The Social and Historical Impact of Christianity

Probe founder Jimmy Williams examines the charge that Christianity has been detrimental to society, providing evidence for the contrary–that it has been a force for good.


W.E.H. Lecky has commented on the Enlightenment that “The greatest religious change in the history of mankind” took place “under the eyes of a brilliant galaxy of philosophers and historians who disregarded as contemptible an Agency (Christianity) which all men must now admit to have been . . . the most powerful moral lever that has ever been applied to the affairs of men.”{1}

And yet, the West is in the process of abandoning its Judeo-Christian base which was the very source of this social development (Is this good or bad? Can we even ask such questions of history?).

The Negative Charge:
Christianity has been a repressive force against the advancement of civilization.

A. Karl Marx termed Christianity an opiate of the masses, a tool of exploitation.

B. Sigmund Freud called Christianity an illusion, a crutch, a source of guilt and pathologies.

C. Bertrand Russell: “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of the moral progress in the world.”{2}

D. Arnold Toynbee: “When the Greco-Roman world was converted to Christianity, the divinity was drained out of nature and concentrated in a single, transcendent God. Man’s greedy impulse to exploit nature used to be held in check by his awe, his pious worship of nature. Now monotheism, as enunciated in Genesis, has removed the age-old restraint.”{3}

E. Gloria Steinem observed that human potential must replace God by the year 2000.

F. Lyn White: “Christians, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions, not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.”{4} “The crisis will not abate until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.”{5}

Summary: Christianity. . .
1. Is a crutch
2. Impedes science
3. Is a source of bigotry
4. Causes wars
5. Causes pollution and animal extinction
6. Contributes to the population explosion
7. Causes inflation.

Analysis of the Charges

(Unfortunately, some of the charges are true.)

A. The church, as an institution, has not always been a positive influence for social change.

1. Two major errors:

Platonism — The spiritual sphere is the real world. Matter is evil. Thus, the body is the prison of the soul. This sacred/secular distinction has resulted in the “pie in the sky” religion which has at times not been concerned about social reform.

Humanism — Views the physical and social needs of man as the only importance. The institutional church has, at times, failed at preaching regeneration.{6}

2. Jesus was concerned for the total man. Should we put a “new suit” on the man, or a “new man” in a suit? Jesus would have done both—put a new suit on a new man! (See the Gospels).

B. When the church is assimilated by the culture in which it finds itself, it loses its cutting edge. Example: Under Constantine in the 4th century, “The church became a little worldly and the world became a little churchy.”

C. The institutional church and true Christianity are not always synonymous. Professing Christians many not live up to the ideals and practices of its Founder (“Faith without works is dead,” James 2:26).

1. Renaissance popes are not Christianity; St. Francis of Assisi is.

2. Pizarro and Cortez are not Christianity, Bartolome de Las Casas is.

3. Captain Ball, a Yankee slave captain, is not Christianity, Wilburforce is.

D. Jesus Himself foretold that “tares” would be won among the “wheat.” (Matt. 13:25-39 ff).

Christianity’s Positive Impact

A. The Rise of Modern Science

1. Science rose in the West, not in the East. Why?

2. Whitehead and Oppenheimer insisted that modern science could not have been born except in a Christian milieu.

3. Many pioneering scientists were not only theists, but Christians: Newton, Pasteur, Kepler, Paschal, Fleming, Edwards.

4. Concepts conducive to scientific inquiry were expressly Christian:

a. Positive attitude toward the world.

b. Awareness of order (i.e. cause/effect, cf. Rom. 1:20).

c. Views of man as a superintendent of nature.

d. Positive attitude toward progress (“Have dominion . . .” [Gen. 1:28ff])

B. The Development of Higher Education

1. The Puritans were 95 per cent literate.

2. The University movement and the quest for knowledge (Berkeley, Descartes, the British Empiricists, Locke & Reid).

3. 100 of the first 110 universities in America were founded for the express purpose of propagating the Christian religion.

4. The American university emerged from American Seminaries (Witherspoon, Princeton; Timothy Dwight, Yale).

C. Christianity and the Arts: the influence has been so broad as to be inestimable.

D. Social Change

1. Means of Social Change

a. Reform—moderately effective, but slow. Not always good.

b. Revolution—more rapid, but usually bloody.

c. Regeneration—Changing persons changes society. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . .That which is born of flesh is flesh: that which is born of spirit is spirit” (John 3:3,6). Paul spoke of the Christian rebirth in this way, “Do not be conformed to this world-system, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Romans 12:2).

d. There is a difference between professing Christianity and possessing a personal relationship with Christ.

2. Examples in the Early Church

a. In 252 A.D., the Christians of Corinth saved the city from the plague by responding to the needs of those who were simply dragged into the street.

b. In 312 A.D., half of the Roman Empire came under the political and social influence of Christianity under the rule of Constantine.

c. Early Christians stood in opposition to infanticide, degradation of women, gladiatorial combats, slavery, etc.

3. Examples in the Middle Ages (Consider the Monks, not the knights.)

a. Monasteries served as hospitals, places of refuge.

b. Monastic schools trained scribes to preserve manuscripts.

c. Monasteries also developed agricultural skills and knowledge.

d. The Scholastics remain a pivotal period of intellectual growth.

e. A time of major artistic development: architecture, music, literature.

4. Examples during the Reformation

a. A myriad of forces were at work in the vast social and religious shift known as the Reformation (i.e. Luther, printing, Gutenberg Bible).

b. Calvin and the other reformers must not be ignored. Says Fred Graham in The Constructive Revolutionary, “Economic, scientific, and political historians . . . generally know little about Calvin’s own secular ideas. They assume that it was simply the rupture with tradition made by Calvinists which produced certain changes of life-styles which, in turn, affected society in Protestant countries in later centuries. But the heart of this study shows clearly that Calvin himself was aware of the epochal character of his own (social and economic) teaching and of the transforming implications of the Genevan pattern which he had a hand in forming” (11).

5. Examples in Colonial America.

a. The First Great Awakening (1725-75) raised up many American universities. 100 of the first 110 American universities were founded expressly founded for the purpose of training men to propagate the Christian faith.

b. American educational and political systems, Christian influences.

1) Colonial education was classical and Christian, with the Bible and its principles primary to all learning. The New England Primer appeared about 1690 and was almost universally adopted. It was the chief beginning reading book for American schools for over 100 years. The contents clearly show its religious character and purpose which included forty pages containing the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

2) Framers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The vast majority at the Constitutional Convention (55 delegates) were members of Protestant churches: 28 Episcopalians, eight Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Lutherans, two Dutch Reformed, two Methodists, two Roman Catholics, three Deists, one unknown.

c. The Wesley-Whitefield revivals resulted in millions of Christian conversions. Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was converted after hearing the preface of Luther’s commentary on Romans read at Aldersgate: “About a quarter before nine, which they were describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine.”

d. Wesley preached the social responsibilities of Christian piety:

1772 – Slavery was judicially excluded from England, 14,000 freed

1792 – Conditions aboard slave ships were regulated by law

1808 – The English slave trade was abolished.

1831 – All European slave trade abolished. England spent 15 million pounds for enforcement, even making payments to Spain and Portugal to stop the trade.

1833 – Slavery abolished in British Empire: 45 million pounds paid in compensation to free 780,933 slaves. Wilberforce, along with Buxton, Macaulay, and Clark . . . all evangelicals who were converted under Wesley’s ministry, were the top leaders in ending slavery (This British action in the 1830’s profoundly affected American attitudes which resulted in the Civil War).

e. Prison reform: John Howard, Elizabeth Fry (England); Fliedner (Germany). Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, was trained in one of Fliedner’s schools in Kaiserswerth.

f. Labor reform: Anthony Ashley Cooper (Earl of Shaftesbury, self-described “Evangelical of the Evangelicals” pioneered child-labor laws, prohibited women working in the mines, established mental health sanitarium, built parts and libraries).

g. Harriett Beecher Stowe. Daughter of a preacher, married to a preacher; all her brothers were preachers. Her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin ignited the minds and imaginations of people in both North and South. “So this is the little lady who made this big war,” said Abraham Lincoln upon meeting her for the first time. Her book was the first great American bestseller. (Initial print run was 300,000 copies. Sold three million copies in America, then 40 million worldwide in 40 languages).

h. The Third Great Awakening (1858-59) produced a rash of missionary and philanthropic organizations in the U. S. and England:

• Barnardo’s Homes (world’s largest orphanage system)
• William Booth’s Salvation Army
• Henri Dunant, a student evangelist in Geneva, founded the Red Cross in 1865
• YMCA was founded in 1844 and grew greatly
• The missionaries from William Carey on:

—CMS (Christian Missionary Society) taught 200,000 to read in East Africa in one generation
—Secured the abolition of widow-burning and child sacrifice
—Brought medicine to the world
—Actually founded the educational systems in China, Japan, and Korea.

i. Today: World Vision, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Mission agencies, Parachurch groups, Denominational missionaries, medical personnel, teachers, and volunteers.


“It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. For the Greeks had shown man his mind; but the Christians showed him his soul. They taught that in the sight of God, all souls were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, had thought ugliness to be bad, had shrunk from disease and imperfection and from everything misshapen, horrible, and repulsive, the Christian sought out the diseased, the crippled, the mutilated, to give them help. Love, for the ancient Greek, was never quite distinguished from Venus. For the Christians held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion.” – R. R. Palmer (standard college history text)

“The history of Christianity is inseparable from the history of Western culture and of Western society. For almost a score of centuries Christian beliefs, principles, and ideals have colored the thoughts and feelings of Western man. The traditions and practices have left an indelible impress not only on developments of purely religious interest, but on virtually the total endeavor of man. This has been manifest in art and literature, science and law, politics and economics, and, as well, in love and war. Indeed, the indirect and unconscious influence Christianity has often exercised in avowedly secular matters—social, intellectual, and institutional—affords striking proof of the dynamic forces that have been generated by the faith over the millenniums. Even those who have contested its claims and rejected its tenets have been affected by what they opposed. Whatever our beliefs, all of us today are inevitable heirs to this abundant legacy; and it is impossible to understand the cultural heritage that sustains and conditions our lives without considering the contributions of Christianity.”

