A Dialogue with Natasha Crain on Evolution

Have you heard of Natasha Crain?

She’s the author of an excellent blog dedicated to empowering Christian parents to raise their kids with a good, solid foundation in Christian apologetics.

Mrs Crain has a great blog and has written some great articles about everything from how to teach your kids to think critically, to the potential warning signs and consequences of raising your kids on a watered down faith.

A lot of people assume teaching their kids apologetics would involve some kind of formal event: Dad comes home from work with his suit and briefcase, loosens the tie (only slightly), then sternly gathers the children and announces, “Kids, it’s time to talk about…apologetics… but it doesn’t have to be like this!” – Natasha Crain

It’s a brilliant blog, which makes mine look like a cheap soap-box. It has a lot of really great, readable information and some of the big hitters in apologetics such as Dr J Warner Wallace for example have openly endorsed and featured her work.

Scanning through Mrs Crain’s posts I stumbled upon this one:

4 Key Points Christian Kids Need to Understand About Evolution

I’m very interested to know where other Christian’s, especially big hot-shot apologists, stand on evolution. How you see Genesis, and the relationship between the Bible and science says a lot about how you view scripture, in my experience. So naturally I was intrigued to get some insight into one of my new favourite bloggers’ perspective on this vital issue.

This is actually a really great post and I wanted to make some comments about it here, not because I substantially disagree with anything Crain said, but because it seemed like a good opportunity to clarify some oft’ misunderstood points about Biblical creationists, and evolution.

So I’ve just gone through and highlighted some of the important points raised in Natasha’s post and provided my own commentary/clarification. On the whole Crain gets huge credit from me for this even-handed post.

Poor Natasha. This post generated an enormous amount of discussion when she published it in 2015.

The Creation/evolution issue is very close to the hearts of so many, and is an extremely volatile issue. Now three years later she’s going to find little old me kicking this dead horse.

Sorry Natasha, but I just couldn’t resist!

Love your work by the way.

A Dialogue with Natasha Crain

So for the sake of clarity I’ve numbered the direct quotes from Crain’s post and spread my somewhat extensive commentary throughout.

1. This basic concept of evolution isn’t controversial at all. Genetic change within species is a well-documented fact that scientists can observe within a human lifetime… evolution, in this sense, takes place (sometimes people refer to this as “microevolution”)

OK, so I decided to strategically ignore the part where she said ‘Evolution isn’t necessarily an anti-Christian concept’, because I didn’t want us to get off on the wrong foot. So we’re starting with the next bit just after it which clarifies a bit what Crain meant I think.

What Natasha says here is a nice way of putting it, and pretty much correct.

However there is some nuance that I would like to add to this.

The extent to which young and old earth creationists, theistic evolutionists, and secular scientists ‘agree’ that evolution takes place, extends no further than acknowledging the fundamental truths of modern biology and genetics, which is the very uncontroversial notion that genetic material mutates regularly, and that this has the potential to drive natural selection.

None of this changes the fact that young earth creationists are outcasts (I don’t say that to criticise, I am a young earth creationist after-all).

Theistic evolutionists and secular evolutionists often mock and utterly distance themselves from young earth creationists and would almost be offended by the claim that they ‘agree’ with YEC’s about anything (even if they do)

Moreover, this agreement is only surface level.

Sure, anyone with half a brain knows that genetic material in all of known life mutates and that every solitary organism on earth has a unique genome (even identical twins are slightly different in some ways).

This subverts the importance of mutation rates, their effect on natural selection, speciation, and other such things… even at the ‘microevolution’ level.

The main thesis of young earth creation, with respect to genetics, is less about the difference between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ evolution and more about the inability of evolution to account for sophisticated and meaningful information in the genome; information which transcends the physical components of it.

Even at the microevolutionary level, creationists emphasize that the direction of genetic mutation is inexorably toward the eventual irreparable decay of the genome, with only trivial, insufficient examples which improve the fitness of organisms both at the phenotypic level and especially at the level of the protein.

Leading on from my previous point, again even at the microevolutionary level, creationists emphasise the distinction between random mutations, and the need to increase the informational content of the genome, in order for evolution to be possible.

2. What is controversial is whether the same mechanism that drives change within a species is capable of changing one species into another (sometimes called “macroevolution”)

Almost… but technically incorrect in an important way.

