Is Darwinian Evolution the Phlogiston of Today?

Imagine, for a moment, what it would have been like to live 400 years ago. The falling of rain, the blowing of the wind, and the crackling of a fire at your hearth are all natural phenomena that you experience on a frequent basis. Also imagine, for a moment, trying to comprehend the inner workings of these natural phenomena. What causes a lightning strike? Where does rain come from? If you can feel the wind, why can’t you see it? Why do fires start, and what is fire made out of?

Keep in mind, this is during a time when Francis Bacon’s ideas about empiricism and the scientific method were only just beginning to catch on. Most natural phenomena could not yet be described on a fundamental level, and many would not be for hundreds of years. Atomic theory had not been developed. Imagine what it would have been like to comprehend the world without any concept of what gravity is. To the common person, everything must have simply boiled down to “magic.” And, in a sense, the inner workings of science are so impossibly complex and precise that it does, to many today, still seem like magic.

German alchemist Johann Joachim Becher (1635-1682) wanted to describe, in a fundamental fashion, how combustion worked. He posited that every combustible substance contained something that would later be called phlogiston. When a combustible substance burned up, phlogiston was given off into the air. For example, wood was believed to simply be a substance composed of phlogiston and ash. When the wood was burned, the phlogiston within the compound was liberated into the air, leaving only ash. When an empty glass jar was placed over a burning piece of wood, the wood stopped burning because the jar became too full of phlogiston for any more to be liberated from the wood.

From a logical standpoint, the theory made a lot of sense. From a modern scientific standpoint, however, it is patently false. Looking back, we might find the theory of phlogiston to be a little amusing, but can we really blame them for believing it? If there was no concept of oxygen molecules and how they interact with heat, how would they have come to any conclusion other than the theory of phlogiston?

Grant me the premise, for a moment, that God created the universe and all of its living inhabitants during six 24-hour days. No Darwinian evolution was involved – God simply used His omnipotence to speak the world into existence.

Now, imagine if a scientist were to try to explain the existence of life without involving God in the process. Imagine if that scientist didn’t even believe that God exists. What would this “naturalistic” explanation look like? In a sense, this is Darwinian evolution. It is an attempt to explain and account for creation in a way that doesn’t involve God. Evolution has been put forth as a theory based purely on scientific evidence, having absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural. Darwinian evolutionary theory (in its modern sense) posits that:

  1. There is no God.
  2. Life arose from purely naturalistic origins (i.e. no supernatural phenomena).
  3. At the time of the universe’s beginning, no life existed.
  4. Over billions of years, basic chemical building blocks, by chance, organized themselves into self-replicating “living” organisms.
  5. Through genetic mutation and natural selection, these organisms evolved (and continue to evolve) into more complex and functional organisms.

If creationism is true (and I believe it is), a parallel can be drawn between Darwinian evolution and the phlogiston theory. Perhaps Darwinian evolution is a theory that attempts to explain a complex phenomenon while lacking sufficient prior and foundational knowledge. This is obviously not a perfect analogy, because creation in this case does not have a purely naturalistic explanation the same way combustion does. Evolutionists are also fully aware of biblical creation, but they simply reject it based on their premises.

These aren’t just the doubts of a rabid “anti-science” fundamentalist Christian. A growing number of scientists are questioning the validity of Darwinian evolution, and many of them are not even creationists. Many are atheists who simply believe that Darwinian evolution fails to adequately explain the origins of life. The site http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/ provides an impressive list of distinguished scientists from aroucharles_darwin_photograph_by_herbert_rose_barraud_1881nd the world who question the validity of modern evolutionary theory. While most of these scientists would reject creationism as the alternative to Darwinism, the mere fact that they doubt naturalistic evolution is remarkable, even from a purely secular standpoint.

Modern American culture and popular science have attempted to present neo-Darwinism as an indisputable fact that enjoys absolute scientific consensus. Most people tend to ignore creationists’ rejections of Darwinism, but the questioning of Darwinism even among atheistic scientists gives this movement even more credibility. In the future, will Darwinian evolution have a legacy analogous to that of phlogiston? Perhaps. Even if the scientific community eventually rejects evolution, it will be replaced by another naturalistic theory that doesn’t involve the supernatural. One can only hope the questioning of neo-Darwinism will lead some to examine the creation account of Genesis and recognizing the truth of the Scriptures.

 

 

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Reflections – Galatians 3:21-24

“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:21-24)

Have you ever despaired over a certain sin you committed, convinced it was too horrible for God to forgive? Christians shouldn’t go about life doubting God’s ability to forgive, be we certainly should always be contrite and repentant when we sin against God. The Christian life is a constant struggle between our identity in Christ and our sinful nature. Even on our best days, when we put forth every conscious effort to live as Christ lived, we still don’t reach the perfect standard that God has given us in the law. No matter how much we struggle, our sinful thoughts and desires are a part of us until we are taken home to Christ (Romans 7:18-25).

Paul, in his epistles, writes fervently and emphatically about the importance of justification by grace through faith. This is the central doctrine of Christianity, and it is where Christians place all of their hope. The certainty of our salvation does not depend on us. If it did, we certainly would not be able to justify ourselves before God. Rather, our hope of salvation rests on Christ and his saving work. God did this by placing the burden of sin and death on His son, Jesus Christ. As Paul tells Christians in 2 Corinthians 5:21 –

For our sake God made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

 

Christ died so that we would be released from our captivity to the law and sin. The law is not a means with which we can justify ourselves. The law’s true purpose is to point us to Christ, as said in Galatians 3:24 above. The ESV translation uses the word “guardian” to describe what the law does for us. The KJV translation uses the word “schoolmaster.” Combining the characteristics of both a guardian and a schoolmaster makes an accurate depiction of the original Greek word used, paidagōgos Strong’s Concordance describes a paidagōgos in this way:

“Among the Greeks and the Romans, [the term paidagōgos] was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.”

 

This word gives a very accurate portrayal of how the law works. All humans, because of their sinful nature, are under the strict supervision and oversight of the law. Before one is brought to faith, he is chained to the standards of the law and is condemned before God. In this way, the law shows us what we can never live up to. It shows us how we are not free from the law (and sin) unless Christ has freed us. The law gives us the picture of what Christ’s life and death fulfilled. When we sin, and in turn see how sinful our hearts truly are, the law drives us to repentance and draws our hearts to Christ’s crucifixion.

Ultimately, the gospel of Jesus gets the final word in our salvation. If we think we can justify ourselves through the law, then why did Christ die for us? Paul states this very plainly – “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21)

When we compare our sinful selves to the perfect standards of the law, we don’t come even close to perfection. But Christ became perfection for us. His perfection has made us heirs to God’s kingdom, for which we wait humbly and faithfully.