Summer Reading Group: “Dignity After Darwin”

This is the second post in a seven-part series for Spectrum’s 2017 Summer Reading Group. Each post will be drawn from chapters of the book Humanism and the Death of God by Ronald E. Osborn. You can view the reading/posting schedule here.

You can’t say he didn’t see it coming; he did. Irish Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753), fearing that the physicalist reductionism arising out of the Enlightenment and scientific revolution would, eventually, lead to materialist atheism—was right. It did, and we are living with the results, expressed (as one example) with Carl Sagan’s quote, a bit of inductive inference gone ape: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” (Wonder how he could have been so blasted sure?) Despite the Bishop’s prescience, his esse est percipi move—an attempt to save us from the atheistic materialism by denying the material world—didn’t do the trick. And so, today, left with the rubble, thinkers such as Ron Osborn bemoan, correctly, “the failure of philosophical naturalism/materialism to answer basic human needs or to sustain a strong sense of human flourishing and the dignity and equality of all persons.”

Yet Osborn’s “solution,” at least in the context of Darwin, doesn’t offer us any better way out, I’m afraid.

Don’t get me wrong. Osborn is a brilliant writer and thinker, and with great sophistication and nuanced thought, he wrestles with an important question: “Can we have a rationally coherent, morally compelling, and historically sustainable discourse as well as practice of humanistic values and human rights without a ‘thick’ metaphysical or religious framework such as the one provided in the Western tradition for some two millennia by Judeo-Christian sources” (4)? In short, it’s that Can-we-be-good-without-God? thing, a pithy but not particularly helpful way to deal with the crucial issue that Osborn tackles. After all, in a post 9/11 world, believing in God doesn’t obviously make one “good,” and even replacing “God” with “Jesus” hardly solves the problem. I mean, you’re more likely to find an African-American at a KKK rally than an atheist.

As the title of his book indicates, Ron is dealing with this issue in dialogue with Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche, and yet I contend that there’s a substantial, even qualitative difference between Darwin’s relationship to the materialism that Ron decries and that of Marx and Nietzsche. Marx and Nietzsche were simply responding to the materialistic noosphere in which they lived and moved; Darwin, in contrast, helped create that noosphere—a fundamental difference that, I think, makes Ron’s attempt to “baptize the devil,” no matter how well-intentioned, doomed from the start.

In the chapter titled “Dignity after Darwin,” Osborn addresses the rational results of the Darwinist propaganda coup that has swept the intellectual world with what eventually became known as the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. A good portion of the chapter is Osborn revealing the horrific moral implications of Darwinism.

For instance, he writes about James Rachels, who argued that after Darwin the idea of human dignity is “the moral effluvium of a discredited metaphysics,” and, therefore, humans are no worthier of special consideration than other animals (24). Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, Australian philosopher, Peter Singer (deemed the father of the Animal Rights movement), had claimed that “on any fair comparison of morally relevant characteristics, like rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, autonomy, pleasure, pain, and so on, the calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy—while if we make the comparison with a fetus of less than three months old, a fish would show more signs of consciousness.” Singer has argued that, up to three months after a baby was born, parents should have the option for infanticide (he later backed off). After all, a catfish has more of the qualities we associate with a worthy life than does a fetus or even a newborn.

Though he doesn’t address Singer directly, it’s conclusions like these, and the battering to human dignity in general (all the inevitable results of Darwin’s theory), that such a compassionate thinker as Osborn confronts. (And, for what it’s worth, Osborn, who could be sitting comfortably in some intellectual armchair in the West, is instead living out his Christianity by working in, of all places, Sudan.) If life, morality, and culture are just, he writes, “the outcomes of purely materialistic forces under conditions of natural selection” (29) then the foundation of our ethics becomes more like mush than tablets of stone.

“In a purely Darwinian universe,” he writes, “no statements of value can be made. Ever. Every appeal to beauty, honor, justice, compassion or purpose is excluded by the materialist hypothesis, so there is no normative standard by which any behavior can be judged, whether positively or negatively. Ethical precepts have no intrinsic meaning or claim on human conduct, but are simply additional facts of natural selection to be catalogued alongside strong talons and sharp teeth” (40).