Creationists do not dispute that organisms can vary even to the extent of producing new species (setting aside the persistent problem of defining the term ‘species’). Creationists point out that the term ‘kinds’ used in Genesis is not equivalent to the term ‘species’ used in modern science.

‘Species’ is a problematic term, and ‘kinds’ is quite a vague term too which creationists themselves would struggle to accurately define. What’s certain is that they are not the same. In general, a ‘kind’ captures a much broader range of variation within a group of organisms, and a rule of thumb is that it is roughly akin to the level of ‘order’ or ‘family’ in modern taxonomy.

3. Ultimately, evolutionists claim that all species on Earth today descend from a single species that lived 3.5 billion years ago. This is the claim most Christians object to

Yes this is correct, and almost makes up for the previous error. Mrs Crain has certainly highlighted that the issue lies less with genetic change, more with common descent, which is exactly right.

4. When Christian parents negatively overreact to the mere idea of evolution, they can quickly lose credibility with their kids for not understanding and interacting with the issues more deeply. Our kids need us to understand what they are learning and how to process it scientifically and scripturally. If this is an area you don’t feel confident talking to your kids about, it’s important to get up to speed.

Amen and amen. Mrs Crain deserves a medal… are you listening Christians? “If this is an area you don’t feel confident talking to your kids about, it’s important to get up to speed.”

Look I do try to be nice, but sometimes… I’m sorry but you’re a Christian, living in an increasingly hostile world. Not putting at least a little bit of effort in to learn how to defend your faith, to show with “many convincing proofs” that what you believe is actually true, and not just ‘nice’ is suicide. Christianity is now a minority and you’re setting yourself up to walk through a minefield without a metal detector.

5. There is scientific evidence both consistent and inconsistent with evolutionary theory.

In this section Mrs Crain gave the example of a childhood youth pastor laughing off evolution, and explain how in hindsight that was potentially damaging, which I agree with.

Bye-bye Christianity…

However, as a creationist, I would phrase the above a little differently. There is a lot of evidence that is inconsistent with the theory of evolution, in many cases it’s basically fatal, and I would argue that there is evidence that appears to be consistent with evolution, which does require a more in-depth understanding to see its flaws.

She rightly points out the error in the story she heard (‘we came from apes’), and explains that the theory states that ‘apes and humans share a common ancestor’, and it is important to understand this. There’s no good in rejecting a wrong understanding of evolution, when you can just as easily reject it correctly.

The real take home point from above, which is delicately weaved throughout all of Christian apologetics is how important it is not to be ignorant.

Young Earth Creationism is an extreme minority view. If you’re children grow up with you telling them evolution is stupid and wrong, and you explain it to them incorrectly (or not at all) then they will grow up, hear a different story from important, intelligent, confident sounding academics and think you were either stupid, or were lying to them. Then it’s bye-bye Christianity.

6. Our kids need to:

1) have an accurate understanding of what evolution is and

2) have a thorough understanding of the scientific evidence that is both consistent and inconsistent with it.

I absolutely agree with point 1. and I absolutely agree that we need to familiarise our children with all of the available evidence and teach them how to think and critically evaluate it. I would again reiterate however, that the evidence, when properly understood is most often not nearly as consistent as it seems.

The problem here is that unless you study the source material, I understand how it can be really hard to trust the word of some crackpot creationist.

This is why it’s so important to both learn at least some of the fundamentals of evolution, and also learn some of the fundamental of critical thinking. Learn how to ask questions and spot assumptions. It’s not as hard as you think (he says after 7 years of being a university student and doing two degrees).

7. These young-Earth estimates are derived first and foremost from the biblical data, but there are young-Earth scientists who work to support those estimates with scientific evidence and models (called “creation science”). Conversely, to my knowledge, there are no mainstream scientists (Christian or non-Christian) who believe the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old based on scientific evidence ALONE

Again, this is a preeeeeety fair representation.

Actually, there are examples of Christians who became convinced of a recent creation either before they became Christians, by examining the evidence directly (Spike Psarris, Dr. Jobe Martin), or after having spent a career in science struggling to explain data that clearly didn’t fit the evolutionary model, then following their conversion to Christianity it suddenly made sense (Dr Ron Neller, Dr John Sanford).

Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in a young earth, old earth, Bible or no Bible, everyone has starting assumptions.

