"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 6: Objections to Evolution

After the three chapters explaining what is meant by "evolution", DA gives us a chapter in which he answers a few objections. If you could voice seven questions concerning evolution, what would they be? Here are the seven that DA treats:
Why these seven? DA gives us two things here. Firstly, he recognises that the biggest theological concerns expressed usually concern Adam and Eve, death and the Fall, and there are going to be separate chapters on these topics. Under the last objection, this little phrase tells us what to expect then - "an idyllic non-violent pre-Fall world, as young earth creationists imagine it to have been" - because DA certainly doesn't imagine such a thing. But that's in later chapters. The main selection criteria (p131) is that these objections are ones that DA has come across personally as he's given lectures, or that he's himself "read in books critical of evolution."

At this point our hopes are raised that DA is actually going to interact with something an actual critic of Darwinism has said, or at least give us some references so that we can cross-reference what he's critiquing. But, it's not to be. The nearest we get is in the last objection, when DA mentions the name of Henry Morris and something he's supposed to have believed... but alas, without a reference, not even to the name of a book, much less the page. Having read the whole of DA's book, it seems to me that the most likely explanation for his refusal to even provide the most basic documentation or interaction with anything he says that "the other side" believe is that it's part of his rhetorical strategy. Darwinism is a fiercely controversial issue, but DA's overall aim is to paint it as utterly uncontroversial, fixed and settled, and to imply that those who question it are beneath his intellectual contempt as a bona fide scientist. To actually mention their names or indicate that he's really read their works would be like confessing to having waded through dog poo, and would spoil the impression that individuals with brains float several leagues above such unworthy activities.

It's a bit ironic, then, given this kind of methodology, to find that DA begins the chapter with a two-page general lecture on the proper scientific method. Because what we're then given in terms of the particular arguments answering particular questions, is anything but scientific. It's really a bit rich to give us two pages talking about the proper sifting of evidence and intellectual inquiry with integrity to then have it followed up with some supposed answers to objections that steadfastly refuse to actually interact in any meaningful way with any real live creationists (boo, hiss). The burden of the first two pages is to repeat a talking point we're more used to hearing from the atheists - science is a rational, free inquiry, and anyone can make any point they want as long as the back it up with good research, and then if they do that and if it stands up to scrutiny, it'll get published in the journals and be accepted. There's no bias, no philosophical prejudice that stops anyone doing anything - and in fact, if you had any facts that did call into question evolution, the science journals would make you an overnight hero, because everyone loves it when long-cherished shibboleths get challenged and overturned.

This drivellous nonsense about the unbiased and objective nature of scientists' work is somewhat ironic coming only so few pages after clear warnings about the dangers of Christians uncritically swallowing an Enlightenment way of looking at the world. Mr. Kettle, the pot is on line one and would like to address you with some remarks about your colour? Puh-lease! The burden of these opening few pages is really to make a catch-all argument: it doesn't matter what objections you have to evolution, because you don't wear a white coat like I do, and therefore are not sufficiently expert enough to have anything worthwhile to say. But this Enlightenment sell-out won't do. Darwinism involves two parts of philosophy to every one part of biology, and theology is still the queen of the sciences which gets to tell even men in white coats what they are and aren't allowed to believe. God's word claims the authority to test every theory, especially speculative reconstructions of ancient history, and not even the peer-reviewers of Nature or Science get exempted from that. So, a big fat raspberry to this unworthy attempt (the like of which we expect to come from atheistic rather than Christian writers), to exempt such a far-reaching theory from its proper scrutiny.
So, what of the posited objections and their answers themselves?

1. "Evolution is a chance process and this is incompatible with the God
of the Bible bringing about his purposeful plan of creation."

There are some bits I like about the answer offered here, and some bits I don't. I do like some clarifications about the idea of chance in general. I don't like the way that the issue regarding evolution is side-stepped with yet another word game.

Christians do need to think through their ideas about "chance". I hear phrases like "good luck" and "I was lucky" tripping readily off the lips of believers, yet I know they don't really believe in the idea of luck. They mean "God be with you" or "I was blessed", or somesuch. There is no luck, because a sovereign God oversees the casting of the lot, the falling of a sparrow to the ground, and so on. If people and events
are predestined (which they are, e.g. Proverbs 21:1, Romans 9:1, Isaiah 44:28ff, Daniel 4:34-35), then that means that God has overseen and guided things at the most minute of levels. Alexander points out that even in the event of fertilisation, it was millions to one that the particular sperm that made you, you should be the one - and yet we confess that it happened exactly according to the will of God. So far, so good.

