Is “Evolution vs. God” a Genuine Science-Faith Apologetics Engagement?

Christians are divided as to how to view the broad theory of evolution. Some believers view evolution as the biological means by which God created the diverse life found on planet Earth (often called theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism). Other Christians reject the idea that human beings are the product of evolution, affirming instead some form of direct divine creation (accepting either young-earth or old-earth creationism theories).

evolution-vs-godThe new DVD entitled Evolution vs. God pits Christian evangelist and young-earth creationist Ray Comfort against a handful of secular scientists and multiple university students who affirm naturalistic evolution (the atheistic view that human beings evolved through purely naturalistic means). The DVD splices together segments of Comfort’s interviews with these professors and students on a number of university campuses.

Evolution vs. God is an engaging and thought provoking video that raises important questions about science and faith. It also seems to be receiving a wide showing among many evangelical Christians. These reasons prompted me to provide a brief review of this film. Since my academic and professional background is in philosophy and theology I’ll provide a general apologetics review of the DVD. If you would like to read a review written by a scientist who is also a Christian then let me strongly recommend my friend and colleague Dr. Jeff Zweerink’s critique on the Reasons to Believe website.

Mixed Bag

As an example of evangelistic and apologetics engagement on science-faith issues I think the video is largely a mixed bag containing both positive and negative elements. In the end, the way the video captures and shapes Comfort’s interactions with the interviewees seems quite contrived and somewhat unrealistic. Thus, I think the film may give Christians a false impression about what it means to engage in science-faith apologetics. However, before I offer further critique allow me to address what I think are the positives in the film.

Positive Elements of Evolution vs. God

1. The fast moving question and answer format of the video does indeed show Mr. Comfort to be a clever interrogator who is quick on his feet and comfortable with the one-on-one sparring that can often result in evangelistic and apologetics engagement. Comfort has clearly logged many hours of street evangelism where he has refined his Socratic-oriented, Christianized rhetoric. Comfort repeatedly asks very specific questions that these secularists seem ill prepared to answer.

2. The question-and-answer video format  does at times reveal evidence of how both the secular-minded professors and students rely heavily upon questionable naturalistic philosophical presuppositions (worldview) to support their science-oriented positions.

3. Building upon the previous point, the video captures some evidence of how evolutionists are arguably susceptible to group think. That is, they clearly appear to be unused to facing questions critical of their philosophical assumptions. This comes out when Comfort insists upon asking for direct and observable evidence of evolution that constitutes a clear change in kind. (However, whether this is a fair-minded question or an example of a complex question fallacy deserves some careful reflection.)

Negative Elements of Evolution vs. God

Let me now briefly touch upon three negative aspects in the video.

1. The biggest problem with Evolution vs. God is that the production gives clear evidence of selective editing. Instead of allowing the viewer to hear the evolutionary scientists explain their views in some reasonable length, the video utilizes an extreme cut-and-paste (even “gotcha”) format that works to the interviewers’ advantage. A thoughtful person will simply wonder what was cut out and if the video was then shaped illegitimately. I seriously doubt that Comfort would appreciate it if skeptics of Christianity selectively edited his interview responses.

2. The video also gives Christians the false impression that the best way to witness to scientifically-minded people is to engage in an interrogation format where people are asked to give brief responses to complex questions. The problem is that there really is no quick and easy way to engage effectively in Christian apologetics and evangelism. The best efforts, especially in a science-faith context, come from people who are well educated in the sciences and who blend careful thinking with a winsome attitude and are motivated by a genuine respect and care for other people.

3. The general attitude the video seems to emit is that people who affirm evolution are clearly motivated, not by reason and evidence, but by a desire to dodge their moral and spiritual accountability before God. While Scripture indicates that all sinners engage in this behavior to some degree or another (Romans 1:18–20), this legitimate scriptural accountability concern does not mean that there isn’t an evidentiary basis for evolution that those who reject evolution need to respond to.