“Since the death of Christ, his followers have known vicissitudes as well as glory and authority. The Christian religion has suffered periods of persecution and critical divisions within its own ranks. It has been the cause and the victim of war and strife. It has assumed forms of astonishing variety. It has been confronted by revolutionary changes in human and social outlooks and subjected to searching criticism. The culture of our own time, indeed, has been termed the most completely secularized form of culture the world has ever known. We live in what some have called the post-Christian age. Yet wherever we turn to enrich our lives, we continue to encounter the lasting historical realities of Christian experience and tradition.”{7}

In contrast to the Christian system, modern materialistic philosophies do not provide a strong basis for reform. Humanism is, in effect, a philosophic smuggler; it has borrowed the “dignity of man” from Christian precepts and has not bothered to say, “Thank you.”


1. W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, NY: Appleton, 1905, Vol. I, 28-29) (explanatory insert mine).
2. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, p. 21.
3. Arnold Toynbee, Horizon magazine, 1973).
4. Lyn White, Science Magazine, 1967.
5. The Environmental Handbook, p. 25.
6. Alan Menninger: Whatever Became of Sin?
7. Roland H. Bainton, Professor Emeritus, Ecclesiastical History, Yale University. Horizon Magazine, Marshall B. Davidson, et. al., American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.: New York. Distributed by Harper and Row, 1964.


Cairns, Earle E. Saints and Society. Moody Press, Chicago, 1960.

Graham, W. Fred. The Constructive Revolutionary. Atlanta: John Knox, 1971.

Hooykaas, R. Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1975.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953.

Moberg, David O. Inasmuch. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Moeler, Bernd. Imperial Cities and the Reformation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1972.

Rookmaaker, H. R. Modern Art and the Death of Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan Co., 1926.

© 2000 Probe Ministries International


Genetic Engineering – A Christian Scientist’s Perspective

Dr. Ray Bohlin examines the rapidly moving world of genetic engineering from a Christian worldview perspective. He explains that most genetic engineering attempts to make more efficient changes similar to those previously done through selective breeding and other conventional techniques.  However, those working in the field need to be aware of the ethical and religious issues that arise in this area of science.

What Is Genetic Engineering?

Our culture teeters on the edge of a steep and dangerous precipice. New technologies will soon allow us to change, radically and permanently, the world in which we live. Indeed, we will hold in our hands the capability of directly and purposefully changing who we are as human beings. The technology I am speaking of is genetic engineering.{1} Ethical and technical questions swirl around discussions of genetic engineering like the wall clouds of the eye of a hurricane. Many in society seem to be bracing themselves for the disappearance of the calm of the eye and the coming of the full force of a powerful and destructive combination of new plants and animals unleashed on an unsuspecting environment, with new and improved humans designed to succeed.

Before your alarm buttons go on overload, let me say that I hope to lend a reassuring voice with a dose of sober realism. Genetic technology will undoubtedly unleash great power to change our world forever, but should it, and will it? In this article I want to explore just a few of the technical and ethical questions we face as a society. The time to discuss these issues is now, while we still have time to think without simply reacting.

The phrase genetic engineering, unfortunately, often conjures up images of macabre experiments resulting in Frankenstein-like monsters and the cold-hearted use of genetic information to create new social classes depending on our genes, as in the 1997 film Gattaca.{2} However, genetic engineering can simply be defined as the manipulation or alteration of the genetic structure of a single cell or organism.

Sometimes the manipulation of an organism’s genome, the totality of all its genes, can simply refer to the project of identifying its complete DNA sequence in order to gain information for future study and potential alteration. The Human Genome Project is therefore, in a sense, a form of genetic engineering because the human genome must be broken up and manipulated in order to gain the desired information.

Ordinarily, genetic engineering refers to the direct addition, deletion, or intentional mutation of an organism’s DNA sequence to produce a desired effect. Knockout experiments in mice seek to determine the effects of eliminating a particular gene from the mouse genome. Recombinant DNA experiments usually take a gene found in one organism and place the gene into another organism. These animals can be of the same or different species.

Sometimes researchers will simply change the DNA sequence in a gene to study what effect the specific change has on the gene or its protein product. All of these alterations fall under the umbrella of genetic engineering. In this broad definition, genetic engineering is neither good nor evil. The nature of the experiments themselves will determine if they are moral or immoral.

Why Are There Genetic Illnesses?

The initial thrust of genetic research is the treatment and potential cure of genetic illnesses. Therefore, we must explore why genetic illnesses occur at all. “Why questions” within science usually occur on two levels and are notoriously difficult. The first level and usually the easier of the two are the scientific. The “why” is best changed to “how.” For our purposes this means, How do genetic illnesses arise? The second, more difficult question asks on a moral basis, Why do genetic illnesses occur?

The answer to the first question, How do genetic illnesses arise?, is simply, mutations. Mutations are mistakes in the DNA sequence. Sometimes a mutation is simply the substitution of one nucleotide for another.

Mutations can also result from a piece of DNA being deleted. This may cause one or more codons to disappear. In cystic fibrosis (CF), codon 508 out of 1,480 is missing, causing one amino acid to be removed from the resulting protein. This causes the severe respiratory and digestive problems of CF patients that are usually lethal before their 30th birthday.

So far, genes for more than 1,200 human disorders have been identified, which are found over all twenty-three pairs of human chromosomes. Some estimate that there may be as many as 3,000 to 4,000 human genetic disorders that are due to defects in a single gene. Most disorders, however, will be due to mutations in a host of genes.

The moral question is perhaps not so difficult in its answer, but in our acceptance of the answer. Mutations exist as a result of the Fall. We know the serpent was cursed, Eve was cursed, and Adam was cursed (Gen. 3:14-19). But Romans 8:18-22 also tells us that all creation was subjected to futility, groans and suffers, and eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God so it may be set free from its slavery to corruption. This world is not as God intended.

Asking why someone suffers from a genetic disease is no different than asking why someone was killed in a traffic accident when others walked away. We know our suffering is temporary. We know that God will somehow work it all out for good (Rom. 8:28). But in 2 Corinthians Paul tells us we suffer so we can comfort those who suffer after us (1:4), so other sufferers will know they are not alone (1:6), and, principally, we suffer so we will trust in God and not ourselves (1:9).

Part of the Christian mission has always been to alleviate suffering where possible. While Jesus’ miracles clearly were part of fulfilled prophecy, they were also about relief from suffering. Genetic engineering, while possessing a power that can be used for evil, which we will discuss, also at least has the potential to relieve the suffering from, if not even cure, genetic disease.

Could Changing Genetic Material Produce a Dangerous Superbug?

One concern that many people have about genetic engineering is the possibility of unintentionally creating a superbug or a damaging plant or animal whose destructive nature is only discovered after the fact. After all, our knowledge of the workings of genes and proteins is still growing. We hear constantly how complex everything is. What makes us think we can tinker with this incredible biological reservoir of information without making some incredible blunder from which there is no turning back?

When genetic engineering in bacteria was first discovered and introduced (Recombinant DNA technology), many scientists had this very fear. This was partially the reason for the self-imposed moratorium and four levels of containment in the early 1970s. But geneticists and molecular biologists found that dangerous, unintentional consequences were virtually nonexistent. Enforcement of the guidelines eventually relaxed and soon became outdated and ignored. What this means is that researchers were quite convinced that transferring DNA of known sequence and function into bacterial chromosomes and plasmids did not result in unforeseen consequences. The procedure became routine and straightforward.

This does not mean that someone, somewhere, won’t use biotechnology to produce a superbug intentionally. Certainly this technology can be used to produce even more powerful and resistant agents of biological warfare. Some even speculated that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS, was intentionally produced. Though this hypothesis has been successfully refuted, the prospect remains that DNA recombinant technology has opened up a new field that can be used for evil.

However, we must be clear that this is not the fault of the technology itself. It is entirely human to shrink with fear away from things that we don’t understand. The first predictable reaction of tribal societies when faced with modern technology was to cower in fear. Something dreadful was about to descend upon them. Usually this didn’t happen and, with some education and familiarity, fear dissipated. But only human agents alone can make evil choices. Fire will heat our homes and cook our food, but it can also kill indiscriminately in the hands of an arsonist. But fire itself is not evil.

What should concern us more than the advent of biotechnology is the growing popularity of a totally secular and naturalistic worldview. Naturalism contends that humans are just complicated animals. The end result of this assumption is that ethics becomes an exercise in simply determining what works, not what is right.

Biotechnology is powerful, indeed, but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Therefore we must engage the discussion as to how this technology can be used to cure disease and not become another snare to degrade and dehumanize people’s lives.

Are We Playing God by Creating Organisms That Never Existed Before?

Unfortunately, the concept of playing God means different things to different people.{3} For some it may have nothing to do with God at all. They are simply expressing awe and wonder at the power that humans can wield over nature.

For some Christians, however, the notion of playing God carries a pietistic view of God’s realm of activity versus that of the human race. In this context, playing God means performing tasks that are reserved for God and God alone. If this is what genetic technology does, then the concerns about playing God are justified. But what is often being reflected in this perspective is that God acts where we are ignorant and it should stay that way.

What is really at stake is fear, fear of what we may learn, fear of what new responsibility this new knowledge will put on our shoulders, and fear that this new knowledge will be used to harm us and not for the common good. The point was made that technology itself is not evil. Any technology can be used to further God’s purposes or hinder them. People make those decisions, not technology.

By the very fact that we are called to be stewards of God’s creation (Gen. 1:26-28), we need to expand our knowledge of what God has made in order to better rule over His creation. Part of being made in God’s image is our creativity. In this sense we “play God” by imitating Him. Our works of art, buildings, management of natural parks, and care for the poor, sick, and disadvantaged all imitate God for the good of His creation.

