t f p g+ YouTube icon

A Tale of Three Creationists, Part 1

Bookmark and Share

January 7, 2011 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Dennis Venema. You can read more about what we believe here.

A Tale of Three Creationists, Part 1

Today we are pleased to welcome Dr. Dennis Venema as a BioLogos Senior Fellow. Dennis has recently contributed a number of important pieces on comparative genomics and human evolution, including several blogs for BioLogos (e.g. here and here) and this article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF). In addition to his latest BioLogos essay critiquing Reasons to Believe’s representation of human/chimpanzee genetic data, Dennis has also published a critical review of Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell in PSCF. These latter two works are impressive not only in their clarity and careful attention to scientific accuracy, but in their tone of respect for the ministries and individuals in question. Dennis a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his wife Val enjoy outdoor activities with their son and daughter in the Pacific Northwest. Welcome, Dennis! We’re glad to have you. The picture at right, by the way, is not of Dennis, it is Todd Wood, the focus of Dennis's essay today. Clicking on Dennis's name, above, will give you a little more detail about him.

As a faculty member at an evangelical Christian university, I have the privilege of interacting with colleagues from all over North America. Shortly after becoming acquainted with one colleague, I realized that we have a lot in common. For starters, we’re both believers, and we both teach at Christian institutions. We also have very similar research backgrounds in biology: genetics, cell biology, genomics, that sort of thing, although my colleague has done more work directly relevant to evolutionary biology. We have both written articles on human/chimpanzee comparative genomics intended to inform believers of the challenge this new field of study presents for traditional interpretations of Genesis, and both of us have been criticized by other believers for doing so. Both of us feel that evolution is a robust scientific theory with a huge body of supporting evidence. Both of us have written critiques of folks in the Intelligent Design movement, as well as organizations like Reasons to Believe.

In fact, I can think of only one major difference between us: my colleague is a Young Earth Creationist, whereas I am an Evolutionary Creationist. His name is Todd Wood, and he is a faculty member at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee.

Todd has fascinated me right from when I first became aware of him in 2007. He is probably best known for his very controversial stance (for a Young Earth Creationist) on the evidence for evolution. In Todd’s own words, evolution is solid science:

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well. (Emphasis in the original, which is found here.)

Not surprisingly, this stance attracted a lot of attention, both from believers and non-believers. Todd spent several weeks thereafter on his blog discussing his views and responding to his readers (see here, here and here). Along the way, he felt the need to clarify his Young Earth Creationist views, as apparently some folks doubted his sincerity:

I've begun to notice a strange undercurrent of folks proposing that I'm not really a young earth creationist. One especially amusing person suggested that I was stupid, possibly bipolar, or just a liar…

Lest my creationist credentials be doubted, let me be blunt:

I believe that God created everything that you see in six consecutive days around 6000 years ago.

I believe that Adam and Eve were the very first humans and were directly created by God…(Entire text may be found here)

Todd goes on to list several more points to establish his fidelity to Young Earth Creationism beyond question.

So, what to make of this? How can Todd, committed as he is to a Young Earth view of creation, accept that evolution is valid science? Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, how can Todd, a trained scientist, hold to a model of the cosmos that contravenes so much well-established science?

The answer to the second question is relatively straightforward. Todd holds to Young Earth Creationism because he feels it is what Scripture teaches. In his own words, he rejects evolution by faith:

Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn't make it ultimately true, and it doesn't mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution. I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don't be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don't idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe that's not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you. (Emphasis in the original)

Thus for Todd, a faithful reading of Scripture disallows accepting that evolution is true, even if evolution is a successful scientific theory.

The first question, as to why Todd accepts the scientific evidence for evolution, is also relatively straightforward: he’s done his homework. In 2006, Todd published a very thorough paper (PDF) discussing the then-recent comparison of the completed chimpanzee genome with the human genome. If you haven’t read this paper before, I highly recommend it. Todd is clear in this paper that “common design” - the idea that the similarities we see in nature are not due to common ancestry but rather to independent special creation events by the same designer - is not a viable scientific explanation for the overall pattern of biological similarity that we observe when comparing genomes:

A very popular argument is that similarity does not necessarily indicate common ancestry but could also imply common design … While this is true, the mere fact of similarity is only a small part of the evolutionary argument. Far more important than the mere occurrence of similarity is the kind of similarity observed. Similarity is not random. Rather, it forms a detectable pattern with some groups of species more similar than others. As an example consider a 200,000 nucleotide region from human chromosome 1. When compared to the chimpanzee, the two species differ by as little as 1-2%, but when compared to the mouse, the differences are much greater. Comparison to chicken reveals even greater differences. This is exactly the expected pattern of similarity that would result if humans and chimpanzees shared a recent common ancestor and mice and chickens were more distantly related. The question is not how similarity arose but why this particular pattern of similarity arose. To say that God could have created the pattern is merely ad hoc.

