Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Can Christians in Science Respond to Claims that Faith Is Irrational?


  1. Hey Steve. Have you heard of the new book "Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science?" Basically, the authors, who call themselves Christian, state that there is genetic evidence that disproves the Bible's account of human origins. It is a little bit troubling because I've encountered unbelievers who will say the same thing and I'm not sure how to counter their claims as I try to witness to them. Anyway, have you heard of this book -- and do you think the new genetic evidence can be interpreted to allow for a real, literal Adam created out of the dust before any other humans existed?

    Thanks, Ed (YEC).
    (I've followed your blog for a while, and you have written a lot about atheism, but I haven't found any archives where you addressed the specific genetics claims against Adam -- if you have, I apologize for posting this question under an unrelated blog post)

    1. I've collected some links from Reasons to Believe at the following blogpost. They hold to Old Earth Creationism but try to champion a literal Adam and Eve.

    2. I've posted quite a bit on comparative genomics. I'll give you some links, but for now I'll make a few summary observations:

      I haven't read the book. However, I'm guessing this is basically a rehash of articles Venema posted at BioLogos. I have read that series.

      i) I'm not qualified to address the scientific technicalities, but I'd like to raise some philosophical questions regarding his argument. To begin with, does Venema insist on methodological atheism? Does he assume that in order to do "real" science, you must act as though God doesn't exist? That natural history is an uninterrupted chain of cause and effect?

      If so, then his evidence for human evolution isn't solely based on physical evidence. In addition, he imposes a filter on what explanations are permissible.

      ii) On a related note is the God-of-the-gaps allegation. It's true that creationists are sometimes guilty of that. But does Venema takes the position that any scientific explanation must assume an uninterrupted chain of cause and effect? Does he think every physical effect must have a physical cause? An unintelligent cause, like a chemical reaction?

      What is his position on, say, miraculous healing? Does he believe some sick people are healed in answer to prayer?

      If so, the cause of healing would not be traceable to antecedent physical conditions. Rather, the cause would be discontinuous with the physical chain of causes leading up to the moment of healing. Does he allow for that?

      iii) To take a comparison, suppose a homicide detective is called in to investigate an ambiguous death. Did the decedent die of natural causes (e.g. stroke, heart attack)? Was the cause of death accidental (e.g. unintentional drug overdose)? Was the cause of death suicide (e.g. intentional drug overdose)? Or was the cause of death murder?

      Keep in mind that a clever killer will attempt to make the murder appear to be death by natural causes, or suicide, or a tragic accident.

      The analogy to "God-of-the-gaps" would be appeal to personal agency. The logic of Venema's position is that a homicide detective must exclude murder and suicide, since those require personal agency, which is analogous to divine agency. We can only consider "natural" causes, viz., stroke, heart attack.

    3. Another question is whether comparative genomics furnishes additional evidence for human evolution (i.e. macroevolution, universal common descent). Traditionally, a putative evidence for human evolution is comparative anatomy.

      But it stands to reason that there must be some underlying mechanism to produce similar anatomy. If two species have similar anatomy, it's not surprising that they have a similar genetic makeup, if that's the engine driving similar anatomy. So does comparative genomics furnish independent corroborative evidence for human evolution, or do comparative anatomical similarities presuppose cooperative genetic similarities?

      To take a comparison, Da Vinci painted two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks. Now, you can tell just by looking at them that they were produced by the same painter. Suppose that initially we didn't know the identity of the painter. If we were to discover that Da Vinci painted them both, that would specify the common underlying cause for their commonalities, but would it really add much to the evidence that these were painted by the same hand? Didn't we infer all along that there had to be something over and above the two paintings to account for their similarities? A common cause for a common effect? So isn't the appeal to comparative genomics circular?

      Finally, suppose we ask ourselves what biology would look like if God wanted to create a world with maximal zoological diversity. That would mean you could arrange species along a continuum of similarity and dissimilarity. Some species would be more alike while others would be less alike. Some would occupy the extreme ends of greatest similarity and dissimilarity while others would represent gradations in-between. For any two species, they are either more alike or less alike. You'd have a nearly infinite range of fine-grained variations.

      If so, then man is bound to resemble some species more than others, and there will be a few species he most closely resembles. But is that due to common descent, or is that just the inevitable result of God making a world in which he rings the changes on body plans?


    5. Just picking up on what Steve astutely said:

      "But is that due to common descent, or is that just the inevitable result of God making a world in which he rings the changes on body plans?"

      If God wanted to make humans completely discontinuous with all other life on earth, then he could have made our genome fundamentally different from all other lifeforms on earth. Perhaps instead of DNA (or RNA), God could have used something entirely different like XNA. Or God could easily not even use nucleic acid. Perhaps he could have used XYZ, ABCXYZ, or whatever.

      However, if God did this, then it's possible we would suffer various incompatibilities as a result. For example, perhaps consuming water, plants, and animals on earth would not give us any energy whatsoever. Worse, maybe doing so would even be toxic to us. Scifi often explores these sorts of things. A human astronaut travels to a distant planet orbiting a distant star, but finds he or she can't breathe the atmosphere. An alien species (a plant or animal analogue) which is innocuous to other aliens in their system is introduced to humanity only to pose an imminent threat to our existence. And so on. Hence, presumably, God would need to make us compatible enough to other lifeforms on earth so we can all co-exist, but unique enough to reflect his handiwork. If so, then there would be various degrees of compatibility as well as incompatibility with one another.

      Moreover, if God did create us with fundamentally different genetics, I assume secular scientists (among others) would still find a way to argue we're not God's creation. Perhaps they'd argue we're aliens on earth a la Crick's panspermia theory except applied only to humans rather than all life on earth. In any case, secularists would find a way to conclude heads they win, tails we lose.

    6. In addition, Ann Gauger, Doug Axe, and Casey Luskin deal with this question in their book Science and Human Origins (albeit not from a YEC perspective).