August 2012


I am not a fan of either/or options. Often times when we are given two options to choose from we are mislead into thinking those are the only two options and that one of them contains the totality of known truth on that particular subject. Though often this is not the case, sometimes it is. One of the few areas in which I believe this is the case is the debate between macroevolution and microevolution as the explanation for the similarity and diversity we find within all of life. In short, this is an option between either Darwinian evolution (DE) by random chance purposeless natural selection or the creation of all living things by God through the initial creation of kind and the subsequent creation of the diversity within kind through microevolution. If macroevolution is the mechanism by which all living things came into existence then the Bible’s account of creation is not and vice versa. It is a truly either/or situation.

Following a long line of books seeking to refute the claims of DE is a new books by Dr. John F. Ashton, Evolution Impossible: 12 Reasons Why Evolution Cannot Explain the Origin of Life on Earth. Dr. Ashton is a proponent of creation science and written several books on the subject with Master Books. Ashton is an adjunct professor of biomedical  and applied sciences in Melbourne, Australia. Evolution Impossible follows two of Ashton’s previous works, In Six Days: 50 Scientists explain Why They Believe in Creation and On the Seventh Day: 40 Scientists and Academics explain Why They Believe in God, and seeks to summarize their content.

Evolution Impossible is a book defending creationism and the belief in creation in 6 literal 24 hr. days and a worldwide flood. It does this primarily by refuting the claims of DE that (1) life began through the process known as abiogenesis (life coming from non-life)  and (2) that, once started, all of the diversity of life we see came about by macroevolution over the course of millions and billions of years. The basic assumption of macroevolution is that everything originated from a single celled organism and evolved over vast amounts of time to the present. So, Ashton seeks to defend his position primarily by showing how DE is not a valid theory to explain the existence and diversity of life. In a way, Ashton is making the case that the burden of proof is on the side of DE proponents because their theory is indefensible and not as assuredly assumed as they would like to think.

Dr. Ashton accomplishes this task by addressing twelve lines of support DE proponents give in defense of their theory, only a few of which I will touch on.

Abiogenesis and Natural Selection

One of the most audacious claim of  DE supporters is that an original living cell, from which all of life evolved from, originated by chance. This is behind the teem aboigenesis which is the belief that life comes from non-life. What is perhaps worse is that, though there is no substantial or defensible proof for this, this theory is purported to be a scientific fact that is propagated in all science text books. What Ashton does first is show that based on all that we know about both the structure/makeup and formation/development of life as we observe it this is indefensible. Ashton states

If it can be shown that it is absolutely impossible for a living organism to arise by natural processes from nonliving matter, then the theory of evolution would be without foundation and unable to provide the complete mechanical-naturalistic explanation of how we came to be here. (p. 37).

After a short discussion on how cells form and how many would have to form in the right pattern (among other things) Ashton concludes that

For the first life to start from nonliving matter, thousands of specialized large complex molecules must somehow be synthesized in very large numbers from simple small inorganic molecules. These molecules then have to come together randomly over and over again until somehow the structure of the cell is formed. This remarkable and complex structure would still, however, not be alive. To become alive, hundreds of metabolic reactions wold have to be initiated, with the metabolic intermediaries already in place at just the right concentrations so that the reactions went the right way. (p. 43)

One does not have to be a scientist to realize that DE is asking for more than life itself can give. There is so much required, that is not present, in order for DE to be possible that it is highly statistically impossible.

But the improbability of DE’s case is further seen when we move from the beginning of life to the continuation and development or the diversity of life. Here we run into the belief that all of the diversity of life that we see came about by the process of natural selection. In this discussion Ashton overviews the three types of evolution:

  1. Type 1 Evolution – This “involves no new additional genetic information being formed. It commonly involves the loss of preexisting genetic information that results in changes to the inherited genetic code in the offspring, making it different from the parent” (p. 51) Here we have changes within the same kind of organism and thus the loss of the genetic information does not produce a new kind of organism but rather a variation of the same kind of organism.
  2. Type 2 Evolution – This “involves the transfer of new genetic information from one organism into another organism. That is, additional new genetic information enters the DNA of an organism via, for example, virus-like proteins or by plasmids that can carry specific genes.” (p. 55) This is not the creation of a new organism but rather the transfer of genetic information from one to another thus creating a new strain – not type.
  3. Type 3 Evolution – This would require “the generation of totally new useful genetic information within the DNA code of an organism by some supposed process in nature, which results in a completely new function that has never occurred before.” (p. 56) This is the creation of completely new organisms from previously existing organisms of a different kind.

