Imagine the Creation lecture you wish you had heard when you were 18yo?


(Casper Hesp) #1

Hi all,
The (only) Dutch evangelical university of applied sciences has asked me to come and give a lecture for two groups of ~50 and ~35 Christian college students of ~18yo, specifically addressing the topic of creation and evolution. It will be next week, and the lecture will last 1.5 hours (I’ll be giving the same lecture twice, i.e., once for both groups). I would really like to make the most of it, to make it optimally useful for these students. Most of them will be going to “secular” universities after this college programme.

Imagine the lecture on Creation and evolution you wish you had heard when you were 18yo. What would that look like? I’m very curious to hear your thoughts! I’ll outline the plan I have currently, would be very happy to hear your suggestions. As you can see, I’ll be pressed for time, so I will often only be able to give an incomplete “bird-flight” overview of these topics.

Lecture plan (90 minutes)

Introduction, defining the terms

  • Creation:
    Every Christian believes in Creation.
    It leaves open the question of “how.”

  • Evolution:
    First of all a scientific theory.
    Explain the basics of evolution.
    Possible answer on the question of "how."
    In principle not an ideology, but can be abused for that.

Part 1. Describing the different positions among Christians.

  • Young-earth Creationism
  • Old-earth Creationism
  • Evolutionary Creationism

Shortly summarize these positions in terms of:

  • View of Genesis (literal-historical or, e.g., framework view, ANE audience)
  • Redemption history ( circular or upwards) and death before the fall (yes or no)
  • Age of the earth / universe (young or old)
  • Flood (global or local) and origin of the sediments (sudden or slow)
  • Creation of mankind (separate creation or common descent) and its progenitors (only Noach; only Adam; or entire population)
  • View on speciation (special creation plus hyper-evolution; progressive creation; or evolution)

Part 2. Exploring a few arguments from the Bible

  • The length of the days in Genesis 1
    YEC: 7x24 hours
    OEC: Long periods
    EC: Meant as literal days only within the narration.

  • The order of the days in Genesis 1
    YEC/OEC: order is understood in a literal-historical way, science has to agree.
    EC: order is understood in support of the framework hypothesis (e.g., John Walton).

  • Adam and evolution
    YEC/OEC: Adam as the sole progenitor of mankind
    EC: Adam taken as representative of a group (one possible position)

Part 3. Exploring a few arguments from science

  • Travel time of light
    Describing the observations: size of the universe, speed of light.
    YEC: Some attempts have been made, but this issue remains to be difficult to deal with. Appeal to “miraculous intervention”.
    OEC/EC : Old universe, old earth

  • Fossil layers
    Describing the observations: organisms organized in layers, increasing complexity
    YEC: All animals died in the flood and sorted in that way.
    OEC: Species were “replaced” by direct intervention with others over the course of history.
    EC: Fossil layers show speciation over the course of history.

  • Genetics
    Describing the observations: genetic variation can be used to produce a tree of life, this tree agrees with fossil layers.
    YEC: “Kinds” packed with genetic variation + hyperevolution
    OEC: Genetic variation / tree is directly created in a stepwise way
    EC: Genetic variation is evidence of large human ancestral population size, genetic tree is evidence of common descent.

  • Fossils of hominids
    Describing the observations: gradual transition in ancestral species between apes and humans.
    YEC/OEC: All fossils are either fully ape, or fully human (show the chart of @Joel_Duff ).
    EC: Graduality supports the evolutionary view.

Any thought or suggestions are welcome!

Casper


(George Brooks) #2

@Casper_Hesp

You have a very exciting opportunity ahead for you.

And your outline shows how much ground you are going to traverse!

For my 2 cents, I very much dislike the oft-used phrase “of increasing complexity”.

Evolution would still be demonstrably true even if we never saw changes in complexity.

As soon as you include this phrase as important to recognizing evolution you have opened yourself up to counter-arguments about Devolution.

Just recently I started to adopt the practice of saying that the increasing tendency for YEC’s to adopt hyper-speciation in the post-Noah period must mean YEC’s also agree and accept Devolution - - so what’s the difference, if we both agree that speciation can and does happen?


(James McKay) #3

I’d suggest that you also include an overview of what science actually is and how the scientific method works. In particular, explain that it’s all about testable hypotheses, and give an overview of how historical hypotheses are tested. (In other words, answer the “were you there?” question.)