But we are still creating new creatures that did not exist before. Isn’t God the only Creator in that sense? We seldom realize that we are hard-pressed to find in nature today the ancestors of nearly all the plants and animals we use for food or service. Our current varieties of corn, wheat, flowers, cattle, dogs, horses, etc., bear little resemblance to the original stock in nature. That is because we have selected and manipulated them over the millennia for our own purposes. We have already created animals and plants that never existed before. Genetic technology has greatly increased the specificity and power of our abilities, but the nature of what we can do is the same as before.

If we are to play God in the sense of imitating Him as we apply the truth of being created in His image and in exercising our appointment as stewards over all He has made, then we need to do so with humility and compassion. Our creative abilities should be used to enhance the condition of men and women as we struggle in a fallen world. Genetic technologies can and should be used to help alleviate or even cure the effects of genetic disease.

Is It Wrong to Combine Genes from Different Species?

Have you ever wondered if we should be transferring genes from one species to another at all? Does this in itself violate some ethical principle? One gene does not define a species. Bacteria are composed of thousands of genes and it is estimated that humans possess as many as 100,000 genes. Therefore, transferring one gene from one organism to another does not create a hybrid in the traditional sense. Genes, remember, are composed of DNA. DNA is a molecule; it is not living in and of itself.

If the idea of adding something foreign to an organism is troublesome, just realize that we do this all the time when we take antibiotics, over the counter pain medications, and other synthetic medications. Our bodies would never come across most of these substances in nature.

What is different is that with genetic engineering, we have added something to a cell or organism that will change the composition of that cell or organism, possibly for as long as it lives, and is potentially passed on to future generations. It is reasonable to ask if we have the wisdom even to try to make these kinds of changes. No doubt, genetic technology provides a power never before possessed by human beings: to design intentionally or create a new variety of organism by altering its genetic structure.

Once again, the issues are, Which genes are actually being transferred? and, For what purpose? These questions, asked case by case, should rule our choices, not the inherent legitimacy of genetic engineering itself. Creating crops internally resistant to disease, particularly to help developing countries better feed their people, is a goal worthy of God’s image-bearers.

However, intentionally manipulating the gene of a known pathogenic and deadly bacterium with the expressed intent of creating a biological weapon that is untreatable and incurable is a hideous evil. Kerby Anderson also warns that we need to consider the extent that genetic manipulation may cross over barriers God instituted in the created kinds.{4} If God felt it important to create boundaries of reproduction that his creatures were to stay within, we ought not cross over them ourselves (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25).

It is certainly possible for genetically modified organisms created for agricultural and medical purposes to develop in ways not planned or foreseen. Therefore, it is necessary that proper and extensive tests be performed to assure, as much as possible, that no unnecessary harm will come to the environment or to humans. As vague as this prescription is, it only serves to reinforce the necessity of further education on the part of everyone to ensure that this powerful technology is used responsibly. We simply cannot afford to be ignorant of genetic issues and technologies and expect to contribute to the necessary discussion that lies ahead.


1. An excellent resource for Christians on this topic is Genetic Engineering: A Christian Response, Timothy J. Demy and Gary P. Stewart, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999)
2. Gattaca, a film by Andrew Niccol, A Jersey Films production, distributed by Columbia Pictures, 1997.
3. Allen D. Verhey, “Playing God,” in Genetic Ethics: Do the Ends Justify the Genes? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1997), 60-74.
4. J. Kerby Anderson, “The Ethics of Genetic Engineering and Artificial Reproduction,” in Genetic Engineering: A Christian Response, Timothy J. Demy and Gary P. Stewart.

©2000 Probe Ministries

Why Does the University Fear Phillip Johnson?

Who Is Phillip Johnson?

Best-selling author Phillip Johnson has become the leader of the Intelligent Design movement. His books Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds and the recently released Objections Sustained have become rallying points for Christian scholars across the academic spectrum. Johnson has addressed university audiences around the country, sometimes on his own, often in debate with a leading proponent of evolution. He has even addressed in private session entire science, law, and philosophy departments at top universities. Well, just who is Phillip Johnson and how does he rate such attention?

Johnson was raised in a nominally Christian family, but he grew to become a convinced skeptic of the faith. This process was greatly aided by his education, first as an undergraduate at Harvard and then at the University of Chicago Law School where he graduated first in his class. Johnson became convinced that people were basically good, education would solve whatever problems you had, the stuff of Sunday school was okay but mythology, and he could achieve success by thinking for himself and absorbing the culture around him.

This is the enticing picture the academic community paints for students and Johnson bought it. But things began to unravel in his mid-thirties. He had achieved his goals. He served as law clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and held a distinguished professorship of law at UC Berkeley, but he lacked fulfillment. He was publishing papers nobody read, or ought to read. His marriage to a beauty queen fell apart and he was single parenting for awhile. The writings of C. S. Lewis had impacted him greatly, but he thought, “Too bad we can’t believe in that anymore.” Eventually he heard the gospel preached in a way that seemed plausible and attractive. Johnson envied the speaker’s combination of commitment and fulfillment. “Do I have something so wonderful?” he questioned. Johnson said, “They believed it, I could too.”

Johnson put his faith in Christ, but faced a dilemma. If the gospel is true, why are all the “intelligent” people agnostic? He prayed for insight. Beginning with a sabbatical at University College in London in 1987-88, Johnson embarked on an intellectual journey. This journey has developed into a project that has seen him publish four books, deliver hundreds of lectures on college campuses, and become the leader of the fledgling Intelligent Design movement over the last ten years. Primarily through his study of evolution, Johnson learned that the academic community’s primary intellectual commitment is to the philosophy of naturalism. If the “facts” contradict materialistic conclusions, then the “facts” are either explained away, ignored, or just plain wrong.

Therefore, evolutionists like Richard Dawkins can say things like “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” and actually say it with a straight face. The appearance of design is an illusion, you see, because we “know” that organisms evolved and the primary reason we “know” this is because naturalistic philosophy demands it.

Johnson’s primary task seems to be continually provoking the scientific community into facing the reality of its naturalistic presuppositions. In earlier years, the scientific establishment was able to dismiss creationists and not officially respond. But when a tenured law professor from Berkeley starts messing with your head, people start answering back. The National Academy of Sciences has issued two publications in the last two years trying to stem the tide.{1} The cracks in Darwinian evolution are beginning to show.

What Could a Law Professor Say About Evolution?

What could a legal scholar possibly have to say about evolution? Many in the academic community have raised the same question as Phillip Johnson has visited their university. In his own words Johnson states: “I approach the creation-evolution dispute not as a scientist but as a professor of law, which means among other things that I know something about the ways that words are used in arguments.”{2}

Specifically what Johnson noticed was that both the rules of debate about the issue as well as the word evolution itself were defined in such a way as to rule out objections from the start. Science is only about discovering naturalistic causes of phenomena, therefore arguing against the sufficiency of natural causes is not science! Also the “fact of evolution” is determined not by the usual definition of fact such as collected data or something like space travel which has been done, but as something arrived by majority vote! Steven J. Gould said, “In science, fact can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’”{3}

In the early chapters of Darwin on Trial, Johnson does an excellent job of summarizing the evidence that has been around for decades calling Darwinian evolution into question. These include problems with the mechanism of mutation and natural selection, problems with finding transitional fossils between major groups when they should be numerous, problems with the molecular evidence for common descent, and severe problems with any scenario for the origin of life.

In a chapter titled “The Rules of Science” Johnson excels in illuminating the clever web evolutionists have drawn to insulate evolution from criticism.{4} In order to limit discussion to naturalistic causes, science is defined in purely naturalistic terms. In the Arkansas creation law decision, Judge Overton said science was defined as being guided and explained by natural law, testable, tentative, and falsifiable. Overton got this from the so- called expert testimony of scientists collected for the trial by the ACLU. These criteria were used against creation on the one hand to say that a creator is not falsifiable, and also that the tenets of creation science were demonstrably false. How can something be non-falsifiable and false at the same time?

The conflict enters in when one realizes that creation by Darwinist evolution is as un- observable as creation by a supernatural creator. No one has ever observed any lineage changing into another and the few fossil transitions that exist are fragmentary and disputable. “As an explanation for modifications in populations, Darwinism is an empirical doctrine. As an explanation for how complex organisms came into existence in the first place, it is pure philosophy.”{5}

In a chapter titled “Darwinist Religion” Johnson points out that despite the claims of scientists that evolution is secular, it is loaded with religious and philosophical implications. Most definitions of evolution emphasize its lack of purpose or goal. This makes evolution decidedly non-purposive in contrast to a theistic, purposive interpretation of nature. If it is the philosophic opposite of theism, evolution must be religious itself. Darwin himself constantly argued the superiority of descent with modification over creation. If scientific arguments can be made against theism, why can’t scientific arguments be made for theism?

Darwin on Trial continues to sell, to be read, and to influence those open to consider the evidence. Since Johnson is not a scientist his book is highly readable to the educated layman. If you have never picked it up, you owe it to yourself to read what has become a classic in the creation/evolution controversy.

Johnson Extends His Case against Evolution into Law and Education.

Over the years of speaking on the creation/evolution issue I have been asked many times why people get so upset over this issue. If it is just a question of scientific accuracy, why does it produce such emotional extremes? The answer, of course, is that the creation/evolution debate involves much more than science. At question is which worldview should hold sway in making public decisions.

In Phil Johnson’s second book, Reason in the Balance, he makes this very point when he says, “What has really happened is that a new established religious philosophy has replaced the old one. Like the old philosophy, the new one is tolerant only up to a point, specifically, the point where its own right to rule the public square is threatened.”{6}

The old philosophy Johnson speaks of is the theistic or Judeo-Christian worldview and the new philosophy is the materialist or naturalistic worldview. Johnson has referred to Reason in the Balance as his most significant and important work. That is because it is here that he lays the all important philosophical groundwork for the scientific, legal, and educational battleground of which the creation/evolution controversy is only a part.

