"Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander - A critical review

A review of: "Creation of evolution: Do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander, Monarch Books, Oxford, 2008. Download PDF version. Download Microsoft Word version.

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Chapter 8: Evolutionary Creationism

We're now in the middle of the book, and having done all the spade work DA now summarises his main idea, which he calls "evolutionary creationism", but which is normally called "theistic evolution", i.e., the Darwinian process is God's chosen method for the creation of the world. After this chapter DA will go on to look at some particular areas of interest or difficulty in more detail, in particular how this thesis deals with various theological questions that arise.

DA first of all sets himself the task of clearing the ground by explaining that evolution need not carry any atheistic overtones, and to parade a list of names of those who from Darwin's day downwards (including the man himself) either did not believe evolution had to imply atheism, or who ardently advocated both evolution and Christianity. Concerning the latter, not all the names were familiar to me, but DA was very sloppy in handling two who were. Henry Drummond, despite his involvement in Moody's campaigns, was not as DA describes him an evangelical, but an outright down-grader. DA also uncritically quotes Benjamin Warfield's words describing himself as a "Darwinian of the purest water", with no hint that he is aware that Warfield spoke those words at the beginning of his theological career as a 17-year old freshman (though granted, somewhat above the usual grade of such - he had memorised the Westminster Shorter Catechism by the age of 6!), and that in later years he developed a number of criticisms of Darwin and was not unambiguous in his support of evolutionary theory - certainly he could never have written a book like DA's!

The former point though is more important - it's granted that Darwinism has been a massively successful theory in terms of gaining adherents including legions ready to proclaim their belief that it can be harmonised with Christianity, evangelicalism, etcetera. DA's basic approach to the question of Darwinism's implications is a naive dualism. Scientific theories have no inherent ideological implications; all those are later encrustations welded on by philosophers. Scientists and philosophers work in different spheres, and scientists just go where the evidence leads, leaving it to others to do what they will with their findings. It's amazing to believe that anyone can believe that kind of nonsense in these post-modern days, and I find it hard to believe DA can really believe what he's penning when he writes along those lines. Later on, DA gives some good explanations of how various ideologues used Darwinism to support their various theories (in such fields as economics, Marxism and medicine (eugenics)), but he never gets close to penetrating the heart of why they did so. The closest is when he remarks that some of what happened in the world of eugenics had to do with "the aspirations of nineteenth century educated Victorian gentlemen to create the world in their own image" (p 179). A more incisive insight would have been to observe that all these competitive and individualist theories hung together, including evolution, and that Darwin's theory, far from being a neutral insight into scientific reality, was in many respects simply this kind of 19th century educated Victorian gentleman seeking to form a theory of biology that fitted his views on the world.

DA notes that Darwin was a deist (in the part of the chapter where he's arguing that Darwinism doesn't have to imply atheism), and in another part of the chapter gives a short denial that his view of creation is basically deistic, but that's the closest he gets to actually examining the question of what form of theism evolution implies - that question has already been side-stepped into irrelevance by the conveniently thesis that scientific theories are ideology-free zones. But even Professor Dawkins is ready to concede the compatibility of Darwinism with theism - provided that the brand of theism involved is deism. Darwin's deism is not a coincidence, and his biological theory was not a neutral ejaculation of an unbiased mind. Darwinism is essentially the theory that the laws of nature (however those are conceived of in terms of their relationship to God) make the rise of more complex life forms from simpler ones inevitable - a view well summarised in a Darwin quote DA approvingly supplies:

"There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

As long as certain rules are followed, complex life is inevitable by small and successive stages. That view of "creation" may be compatible with theism, but this point is not under dispute and so DA is offering us red herrings again. The real question at the heart of the disagreement between creationists and theistic evolutionists is, is Darwinism compatible with Biblical theism, i.e. is it compatible with essentially Christian theism? DA defends the legitimacy of believing in both God and Darwin - fine. But what about the Biblical God and Darwin? This is a question that DA is ill-equipped to get to grips with because of his starting point - which is to insist a priori that the Bible just tells us naked theology, science tells us about the physical world, and our job is just to find a nice harmony for the two. DA's answer to the charge that theistic evolution is basically deism is to insist that his theory insists on God's immanence in all the processes in creation, whereas deism is a theory of an absent God who merely set the rules and started the machine going but then takes a leave of absence. But this difference is entirely theoretical - it has no "cash value" as regards anything that ever happens in the physical world. Perhaps these physical events happen by the inevitable working out of natural laws; perhaps they happen because God is immanent in creation and working things according to a perfect order and harmony - but that's an entirely theological question totally unrelated to science or history. The point is that "evolutionary creationism" is functionally the same as deism, whatever it is philosophically - and functional deism is not Christian theism.

DA writes that it is ironic that young earth creationists agree with Dawkins that evolution is inherently atheistic. This is not ironic; it is simply true. He then goes on to blame them of "playing right into Dawkins' hands" by "confusing theology with science" and "setting up a false antithesis". This reflects DA's dualism - Genesis is theology, Darwinism is science, and in principle there's no reason why the two should ever have a problem. The problem is, though, that Genesis makes historical claims and so does Darwinism - it's no "confusion" to compare the two and observe that they differ; the confusion comes in an approach which conveniently side-steps the question at each turn.

Side-stepping is what DA does when he comes to address the issue of "naturalism" and whether it's at heart an anti-Christian theology. As seen many times now in the book, the question is neatly dealt with by a clever re-definition of the issue that is then inevitably easy to deal with. DA re-defines "naturalism" to mean "scientific language which does not mention God", and then proceeds to explain the reasons why Christian scientists don't stuff their papers with God-language (because God is everywhere and always present in creation, not just at some parts - we don't want to invoke a false "God of the gaps"). Neat, but useless. The problem with naturalism was never that it didn't include enough God-talk. The problem is the removal of the necessity of a mind - the philosophical decision to rule the questions of intentionality and design out of court, not on the basis of scientific evidence or necessity, but for ideological reasons. Darwinism, viewed from this angle, is simply the accommodation of biology to the philosophy of naturalism. It's not the absence of "God-speak" that causes Biblical theists issues with it - it's the absence of any necessity for a mind or purpose in the process. That's why Charles Hodge, a predecessor of B B Warfield at Princeton Seminary who DA didn't mention in his survey of responses to Darwinism, concluded his book "What is Darwinism?" with the conclusion "What is Darwinism? It is atheism."


Contents

This review plods through the whole book. If you have time only to read some, look at the chapters on the theology of the Adam and Eve, the fall, suffering, evil, etc. These are the ones that most clearly reveal the non-evangelical methodology and resulting theology. Logical and scientific mistakes in other places are interesting, but the fundamental issues come out most clearly in the more theological chapters.
  1. Introduction to the review
  2. The Preface
  3. Chapter 1 - What Do We Mean By Creation?
  4. Chapter 2- The Biblical Doctrine of Creation
  5. Chapter 3 - What Do We Mean By Evolution? Dating, DNA and Genes
  6. Chapter 4 - What do we mean by evolution? Natural Selection and Reproductive Success
  7. Chapter 5 - Speciation, Fossils and the Question of Information
  8. Chapter 6 - Objections to Evolution
  9. Chapter 7 - What about Genesis?
  10. Chapter 8 - Evolutionary Creationism
  11. Chapter 9 - Who were Adam and Eve? The Background
  12. Chapter 10 - Who were Adam and Eve? Genesis and science in conversation
  13. Chapter 11 - Evolution and the Biblical understanding of death
  14. Chapter 12 - Evolution and the Fall
  15. Chapter 13 - Evolution, natural evil and the theodicy question
  16. Chapter 14 - Intelligent Design and Creation's Order
  17. Chapter 15 - Evolution - Intelligent and Designed?
  18. Chapter 16 - The origin of life
  19. The revealing postscript!
  20. Appendix: A synopsis giving a "big picture" overview of the philosophy/theology of this book.

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