The problem with DA's answer, though, is that he then avoids sharpening the objection a little to work within this framework. The fundamental problem is that the Darwinian theory leaves no place for the idea of final purpose. Random mutations and natural selection work together at each stage, but without any knowledge of the end goal. There is no inevitability to the rise of man or the world as we know it. For the theistic evolutionist to say, "Ah, but God had that in mind and so guided it in that direction" is a logical contradiction - Darwinism, if guided according to an overall plan, cannot then be Darwinism. Either natural selection selects merely for survival potential, or it selects according to the climax of God's will for man with his immense intelligence and abilities far beyond what is necessary for survival. If the process was divinely superintended, then it was not a Darwinian process at all, because the lack of superintendence is the essence of the theory - the selfish genes just do what's needed for their survival. What the theistic evolutionist is basically left doing is just making the empty assertion that, well, it was a nice happy event that that turned out to be exactly what was needed anyway to bring God's plan about.

Dr. Alexander's theory could explain how a deistic-type God could have created through a Darwinian process; but the God if deism is not the God of the Bible. The Bible's creation account is of a God who supernaturally intervened - an immediate event, not a multi-age process. That's why Richard Dawkins is willing to concede that a serious case can be made for a God of the type conceived in deism. Some Christian commentators seem to think this indicates a softening of Dawkins' atheism in his old age. Not so. Deism posits a God whose influence is of no practical effect - it makes no difference whether the Deistic God did something, or if nature had inherent powers to work out its own way according to immutable laws; the outcome is the same. No atheist is worried about such a "God" - one whose existence has no cash value in the real world. That, though, is the kind of God that Dr. Alexander leaves us with.

As DA develops his answer, it goes off the rails. We meet again a line of reasoning that he uses rather frequently - divide and conquer. Make some subtle distinctions, blow some smoke, and do a runner before it clears. Now, don't get me wrong. The making of careful distinctions is the very essence of proper argument and logical inquiry. My problem is that DA doesn't use this tool - he abuses it. The answer to this objection is a case in point. DA proceeds to clarify that there are three things that we might mean by "chance", so we must be clear. OK. What are those three things? Firstly, events that are predictable in principle if not in practice. Secondly, events such as quantum events which are not predictable even in principle. Thirdly, "metaphysical chance" - events without any ultimate metaphysical cause. This third one, says DA, is the one whose existence, were it real, would concern Christians. However, there's nothing in the Darwinian theory that would imply metaphysical chance, so all is well.

What, though, is actually the difference between the second and third of those meanings? It's not a settled matter amongst physicists that quantum events are actually inherently incomputable. Is DA actually suggesting that not even God can know when an atom will undergo nuclear decay? By saying that some events are not predictable even in principle, does he mean to include God too amongst those unable to predict them? This is now the horns of a dilemma. If he does, then aside from being outside of theistic orthodoxy, then this makes this meaning the same as the third - an event of metaphysical chance which is not controlled by any agent or other cause. If, though, God can predict such events, then this merges the meaning into the third: it is in fact an event predictable in principle after all: it's just that our minds aren't big enough to do the predicting like God's is.

DA never explains what an event of genuine "metaphysical chance" would look like, or how we'd know we'd come across one. He simply asserts, ipso facto, that Darwinism doesn't include any such events, so there's nothing to be worried about in there. We are told that it does include "meaning two" events, but we are simply told that this has no implications: we're not told why not. Actually I think if even God cannot predict the effects of radiation on DNA (because they're inherently, according to DA, unpredictable), leading to mutations and evolutionary development, then we do have a serious problem; but DA never considers this. We're simply assured that there are no "meaning three" events, so we shouldn't worry - but not informed how we know there aren't any such events, even if we knew what one would look like to begin with.

So, the distinction which DA brings in to answer this objection does not ultimately clarify, it obfuscates. The distinction made is not well-defined, and not explained - but some hands are waved and we're told all is OK.

