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2.0 out of 5 stars Read Denis Alexander's book first!, 18 July 2012
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This review is from: Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (Paperback)
This grabbed my attention because the numerous authors include a reliable evangelical `big name' (the much-loved RT Kendal) and a Professor of Genetics from a top university who all argue against Evolutionary Creation. Given that I have a negative gut reaction to being `related' to chimps and I don't want to compromise my orthodoxy, I had to read it!

But I only give 2 stars for this book - primarily because it fails in its intended purpose of providing rebuttal to the ideas in another book (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? by Denis Alexander) - in fact several of the authors appear to have not read the book they oppose properly.

For example, in chapter 1 Alistair Donald writes about the `utter randomness' (p16), the `purely chance element that is arguably intrinsic to [evolutionary] theory' (p17). Several of the other authors also condemn evolution because of its randomness. I am very surprised because on p322 of DA's book he says, `evolution is far from being a chance process. It is tightly organised and highly constrained.' In fact DA makes the point about evolution not being random many times in the book and even develops interesting insights from recent research suggesting that evolution might be predictable! DA also argues that Christians think of God as being sovereign over apparently random events in any case (eg. the weather). So I don't understand why these authors would publish a counter argument which so explicitly fails to register DA's views, but instead just propagates tired, old and unjustified complaints about evolution.

RT Kendal refers to Heb 11:3 `...things which are seen were not made of things that do appear' from which he concludes, `one cannot hold to evolution and creation ex nihilo at the same time' (p112). I don't understand. If creation ex nihilo eliminates the possibility of evolution (where new species arise from previous species) then why doesn't it also apply to RTK's literal understanding of God making Adam from dust, and Eve from a rib? I cannot see how creation ex nihilo is in any way incompatible with, say, Big Bang theory. In fact, when the Big Bang theory was first posited (by a priest) many atheists objected for the very reason that it WAS compatible with creation ex nihilo!

The main thrust of RTK's chapter is a call for Christians to make a clear decision between evolution and God: `Every generation of Christianity has its own stigma by which the believer's faith is severely tested' (p109), and so he says that rejecting evolution is the stigma for our generation. But I could find no substantiation for these ideas in the bible, and nothing is offered by RTK beyond his contrived interpretation of Heb 11:3. I rate RTK as a preacher but this chapter is downright disappointing for me.

Greg Haslam delivers a theological essay on the impact of Adam's sin on humanity and the world - certainly the crucial area in DA's book in my opinion. But I was surprised to see that the key issue of all mankind being biologically derived from Adam is not exposited by GH in any way. He just seems to add it in from nowhere under point 4 on p65. Given that DA presents significant arguments around this I would have expected a counterargument from GH, not simply the assertion of prior assumptions. Is it too much to expect a rebuttal to engage with the opponent's ideas rather than simply state they are wrong?

For example, one of GH's chief points is that there could not have been any physical death at all before the Fall. So why not address DA's assertion that the death of plants clearly happens in Genesis 1:29-30? It's a shame that GH didn't respond on this vital point. From what I can see GH makes no attempt to relate to DA's arguments, instead he merely builds his theological ramparts before glancing over his shoulder at DA and dismissing him with the response that the science is `dubious' (p70). I would have liked him to be a little more explicit on where and why DA's specific interpretations of scripture go astray because he's clearly a well-versed expositor.

So who has given GH this assured conviction that the science is `dubious'?

Norman Nevin, the editor of the book, is the Emeritus Professor of Medical Genetics at Queen's University Belfast. And since the primary content of DA's evidence for Evolutionary Creation concerns genetics I was hoping for some clear counterarguments on this topic.

I was disappointed again. NN actually leads the first science chapter with sections on Homology (ie. what animals look like) and the Fossil Record. DA had deliberately put these last in his assembly of evidence because he says it is not as utterly convincing as the genetic evidence. So this Emeritus Professor of Genetics provides only 2 pages of comment on genetic fossils, most of which reads like a summary of what DA has said. Again, there is simply no counterargument presented other than a difference in phraseology and conclusions. What on earth is going on here?