So far, so good. But Osborn has a problem. He knows that honor, justice, beauty, compassion, and purpose exist, and as more than just “additional facts of natural selection.” And though he writes that “there is no reason to reject Darwin’s theory outright,” something must be amiss with it because things like love, beauty, justice, and so forth are more than what the theory allows for. Therefore, Osborn reasons, “The problem, we must grasp, lies not in the evolutionism of Darwinian theory but in its naturalism, at least when taken without any epistemological or ontological qualifications or limits” (40).

He also argues: “The fact that there is something rather than nothing, that this something includes not only material objects but also living beings, that some of these living beings possess sentience or consciousness, and that some of these conscious beings possess a self-reflective awareness of their inner lives and an ability to contemplate the meaning of their own existence, means that there is more to our universe than any strictly materialist account, by very definition, can comprehend or explain without doing violence to the phenomena it sets out to describe” (68).

Yes, there is more to our universe than “any strictly materialist account” can account for (another reason why Darwinism is false), even if “the strictly materialist account” is what makes Darwinism Darwinism. The whole point of Darwinism was that, alas, we can now, ideally, explain everything—from horses’ manes to love, justice, beauty, etc.—by natural means alone, with no need for the “superstitions” of religious faith.

And here’s where my friend’s Darwin dilemma comes into focus. He writes as if the problem with Darwinian theory is just its naturalism, as if its naturalism—even with “epistemological or ontological qualifications or limits”—is a mere auxiliary to it. But that’s like arguing that if you just eliminated Marx’s views of “class struggle,” Marxism would be fine. Perhaps to spare himself the calumny that Thomas Nagel faced when he, with his Mind and Cosmos, openly challenged the Neo-Darwinian myth, Osborn never explicitly explains how he intends to deviate from a “strictly materialist account” without adding the supernatural into the mix. There are no degrees to naturalism: naturalism (at least as it is understood by scientific consensus today) is either naturalism or it is—what?—Supernaturalism. And because Osborn is a theist, I assume that’s where his nicking and pecking at Darwin’s naturalistic fundamentalism is headed. Which is problematic because the moment you get rid of the mindless, purposeless, directionless naturalism of Darwin’s theory, you no longer have naturalism or, in fact, Darwin’s theory.

What’s fascinating is that atheist evolutionists see this paradox while theistic evolutionists don’t (or won’t). Evolutionist Richard Dewitt writes that “if one adds a supernatural involvement into the account of evolution by natural selection, say by allowing a God to meddle in the evolutionary process, then it is no longer natural selection. One is no longer taking natural science and evolutionary theory seriously. In short, taking natural science seriously means that an account of evolutionary development that is importantly influenced by a supernatural being is not an intellectually honest option.”[i]

I couldn’t have said it better myself, though for years I’ve been trying.

Osborn also references John Polkinghorne, a theistic evolutionist whom I quote in my forthcoming book on evolution as arguing that God created through evolution in order to save the creation from “being overwhelmed by the naked presence of infinite Reality.” Osborn, though, quotes him as referring to the inadequacy of “unaided Darwinism.” Talk about theological newspeak! What, pray tell, is aided Darwinism? It’s certainly not Darwinism, so this bit of linguistic subterfuge, in an attempt to expand the scope of the term, doesn’t work.

It can’t. The moral nihilism that arises from Darwin’s theory does so logically and rationally, and all attempts to blunt it do so but by denying the reality of what Darwinism is and must lead to.

Like Nietzsche and Marx, Darwin was impacted by the naturalism that suffused their century. Unlike them, however, Darwin formulated a theory—a “scientific” one, mind you—that sealed the deal in many minds. That is, Darwin made it intellectually acceptable to look around at all the incredible design, the “beauty, honor, justice, compassion or purpose” that screamed “God!” but now allowed people to retort: “Nope, it’s just random mutation and natural selection, and we got the science to back it up, too, thank you.” Marx and Nietzsche simply took the implications of naturalism and ran with them. Darwin, in contrast, if not creating that naturalistic worldview, gave it the imprimatur of “science,” which, according to this age’s mythology, must make it true. In short, Osborn’s attempt to keep Darwinism and to Save the Phenomenon—i.e., the things that give humans dignity—fails.

