The faith and science talk for July 8, presented by Nels Hoffman, deals with the idea of evolution, the meaning of the term, and various ways that Christians look at evolution. (Evidence for or against evolution will be discussed by a future speaker.) The term evolution has several meanings: (1) It can refer to adaptation, sometimes called microevolution, which is the phenomenon whereby the observed traits of living organisms, subject to random mutation and natural selection, change over time to enhance the organisms’ reproductive success, in the presence of some external stimulus. (2) Or evolution may refer to the observed changes in physical anatomy and body patterns preserved in the geological fossil record. (3) Alternatively, evolution may mean the concept that all past and present organisms descend genealogically from a common ancestor in a kind of family tree. (4) A fourth meaning of evolution is the scientific theory of evolution as originally defined by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. He proposed that microevolution operating over long periods of time produced the anatomical changes and body types seen in the fossil record. (5) Finally, a fifth meaning of evolution is also called evolutionism, which is a world view that uses the theory of evolution to argue that life, and by extension the universe, is godless, meaningless, and without purpose. Christians respond to these ideas in several ways. Young-earth creationists reject most evidence for evolution in its meanings 2 through 5, accepting only microevolution as an actual possibility. This viewpoint supports the idea that all natural evil, carnivorous predation, and physical death are the consequence of human sin, as Romans 5:12 may be taken to suggest. Progressive creationists hold that the theory of evolution is partially valid, but incomplete, and that occasional supernatural intervention occurred in the history of life on Earth. Darwin himself realized there were possible objections to his theory, which he described in his book in Chap. 6, “Difficulties on Theory;” for example, it is problematic to explain organs such as the eye, in which many components would have had to evolve simultaneously. Progressive creationists claim that, while evolution may explain the origin of species, it can’t explain the origin of life, or even the origin of phyla (the different body plans), as observed in the Cambrian Explosion. Finally, evolutionary creationists accept the theory of evolution as a scientific model and as a valid means by which God brought into being the diversity of life on Earth. Theological and philosophical risks of the three Christian viewpoints are that: young-earth creationists reject much of science and the Liber Naturae, and hence may view God as deceptive in making a universe that looks old but is not; progressive creationists may be caught in a “God of the Gaps” trap and hence undermined by scientific advances; and evolutionary creationists risk lapsing into deism.
About our presenter:
Nelson Hoffman’s parents were missionaries in India, so he was raised in a religious home, but during the 1970s (his twenties) he drifted spiritually far away from his upbringing, dabbling in eastern religions and some unwholesome practices characteristic of the times. These distractions didn’t stop him from earning a bachelor’s degree in physics from Rice and a doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Wisconsin, however, or from finding a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he continues to be employed as a physicist working on plasma physics, especially ion kinetics and high-energy-density plasmas. Over time, certain inner promptings, the raising of his children, and various authors led him back to his Christian roots. For several years, he has been intrigued by the features of the universe referred to as “cosmological fine tuning,” the origin of life, and the origin of humanity, and their plausible links to the creative acts of the God of the Bible. During this time, he has found an important resource in the ministry Reasons To Believe (www.reasons.org). Recently, he has been studying the history of science, finding in the origin of modern science (that is, empirical mathematical science) a crucial role for Judaeo-Christian theology, together with Greek philosophy and Roman law, as described in the writings of Toby Huff (Chancellor Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), Lawrence Principe (Drew Professor of the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University) and their predecessors. In the view of these scholars, one can almost say that without Christianity, modern science would not exist. Hoffman thinks this message can help alleviate some ungrounded fears that science and religion (Christianity, anyway) must be constantly in conflict.