That we no longer live in a country dominated by Judeo-Christian principles should be inherently obvious to most. But what many have missed is the concerted effort by the intellectual, naturalistic community to eliminate any possibility of debate of the worthiness of their position. On page 45 Johnson says,

“Modernist discourse accordingly incorporates semantic devices–such as the labeling of theism as religion and naturalism as science–that work to prevent a dangerous debate over fundamental assumptions from breaking out in the open. As the preceding chapter showed, however, these devices become transparent under the close inspection that an open debate tends to encourage. The best defense for modernist naturalism is to make sure the debate does not occur.”{7}

Johnson is quick to point out that there is not some giant conspiracy, but simply a way of thinking that dominates the culture, even the thinking of many Christians.

Therefore, in the realm of science when considering the important question of the existence of a human mind, only the biochemical workings of the brain can be considered. Not because an immaterial reality has been disproved, but because it is outside the realm of materialistic science and therefore not worth discussing. Allowing the discussion in the first place lays bare a discussion of fundamental assumptions, the very thing that is to be avoided.

In education, “The goal is to produce self-defining adults who choose their own values and lifestyles from among a host of alternatives, rather than obedient children who follow a particular course laid down for them by their elders.”{8} The reason, of course, is if God is outside the scientific discussion of origins, then how we should live must also exclude any absolute code of ethics. This also precludes the underlying assumptions from being discussed.

In law, naturalism has become the established constitutional philosophy. Rather than freedom of religion, the courts are moving to a freedom from religion. The major justification is that “religion” is irrational when it enters the domain of science or a violation of the first amendment in public education. “Under current conditions, excluding theistic opinions means giving a monopoly to naturalistic opinions on subjects like whether humans are created by God and whether sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage.”{9} What then are the strategies for breaking the monopoly?

Can Darwinism Be Defeated?

The main thing Christian parents and teachers can do is to teach young thinkers to understand the techniques of good thinking and help them tune up their baloney detectors so they aren’t fooled by the stock answers the authorities give to the tough questions.{10}

So says Phillip Johnson in his recent book, Defeating Darwinism. (For a fuller review see Rick Wade’s article, Defeating Darwinism: Phil Johnson Steals the Microphone.) Johnson is at his best here, relaying the many semantic and argumentative tricks used to cover up the inadequacies of Darwinism. In the chapter “Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector,” Johnson introduces the reader to examples of the use of selective evidence, appeals to authority, ad hominem arguments, straw man arguments, begging the question, and lack of testability. This chapter will give you a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure.

Johnson also explains the big picture of his strategy to weaken the stranglehold of Darwinism on the intellectual community. He calls it the wedge. Darwinism is compared to a log that seems impenetrable. Upon close investigation, a small crack is discovered. “The widening crack is the important but seldom recognized difference between the facts revealed by scientific investigation and the materialist philosophy that dominates the scientific culture.”{11} In order to split the log, the crack needs to be widened. Inserting a triangular shaped wedge and driving the pointed end further into the log can do this. As the wedge is driven further into the log, the wider portions of the wedge begin widening the crack.

Johnson sees his own books as the pointed end of the wedge, finding the crack and exposing its weaknesses. Other books in these initial efforts would certainly include the pioneering works of Henry Morris,{12} Duane Gish,{13} Charles Thaxton,{14} and even the agnostic Michael Denton.{15} Following close behind and fulfilling the role of further widening the crack are the works of J. P. Moreland,{16} Michael Behe,{17} and William Dembski.{18} What is needed now to widen the crack further and eventually split the log are larger numbers of theistic scientists, philosophers, and social scientists to fill in the ever widening portions of the wedge exposing the weaknesses of naturalistic assumptions across the spectrum of academic disciplines.

Here Johnson’s strategy meshes nicely with Probe Ministries. Much of our energy is spent educating young people in a Christian worldview through Mind Games Conferences, the ProbeCenter in Austin, Texas, and our website ( We share with Johnson the joy of encouraging and opening doors for young people in the academic community. Johnson says,

“If you know a gifted young person, help him or her to see the vision. Those who are called to it won’t need any further encouragement. Once they have seen their calling, you had better step out of the way because you won’t be able to stop them even if you try.”{19}

There is also an inherent risk in all this. Teaching young Christians to think critically and have the courage to join this exciting and meaningful cultural battle means they will also begin to examine their own faith critically. Some may even go through a period of doubt and deep questioning. While this may sound threatening, we shouldn’t shy away. If Jesus truly is the way, the truth, and the light then any “truth” exposed to the light will endure. Our children will be stronger having put their faith to the test. The reward of possibly making a directional change in our downward spiraling culture is worth the risk.

Johnson Responds to the Intellectual Elite

One of the reasons that Phillip Johnson has become a leader in the Intelligent Design movement is the combined effect of his tenured position on the law faculty of the prestigious University of California at Berkeley and his deftness and sheer enjoyment in taking on the power brokers within the established halls of academia. Johnson has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad. He has also lectured and debated before university audiences and faculties. His knowledge of debate, concise prose, and his likeable demeanor allows him to bring the issues to the table skillfully. Many are able to think clearly about these issues for perhaps the first time.

Another avenue Johnson has pursued with great success has been to write articles and review books for some of the leading magazines and newspapers in the country. Johnson’s fourth book, Objections Sustained: Subversive Essays on Evolution, Law & Culture,{20} is a collection of his essays since the publication of Darwin on Trial in 1991. While most of the essays in the book were originally published in either the journal First Things or the paper Books and Culture, Johnson’s pen has also been found in the pages of The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The New Criterion, and many other national and local magazines and newspapers. He has openly challenged some of the leading spokesmen for naturalistic evolution such as Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin of Harvard, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, and Daniel Dennet from Tufts University.

The point of all this is to draw the Darwinists out into the open where the debate can be seen and heard by all who are interested. Previously, creation was routinely dismissed as religion, but Johnson is not so easily swept aside since he has been able to expose the house of cards behind the bluster of Darwinism. The debate has crept more and more out in the open.

Two examples come to mind. First, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) was caught with its hand in the cookie jar. In 1995, they released a statement about evolution describing it as, among other things, unsupervised and impersonal. Such theological/philosophical concepts should have no place in a “scientific” statement. A storm of controversy sparked both within and outside the teachers’ ranks culminated in a reconsideration of the statement by the NABT board. At first the board voted unanimously to uphold the statement, and then a few days later, voted to remove the offending words. The New York Times remarked that “This surprising change in creed for the nation’s biology teachers is only one of many signs that the proponents of creationism, long stereotyped as anti-intellectual Bible-thumpers, have new allies and the hope of new credibility.”{21}

Second, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences has published two official publications attacking creationism{22} and supporting the teaching of evolution.{23} Rather than taking its critics head-on, these two books timidly revert to old and tattered evidences and appeals to authority. For instance, the National Academy boldly asserts that “there is no debate within the scientific community over whether evolution occurred, and there is no evidence that evolution has not occurred.”{24}

Science and Creationism says on the one hand, “Scientists can never be sure that a given explanation is complete and final.”{25} But evolution cannot really be questioned because “Nothing in biology makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.”{26} Such obfuscation is now officially in the open arena–precisely where Johnson has been trying to force it to appear. The next ten to fifteen years promise to be exciting. I hope you continue to read Phillip Johnson and observe the ever broadening wedge drive deeper into the chinks of the Darwinian armor.


1. National Academy of Sciences, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press, 1998), 140. Available online at
National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (Washington D. C.: National Academy Press, 1999), 35. Available online at

2. Phillip Johnson, Darwin On Trial (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 8.

3. Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983), 255.

4. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 111-122.

5. Ibid., 115.

6. Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 37.

7. Ibid., 45.

8. Ibid., 157.

9. Ibid., 29.

10. Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 116.

11. Ibid., 92.

12. Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974).

13. Duane Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1972).

14. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984).

15. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler, 1986).

16. J. P. Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

17. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

18. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.) And, William A. Dembski, ed., Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

19. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism, 96.

20. Johnson, Objections Sustained: Subversive Essays on Evolution, Law & Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

21. Quoted in Johnson, Objections Sustained, p. 88.

22. Science and Creationism, see note 1.

23. Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science, see note 1.

24. Ibid., 4.

25. Science and Creationism, 1.

26. Ibid., ix.

©1999 Probe Ministries

Not a Threat: The Contributions of Christianity to Western Society

Rick Wade provides a solid argument for the beneficial contributions of Christianity to Western culture in the areas of science,
human freedom, morality, and healthcare.

What If You’d Never Been Born?

Do you remember this scene in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life?

GEORGE (cont’d): Look, who are you?

CLARENCE (patiently): I told you, George. I’m your guardian angel. [George, still looking at him, goes up to him and pokes his arm. It’s flesh.]

GEORGE: Yeah, yeah, I know. You told me that. What else are you? What . . . are you a hypnotist?

CLARENCE: No, of course not.

GEORGE: Well then, why am I seeing all these strange things?

CLARENCE: Don’t you understand, George? It’s because you were not born.

GEORGE: Then if I wasn’t born, who am I?

CLARENCE: You’re nobody. You have no identity. [George rapidly searches his pockets for identification, but without success.]

GEORGE: What do you mean, no identity? My name’s George Bailey.

CLARENCE: There is no George Bailey. You have no papers, no cards, no driver’s license, no 4-F card, no insurance policy . . . (he says these things as George searches for them) [George looks in his watch pocket.]

CLARENCE (cont’d): They’re not there, either.


CLARENCE: Zuzu’s petals. [George feverishly continues to turn his pockets inside out.]

CLARENCE (cont’d): You’ve been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you.{1}

Do you remember George Bailey’s encounter with Clarence the angel? George didn’t think life was worth living, and it was Clarence’s job to show him he was wrong. To do so, he showed George what Bedford Falls would have been like if George had never been born.