Even Osborn’s brilliance can’t square this circle.

Notes & References:

[i]Richard DeWitt, Worldviews: An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science (p. 313, Kindle edition).

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. In addition to Baptizing the Devil: Evolution & the Seduction of Christianity (to be released this fall by Pacific Press), he has authored 22 books, including God, Gödel, and Grace, Graffiti in the Holy of Holies, and 1844 Made Simple. Goldstein attained his M.A. in Ancient Semitic Languages from Johns Hopkins University in 1992.

Image Credit: Oxford University Press.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thanks Mr Osborn. These reflections will, in my opinion, surely provoke( that is , encourage) serious thinking among young Adventist scholars. They won’t have to “go outside” to be exposed to philosophical/theological virtuosity (smile) as was the case when I was growing up. But matters of oceanic compass are being raised right here by talented and knowledgeable SDA writers for the SPECTRUM Adventist readers.
In addressing the question “can we be good without God” my opinion would be " its POSSIBLE sometime in the future, IF we survive WW3, . The terrible near annihilation of the species , the degradation of starving mutant billions, practicing cannabilism and shivering in a nuclear winter will be the last ossible wake up call . After the mutants have been destroyed and rational survivors gradually claw back their wAY TO " civilisation" then and only then will humans figure what to attempt to do to prevent COMPLE destruction of the species. Recovery will perhaps take a thousand years. GOD did not create humans to be eternally dependent on him for every little thing, Even the babe in diapers must one day give up the mothers’ breast and learn to feed her/himself. BUT as one of our galactic neighbors opined to a Swedish businessman who saved one of his species from drowing(they called the businessman “Stef den Earde” or Stef of the Earth) “…The most dangerous natural law governing the development of an intelligent people states :a highly technological society does away with all discrimination or selfdestructs. To supply technical information to a people like yourselves is a serious crime against the cosmic laws.The last thing you need is technological information to increase the gap between your intellectual development and your almost non-existent social development. Carry on playing with your Mars probes for the moment while half of your world’s population lives in poverty and hunger. The only information you need lies in the field of societal studies…we call it social stability…” The aliens , from the planet Iarga, had promised Stef a choice of two gifts for rescuing their crewman from drowning while severely injured . Either a sample of metal they used to build their interstellar craft(Extra-light, extra strong) or a look at their society many light years away. In fact NATO picked up some extraordinary transmissions in the area where Stef lived and moved millions of dollars of high-tech equipment into the general area of stef’s house to determine if enemy spying was taking place,but could find nothing. The person with the highest earned credits on their planet received only four times the minimum earner. And EVERYONE had a standARD of living exceeding anyone on earth.
The article mentions the influence of thinkers such as Darwin on human philosophical thought. In fact the Nazis based their supremacist ideas and also their racism on an extension of Darwinism , known as Social Darwinism. The survival of the fittest was their reading of natural selection and so ALL OUT WAR was to be launched to prove who was the “fittest”. The losers were to be enslaved , and then gradually exterminated lest they mate with their superiors and thereby contaminate the gene pool of the master race. BUT, Darwin himself was confused, and could not explain Darwinism. He observed"…Why, if a species have descended by insensibly fine gradations do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of species being, as we see them, well defined.? I can give no satisfactory answer." The matter then arises of CREATIONISM. This can lead to a tautologous conumdrum : That is two sets of Atheists, 1, Atheists who reject the idea of God or creationism and 2. Atheists who believe in God. The first set speaks for itself , and have nothing new or convincing, to contribute to human thinking. The second set is convinced they are right since they acknowledge creationism, AND believe in GOD , but they call themselves atheists since they believe in “:Scientific creationism” and not that God is “supernatural”. That is, he always acts within known laws of nature( whatever those may be deemed to be!!!)

