On November 18, 2011, the York University student club in which I’m Chaplain and Director – Leadership, Culture and Christianity (LCC) – sponsored a special public lecture by Dr. Denis Lamoureux titled: Beyond Evolution vs. Creation. Lamoureux has earned PhDs in BOTH Evolutionary Biology and Christian Theology. He currently teaches at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta, Edmonton and has the distinction of holding Canada’s first tenured track position in Science and Religion. Lamoureux is a self-proclaimed Evangelical Christian and an Evolutionist. He calls his position, Evolutionary Creation. You can also read York’s student newspaper The Excalibur‘s coverage of the lecture. In this blog post, I want to give some of the major points in Lamoureux’s lecture and also a link to his complete lecture with audio and slides.
First off, Lamoureux argues that the so-called dichotomy between science/evolution and religion/creation is a false one. Rather, the conflict is between Scientism and Fundamentalism. Scientism is a conflation of science with an atheistic worldview, while Christian fundamentalism conflates Christianity with a very specific interpretation of God’s creating work. Lamoureux shows that there are high profile Christians who accept evolution or are open to evolution and still believes in God as the Creator. He quoted the eminent evangelical Billy Graham, for instance, as being open to human evolution as a means by which God uses to create humanity. On the other side, a 1997 Nature article published a survey where close to 40% of US scientists believe in a personal God who answers prayer.
Lamoureux defines evolution as a scientific theory that natural processes over billions of years produced all living organisms, including humans. (Note: contra a popular misunderstanding among many ill-informed Christians, a theory in the realm of science is more than simply a hypothesis or an unproven concept. Sometimes, theories, like Einstein’s theory of relativity, are more solidly accepted and used than some scientific laws. Hence, calling evolution a theory does not bring into question its validity or truth.) Lamoureux argues that evolution, as defined, is neither inherently purposeful or purposeless. Teleology is the belief that the world has a purpose and dysteleology is the opposite belief that the world is purposeless. Famous atheists like Richard Dawkins assumes that evolution proves the world to be dysteleological or purposeless. But Lamoureux argues that there is nothing inherent within evolutionary theory to suggest that. It is Dawkins’ metaphysical beliefs, not evolutionary science itself, that pushes Dawkins to see purposelessness in evolution.
Conflating Metaphysics with Science
The word “metaphysics” originates from two Greek words: meta – after + phusika – physics. Hence, metaphysics is defined as a priori speculations upon questions that are unanswerable to scientific observation, analysis, or experiment. Lamoureux points out that science proper deals with the physical realm, and involves observations and experiments, resulting in theories and laws being formed. But that’s the end of science. Science, in and of itself, cannot give you answers to questions of ultimate meaning, like if the universe has a purpose or not. That is to move from science proper into the realm of metaphysical thinking.
This is not a bad thing as everybody does it. Everybody will step back from the scientific data of, say, how the DNA of a single tiny cell can have the information roughly equivalent to that contained in a 30-volume encyclopedia and start asking “what does this mean?” Whether one concludes from that remarkable scientific fact/data that the cell shows design or lack of design, both those conclusions are metaphysical conclusions, not scientific ones. The problem lies when people fail to recognize that they have shifted from scientific methodology to metaphysical thinking, which is more the realm of philosophy and religion. People, like Dawkins on the one hand, and Intelligent Design advocates on the other, tend to conflate their metaphysics with their science.
Hence, Lamoureux argues that it is possible to divorce the science of evolution from the metaphysical claims made from it.
More Than Two Positions
Lamoureux points out that there are, at least, five different positions on the origin of the universe and life:
- Young Earth Creation or Creation Science – this is the popularly understood “creation” position – it believes that the earth is only about 6,000 years old and rejects macro-evolution (evolution across species) but accepts micro-evolution (evolution within species). The Institute for Creation Research (Henry Morris and Duane Gish) and Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham) are examples of organizations that espouse this view.
- Progressive Creation or Old Earth Creation – this position accepts the scientific consensus that the universe is 10-15 billion years old but still rejects macro-evolution. It holds that God directly intervened in the development of life in order to create the basic “kinds” or species of organisms over billions of years. An example of a progressive creationist is Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe.
- Evolutionary Creation – this Christian position believes the universe is billions of years old and accepts both macro and micro evolution. It holds that God uses evolutionary processes and sustains them for his purposes. It still holds to a personal God that works in the world, accepts the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Lamoureux falls into this category, along with world renowned geneticist and evangelical Christian Francis Collins and the Biologos organization.
- Deistic Evolution – this is historically known as Theistic Evolution but Lamoureux argues that its position is more akin to Deism, where God is impersonal and doesn’t enter into our time-space continuum. In this view, God designed the evolutionary clock, so to speak, wound it up and then let it run its evolutionary course without any intervention or involvement from God. Some notable advocates of this position include Charles Darwin himself, for most of his life. Near the end of his life, Darwin waffled back and forth between Deism and Agnosticism. Other famous advocates are Michael Denton and the famous ex-atheist turned deist, Anthony Flew.
- Dysteleological Evolution or Atheistic Evolution – this is often popularly misconstrued as THE “evolution” position. Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens have championed this position as the only scientific position.
Since there is a spectrum of positions on evolution, we need to move beyond the simple either-or choices of young earth creationism and atheistic evolutionism. But how do Christians reconcile evolutionary views and old universe views with what the Bible says?
At this stage, Lamoureux introduces biblical interpretive principles and techniques, also known as hermeneutics. Lamoureux shows that the Bible is a literary work that contains different literary genres and styles. It is also an ancient work originally aimed at ancient audiences with an ancient understanding of the world. He believes that the truthful divine messages of the Bible are packaged in ancient “science” and/or “history”. And we should not conflate or confuse the core message with the incidental packaging.
One example Lamoureux gives is how the ancients, as can be surmised from Genesis 1, believed in a 3-tier universe of heaven, flat earth and underworld with a dome-like hard firmament physically separating the “waters above” in the heavens from the world below. This is ancient cosmology, which we moderns no longer believe in. But Christians who do not accept a 3-tier universe nevertheless still holds to the theological truth embodied in Genesis 1 that God created the universe. The divine message that God created the universe is packaged in an ancient cosmology. Hence, we can still discover the theological truths from the Bible without having to subscribe to its ancient “science” packaging; we can accept evolutionary science as the best science of our day over against the ancient science of the Bible without compromising the Bible’s theological truth.
There are other excellent examples Lamoureux gives, especially his account of the six days of creation, showing how it makes perfect poetic sense in that the last three days (days 4-6) parallel the first three days. The Genesis 1 account begins with the earth being “formless and empty” (tohu and bohu in Hebrew) and in the first three days God gave form – light and darkness, waters above and below, dry land – while God filled or decorated the forms he created in the latter days – sun, moon and stars for light and darkness, birds to populate the skies and sea creatures the waters, and land animals and humans for the dry land. Understanding the literary genre and stylistics of Genesis 1 helps us interpret it better for its theological truth.
You can watch the slides and listen to Lamoureux’s entire lecture (1 hour, 23 minutes) on his website by clicking this link: Beyond the Evolution vs. Creation Debate Lecture . Before watching the lecture, there are handouts that you can also download here, in order to follow along: Beyond HANDOUT A (front) and Beyond HANDOUT B (back). Enjoy, and I am curious to hear what you think.
Related post: The Battle of Beginnings