First Principles in Creation Apologetics

A creationist (on the right) and an evolutionist (on the left) having reasonable, thoughtful debate. Unfortunately, debating with someone from an opposing viewpoint can often end up like this.

My last three posts had a common theme. It may have been subtle, but the theme was “returning to first principles.” One post was about reinterpreting a museum display using the Genesis account. As the Genesis account is part of the Bible, and thus one of our sources of truth, it is one of our first principles. Another post about about using Genesis to interpret Genesis, rather than using human thought to interpret Genesis. As wise and clever as human may be, we are not our own standard of truth: our first principle is still the Bible. Finally, the last post looked at the assumptions made by skeptics who question the Bible. It looked at the skeptics principles that he uses to judge the world around him.

Hopefully, the preceding posts showed the significance of our presumptions and the assumptions held by others. However, I think that the importance of a person’s starting point cannot be overemphasized.

It is too easy to think of the origins debate (the creation/evolution dispute) as a battle of facts. We tend to approach evolutionists as if we can win debates with them with the “right evidence.” What these “right evidences” are varies from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. Some people like simple, easy evidence, such as dinosaur proteins. Who could possibly dispute that the Earth is young if the most classic extinct creatures, the dinosaurs, have been shown to be thousands of years old? When in debate with an evolutionist, dinosaur proteins can be whipped out as a finishing argument. Sometimes, we have to change our tactics if the debate changes. While dinosaur proteins oppose millions of years, it doesn’t say much about the mechanism of evolution. However, there are other arguments, such as irreducible complexity, that can address the mechanism of evolution directly.

Trying to end the debate, the creationist pulls out his best argument, preparing to fire it at the evolutionist.
A direct hit! Surely the evolutionist is devastated by the best argument.

Notice that, regardless of the argument used, the approach is the same. We say to the evolutionist, “Here is a fact that you cannot explain, so you should toss out the silly notion that life ever evolved.” Sounds like a nice setup. As long as we stick to true facts, and we know that facts will be on our side, we can demolish any opposition to acceptance of creationism.

Despite the power of the best argument, the evolutionist is unscathed.

The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. Rather than being devastated by the unassailable evidence, the evolutionist simply shrugs off the attack. He remains confident in his worldview, evolution and all, despite the obviously true facts presented to him. It is tempting to ascribe his steadfastness to stubbornness, blindness, or hatred of God. “It is human nature to resist change,” or “Satan has blinded his eyes so he cannot see the truth,” or “He knows that if he accepts creation, he has to accept God and his sin before God, and he refuses to accept that.” Notice how it is always the evolutionist who is at fault. The evidence is good, true, and perfect, so the fault must be with the evolutionist, not the facts.

The evolutionist is unfazed by the best argument, so he thinks he won the debate. The evolutionist is convinced that the evolutionist is hard-headed and unreachable, so he won the debate.

However, I have a different perspective. As we saw in the previous post, the post about skeptics and their acceptance of things that they can observe, it is possible for two people to look at the exact same facts and reach diametrically opposite conclusions. Facts do not speak for themselves: facts have to be interpreted by a person with a biased perspective. Evolutionists are biased and creationists are biased. Remember the illustration of the page number debate from last post? We never established who’s interpretation was correct because neither person could be objective: both people approached the issue from his own perspective and saw the other as wrong. The same thing happens when we debate with an evolutionist: both people walk away confident that they won the debate and that their opponent is ignorant of the true facts.

Accepting that a discrimination between perspectives may be impossible may seem like a bleak view of the world. After all, what is the point of debating with an evolutionist if it is “impossible” to convince him? There are several components to answering this question. The first is that we as Christians using creationism as an apologetic tool need to understand that followers of Christ are not commanded to convince opponents. We are instead told to defend. Here is I Peter 3:14b-16:

Have no fear of them [who persecute Christians], nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

The phrase in verse 15, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” is often given as an explanation for apologetics. After all, the Greek word for “defense” is “apŏlŏgia,” from which we get the word “apologetics.” Notice a couple of things about the previous verses. First of all, the context is one of persecution. While creationists are not being slain for their beliefs, there is certainly widespread opposition to teaching creationism in our culture today. Second, in the face of this persecution, Christians are not advised to oppose, resist, or attack. They are simply told to provide a defense. Thus, as far as creation apologetics goes, it is not necessary to win debates with evolutionists. That should not be our goal. Our goal should instead be to explain creationism. We should be less concerned with providing the perfect dismantling of evolutionary thought and more concerned with explaining how the world looks in light of Genesis.

Once we understand the purpose of creation apologetics, then the next component falls into place pretty easily. Why should we be concerned with defense and not attack? Because we cannot change hearts, but God can. Recall how important perspective is. We may not be able to change the perspective of evolutionists and lead them to the light, but God is more than capable of doing that. After all, according to Romans 9:15-16,

For he [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

No amount of exertion or perfection of argument on our part will convince an evolutionist that creationism is correct. But God, who is the Creator, can put a new heart and a new mind in someone. Yes, He may use the arguments that we made, he may use those wonderful evidences that were so eloquently articulated (or inarticulately bungled: God is not limited by our inadequacies), but the actual creation of a new heart and mind comes from the Creator. We are thus reduced to throwing seeds. We provide defense, we give evidence, but God provides the increase.

Let us start the argument over, but have the creationist take a different approach. For one, he is less interested in hurtling facts at the evolutionist, and more about explaining what a creationist believes and why.
The immediate result is much less satisfying for the creationist. The evolutionist rejects everything he says as “religious nonsense” and leaves the debate thinking the creationist is stupid. However, a seed has been planted.
Later, when the evolutionist is minding his own business…
God works on his mind and heart.
Now the evolutionist begins to see things from the creationist’s perspective.

I do want to emphasize: I am in no way suggesting that we discard good evidences for creation. Dinosaur proteins and irreducible complexity have their place. They can just as easily show up as a defense for creationism as they can as an attack on evolutionism. Rather than using them as things that “evolutionists can’t explain,” they are instead treated as observations that are consistent with the Genesis account.

What I am suggesting are three things.

  • First, that our focus not be put on crafting “the best” possible argument. Don’t fret about how “good” your argument or understanding is because a successful witness does not depend on perfect articulation of the facts.
  • Second, perhaps we can change our approach to evolutionists. Rather than building up a wall to block evolutionary thought, provide a rapport. After all, not all ideas coming from evolutionists are bad. Take the good and factual things that the evolutionists believe and reinterpret it in light of what the Bible actually says. Such an approach seems less offensive and can open up avenues to help explain how the world works in light of Genesis.
  • Finally, evolutionists are not enemies, they are lost souls. Yes, in a sense, they are the enemy: they actively promote a godless way of thinking. However, they are no more diabolical and evil than any other sinner out there. They are simply living their lives as they see fit, and since they do not acknowledge God, they do not factor Him into their lives. Such an existence is not unique: we were exactly the same until God saved us. We do not possess any special knowledge, apart from God’s revelation, so we have no cause to brag about our intellect or knowledge.

I am reminded of Jesus’s encounter with the rich young ruler as it is described in Luke 18:18-30. The man let his riches hinder his desire to follow Christ. Seeing his reaction, Jesus comments how it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus’s disciples wondered who then could be saved. Jesus answered in verse 27 that “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Strangely, this is a comfort to me. No matter how well or poorly I make a witness for Christ, if it is God who saves, and not my effort, then my duty is simply to make that effort, not to perfect it. God then does the rest.

Thoughts from Steven