In desperation, George races through town looking for something familiar. After observing him for a little while, Clarence utters this bit of wisdom: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”{2} Inspired by the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life, in 1994 D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book titled What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?{3} The authors determined to show what the world would be like if, like George Bailey, Jesus had never been born.

Christianity has come under attack from many different directions. It is often derided as the great boogeyman of human civilization. It is presented as an oppressive force with no regard for the higher aspirations of humankind. To throw off its shackles is the way of wisdom.

Kennedy quotes Friederich Nietzsche, a nineteenth century philosopher whose ideas continue to have a profound effect on our society. Said Nietzsche: “I condemn Christianity; I bring against the Christian Church the most terrible of all the accusations that an accuser has ever had in his mouth. It is, to me, the greatest of all imaginable corruptions; it seeks to work the ultimate corruption, the worst possible corruption. The Christian Church has left nothing untouched by its depravity; it has turned every value into worthlessness, and every truth into a lie, and every integrity into baseness of soul.”{4}

This article will–we hope¾show just how beneficial Christianity has been, even for its critics. Drawing from Kennedy and Newcombe’s book in addition to other literature, we will examine the impact of Christian beliefs on society. The four areas we’ll consider are science, human freedom, morality, and healthcare. A theme which will run throughout this discussion is the high value Christianity places on human beings. Far from being a source of oppression, the message of Christ serves to heal, set free, and provide protective boundaries.

Contributions to Science

Perhaps the area in which Christianity has been the most vociferously attacked in this century has been the area of science. Religion and science are thought by many to be like oil and water; the two simply don’t mix. Religion is thought to offer superstition while science offers facts.

It would seem, however, that those who make such a charge haven’t given much attention to the history of science. In their book, The Soul of Science,{5} authors Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton make a case for the essential role Christianity played in the development of science. The authors point out four general ways Christianity has positively influenced its development.{6}

First, Christianity provided important presuppositions of science. The Bible teaches that nature is real, not an illusion. It teaches that is has value and that it is good to work with nature. Historically this was an advance over pagan superstitions because the latter saw nature as something to be worshipped or as something filled with spirits which weren’t to be angered. As one theologian wrote, “Nature was thus abruptly desacralized, stripped of many of its arbitrary, unpredictable, and doubtless terrifying aspects.”{7}

Also, because it was created by God in an orderly fashion, nature is lawful and can be understood. That is, it follows discernible patterns which can be trusted not to change. “As the creation of a trustworthy God, nature exhibited regularity, dependability, and orderliness. It was intelligible and could be studied. It displayed a knowable order.”{8}

Second, Christianity sanctioned science. Science “was justified as a means of alleviating toil and suffering.”{9} With animistic and pantheistic cultures, God and nature were so closely related that man, being a part of nature, was incapable of transcending it, that is, of gaining any real control over it. A Christian worldview, however, gave man the freedom to subject nature to his needs-with limitations, of course-because man relates primarily to God who is over nature. Technology-or science applied-was developed to meet human needs as an expression of our God-given duty to one another. As one historian put it, “the Christian concept of moral obligation played an important role in attracting people to the study of nature.”{10}

Third, Christianity provided motives for pursuing scientific knowledge. As scientists learned more about the wonders of the universe, they saw God’s glory being displayed.

Fourth, Christianity “played a role in regulating scientific methodology.”{11} Previously, the world was thought to work in perfectly rational ways which could be known primarily through logical deduction. But this approach to science didn’t work. Planets don’t have to orbit in circular patterns as some people concluded using deductive logic; of course, it was discovered by investigation that they didn’t. A newer way of understanding God’s creation put the emphasis on God’s will. Since God’s will couldn’t be simply deduced through logical reasoning, experimentation and investigation were necessary. This provided a particular theological grounding for empirical science.

The fact is that it was distinctly Christian beliefs which provided the intellectual and moral foundations for the study of nature and for its application through technology. Thus, although Christianity and some scientists or scientific theories might be in opposition, Christianity and science are not.

Contributions to Human Freedom

One of the favorite criticisms of Christianity is that it inhibits freedom. When Christians oppose funding pornography masquerading as art, for example, we’re said to be unfairly restricting freedom of expression. When Christians oppose the radical, gender feminism which exalts personal fulfillment over all other social obligations, and which calls for the tearing down of God-given moral structures in favor of “choice” as a moral guide, we’re accused of oppression.

The problem is that people now see freedom not as self- determination, but as self-determination unhindered by any outside standard of morality. Some go so far in their zeal for self- expression that they expect others to assist them in the process, such as pornographic artists who expect government funding.

There are at least two general factors which limit or define freedom. One we might call the “rules of the game.” The other is our nature.

The concert violinist is able to play a concerto because she knows the “rules of the game.” In other words, she knows what the musical notation means. She knows how to produce the right sounds from the violin and when to produce them. She might want the “freedom” to make whatever sounds she wishes in whatever key and whatever beat, but who would want to listen? Similarly, as part of God’s universe, we need to operate according to the rules of the game. He knows how life on earth is best lived, so we need to live according to His will and design.

Our nature also structures our freedom. A fish can try to express its freedom by living on dry land, but it won’t be free long; it won’t be alive long! We, too, are truly free only in so far as we live according to our nature-not our fallen nature, but our nature as created by God. This is really another way of looking at the “rules of the game” idea. But it’s necessary to give it special focus because some of the “freedoms” we desire go against our nature, such as the freedom some want to engage in homosexual activity.

Some people see Christianity as a force which tries to inhibit proper expression of who we are. But it is the idea of helping people attain the freedom to be and do as God intended that has fueled much Christian activity over the years. For example, Christians were actively engaged in the battle against slavery because of their high view of man as made in God’s image.{12}

Another example is feminism. Radical feminists complain that Christianity has been an oppressive force over women. But it seems to have escaped their notice that Christianity made significant steps in elevating women above the place they held before Christ came.{13}

While it is true that women have often been truly oppressed throughout history, even by Christian men, it is false that Christianity itself is oppressive toward them. In fact, in an article titled “Women of Renewal: A Statement” published in First Things,{14} such noted female scholars as Elizabeth Achtemeier, Roberta Hestenes, Frederica Mathewes-Green, and May Stewart Van Leeuwen stated unequivocally their acceptance of historic Christianity. And it’s a sure thing that any of the signatories of this statement would be quite vocal in her opposition to real oppression!

The problem isn’t that Christianity is opposed to freedom, but that it acknowledges the laws of our Creator who knows better than we do what is good for us. The doctrines of creation and redemption define for us our nature and our responsibilities to God. His “rules of the game” will always be oppressive to those who seek absolute self-determination. But as we’ll see, it is by submitting to God that we make life worth living.

Contributions to Morality

Let’s turn our attention to the issue of morality. Christians are often accused of trying to ram their morality down people’s throats. In some instances this might accurately describe what some Christians have done. But for the most part, I believe, the criticism follows our simple declaration of what we believe is right and wrong and our participation in the political and social arenas to see such standards codified and enforced.

The question that needs to be answered is whether the high standards of morality taught in Scripture have served society well. Has Christianity served to make individuals and societies better and to provide a better way of life?

In a previous article I wrote briefly about the brutality that characterized Greco-Roman society in Jesus’ day.{15} We often hear about the wondrous advances of that society; but do you know about the cruelty? The Roman games, in which “beasts fought men, men fought men; and the vast audience waited hopefully for the sight of death,”{16} reveal the lust for blood. The practice of child exposure shows the low regard for human life the Romans had. Unwanted babies were left to die on trash heaps. Some of these were taken to be slaves or prostitutes.{17} It was distinctly Christian beliefs that brought these practices to an end.

In the era following “the disruption of Charlemagne’s great empire”, it was the Latin Christian Church which “patiently and persistently labored to combat the forces of disintegration and decay,” and “succeeded little by little in restraining violence and in restoring order, justice, and decency.”{18}

The Vikings provide an example of how the gospel can positively affect a people group. Vikings were fierce plunderers who terrorized the coastlands of Europe. James Kennedy says that our word berserk comes from their fighting men who were called “berserkers.”{19} Gradually the teachings of Christ contributed to major changes in these people. In 1020 A.D., Christianity became law under King Olav. Practices “such as blood sacrifice, black magic, the ‘setting out’ of infants, slavery and polygamy” became illegal.{20}

In modern times, it was Christians who led the fight in England against slavery.{21} Also, it was the teaching of the Wesleys that was largely responsible for the social changes which prevented the social unrest which might have been expected in the Industrial Revolution.{22}

In an editorial published in the Chicago Tribune in 1986 titled “Religious Right Deserves Respect,”{23} Reo Christenson argues that conservative Christians have been vindicated with respect to their concerns about such things as drinking, the sexual revolution, and discipline in schools. He says that “if anybody’s values have been vindicated over the last 20 years, it is theirs.” He concludes with this comment: “The Religious Right is not always wrong.”

To go against God’s moral standards is destructive to individuals and societies. In a column which ran in the Dallas Morning News following the shootings at Columbine High School,{24} a junior at Texas A&M University asks hard questions of her parents’ generation including these: “Why have you neglected to teach us values and morals? Why haven’t you lived moral lives that we could model our own after?”{25}

Why indeed! In time, our society will see the folly of its ways by the destruction it is bringing on itself. Let’s pray that it happens sooner rather than later.

Contributions to Healthcare

Healthcare is another area where Christianity has made a positive impact on society. Christians have not only been involved in healthcare; they’ve often been at the forefront in serving the physical health of people.

