The Problem With Evolutionary Debates

Do both sides make a mistake in the debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In a Facebook group I’m a part of, someone who is an atheist posted something about evolution with an idea of evolution vs. Christianity. I replied saying that I am an evolutionary agnostic. I don’t know and I don’t care. It doesn’t affect my reading of Genesis, my view of inerrancy, my arguments for God, or my case for the resurrection.

This is not to say I don’t have some questions. I definitely do. The biggest one I have is how it is that men and women raised independently sexual reproductive systems that work together interdependently. The thing is, I don’t present this as a defeater because I am sure research has been done and I have not taken the time to look into it because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter to me.

So in reply to this post that was made, I state I am an agnostic and someone who I suspect is a Christian comes and asks me questions about how to explain XYZ if evolution is true. These could have been basic questions. I said I’m not arguing for it, but I did ask the question that I normally ask. What was the last book you read defending evolution? The answer was none, just watching debates.

Friends. I try to be consistent. Reading contrary thought is important to argue a position.

All this does it leave me thinking about similar mistakes internet atheists and a lot of Christians make when arguing this topic.

First, a reality, both sides tend to accept basic ideas in each belief system. Your average Christian has no problem going to a doctor, flying on a plane, driving a car, using electricity, etc. Insofar as these are not controversial, this is not an issue.

Meanwhile, your average atheist will accept some things about Christianity. Many will accept that there was a historical Jesus. (Although there are far too many who are mythicists.) Many will see a lot of good in a lot of the ethical teachings of Christians. They will tend to disagree on sexual matters, but they are likely to accept things like giving to the poor, loving your neighbor as yourself, not stealing or lying or murdering, etc.

The problem is when you make it either-or. You have to accept everything or you accept nothing. You have to choose which side you are on. Are you on the side of Christianity or of science.

Which buys into the idea that these are automatically irreconcilable. There are a number of devout Christians who are scientists. Historically, there has been no split between the two.

But now let’s look at your average Christian in the pew. For them, Christianity is a great blessing in their lives. They have experiences of wonder and love that rightly or wrongly, they think come from God. They have a strong ethical system, a hope of heaven someday, and a loving community. They think Christianity just explains the world. At the same time, they have no problem with the basic science activities I mentioned above.

Now the atheist comes to them and says “You are not rational if you accept all of that and you have to accept this viewpoint that you don’t understand and reject everything that is dear to you.” Add in also that in the grand scheme of things, this belief that man evolved will not really make much difference to this person likely in their day-to-day life. Do you really think a Christian will go for that? The atheist really needs to listen to the Christian on why their Christianity matters. Keep in mind, for the sake of argument, the Christian could be totally wrong in what they think, but it is still what they think.

Richard Dawkins and the rest of the new atheists often make this mistake. When Richard Dawkins writes on science as science, it is spellbinding. Even if you disagree with him, you can see the wonder he has in what he’s describing. Yet when he talks about something related to Christianity, he is speaking largely from ignorance and anyone who has a clue on Christianity rejects it. It gives a Christian a pass to say “Well, if he’s this ignorant on Christianity and speaking like he’s an authority, why should I trust him on science?” Again, Dawkins could be totally right on science, but he’s damaging his reputation when he posts on things he doesn’t understand.

Honestly, if Dawkins wanted to promote science, the best thing he could do would be to just write about science. When he makes it science vs. Christianity, he’s less likely to reach people. If someone comes in who is a Christian to the world of science and does good scientific work, why should Dawkins care if they’re a Christian or not as long as they’re producing good material?

If an atheist wants to argue against Christianity, what they really need to do is read Christians who are informed talking about what they believe and why. Read multiple views on Genesis. Read about cases for theism and the resurrection of Jesus.

Now it sounds like I’ve been hard on the atheist, but the Christian isn’t entirely innocent in this. If a Christian goes to the scientist and says “You must reject XYZ in order to be a Christian” and the scientist is convinced that XYZ is a well-established fact about the world, then we have a problem. If the Christian says, “You must accept that Scripture says this about the world” and the atheist doesn’t think that claim about the world is true, he is likely to tie that in to theism and the resurrection of Jesus. Saint Augustine said this centuries ago and yet it sounds like it could have been written today:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

“Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion [1 Timothy 1.7].” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1 Chapter 19 Paragraph 39)

If a Christian then argues this way, he’s not going to present a case that the atheist will accept. It’s the same problem again. If you make it the Bible vs science to an atheist, he will choose science every time, and who can blame him?

Am I forbidding a Christian from arguing against evolution? Not at all. It’s not what I do, but if you want to do it, it must not be the Bible vs. science as that just feeds the idea that there is a war between the two. If evolution is to fall, let it fall because it is somehow shown to be bad science. (It is not my call if it is or not or will be or not.) I suspect most atheists would agree with this. If evolution can be demonstrated to be bad science, then it is to be rejected.

If you want to make a case for Christianity, then go with a claim for theism and then the resurrection of Jesus and get in everything else after that. If you think a person has a less robust form of Christianity, such as rejecting inerrancy or what you think is a false view of Genesis, but they hold to essential Christian doctrine like the resurrection of Jesus, the Trinity, etc. then rejoice. They believe the essential matters.

So then, if you want to argue against evolution, then you need to read the best evolutionary scientists you can and learn their position and do the work to show why you think it is scientifically flawed. If you are not willing to do this, then don’t argue it. There is nothing wrong with asking questions, but treating them like defeaters is a problem.

Again, atheists and Christians both make this mistake and it sadly ends with ignorance of both science and Christianity. Let’s do better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)


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