When teaching by the Trivium, we usually take the grammar for granted. While we must take the grammar of a subject for granted when we learn a new subject, sometimes we must also re-evaluate the grammar of what we have learned and develop a new one based on a better understanding of the subject. If a subject was originally developed non-theistically, it may be drastically deficient in its available terminology to describe what is really happening.
For instance, we have all heard about natural selection. In the modern idea of natural selection, mutations in an organism’s DNA arise through accidents such as copying errors. Some errors are bad, and those organisms are less likely to make offspring, and thus those DNA errors go away. Some errors are accidentally good, and those organisms are more likely to make offspring, and thus these accidents are transmitted to the next generation.
The problem for Christians is that the idea of natural selection being responsible for evolving all life from a single-celled ancestor removes God’s design and replaces it with a collection of beneficial accidents cobbled together (not to mention the problem identified by engineers – natural selection alone just doesn’t work like its proponents insist).
Christians have come up with many reasoned responses to this. When I was growing up, I believed that natural selection was the way in which biological change happened, when biological change did occur. I simply assumed that the only thing wrong with natural selection was that it was inappropriately extended out further than was warranted.
This response is quite common, as it embraces several Christian characteristics. First of all, it brings Christianity into contact with the real world. Some religions distance themselves from reality intentionally. Christianity engages reality head-on. Second, it is a reasoned approach. It uses logic to identify gaps in the reasoning of the evolutionists. Thirdly, it is charitable. It assumes that the person arguing for natural selection is doing so in good faith, meaning that they aren’t trying to pull a fast one on the evidence. When they say that they have observed organisms being modified by haphazard changes filtered through natural selection, it takes them at their word that it is true.
While I still hold to charity as a primary means of engaging criticisms of Christianity, I have come to realize that it can be easily extended too far. While I do not think the proponents of natural selection are disingenuous, I do think that they have let their assumptions leak into their conclusions without realizing it, even on supposedly “observed” data.
It turns out that, while some mutations do in fact appear to be haphazard mistakes, the interesting ones almost always turn out to be regulated. That’s right, mutations can be regulated. For instance, in certain situations, when faced with a starvation crisis, bacteria can mutate their own DNA to turn genes on and off. That’s right – they mutate their own DNA. This is a regulated, not a haphazard, process.
When a germ invades your body, your immune system tries to find an antibody to match the germ. It then mutates that antibody DNA to get a closer match. It is a focused, regulated system to generate mutations, which result in a better matching antibody. To give you an idea of the regulation involved, the genome is approximately 3,000,000,000 DNA letters. In this system, the cell focuses the mutations on the appropriate 600, which are likely to generate beneficial mutations.
What I learned from all of this is that while it is imperative for Christians to make arguments, which are reality-oriented, logical, and charitable, this is not sufficient. In the language of the trivium, I had engaged them at the rhetorical level. In reality, the problem lied even deeper – all the way down to the grammar. There is a difference, not just in effect, but also in mode, between regulated and unregulated mutations. However, because evolutionists view life’s origins as being purposeless, they do not have in their grammar the tools for understanding the way God created life. To express the difference between a regulated and a haphazard mutation requires a different vocabulary.
As Christians, we need a deeper engagement with the thought of the world. We need to not only re-examine the rhetoric on which our culture’s thought is based, but in many cases, we must rip up and refashion even the grammar.
For those who are interested in the subject of regulated mutations and want to go to a deeper, more technical level, I have written further about the necessary changes to the grammar of biology to include regulated mutations in a paper in Answers Research Journal.
This article was written by Jonathan Bartlett and does not necessarily represent the views of Classical Conversations.