Cliff, it is unfortunate that you are unable or unwilling to distinguish a vigorous and forthright critique of Darwinism from an “attempt to keep Darwinism”. If someone says that Newtonian physics has explanatory power within limits, and proceeds to spell out those limits, should we pounce on them for committing “Newtonianism”? I am glad, though, that there are at least a few things we agree on. Isn’t it remarkable that many self-proclaimed creationists are pure social-Darwinians when it comes to things like access to healthcare? Let’s co-write a critique of Seventh-day Trumpians for the Review. That would be fun. Pax vobiscum.


The Goldfish in the aquarium shouldn’t really try to compete with the Belugas in the Arctic. It can’t end well.

I’m just trying to survive, so somebody tell me where the Bible talks about the second creation sequence - where the birds pull earthworms from the ground; and puppies yank the leash chasing squirrels - in its more charming version; but where it also gets nasty, involving can9ne teeth and claws. My grandson studied science a la SDA, which set up the various cycles created by God - carbon cycle - water cycle - the weather cycle; but where did the food cycle come from? And how about our metabolic system, where our cells die and get replaced in seven year cycles? Then there’s the sleep cycle; and the Krebs cycle. Why did Adam have to rest? It gets curiouser and curiouser

Our view of God is very much informed by our culture and where we are on the ecclesiastic food chain. We seem to think that God didn’t involve himself with blood and gore (until sanctuary was erected). Darwin was actually a devout Christian of some fashion; and Jesus had no problem passing out fish for lunch. To be a good example, at least for SDAs, He should have stuck to fruit and nuts to be true to our sensibilities.


Cliff thoughtfully gave us a heads-up on his “forthcoming book on evolution.” As a lifelong, well-trained, and well-read biologist, I find myself unable to keep up with the rapid accumulation of knowledge in many disciplines integral to my teaching and research. I admire those who are able to do so. I struggle to understand, for example, why the geologic column continues to show undeniable progression of organisms from simple to complex as more portions of the column are uncovered. I cannot keep up with the molecular and bioinformatics revolution that is adding so much to our understanding of biological variation and phylogenetic change. I do not have time to sort through the epigenetics literature that is revising our understanding of genetics and inheritance. Nor do I have the time or background knowledge to comprehend radiometric dating.

Cliff wrote a recent commentary at Adventist Review which pointed out that science is biased ( I can’t hep but wonder how he will sort through the massive and contradictory body of evidence–all established by biased science–to find support for or against evolution. Perhaps his forthcoming tome will avoid science altogether, which is something he is reluctant to trust. Given his education and employment history, his ambitious undertaking certainly has me scratching my head. Regarding his Adventist Review article, here is a comment that I posted, only to see it removed a few days later (I have no idea why):

This article points out some of the legitimate shortcomings of science, but fails to acknowledge that science eventually leads us closer to truth. Sure, tobacco science was a smokescreen for a long time, as Goldstein described–but where are we today on the truth about tobacco? Where will be tomorrow on the truth about artificially-sweetened drinks? On global warming? On the issue of time? On the issue of origins? Like tobacco science, sometimes “tomorrow” is “yesterday,” in which case the evidence is now overwhelming, and those who understand it can take a position of confidence.

There is one thing more certain than the uncertainty of science: those who make the loudest claims and assertions, especially about complex relationships, often have little or no understanding of the relevant knowledge base. They are entitled to their opinion, but we should not take it seriously. If we are going to take a firm position on any issue, we need to make sure we understand the facts. And if someone else seeks to influence our opinion, we need to make sure they know their facts.

Above all else, given the limits to our reason and understanding, we need to show humility. Much more of it.



The Review changed some links and many of the letters vanished. I, in fact, wrote another column yet to be posted where I respond specifically to the question you raised about science and progress.

My book isn’t so much about evolution but more about the philosophy of science. I simply try to show people that just because someone claims “But it’s science!” we don’t have to bow down and genuflect before it. As a scientist you obviously know that. But the rest of us plebes don’t know that; I didn’t know it till I spent years reading the philosophy of science, and what I read was written mostly by atheists and or evolutionists. What I learned so excited me that I wanted to share it with others. Hence my upcoming book Baptizing The Devil.