However, there are two sections on the genetics written by Geoff Barnard (a retired veterinary science lecturer - who you would think might be better suited to writing about Homology, leaving the genetics to the geneticist!). Now GB's argument is a rather novel construction. Note that some creationists (eg. The Journal of Creation published by AiG, and Jeffrey Tomkins and Jerry Bergman at Creation.Com) argue that chromosome 2 fusion didn't occur in human history because they know that it would be strong evidence that we have a common ancestor with the apes who have 24 rather than 23 pairs of chromosomes - i.e. one more than us. But actually GB here readily admits that the evidence is convincing that chromosome 2 fusion probably HAS OCCURRED - i.e. that 24 Chromosomes have become 23 in humans. On p157 GB summarizes, "The telomeric DNA sequence around the proposed fusion site on human chromosome 2 is compelling evidence...It is probable that a chromosomal fusion event has taken place within the human lineage." In other words, GB thinks it very likely that humans originally had 24 pairs of chromosomes, just like apes still do.

But with a breathtaking contortion he argues that this fact DOESN'T mean we have a common ancestor with the apes because God could have just made Adam and Eve with ape-like chromosomes (i.e. 24 pairs) which within a generation or two immediately fused to become 23 pairs and therefore ALL the descendants with 24 pairs died out! This means that the same fusion of chromosome 2 must have occurred independently in both Cain's and Seth's line. Given that this material is crucial in the book's dismissal of Denis Alexander's ideas it merits some better argumentation than this. Does Greg Haslam think this isn't 'dubious' thinking?

Andy McIntosh's chapter on Thermodynamics didn't make much sense to me (I'd expect it to make a bit of sense because I'm a professional engineer). But it reads like a clumsy cobbling-together of technical terms and there is no clear flow of argument or evidence. I couldn't find anything in his chapter that causes me to challenge the view that natural selection within an open system can increase order locally (e.g. on earth, in the form of life).

Fundamentally the assertion that the science is dubious must be based on more substance than merely picking at a few threads in the vast tapestry of evolutionary science and claiming it has all fallen apart. Yes, the very nature of science is that it is incomplete. And Yes we can argue that Darwin's 'Tree of Life' is not perfect (as Newtonian mechanics is not perfect) - this is just like ALL human understanding! And I would hope that Greg Haslam, RT Kendall and the others would also agree that their understanding of God is imperfect too. But they fail to engage with DA's ideas, remain rooted to their dogmas, and in so-doing I fear they constrain their vision of God and paint a damning, philosophically materialistic picture of Christian thinking. I don't mind them having a different view, but for intellectual, spiritual leaders to promote that view whilst utterly failing to address the counterarguments is very seriously wrong. These Christian leaders need to work harder at rising above the level of mutual denouncement to the dizzy heights of thoughtful disagreement - but for that to happen there needs to be a bit more effort at understanding each others' viewpoints. It is very sad indeed that some good preachers have latched themselves onto these dreadfully weak pretences at science in the hope of delivering a substantial rebuttal to an out-dated understanding of evolution.

There are some interesting chapters and some stimulating thoughts. But I would strongly suggest that if you want to be open to this book's arguments you can only do it in an intellectually honest way by first reading Denis Alexander's book. Reading these two books back-to-back has been a good way for me to appraise the strength, weakness and absence of arguments. It certainly takes time but the reward for me has been a new and refreshing conviction that, whilst I don't exactly need to `embrace' evolution, I can live happily with it as a description of the biological origins of species and it even sheds light on some aspects of the bible and my relationship with God.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Sep 2012 17:17:17 BDT
Thanks for an interesting review.

I reviewed this book myself without first reading the Alexander book. Whilst this book isn't specifically presented as a refutation of Alexander, clearly it was put together as a response to DA's question/challenge to Christians. I agree that it would have been useful for the authors concerned to have read Alexander (perhaps especially those offering 'scientific' responses), and I note that you conclude that many of them probably did not.

Posted on 28 Sep 2012 21:11:04 BDT
Maverick says:
Very helpful review. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
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