Geology student, Ruan de Wet, on Christianity, Evolution & Science.


Ruan de Wet is 22 year old geology student studying at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is in his final of BSc in Applied Biology/Geology. He describes himself as “a regular Christian who’s battling with questions on faith, morality, my place in the world and the scandal that through grace I could be seen as worthy by God. He finds joy “in teasing out some truth about the world we live in” and is “dismayed that some people would feel threatened that by doing that we might somehow disprove the existence of a Creator.”

Note: Content herein is not necessarily the view of the blog founder, James Bishop.

James Bishop: Is evolution evidence for or against God?

Ruan de Wet: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – CS Lewis

 I think this quote from CS Lewis sums up my view on evolution as a proof for or against God. In my opinion science only makes sense in the context of a Creator God. The more I learn about the process of evolution the more I am in awe of God’s perfect plan for a dynamic world. Without the ability to adapt, life wouldn’t be able to survive and the alternative to a constantly changing world is, in my view, depressing.

So to answer your question, yes, I see it as evidence for God but that’s only because I see it through the filter of my Christian faith. It’s my subjective opinion and not something backed up or refuted by science. The view that evolution necessitates a Creator is still false in my opinion so evolution can’t be used as proof for or against. To illustrate this point I would quote John Lennox when he says, “to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science.”

James Bishop: What do you make of atheists & unbelievers who use evolution as evidence against God?

Ruan de Wet: For the same reasons that I reject the use of evolution as a proof for God I would likewise reject it as a proof against God. Evolution doesn’t necessitate a Creator but neither does it disqualify the existence of one.

I would challenge atheists with the self-referential absurdity/epistemology argument made by CS Lewis, John Lennox, John Gray and others that states that if our mind (our ability to observe nature, reason, test hypotheses and therefore do science) is a product of evolution then it is selected for evolutionary success, not comprehending truth. By this argument we wouldn’t be able to rely on our mind which means that all science is therefore based on questionable foundations and even the reasoning of this very argument breaks down. The way I understand it, we would have to reject our own ability to reason. I haven’t yet heard a convincing response to this argument so I’m genuinely interested in an atheist view on it.

James Bishop: Are there any Christian scientists out there that hold to an evolutionary creationist interpretation, or any interpretation, that inspires you?

Ruan de Wet: The first names that pop in my head are CS Lewis and John Lennox. I think Lewis is a literary genius and his ability to eloquently explain complex topics is without rival. Lennox is a mathematician who challenges the New Atheist agenda incredibly. He is the modern representation of Christian Apologetics in my mind and as someone who struggles to rely on the adoration of the person of Christ alone for my faith I am inspired by his use of reason to give balance to the New Atheist narrative.

James Bishop: What would a small message of yours be to those Christians out there who fear evolution because of what certain Christian think-tanks (like Young Earth Creationist organizations) make of it in conflict with Christianity?

Ruan de Wet: Firstly, I struggle with the Young Earth Creationist view. Theologically I don’t believe that they are guilty of any type of heresy that I know of but the scientist in me writhes! The evidence for the Earth being old is overwhelming and I don’t believe that the Bible contradicts this in any way. The literature on this is extensive.

The historical founding of science as a principle stems from the belief that there is order and reason to nature because it is the product of an ordered creation. I think there is still truth in that belief. Science isn’t inherently for or against any world view. The abuse of science has led to this apparent conflict, likewise the reactionary attitude of certain Christian groups has added to this.

Science is about evidence, it can’t be rejected by belief systems, it can only be rejected by contrary evidence. The flawed theology of “God of the gaps” i.e. “I don’t have an explanation for this, therefore it must be God.” is rightly being challenged by science. I would argue that Christians should welcome this more than anyone else. God is not constrained to the things we can’t explain, his work is illuminated and better understood through evidence based science and is thereby worthy of more praise, not conflict.

6 responses to “Geology student, Ruan de Wet, on Christianity, Evolution & Science.

  1. Ruan, glad to hear there are Christian student/s at UCT, esp in Geology/Biology. I see the observed evolutionary mechanisms as genius design – a meta data driven scheme where all the dynamic elements drive adaptation. How would you explain to an atheist though that this can not add new body plans / new subsystems and families and that the only known source of a Code is intelligence?

