Friday, December 2, 2011

David Marshall: "Does Evolution Make God Redundant?"

Today, I’ll blog some about Chapter 3 of David Marshall’s The Truth Behind the New Atheism. This chapter is entitled “Does Evolution Make God Redundant?”

At the outset, let me say that this was a fair and judicious chapter about science and Christianity. Marshall acknowledged the evidence for an old earth and the existence of human beings and animals long before 6,000 years ago. While Marshall raised some questions about evolution—-as when he noted that Darwin himself saw problems in his own construct, and said that the “missing links” fossils “often bring up more questions than they answer”—-he still admits that natural selection occurs and that “the basic pattern of life’s history” in the fossil record “roughly follows Darwin’s scheme” (page 57). Marshall also is open to the possibility that Genesis 1 is not literal history, but may be like a parable—-a story that instructs us. At the end of the chapter, Marshall says that faith is reasonable, but that God has left room for doubt so as not to be stifling. Marshall refers to I Kings 19:12, in which God speaks to Elijah in a still, small voice. Marshall closes the chapter by saying: “For some, evolution has shouted down the voice of God. For others, it allows them to hear that voice in a new and more subtle way” (page 59).

But I disagreed with a few points that Marshall made. On page 55, Marshall said that “The world has often quarreled with Genesis, and gotten the worse of it.” As examples, he says that the biblical views that the universe had a beginning and came from nothing and that all of humanity is descended from one man and one woman have been scientifically vindicated. My opinion is different. On the first “biblical” view, creation ex nihilo, it is debated whether or not Genesis 1 even has creation ex nihilo. Many biblical scholars, both conservative and liberal, have contended that what we see in Genesis 1 is God creating the cosmos out of already existing matter, not God creating it out of nothing. That would mean that Genesis 1 overlaps with ancient Near Eastern stories such as Enuma Elish rather than being ahead of its time.

On the second biblical view, the descent of all of humanity from one man and one woman, Marshall says that science has confirmed that, for humans share 99.9 per cent of their DNA, meaning (in Francis Collins’ words) that we are “truly part of one family.” I can understand Marshall’s reasoning here. After all, evolutionists have said that monkeys and humans share a common ancestor because they both share a high percentage of their DNA, so why can’t we say that humans sharing a high percentage of DNA demonstrates a common descent from two people? But, overall, science does not claim that all of humanity descended from one man and one woman. Indeed, there is a prominent scientific belief that there was a Mitrochondrial Eve from whom women inherited their mitrochondrial DNA, and a Y-Chromosome Adam from whom men got their Y-chromosome DNA. But an article on Biologos (which consulted Francis Collins) states that “Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam lived at different times, were probably separated by thousands of years and quite possibly were in different locations” (see here). Moreover, a few articles on Biologos’ site dispute that all of humanity descended from one human couple, and one of them goes into scientific reasons that such is unlikely (see here and here).

Turning to another topic, Marshall says on page 57: “Few animals (and of course, no plants) have the intellectual capacity to suffer. Higher animals can and do—-though not, probably, as much as we think, looking at it sympathetically from the human point of view.” I do not know what the significance of Marshall’s statement is here, but animal suffering is a serious theodicy problem, according to some skeptics (see here and here). For human suffering, theists can simply say that God is putting us through pain in order to make us better people, but why would God make animals suffer, when they do not morally and spiritually develop (at least at the level that we do)? To support his claim, Marshall cites an article by apologist Glenn Miller of Christian Thinktank (see here). I did not plow through all of Miller’s article (which is well-researched, as his articles usually are), but it does appear to be worth the read, for it questions if animal suffering is really as widespread as skeptics say. Speaking personally, I do believe that some animals (such as cats and dogs) experience pain, which is why cruelty to animals is such a horrible thing.

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