Although some early Christians believed that disease came from God, so that trying to cure the sick would be going against God’s will, the opposite impulse was also seen in those who saw the practice of medicine as an exercise of Christian charity.{26}

God had already shown His concern for the health of His people through the laws given through Moses. In his book, The Story of Medicine, Roberto Margotta says that the Hebrews made an important contribution to medicine by their knowledge of personal hygiene given in the book of Leviticus. In fact, he says, “the steps taken in mediaeval Europe to counteract the spread of ‘leprosy’ were straight out of the Bible.”{27}

Of course, it was Jesus’ concern for suffering that provided the primary motivation for Christians to engage in healthcare. In the Middle Ages, for examples, monks provided physical relief to the people around them. Some monasteries became infirmaries. “The best- known of these,” says Margotta, “belonged to the Swiss monastery of St Gall which had been founded in 720 by an Irish monk; . . . medicines were made up by the monks themselves from plants grown in the herb garden. Help was always readily available for the sick who came to the doors of the monastery. In time, the monks who devoted themselves to medicine emerged from their retreats and started visiting the sick in their own homes.” Monks were often better doctors than their lay counterparts and were in great demand.{28}

Christians played a significant role in the establishment of hospitals. In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea “decreed that hospitals were to be duly established wherever the Church was established,” says James Kennedy.{29} He notes that the hospital built by St. Basil of Caesarea in 370 even treated lepers who previously had been isolated.{30}

In the United States, the early hospitals were “framed and motivated by the responsibilities of Christian stewardship.”{31} They were originally established to help the poor sick, but weren’t intended to provide long-term care lest they become like the germ- infested almshouses.

A key factor in making long-term medical care possible was the “professionalization of nursing” because of higher standards of sanitation.{32} Before the 16th century, religious motivations were key in providing nursing for the sick. Anne Summers says that the willingness to fracture family ties to serve others, a disciplined lifestyle, and “a sense of heavenly justification,” all of which came from Christian beliefs, undergirded ministry to the sick.{33} Even if the early nursing orders didn’t achieve their own sanitation goals, “they were, nevertheless, often reaching higher sanitary standards than those previously known to the sick poor.”{34}

There is much more that could be told about the contributions of Christianity to society, including the stories of Florence Nightingale, whose nursing school in London began modern nursing, and who saw herself as being in the service of God; or of the establishment of the Red Cross through the zeal of an evangelical Christian; or of the modern missions movement which continues to see Christian medical professionals devote their lives to the needs of the suffering in some of the darkest parts of the world.{35} It is obvious that in the area of medicine, as in a number of others, Christians have made a major contribution. Thus, those who deride Christianity as being detrimental are either tremendously biased in their thinking or are ignorant of history.


1. Downloaded from the Internet at on May 11, 1999.
2. Downloaded from the Internet at on May 11, 1999.
3. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994).
4. Ibid., 5.
5. Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994).
6. Pearcey and Thaxton, 36-37. Taken from John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 19-33.
7. Pearcey and Thaxton, 25.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., 36.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid., 36-37.
12. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “Christianity.”
13. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 376.
14. “Women of Renewal: A Statement,” First Things No. 80 (February 1998): 36-40.
15. Rick Wade, “The World of the Apostle Paul.”
16. Will Durant, The History of Civilization: Part III, Ceasar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to A.D. 325 (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1944), 133-34.
17. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 72.
18. Joseph Reither, World History at a Glance (New York: The New Home Library, 1942), 144; quoted in Kennedy, 165.
19. Kennedy and Newcombe, 164.
20. Sverre Steen, Langsomt ble Landet vaart Eget (Oslo, Norway: J.W. Cappelens Forlag, 1967), 52-53, quoted in Kennedy, 164-65. See also Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Scandinavia, History of.”
21. Earl Cairns, The Christian in Society: Biblical and Historical
Precepts for Involvement Today
(Chicago; Moody Press, 1973), 78-91.
22. Ibid., 67.
23. Reo M. Christenson, “Religious Right Deserves Respect,” Chicago Tribune, September 1986.
24. Littleton, Colorado. Two young men killed 12 students and a teacher, and then killed themselves.
25. Marcy Musgrave, “Generation has some questions,” Dallas Morning News, 2 May 1999.
26. Irvine Loudon, ed., Western Medicine: An Illustrated History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 55.
27. Roberto Margotta, The Story of Medicine, ed. Paul Lewis (New York: Golden Press, 1968), 36. Referenced in Kennedy, 142.
28. Margotta, 117-18.
29. Kennedy, 145.
30. Ibid., 146. From Margotta, 102.
31. Charles E. Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of America’s Hospital System (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 8. From Kennedy, 147.
32. Kennedy, 148. Quote is from Rosenberg, 8.
33. Anne Summers, “Nurses and Ancillaries in the Christian Era,” chap. 12 in Western Medicine: An Illustrated History, 134.
34. Ibid.
35. See Kennedy, 149-154.

© 1999 Probe Ministries.

Being a Christian in Science

Rich Milne covers an excellent book by Walter Hearn, both a Christian and a scientist, giving perspective and advice on how to be a Christian in the science field.

Being a Christian in Science

“Carl Sagan is a friend of mine. He said that if Jesus ascended literally and traveled at the speed of light, he hasn’t yet gotten out of our galaxy.”{1}

So said Episcopal Bishop John Spong, when asked if he believed that Jesus had ascended into heaven. This is an example of the worst kind of mixing of science and Christianity.

In this essay we are considering how to live with integrity as both a Christian and a scientist. Books about science and Christianity are published every month, but they are usually difficult to read and seldom easy to apply. Walter Hearn dynamites those stereotypes in his new book, Being a Christian in Science.

Hearn’s book is the result of having been a Christian from childhood, and a scientist for much of his working life. His desire is for Christians to enter into science and make a career of it. But he also wants anyone who enters this road to know what joys and obstacles lie ahead around the many bends. His book is by turns intensely practical and deeply devotional.

Ever since Darwin, many Christians have been uncomfortable around science. Many of us have the feeling that science is trying to do away with the need for God. Most of us have heard scientists like Carl Sagan, speaking far from their field of expertise, make grand pronouncements like “The universe is all that is, or was, or ever will be.” Is it possible for Bible-believing Christians to also be committed scientists?

Hearn’s book, Being a Christian in Science, does not try to deal with creation/evolution issues, or chance vs. design arguments, or even science vs. God questions. Instead, his clear and heartfelt focus is on questions such as, How do you work as a scientist if you are also a Christian? What is science like as a profession? Can I really pray in the laboratory?

At the outset it is important to distinguish between a “Christian Scientist,” with a capital S, and a “Christian scientist.” In the first pages of the book, Hearn, a life-long chemist and editor, separates what science can and cannot do. Science can in no way establish the claim that nothing supernatural or eternal is real. When such a claim is made, it is not scientific but scientistic.{2} While this is not the book’s emphasis, Hearn is very clear about what the limits of science are, and as Christians we must think clearly about what science can and cannot do.

Using Being a Christian in Science as a basis, we will look at what scientists really do, why Christians might spend their lives in science, and what resources there are for believers who make science their chosen career. My hope is that you will see, not only the value of science, but, if you are a Christian young person who already loves science, you will see that this is a vocation to which God may be calling you. Science is changing the shape of our world and we need Christian scientists just as much as we need Christian teachers, or carpenters, or missionaries.

What Do Scientists Do, Anyway?

Many Christians are not too sure what scientists do, and fairly sure they don’t want to know. As Walter Hearn pointedly observes in his book, “Evangelical churches that send missionaries around the world seldom see the ‘World of Science,’ or scholarship in general, as a mission field.”{3} Too many Christians seem to see scientists as “the enemy” with little thought of what they do or how they might be reached with the Gospel.

What is a Christian? Someone who believes in Jesus. Yes and no. What is a scientist? Someone who believes in science. Again, yes and no. A Christian believes that Jesus is the answer to certain questions about how we can be forgiven and stand before a holy God, questions about how we can know what will happen to us when we die. As a Christian, have you ever thought about being a scientist? Just what is a scientist, anyway?

A scientist believes that science is a “group of methods for solving a particular kind of problem.”{4} Science is not just a list of facts or theories, it is a way to understand the natural world by observing, experimenting, and then attempting to find cause and effect relationships. Scientists are fascinated by the world around them. They long to understand more than what we already know about this complex and intricately connected world we live in. A scientist knows we have few of the answers, and he or she sets out to at least try to ask the right questions so that we can learn more about how things work, and how this wildly diverse world fits together.

What does it take to be a scientist? Walter Hearn, himself a lab chemist for twenty years, gives a disarmingly simple answer to this question. A scientist needs “curiosity about nature, intelligence, perseverance, common sense, and better-than-average conceptual ability. . . . Flexibility is another important characteristic.”{5} This is a little like saying “Just have faith” to someone about to enter a long spiritual trial. What he does not say is how hard it can be to maintain these admirable traits on a day-to-day basis in the face of what much of science really is.

Mathematicians can look at the same set of equations for months before they see the relationship between them. Biologists can do the same or nearly the same experiment dozens of times over weeks and months, before they see the result they hoped might happen. Geologists may spend months in the field gathering data, unsure of how they will ever make sense of the big picture. Much of science is daily hard work, often without knowing whether you are succeeding or failing, and then, occasionally, the “aha” moment when things suddenly fall into place and you have one more small stepping stone across the wide expanses we know little or nothing about. Would you still like to be a scientist?

Next we will consider why God might call people to be full time scientists and how a Christian might live out such a calling. There are no easy answers, but if you enjoy science, God might well call you to be one of the bridges in the twenty-first century that allows Christians and scientists to understand one another. It is a critically important calling.

How Can a Believer Live as a Christian in Science?

“Avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” (1 Tim. 6:20-21, KJV)

Misunderstanding Paul’s admonition to Timothy has left many Christians skeptical of science. After all, don’t most scientists believe Darwin, and didn’t Darwin disprove the need for God? Why should Christians waste their time on science?

In his wonderfully gentle-tempered book Being a Christian in Science, Walter Hearn offers a quotation from a Christian physics professor that capsulizes this feeling as it applies to a broad range of academic pursuits:

One hears Christians speak proudly of their sons or daughters who have married seminary students or missionaries. . . [But] I have yet to hear a Christian father speak proudly of his son or daughter marrying a graduate student. No wonder our young people are discourage from entering the rigorous life of learning and research.{6}

Christians could once justly claim to be leaders in most intellectual arenas. Modern science is widely acknowledged to have its roots in a Christian perspective on nature. If we believe that God created the world we live in, then shouldn’t we be involved with the scientists who are exploring it?

