Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

A blow-by-blow response to Dr. Denis Alexander

arroba Email

In the last year and a bit I’ve done a lot of work in trying to understand and then critique the approach of Dr. Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute in Cambridge (UK).

I know that many readers of UD are familiar with Alexander’s big-selling work, “Creation or Evolution – Do We Have To Choose?”. This book is probably (alongside Francis Collins) the work with the most traction by Darwinists seeking to argue from a Biblical Christian viewpoint.

I’ve previously drawn attention to IVP’s “Should Christians Embrace Evolution”. In this post I want instead to draw attention to my own response, “Creation or Evolution – Why We Must Choose”. If you don’t want to read the blurb and just want to see the book, skip to the end of this post.

Whereas the IVP work is more wide-ranging and tends to use Alexander’s ideas as a useful foil at various points, mine (as the title suggests) is a direct reply. The chapters of my work correspond one-to-to with his. It’s not a paragraph-by-paragraph response, because I had to decide which points were the major ones, and my own fields of expertise are not the same as Dr. Alexander’s. It does comprehensively cover and critique all the turning points of his thought – including his dismissal of ID. Here’s the cover blurb:

Denis Alexander’s “Creation or Evolution – do we have to choose?” is a well-written argument that evangelical Christians should make peace with Darwinism and drop the church’s historic teaching that all things were made miraculously in just six days. Its author seeks to argue that science has spoken convincingly, and claims to show us ways to read the Bible to bring about a harmony between the two. David Anderson begs to differ on both counts.

He argues that Alexander has mangled Scripture, managing to harmonise it with Darwinism only by using methods which are distinctly and disastrously contrary to evangelical orthodoxy. Moreover, he finds Alexander’s methods in handling of key scientific issues to be logically flawed. In this book he shows us how weak the new Darwinist evangelicals’ arguments are, and why Bible believing Christians can continue to place strong confidence in the Scriptures and the church’s historic understanding of them.”

You can read the whole book online for free, or download a Word or PDF document here. The copyright statement is very generous if you have ways to re-use it.

If you want to buy a nicely printed copy for yourself or a bookstall, there are options here and here. But for UD readers (in the UK or US) here’s a special offer, valid for 10 days. You can get as many copies as you like for £5 (UK) or $9 (US). Just drop me an e-mail with your delivery address at choose-offer@dw-perspective.org.uk. I’ll then reply to confirm and tell you how to pay (you’ll need a debit/credit card or Paypal account).

