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The Newer Anti-Evolutionists: Introducing Greg Koukl

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Newer Anti-Evolutionists: Introducing Greg Koukl
Author(s): 
Stephen B Hunter
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
17, 20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
There have been a number of articles published recently by the National Center for Science Education which explore "Design Theory" as a replacement for old-style, young-earth creationism as the reigning paradigm of anti-evolution apologetics (see, for example, "Origins & Design: A Journal, not Just a Debate Ploy!" by John Cole in NCSE Reports 1996 Winter; 16[4]:4-5 and "Naturalism, Creationism, and The Meaning of Life: The Case of Philip Johnson Revisited" by Robert Pennock in Creation/Evolution 1996 Winter; 16[2], nr 39:10-30).

Under the old paradigm, opponents of evolution were the denizens of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and their ilk, whose science is laughable and whose arguments resemble not so much an exchange of ideas but the rhetorical counting of coups. Since young-earth "evidence" collapses under even the most cursory examination, it is only effective when wielded by fast moving riders. And ride they did. Long ago, it became clear that the adversarial debate format favored by young-earthers was not conducive to careful discussions of science. Defenders of evolution, pummeled by coup sticks, learned that, like the punch line from the movie "War Games", the only way to win was not to play. There was some solace in the fact that this hollow coup counting did not fly in the federal courts where it really seemed to matter.

With the shift of paradigm came a certain optimism that we could finally move beyond discussions of the depth of the dust on the moon or those human footprints in the Mesozoic rock of Texas and could finally begin to address issues of substance. That optimism was short lived as the names changed but the impasse seemed just as intractable.

One name that has not appeared in these articles on "Design Theory" apologists is that of Gregory Koukl. It is my impression that Koukl is an emerging heavyweight in this field and I would like to introduce you to him and his positions and in exploring some of those arguments suggest that the tooth-and-nail conflict between "us and them" is, at base, illusory.

First the stats: Koukl is a licensed Pentecostal minister and founder of Stand to Reason, a Christian apologetic ministry dedicated to promoting "clear thinking Christianity that can compete in the marketplace of ideas." He lectures extensively, teaches at Simon Greenleaf University, has been featured on James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" radio program, sponsors seminars, publishes a bimonthly newsletter (Solid Ground) and a quarterly journal (Clear Thinking), operates a web site (http://www.str.org) and is about to release his first book (Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Thin Air) with co-author Dr. Francis Beckwith. But his main venue is an 8-year-old, call-in radio program broadcast over KBRT in Avalon CA, KKPZ in Portland OR, and KJSL in St. Louis MO. He deals in an intelligent and erudite way with a broad range of religious and philosophical issues, but his thoughts on science and evolution are at issue here.

In a radio commentary called "God and Evolution" delivered on February 26 1995 Koukl said
If you are an evolutionist, you are not a theist in the sense that your theism has anything to do with the real world. Your belief about the real world is evolution, and that means time and chance. If you believe that God has something to do with the real world, then you can't be an evolutionist because evolution is run by chance, not by God, by definition.
Koukl holds that evolution and Christianity are in direct opposition to one another. This is a common, perhaps even universal, position among those at the forefront of this movement as well as among those listening to them. This view has become the linch-pin of the log jam that is preventing honest discussion of the science of evolution (that's not a mixed metaphor, but a compound metaphor). As a committed, thoughtful and sincere Christian, Koukl says that the most important thing in life is his relationship with God. If accepting the reality of evolution means abandoning that relationship with God, no conceivable scientific evidence will move him. That is understandable, even expected. Before we can hope to make progress with Koukl and his numerous allies, we must address the compatibility of their profoundly held religious beliefs with the idea of biological evolution. This is where it gets dicey. We should be arguing evidence. Evolution is a scientific theory, not a philosophy. But that is pointless until we get past this philosophical/religious question.

Nature and Lawfulness

At the heart of Koukl's position are a couple of unfortunate assertions. One is that in the case of evolution the methodological naturalism necessary to the function of science has become equivalent with philosophical naturalism. Because direct intervention by God contrary to natural law is not included within evolutionary processes, God either does not exist or is at best impotent. This principle is certainly not consistently applied to all scientific theories. There are many other scientific theories accepted by Koukl and other old-earth creationists which do not refer to miracles in contravention to natural law. In those cases God is considered to be the author of natural phenomena; therefore violation of natural law is not necessary to infer the hand of God. Evolution is merely an effort to describe life as an ongoing natural phenomenon.