We have already spoken briefly of some of the personal characteristics that many scientists share. If God is calling you to a life as a scientist it is likely that He has also given you the gifts or talents that it takes to work as a scientist. Have math and science classes gone well for you in school? Do you feel some drive to find out more than what you already know about outer space or inner space? What would life be like as a scientist?

Being a Christian in Science spends several chapters on questions like “What to Expect” and “Science as a Christian Calling.” Perhaps the most difficult situation is being misunderstood by both scientific colleagues and other Christians. Christians in science live between two cultures. As Hearn warns: “Christians in science are people with two strong allegiances, holding citizenship in two distinct communities.”{7}

The scientific community sets a very high premium on good work. Hearn writes of the importance for Christians who are also scientists not only to make clear their faith in Jesus Christ, but also to be committed to doing really good science. One author found that many Christian graduate students felt guilty about how much time they spent in the laboratory or the library, because it took time away from other Christian activities. They seemed to feel that “their professional work clearly did not have the same value in God’s sight as their Christian ‘witness.’”{8}

If God is calling you into scientific work, you must not only love scientific work, you must have an assurance that your work will be a way to serve God with your life. And this is where you may feel under attack from your Christian friends.

Most of us are used to the idea that the world needs Christian salespeople and Christian mechanics and Christian lawyers. If scientists are to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ, the church must see that scientists too are a mission field, and, like most mission fields, they are best reached by the “natives,” other scientists.

In the next section we will consider some of the controversies that await a Christian entering science, and how a believer might respond to them.

Caution, Controversies Ahead

“Scientists may not believe in God, but they should be taught why they ought to behave as if they did.”{9}

Max Perutz, with a Nobel prize in chemistry, made this statement several years ago in response to critical remarks about Cambridge University establishing a Lectureship in Theology and Natural Science. Richard Dawkins, outspoken biologist and atheist, could barely contain himself in an editorial letter about the same lectureship: “The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t achieve anything. What makes you think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?”{10}

Being a Christian in our culture is often not politically correct. Christians often see scientists as not being biblically correct. So, if you intend on being a Christian scientist, controversy likely awaits you. How can you respond?

Walter Hearn has a chapter entitled “What to Expect.” It has much hard-won advice, and he skillfully raises a number of issues while carefully avoiding taking sides. Hearn seems preeminently the peacemaker in both this chapter and the whole book.

One of Hearn’s suggestions is to learn to live cross-culturally. A missionary to Africa may learn another language, and must understand a new culture well enough to explain the Bible in ways that make sense to those people. So, too, a Christian scientist must learn to explain the beliefs of Christians to unbelieving scientists. But at the same time, he or she must also learn how to explain the workings of science to Christians suspicious of the pronouncements of scientists. And the two different funds of knowledge make fundamentally different requirements on those who hear. Hearn summarizes: “Scientific conclusions generally take the form of statistical generalities making no demands on the knower. In contrast, the moral aspect of religious knowledge puts doing the truth on a par with knowing the truth.”{11}

A second simple statement of great insight is, “It may be wise to step back from some issues even when people whom we admire are passionate about them.”{12} Hearn follows his own advice as he discusses Phil Johnson and his critiques of Christian scientists who accept the whole of evolutionary theory and then have God direct evolution. Hearn does a masterful job of stepping back from this issue and presenting mostly the views in favor of Johnson’s position. At the very least he is demonstrating another characteristic of a peacemaker: being willing to listen to and understand the criticism of those who disagree.

One area Hearn discusses at some length is the growing crisis in ethics among scientists. This is exactly the point of the quotation at the beginning of this section. As science has disowned God, it has also lost any rock on which to anchor a sense of right and wrong conduct. This is where Christians have much to contribute to the discussion. The Bible gives us a basis for deciding right and wrong that science is sorely missing. But it will be primarily in our daily work as scientists that we will show what a biblical framework for ethics looks like.

Hearn makes the wonderfully sensible suggestion of keeping our Bible among the reference works at our desks. All of us, whether scientists or not, need to live more clearly by the book we claim as our authority.

Christians in Science Have a Godly Heritage to Follow

Being a Christian in Science may frustrate some people. Some will find themselves wondering why he doesn’t take a more clear-cut stand on certain issues. Others will want Hearn to be more specific. But the often inconclusive stance of the book is also what allows Hearn to be so conciliatory in tone. On almost every issue he touches he allows as much diversity as he feels he possibly can. He is never strident, almost never critical, always positive or at most questioning. He models the role of a peacemaker in the midst of controversies that are dividing both the church and the scientific community.

Some of the best material in the book Hearn saves for last. In his chapter “Good Company” he gives us his personal Hall of Fame and Encouragement. Much like Hebrews 11, Hearn considers the lives of other Christians who have gone before him and lived the Christian life in the midst of the scientific community. Some are dead, some are newly arriving on the scene. All he considers friends. What unites them is their commitment to the work of science and their service for the God they love. It is both an encouraging and challenging chapter. There are men and women, a Nobel laureate, and the head of the government’s Human Genome Project. There are mathematicians and biochemists, teachers and astronomers. Some are members of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious group of scientists in America. But all of them, Hearn tells us, “Have contributed to science . . . while clearly identifying themselves as Christian believers.”{13}

Another feature of the book is its short but intensely practical suggestions for living out what we believe. Stuck in a meeting that is starting late? Don’t waste the time, says Hearn—pray for each person around the room or table, bringing each before the Lord. Don’t know how to pray for someone? Perhaps this is a sign you need to spend more time listening to that person.

Possibly the most valuable part of the book are the resources mentioned throughout the text and then richly documented in the notes at the end of the book. Hearn describes how to develop a web of friends who can be a support when experimental work is going badly or when spiritual encouragement is needed. He also shows how the ubiquitous World Wide Web is opening up a whole new frontier of both information and possible friendships.

The twenty-three pages of notes at the end must be read to be appreciated. It is amazing how much diverse information Hearn packs into his comments on each chapter. If you are considering a career in science, or if you are already a working scientist, you need to read this section.

In summary, Being a Christian in Science is a compelling expression of just what Paul exhorts us to do: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”{14} Hearn shows the potential young scientist what it will take to do his or her work heartily, and at the same time makes clear where many of the potential pitfalls lie, and what vast resources are available for the Christian who is serious about living as both a Christian and a scientist in this complex and confusing world. If you are a scientist, keep this book on your desk along with your Bible.


1. Quoted in Phillip Johnson, Defeating Darwinism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 110, Note 1.
2. Walter Hearn, Being a Christian in Science (Grand Rapids, Mich.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 12.
3. Hearn, p. 90
4. Hearn, p. 46.
5. Hearn, p. 51-52.
6. Hearn, p. 11
7. Hearn, p. 59.
8. Hearn, p. 112-113.
9. Hearn, frontispiece.
10. Ibid.
11. Hearn, p. 61.
12. Hearn, p. 74.
13. Hearn, p. 138.
14. Col. 3:23, NASV.

© 1998 Probe Ministries International

A Darwinian View of Life

Probe’s Dr. Ray Bohlin reviews Richard Dawkins’ anti-theistic book, A River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, showing the holes in Dawkins’ arguments.

A River of DNA

A River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins is the fourth in a series being published by Basic Books entitled “The Science Masters Series.” This series is said to be “a global publishing venture consisting of original science books written by leading scientists. “Purposing to “present cutting-edge ideas in a format that will enable a broad audience to attain scientific literacy,” this series is aimed at the non-specialist.

The first three releases were The Last Three Minutes: Conjectures about the Ultimate End of the Universe by Paul Davies, The Origin of Humankind by Richard Leakey, and The Origin of the Universe by John D. Barrow. These were followed by the contribution from Dawkins. A look at these books, and at future contributors like Daniel Dennett, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, Murray Gell-Mann, Lynn Margulis, and George C. Williams, makes the endeavor look less like a scientific literacy series and more like an indoctrination in philosophical naturalism.

The exposition of a Darwinian view of life by Dawkins in River Out of Eden certainly fits into the overt anti-theism category. His “River Out of Eden” is a river of DNA that is the true source of life and the one molecule that must be understood if life is to be understood.

This river of DNA originally flowed as one river (one species) which eventually branched into two, three, four, and eventually millions of rivers. Each river is distinct from the others and no longer exchanges water with the others, just as species are isolated reproductively from other species. This metaphor allows Dawkins to explain both the common ancestry of all life along with the necessity of gradualism in the evolutionary process.

Dawkins refers to this river of DNA as a digital river. That is, the information contained in the DNA river is completely analogous to the digital information of languages and computers.

Surprisingly, Dawkins gives away the store in this first chapter. In pressing home the digital analogy, Dawkins first uses probability to indicate that the code arose only once and that we are all, therefore, descended from a common ancestor:

The odds of arriving at the same 64:21 (64 codons: 21 amino acids) mapping twice by chance are less than one in a million million million million million. Yet the genetic code is in fact identical in all animals, plants and bacteria that have ever been looked at. All earthly living things are certainly descended from a single ancestor.(p. 12)

So it is reasonable to use probability to indicate that the code could not have arisen twice, but there is no discussion of the probability of the code arising by chance even once. A curious omission! If one tried to counter with such a question, Dawkins would predictably fall back on the assumption of naturalism that since we know only natural processes are available for the origin of anything, the genetic code must have somehow beaten the odds.

African Eve

Chapter 2 attempts to tell the story of the now famous “African Eve.” African Eve embodies the idea that we are all descended from a single female, probably from Africa, about 200,000 to 100,000 years ago. This conclusion originates from sequence data of the DNA contained in mitochondria.

Mitochondria are tiny little powerhouses that produce energy in each and every cell of your body. Just as your body contains many organs that perform different functions, the cell contains many organelles that also perform specific functions. The mitochondrion is an organelle whose task is to produce energy molecules the cell can use to accomplish its tasks.