There can be more than one proximate cause to an occurrence. If I slip and fall because there is water on the floor and also because my right knee had suffered a prior injury and was in a weakened state, we can acknowledge that the water and the weakened knee are both proximate causes of why I slipped and fell. Accordingly, God and nature can be and are proximate causes of present humanity. We do not negate God as a cause by acknowledging that nature has conditioned us. And we do not negate nature as a cause by acknowledging that God created us. So why is theistic evolution regarded by some as an oxymoron, an inherent contradiction, a denial of either God or science?

The answer is because with respect to theistic evolution we mistakenly think we are struggling with two different causes when in reality we are struggling with two different modes of understanding. The historian Droysen is the first to posit a distinction between erklaren, which is a cause-based mode of understanding applicable to the exact sciences (what we would call the natural sciences) and verstehen, which is an empathetic mode of understanding applicable to the human sciences. Dilthey adopts this distinction for the purpose of establishing that the natural sciences are governed by the scientific method and the human sciences are governed by hermeneutics. These two modes of understanding cannot be harmonized. Consequently, we should not be surprised that theistic evolution will be found to be problematic by both the scientist and the theologian, even though both will concede, as they must, that there can be more than one proximate cause to an occurrence. Requisite to an analysis of theistic evolution (or more generally nature’s causal role) by both the scientist and theologian is development of a third mode of understanding that draws on both erklaren and verstehen. Whether erklaren and verstehen can inform a third mode of understanding and not be marginalized and eviscerated while doing so remains to be seen.

This problem regarding theistic evolution is worse than the problem posed by the reality that Scripture is historically conditioned. Some Seventh-day Adventists erroneously deny that Scripture is historically conditioned, because they think that failure to deny such negates God as a cause of Scripture. They fail to realize that there can be more than one proximate cause to an occurrence. But another understandable reason for their denial is that theology is not history or anthropology. Theologians do not possess the formal tools to discern the causal effect of historical context on Scripture. Consequently, theologians do not know what to do once they concede that Scripture is historically conditioned. The saving grace is that theology, history, and anthropology are all human sciences that are governed by hermeneutics. If theologians were to gird up their loins and learn history and anthropology, they could go forth with confidence and discern with better precision and accuracy the meaning of the biblical text. And yes, I realize that there are only so many hours in a day.

Let me hasten to add that I appreciate this excellent, thoughtful review and the subsequent conversation.


And I would suggest that just because an Adventist writer with the bully pulpit says this is what the “Biblical world view” is

[quote=“CliffordGoldstein, post:6, topic:14116”]we don’t have to bow down and genuflect before it
I have only heard Clifford speak once but that was sufficient to form an opinion on the locus of his skills. There are people who create information and provide new knowledge and insights. These are the scientists and scholar that have contributed to the progress that has occurred in the history of the world and the reason that life expectancy is now 80 rather than 40. There are reporters and popularizers of information that bring this knowledge to utility with a certain level of veracity. There are leaders that practice an evidence based politic and seek to their best knowledge the public good and there are those that spin information to reflect their preconceptions and reinforce power structures. These are the Sarah Huckerbee Sanders, Sebastian Gorka, Kelly Anne Conway and the Joseph Goebells of this world.
It takes a certain chutzpah to imagine that rearranging information equates to the first category of contribution to the knowledge and betterment of our world and to dismiss so easily the content of the primary literature and the concerns of Professor Kent that Clifford lacks the expertise to provide a useful critique outside his area of expertise. Until Clifford rewrites his editorial on “Seventh-Day Darwinian” to reflect Christian Grace and Charity and an appreciation of Christianity outside the Adventist cocoon I will continue to regard him as belonging in the latter category of contributors to the wider culture and the Church. The test will be if his new book on philosophy of science actually has a verisimilitude sufficient for us to pardon his previous crude pronouncements about biology and science.

You are of course correct. I much appreciate Ron Osborn book on death before the fall but cant comment on his new book as $87 for the kindle version is certainly steep for someone on a research budget and will need to be borrowed to enable comment on its content. As for Clifford’s comments it is hard to divorce them from his previous outputs as the same underlying assumptions and mischaracterizations persist.

