Response to Professor Plantinga

Pattle Pun

Wheaton College
Wheaton IL

Christian Scholar's Review XXI:1 (September 1991): 46-54.
Used by permission.

I read Professor Plantinga's article with much interest and enthusiasm. I am elated to see an established philosopher of Plantinga's stature who is able and willing to take up the challenge with an honest analysis of the scientific data pertaining to evolution as well as the proper respect for scriptural authority. I will attempt to summarize my reasons for agreeing with Dr. Plantinga's positions and then I will supplement his arguments with biological data that may have bearings on the weaknesses of the evolutionary paradigm.

1. Reasons for my agreement with Plantinga's positions:

(1) The Knowledge of God: Both Plantinga and I accept Calvin's elegant analysis of God's revelation.1 According to Calvin, the knowledge of God is man's ultimate concern. It can only be obtained through revelation. There are two levels of the knowledge of God: Knowledge of God as our CREATOR and Knowledge of God as our REDEEMER. Romans 1:19-20 clearly declares the inescapable revelation of the Creator in nature even when man chooses to ignore it. Although Calvin admits that man cannot know God in a personal way through His revelation in nature, he definitely has a positive impression about the physical reality because he views it as the relationship between God and His creation. God is also intimately involved in His creation. Paul refers to God as the One "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Hebrews 1:3 tells us that God sustains all things by the Word of His power."

Just as the pot depends on the potter who made it, we the creatures also are unilaterally dependent on the Creator. God is the Creator who created the physical universe and called it good. He is also a Spirit. We have to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth John 4:24). God is not confined by space and time. Therefore God is both transcendent in being above the world and immanent in being involved in sustaining it.

The Bible depicts one reality: the all encompassing sphere of the benevolent  Creator and His good creation, which unfortunately is tainted by sin and is in need of the Redeemer. In this context, there is no distinction between the supernatural and the natural, if we are to see God's sustaining power in all things. To be alive is a miracle, especially considering the wonders of our body, which is made up of one hundred trillion cells working efficiently together to keep us going. God is involved in our lives by His providential control, which allows the probabilities determined by natural processes to work for His purposes. However, God can also perform extraordinary events not explainable by known processes as a sign of some purposes of His own. The Gospel of John selectively recorded seven miracles of Christ as seven signs of his ministries, each intending to teach us a lesson with spiritual meaning deeper than the miracle itself.

(2) Operational Science versus Origin Science: In 1799 after Napoleon read through a copy of Celestial Mechanics, he told its mathematician author Laplace, "You have written this huge work on the heavens without once mentioning the author of the universe," to which Laplace replied, "Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis." When a scientist is given the task of explaining how nature works, he is not expected to involve God in his hypothesis. It is not necessary to include God in explaining everyday phenomena such as rain, although it is absolutely essential for God to sustain the stratosphere so as to maintain the atmospheric pressure suitable for human existence. This kind of scientific explanation is mainly based on a methodology of hypothesis and experimentation, or so called "Operation Science." Sir Karl Popper is credited with providing a criterion of demarcation of a good scientific theory, namely, empirical falsifiability.2 This means the theory must be subject to empirical scrutiny such that its validity can be refuted. His definition was the basis for the late Federal Judge William Overton's decision rejecting Scientific Creationism in the famous creation science trial in Arkansas,3   which was also upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar case brought against the State of Louisiana.4

Thomas Kuhn and others, however, suggest that science is also embedded in philosophical paradigms.5 For example, the difficulty encountered by the astronomer Galileo in convincing his colleagues of his heliocentric insight was due to the geocentric paradigm that was in vogue at the time. The reason why the heliocentric view was finally accepted was due to the "conversion" experience of the majority of the scientists, called by Kuhn a "paradigm shift." Therefore, a good scientific theory as exemplified above is also embedded in paradigms. How then can we judge among paradigms? Some philosophers have recently attempted to distinguish between "Operation Science" (or "Empirical Science") and "Origin Science" (or "Historical Science").6 "Operation Science" is the commonly known scientific enterprise which deals with the "hows" of a certain natural phenomenon. The formation of rain by the changes in atmospheric pressure is a good theory in "Operation Science," a theory that is empirically falsifiable. However, the origin of the earth and of the universe, which gave rise to the atmosphere of the earth, is in the realm of "Origin Science." One can easily see why "Origin Science" is more metaphysical than methodological. Discussion in this area of science is often colored by one's outlook on life. When Carl Sagan made his infamous claim that the cosmos "is all that is or ever was, or ever will be," he stepped out of his scientific expertise as an astronomer and preached his religion of naturalism. Discussions in the areas of meteorology and molecular biology can more easily bring about meaningful consensus among practicing scientists than those in cosmology or evolutionary biology. The reason seems to be that the scientific methodology outlined above can be more strictly applied in "Operation Science." The success of "Operation Science" is evidenced by the technological explosion of the modern scientific era. It is gratifying to see that Professor Plantinga's evaluation of the evolutionary paradigm was based on the principles of "Operation Science."