Ashton rightly points out that the examples used in text books to to prove type 3 evolution are actually examples of type 1 evolution. This fits with the fact that we do observe type 1 evolution and have never observed type 3. Further, type 3 evolution has never been observed by anyone neither is it probable for it to occur and develop all of life within the 4 billion years of supposed evolutionary time (p. 60).

Fossil Record

Within the DE theory of millions of years is a connection between macroevolution and the fossil record. Over the course of several chapters Ashton discusses various theories and assumptions held by DE proponents such as uniformitarianism and the geological time scale (see also pgs. 136-37). Ashton thoroughly discusses the contents of sedimentary rocks and how they are formed by “the action of water.” (p. 67) One of the key points Ashton brings out time and time again is how sedimentary rocks are formed by water – massive amounts of it. With this in mind, there are four basic lines of evidence concerning the fossil record:

  1. Virtually all of the fossils used by DE supporters to support macroevolution are found in sedimentary rocks. These are fossils that “are mainly found in rocks formed under water.” (p. 73
  2. These sedimentary rocks are found all over the world.
  3. In order for this fossilization to occur, the plants and animals contained in the sedimentary rocks “had to be buried rapidly so that they would not rot or decay, or be eaten or break up under weatherizing conditions.” (p. 73)
  4. The fossil record clearly shows that there were a large number of plants and animals that existed in the past which no longer exist today. It is agreed on by both sides of the issue that 98-99 percent of all animals that have ever existed are now extinct. Thus, the fossil record is a record of extinction of preexisting lifeforms rather than transition from one to another.

One contemporary example of rapid and massive sedimentary rock formation is Mt. St. Helen’s. After her eruption in May of 1980 massive amounts of strata formed in just a few hours. This would normally be interpreted by DE as having happened over thousands of years. In order for the worldwide and massive amounts of fossils we see today to have occurred there had to be a universal event requiring water. Contrary to the claims of DE of all the fossil beds taking millions of years to develop, the fossil record (based on how we know sedimentary rocks form) could only have been laid down several thousand years ago.

Following discussion of the requirements for the formation of sedimentary rocks, Ashton discusses the absence of transitional fossils, pointing out that what we see is immediate presence of multi-cell organisms in the fossil record along side single-cell organisms. Even the late Stephen J. Gould admitted that the fossil record contains no transitional fossils (p. 94). Further, there is the reality that DNA and intact protein sequences contained in a fossil only last so long and would not be detectable millions of years later (p. 131).

Conclusion

While I have not read all of the books out there testing the claims of DE, I think Evolution Impossible is the best one I have read yet. Ashton is clear and concise. He is heavily footnoted and deals with the issues head on. Ashton lets the scientific evidence speak for itself. What becomes clear is that proponents of DE have an agenda to remove God from the picture. They need millions of years of life forming in order to do this.

Evolution Impossible is a book every Christian should read. It would make a great learning tool for school and can be the catalyst for further learning in the areas discussed. Ashton provides a good overview of the historical development of DE for readers to gain a better grasp of how it began. Contrary to the belief in God creating all things in six 24 hr days and a worldwide flood as being unscientific and a stopper for scientific inquiry, Ashton shows that it is very scientifically credible and respectable and is in fact the natural and reasonable belief to hold based on the evidence.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Master Books in return for an honest review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

HELP!: If you see anything that you think would fit into one of these categories then email it to me @ churst555@gmail.com and I will add it to next weeks list and cite you as the referral if I didn’t see it first!

REVIEWS:

God Told Me: Who to Marry, Where to Work, Which Car to Buy…..And I’m Pretty Sure I’m Not Crazy by Jim Samra is reviewed by Matthew Miller.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl is reviewed by Brian Auten at Apologetics 315.

