Preachers, Butterflies, and Evolution
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Mar 01
"There is no difference between evolution and creationism," so said the preacher. In a recent edition of our local newspaper (Greenville News, SC), a story ran concerning a preacher who is also a lepidopterist, or butterfly taxonomist. Ron Gatrelle recently discovered a new species which is "virtually indistinguishable from a similar insect." As he holds a tray of "skipper" butterflies in his hands, he holds what scientists would call "a tray full of evolution." This pastor would not disagree. Of course, we would.
Gatrelle is a lifelong lepidopterist, a former officer of the International Lepidopterists' Society, and founder of the International Lepidoptera Survey. He has classified twenty-three types of butterflies. He is also an ordained minister in the International Pentecostal Holiness church, which teaches the inerrancy of Scripture.
Concerning butterflies and inerrancy, Gatrelle sees no contradiction between evolution and the biblical account of a six-day creation. He explains, "there is no difference between evolution and creationism--creation is not past tense. What did God create? He created life. Life is not static, life moves." This sentiment is reminiscent of the scientist's line in Jurassic Park, "life will find a way." It's alarming when the culture sees no problem in wedding romantic sentiment, postmodern contradiction, evolutionary theory, and a religious commitment to faith in faith. In the movie, when confronted with no way to sexually reproduce, the sentiment that life will find a way is offered. It has to; it just has to, doesn't it? Never mind the scientific fact that male dinosaurs cannot reproduce without female partners. On an evolutionary worldview, if life can spring from nothing (this is the foundation of evolution--the problem is the proverbial which came first, the chicken or the egg--you can't have DNA without a protein, and you can’t have a protein without DNA--how did life spring forth without either?), then single male animals can reproduce themselves without help. They just believe life will find a way, and that belief makes it so. Such sentiment has no place when truth is at stake.
Of course, a confusion of language exists here. To say there is no difference between evolution and creationism is either ignorant or relativistic. In our postmodern culture, that statement would normally be attributed to the latter. However, in light of who Gatrelle is as a presumably conservative pastor, the former is more likely. One may attempt to reconcile the two dynamics via Progressive Evolution, but, the fact remains that in and of themselves, evolution and creationism are mutually exclusive concepts. A multitude of verses affirm that God created all things out of nothing. He did not initiate a process of life that moves by way of macroevolution. We need not even entertain as evolution the discovery of a new species of butterfly. It is still a butterfly, not a tiger, or something else (see my previous blog on Intelligent Design regarding the fact that mutations in the macroevolutionary sense are impossible).
Even more alarming are Christian leaders who adopt the same fuzzy thinking. The pastor continues, "life changes and evolution is the function by which life moves." Faith in faith has taken priority over faith in Scripture. Symbolically, he keeps his Bible not too far from the shelf which holds tomes of books related to his butterfly fascination and trays of collected specimens.
Unfortunately, the temptation to reconcile evolution with Scripture has been going on in Christian circles since the days of Darwin. Christians should not be afraid of true science. In fact, scientific endeavor is critical to a Christian worldview. God is indeed the creator of all things and He has revealed Himself to us in that creation. The more we study God's creation, the greater appreciation we gain of God. The Heavens do indeed tell of His glory (Ps. 19:1). But evolution can hardly be described as a coherent science (see my previous blog on Intelligent Design for an explanation). Many able theologians have fallen into the trap of attempted reconciliation between the two competing worldviews of evolution and creationism. The old Gap Theory is but one attempt at such among many. Even today a host of day age theories are offered to us for much the same reason. Thinking Christians dare not bury their heads in the sand when it comes to science and natural law. Yet, they dare not embrace a theory that contradicts Scripture, particularly a theory that is full of holes and being rejected by many secular scientists. We are not unaware of the different genres in Scripture. One cannot understand the book of Revelation without understanding apocalyptic literature for example. Yet, Genesis 1 may be described as poetic narrative. As narrative, facts are recorded. Moreover, a six day creation is affirmed in the straightforward text of Ex. 20:11.