For bonus points, emphasise the role that mathematics and measurement play in many areas of science (e.g. the age of the earth); and that scientists have to meet stringent standards of quality control through the process of peer review and reproducibility of their studies.


(Casper Hesp) #4

Interesting point. Though that’s not what I meant to say. The increasing complexity across the fossil layers is just an observation, and the question is which model explains that increase in complexity. Evolution over billions of years explains the observed increase in complexity across the fossil layers, but “sorting due to the global flood” does not explain that pattern.

Also, I think it is obvious that an increase in complexity must have happened over the course of evolutionary history for a population of single-cell organisms to be able to give rise to a population of humans (amongst many other species). The fact that this development is visible in the fossil record is extremely important in that regard.


(George Brooks) #5

@Casper_Hesp

I think it is significant; I can’t say that it is extremely important.

I point to the sudden eruption in the layers of sediments of Large Mammals appearing, and always above the extinction layer of Dinosaurs.

I do this without even making a personal evaluation of “complexity”.

When a lizard becomes a snake, is that increased or reduced complexity?
When a population of giant dino’s leads to a small bird, is that increased or reduced complexity?

In English, the “tar baby” is an undesirable object in which to become entangled. “Complexity” is such a tar baby.

Going from one-celled to many celled… from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction - - these are safe areas for the issue of complexity.

But for most of the animal and plant kingdoms, once you get into the larger the more recent phases of Evolution, it becomes increasingly hazardous to say much about “increased complexity” .


(Christy Hemphill) #6

Cool opportunity! I hope you invite them all to come learn more on this forum. :slight_smile:

It might be good to introduce the idea that we don’t interpret the Bible in a vacuum. A given text may seem to mean something different to us than it did to its original audience because we have totally different expectations and frames of reference. If you could give an example of a sentence or paragraph that would make perfect sense to a Dutch speaker living in the Netherlands today but would be potentially confusing to someone from a different country/time period, that helps drive the point home about how much context we read into a text and how much context we often lack coming to the Bible. Something to combat the “it’s either all factual reporting of literal events or it’s all myth/allegory/symbolism/fiction/lies” idea.


(Casper Hesp) #7

Complexity is not a personal evaluation. There are statistical measures of complexity. “Computational ecologists” have already performed evolutionary simulations that show a trend towards more complex neural network configurations:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2801533/

I quote from their introduction, also useful:

“Although single-celled organisms may be every bit as well adapted to their ecological niches as human beings are to theirs, no one would argue that microorganisms are as complex as human beings, using any metric of complexity one might choose. Furthermore, looking at the fossil record it is clear that complexity, again by any metric, has increased over geological time scales (Carroll, 2001), from algae to plants, from ediacarans to arthropods to insects to mammals. Although this progression may not have taken the form of a simple ladder or ratchet (Gould, 1994), and due to horizontal gene transfer, endosymbiosis, and hybridization, our concept of the organization of branching species may have gone from tree to bush to thicket; we nonetheless have samples of a great many intermediate levels of complexity in the fossil record (and alive today) between microorganisms and human beings.”


(Casper Hesp) #8

Nice idea, I’ll try to squeeze that into the plan! :slight_smile:


(George Brooks) #9

@Casper_Hesp

It is easier to apply those measurements when going from 1 celled animals to just before animals start to live on land.

If you don’t agree with this, then you should be able to apply the metrics in that linked article to answer my two prior questions;

  1. When a population of reptiles lost their limbs and became snakes … is that increased or decreased complexity?

  2. When a population of dinosaurs eventually became tiny birds… is that increased or decreased complexity?

Other questions I ask of YECs include:

  1. Did a tetrapod population that colonized land represent Devolved Fish?

  2. Did the proto-whale population represent Devolved Mammals?

  3. Does a human population that has a higher than average incidence of the sickle-cell blood trait represent Devolved Humans?

I didn’t say that Complexity was impossible to notice during the course of 5 billion years. I’m saying that if you make it a crucial feature for all phases of Evolution, then you suddenly have to make a verdict on all sorts of Evolutionary case studies where complexity is really not an issue … but Evolution still happened. Frankly, I don’t think we can reliably answer that question in all phases of Evolution.


