Saturday, September 14, 2013

Our make-believe parents

Jared Oliphint recently posted an article on the evolutionary debate:

Jared is the son of Scott Oliphint, the WTS apologetics prof. Unfortunately, his argument is rather hazy. 

You can respond to the "problem" at one of three different levels. 

i) You can respond directly. At the same level as the alleged evidence. Ostensible evidence is given. You cite counterevidence. Go toe-to-toe with the Darwinian. 

In some ways, that's the best way to respond. But it requires a certain degree of scientific expertise. That's the level at which intelligent-design theorists and young-earth creationists respond. Those with the requisite training. They answer the Darwinian on his own grounds. Point/counterpoint. 

ii) You can respond at a more philosophical level. Show that evolutionary biology is critically underdetermined by the evidence. A Darwinian may seem to base his position on hard evidence, but he's sneaking in key philosophical assumptions that not only go beyond the evidence, but behind the evidence. 

A blatant example is how often Darwinians find it necessary to take refuge in methodological atheism. That's a tacit admission that the physical evidence alone doesn't yield evolution. Especially in historical sciences, it's necessary to extrapolate from the present to the past–as well as postulating interpolations to plug all the lacuna in the natural record. Darwinians must posit continuity. Linearity. Natural laws. That's not given in the raw evidence. Rather, that's a framing device. That's outside the extant evidence. 

It's not as if we have live footage of land animals incrementally turning into whales–or fish turning into salamanders, turning into lemurs, turning into man. You can rearrange fossil remains into an evolutionary narrative, but that's an artistic depiction. Nine parts imagination to one part evidence. 

iii) You can appeal to the transcendental authority of Scripture to trump the alleged evidence. That's a blocking maneuver. And that seems to be what Oliphint is hinting at. But there are two problems:

a) He raises objections to the historicity of Adam, then leaves them hanging out there. There's nothing to robustly counter the objections that he himself put on public display. All the weight lies on one side of the seesaw. What impression does that make on the reader? 

b) He doesn't make a case for the transcendental authority of Scripture. That's just assumed. 

Towards the end he links to a list of resources, but most of those are systematic theology. Yet that's the very thing under fire. 

In general, it's a mistake for an apologist to raise objections he isn't prepared to address head-on. It's one thing to raise objections for the sake of argument, as a preliminary move to go back and knock them down–one-by-one. It's quite another thing to raise objections, then leave them intact. That's counterproductive. Showing the Darwinian triumphantly seated at one end of the seesaw, with nothing to counterbalance, much less overthrow, the ostensible evidence, is a pretty maladroit approach. 

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