(3) Faith and Reason: When Augustine enunciated his insightful concept of "Faith seeks Understanding," he was referring to the spiritual truth which cannot be perceived by unregenerated natural man (I Corinthians 2:10-15). Man came short of the glory of God and is totally depraved in all of his thoughts and deeds (Romans 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9, etc.). Yet God is merciful. He lets the sun shine on the good as well as the evil ones (Matthew 5:45). He reveals himself clearly in His creation so that no one can deny the evidence (Romans 1:19). Man still carries the image of God even though it has been tainted (James 3:1). Although carnal man does not perceive the truth of God, God's common grace allows sinners and saints alike to perceive certain truths of His world. Physical knowledge is one of these perceivable truths. An atheist and a Christian with similar scientific training can draw the same conclusion about a given piece of scientific evidence although they may be diametrically opposed to each other on philosophical issues. The scientific approach, when applied rigorously, is self corrective, because it demands empirical falsifiability and reproducibility. The meticulous care and scrutiny by which the peer review process is carried out in scientific publication and grant proposal evaluation are among man's highest virtues. To usurp science's role in policing her own development by imposing a certain narrowly defined view of the Scriptures is to revive the medieval geocentric obscurantism. By misinterpreting Psalm 96:10, "The world is firmly established, it shall not be moved," the Church abused its authority by imposing the Ptolemaic view of geocentrism on the astronomer Galileo, and excommunicated him when he refused to totally recant his heliocentric view. This ecclesiastical blunder has become the classic illustration in Andrew Dickson White's "Warfare of Science with Theology." Professor Plantinga has rightly emphasized our dependence on correct perception of reality as one of the means for interpreting the Scripture.

(4) A Historical Theological Approach in Biblical Hermeneutics: The bitter debate between the fundamentalist and liberal camps in biblical hermeneutics has led to the dichotomization of scientific history and redemptive history in biblical theology. The emphasis on the existential encounter with God through the Bible attempts to reestablish the relevancy of the Scripture for modern man. Yet it does not succeed in recovering the theological dimension of the Bible. B. S. Childs of Yale Divinity School has proposed a new biblical theology which would use the canon of the Scriptures as a context from which to interpret the Scriptures in relation to their function within the community of faith that treasures them.7 He returns us to Calvin's emphasis on learning from both the Old Testament and the  New Testament in concert, where God unfolds more and more about himself and his will for humans in the course of biblical history. The theological center of the Old Testament, as revealed in the New Testament, is the testimony of Christ, the Messiah John 5:39).

Theistic Evolutionism, because it denies the historical fall of Adam, emphasizes the existential nature of human evil without providing for an adequate historical foundation. It seems to present us with a paradoxical situation: human evil is real and we have to deal with it, although we are not sure how it came into being historically. Therefore, a unifying concept must be constructed in the context of both the Old and the New Testaments, since the two Testaments are mutually interpretive. The methodology in biblical hermeneutics must be a historical-theological one. While the Bible was written to include important theological truths for all humanity, the theological meaning seems to be intimately connected with the historical meaning. Our hope of eternal life is in vain if Christ did not rise from the dead. The historical fact of Christ's resurrection is the message of Easter that revolutionized the world in Peter's oracle at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The writers of the Bible conveyed to their contemporaries the message of God, and their only way was to use the languages and customs of their time. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect Moses to describe creation in twentieth century scientific language. Nonetheless, the Genesis account is historical, depicting what actually transpired in history. This is clearly evident in the eleven tables, each ending with "These are the names (generations, descendants) of...," found in the first 36 chapters of Genesis. The contents are linked together to form a roughly chronological account of primeval and patriarchal life (i.e., Gen. 1:1-2:4; 2:5-5:2; 5:3-6:9a; 6:9b-10:1; 10:2-11:10a; 11:10b-27a; 11:27b-25:12; 25:13-19a; 25:19b-36:1; 36:2-36:9; and 36:10-37:2). The New Testament also regards certain events mentioned in Genesis 1 as actually having taken place (e.g., see Mark 10:6; 1 Cor. 11:8-9). Few would doubt the historicity of the patriarchs, whose histories are recorded in Genesis. It is therefore entirely inappropriate to take the liberty of interpreting Genesis 1-11 allegorically, since the author seems to use the same literary genre throughout the first 37 chapters of Genesis. Genesis is a historical and theological document that gives an account of the origins of the universe, of mankind, of sin, and of the nation of Israel, through whom the stage for God's deliverance of the fallen human race is set. Professor Plantinga's respect for scriptural authority is evidenced in his acceptance of the claims of the Scripture as they pertain to the scientific history of the world.

