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THE CELL LEADER’S MANUAL

An Apologetics Primer:

Caribbean Apologetics Issues, No. 4

GEM ’85, this rev. Aug. 2002a.1

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect . . ."     (1 Peter 3:15)


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3.4       Evolutionary Materialism

The intellectual powerhouse that energises secularism is Evolutionary Materialism.[16]  Consequently, we must take its measure, and understand then respond to its claims, strengths and limitations, if we are to be effective as educated Christian thinkers and leaders in our region. 

Now, except in intellectual circles, Evolutionism is not yet an openly dominant influence in our region, due to the lingering hold of the Bible on the popular mindset.  As time goes on, however, the secularist trend is clearly gathering momentum, and so it is imperative for us to respond to it without further delay. 

The core issue, of course, is that the biological Theory of [Macro-] Evolution is often held to "prove" the philosophy of Materialism, thus discrediting the Bible and the Christian Faith. This leads to four critical questions:

(1)    Is biological macro-evolution a proven fact?

(2)    Do the various evolutionary philosophies and theories in various fields of study necessarily follow from biological macro-evolution?

(3)    Can these philosophies and theories stand up as proven facts?

(4)    Does Evolution therefore disprove the existence of God?

The critical issue is the linkage between observable data, the inferred theory of macro-evolution, and the claimed implication, materialism.  If the inference is good and the implication holds, then God is dead, full stop.  So would be Man.

First, a clarification.  It is macro-evolution which is at stake, not the minor population variations commonly called micro-evolution.  We are not discussing well known small scale changes, such as Darwin’s Finches or Industrial Melanism, but rather the grand theory that seeks to explain the origin and diversification of life into the many forms in the fossil record and those existing today.

All such macro-theories face three major difficulties: explaining the origin of life; explaining the mechanism that allows, say, a fish to evolve into a man in several hundred million years; explaining the all-too-characteristic "sudden appearances and disappearances" of life-forms in the "almost unmanageably rich" fossil record, which is the major evidence.

For, as many competent commentators have repeatedly pointed out,[17] the leap from amino acids formed in spark-in-gas experiments to a complete and functioning life-form is vast.  Colour changes in moths are one thing, "amoeba to man" quite another.  A fossil record of gaps and postulated but still all-too-missing links is more of an embarrassment than a proof (and has always been so).[18]  In short, it is hardly proper to conclude, after more than a century, that macro-evolution is proven fact.

Of course, to many, macro-evolution "must" be true — the alternative, creation and/or intelligent design, "is incredible." Their basic reason, of course, is that they are philosophical materialists — they begin by assuming that there is no God, rather than with an open-minded assessment of the evidence.  Plainly, this is a circular argument — one obvious alternative is that God/the Intelligent Designer used evolution as his means of creation!  Another, given the problems with the evidence, is that macro-evolution simply did not happen.  (This may be intellectually unfashionable, but it is definitely not ruled out by the available evidence.)

In short, while macro-evolution may well fit into an atheistic view of the world, it is itself open to significant challenge and simply cannot prove materialism to be true.

Philosophical materialism, however, has deeper problems.  It argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature.  Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture.  Thus, what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains.  (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance and psycho-social conditioning, within the framework of human culture.)

Therefore, if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity.  Of course, the conclusions of such arguments may still happen to be true, by lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” them.   And, if our materialist friends then say: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must note that to demonstrate that such tests provide empirical support to their theories requires the use of the very process of reasoning which they have discredited!

Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion.  But, immediately, that includes “Materialism.”  For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways?  And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?

In the end, materialism is based on self-defeating logic, and only survives because people often fail (or, sometimes, refuse) to think through just what their beliefs really mean.

As a further consequence, materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil.  So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead.

As Francis Schaeffer and others have so ably pointed out, this inner contradiction explains modern man's dilemma and confusion.  For, his soul — created by God, our real Maker — tells such a man that he is significant, but what he thinks he knows tells him that he is nothing but a random bit of rubbish cast up by an ultimately chaotic and purposeless universe.  He therefore knows not which to believe, and so lives under a cloud of hopeless despair, "a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

It is consequently no surprise to detect the consistent theme that all of reality is ultimately meaningless in modern and post-modern Literature, in contemporary Philosophy, and in the Arts generally.  Equally unsurprisingly, when materialistic evolutionary frameworks are applied to academic/professional disciplines such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Linguistics, Economics, Management, or Media and Communication, it is the implications of materialism that invariably are the root of anti-Christian bias.

