Science and Origins Part 3: Specific Models and Apologetic Impact

Two columns ago, I discussed the issue of science and noted that science is a human study, and therefore cannot be treated as wholly objective – human beings are involved in the process of data interpretation, and are often wrong as a result. I used questions of forensics as an instance where scientists were involved in convicting innocent men of crimes. I then noted that the larger elements of scientific interpretation, the “paradigms” of science are not merely science but science and philosophy, and we noted the naturalistic response to the “red shift,” based largely in the presumption of atheism.

Defending the Models versus Defending the Faith

When it comes to origins, there are several of what I could call specified models[1] Christians have put forward and there are three basic groups of models that of theistic evolution, that of Old Earth Creationism and that of Young Earth Creationism. I am unapologetically a young earth Creationist, largely because I consider the problem of death before the fall to be a larger issue than that of distant starlight reaching earth.[2] In a sense, these models are systematic theological constructions (drawing on science) that have ramifications for Christian apologetics (in both discussions of the problem of evil and in the modern atheistic worldview’s evolutionary framework), and they should be treated as such.

And yet, all three of these models have been the central argument used by various camps in defending the Christian worldview as a whole. In a sense, however, both OEC and YEC advocates[3] have the same problem – we are arguing from assumptions, including our belief in the Bible; beliefs that the unbeliever has not previously accepted. By focusing on a specific model we must kill all birds at once, rather than allowing theological development to occur more organically. After all, when explaining Christianity to unbelievers there are a number of theological discussions we generally don’t bring up: for example, the various debates about the imputation of sin (federal headship, natural headship, semi-pelagianism, etc), Calvinism/Arminianism/Molinism, precise definitions of the trinity the fourth century discussion on the person of Christ, nor church government. In general we field only the questions necessary to remove obstacles and hurdles from those honestly interested in Christianity.[4]

We all innately understand that new converts need time to grow in the faith, intellectually as well as practically; we don’t seek to make them instant perfect theologians overnight, so why do we treat models of origins differently? In this sense, then, a minimalist approach seems to be a better starting point for these discussions with the world rather than a more fully developed argument. Of course, in many cases being able to defend one’s own specific model is still important – but perhaps it is better to fill in details as needed in response rather than assuming we must sell the entire model from the beginning of an evangelistic conversation.


Intelligent Design – a Minimalist Defense

Think of the controversy between Atheism and Christianity for a moment as two armed men fighting with swords and shields. These two gladiators have been battling for centuries now without respite. Both have an offensive weapon (a sword: arguments that their beliefs are true) and defensive armament (a shield: arguments that their beliefs have not been falsified). Discussions of origins typically are the main offensive approach taken by atheists, particularly with emphasis on Evolution based in part on a confusion of philosophical naturalism with science. This means we are on our defense in this area; our offense is ultimately found in the resurrection of Christ, the foundation of the Christian Church, and its impact on the world.

Defensively with the atheist, (1) we must minimally demonstrate a logical consistency of a belief in a Creator, and (2) we hope to demonstrate enough uncertainty about their model so that they will be willing to listen actively to our positive case; in effect to disarm them of their arguments or certainty. Thus, the goal need not be to prove the YEC or OEC model to be true; instead, we need to demonstrate only that an atheistic model cannot account for all of the evidence.

This, I think is best done by an intelligent design approach (in philosophical terms, Intelligent Design is a restatement of the Teleological Argument for the Existence of God an argument that goes back to the Greek Philosophers); one can argue by concession that atheistic and naturalistic explanations without a Creator are insufficient to explain the evidence of the universe itself. Books such as Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is a better entry point for making the case that Christianity is true than trying to sell more fully developed models.

[1]I say specified models because this includes not only interpretations of the Biblical attempts, but more specific correlations. For example, the early model put forward by Morris, which focused often on the water canopy theory is fairly distinct from the model put forward by Andrew Snelling, but both are Young Earth Creationists. There are, within the old earth creationists model similar distinctions between Gap theorists, or Day Age theorists, along with some allegorical interpretations. A few of the fathers put forward some models that were similarly related to the opinions of Greek writers in the first century.

[2]Young Earth astronomers have put forward several models of time dilation to solve this problem, but I am not in a position endorse them, nor pretend to have explored the issue in depth; I can only acknowledge that they fit my viewpoint. I will only note from last time, the bigger areas of sciences the “paradigms” (including Einstein’s work and it’s ramifications on our understanding of the speed of light) are the areas I consider the most doubtful, and we should hold most tenuously. Time dilation may have been demonstrated – but are we really so arrogant to believe we have mastered the issue?

