A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some Questions on Questioning Darwin

This weekend I watched the new HBO documentary entitled "Questioning Darwin." The hour-long show documents Darwin's life, his theories concerning evolution and natural selection, and interviews Christians of the more fundamentalist variety (including Creationist Museum founder, Ken Ham), who reject evolutionary theory because of their belief that it is incompatible with biblical faith.

Interestingly enough, the film-maker himself agrees. Anthony Thomas is an agnostic who lost his Christian faith because he came to believe that evolution and the existence of God are incompatible. Since Thomas accepts evolution, he cannot accept the existence of God. (I presume his agnosticism represents enough humility on his part that he just might be wrong.)

There were certain things I appreciated about the documentary. The film presents Darwin's life and work in an interesting and informative way. I also believed that the film was fair to the Creationists who were interviewed and simply allowed to have their say. There was no ridicule offered, nor was anyone made fun of. It was clear from the documentary that the bent of the film clearly favored evolution over creation, but the documentary did not lampoon anyone, which is what a good documentary should not do.

The big problem I had with the film is that it leaves one feeling as if there are only two options in this debate. Either one is a Darwinian who accepts evolution and therefore must reject a belief in God, or if one is to believe in God, particularly the God of the Bible, one must reject evolution out of hand. This is unfortunately the choice that our young people are often given in the church and then later in the academy. So, they grow up in church being told that if one believes in the Bible, evolution must be rejected. Then they go off to college and are told that since evolution is true, the Bible must be wrong. They get the either/or choice from both sides, and I for one believe very strongly that we force them into making a false and unwarranted decision.

The question I would have for Mr. Thomas is why present the argument in this either/or way? There are plenty of good and competent Christian biblical scholars and Christian scientists who believe in and worship the God of the Bible and also believe that evolution is quite compatible with biblical faith. I happen to believe that as well. Mr. Thomas may believe that the two are incompatible, but why interview only those Christians who happen to agree with him on that one point? Why not interview those Christians who see the issue in a more complex and-- dare I say-- sophisticated way? I would have loved to have heard from John Polkinghorne, and Peter Enns, and John Walton et al.

The point I am making is that I think the documentary would have been much more thought-provoking if persons who embrace both biblical faith and evolutionary theory could have played a role, instead of interviewing two groups that simply retreat to their own corners never to have serious discussion with each other.

To be fair, there are a couple of places during the film where it is suggested that evolution and religion are not necessarily incompatible, but it is given only a passing nod and a wink. I would have preferred to see that particular matter addressed more directly.

When one sets up the debate as either/or, then certain questions that need to be asked don't get asked; and those are the questions that need to be raised if this discussion is to move forward in a significant way.


Robert Cornwall said...

Allan, being that I recently published a book entitled Worshiping with Charles Darwin, I'm in agreement with your assessment. I think it works to the advantage of both ends of the spectrum to leave out the middle. For the agnostic/atheist they can give as a reason that to be a Christian is to reject science. For the other side, they can claim to be the Christian position. Very binary, of course. Polkinghorne would just muddy up the waters!!

Anonymous said...

I've thought for a long time that there were plenty of reasons to question Darwin without resorting to religion. Michael Behe's books, "Darwin's Black Box" and "The Edge of Evolution" are good examples. There are others. Much of the reaction they get from evolutionists, religious or not, (I've read quite a bit of it) strikes me quite unfair and defensive. Personally, I have no problem with those who believe evolution is compatible with Christianity. But those who try to question Darwinism on a scientific basis aren't tolerated very well. Darwinism is sacred. Those who object to it, must be seen do so on religious grounds because religion is easily marginalized. It's fine to have religious beliefs as long as they also accept evolution. There's more than one way to exclude the middle. There's more than one middle to exclude.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I disagree that those Christians who reject evolution represent a middle. I am no scientist, but I think what is often left out in this discussion is how interconnected the scientific disciplines are and how that inter-connectedness clearly points to evolutionary design.

I would also say from a hermeneutical perspective is that creationists have made their particular hermenutic as the authority replacing the Scripture itself. Creationists ignore the complex and diverse views of how to read Genesis 1 and 2, for example, which have been chronicled in 2000 years of church history. The history will not allow the conclusion that the church basically read Genesis literally until Darwin. There was much debate indeed.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a valid distinction between Creationism and what's called Intelligent Design. I wouldn't lump them together as so many are wont to do. Some of the ID people may be closet creationists but there's no reason that all of them must be. So I disagree with your first paragraph, citing Behe's books as a strong dissent from the field of microbiology. I agree completely with your second paragraph. I think maybe that puts me in the excluded "middle."