What compels well-meaning Christians to try and reconcile evolution with Scripture? No doubt on the part of some the issue is ignorance. Too many Christians are ignorant of the flaws in evolution and too many more are ignorant of biblical scholarship. On the part of others, perhaps the issue is intimidation. Christians feel intimidated in the face of fierce criticism, or in the face of supposed overwhelming evidence. Many do not want to appear to be ignorant. Then, of course, the academic world places tremendous pressure upon those who are out of step with that which is politically correct. Just ask Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Rick Steinberg (see Dr. Tony Beam's blog concerning when science becomes a religion).
According to College of Charleston associate professor of biology, Brian Scholtens, "there are maybe 1,000 serious butterfly people in the United States, and fewer than that stay active all the time. Ron has been one of them. He is very, very valuable to us (would that we could say that)." Scholtens also notes that Charles Darwin was an ordained minister in the Church of England. I suppose that fact alone lends credence to the notion that evolution and creationism do not conflict. The professor opines, "what they were doing by studying nature was studying God's creation. Back then it would not have been considered odd at all." Of course, defining evolution as the study of God's creation is debatable. Nor do Christians find the study of that creation an odd endeavor today.
A major problem exists in Christian circles when pastors and others allow their training in other disciplines to dictate their exegesis of Scripture. Examples from a variety of fields are manifold. How many have allowed their rebellious hearts or their sense of being mistreated to influence their interpretation of Scripture related to government for example? How many have allowed a commitment to a state church cloud the plain teaching of the New Testament? Theonomists have some explaining to do, as do Divine Righters and individuals in other camps for other reasons. So-called truth or law gleaned from other disciplines may not sit in judgment over Scripture. It is Scripture that sits in judgment over all other disciplines. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. There is no neutrality when it comes to discussing these issues. Not only is it impossible to look at General Revelation (science) in a completely accurate way apart from Christ, but it is impossible to understand completely the War of 1812 apart from Christ. It is grievous when Christians lay aside their worldview and attempt to persuade without a presuppositional commitment to Scripture. How much more grievous is it when Christians lay aside their worldview when it comes to biblical interpretation. Meaning must be extracted from the text, not imposed upon the text.
At its heart, the problem is simply a failure to take God at His word. Remember, "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6)." Gatrelle talks about the "Big Bang" theory in terms of "Let there be light." Aside from the fact that no Christian with any understanding of the "Big Bang" theory and the command of God regarding light would speak this way, where is faith in God's claim to have created all things ex nihlo, out of nothing? "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible (Heb. 11:3)."
Joe Halek, a member of Emmanuel Christian Fellowship, remarked that when he first heard "Pastor Ron," he thought his views, in his words, "sounded bogus." "I’m not a big evolution buff. I believe the Scriptures. But I've come to understand Christians can't be closed-minded to things that are absolute fact." What does he consider as absolute fact? Surely he does not mean evolution. No one says evolution is absolute fact. It is still a theory even if U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper and the ACLU disagree. Is this the legacy Gatrelle wants to leave? Would he leave legacy of misinformation based upon a love for butterflies and a misunderstanding of what he is looking at in terms of macro-evolution? Would he have his church members refer to evolution as absolute fact? Should we not be concerned about leading the faithful astray? The Lord Jesus had such a concern.
We do not wish to be overly harsh with fellow-believers. We recognize a distinction between day-age theorists (who speak of God creating apart from an evolutionary process) and progressive evolutionists. We do not call into question Gatrelle's commitment to Christ. We simply urge Christians to embrace the God of truth and the truth of God. To say there is no difference between evolution and creationism is non-sense. One view denies that God exists while the other view affirms that God is (Heb. 11:6) Evolution is, to borrow a word, bogus. It was God who said, “in the beginning God.” What more does He need to say?