So why side with those culturally considered underdogs? I consider the YEC groups to have a better handle on the theological premises. Many OEC argue that theology is like a Rubik’s cube; while I’m not sure I wholly agree with them, it is not completely wrong either. What is really striking, however, about the Rubik’s cube analogy is that it appears to be the case with the sciences as well (see for example the global warming debate, or the debate between those advocating Neodarwinian evolution who assert the absence of transitional forms is not a problem versus punctuated equilibria proponents who assert precisely the opposite view that these gaps are fatal to neodarwinian models); my first two articles should make clear why I think the sciences are treated as more certain or settled than they should be. I believe science and theology and philosophy in discussions on origins are different faces of the same Rubik’s cube. Whatever evidence is judged to be primary by any given party will mean explanations deemed incorrect by another party.

                  [3]I do not include theistic evolution because most theistic evolutionists I am aware of have given up on inerrancy, something I cannot agree with in systematic theology. I disagree with the interpretation of Old Earthers, many for example gravitate to something called the framework hypothesis (which I think is inconsistent with the waw consecutive imperfects that dominate the passage), but this is different from a denial of inerrancy.

[4]For example, a defense of the trinity is needed when someone says it is an irrational belief, since this prevents them from being willing to believe in Jesus Christ. Similarly, a defense of a particular a model may be important to demonstrate the viability of Christianity.


Science and Origins Part 2: Science and Worldview

Last time, discussing origins, I began a discussion that will surely have some arguing I’m anti-science, ignorant, etc. My argument is that we live in a culture that commits a sort of epistemic idolatry where the sciences are concerned: the culture we live in has given the modern scientist’s word something of the flavor of holy writ. My point of course was not that science is a useless venture, but that science is not performed in a vacuum, and that science has a necessarily subjective element; human beings are interpreting data, forming conclusions and testing conclusions and therefore these conclusions must be concerned with human error and are influenced by human biases. I used questions of forensics as an example of this phenomenon, in the recent past a number of innocent men were sent to jail in part because of scientists. My point is that science is interpretation of facts by human beings who are as prone to error as experts in other fields are.

I could, of course, include other examples of errors (such as phrenology) or examples of bias (such as Darwin’s racial biases influencing his belief that humans were the result of an evolutionary process). But the example of forensics suffices for my purposes. Scientists might well object, suggesting either that science is self-correcting, so is inherently more reliable than other courses of study, or that science has systems of peer review that weed out biases. Yet, this is also true of other academic disciplines, and peer review has both a positive quality (weeding out bad studies) but can also make science (or for that matter other fields of study) self-referentially absurd.

Again, my point is not a denigration of science, but rather a more realistic assessment of the limits of the scientific method. Some scientists are perhaps intoxicated by the hubris of absolute superiority, but I don’t assume that is true of all; I think scientists are people like the rest of us. So science as a human endeavor is limited, it is limited by the limits of our instrumentation, by our situation, by our biases. Furthermore the most reliable elements of science would not be the “big” points, what some in the wake of Thomas Kuhn refer to as Paradigms,[1] but smaller issues that are more easily tested. For example, we are probably more certain of the development of frogs from tadpoles than we can be certain of many aspects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The bigger points, the paradigms are areas where the questions can’t be answered by science alone, philosophy and theology[2] are involved in how that data is interpreted and understood.

An example of this would be the controversy surrounding the “red shift.” The red shift, I am told, demonstrates that the universe is expanding. If the universe is expanding, then it logically cannot have an infinite past history.[3] Before Hubble, Einstein had in fact altered his theory due to his own conclusion that the universe is self-contained, and various theories were released to save naturalism from the fact that the universe had a beginning, this would create massive problems for naturalism. The opposition to the Big Bang does not appear to be principally motivated by scientific concerns, but by philosophical and religious ones. In short, they did the same things with the sciences to avoid the possibilities of a beginning to the universe as they accuse young earthers of doing on various theories involving time dilation, the speed of light and interstellar distances.

This leads to, I believe the importance of the Intelligent Design movement, but that will be discussed next time.


[1]Thomas Kuhn essentially tried to discuss science in terms of what is often described as “worldview,” along with a number of other terms. This scholarship goes back at least as far as German Idealist philosophers and their use of the term Weltenshauung, as well as Christian theologians, Francis Schaeffer is the best known proponent on the lay level.


[2]Atheists will object, claiming their “theology” has absolutely no influence on scientific discussions, but this is because they have a deficient understanding of what theology is. To state categorically God doesn’t exist is not only a philosophical statement, but a theological one. It is a statement of religious faith that will have inevitable influences on later conclusions made by individuals in the sciences.