The Liberal Arts: A Students Guide ed. by David Dockery is reviewed by Doug Wilson.

Evangellyfish by Doug Wilson is reviewed by Andy Naselli.

God’s Wisdom in Proverbs by Dan Phillips is reviewed by Jim Hamilton.

Textual Criticism if the Hebrew Bible (3rd Ed.) by Emanuel Tov is reviewed by Bob Hayton.

Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts by Robert Jones is reviewed by Dave Jenkins.

Four Views on the Apostle Paul Ed. by Michael F. Bird is reviewed by Matthew Sims.

The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament series is reviewed by Nate.

Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources ed. by Chad V. Meister & Khaldoun A. Sweis is reviewed by Prayson Daniel.

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung is reviewed by Dave Jenkins.

Arminius, Arminianism and Europe is reviewed by Matthew Barrett.

Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis is reviewed by Matt Sims.

INTERVIEWS:

Justin Taylor interviews Kevin DeYoung about his new book The Hole in Our Holiness.

Dale Goldsmith is interviewed by Brazos about his new book Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death.

AUTHOR HIGHLIGHTS:

Tim & Kathy Keller, authors of The Meaning of Marriage, discuss marriage and culture at TGC Women’s Conference.

D.A. Carson’s 26 Lectures on the book of Revelation.

Russell Moore discusses what he has learned about adoption ten years after having done so and having written his book Adopted for Life.

BOOKS & RESOURCES TO NOTE:

Tony Reinke lists 20 great quotes from Kevin DeYoung’s new book The Hole in Out Holiness.

Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace by Michael Beates is now available.

…….And Just Because it Interests Me:

24 Things I Learned From Seminary.

What Does the Extent of the Atonement Have to do With Baptist Ecclesiology?

Are You Reformed? Part 1 & Part 2.

Trevin Wax writes Dear Stay-At-Home Mom.

Yesterday I posted my review on Journeys of Faith edited by Robert Plummer. Today Robert has given me some of his time to answer a few questions about the book.

Robert Plummer is a Greek and NT teacher at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written Paul’s Understanding of the Churches Mission and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. Robert blogs at www.robplummer.com/blog.

Me:  As you hinted at in your conclusion to the book, this was not an easy idea to act on given your commitments as an Evangelical. What spurred the idea of the book and what did you have to overcome personally in order to go ahead with the idea?

Robert: I knew of several seminary students and former church members who had become Catholic or Greek Orthodox.  I felt that ignoring the issue was not helpful.  Furthermore, I received encouragement from the fellow pastors at my church to put together a book that allowed for constructive engagement and dialogue.  I see the book as a first step in an ongoing conversation – one that will continue in a session of the ETS annual meeting this year.

Me: You state in the introduction, “These traditions (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox & Anglican) are distinct from one another, but they also share a common commitment to a more liturgical expression of the Christian faith.” (p. 15) Are these traditions being more consistent than Evangelicals in their liturgy?

Robert: Someone from the outside looking at Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism would immediately see commonalities – hierarchy, formality, more-structured worship.

Me: To follow the last question, Wilbur Ellsworth noted how he was put off by the sort of ‘free-for-all’ nature of the worship in the Baptist church he first pastored. What can Evangelicals learn from these more liturgical traditions that should help us to be more aware of the rich theological basis for these liturgies?

Robert: Superficiality and the seeming randomness of some evangelical worship services is one reason that evangelical Christians are attracted to liturgical churches.  Of course, there are some evangelical churches that have reverent, thoughtful, and God-honoring worship services.  But, from my experience, those churches are in the minority.

Me: As Francis Beckwith pointed out, he didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be a Catholic. Through each of the contributor’s “conversion” stories we see a genuine struggle as they moved from one tradition to another. How can Evangelicals, who are persuaded about their position, respectfully engage these other traditions who are as convinced of their beliefs as we are about ours?

Robert: A few quick thoughts – (1) Listen, (2) Learn.  Don’t simply listen for the purpose of attacking.  (3) Ask questions, (4) Lovingly disagree, (5) Remain engaged as colleagues or friends.

