From the Frying Pan to the Firenew book promoting evolution, makes his influences clear from the very first sentence:
Like many evangelicals, I (Dennis) grew up in an environment that was suspicious of science in general, and openly hostile to evolution in particular.
That sentence speaks volumes. Venema is a refugee from creationism and what I call the flip-side of the Warfare Thesis. The Warfare Thesis holds that religion, and Christianity in particular, often conflicts with and opposes scientific advances. It can be traced at least as far back as Voltaire with his 18th century mythical retelling of the Galileo Affair. Many later contributors embellished and established the myth that was eventually labelled the “Warfare Thesis.”
While the Warfare Thesis can be found in the evolution literature, creationists have their own version. In this reverse, or flip-side, the myth is that evolutionists are atheists, pushed to believe in a naturalistic origins because of the rejection of God. To be sure, atheism today has been aided and abetted by evolution’s popularity. But from Epicureanism to Darwinism to Neo-Darwinism and beyond, it is theism, not a-theism, that is doing the heavy lifting.
Why did Richard Bentley charge Thomas Burnet (an Anglican cleric who appealed to Scripture in his popular 17th century cosmogony) with atheism? Burnet was indeed a latitudinarian, but hardly an atheist. Why did Charles Hodge charge Darwin’s new theory as atheism in disguise? Darwin was hardly a mainline Christian but, like Burnet, his 1859 tome on evolution was chocked full of theological discussion and claims about the Creator. Darwin’s strong arguments were based on theism, not a-theism.
The flip-side of the Warfare Thesis is as dangerous as the A side, and it was Venema’s world. As he explains, he was taught that evolution was “pushed by atheists,” that Darwin and his theory “were evil,” and there mere utterance was tantamount to cursing, “and not mildly.” Evolution “was bad,” and “Science and God’s actions, at least in this case, were placed in opposition to each other.”
This flip-side of the Warfare Thesis is dangerous because the ignorance it establishes sets its adherents up for a fall. One simply is in no position to comprehend the deep theology at work in Epicurean and evolutionary thought. Darwin presented his arguments with a patina of scientific jargon, and that formed the template for the genre. Consider this gem from Chapter 6 of Origins:
Thus, we can hardly believe that the webbed feet of the upland goose or of the frigate-bird are of special use to these birds; we cannot believe that the similar bones in the arm of the monkey, in the fore-leg of the horse, in the wing of the bat, and in the flipper of the seal, are of special use to these animals. We may safely attribute these structures to inheritance.
One can read through such passages and almost conclude that Darwin is merely presenting empirical scientific reasoning and conclusions. And so it is with today’s evolutionary reasoning, such as this typical textbook example:
If the 11 species had independent origins, there is no reason why their [traits] should be correlated.
It all sounds so scientific. But of course it is not. This is the great deception of evolutionary thought. And those mired in the flip-side of the Warfare Thesis—believing for certain that evolutionists are nothing more than atheist rascals—lack to tools and knowledge to reckon with it. Venema never had a chance. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Unfortunately his story is all too common.
Venema also discusses another important influence in his thinking: rationalism. And again, it is all too common. Evolutionists tend to place great value in theories. To be sure, theories are extremely important in science. But for centuries, rationalism in its extreme has placed an unhealthy, undue, emphasis on theories, over and above the importance of following the data. Better to have a theory that doesn’t work very well, then to have no theory at all (and no, creationism is not a theory).
Venema makes it clear that rationalism was an important influence for him. At an early age he found biology to be a “dreadful bore compared with physics and chemistry.” Physics and chemistry were appealing because they were about principles. Biology “seemed to have no organizing principle behind it, whereas the others did”. Indeed, chemistry and physics had “underlying principles that gave order and cohesion to a body of facts.”
With a foundation of the flip-side of the Warfare Thesis and rationalism, Venema was an evolutionist waiting to happen.