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Ears that hear and eyes that see

`Nature reveals to us the wonder and majesty of the Creator, our Lord'. How many of us have read articles or heard people saying this after looking closely at an aspect of the world around us? However, it is not often realised that many Christians are very cautious about this kind of argument. Such Christians do not talk about evidences of intelligent design in nature - for they hold to the theory of evolution, which insists that the characteristics of living things are adaptations rather than design features. This article is written to explore these differences between Christians - and to make a plea for reformation according to God's word.

The Bible: Proverbs chapter 20 verse 12 reads: `Ears that hear and eyes that see - the Lord has made them both.' This proverb brings to our attention the purposeful and creative actions of God in making hearing ears and seeing eyes. He is the author, the master craftsman. Our ears allow us to detect noises, to hear words, to receive sounds like music which are performed for us to enjoy. Our eyes are for seeing the beauty and variety of God's world, for reading, for communicating and for finding our way around with ease. Our ears and eyes are perceived to be even more valuable to us when we recognise the serious consequences of losing them. Physical handicaps of deafness and blindness make it very difficult to operate effectively in society, and in most cases people with these afflictions have a higher level of dependency.

A wood carver can fashion a head with ears - but there is no hearing. An artist can paint the head and give it eyes - but there is no seeing. Ears and eyes are more than shaped objects. The surface shape houses complex organs constructed from many delicate parts. For them to work, a whole series of structures must be in place. Not to be forgotten are the nerves connecting the organs to the brain and the means of analysing the signals coming from ear and eye to interpret them in terms of sound and light.

An appropriate analogy for the constructing of a hearing ear and a seeing eye is found in robotic technology. Audio sensors generate signals which are carried to the robot's computer. Here, signal processing takes place, leading to voice recognition or something similar. Light sensors, which may be in the form of cameras, form images and, with appropriate software, the computer can recreate the environment of the robot. Robots like this are, of course, possible only because of the creativity and design input of physicists, engineers and information scientists. These technical specialists pool their expertise to achieve their common goals. This type of robot may be described as a machine made in man's image. The robot has functional abilities which are analogous to human abilities.

To build a robot with ears and eyes requires purpose, knowhow, creativity and planning, to say nothing of the materials and tools. If this analogy is valid, then the same is true of God. To make real hearing ears and seeing eyes requires purpose, knowhow, creativity and planning. Ears and eyes are a testimony to intelligent design and purpose in creation.

The concept of image bearing helps in understanding something of God's purpose. We hear because he hears. We see because he sees. Man is made in the image of God. Hearing others and responding to them is part of man's calling, whether the response is obedience, repentance, comforting the distressed or encouraging the downcast. Similarly, using our eyes to see injustice, to see human need, to discover how to be a help, to be creative, and so on, is imaging God.

If this understanding of the proverb is correct, so that we are intended to recognise God's purposeful action and intelligent design in creating ears and eyes, then it is necessary to question one of the prominent beliefs of our generation: the purposeless, undirected, `scientific', evolutionary account of our origins. Complexity emerges, this theory says, by natural processes operating without any intelligent input or creative design. The best selling book, The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, has provided the most forceful recent presentation of the theory. Far from being treated as an ideological extremist, Dawkins has received accolades from fellow scientists and was invited to give the 1991 Royal Society Christmas Lectures to further promote these ideas.

According to evolutionary theory, organisms are not designed to live in a certain way, they are adapted to their environment. Adaptation is a process in which organisms with advantageous characters survive preferentially and come to predominate in the population. The environment changes the population - as long as new characters arise in its members which lead to differential survival and reproduction rates. And where do these new characters come from? According to the theory, from a variety of mutations, which are generally perceived as mistakes in the copying of genetic material early in an individual's development. This combination of environmental selection pressures and genetic mutation (together with long periods of time) is deemed by evolutionary biologists to account for the origin of all living things from an ancestral replicating cell.

Advocates of the theory are insistent that there is no direction or plan in evolutionary changes. The environmental pressure is like the wind - it blows and we see the effects, but if a tree falls down, we would never say that the wind intended to blow it down! The mutations are genetic accidents which do not arise in any predictable way: they can be described statistically, so that getting a specific mutation is like choosing a number in a lottery which just happens to win a prize. Some evolutionists are militant in their opposition to any thought of design and direction - they will emphasise that human beings are accidents of history. These people argue that there is nothing inevitable about evolution - it is directionless and life is going nowhere. Adaptive change is not to be confused with progress - we must beware (say these evolutionists) of imposing our beliefs and values on directionless evolutionary change.

There are many Christians, however, who want to find some way of reconciling evolutionary theories and biblical theology. These people are generally known by the name `theistic evolutionists'. The most prominent means of reconciliation is using the concept of complementarity. A scientist looking at the evidence says `evolution' and a Christian believer looking at the same evidence says `creation'.

To evaluate this position, one must first acknowledge that there are contexts where complementarity is right and proper. Isaac Newton the physicist described mathematically the gravitational force between two objects and discovered the laws of motion. Isaac Newton the believer regarded his research results as a description of God's providence - upholding the universe which he had made. `God causes the rain to fall to water the Earth' is a complementary statement to `The gravitational attraction between a raindrop and the Earth results in the falling motion of the raindrop'. A statement which includes intention is complementary to a statement which has nothing to say about intention. There is no contradiction in holding both statements as true. In my view, this is always the case with complementary perspectives on the matter - no mental tensions arise.

However, one reason why complementarity cannot transfer easily to the evolution/creation context relates directly to the issue of purpose and design. Can a statement about undirected evolutionary change be complementary to a statement about God's craftsmanship? Can a statement about adaptation to the environment be complementary to a statement about intelligent design? Basing our thoughts on Proverbs 20:12, was the ear made for hearing and the eye for seeing? Can this possibly be complementary to the idea that these organs are merely adaptations which have had the effect of increasing our ancestors chances of passing on their genes?

Although theistic evolutionists have written pages and pages explaining complementarity, it seems to me that they have completely by-passed these issues of purpose, intent and intelligent design. Yet these are at the heart of objections to their reconciliation of evolution and biblical creation. It is time that these issues are faced honestly and openly. If complementarity is the way forward, we need some clear answers to these deeply felt concerns. If, on the other hand, the tension is real, then it is time for theistic evolutionists to reconsider their position and to address the possibility that adherents of naturalistic philosophy, who have no place for God, have promoted evolutionary explanations of origins as `science'. These evolutionary naturalists have an enormous influence: they have engineered a situation where people who believe in intelligent design, purpose and meaning in creation, are relegated to the lunatic fringe of the intellectual world.

The issues, therefore, in this debate are far-reaching. The nature of science needs to be clarified for the intellectual health of our culture. Whilst naturalism reigns supreme, is it any wonder that so many feel that science has led to the death of God? But even more important is the intellectual health of Christians involved in science: evolutionary ideas have robbed so many of eyes which can see God's handiwork and which can hear his voice through the things he has made. Is there purpose and meaning in the natural world? Was the eye made for seeing and the ear for hearing? These are simple questions - but they demand some hard thinking from us.

David J. Tyler (1995) 

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