In what way did Darwin create the philosophical naturalism that Goldstein bemoans? Darwin was a scientist functioning like all scientist do, assuming natural law and natural explanation. That he succeeded so admirably in providing a natural explanation for the development of species in no way means he was the originator of philosophical naturalism though his scientific work provides the necessary condition for the modern expression of philosophical naturalism. All science is based on methodological naturalism but to conflate this with philsophical naturalism as Goldstein seems want to do is simple obfuscation that is blind to the development of Darwins natural science.
I had occasion in response to Goldstein demonizing of Darwin to read his autobiography. Two things struck me. Like a true scientist he starts from the particular and his theory is designed to address these particulars. For him, as he acknowledges, a Baconian approach. The second was his statement of a truism that remains critical to scholarship to this day.

" I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones".
Darwin, Charles (2012-05-12). The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (p. 34). . Kindle Edition.

Perhaps his comment on criticism should also be noted by Goldstein;

“My views have often been grossly misrepresented, bitterly opposed and ridiculed, but this has been generally done, as I believe, in good faith”.
Darwin, Charles (2012-05-12). The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (p. 35). . Kindle Edition.

If only Adventists were so Gracious.

Are you asking us a biological or a theological question? Can you suggest the experiments that will test this contention? Herein lies the core of the conflict. You are asking for a biological answer to a philosphical or religioius question and assuming they are the same. Your assumption of congruence of these 2 things means that you will always consider

You assumption mean that it will always be impossible. Others without this assumption can see the virtue of alternatives that see biology and religious belief as different magesteria or as questions that address why? and how? and fit better with reality. Such you have characterized as dihonest not worthy to be Adventist.
I am a biologist who has done experimental biology and medicine for the last 30 years. Like Darwin I have been immersed in the primary data and observation and have been forced to make sense of it with honesty and integrity in publication and practice
I am also convinced of the great virtue of Gods Grace and the reality of the incarnation of God in Jesus. An understanding that is the basis of my praxis. I am aware of the genetic and genomic data on the relatedness of human and apes that is of a probability that would execute a man based on similar DNA evidence. What exactly do you expect me to do? Tell lies for God? In your calling for the casting out from the church, of Adventists who do not subscribe to your assumptions is it not perhaps appropriate to make the comparison to propagandists.


Thanks for this post, Cliff. Your reference to Ron’s reference to Polkinghorn’s phrase ‘unaided Darwinism’ made me go back and re-read this section of the chapter (p. 73). Having done so, I’m not sure if Ron or Polkinghorn (don’t have the Polkinghorn text that is quoted) are arguing what you suggest them to be arguing, i.e. that God should be thought of as somehow intervening in the process of mutation/natural selection to produce humans. As you would point out, this would take the evolution out of evolution. Furthermore, I don’t see how this would add to one’s thinking about the moral worth/dignity of humans.

Ron/Polkinghorn (the discussion is pretty brief) seem to be referring to the human ability to discern ethical values. So, they are claiming that God gives things objective values (and helps humans discern them, i.e. ‘aiding them’) and these values do not dependent on the natural/biological processes that may have produced particular beings.

It’s unclear to me if Ron is thinking about values like a Platonist, i.e. there is some objective form of the Good out there, or he thinks particular things are valuable as particular things, i.e. humans as humans, but the point seems to be that the worth of persons/things do not depend on how exactly they have come to be. Everything finds its ultimate source in God, giving everything intrinsic value.


Appreciate your entering into the conversation, pauluc. I realize Cliff has written and commented on related topics in the past, using terminology and tone that some of us wish were a bit more measured and tempered. For the purposes of the present discussion, the summer reading group, I’m going to ask (as one of the editors of the series) that we keep the discussion focused on what Cliff has contributed here, and the substance of his claims about the book, and the claims of the book itself. Thanks so much.

1 Like

Pauluc, regarding the price of the book, yes, it’s a bit steep. OUP, the publisher, is offering participants of the group a 30% discount, however, for books purchased directly through the website. Here’s the coupon code if you are interested: AAFLYG6. (This brings the cost of the book down to $56. Still not the cost of a trade book, but closer to reasonable, I think.)