In this paper Todd sorts through several other Young Earth Creationist models, but ultimately finds them wanting as well. Further, his views have not changed in the last few years. However, in a recent blog where Todd reviewed one of my papers, he remains hopeful that a satisfactory Young Earth Creationism explanation will eventually be found:

Since that paper, my assessment of the issue has not changed, and despite my explanation that common design is (to borrow a phrase from Venema's paper) "enormously strained and severely ad hoc," creationists continue to pretend that common design explains homology. Nevertheless, I remain confident that a satisfactory creationist explanation will be found. Naive? Maybe.

And so Todd remains one of the more interesting individuals in the evangelical Christian discourse on whether God uses evolutionary means in His creation. One thing I have come to appreciate about Todd (aside from his intellectual honesty) is that he is an excellent person to compare notes with. While I am personally convinced that evolution is one of the means God employs as a creative mechanism, I find it helpful to get Todd’s take on new developments in our field. I can be sure that Todd won’t be blinded by some sort of “evolutionary bias” and give shoddy science a free pass (not that I would knowingly do so either, but we all have our blind spots). As I once commented after a lecture to a student who held to a Young Earth view, I had only discussed science that a highly-qualified Young Earth scientist (Todd) accepted.

Given Todd’s expertise in these areas, I have also come to appreciate his views on various creationist positions (Young Earth, Old Earth, or Evolutionary). In a future post, I’ll examine how Todd has interacted with an Old Earth Creationism organization I have recently critiqued myself: Reasons to Believe.


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

Next post in series >


View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Loading...
Page 3 of 6   « 1 2 3 4 5 6 »
Gregory - #46233

January 7th 2011

“Every Christian is a creationist of some sort - we hold that God is the Creator.” - D. Venema

Then what’s with the -ism behind the ‘creation,’ Dennis?

No, I disagree with you that *EVERY* Christian is a creation-IST. That is a (highly questionable) social-philosophical position, not a theological or biological one. & it is one that I wholeheartedly reject.

It is easily & demonstrably possible to believe in God’s Creation without being a ‘creation-IST’ (i.e. without purposely self-referencing oneself as a ‘creation-ist’). This was the point of ASA’s statement: they are *not* creationists, but “Believe in Creation”. You seem to have missed the point, Dennis. Don’t call me a creationist of *any* kind please, but I believe in God & God’s Creation.

I suspect that if a poll was taken at BioLogos, far, far more would reject Dennis’ suggestion that “Every Christian is a creationist of some sort” than would agree with it. Is this topic open for discussion at BioLogos?

This of course still doesn’t address the issue of whether or not & how “a new ‘creationism’, of *whatever* variety, be put back on the table for conversation in biological sciences”.

Back to academic work.

Thanks,
Gregory


R Hampton - #46236

January 7th 2011

FYI:

362 The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. the biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.

366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not “produced” by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

- Catechism of the Catholic Church
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P1B.HTM


nedbrek - #46240

January 7th 2011

Bernie (46175)

Nedbrek says:
“how do you know truth?”

We all get it the same way- through knowledge and reason.

The problem is when things contradict logic and reason.  In that case, do you cling to a wanted and hopeful fantasy, or embrace a hard truth?

Actually, I don’t believe we can know truth through our own knowledge and reason.  Our minds are flawed, and lie to us (optical illusions are an easy proof).

We must receive truth from an external source.


R Hampton - #46249

January 8th 2011

Actually, I don’t believe we can know truth through our own knowledge and reason. Our minds are flawed, and lie to us (optical illusions are an easy proof).

If our minds are so flawed and deceptive that we can not discover truth on our own, then how can our minds understand external truth without a distorted reception? In other words, the Bible is inerrant but not so our understanding of it. So the Conservative-Protestant pursuit of literalism as a means to understand/protect Biblical inerrancy is at least as flawed as any other method of discovering Truth, for all methods ultimately rely upon our lying minds to “know”.


nedbrek - #46258

January 8th 2011

By conforming our minds to God’s mind (Rom 12:2).  By testing every spirit (doctrines come from spirits, 1 John 4:1).  By testing against God’s word (Acts 17:11),


Chris Massey - #46279

January 8th 2011

Dennis,

I marvel at someone like Todd Wood. If God’s natural revelation is so incredibly perplexing and inscrutable as to its true origins, why trust that God’s special revelation is straightforward and trustworthy? If God would permit nature to convey a message that was patently misleading, what would stop him from permitting the Bible to be patently misleading? It just seems so inconsistent to say that Genesis must be read literally because God only reveals things in plain, easy-to-understand ways and then hold that the plain, easy-to-understand truths of science tell a false story.