[3]In philosophy speak, for an extended period, atheists argued that there was an “infinite regression of causes,” which means there is no first cause in the universe.

If the universe is expanding then there is a limit as too how small it can have been, which led to the discussions of the big bang. This has also led to the resurgence of the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God and a teleological argument for the existence of God from Cosmic fine tuning.

Science and Origins: Part 1 Subjectivity in Science

Christians are regularly accused of being Anti-Science. Some Christians, rightly or wrongly approach this in different ways, many claim this is due to Young Earth Creationists (commonly abbreviated YEC), but the truth is, when one reads an atheist like Richard Dawkins or other major figures in the movement, they have no more respect for Old Earth Creationists (commonly abbreviated OEC) or Theistic evolutionists; Dawkins argues all approaches to a teleological argument for God are examples of “God in the gaps” (as if his “Darwin in the gaps” approach is something different in kind[1]). The truth is that young earth creationists and old earth Creationist models work from premises of systematic theology that are outside of an unbeliever’s paradigm, and the older I get, the more I become convinced the debate between models when brought before unbelievers is somewhat pointless.

The real issues between believers and unbelievers are more arcane to most people. Ken Ham is often criticized about his discussion of “operational science” versus “philosophical science,” but to be fair, this is not an inaccurate (though perhaps simplistic) representation of the differences between a philosopher of science such as Karl Popper on the one hand, and approaches advocated by Thomas Kuhn, who combines worldview discussions into scientific theories on the other. This of course, is precisely one of the issues with science that are rarely discussed outside of philosophical classrooms – how do we define science? What are the limits of scientific inquiry? Does science allow us to know something, or is it limited to falsifying theories? These are very important discussions but they are discussions that most moderns, especially many atheistic scientists; but they should be because these things influence the way data is interpreted. One of the big issues, one of the few things post modernists get right, is that scientists treat science as if it were wholly objective and they fail to take into account the influence of human interpreters – the true “subjective” element in science in explaining what the results of a given experiment mean.

These are muddy waters to swim in, but let me demonstrate a problem that the modern science has abysmally failed: modern forensics. Often evolutionists use forensics as an example of how science correctly interprets the past, and Americans are wowed by shows like CSI where scientists solve the crimes in 60 minutes that traditional detectives find impossible to solve. This being the case, one might be surprised to find out that forensics are the second most common factor in wrongful convictions overturned by the work of the innocence project. This includes among many other cases, Ronald Williamson (made more famous by John Grisham’s The Innocent Man) when part of the key testimony that put Mr Williamson on death row was the testimony of an expert in hair microscopy.

Does this mean that science is useless in crime scene investigation? No, it was also a scientific analysis, DNA comparison, that proved Williamson to be innocent of the crime. But scientific testimony in a trial bears similar issues to eyewitness identification, what the innocence project lists as their number one issue.[2] Eyewitness identification gets altered as the investigation inevitably influences someone, and often the identification is presented as being far more conclusive than it is. The same is true of forensics, scientists in a crime scene unit may be influenced in how they interpret their results by comments other police professionals make about eyewitnesses, or argue a test is more conclusive than it really is.

Science, like all fields on endeavor, is a human enterprise, and therefore it is not an infallible guide to knowledge. Science is influenced by people’s presuppositions (as a forensic scientist might be influenced by other elements of police investigations); therefore science is not wholly objective or infallible. Atheists who are scientists assume Christians come to science with an agenda or preconceived notions, this is ultimately true, but like most charges of bias it is equally true of the atheist. We will see soon how this can influence one of the major points of discussion in the intelligent design debate – next time.

[1]This is not a simplistic answer, though I have not written on it extensively. Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion is notable for being so out of date when it comes to the philosophies of which he seems to approve. In general, he seems to work from a largely abandoned approach to epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge) known as “Strong Foundationalism,” largely connected to an approach known as “Logical Positivism,” and as such he assumes that atheism is the default position; God requires special proof, atheism requires no argumentation. This position, however, is no longer tenable.

                  [2]Many people will compare this to the eyewitness testimony of the gospels, arguing that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The problem is that the this is a poor comparison to the historical work involved with the gospels because the circumstances are different. Watching an accident happen in six seconds is different from eating a meal with someone over a period of several hours (John 21). There are a number of historical criterion that indicate that the Gospel accounts are generally historically reliable, such as the criteria of embarrassment, no one is going to make up a story of James growing up in the household of Jesus and not believe Jesus is God, nor would one suggest that Peter would deny the Lord so readily.