    • Hi Hardy, your view on evolutionary mechanisms is interesting, if I am understanding your explanation of it then it seems like a plausible estimation of my own understanding of it too. I’m afraid I don’t fully understand your question though.

      My belief is that through the process of natural selection (i.e. decent with modification) new body plans, new species and new families are indeed produced.

      The explanation of this can get a bit technical but is based on four key ideas:
      1. More offspring are produced than survive to reproduce.
      2. Variety exists in all species.
      3. The varieties that are better adapted to the environment lead to a greater probability of survival and reproduction.
      4. If those varieties are inherited by the next generation of offspring then the nature of that species will slowly change.
      (This is Darwin’s work and doesn’t even bring genetics into the picture yet)

      The classic example of how this may lead to a new species with a different body plan is that of allopatric speciation. Imagine a large population of lizards is happily going about its business when some sort of geographical barrier fragments the group, maybe a river, maybe an earthquake or maybe a rockslide, who knows. The one half of the population, group A, moves to an open rocky landscape with a thriving population of predators where the smaller and more inconspicuous you are the more likely you are to survive. Group B finds itself in a habitat with abundant prey and no predators where the bigger, stronger and more intimidating you are the more likely you are to exploit more resources than your rivals and therefore survive and reproduce. After many many generations of different environmental pressures the individuals in group A are smaller while the individuals in group B are bigger. If the descendents of the respective groups happened to cross paths they either physically won’t be able to mate (mechanically it might not be practical.. think of a yorkie and a great dane) or they just wouldn’t find the characteristics of the other group attractive (they might have developed different mating rituals for example). There are numerous reasons why mating, fertilization or viability of offspring might be prevented. Repeat this process over a couple of million years and you’ll have a bunch of populations that are hardly recognisable at face value. Then you add the influence of homeotic and maternal effect genes and you really have an infinite number of possible permutations of adaptations.

      This has turned into a really long response that just scratches the surface and doesn’t really help your case at all. Sorry about that. Feel free to redirect me if I misunderstood your question, I’ll try not be so long winded next time.

  2. Refreshing read.

    I’m no science wiz, but after listening to guys like Richard Dawkins, Ken Ham, Christopher Hitchens, John Lennox, and Bill Nye, I have reached the personal conclusion that scientific evidence totally supports adaptation within an animal kind, but does not completely support evolution from animal kind to animal kind (Eg: Fish to mammals etc.).

    Ruan, do you believe that mankind has evolved from a lower life form, or that God literally formed us the way we are? To put it another way – did God breathe life into an ancestral primate of ours or was Adam a human being as we know it today?

    • Hi mattzbarn,

      You’re asking the right questions when it comes to testing the hypothesis of evolution! Your theological question is something I’d find a lot more difficult to have an intelligent conversation about so I’ll start with the easier questions first.

      There seems to be a lot of evidence in the fossil record, genetics, embryology and probably other fields that I’m not aware of for the case of evolution of “animal kind to animal kind” as you put it. Specifically with regards to your example of fish to mammals there are a couple of cases we can discuss.

      The first is an intermediate between fish and tetrapods (which includes mammals amongst others) which is called affectionately called Tiktaalik and was described in 2006 in the scientific journal, Nature. As you’d expect it shares features with lobe finned fish such as fins and scales but also has features such as a distinct neck, a flat head with eyes on top, expanded ribs and a pectoral girdle that is clearly an intermediate between a fin and a limb which is only advantageous for the transition to land.

      There’s also an intermediate between cynodonts (mammal-like reptiles) and mammals called Diarthrognathus which has features such as jaw joints, ear bones and a posture that is clearly on of the stepping stones between reptiles and mammals.

      There are other examples such as Archaeopteryx (between dinosaurs and true birds) and Pakicetus (between hoofed mammals and whales) as well molecular evidence, vestigial characteristics (remnants of hind limbs in whales and pythons, wisdom teeth and rudimentary ear muscles in humans etc.) which all support the theory that evolution has over the last 3.5 to 4 billion years resulted in the diversity of life we see today.