1 Like

I believe I’m allowed to respond to the author. I think you’re a gifted writer, Cliff, and I used to enjoy your prose several decades ago when you were more focused on religious liberty and righteousness by faith. I have been disappointed with some of your more recent contributions, mostly because your tone has become, at times, strident and intolerant. I know that I can come across that way at times myself, and I think we should all make a conscientious effort to avoid it.

I’m pleased to learn that my comments (and those of others) disappeared from the Adventist Review for innocuous reasons, and that you seem to have appreciated some of what I had stated in the comment. There is much to be understood, from many angles, regarding science and evolution. I applaud your interest in the topic. I just ask that you be gentle on those you disagree with, especially in areas that are complex and difficult to understand; we all have our biases and faults, and see but dimly the world around us. At the moment, I have the image in my mind of the book cover from He Taught Love (a 1987 [condensed?] version of Christ’s Object Lessons). I hope you would agree that we should all emulate that title, and seek to bring together rather than divide.

Blessings, PK


Do you have a kindle promotion code? Still is AU $88 and that code is not accepted. Thanks

1 Like

Look, for anyone offended by my past tomes on here, or elsewhere, I apologize. At times my passion over certain topics clouds my judgment (for what it’s worth, I years ago read an old comment on the Spectrum blog and thought “What a mean-spirited schmuck who wrote that” only to get to the bottom of it and see that it was-yours truly!).

And while I apologize for my tone, I don’t apologize for my position that there’s no way any general Darwinian paradigm of origins can be harmonized with anything close to the Bible, or anything even remotely Christian.

Ron’s chapter on Darwin in his new book, as well as some of the books he’s turned me onto (David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God and Conor Cunnighan’s _Darwin’s Pious Idea) are powerful critiques of hard-core materialism or naturalism, and some of the arguments are very trenchant, though as I read them I have asked myself, “How would a true ontological naturalist, a good one, not like Dawkins, answer their arguments?” But, even as they attack this worldview they at the same time want to keep their Darwin, which is, IMHO, the fundamental flaw.

Let’s argue that there’s no a priori reason that Darwinism must be materialist only (that its an analytic premise to it). Fine. But even if one accepted that, how does one even begin to square it with the Bible, in any way at all that doesn’t make a mockery of the texts? (My good friend Ron’s Death Before The Fall, an attempt to make it fit with Scripture, was, well, not Ron at his best, to say the least). I have read all sorts of theistic evolutionist attempts to harmonize them and, sadly, it makes Christians who try look rather silly. I’ve read some thoughtful atheist evolutionist who, without the rancor of a Dawkins, comment on just how “contrived” these attempts are, I wholeheartedly agree.

I mean, one example. Can someone explain to me the Adam-Christ parallel, made over and over, in Romans 5, with any kind evolutionary model? I’d like something serious and not like Des Ford’s argument that the Adam of Genesis 1-3:24 was a completely different man, separated by about 100,000 years, from the Adam starting in Genesis 4:1.

Paulac, brother, you want me to apologize for “Seventh-day Darwinians,” which I will never do (I apologized right after for the tone), because as stated above I take the position that it’s a logical and rationally impossibility to harmonize billions of years of the Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian Synthesis with anything remotely biblical, Christian, or especially Seventh-day Adventist. Meanwhile, you loosely compare me to Joseph Goebbels?

Why don’t we do, as Zane suggested, just focus on the review of Ron’s book and the comments here?

Yes, Professor Kent, I was frustrated that they changed the link and the letters were lost, because my next column was in response to your comment (though I didn’t mention you by name) and I might have misunderstood your specific point because I had to go from memory and didn’t have the quote in front of me. But the column, which should be out I hope in a day or so, deals with the idea of science progressing toward the truth in the area of “origins.” That’s what I respond to.


Cliff, I have enjoyed your incisive comments through the years and your unyielding support for the Biblical Creationism. I, too, do not see how one can somehow meld them into a unified whole. Impossible.

As another example, how is it that God could use death as his tool to create diversity, and then call it the last enemy to be destroyed (! Cor 15:26)? Did he change his mind, deciding that the millions of millennia needed to bring forth man were a mistake? Perhaps a touch of schizophrenia on his part?