P.S. When the intro said, “Today we are pleased to welcome Dr. Dennis Venema as a BioLogos Senior Fellow”, and then had a picture of a guy with a beard and glasses, I was a little confused.


Dennis Venema - #46284

January 8th 2011

Hi Chris,

Yes, name name next to Todd’s picture is a little confusing! Rest assured I could never grow a beard like that - I’ve tried, and it ain’t happening.


Dennis Venema - #46285

January 8th 2011

sorry - that should be “my name” above. sheesh.


Paul D. - #46292

January 8th 2011

I agree that those of us who accept and study evolution ought to avoid “creationism”. The word has too much baggage and does not mean “belief in a creator”.

As for Todd Wood, he’s the only creationist I respect (because he’s the only honest one I can think of), but the cognitive dissonance for him must be astounding. What a relief it would be for him if he just accepted the evidence that he already acknowledges, and sought out a deeper and more meaningful interpretation of the Bible’s creation stories.


Paul D. - #46293

January 8th 2011

@ Bernie Dehler

Judaism traditionally did not believe in incorporeal souls, and one can make a good case Paul was a physicalist as well. Belief in an immortal soul is by no means a required tenet of Christianity.


Rich - #46309

January 8th 2011

Dennis:

“Evolutionary Creationism is merely the theistic view that God created the world coupled with accepting the science of evolution. Every Christian is a creationist of some sort - we hold that God is the Creator.”

To the second sentence, Amen.  As for the first, what does “accepting the science of evolution” mean?  Accepting the evidence for common descent?  Or accepting some current set of proposed mechanisms for how evolution works?  If it’s only the former, then design thinkers such as Michael Behe, Richard Sternberg, and Michael Denton are all evolutionary creationists.  But they don’t apply that term to themselves, nor do their critics in the TE/EC camp apply that term to them.  So it would appear that one must believe something extra, beyond common descent, before one can be called an evolutionary creationist.  What is that something extra?

It seems to me that it is this unspoken, invisible, intangible criterion, whatever it is, which prevents rapprochement between TE/EC people and the significant chunk of ID people which accepts common descent; and it appears that the criterion is specified by the TE/EC side rather than by the ID side.  Can anyone tell me the Criterion That Must Not Be Named?


Chris Massey - #46325

January 8th 2011

Dennis,

Yah, I figured it must be Todd Wood in the photo.

The only other option was your wife, Val. Lucky for you, it’s Todd!


Bilbo - #46411

January 8th 2011

Dennis:  Don’t forget that Todd doesn’t accept human - chimpanzee common ancestry, so he wouldn’t think that the differences between the two arise through mutation anyway.

Yes, but Todd admits that the scientific evidence for common ancestry is cogent.  So I’m wondering whether he thinks the scientific evidence for only random mutations (wrt fitness) is equally cogent.


Matt - #46431

January 8th 2011

For his discussion of human and chimp genome similarities, vs human and mice, etc: I don’t think this is new evidence. These similarities of certain animals with other animals were known from a long time ago, and you would only expect the dna to follow suite.

Animals are ‘related’ to other animals by some kind of hierarchical structure (biological classifications). Common decent gives an explanation of this hierarchical categorizing of life, but I don’t think it is the only possible explanation. I don’t think dna evidence provides any new evidence that isn’t there in the apparent similarities of different animals.

I guess for one creation is put together in a way that makes it clear to us that we are made of the dust of the earth, and that we are a part of the physical creation we can see because we share our essential physical nature with all living things. It doesn’t seem bizarre that we’d see in the rest of creation things that we identify in ourselves - ribs, heart, eyes, cells, dna, and maybe even a tailbone. I’m not convinced that this also means a common decent method would have been used in creation.


Chris Massey - #46440

January 8th 2011

Matt,

I used to find that argument compelling too. It made sense to me that the more similar two organisms were, the more similar would be the DNA recipes to make those organisms.

But the DNA evidence is more compelling than that, because this pattern of high similarity for closely related organisms and decreasing similarity for more distantly related organisms holds for aspects of DNA that have absolutely no impact on the organism.