II. Further Evidences in the Arguments Against the Evolutionary Paradigm:

(1) The Difficulties encountered in the Theory of Abiogenesis of Life: The improbability that the specific coding information inherent in the genetic materials of the living system could have arisen spontaneously seems to be well recognized.8 The specificity of the genetic codes and the chirality of biomolecules have elevated the level of complexity in the living system from that of the periodic order of crystals to the informational organization of human language. Therefore all chemical evolutionary scenarios require the prebiotic production of the informational biomolecules. The classical puzzle of the "chicken or the egg" for the origin of the informational system is easily seen in the order of evolution of protein and nucleic acid, both of which are integral parts of the informational transfer process in the living system. With the discovery of the self-splicing activity of ribosomal RNA of the organism Tetrahyniena thernlophila,9 as well as in fungal mitochondria,10 these enzymatically active RNA's, so-called ribozymes, have rapidly taken the center stage in the discussion of pre-biotic evolution. Ribozymes serve as an attractive model which possesses both the capacity of coded information which is normally associated with nucleic acid and the capacity of informational transfer which is carried out by proteins in the transcription and translation systems. However, the difficulties faced by the,ribozyme hypothesis are not less impressive. The scarcity of the supply of ribonucleotide building blocks in the prebiotic environment, the chirality of the riboses and the specific Y-5' phosphodiester linkage are among these obstacles.

Dr. Peter Mora's four-point criticism of the theory of chemical evolution still applies today.11 (1) Polymerization of chemical monomers under simulated primordial conditions contains no more than informational input defined by physical and chemical means, as in a computer that operates only to the extent of information it is given. (2) It is difficult to account for the switch to a self-reproducing internal control characteristic of the cell when chemical polymerization is thought to be triggered by external forces. (3) Selectivity in the absence of a living system with a capacity to adjust to its changing environment merely means that the in vitro chemical reaction occurs only when the selective conditions exist. These conditions do not persist and the temporary metastable order or function achieved by chemical polymerization will cease and tend to disperse more and more as its complexity increases. (4) Random physical and chemical forces operate to decrease the formation of complex molecular aggregates and interactions which are necessary for living systems. Therefore, there is a low probability that interacting chemical systems will reproduce persistently and overcome disruptive changes. The logical conclusion suggests that the origin and continuance of life on earth is not controlled by the above principles.

The majority of scholars who hold to a mechanistic origin of life advocate a modified version of the now defunct theory of spontaneous generation. Their reasoning is as follows: Since life existed during only part of the earth's history, and since a divine act of creation is untestable and thus unscientific, life must have originated early in the earth's history by spontaneous generation under conditions different from those which now obtain, but this no longer happens. However, the stipulation of the abiogenesis of life under conditions different from the present has removed the theory from the realm of empirical sciences, for it can neither be verified nor falsified by experiments done under earth's present conditions. Max Delbruck, a confirmed evolutionist and Nobel laureate, has observed:

In recent years various theories have outlined the possible connection between molecular selection, natural selection and irreversible thermodynamics within prebiotic biochemical trial process. While all these theories seem quite plausible and intelligent, in my opinion they tell us very little about the origin of life. I have made it my rule not to read this literature on prebiotic evolution until someone comes up with a recipe that says "do this and do that, and in three months, things will crawl in there." When someone is able to create life in a shorter time than was originally taken by Nature, I will once more start reading that literature.12

(2) Natural Selection is no longer the Dominant Mechanism in Macroevolution: There is increasing pressure on the Neo-Darwinian evolutionists to divorce microevolution from macroevolution.13 This trend is based on at least four lines of evidence:

(i) After over a century of intensive search for the missing links between the major phyla of the living world, they are still missing. The fossil record is replete with erratic rates of morphological evolution. Some vertebrates such as the major orders of mammals arose from their primitive ancestors within a span not exceeding 12 million years, while the average duration of an evolving species is between 6-7 million years. Other so-called living fossils, such as the lungfishes, pirmid ,bivalve mollusks and sclerosponges, indicate little or no evolutionary changes over ai period of hundreds of millions of years after their origination.14 The fossil record also seems to show a "top down" pattern, with multiple phyla appearing abruptly at the Cambrian era followed by the lower and lower taxa in a burst of diversification.15 Steven Gould called these bursts of diversified fossils "a comlete lottery" governed by chance since the traditional model of gradual accumulation of favorable mutations selected by changing environments fails to account for these features of the fossil record.16