Conclusion

Overall I think the video is worth seeing if for no other reason than to illustrate the lack of critical thinking that can occur in both secularists and Christians. Unfortunately, Comfort’s approach to evangelism and apologetics in a science-faith context causes the negatives of the video to raise doubts about the positives.

After I watched the video and pondered its content, nagging questions lingered in my mind. Was the video fairly and objectively edited? Does the video give a false impression about what actually goes on in a real life evangelistic and apologetics encounter? If people embrace evolutionary theory merely as a means to dodge accountability before God, why are so many thoughtful and seemingly devoted Christian people accepting theistic evolution?

The broader truth is that Christian evangelism and apologetics is not an easy business. But God’s Spirit is the only one capable of instilling in the human heart a genuine desire to be reconciled to Him through faith and repentance in Christ. What effective evangelists and trained apologists must do is remain faithful to the gospel message itself and strive to practice the golden rule of apologetics. In presenting a vigorous, rational defense of the faith, they must seek to treat other people’s ideas the way they want theirs treated. In other words, respect people and their ideas—then leave the evangelistic results to the Holy Spirit.

14 responses to “Is “Evolution vs. God” a Genuine Science-Faith Apologetics Engagement?

  1. The confrontational interviews in the film are based on a clear misrepresentation of Darwin’s position in The Orgin Of Species. It may be that Ray Comfort simply does not understand how Darwin used key terms. However, any reasonable person who has a basic understanding of Darwin’s work (even if they disagree with his conclusions) has to ask if Mr. Comfort is not simply speaking from ignorance but has instead crossed the line – he understands how the terms should be used but, to try and make his point simply lies about what Darwin said. It is also possible that he lacks the intellectual discipline to understand views that differ from his own. I sense that he is acting from a deep personal conviction and that deserves our respect, but that does not mean that we should accept this deeply flawed product. In fairness to Mr. Comfort, since I have no evidence that he discarded interviews or portions of interviews in which there was a reasonably complete response that addressed his misunderstanding or misrepresentation, I will grant that the responses are deplorably shallow.

    Mr. Comfort, asks over and over again for an example of a change in kind (proposing that the only valid change in kind is the transformation of, for example, a fish into an amphibian and that such was Darwin’s use of the term). In fact he is given a number of observable examples that fit Darwin’s use of the term but he rejects these because they do not fit his premise. He goes on to reject evidence from the fossil record since he claims that it is not direct observation. However, the fossil record provides compelling evidence of the long term changes that result from those that can be observed over the span of a single human life.

    As a man of faith, Mr. Comfort, should have a deep and reverent understanding of the different uses and meanings of the word faith. He seems to cast the true meaning of (religious) faith aside in his misguided effort to discredit evolution. The disregard for honesty that runs through this product should disturb all people of faith on at least two levels. First, any product that is based on a disregard for truth cannot provide truth. Second, if the only way to defend a belief in Divine creation is to resort to misrepresentation based on ignorance or lies, then it devalues faith and should not be supported. For those who have concluded that evolution is as valid scientifically as gravity or quantum mechanics, this product should encourage careful reflection and study so that your responses to questions about evolution can be clear, well supported and correct. And all of us, should remember and reflect on the difference between faith and science and the value of both.

    While we should all defend the film’s producer’s right to free speech we should not confuse articulate speech with truth. Neither should we exempt free speech from critical analysis. It is regrettable that the film relies on such a transparent misrepresentation. The evidence supporting evolution is so broad based and compelling that it presents few, if any, fact based avenues for refutation. “Evolution vs. God” has not found one.

  2. Of course, the editing still seemed “kind” compared to how the evolutionists portray the creationists. Just sayin’.

  3. Hunt:

    Thanks for your comments above.

    1. My colleague Dr. Fuz Rana (biochemist) raises some challenges to the claim that evolution is a scientific slam dunk (for both naturalistic and theistic evolutionists):

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/cambrian-flash

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/alu-sequences-in-primate-genomes-evidence-for-common-descent-or-common-design

    For more I suggest you consult Rana’s book Who Was Adam?

