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.

Why are There So Many Denominations?

(Check out my previous article with a similar theme, “Why are There So Many Bible Translations?“)

Take a good look at this “family tree” of Christian denominations here. Confusing, isn’t it? And that doesn’t nearly include all of them.

Why can’t there just be one label on there, titled “The Christian Church” founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD? Why can’t that single Church have a line drawn from it all the way up to 2016 AD, with no other branches? Why can’t it look like this?

Denominations

Actually, in a sense, it is that way, but it doesn’t look that way. More on that in a bit.

The vast number of Christian denominations is something I’ve heard atheists cite as evidence against the Christian faith. As the argument goes, if Christianity is the truth and the only way to salvation, why are there so many divisions within it? Why would Christians be arguing among themselves? Surely, if Christianity were true, Christians would be in agreement concerning their faith.

Now, this argument mostly ignores that fact that historically, Christians across the entire spectrum of denominations have affirmed many of the same central truths – the importance of Scripture, the work and person of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, etc.

More importantly, this argument presents a bit of a strawman picture of Christianity. The claim that “Christianity must be false, because its own followers can’t completely agree on everything” makes a strange assumption about the nature of religion. In essence, it is saying that “if a religion is the truth, all of its adherents will be in complete unity concerning that religion.” This assertion does not have any foundation. It certainly isn’t an assumption that historical and orthodox Christianity has ever held.

In fact, the New Testament writers anticipated divisions within the Church. The Apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). There were even apparent divisions in the Church within a few years of Jesus’ ministry. The entire book of Galatians was written in order to refute the teachings of those known as the “Judaizers,” a sect of Jewish Christians who taught that all Christians must observe Old Testament Jewish customs in order to be saved. IMG_2976

Whenever talking about “the Christian Church,” it is helpful to make a distinction concerning what we regard the church to mean. Christian theologians have typically described the church in a twofold manner: the invisible church and the visible church.  The invisible church consists of all those who have been called by the gospel and justified by Christ. It is termed “invisible” because we as humans cannot see into people’s hearts to discern who has faith and who doesn’t. In this sense, the invisible church is the “true” church due to the fact that all of its members have true faith. The visible church, on the other hand, is a manifestation of the invisible church. We cannot see into men’s hearts to discern their faith, but we can get an idea of who our fellow believers are due to their confession of faith and their works before us. Charles Porterfield Krauth, a great Lutheran theologian of the 19th century, summarized this by saying: “Faith makes men Christians; but Confession alone marks them as Christians… By our faith, we are known to the Lord as his; by our Confession, we are known to each other as His children.”[1]

Even though Christians belonging to different denominations can vary in their beliefs about the Christian faith, true believers in Christ can be found throughout the visible church, even with all of its divisions and debates. The invisible church, that is, those who have saving faith in Christ, can be found all throughout the visible church, in all manner of denominations. This does not mean, however, that every individual denomination is correct in its teachings. Edward Koehler describes this well in A Summary of Christian Doctrine:

The visible church is divided into many denominations or confessions, also called churches. There are three large branches of the visible church: the Roman Catholic Church, both Greek and Roman; the Reformed Church, comprising a large number of denominations; and the Lutheran Church, which is also divided into a number of bodies.

These denominations or confessions differ from one another in points of doctrine, and each asserts that its teachings are true. It is absurd to assume that all these churches have the true and right teachings. There is but one truth. A doctrine is either true or false. It cannot be both. . . There is only one true doctrine concerning the creation of the world, the Holy Trinity, the person of Christ, the redemption of the world, the conversion of man, etc. Whatever does not agree with this doctrine is false (323).[2]

So while we recognize that there are true believers (members of the invisible church) throughout various denominations, we also acknowledge that not every denomination can be correct in its public confession of doctrine, due to the exclusive nature of true doctrine. Additionally, there may be those who appear to confess true faith in Christ, yet still do not actually believe it in their hearts. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:21 that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” These individuals would belong to the visible church due to their confession, but not the invisible church, due to their actual lack of belief. Again, Koehler states:

Unbelievers and hypocrites may be active and affiliated with a congregation. However, they do not belong to the [true] church because the terms used in the Scriptures to describe the church indicate that there exists an inner relation and spiritual communion between her members and God. . . All true believers, no matter to which denominational body they belong, are members of this church. However, if one does not have faith, then one is not a member of the church, though he is a priest, minister, or the pope himself (314).[3]

There is only one true and invisible church established by Christ. Anyone who has true faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a member of this true church, regardless of denominational affiliation. Regardless, denominations are important because they allow Christians of similar conviction and confession to engage in fellowship. We are not to ignore these doctrinal differences, especially those that are blatantly false and harmful. We are told countless times throughout Scripture to avoid false teachers and those teach destructive doctrines.

Why are there so many denominations? It is simply due to the sinfulness of humans. We have a tendency replace God’s words with our own and, in some cases, ignore Him completely. Splits occur because division and disagreement arises along with false teaching. Regardless, God is faithful to His children. The large number of divisions within Christianity are not divisions within the true invisible church, but rather are divisions within the visible church, the imperfect manifestation of the true church.

If you feel troubled by the apparent divisions within Christianity, take heart in the fact that there are true believers throughout many different confessions. Take to heart the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

 


 

[1] Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publishing House, 1913: 166.

[2][3] Edward W. A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.