However, mitochondria are also the only organelle to contain their own DNA. Certain proteins necessary to the function of mitochondria are coded for by the mitochondrial DNA and not by the nuclear DNA like every other protein in the cell. One other unique aspect of mitochondria is their maternal inheritance. That is, all the mitochondria in your body are descended from the ones you initially inherited from your mother. The sperm injects only its DNA into the egg cell, not its mitochondria. Therefore, an analysis of mitochondrial DNA reveals maternal history only, uncluttered by the mixture of paternal DNA like nuclear DNA. That’s why these studies only revealed an African Eve, though other recent studies claim to have followed DNA from the Y chromosome to indicate an ancient “Adam.”

Now these scientists don’t actually think they have uncovered proof of a real Adam and Eve. They only use the names as metaphors. But this action does reveal a shift in some evolutionists minds that there is a single universal ancestor rather than a population of ancestors. This at least is closer to a biblical view rather than farther away.

Finally, Dawkins makes his case for the reliability of these molecular phylogenies in general. Here he glosses over weaknesses in the theory and actually misrepresents the data. On page 43 he says, “On the whole, the number of cytochrome c letter changes separating pairs of creatures is pretty much what we’d expect from previous ideas of the branching pattern of the evolutionary tree.” In other words, Dawkins thinks that the trees obtained from molecular sequences nearly matches the evolutionary trees we already had. Later on page 44, when speaking of all molecular phylogenies performed on various sequences, he says, “They all yield pretty much the same family tree which by the way, is rather good evidence, if evidence were needed, that the theory of evolution is true.”

Well, besides implying that evidence is not really needed to prove evolution, Dawkins stumbles in trying to display confidence in the molecular data. What exactly does “pretty much” mean anyway? Inherent in that statement are the numerous contradictions that don’t fit the predictions or the ambiguous holes in the general theory. But then, evidence isn’t really needed anyway is it?

While this chapter contained the usual degree of arrogance from Dawkins, particularly in his disdain for the original account of Adam and Eve, it was somewhat less compelling or persuasive than is his usual style. He hedged his bet frequently and simply waived his hand at controversy. Unfortunately, this may not be picked up by the unwary reader.

Scoffing at Design

In Chapter 3 Dawkins launches a full-scale assault on the argument from design. After presumably debunking arguments from the apparent design of mimicry (not perfect design, you know, just good enough), Dawkins states, “Never say, and never take seriously anybody who says, ‘I cannot believe so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.’ I have dubbed this fallacy ‘the Argument from Personal Incredulity.’”

To some degree I’m afraid that many creationists have given Dawkins and others an easy target. Such a statement, “I cannot believe…,” has been used many times by well-meaning creationists but is really not very defensible. It is not helpful to simply state that you can’t believe something; we must elaborate the reasons why. First, Dawkins levels the charge that much of what exists in nature is far from perfectly designed and is only good enough. This he claims is to be expected of natural selection rather than a designer. This is because a designer would design it right while natural selection has to bumble and fumble its way to a solution. To begin with, the lack of perfection in no way argues for or against a designer.

I have always marveled at some evolutionists who imply that if it isn’t perfect, then Nature did it. Just what is perfection? And how are we to be sure that our idea of a perfect design wasn’t rejected by the Creator because of some flaw we cannot perceive? It is a classic case of creating God in our own image.

The evolutionists are the ones guilty of erecting the straw man argument in this instance. In addition, Dawkins fully admits that these features work perfectly well for the task at hand. The Creator only commanded His creatures to be fruitful and multiply, not necessarily to be perfectly designed (humanly speaking) wonders. Romans 1:18-20 indicates that the evidence is sufficient if you investigate thoroughly.

Dawkins further closes off criticism by declaring that “there will be times when it is hard to think of what the gradual intermediates may have been. These will be challenges to our ingenuity, but if our ingenuity fails, so much the worse for our ingenuity.” So if explanations fail us, the fault is not with the evolutionary process, just our limited thinking. How convenient that the evolutionary process is so unfalsifiable in this crucial area. But after all, he implies, this is science and intelligent design is not!

Dawkins concludes the chapter with a discussion on the evolution of the honeybee waggle dance. It is filled with probabilistic statements like “The suggestion is that…. Perhaps the dance is a kind of…. It is not difficult to imagine…. Nobody knows why this happens, but it does…. It probably provided the necessary….” Yet at the end, Dawkins proclaims,

We have found a plausible series of graded intermediates by which the modern bee dance could have been evolved from simpler beginnings. The story as I have told it…may not be the right one. But something a bit like it surely did happen.

Again, “it happened” only because any other explanation has been disallowed by definition and not by the evidence.

God’s Utility Function

Dawkins concludes his attack on design in his book River Out of Eden, with a more philosophical discussion in Chapter 4, God’s Utility Function. He begins with a discussion of the ubiquitous presence of “cruelty” in nature, even mentioning Darwin’s loss of faith in the face of this reality. Of course, his answer is that nature is neither cruel nor kind, but indifferent. That’s just the way nature is.

But a curious admission ensues from his discussion. And that is, “We humans have purpose on the brain.” Dawkins just drops that in to help him put down his fellow man in his usual arrogant style. But I immediately asked myself, “Where does this ‘purpose on the brain’ stuff come from?”

The rest of nature certainly seems indifferent. Why is it that man, within an evolutionary worldview, has “purpose on the brain”? In his attempt to be cute, Dawkins has asked an important question: Why is man unique in this respect?

As Christians, we recognize God as a purposeful being; therefore if we are made in His image, we will also be purposeful beings. It is natural for us to ask “Why?” questions. No doubt if pressed, someone will dream up some selective or adaptive advantage for this trait. But this, as usual, would only be hindsight, based on the assumption of an evolutionary worldview. There would be no data to back it up.

At the chapter’s end Dawkins returns to his initial topic. “So long as DNA is passed on, it does not matter who or what gets hurt in the process…. But Nature is neither kind nor unkind…. Nature is not interested one way or another in suffering, unless it affects the survival of DNA.” Even Dawkins admits that this is not a recipe for happiness. The problem of evil returns. Dawkins’s simple answer is that there is no problem of evil. Nature just is.

He recounts a story from the British papers of a school bus crash with numerous fatalities and reports a Catholic priest’s inadequate response to the inevitable “Why” question. The priest indicates that we really don’t know why God would allow such things but that these events at least confirm that we live in a world of real values: real positive and negative. “If the universe were just electrons, there would be no problem of evil or suffering.” Dawkins retorts that meaningless tragedies like this are just what we expect from a universe of just electrons and selfish genes.

However, it is also what we expect in a fallen world. Evolutionary writers never recognize this clear biblical theme. This is not the way God intended His world to be. What is unexpected in an evolutionary world are people shaped by uncaring natural selection who care about evil and suffering at all. Why are we not as indifferent as natural selection?

In making his point, Dawkins says that the amount of suffering in the natural world is beyond all “decent” contemplation. Where does decency come from? He calls the bus crash a “terrible” story. Why is this so terrible if it is truly meaningless? Clearly, Dawkins cannot live within the boundaries of his own worldview. We see purpose and we fret over suffering and evil because we are created in the image of a God who has the same characteristics. There are aspects of our humanity that are not explainable by mutation and natural selection. Dawkins must try to explain it, however, because his naturalistic worldview leaves him no choice.

Are We Alone?

Dawkins closes his book with a final chapter on the origin of life and a discussion on the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe. This chapter is a bit of a disappointment because there is really very little to say. To be sure, it is filled with the usual Dawkins arrogance and leaps of naturalistic logic, but there is no real conclusion just the possibility of contacting whatever other life may be out there.

Dawkins begins with a definition of life as a replication bomb. Just as some stars eventually explode in supernovas, so some stars explode with information in the form of life that may eventually send radio messages or actual life forms out into space. Dawkins admits that ours is the only example of a replication bomb we know, so it is difficult to generalize as to the overall sequence of events that must follow from when life first appears to the sending of information out into space, but he does it anyway.

While we can clearly distinguish between random and intelligent radio messages, Dawkins is unable to even ask the question about the origin of the information-rich DNA code. I suppose his answer is contained on page 138 when he says, “We do not know exactly what the original critical event, the initiation of self-replication, looked like, but we can infer what kind of an event it must have been. It began as a chemical event.”

This inference is drawn not from chemical, geological, or biological data, because the real data contradicts such a notion. Dawkins takes a few pages to evoke wonder from the reader by documenting the difficult barriers that had to be crossed. His conclusion that it was a chemical event is rather an implication that is derived from his naturalistic worldview. It is a chemical event because that is all that is allowed. Creation is excluded by definition, not by evidence. While chemical evolution may be difficult, we are assured that it happened!

The book closes with a discussion of the Ten Thresholds that must be crossed for a civilization of our type to exist. Along the way, Dawkins continues to overreach the evidence and make assumptions based on naturalism without the slightest thought that his scenario may be false or at least very wide of the mark.

All along the way Dawkins tries to amaze us with both the necessity and complexity of each threshold but fails miserably to explain how each jump is to be accomplished. He depends totally on the explanatory power of natural selection to accomplish whatever transition is needed. It is just a matter of time.

But, of course, this begs the question. Dawkins perfects this art for 161 pages. Despite the smoke and mirrors, Richard Dawkins is still trying to sail upstream without a paddle. It just won’t work. While many of his explanations and ruminations should make careful reading for creationists (he is not stupid and writes well), I have tried to point out a few of his inconsistencies, assumptions, and poor logic.

What bothers me most is that this is meant to be a popular book. His wit and dogmatism will convince and influence many. For these reasons I found it a frustrating and sometimes maddening book to read. Unfortunately, few will think their way through these pages and ask tough questions of the author along the way. This is where the real danger lies. We must not only show others where he is wrong but help them how to discover these errors on their own. We must help people to think, not just react.

©1996 Probe Ministries