In Law, Government, and Public Policy, the same bitter seed has shot up the idea that "Right" and "Wrong" are simply arbitrary social conventions.  This has often led to the adoption of hypocritical, inconsistent, futile and self-destructive public policies. 

"Truth is dead," so Education has become a power struggle; the victors have the right to propagandise the next generation as they please.   Media power games simply extend this cynical manipulation from the school and the campus to the street, the office, the factory, the church and the home.

Further, since family structures and rules of sexual morality are "simply accidents of history," one is free to force society to redefine family values and principles of sexual morality to suit one's preferences. 

Finally, life itself is meaningless and valueless, so the weak, sick, defenceless and undesirable — for whatever reason — can simply be slaughtered, whether in the womb, in the hospital, or in the death camp.

In short, ideas sprout roots, shoot up into all aspects of life, and have consequences in the real world.  Paul therefore aptly summarises the bitter fruit of dismissing God from our thoughts:

since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve those who practice them.  [Rom. 1:28 - 32; cf. 18 - 27, which shows the significance of widespread sexual perversions in a culture.]

However, since evolutionary materialism has become the orthodoxy of the academic community and that of many policy-makers and opinion leaders, it is often simply embedded in the foundation of contemporary academic discourse, public discussion of issues, and the policy-making and implementing process.  

Therefore, educated Christians must learn how to unearth these hidden assumptions, and then to expose the resulting contradictions, foolish policy recommendations and their likely bitter fruit.[19]  Once that is done, we can then set about separating the wheat of sound insight from the chaff of anti-Christian bias, then work towards a sounder, more sustainable future for our region.

 

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NOTICES: This course module was originally created by Gordon Mullings, in 1985, for use as part of a manual for Cell Group Leaders for the UCCF, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. It has been subsequently revised and developed, to date. (DISCLAIMER: While reasonable attempts have been made to provide accurate, fair and informative materials for use in training, no claim is made for absolute truth, and corrections based on factual errors and/or gaps or inconsistencies in reasoning are welcome.) FAIR USE: The contents of this module are intended for use as a support for learning about responding to the typical intellectual challenges to the Christian Faith and gospel that are commonly encountered in the Caribbean, especially in tertiary education and in commentary in the regional and international media. Permission is therefore granted to link to this page for fair use under intellectual property law, and for reasonable citation of the linked content on this site for church- or parachurch- group related training and/or for personal or academic use; this specifically excludes reproduction, linking or citation for commercial, controversial or media purposes without the Author's written permission -- especialy where matters relating to the validity and value of Faith/Religious/Atheological Commitments and Truth-Claims are being debated or disputed. PDF version available, under similar terms. COPYRIGHT:GEM 2002. All rights are reserved.

 FOOTNOTES:

[16] Often called “Naturalism.”  Evolutionary Materialism is used here because it is a more descriptive phrase. Plantinga poses an interesting essay on the issues at stake.

[17] See the references at the end of this module.

[18] In Darwin’s day, it was confidently expected that the “gaps” would be filled in, hence the search for “missing links.” The persistence of the gaps in the fossil record — though often denied in debate — is sufficiently serious that the late Steven Jay Gould (of Harvard), Niles Eldredge et al proposed an alternative to Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory: Punctuated Equilibrium.

[19] NB: Much more could be said on this topic, and the above is, due to the short space available, almost over-simplified.  It should be clear, however, that the materialist rebellion against God has led to many of the characteristic problems of the modern world.  I urge you to read widely in this area.  It would especially be useful to consult the second edition of C. S. Lewis' Miracles, Ch. 3, and Ronald Nash’s Faith and Reason, Ch. 18, which are the basic sources for the above argument about the self-defeating nature of materialism. (also cf. Plantinga's related, much more detailed argument.)