Truth in the Trenches – the Current Situation

Life is odd sometimes. I had originally gone on a sabbatical because I had submitted an article to Faith and Philosophy, countering an argument in a social epistemology textbook, and it was turned down. Additionally, Answers in Genesis had been painfully turned down for pre-approval to do some ad hoc articles for Answers Magazine. This combination, along with the realization that even friends and family rarely read Truth in the Trenches (questioning its relevance) led to a crisis of confidence in what I was doing; I questioned whether I had the capability to carry out this work. I’m smart, but written expression (particularly on the lay-level) is something I’ve always struggled with. While working through these deeply personal questions about my adequacy, it occurred to me that so far, every time I had thought I would need to drop out of seminary, the Lord had fought for me, and the way had been made clear. Taking this as a my guide, I finally came to the conclusion, I would continue Truth in the Trenches after my winter semester, as I had time, and I had resolved to write a message stating I was back, but that I would not write every week, only as my class schedule allowed.

It is therefore ironic that my degree program faces a new crisis; the corporation I work for has released a new tuition reimbursment program policy, effective this month, and PhD work is no longer covered; with a baby on the way, unless something changes in the next day or two, I will need to de-enroll from my degree program, this was my last real attempt at fulltime ministry, ironically Truth in the Trenches original goal.

The blogesphere is an odd place, it requires a social media strategy and skills, and I am not very good at these things, or even face to face conversation (I tend to go over people’s heads for about 5 minutes before I realize I am doing so). I had initially come to the conclusion that I would keep the lights on at Truth in the Trenches and hope that eventually God would provide help in the area I simply lacked talent to affect myself.

Now things are less clear, unless God does something specific, I will likely never return to fulltime ministry. My resume is not useful for finding jobs at churches; for years I applied to churches and they responded I could reapply when I was married, and later, they asked why I was in school for more than ten years. I could rail about the past, get upset at others while asking the constant “what ifs,” – what if I went to a seminary where they cared about their graduates, what if I had not taken any studies beyond a bachelors degree (since many churches told me they were uninterested in associates with Masters of Divinity degrees) what if I had not taken a Church that ate pastors and spit them out with regularity? This way, however, lies madness.

My circumstances are what they are. I have a wife, a baby on the way and taking care of them is more important than my happiness, for the truth is, I will never be happy unless I am preaching and teaching. I have been praying to be in fulltime ministry for more than twenty years after answering a call to preach, and so far, the answer seems to be “no,” and after praying this for decades, it comes time to perhaps accept the answer.

All this to say some I will not be closing Truth in the Trenches, but I likely won’t be trying to maintain a weekly column either. I may, or may not revise the kindle booklet, The Positive Case for Christ, we will see what the next few years bring. The blog will also likely have an address changes; things being what they are, I am not be able to justify the expense of the package I use with WordPress and will settle for just the bare-bones free version of their blogging service; this means I won’t have the .org ending, which was something of a fiction anyway, I never was able to build this ministry into anything amounting to an organization, despite my best efforts. I no longer expect Truth in the Trenches will ever reach more than a handful of people. So be it, a testimony is here, if people want it. Additionally, the sermons I posted when I first started Truth in the Trenches will no longer be available, basic service does not include audio clips.

So why continue at all? The life of the mind is more than earning degrees for the sake of having a set of letters behind your name. In the end, God has placed in our hearts a yearning need for truth that cannot be completely destroyed by the modern industrial world’s insistence that such questions lack value, for some this is the ultimate question for all research in the humanities – the search for the answer to the universal “why.” Technical educations may provide us information on how we should do things to live and found an industrial complex, but without answering why we what we do has meaning, these exercises in the end are empty. It is dangerous, perhaps, to pursue these disciplines for their own sake (which in the end MAY engender pride and arrogance), and yet, for some of us, it is both the duty C S Lewis spoke of in his sermon Learning During Wartime, but it is also inescapable. For some of us, to live is to inquire and without an outlet, what is learned dies with oneself. I can try to persuade myself that I will quit seeking answers to the great questions of life from a Christian perspective, but in truth, I know I can’t, this work is part of who I am.

One day I will come before my God, and I do not want to be the man who buried his talent in the sand. Maybe Truth in the Trenches will not be able to bring an increase of ten talents, but perhaps I can at least bring a pence to Him. I don’t know where to go from here, but I will give it my best. My goal in life has ever been to serve Him, perhaps truth in the trenches is not much, perhaps there are better apologetics blogs, those who will reach more, those who will assist believers better, but I will do what little I can.

The current election and other political crises, in particular hit my mind as things Christians must address, something I will post about in the near future.

Until next time,


In Him,

Rev. Kevin R Short