    2. Here’s a summary of my philosophical problems with naturalistic evolution:

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/darwin-s-doubt

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/explaining-the-mind-related-features-of-the-cosmos

    For more I suggest you consult my book 7 Truths That Changed the World.

    Regards.

    • Sorry to have taken so long to reply – I am embarrassed to admit that I lost the link. After reviewing your response and reading some of the materials you reference I sense that some of the issues raised are based on possible misunderstanding which may inhibit our ability to address the core issues.

      The Cambrian Explosion does look like evolution running on fast forward and as such, seems highly unlikely given the usual description of evolution acting over very long periods of time. However, since the blog posting you referred me to was written, a somewhat different explanation for the events preceding the Cambrian Explosion have been advanced that may put the apparent pace of change in better context. While my intent is not to debate the finer points of what appears to be a critical time in the history of life on Earth, the more recent explanation for what is observed in the fossil record, is that the predicate forms of these (and possibly other) orders had evolved over millions of years but lacked the structures necessary for more frequent fossilization. What is seen in the Cambrian Explosion are the emergence of structures that enhanced survival probabilities in the face of slightly more effective predators (e.g. the emergence of exoskeletons would be worth the energy needed to create them if they helped the organisms with those mutations survive to reproduce slightly better than those without and those predators with mutations that enhanced their ability to attack the slightly better defended prey would also be more likely to pass on those traits creating either a virtuous feedback process or arms race depending on your point of view). Those organisms that did not have the mutations that enhanced survival or that had mutations that were less effective were thereby less likely to reproduce (or be fossilized) and became extinct. That is a brief and admittedly incomplete discussion but establishes a way of viewing the Cambrian Explosion that helps see it as a critical set of events that are more easily understood without appearing to violating the well documented processes of evolution.

      Your concerns about naturalistic evolution are widely held and your referenced article is clearly in line with the conclusion that many others have reached (including the Catholic Church). Your position (and I hope I have a clear understanding of what you wrote) is that evolution is the basic process by which life on earth has changed over time and that God intervened to create in humans consciousness and a soul. While there are some who would explain the unique capabilities of humans as an extreme of a continuum that they maintain is present in other species, it strikes me that your position is an effective blending of the conclusions of a rigorous scientific process with a deep faith in God.

      I would not presume to limit the ways in which God acts in the Universe – based on what we can observe, evolution appears to be well supported. Faith and science operate in different domains – you seem to recognize this and that is refreshing.

  4. Navicula:

    But non-believers aren’t obligated to strive to keep the golden rule of apologetics (i.e., treat other people’s views the way you want yours treated), whereas believers are.

    By the way, why close your comments with the expression: ‘Just sayin’? Haven’t you already said?

  5. I believe Ray did a great job. If you talk with Atheist/evolutionist they all give the same nonsense irrational views. All of them without exception parrot that they have evidence and without exception fail to provide any. Ray, didn’t do anything dishonest, all I can imagine is that you cannot believe how badly the evolutionists fail at such simplistic questions. This is really the rub; it takes no Ph. D to ask the kind of questions that drive evolution into the dirt and bring it down from its lofty assertions to its lowly and despised adherence to blind faith in human reasoning. Its the very same thing Christians are accused of.

    Ray showed Christians that when the professors of evolution are put to the test they fail badly. Even now there are evolutionists that offer nothing to refute Ray. Seriously where is all of the evidence that should knock Ray’s movie into the dirt? Its no where to be found. All I see is the pretense of ‘knowing facts’ stated by various evolutionists, but that pretense is blown away like the dry leaf in front of a simplistic question of “please provide one alone”. All we get is adaptation that is called evolution. Why do they call adaptation evolution? Because it carries the pretense of macroevolution on the back of adaptation.

    If you remove the jargon, clap-trap, pretense, dogma, credentials, unproven assertions and threat evolutionists provide the best possible answers on Rays’s movie. Sorry, but what the gave the world is what they really have to offer. Pretending for them that they are being dishonestly treated by leaving the real answers on the editing room floor is an accusation of Lying pointed at Ray. You need to back that up with proof not, pretense of better apologetics.