      Your theological question is a bit more of a grey area in my mind. I believe in a biblical view of creation but as Lennox says, we need to be careful in distinguishing what the bible says and what we think the bible means. There’s a lot that is written in the bible that I don’t fully understand and I’m not at all apologetic about that fact. The following verse jumps to mind,

      “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12. (It would be good to remember verse 13 too!)

      Again to draw from a story from Lennox, I won’t recount the entire thing but the crux of it is that we don’t understand things such as consciousness or energy or even as basic a thing as gravity either. You’ll find no physicist’s scientific integrity questioned because of that lack and neither would you deprive yourself from cooking dinner just because you don’t understand how your oven is powered.

      My point is that I don’t think it’s something that should define your faith or your identity as a Christian, there’s enough division amongst Christians already in my opinion.

      If I were to stop avoiding the question and give you my honest opinion it would be that God breathed life into an early hominid (technically we’re distant cousins of primates, not descendants). I don’t believe that the image of God is a physical/anatomical construct, I believe it’s a lot more than that. My opinion is informed by my understanding of the evidence that we share a common ancestor with all other life, most easily demonstrated through the homologous characteristics shared with other mammals. I believe that evolution was at work before Adam and Eve came onto the scene and I do believe that there was therefore death and suffering in the world before the fall. I find the existence of heterotrophs to be enough evidence for that, even herbivores need to kill and eat plants, let alone lions.

      I believe my belief is as theologically defensible as any other but I certainly wouldn’t look down my nose at anyone who differs in their opinion and feels that theirs is theologically or logically more sound.

      If you want to hear a more authoritative view on that general idea I would send in the direction of someone like Francis Collins.

  3. An all-knowing, purposeful being used a random, purposeless process to create life. He also took the time to fine-tune the universe so he can be all hands off for what he fine-tuned the universe for. Theistic evolution logic at it’s finest. No wonder you are laughed at from both sides. Believe me, You and people like Biologos aren’t convincing us unbelievers who know better. Darwin killed god.

    • Thank you, jlafan2001, for the resolution you have given me following your comment. I’m not surprised that you’re not convinced of my views by this article. I would actually be quite surprised and a little disappointed if anyone was convinced that there is no final contradiction between science and Christianity based on what I have written. That wasn’t my intended purpose at all, my intention was merely to outline the broad brushstrokes of my views and what I believe in the context of the questions posed.

      You have reinforced, however, the fact that so often the misunderstanding and conflict that arises with these topics are defined by ambiguity of context that arises from the coarse approach to very nuanced topics. Evangelism, creation, neo-Darwinian evolution, genetics, apologetics, hermeneutics and the scientific method all seem to be blended together because there is often a lot of overlap. The distinction between an explanation of the process of evolution can therefore easily be mistaken for an attempt at evangelism. Much more commonly though, I find the distinction between what scripture says or what scientific enquiry shows is difficult for many of us to separate from our interpretations. For example macro-evolution is an interpretation of evidence from a multitude of different scientific disciplines. Just because I believe that the evidence is robust doesn’t mean that macro-evolution is correct and likewise just because I believe that macro-evolution is accurate doesn’t mean that the evidence is robust.

      I don’t pretend to have all the answers or even well thought out, coherent arguments for some of the more detailed objections/criticisms of my world views. I enjoy being challenged on them because that affords me the opportunity to delve deeper into my faith, rethink some of my assumptions and hopefully end up somewhere more informed than when I started.

      Back to your comment, I understand that this is not something that has much importance for you so it’s certainly forgivable that you employed a rather lazy argument. I will still, however, try show you why I find it lacking.

      I apologise for the clichés but you’ve unfortunately used a textbook “Straw man fallacy.” By that I mean that you’ve reduced a complex worldview to something misrepresentative that any reasonable person would find absurd. By rejecting the new argument you hope to thereby reject the original one too, unfortunately this is done so often that most people are aware of its invalidity. It could even be argued that an “ad hominem fallacy” also crept in there too. That being said, just because a fallacy or two are used in an argument doesn’t mean that the point being argued for need be rejected. Just like the goal of a non-racial society can’t be rejected because of the argument that a culture of inclusivity prevents ovarian cancer. The argument can be wrong without effecting the validity of the end-point. So perhaps theistic evolution is bogus or perhaps Darwin did kill god. There just hasn’t yet been a plausible argument made for either.

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