Me: Speaking of “conversion” stories, why did you choose for each contributor to share their perspective through the stories of the faith changes as opposed to the typical style of counterpoint books?

Robert: Evangelicals are accustomed to gaining converts, not losing them.  When an evangelical Christian hears of another evangelical becoming Catholic or Greek Orthodoxy, they are befuddled. “Why would they do that?” is a common question.  The best way to answer that question is to let converts answer that question in their own words.

Me: As an Evangelical, what did you learn from this project and what do you hope other Evangelicals will take away from these faith tradition changes?

Robert: I feel like I have a better understanding of the diverse views, motivations, and experiences that lead some evangelicals to join ranks with a liturgical church tradition.  Also, I believe the evangelical authors in the book offer some significant critiques of the differing traditions – ones that should give potential converts pause.

Growing up in a conservative Baptist church I was not intentionally exposed much to other faith traditions (though I am sure this is true for most Evangelicals). I say intentionally because there is a sense in which I was “protected” from them and their seemingly unbiblical doctrines. These other faith traditions, unlike my own of course (wink, wink), were fraught with extra-biblical beliefs that were shrouded in sheep’s clothing in order to cover the wolf of false man-made doctrine underneath.

As I grew up and went to college I began to learn more about these other faith traditions. To be honest, I struggled with the salvation of Catholics, had no idea what Eastern Orthodoxy was and Anglicans were just wrong Protestants because they weren’t evangelical Baptists like myself. I was woefully ignorant of much of their beliefs and, though I am still not convinced of them, I was utterly negative in my attitude towards them. Needless to say, I could have used a dose of gospel humility, even if I still disagreed with them in the end (and they with me for that matter).

Structure of the Book

In an effort to break down hollow walls of characterization of other faith traditions and to build new solid walls of respectful and informed understanding, Robert Plummer has assembled a number of top-notch representatives of various faith traditions (Catholic, Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicanism) who have changed from one faith tradition to another in his newly edited book Journeys of Faith. The four major contributors are as follows:

  1. Wilbur Ellsworth turned Evangelical Southern Baptist to Eastern Orthodox.
  2. Francis J. Beckwith turned mildly Catholic to Evangelical to strong Catholic again.
  3. Chris Castaldo turned Catholic to Evangelical.
  4. Lyle W. Dorsett walked among the Evangelical spectrum where he eventually landed in Anglicanism.

Though this book gives the reasons for why each contributor changed from one faith tradition to another this is not a typical counter point book. The point is not to necessarily critique the reasons each person holds for changing, but as Plummer states:

It is my hope that persons reading this book will listen carefully to the persons who have converted to new faith traditions and will truly seek to understand the motivation behind such spiritual journeys. (p. 16)

Following each major chapter is a response by one person (three of them being Evangelical and one being Catholic), who is not a major contributor, in regards to both the positive they see in the contributors essays as well as the things that give pause or concern. Following the critiques the contributors are allowed a short response. What readers will see in this book is summed up well by Plummer:

The contributors to this volume recognize genuine differences among Christian faith traditions and see the value in making biblical, logical, historical, and experiential cases for what they believe are the most compelling expressions of Christian community. (p. 17)

Though differences are clearly evident and expressed, this book is not an exercise in public theological bashing. On the other hand, this is not an attempt to gloss over the differences between various faith traditions in an effort to flatten them all out so they can be presented as a unified front.

Summary of Major Contributors Changes

Wilbur Ellsworth grew up Southern Baptist, was trained as such and pastored as such. He sums up his long journey to Eastern Orthodoxy in the following initial words, “There was always a sense that we needed to discover and grow into something more, something greater, richer, and more compelling” (p. 24). The issue that sparked what would later land him in Eastern Orthodoxy was his inadequate experience in his first Baptist church in regards to its worship life. It was evident that there was “a lack of any theological basis” for what they as a church were doing (p. 26). This led to a series of theological and practical reexaminations of a number of major beliefs Ellsworth had learned. His desire for a deeper understanding and experience of communion and church worship played a major role. The lack of uniformity within Evangelical churches in regards to worship and theology led him to desire a more unified view of Scripture, tradition and church authority which he found in the Orthodox church. Much of this change in faith traditions centers around, what Ellsworth considers to be a turn back to the historic roots of the Christian church.