(ii) The more intriguing implication of the fossil finding is its lack of consistency with the so-called Protein Clock, a measurement of the age of fossils by the comparison of amino acid sequence of the major proteins of their present-day representatives. Amino acid sequencing is by far the most accurate method of estimating genetic difference among organisms. The difference in amino acid sequences can also be expressed in nucleotide substitutions. When the total peptide substitutions are calculated from the observed amino acid substitution in proteins (i.e., cytochrome c, fibrinopeptide A and B, hemoglobin alpha, myoglobin, and insulin C' peptide) by comparisons between pairs of mammalian species and plotted against the time of presumed divergence of the ancestor of the respective species, a straight line is obtained. Therefore, the average rates of protein evolution over a period of time are constant and may be used as an approximate evolutionary clock.17 As mentioned above, the rates of  mammalian evolution as judged by structural changes and diversification of lines of descent, as expressed in the rate of origination of genera per million years measured in several classes of vertebrates throughout the geological eras, show an erratic pattern. Thus the evolution of morphological features seems to be independent of the genetic changes as measured by the substitution of nucleoticles in DNA. This conclusion is also strengthened by the inconsistency of the rates of molecular and morphological evolution among human and chimpanzee lines of descent. Morally, humans seem to have evolved much further than the chimpanzee after divergence. But at the molecular level, they are evolving at the same rate.

(iii) Elect:rophoretic mobilities of enzymes from various individuals of a species of i can allow the differentiation of polymorphic alleles and can show if an organism is homozygous or heterozygous at a genetic locus. From these data, it is estimated that in sexually reproducing species of animals, one third of their genes are polymorphic and 10% of the loci of the individuals within the species are heterozygous.18 In addition, the finding that the genic variability or virtual heterozygosity is just as high in haploid organisms dealt a fatal blow to the traditional selectionist claim that balancing selection based on counteracting selection pressures acting on each of alleles can account for protein polymorphism.19 Based on these and other data, the classical mutation theory is revived in the form of The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution. It suggests that the polymorphism and heterozygosity of the organisms are maintained by neutral mutations and fixed by random drifts. Accordingly, natural selection is only the editor rather than being the composer of the genetic message as is demanded by the Neo-Darwinian selectionists. Thus, according to this model, directional natural selection is not the driving force of macroevolution.

(iv) Michael Denton has recently summarized elegantly an argument against the gradualistic model of natural selection based on the functional integrity of biological systems.20 Examples of this functional integrity are readily available using the most reductionistic and naturalistic approach of molecular biology. The discovery of overlapping genes in the viruses,21 man,22 rat,23 mouse,24 and Drosophila25 seems to implicate a widespread genetic phenomenon in the living world. The possibility of two or more functions embedded in the same DNA sequences greatly enhances the integrative complexity of the living systems. The multifunctional roles played by the same proteins are also identified in several genes involved in the regulation of development in Drosophila.26 The small RNA coliphage MS2 provides an example of the interaction of the multifunctional RNA and the multifunctional proteins in its replication.27 Not only multifunctional genomes and proteins are involved in the integration of complexity within single living unit; the pleiotropic genetic effects are even more evident in a multicellular organisms such as the well-studied nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.28 29 Since this tiny round worm consists of a total of only 959 cells, 302 of which constitute its nervous system, one can trace the complete cellular develop ment throughout its short life cycle. The development of its pharynx is an illustration of integrative connectedness of gene-gene, cell-cell, and tissue-tissue interactions with all other aspects of the development of the organism. Based on these findings, the Darwinian concept of biological change via a gradual selective accumulation of independent successive changes is strongly challenged. There seems to be a limit of such changes imposed by the functional integrity of the organism. The only way a component in each complex and highly integrated living system can undergo a particular functional or structural change is if that change is accompanied by concomitant compensatory adjustments in the functional or structural characteristics with which it is integrated so as to maintain the viability of the whole organism.

In other words, the traditional view of the "survival of the fittest" is outmoded. Instead of evolving by the gradual accumulation of beneficial genes over eons of time which allow organisms possessing these genes to reproduce and out compete other less-fit organisms, these organisms just suddenly appeared on the scene while others were wiped out. Therefore, although Darwinian evolution is still venerated as the most comprehensive theory in biology, the mechanism of natural selection by which it first achieved its scientific fame is gradually being replaced by random processes which are difficult to test empirically. The stage may be set for a paradigm shift in future biological thinking.