    Truth is, Ray did more with his simplistic questions to dismantle evolution than the myriads of articles written against it. Lots of folks probably feel embarrassed by that. I am not one of them.

    God deserves great praise for what He did with Ray, and If I read my bible right, Jesus did the same thing by asking questions that stumped the ‘prudent and wise’ in his day.

    • Ray,
      I guess my question, then, is why, what is the point of the video? Making evolutionists look stupid?

    • Marvin, if I selectively edited your reply, to say “evolutionists deserve great praise,” isn’t that distorting your answer? If indeed Ray Comfort edited the replies of people to make them look foolish, this is indeed a distortion of the truth. We get mad when pros such as Michael Moore do this. Shouldn’t Christians be held to a higher standard?

    • Marvin:

      Thanks for your comments.

      Four points in response:

      1. As I clearly stated in my review “the video does indeed show Mr. Comfort to be a clever interrogator who is quick on his feet and comfortable with the one-on-one sparring.”

      2. I agree that “evolutionists are arguably susceptible to group think. That is, they clearly appear to be unused to facing questions critical of their philosophical assumptions.”

      3. I have no evidence that Comfort did anything wrong and nor did I say that. What I said was “nagging questions lingered in my mind. Was the video fairly and objectively edited?” I’m very skeptical of sound bites. I insist upon hearing the questions and answers in context and in full whenever possible.

      4. A good critique of evolution does indeed take someone with a good knowledge of science. In that sense I think the video gives an unrealistic picture of successful science apologetics.

      Regards.

    • Marvin,

      I read your response with interest. While we have reached very different understandings of evolution, you have certainly put the basic issues in clear focus. I’d like to take a moment and address my concerns about Mr. Comfort’s distortion in a bit more detail before turning to the basic issues you raise.

      Darwin focused his discussion on the emergence of new species. He uses the term “kind” differently than Ray does in his interviews. Darwin uses the term to refer to a species. Ray uses the term to mean the development of a new class or order. This misuse of such a key term could be expected to cause the confusion seen in so many of the interviews. My objection to Ray’s methods is not based on his editing but on the dishonest way that he distorted the interviews. The distortion clearly produced the results he was looking for and that seems to have resonated with you and many others. I had hoped that understanding this distortion would lead people to carefully evaluate their support for Ray’s film even if they agreed with his objectives because the means matter.

      I sense from your post that there is not much point in trying to support evolution. Out of respect, I will only say that science does not need to be a threat to religion.

      You have done a good job of highlighting the reasons that there is really no room for discussion between people who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible and creationism, and people who believe differently. The way in which we each see the world is so different that there is no room the common ground crucial for discussion. We could each state our views but this is not really discussion. Even if we both were able to understand the other’s perspective, it would be unlikely to result in any change in perspective. I am reminded of one of Murphy’s laws “never argue with a ofool, those watching may not be able to tell which is which” – it seems like good advice for both of us.

      Have a good week!

  6. These “gotcha!” videos which Christians are increasingly putting out, where we seem to be imitating Michael Moore’s tactics should be disturbing to us as redeemed people. You wonder about the point of the videos–to make us feel superior? To verify to us that evolutionists are idiots? Why?

    • Richard:

      I’m very suspicious of sound bites. Whether they’re used in politics or theology. Genuine persuasion involves more than a clever comeback.

      Regards.

      • Yes. Sound bytes are what we live on. Neil Postman called this “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” It doesn’t make for an educated people. Nor does it make for a “renewed mind.”

  7. While I respect Ray’s zeal for evangelism, this film lacked integrity in so many areas. Some have already been mentioned such as edited interviews and the lack of respect for the interviewees. Also, most of the interviews were with students who have not been put forward as spokes people for evolution. Also, as you could clearly see, the professors that were interview were not given the opportunity to prepare for the interview but were surprised attacked by Ray and his team. It makes my wonder if their we’re others that had a much better response but were not shown. The proper way to do a fair interview I’d to schedule a time and place to do it and record the whole thing.

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