An objection DA might have put, but didn't, is to point out that evolution is a multi-million year process in which imperfection gradually improves (but never reaches a state of perfection); whereas Biblical creation was an event in immediate response to the Word of God, such that all that was made was "very good", but then fell. Evolution is a slow rise from chaos; Biblical creation is a complete event that is then spoilt by sin. Such, though, is the luxury of the author who chooses his own objections and never quotes from any literature from his real-life opponents - you can pick and choose what things to answer and if your reader is new enough to the subject area, he'll not know you've sold him a dud.

2. "The theory of evolution is not truly scientific because it does not involve repeatable experiments in the laboratory."

This objection seems to be aiming to make the distinction that creationists often make, between "operational" and "origins" science. One is based upon repeatable observations, whereas the other is a degree of magnitude more speculative, being based upon inferences about unique events. The world only began once, and we can't run back the tape; science can only observe the present and try to piece together the bits. Origins science by its nature must be much more humble and tentative, much to the chagrin of atheist apologists who'd love to assert that they know we're just a cosmic accident.

A truly Christian scientist trying to reconstruct the past has a great advantage. He believes that God has spoken many words about  the past These words are infallible and without error, and recorded for us in Scripture. By studying God's word, we can gain a much better interpretation of God's world. True, the Bible's principle subject is to reveal the glory of Christ and draw a chosen people to salvation in him; but that Christ and that salvation are not timeless, a-historical entities, but have come in flesh and blood. Thus the Bible contains a great deal of history, as God has unfolded his primeval promises until the coming of his Son and caused it all to be recorded so that we might believe. The Christian origins scientist can thus use this infallible word as a framework in which all the valid activity of investigation, speculation and so on can take place.

Unfortunately you won't get any idea of the above from DA's answer to this objection. His is simply to assert that whilst, yes, scientists investigating the past are building a case, yet they do it very carefully, according to accepted rules of evidence, and thus its conclusions can after all be treated as certain. With no sense of irony, he compares this to the work of the legal system, with its forensic experts, judges, lawyers and court cases. Here I wanted to say "precisely", because even with all that, yet horrendous miscarriages of justice occur and occur continually - because man in his fallenness is not as objective, clever or rational as he flatters himself to be, and the nature of original sin is that no matter how many layers of procedure, counter-balances and checks you build in, that's how it will always be apart from the grace of God intervening. Another feature of DA's answer has been commented on before - the refusal to explain that science works in terms of paradigms, and contrary evidence is often explained away or just put on the shelf; in DA's explanation, the whole Darwinian community would drop its theory at the first instant if you produced a single fact that contradicted it. All together now, in our best Jeremy Paxman voices... "oh come on, pull the other one!"

3. Evolution runs counter to the second law of thermodynamics

Here DA gives a short and not particular relevant answer. That was easy for him to do, because he doesn't state the objection in a strong or accurate form, so there's not much refuting needing to be done. He doesn't answer the question in terms of an increase in organised complexity. The impression given in the answer is that simply providing a large amount of heat (from the sun, which is gradually winding down) will be enough to account for the "winding up" of the earth. But, since when did just naked heat bring about organisation, information and complexity? DA's answer does nothing more than shoot down a straw man.

4. Perhaps God makes things look old, although in reality they are much younger, in order to test our faith?

Whereas a good question, from the second law of thermodynamics, got just one page, this silly objection gets three - three pages which I think may be the most tedious and pointless in the book. DA goes to town to patronise and re-educate the simple and naive creationist who might believe such things as this, making God a liar - though it's not a viewpoint you'll find expressed by any mainstream creationist ministry or speaker. Such is the author's luxury when he grants himself liberty to choose his own objections without reference to the actual literature of the strongest representatives of the opposing position.

There is a real question that could have been answered here. On the day Adam was created, how old was he? And how about Eve? By the Bible's testimony, they were created as adults. Eve was made from Adam's rib and brought to him as a mature woman. The anthropologist examining them would have declared them to have been alive for several years - but he would have been wrong, because his underlying assumptions of gradual development instead of instantaneous creation were wrong. The real question here is over the mere assumption of gradualism - that we can wind back the clock on today's world as far as we like, with no dramatic interventions or catastrophic events to worry about. That real question, though, is overlooked in favour of an amusing tail about Philip Gosse and his Omphalus. DA reminds us that fake histories would make God a liar. The real point is, though, that God has given us his Word so we know how to interpret the history - but DA doesn't interpret creation history using God's word; he gives that whole task to Enlightenment-mode science, and then tries to harmonise what he finds in God's word with Darwinism after the event.