(Casper Hesp) #10

You could try to apply metrics of complexity to those “local” examples you cite, but that is not the point. My point (and the point of that author) is that while comparing complexity “locally” may indeed be quite messy, an overall trend is still clearly observable, whichever metric of complexity you choose. I don’t think this information is hard to digest and I think it is a crucial point for evolutionary history.


(Casper Hesp) #11

I’ll try and come up with some catchy example in Dutch, maybe some example of teenager slang. It appears they invent new ways of using their vocabulary and invent new words altogether almost every year.


(Curtis Henderson) #12

I really like the outline, Casper. I certainly wish I would have heard a similar lecture 28 years ago!


(Phil) #13

Great opportunity and outline Casper. Since this is an evangelical group, I would assume most are Christian. Not sure how much of the craziness we have in the states leaks over.
Anyway, would certainly give your personal experience as a scientist and a Christian, and how Christianity need not be seen as in conflict with science. I would not get too bogged down with the details of all the arguments for an 18 year old group but rather focus on the experience you have had, and how it integrates with theology.


(Christy Hemphill) #14

Yeah, maybe one example to show that the science really is out there, but it might be better to give them a handout with a list of the scientific topics and where they can find more good information. It’s my impression that not many kids change their mind based on the science alone in a single presentation. There are just too many details to do the topics justice and it’s so much to take in. Plus lots of Christian kids will just tune out all the facts if their theological/Bible concerns aren’t addressed first. The idea that you can have a high view of Scripture and consider the science is what opens the door. If you come across as “science says this, so lets re-examine the Bible” it’s a turn off. But if you start with “What is a proper way to approach Scripture in order to get the intended meaning?” and then show how some of the things we may think Scripture teaches aren’t really there, it feels less like science is reinventing theology and more like a better way of reading the Bible is opening up areas for consideration that were previously closed off. I think this makes people less defensive.


(George Brooks) #15

@Casper_Hesp

There are 2 reasons why I continue to persist on this point:

  1. A researcher could spent 30 years examining a single Genus and its complete evolution. I really doubt the issue of “Comparative Complexity” would ever affect his/her work, nor do I think he/she would be willing to say whether genetic changes driving changes in phenotypes (like shorter teeth, longer hair, new color spots on the skin, etc) is an increased step in Complexity.

  2. This would be especially true if he/she is noting what might be considered an increase in Complexity for one trait (more teeth?), while noting a decrease in Complexity for another trait (fewer toes?)! When we aren’t looking down from a 5 Mile High view in the sky, how do you calculate a “Net Change in Complexity” in traits that are rather arbitrarily considered more or less complex?

  3. It is the “quick thrill” of mentioning “Increased Complexity” at the first chapter of a book on Evolution which has led to all kinds of headaches by the time we get to the last chapter of the book. Now we have Creationists chasing us all over creation (< yes, pun intended) complaining about “loss of information”, and “devolution”.

My goodness … of course information can be lost. Especially if a whole species becomes extinct! Because an Evolutionist somewhere points out how important it is that single-celled life forms have evolved into “More Complex” (!!!) multi-celled animals… and then those have evolved into worms… and worms into fish … and so on … that now we have a whole generation of Evolution-Deniers who think if there is a loss of information, it’s not really Evolution!

Casper, I understand why it is a lovely thing to be able to talk about Evolutionary jumps in complexity. But if you don’t accompany such narratives with caveats that not all Evolutionary changes are increases, and that not all Evolutionary changes can be “measured and added/subtracted” for deltas in “Net Complexity” - - you are walking yourself right onto the gangplank of continued disputes over “information loss” and devolution.

We all cheer when someone reminds the audience that “the bacteria in your body has been evolving just as long as humans have”!

At the 5 mile high view, comparing mollusks to men, we can rather cavalierly make the easy call that the human body is way more complex than a bacterium.

But for the less dramatic viewing distance of intra-Genus (or intra-Family or intra-Order) differences, I don’t think you will be able to adequately “mark that bill paid” if you do not warn the audience that changes in Complexity are important, but they are not the definition of Evolution!


(Jay Nelsestuen) #16

My experience exactly. Once my exegesis of Genesis was changed, I suddenly opened up to the idea that the modern scientific consensus on these topics may be worth something after all. I was 17/18 when that happened, too. :slight_smile:


(Casper Hesp) #17

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