Francis Beckwith was born into the Catholic Church but after high school he spent much of his life within Evangelical circles, churches and schools. The initial spark for his change from Evangelicalism to Catholicism began while he taught at UNLV. As he taught classes on ethical theory, applied ethics and politics he found that he “was drawn more to Catholic authors who seemed to have a better grasp of the underlying philosophical issues that percolated beneath many contemporary moral debates” (p. 84). Their biblical and theological arguments had more elegance and intellectual richness (p. 84). The great dividing line came when he wrote a paper addressing anticreedal Protestantism. A member of the listening audience made the comment that the necessity of creeds in the first six centuries of the church necessitated a magisterium that had the authority to make them and declare them normative for the church (p. 87). It is here that Beckwith felt the need to entertain returning to the Catholicism of his youth. As is characteristic for many Catholics, the four major issues he had to struggle with overcoming were the doctrine of justification, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrament of penance and apostolic succession (p. 88). Beckwith concludes his findings on these four major doctrines to be

Defensible Christian beliefs and practices that not only could be supported scripturally but were also uncontroversially believed and practiced by the church universal during the times in which the most important early creeds and canons were penned and promulgated…..I could not legitimately isolate and insulate my Protestant reading of the New Testament from the practices of the church that fixed the canon of the New Testament without suggesting the counterintuitive notion that the church had enough of the Holy Spirit to know what books belong in Scripture but not enough of the Holy Spirit to know what practices and ecclesiology are consistent with, or legitimate derivations from, the Scripture. (p. 112).

All in all, one can see that Beckwith has turned to Catholicism for the very reasons that divide Catholics and Evangelicals, which Gregg Allison ably brings out in his response. He delves deeply into the early history of the church quoting numerous early church fathers in an effort to support the Catholic tradition. For Beckwith, Protestantism was let go because he felt it had isolated itself “from the practices of the church that fixed the canon of that New Testament without suggesting the counterintuitive notion that the church had enough of the Holy Spirit to know what books belong in Scripture but not enough of the Holy Spirit to know what practices and ecclesiology are consistent with, or legitimate derivation from, that Scripture.” (p. 112)

Chris Castaldo grew up Catholic but the tipping point for his turn to Protestantism was the issue of assurance

At the end of the day, I found Catholic faith to be frustrating because it never produced confidence that I was fully and finally accepted by God. Even when I successfully observed the Church’s precepts – regulation such as attending Mass weekly, observing holy days of obligation, or abstaining from eating mean on Lenten Fridays – I knew it was only a matter of time before I violated another religious stipulation and thus removed myself from God’s favor. (p. 139)

After tasting the teachings of some other religions it was the message the preacher preached at his father’s funeral that drove Chris to resting wholly in Jesus for his salvation – he had assurance (p. 143). “In retrospect, I believe this was the day I ceased to be a Catholic.” (p. 144) In contrast to Beckwith, Castaldo could no longer see the Catholic church as the hub of church authority for all belief and practice – it was the Bible. Along with the concerns of many other former Catholics in leaving, it was a “weariness with the vast array of religious rules, regulations, and traditions which seemed to have little or nothing to do with the gospel.” (p. 145) Though Catholics and Protestants begin with the same Bible and confess much the same creeds, it is where they go after there that the difference(s) begin to emerge

This divergence is based upon a different understanding of how the infallible revelation and authority of Jesus applies to his Church, and by extension to the world. In other words, when Catholics identify the tangible presence of Christ in the world, they normally point to the institution of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Evangelicals, on the other hand, while acknowledging a union between Christ and his Church, are nonetheless more inclined to see the infallible manifestation of Christ’s revelation and authority in the text of Scripture. (p. 148).

This issue of the location of authority for Christians has been the watershed issue between Evangelical and Catholics and will by all accounts continue to be so. Throughout his discussion Castaldo takes on the major points of teaching on Catholic authority while conversely clarifying the Evangelical position.