If death is part of God’s method of creating, the way he does things on a very basic level, then the plan of salvation mentioned in the NT must be a misinterpretation of his will. Death is just as essential a part as life. Eternal life is then a myth, and we must face up to it. Jesus’ work is thus a figment of the NT writers’ imaginations, who saw that his ultimate goal was the defeat of death.

That is how evolutionary theory undermines the whole process of salvation, and discredits Christ and his work.


Cliff and Allen,

There are those who do not accept short-term chronology or other aspects of the Church’s theology on origins, but remain eager to associate with and listen to the Christian and SDA message of salvation. I assume you are eager to push these souls away by delegitimizing their faith because you think they are dangerous, and a threat to those who might entertain doubts–especially the young people. However, many would argue (and I have seen research documenting) that the tone and spirit of intolerance are more destructive to faith than ideas; people leave the fold largely because of negative social interactions rather than theology. Ellen White certainly pointed out the damage caused by poor choice of words and intemperance.

Satan is eager to push these souls out of the Church, even as the Holy Spirit continues to move on their hearts. I wish you would not ally yourselves with the devil’s cause.


In support of your point Phil, there is no contradiction in saying that every person is created by God and made in the image of God, and saying at the exact same time that every person is made through the union of a sperm and an egg in the genetic image of their parents. Theological meanings should not be reduced or pinned down in materialistic terms, as in the project of “creation science”, but this does not mean that theology and science are in opposition.


I will have to check with the publisher to see if the code works on electronic versions of the book and also internationally. (I think the representative I am in touch with is based out of the US.) Are you trying to purchase the book off the OUP website?

1 Like


In Ron’s chapter on Darwin, after he has exposed Darwin’s nihilism, he asks the question: «What, then, are the alternatives? » (p. 65). He claims a few pages further down the road that he is an «acknowledger of transcendence.» I presume he is aiming for a position that transcends pure mechanistic naturalism, but I wonder, however, besides that, what kind of transcendence is he talking about?

It is no secret that the Enlightenment has posed some real challenges to the grounding of ethical norms. And according to Nietzsche, the challenges are much more radical than many of us would like to think: «They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality […] When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. », argues Nietzsche in Twilights of Idols.

For the late Bernard Williams (a British moral philosopher) a key question was whether we, moderns, can affirm “thick ethical concept” as guides to human action, or do we have to face up to the radical contingency of all our inherited ethical norms. Williams conclusion is that there are no ways we can avoid the challenges of ethical contingency.

Martha Nussbaum, criticising Williams “world-weariness” (his pessimism) remarks that “[Doing] good for a bad world did not energize [Williams], because his attitude to the world was at some level without hope. The world was a mess, and there was no saving or even improving it. Perhaps Kant was right to say that one simply has to adopt some “practical postulates” of a more hopeful kind if one is to engage constructively in the world of human affairs.” (Reading Bernard Williams).

Christoffer Lasch writes, in my mind compellingly, about hope: “The essence of hope […] lie in the ‘conviction’ that life is a critical affair, […] that nothing in it is abiding, that nothing temporal is able to beer the weight of human faith, and yet that life is good and that conviction of its goodness forbids us to give up any part of human life as beyond hope of redemption. […] Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction.” (The True and Only Heaven)

Few would deny that a defining characteristic of Christianity, for many of us, is the hopefulness inherent in our Christian worldview. In what way can this Christian hopefullness be a platform for ethical norms?


Professor Kent, sir . . .

We’ve already discussed my past linguistic mien on the blog, and for that I have apologized and expressed my mea culpa, so why drag that up again?

I am not “eager to push” anyone out of the church or delegitimize anyone’s faith. I simply would like to have a few questions answered regarding the meaning of some Bible texts.

So, instead of chiding me for allying myself with the “devil’s cause,” why not answer my question about Paul’s one-to-one parallel between an obviously literal Adam and an obviously literal Jesus, in Romans 5? Can you, or anyone on here, explain what, in a theistic evolutionary model, those texts mean?

Thank you.