For instance, redundancy of the DNA code allows a single protein to be “spelled” innumerable different ways without affecting the end product. Yet the pattern holds. Same with pseudogenes. Same with synteny.

See http://biologos.org/blog/signature-in-the-pseudogenes-part-1/
And http://biologos.org/blog/signature-in-the-pseudogenes-part-2/
And http://biologos.org/blog/signature-in-the-synteny/

... for a good explanation of some of those issues.


Bernie Dehler - #46539

January 9th 2011

Nedbrek said:
“We must receive truth from an external source..”

What truth was ever received by an external source? I’m sure maybe the Catholic Pope and Mormon head ‘prophet’ might agree with you… but then again, they would be claiming to receive different messages.

Paul said:
“Belief in an immortal soul is by no means a required tenet of Christianity.“

I think most evangelicals think that when a person dies, their spirit goes on to heaven, then in the resurrection, later, they get a new body for their spirit.  So the spirit is disembodied for some time, but later re-joined as it was meant to be with a physical person.  In this way, people don’t really ‘die’ so it is soothing when facing death.  If you think everything goes when you die, body and soul, then you probably think the soul is somehow re-created in the resurrection.  In that case, there’s a discontinuity… soul was alive, then died, then what… remade?  If that’s the case, then why not just say the soul is from the body… dies with the body and is re-made with the body?  Also- the idea of a soul dying goes against the Apostle Paul’s teaching of “absent from the body is present with the Lord.”


Bernie Dehler - #46540

January 9th 2011

R Hampton quoted the Catholic Catechism:
“366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not “produced” by the parents - and also that it is immortal”

But notice it doesn’t say when the soul is given (it does seem to imply at birth, but it isn’t explicit).  Some twins start life as a single organsim, then split into two at a later stage.  If a soul was given at conception, would each be given 1/2 soul? Or did God give two souls for the one child so it coul later split. Chimeras start as two different organisms, then later merge.  Same question in reverse, started at 1/2 each so it could be one after joining?  Of course, there’s no such thing as 1/2 a soul, like there’s no such thing as digging 1/2 a hole or being a little bit pregnant (you’re either pregnant or you’re not).

There are also many (maybe millions or billions) natural spontaneous abortions every year… the mother may not even know.  Were these all aborted organisms given souls at conception?

None of it makes sense in theology, so you can say it is a “mystery.”  But with a naturalistic outlook, isn’t it strange that all the mysteries are solved?

Deny the soul using reason, just like denying transubstantiation.


Bernie Dehler - #46541

January 9th 2011

Rich said:
“If it’s only the former, then design thinkers such as Michael Behe, Richard Sternberg, and Michael Denton are all evolutionary creationists.  But they don’t apply that term to themselves, nor do their critics in the TE/EC camp apply that term to them.  So it would appear that one must believe something extra, beyond common descent, before one can be called an evolutionary creationist.  What is that something extra?”

In my view, people reject evolution because it conflicts with their biblical view that God made man special and unique… such as in God scooping up dirt, shaping it into the form of a man, then breathing life into it (or some other unknown special way, other than evolution from other animals).  In my view, if one accepts human evolution from animal, then the floodgates have been opened and they should just accept all evolution, even cosmic and chemical evolution.  So I think Michael Behe is being weird in accepting human evolution from animals but not going all the way.


Bernie Dehler - #46542

January 9th 2011

Cont.

Rich said:
“If it’s only the former, then design thinkers such as Michael Behe, Richard Sternberg, and Michael Denton are all evolutionary creationists.  But they don’t apply that term to themselves, nor do their critics in the TE/EC camp apply that term to them.  So it would appear that one must believe something extra, beyond common descent, before one can be called an evolutionary creationist.  What is that something extra?”

Another comment:

As for Michael Denton, we learned in my conservative Baptist seminary that evolution was a theory in crisis, and read Denton’s book as a textbook (also Nancy Pearcey’s anti-evolution book “Total Truth”).  Imagine my surprise, after graduating, to hear that Denton fully accepts human evolution.  To this day, I don’t know if the professor teacher was naive, stupid, deceitful, or what.  It seems to me, I’m not sure, that Denton is keeping a low profile, so I wouldn’t appeal to him for anything.  If you know of any internet resources where Denton shows that he’s active and vocal, let me know.


Bernie Dehler - #46543

January 9th 2011

More about Denton…

Maybe my seminary used Denton to disprove evolution because Denton’s change to become an evoltionist was still recent news.  Here’s an article about Denton changing from anti-evolutionist to evolutionist around 2005:
http://tinyurl.com/opama


Page 3 of 6   « 1 2 3 4 5 6 »