Returning to his original struggle with the lack of assurance of salvation he felt within the Catholic tradition, Castaldo finishes out by addressing the issue of guilt. For Chris, it was the “oppressive imposition of unhealthy religious guilt” that perpetuated the lack of assurance of salvation (p. 160). Castaldo clears up the false notion held by many Evangelicals concerning Catholic Mass that the Eucharist is a repetition of the cross. Rather, “he is ‘immolated,’ which means that he is presented in a state of victimhood…..Because the death of Christ is ongoing, there is never a sense that justification ((being made right with God) has been finished in this life.” (p. 162) For Castaldo, if positional justification has not been accomplished by Christ for the believer then there is no assurance of salvation this side of the grave.

Lyle Dorsett began as a moderate Lutheran and turned Anglican. Though feeling a call to ministry at the age of thirteen, Dorsett did not act on this “calling” until much later in life. In the meantime he pursued studies and teaching in history. After several years of not walking with the Lord, the prayers of his wife and the influence of others, Dorsett finally came to a place in his life in which he called on the Lord. Here his call for ministry was rekindled and he began to pursue theological education and ordination. Dorsett wove in and out of a few different denominations because, as he puts in, he and his wife were “looking for something more” than what they found where they were at presently. He finally found his home in the Anglican tradition because

Historically it has been the via media that emerged from the English Reformation. It is the middle way between the austerity of some radical Puritans who determined to cleanse the Church from all “vestiges of popery,” going so far as to call for the abolition of everything not expressly required in the Bible, and the Catholics on the other hand who placed Tradition and the Church above Scripture to an extreme where they promulgated some doctrines that stand in contradistinction to Holy Writ. (p. 208)

For Dorsett, Anglicanism has a variety of Evangelical beliefs in which he believes represent the best of Evangelical theology and practice.

Final Observations

There are a few observations I made while reading these various journeys of changing faith traditions.

  1. Worship Through Liturgy – The predominate theme that ran throughout these four accounts is the desire for a liturgy and worship that accurately expresses the theological beliefs of ones tradition in regards to Scripture. For Ellsworth and Beckwith liturgy is driven by the authority and tradition of the churches interpretation of Scripture. For Castaldo Scripture is the center of authority which governs ones worship (though this is expressed through tradition(s)). And for Dorsett, there is a mix of traditional interpretation and Scripture to guide the liturgy.
  2. Honesty, Forthrightness and Charitable About Disagreements – One of the nice things about each contributors chapter was that they did not pretend for a minute that there was little to no difference between each faith traditions beliefs. Each person was clear on why they believe their tradition has it right and the others don’t. One can see the no-mincing-of-words about our differences in the responses to each main contribution. However, this dialogue of disagreement was done very charitably.
  3. Genuine Desire for Truth – If there is one thing I learned by reading this book is that these kinds of changes do not usually happen overnight (at least not the lasting reflective ones). Each contributor’s journey took many years of hard thoughtful reflection and inner struggle. Even though we may disagree on where one lands down the road, we must respect the fact that the decision was not made in haste or in overnight reaction to something.
  4. Theology Matters – Because the contributors were very clear about their differences one cannot help but see that the differences can be watershed issues. For instance, the age old disagreement between Catholics and evangelicals on justification is still in existence – and it matters what you believe. Along the same lines, the issue of the location of continued authority is still an issue – is it the church or Christ through Scripture?
  5. Respect for Tradition – There was a great sense of desire to be rooted in the history and tradition of the church over the last 2,000 years. Beckwith had the most discussion on tradition as it was most relevant for him. Ellsworth was a close second with Dorsett coming in at third. Castaldo had the least but not to his detriment. For the first three, they are naturally more tradition based because of their view of the authority of the church and Scripture. Castaldo is responding to this misplaced view and thus focuses on the Authority of Scripture with the authority of tradition/church in second place.

Conclusion

Journeys of Faith is a raw and clarifying look at what drives people to move from one faith tradition to another. The arguments are clear, the personal journeys are genuine, the spirit of disagreement is charitable and there is much to learn for the wiling mind without having to feel threatened. This is a good book in which to gain a greater appreciation for different faith traditions and your own as well.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for a review. I was not paid and the views expressed here are my own.

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