In summary, the discussion of Creation and/or Evolution is deeply embedded in the philosophical matrices of biblical theism and naturalistic humanism. If scientists are faithful to their scientific calling and refrain from making theological speculations such as those of Carl Sagan, Christians will be more at ease with the scientific consensus about microevoIution. If theologians are less gullible in being persuaded by the contemporary scientific paradigm in their exegesis of the Bible, informed laymen will be more certain about their reasonable faith in the revelation of God. In other words, both science and theology are influenced by the dominant cultural patterns of our time. The task for intelligent Christians is to take up the challenge by jumping into the main stream of science and theology. After establishing his credibility in his field, a Christian scholar can then start making contributions in shaping the intellectual atmosphere of his culture. After all, the paradigm shifts experienced historically were the results of a few uncompromising scholars. With a spark of genius, they were able to persuade their colleagues that the contemporary paradigm was inappropriate. I think the stage is set for this to happen among contemporary biological thinkers. All we need is a concerted effort on the part of those who can clarify and explicate the issues to their colleagues as well as to the public at large.


1J. Calvin, Institute of the Christian Religion, J. R. McNeil ed., translated and indexed by F. L.Battles, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960, Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapters 1-4.

2K. Popper, Conjectures and Refutation: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, New York: Harper and Row, 1963, pp. 33-65.

3W. R. Overton, "Creationism in Schools: The Decision in McLean versus the Arkansas Board of Education," Science, 215 (1982), pp. 934-943.

4Edwards vs. Aguillard, "Act for Balanced Treatment of Creation Science and Evolution" of Louisiana. 482 U.S. 96L. (1987), Ed. 2d 510.

5T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1962.

6N. Geisler, and J. K. Anderson, Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation Evolution Controversy, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987.

7B S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970, p. 33

8C. Thaxton, W. L. Bradley, and R. L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, Philadelphia: Philosophical Library, 1984.

9K. Kreuger, P. J. Grabowski, A. J. Zang, J. Sands, D. E. Gottschling and R. R. Cech, Cell 31 (1982), pp. 147-157.

10G. Garriga, and A. L. Larnbowitz, European Molecular Biology Organization Journal (1984), 2:33-38.

11P. T. Mora, In The Origins of Prebiotic Systems and of Their Molecular Matrices, ed. S. Fox, New York: Academic Press, 1965, pp. 39-52.

12M. Delbruck, Mindfrom Matter, Palo Alto: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1986, p. 31, cited by G. T. Javor, Origin (1987), 14:7-20.

13P. P. T. Pun, Evolution: Nature and Scripture in Conflict? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, pp. 191-230.

14 S. M Stanley, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (1975), 72:646.

15 Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy, Ipswich: Committee for Integrity in Science American Scientific Affiliation, 3rd printing, 1989, p. 37.

16 S. J. Gould, Natural History, March 1989, p. 14.

17 W. M.Fitch, and C. H. Langley, Federation Proceedings (1976), 35:2092.

18R. C. Lewontin, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1974, p. 118.

19N. I. Kimura, The Neutral Theory ofMolecular Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983, p. 282.

20M. Denton, "The Functional Integrity of Biological Systems: Implications for Genetic Engineering and Evolutionary Biology," Paper presented at an Interdisciplinary conference on Sources of Information Content in DNA, Tacoma, Wash., 1988.

21F. Sanger, G. M. Air, B. G. Barrell, N. L. Brown, A. R. Coulson, J. C. Fiddes, C. A. Hutchison III, P. M. Slocombe and B. Smith, Nature (1977), 265:687-695.

22E. R. Spindel, M. D. Zilberberg, J. F. Habener, and W. W. Chin, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (1986), 83:19.

23J. P. Adelman, C. T. Bond, J. Douglas, and E. Herbert, Science (1988), 235:1514.

24T. Williams, and M. Fried, Nature (1986), 322:275.

25Y. Citri, H. V. Colot, A. C.. Jacquier, Q. Yu, J. C. Hall, D. Baltimore and M. Rosbash, Nature (1987), 326:42.

26C. Q. Doe, Y. Hiromi, W. J. Gehring, C. S. Goodman, Science (1988), 239:170.

27W. Fiers, "Structure and Function of RNA Bacteriopliages," in Comparative Virology, H. Fraenkel-Conrat and R. R. Wagner eds., New York: Plenum, 1979, p. 69-204.

28J. E. Sulston, E. Schierenberg, J. G. White, and J. N. Thomson, Developmental Biology (1983), 100:64.

29D. G. Albertson, and N. Thomson, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1976), 275:299.