Chance and purpose may be mutually exclusive in all instances save one — the instance of God. If God exists and is the author of the universe, in God's case chance and purpose are one and the same, "by definition". For purposes of discussion let us stipulate that it was that errant bolide that whacked the Yucatan 60-something-million years ago that put the period at the end of the dinosaurian sentence. This freed up all of the choice ecological niches for our mammalian ancestors which in turn allowed for the development of us. From the point of view of a scientist, no laws of nature have been violated. As fortuitous as it turned out to be, it was a just a natural phenomenon. Impacts happen. But, just perhaps, God arranged from the foundations of the universe for just the proper-sized asteroid to be dislodged from its comfortable orbit and sent on a collision course with our destiny. This is not something that can be explored empirically. Science is in no position to include nor exclude divine motivations behind natural events; our role is only to describe the natural events themselves.

Science or Scientism?

Another related, but distinct, assertion is that support for evolution is contingent upon "Scientism". Scientism is defined as the contention that the only valid means of understanding the totality of human experience is science. Philosophy and religion may be comforting pursuits, but are ultimately worthless. If science is the only valid means of understanding and science excludes the supernatural, then even whenthe evidence points to supernatural creation, evolution is adopted by default. Scientism, so defined, is foolishness and constitutes a straw-man argument. (Paradoxically, Koukl's radio commentary from January 15, 1995 is entitled "Science Doesn't Tell Us Anything Important." Would we call this "anti-scientism"?)

Science is a means of investigating natural phenomena. It has proven to be an extremely effective and valuable tool, but only as a means of investigating natural phenomena. Clearly, there is more to life. Is it more important for me to discover how the bluefin tuna came to be warm-blooded or to discover how to relate to my son's decision to become a Buddhist monk and live the monastic life? If I must choose between the two, the fish is on its own — obviously. But why must the two be mutually exclusive? I guess that's a crude way of saying that this is an elaborately constructed false dichotomy.

Koukl has expressed many of the familiar specific objections to evolution that have been expounded by Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Michael Denton, Hugh Ross and others. His favorite objection is that there can be no objective morality if evolution is true. Although there are cogent answers to each of his other objections, these answers will continue to fall on deaf ears until this core objection can be addressed.

In his radio commentary "Chance and Dignity" on August 13, 1995, Koukl said
Science has limited its area of study to the area of natural occurrences. Not only has it limited its search to that area, but it has essentially said that that is the only area that really exits.... If only nature exists, then it turns out that we are merely parts of the machinery in the workings of nature, and we are the unwitting victims of the machinery of cause and effect happening over time without any plan. That robs human beings of their dignity. Clearly, if we are the product of chance, then we have no purpose.... We are all unwanted pregnancies.... Mother nature didn't want us... It just spewed us forth. It just unconsciously squeezed us out. We were the thoughtless conceptus of intercourse of blind natural compulsions with no thought given to us, strangers who accidentally bump into each other in the dark of the universe. We are bastards of the one-night stand if evolution is true.
You cannot dispute that passion by pointing to the postdentary bones of a therapsid reptile and saying, "Look. A transitional form!" If, however, it were possible to convince Koukl and his colleagues that evolution need not threaten their world view, the rest of the conflict would largely evaporate.

Because the thread of evolution is woven into a myriad of areas of scientific inquiry, an understanding of evolution is fundamental to a comprehensive science education. Every time curriculum standards or textbook purchases come up, the issue of creation vs. evolution intrudes. But it is really not the scientific issues that are driving the objections. As the example of Greg Koukl points out, we are faced with a deeply-held conviction that evolution inevitably includes the rejection of God and morality, and further greases the slippery slope leading to the ultimate destruction of civilization. If we were able to defuse this line of reasoning without compromising or soft-pedaling evolution, imagine how much would the quality of science education improve when we could devote our efforts to the task at hand? That is one reason why understanding Koukl and folks like him remains a vital issue. Besides, it is insulting to sincere and knowledgeable Christians who accept evolution as a compellingly demonstrated scientific theory to be told they either don't understand evolution or that their faith is faulty.

About the Author(s): 
Stephen B Hunter
c/o RNCSE
P0 Box 8880
Madison, WI 53708-8880
Email: sbhunter@earthlink.net