5. What use is half an eye?

This bit is more technical. I found it irrelevant, because DA misses the point and spends some pages telling us about already formed systems, though limited ones, rather than telling us what use half a system would actually be!

One interesting bit was where he contradicts the approach to Darwinism, chance and providence he takes elsewhere in the book. He tells us that the human optical system is sub-optimal because there is a blind spot due to the optic nerve having to cross the retina to get to the brain - a defect the octopus does not have. He then remarks, "This provides a good illustration of the various ways in which our organs reflect their own sometimes idiosyncratic evolutionary histories." This idea of defective design due to idiosyncratic history, though, cannot be made compatible with his earlier assertions (e.g. in the answer to the first objection) that Darwinism is not a random process but perfectly superintended by God at every point to bring about the well-formed creation he desired. Either the human eye is an idiosyncratic hodge-podge limited by its own evolutionary history, or is what a perfectly wise designer intended it to be. You can't posit one of those ideas when the objection at hand makes it convenient to do so and the other when it suits you on another occasion.

6. "Surely if evolution were true, God would have told us in his Word so that we don't need to have all this discussion?"

Three-fold answer here, and a dud on all accounts:

a) The Bible is about spiritual matters such as salvation, not about the natural world.  Ugh. That dichotomy is an Enlightenment dualism that is unbiblical.

b) God, like a wise parent, does not just give us all we need to know on a plate - he allows us to explore and find the truth. Humph. This answer has a load of false assumptions, such as: that whether creation is a long, upward process full of struggle or death or whether it was a supernatural event perfect at completion which then fell, is a distinction with no theological consequence and so the Bible doesn't need to inform us. Another: that telling us that creation was through a multi-billion year process would somehow be "telling us all we need to know on a plate". Hardly. That one sentence doesn't give you an iota of knowledge about genes, DNA, and so on.

c) That if the Bible were to tell us about evolution, it would then be an impractically long book. Balderdash. The Bible could say something to indicate that the universe is billions of years old, or was formed through slow and gradual processes, in just a few words. When we're debating creation versus evolution, we're debating two broad frameworks with considerably flexibility on squillions of biological details which could be accommodated by either system. This answer is exceptionally weak.

7. "Perhaps God made the original kinds by special acts of creation which then underwent rapid evolution to generate the species diversity that we see today."

The answer to this objection is a bit special, because DA actually condescends to name an actual creationist, albeit a dead one (Henry Morris). But it's not accompanied by any references to his works or quotes so that you can check out if he's accurately represented or not... I think DA's intention throughout the book is to imply that doubting Darwinism is beneath his intellectual contempt, and he doesn't demean himself by actually touching any of their works: so neither should you!

DA's ridiculous answer to this objection is that it amounts to "throwing out the whole of current science", because if you reject speculative evolutionary dating scenarios then, well, those scenarios are based upon irrefutable scientific principles which if you were consistent you should reject everywhere else too. i.e. It's a thin end of the wedge - reject it here, you should for consistency reject it everywhere, so let's say that that's effectively what you do do!

By this kind of reasoning, I should set DA a maths test, and if he gets one single question wrong then I'll give him 0% on the entire test because maths is after all a coherent system - and if you mistakenly get a sum wrong in one place then, well, that mistake if consistently applied everywhere else would falsify the rest of mathematics too! Great stuff. But in terms of logic, this argument is pants.

The other part of the answer is that there simply isn't enough time for rapid enough speciation to occur. I find this answer also incredible, because the objection itself doesn't state just how many different specimens of each created kind there were, or any figure for how much genetic diversity was present in their original state. It just states that there were several original created kinds, rather than just one common ancestor for the whole family of life. How many species there were within those kinds and how long would then be needed for further diversification to today's levels is not stated in the objection, so the answer that there's "not enough" needs to be argued with some numbers, not just boldly asserted.


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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