Hi Bilboe, I guess the only response I can make to that is to read more of my review of Alexander - I think several of his theses are not just his personal quirks, but essential to any full-blown attempt to integrate Darwinism and the Bible. Warfield: My memory can't be relied upon here, but I think that Warfield thought that evolution could be accepted with certain caveats, but these caveats ultimately are not acceptable to mainstream science so I think if he's alive today there'd be a number of issues he'd need to face that he didn't directly in his own day - so how he'd respond is ultimately speculation. One I have in mind is I think he asserted that it was essential to hold that Adam was the sole original progenitor of present day mankind, whereas Alexander holds the modern scientific consensus that he could not have been (e.g. the Australian Aboriginals). More about this in my book etc etc. David David Anderson
John: So your statement, “the greatest proponent of the infallibility of Scripture could accept Darwinian evolution” is clearly impossible. Whether or not Warfield was the greatest or only one of the greatest proponents of the infallibility of Scripture, I'll let historians decide. That he thought one could believe in the infallibility of Scripture and accept Darwinism is a fact. So clearly it is not impossible. I wouldn't know how he interpreted the passage you quoted, but certainly Adam wasn't a son of God in the same sense that Seth as a son of Adam, was he? Bilboe
Bilboe, scripture gives Jesus' lineage going as far back as 'son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God'. Either Warfield accepts that or he doesn't. If he does, then he he can't accept Darwinian evolution, at least not to the point of accepting Universal Common Descent. If he doesn't, then he can hardly be called "greatest proponent of the infalliblity of Scripture." So your statement, "the greatest proponent of the infalliblity of Scripture could accept Darwinian evolution" is clearly impossible. John Smith
David, BTW, from the little I've indirectly gleaned of Dr. Alexander's theology, I think you're right to attack it. I just don't think a Darwinist need be stuck with it, as both Lewis and Dembski attest to. Bilboe
David, There is no evidence whatsoever that Lewis ever had theological objections to the scientific theory of Darwinian evolution. The only scriptural problem that Warfield had was explaining how Eve was created from the rib of Adam. But he considered that insignficant. If the greatest proponent of the infalliblity of Scripture could accept Darwinian evolution, then we should at least acknowledge that when it comes to this area of study, it is theologically neutral. By insisting that it isn't, all you are doing is dividing Christians against themselves. And we know who likes doing that. Bilboe
Hi, Thanks for the various responses. The Wikipedia on Packer revealed a quote more skeptical than I'd known Packer to be - when I saw his cover blurb on Alexander's book, I went through Packer's "Fundamentalism and the Word of God" from the 1950s, and found there he seemed pretty convinced of Darwinism and I inferred that the cover quote meant he hadn't changed since. I am still rather staggered at the cover quote on DA's book given how DA systematically suppresses any accurate representation of the views of those who disagree with him. (He just writes "some Christians say" with no quotes or references, and normally follows this with some cartoon version of a criticism). Concerning Lewis, Lewis had both scientific and theological problems with evolution which grew over the years, as another commenter has pointed out. Bilboe, you're far out - Google for "site:creation.com Lewis" to get some helpful articles. I certainly don't accept the worldview assumptions that could produce the idea (Bilboe, #6) that it's either possible or desirable to have a theology-free science. In my view all ways of doing science presuppose various theological views, and it's desirable to expose and understand these, not pretend they are not necessary. The Wikipedia entry on Warfield is also surprisingly accurate (I say this having read a couple of academic papers). Often Warfield's trumped as a straightforward Darwin advocate using a quote that its quoters (including Alexander in his book) fail to disclose was uttered when he was only 17. VJTorley - thanks. I agree in identifying the historical Fall as the biggest of the stumbling blocks for any TE position. David David Anderson
FYI For B. B. Warfield's views on evolution, please see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._B._Warfield#Evolution vjtorley
David, Reading your online book convinced me of one thing: Christianity and theistic evolution (in its current form) are fundamentally incompatible. I say "in its current form" because the meaning of "theistic evolution" has changed since I was in high school, more than three decades ago. Back in Grade 7, I can remember a few teachers (who happened to be Christians) telling students that they believed God guided the process of evolution towards producing us. That was theistic evolution, back then. Today that belief would be labelled as ID, and if any non-tenured scientist voiced a belief in guided or non-random evolution, he/she would be in danger of being fired. Go figure. Christianity is an historical religion, and the doctrine of the Fall is central to its teaching. No Fall, no Redemption. Dr. Alexander believes that "Adam" wasn't the first human being or even the leader of the first human tribe, but a farmer who lived millions of years after human beings emerged, whose rejection of God deprived the human race of nothing it already had, and whose acceptance of God (had it occurred) would not have saved humanity from physical death and suffering. The fact that Dr. Denis Alexander has seen fit to water down the doctrine of the Fall beyond all recognition in this fashion indicates that he is taking his marching orders from the scientific establishment. That is a pity. On the subject of C. S. Lewis' views on evolution, readers might find this article of interest: http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Ferngren.html A few excerpts from his letters:
September 23, 1944: "Do I agree that the theory of evolution, its truth or falsehood, is of fundamental importance to the Xtian faith?" This question can have several senses, in some of which the answer yes w(oul)d most seriously misrepresent my position. I believe that Man has fallen from the state of innocence in which he was created: I therefore disbelieve in any theory wh(ich) contradicts this. It is not yet obvious to me that all theories of evolution do contradict it... Just as my belief in my own immortal & rational soul does not oblige or qualify me to hold a particular theory of the pre-natal history of my embryo, so my belief that Men in general have immortal & rational souls does not oblige or qualify me to hold a theory of their pre-human organic history—if they have one. September 13, 1951: I have read nearly the whole of Evolution [probably Acworth's unpublished "The Lie of Evolution"] and am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant. I wish I were younger. What inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders. March 5, 1960: Have you read this book by the Jesuit [Pierre Teilhard] de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man) wh(ich) is being praised to the skies? This is evolution run mad. He saves "continuity" by saying that before there was life there was in matter what he calls "pre-life." Can you see any possible use in such language? Before you switched on the light in the cellar there was (if you like to call it so) "pre-light;" but the English for that is "darkness." Then he goes on to the future and seems to me to be repeating [Henri] Bergson (without the eloquence) and [George Bernard] Shaw (without the wit). It ends up of course in something uncomfortably like Pantheism: his own Jesuits were quite right in forbidding him to publish any more books on the subject. This prohibition probably explains the succès fou he is having among our scientists—on the same principle whereby [Boris] Pasternak's (really, v. second rate) novel owes its [illegible] fame to the condemnation of the Russian government.
While I don't share your young-Earth interpretation of Genesis, I appreciate your talent for calling a spade a spade. Bravo. vjtorley
One of the problems with the anti-Young Earth view is that it often goes beyond the reasonableness for an old Earth but demands a dogmatic acceptance for it. The evidence for an old Earth is very strong but it is quite rational to believe that new technology and new knowledge will eventually overturn that evidence. History shows that new paradigms are the expected. It is anti-science to demand that science be dogmatic. tribune7
Sorry, Barry. Too many last names beginning with"A". Bilboe
David, Lewis came to reject Darwinism for scientific reasons, not for theological reasons; just as Behe has; just as I have. All you are doing is adding theological baggage to a scientific debate. You are no better than the TEs who insist on the truth of evolution for theological reasons. Bilboe
bFast, I agree on all points. If I had to believe in a young Earth, the only argument I could possibly make is that God made the universe to look old, including placing photons at all intervals from their sources (millions or billions of light years away from stars, for example) so it appears that the stars (which are millions or billions of light years away) are very old (since the light has had time to travel for eons) when in fact they are only 6,000 years old. That extreme position is the only one that doesn't fail outright, although it will never have evidence to support it thus leaving it incredibly unconvincing. There certianly is evidence of common descent which I find very convincing. What is extremely unconvincing to a neutral, open mind not constrained by naturalism is the idea that law and chance drove every aspect of the entire thing, including consciousness and human genius uoflcard
Hmmm, there are three components to the conflict between science and young earth creationism. 1 - The age of the earth. I contend that the case for an old earth is HUGE! 2 - Universal Common Descent. Many IDers accept UCD, such as Behe. In truth, there is a rather good case for UCD. 3 - Random (non-foresighted) mutation + natural selection did it. This is the fundimental difference between the IDer and the neo-Darwinist. I have not yet seen a compelling case for RM+NS. I have seen some strong evidence to the contrary. Because of the science, my interpretation of scripture cannot consider a young earth interpretation. That doesn't leave me as neo-Darinist. bFast
Bilboe, Lewis changed his mind and came to reject evolution later in life. Barry Arrington
Benjamin B. Warfield, perhaps the greatest proponent of the infallibility of Scripture, was still able to be a Darwinist. C.S.Lewis, perhaps the greatest apologist for Christianity of the 20th century had no theological objections to Darwinism. And in his book, The Problem of Pain, offered ways to harmonize it with "The Fall of Man," and "Animal Pain." Yet Anderson et al. want to make a big theological deal out of it. Bilboe
What I don't understand is why a conservative scholar like J.I. Packer seemed to give Denis Alexander's book such a glowing review: 'Surely the best informed, clearest and most judicious treatment of the question in its title that you can find anywhere today.' J.I. Packer. Elsewhere Packer has seemed a bit more skeptical of evolution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._I._Packer#Evolution halo

Leave a Reply