The fifth assumption is that various invertebrate phyla are interrelated.
  6. The sixth assumption is that the invertebrates gave rise to the vertebrates.
  7. The seventh assumption is that within the vertebrates the fish gave rise to amphibia, the amphibia to reptiles and the reptiles to birds and mammals.”
Martin is attempting to show, using the words of a respected evolutionist, that evolution is faith-based as opposed to scientific.

Now he’s entirely correct that evolution is faith-based, but his argument from Kerkut is weakened by two things: (1) Kerkut’s book Implications of Evolution, from which Martin quotes, is 56 years old and notoriously hard to find as it has been out of print longer than most readers have been alive, and has been quoted and paraphrased in Christian attacks on evolution so frequently that it’s hard to determine which are Dr. Kerkut’s words and which are supplied by well-meaning Christians attempting to use them for their own purposes; and (2) Kerkut’s list of assumptions did not represent the consensus of evolutionists in 1960 and does not represent them now.

Using the words of evolutionists to demolish evolutionary theory or expose its inadequacies is a great idea, but to be really effective it is necessary to attack evolutionary theories that are current and mainstream, not obscure or discarded.

What Sort of Weapons?

It has been said that all truth is God’s truth. Properly understood, I think that statement is true. But as servants of Christ, we need to be careful that the weapons we use are appropriate to the task at hand.

The apostle Paul says, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh”. Not all logical arguments are fleshly, of course; most are not. But truth that we can demonstrate convincingly is always better than truth for which our evidence is scanty, hand-picked or debatable.

If you advocate (as Martin does) the dubious practice of sending Christian children armed with the sorts of weapons he provides into a secular school system as “missionaries” for creationism, you must in turn accept the responsibility for their discouragement and possible abandonment of the faith when weak, outdated arguments and misrepresentations fail them on the intellectual battlefield.

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