Creationists begin with the Bible. Creationists trust that the Bible is the infallible authority in all matters. It is God-breathed and inerrant.

Secular science begins with naturalism. Naturalism rejects any supernatural explanation a-priori.

Theistic evolutionists, and other old-earth creationist positions tend to begin with an underlying trust in the basic conclusions of secular science (to varying degrees). Many of them do start with the position that the Bible is true and inerrant, but they also start with the basic position that secular science is correct and we need to find ways to fit the Genesis account with a secular account of earth’s history (did I use enough italics? Do you see the italics?).

I don’t really like Crain’s statement “there are no mainstream scientists (Christian or non-Christian) who believe the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old based on scientific evidence ALONE” What this should really say is “There are no mainstream scientists (Christian or non-Christian) whose starting assumptions are a recent creation.”

Evolutionists and Deep time believers starting assumptions are different. For most today, it’s not even anything particularly philosophical, it’s more like their starting assumption is just a kind of trained acceptance of evolution and deep time on the basis of scientific consensus and academic peer pressure.

Big Block of notes:

Note: In the comments section, Mrs Crain clarifies “Even organisations like Answers in Genesis and ICR acknowledge that their starting point for dating the earth is the Bible, and not science”, which still has a funky negative connotation. To say that it starts with the Bible, and not science could be taken to mean that science is in conflict with the Bible (according to creationists), when it’s not. I don’t believe this was Mrs Crain’s intention. All the more reason to explain. It’s better to say that AIG, CMI, ICR etc. start with the Bible, and argue that there is no conflict with science. The reality is that there are many theistic evolutionists that happily trivialise, downplay, or even outright reject the authority of scripture and embrace secular science instead, or attempt to squeeze the Bible into the secular models.

Also note: Crain further clarifies in the comments section “consistent with doesn’t mean “demonstrates evolution is true” or “is the only explanation of the facts””. This is fair enough, but again I would argue that it’s a little misleading, because it really implies in my opinion that evolution has more merit than it really does. I would again restate this to claim that, facts do not interpret themselves, and how to interpret them is rarely self-evident, as such they always require starting assumptions. Thus evidence can be seen to be consistent with evolution depending on your assumptions, and how you interpret the data. It sounds like this is what Crain meant to imply, which makes it all the more worth pointing out.

Also, also, also note: In that same comment thread, It’s worth noting that I disagree with ‘Jamie’ about Crain’s post “This post just strikes me as giving in to evolutionists” – I got the opposite impression. I got the impression that Crain is not a Biblical Creationist (though I could be wrong), and on that note, it’s particularly encouraging to see such an even handed presentation of the view points, which is a big credit to her.

8. An ancient Earth does not necessarily mean evolution took place. The scientific evidence for an old Earth is mostly independent from the evidence for evolution. For this reason, there are many Christians who are “old-Earth creationists”—accepting the scientific evidence for an old Earth, but rejecting evolution.

This is the last point I really want to make, and it’s an important one, because it’s relevant to the intersection between the Bible and science.

What Mrs Crain says here is mostly true-ish.

It’s definitely logically true that the earth can be billions of years old, and evolution be false. However, it’s important to note that a secular geological understanding of the rock layers of earth is deeply tied to the evolutionary history of life on earth according to their interpretation of the fossil record.

This is where old-earth creationists and others who ‘accept deep time, but reject evolution’ end up with serious problems.

The fossils appear in the geologic column in a manner that approximately increases in complexity across secular geologic time, and they also appear in a such a way that may suggest that if the earth was billions of years old, then life appears to be somewhat uniformly spread out across secular geologic time.

So if you believe the earth is billions of years old, but you believe that evolution is false, then you’re putting yourself in a tight spot having to explain why the fossil record looks the way it looks. Much more-so than if you simply accept the Biblical flood, and a young earth.

From the secular point of view, the history of life on earth is intimately tied in with earth’s geological history, and old-earth creationists struggle to explain the fossil record both theologically (death before the fall) and scientifically (rejecting evolution).

OK I’m done

So I hope you enjoyed one of my least snarkiest posts.

As Christian’s we need to understand that dialogue, even the occasional argument, is not a sin. It’s how we learn, and it’s how we move forward.

Did you seriously read the whole thing? You're amazing!

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