The Muddied Waters of Theistic Evolution

     muddied watersBy 2016 I feel I have developed a fine baloney detector. What I’m referring to has nothing to do with grocery shopping. What I’m referring to is what Darwinian critic and lawyer Phillip Johnson said “is a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure” that can be used to detect things like selective use of evidence, faulty appeals to authority, and ad hominem arguments.[1] I’ve applied this technique to all liberal secular and evolutionist works because most of them contain faulty reasoning that can be exposed once the light of the baloney detector shines on them.

     Theistic evolution (hereafter “TE”) is baloney because it simultaneously embraces God as creator and evolution as creative blind process that removes the need for God as creator. In one stroke, TEists want you to accept that one can believe both that God did something and God did nothing. I have found they contort themselves into theistic pretzels trying to have it both ways – often with amusing difficulty – but humans are adept at believing just about anything.

     Why would TEists want to foist something as convoluted as TE on us? One reason is to not lose one’s Christian faith. Denis Lamoureux, a TEist who debated Johnson years ago, asks us to imagine that God had used an evolutionary process to create the universe and life. Then suppose that a child is taught young-earth or progressive creationism but sees evidence for evolution in the university or paleontological museum. There would be unfortunate spiritual consequences because one would lose his or her faith without any good reason.[2] Lamoureux is also critical of the intelligent design movement because, he says, it uses a god-of-the-gaps strategy that only invokes God as creator only where we lack knowledge of an explanation for some natural phenomenon. When we discover that explanation, God, as an explanation, goes away. At some point God ceases to become an explanation of anything. Clearly these are not the only reasons for Lamoureux’s beliefs, but they do certainly play a part. Obviously, as far as Lamoureux is concerned, it is better not to lose belief in God if one can water down Christian theology to the point that God’s creation is nothing but Darwinian evolution with a Biblical mask.

     Lamoureux, to make his religious science round peg fit the intellectual square hole he’s trying to put it in, uses an inappropriate comparison between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge. Johnson claims that between creationists and evolutionists, evolutionists try to claim the high ground of reason regarding scientific statements while religious claims are pushed into the realm of faith where they are quite possibly meaningless or incapable of proof or falsification. Lamoureux claims this is not true. Lamoureux says we could use science to discover the makeup of Jesus’ blood but the cleansing power of His blood saving us from our sins is religious knowledge, and both kinds of knowledge are valid and different.[3] Yet, this religious knowledge he cites is personal and subjective while knowledge used to support evolution is objective – explorations of the fossil record, for instance. In any debate, the objective evidence is more potent and convincing than subjective evidence. What Lamoureux is doing here is reduce the necessity of the evidence for creation or intelligent design by assuming we don’t need it and that subjective religious evidence suffices.

     Now to the other end of the philosophical spectrum. Stephen Gould, the now-deceased evolutionist, continued this trend of downplaying the meaning of or need for religious objective statements with his proposal of  NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria)[4]  years ago in an effort to meld creationism and evolutionism together. Gould tells of his nights at the Vatican housed next to French and Jesuit priests who were also scientists. They asked Gould about scientific creationism because they wanted to know whether there is a contradiction between Biblical creation and evolution. They also wanted to know if evolution is in trouble. Gould assured them there is no threat to evolution, and, as he tells it, all left satisfied that Biblical creation and evolution can be reconciled.

     This is because Gould does not believe theism has any empirical content, or at least very little. He says he has “enormous respect for religion,” but only second to subjects like evolution or baseball. He calls the evolution of the body “a factual issue under the magisterium of science” and the creation of the soul “a theological notion under the magisterium of religion.”  Facts are facts and notions are, well, usually subjective ideas or opinions not open to objective verification (as in opinions on beauty, for instance, like the “notion” that Katy Perry is more beautiful than Taylor Swift). He calls the papal insistence on the divine infusion of the soul “a sop to our fears,” something that only has “metaphorical value.”  “The net of religion,” Gould says, “extends over questions of moral meaning and value.”  Hence, religion tells people to behave themselves but doesn’t make any claims that can be tested empirically. Here is Gould’s pivotal paragraph:

The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

     Notice that Gould leaves no room for religion having to say anything about the world even though the Bible presents God as creator of it.  This is  how evolution remains unfalsifiable and how it lives at peace with religion. Per Gould, religion has nothing to say about the universe except making us good people. But I would suppose that if moral feelings and values depend on a view of origins – an area under evolution’s domain – then evolution will speak to that as well undoubtedly leaving whatever religion has to say on it irrelevant.

     Hence my next point. Gould believes that religion and science can stay within their own borders, but science, at least naturalistic evolutionist science, cannot and will not stay there. Evolutionists advocate a theory to explain everything, even our moral feeling and values, and their theory doesn’t include a place for God. We can use religion for whatever spiritual feelings we want, but I sense Gould doesn’t believe there is any basis for believer’s spirituality or the god-ordained ethical systems they push.

     Another TEist with his own philosophical reasons and biases is Kenneth Miller.

Setting the Dominoes

  Domino Cascade.JPG   from wikipedia commons courtesy of aussiegall

     In his book Finding Darwin’s God, Miller tries to do just that although my Image result for kenneth miller finding darwin's god pdfunderstanding has always been that Darwin eliminated the need to believe that God created anything. Darwin seems to leave room for God in his Origin:

I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, “as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.” A celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of his laws.[5]

     But biographers and fellow evolutionists have been clear that Darwin changed science to make creation by God superfluous. For instance:

Biographer John Chancellor:

The Origin of the Species was the most important book of the nineteenth century. Its achievement was to teach people to believe in evolution. Not only the general public but also many naturalists were horrified by the theories, or by the implications of the theories, which Darwin propounded. He was, they said, trying to dethrone man from his proper place in the scheme of things and to challenge the incontrovertible truths of the Bible. He had dared to question the view that the human race was a unique and lofty species, created by God in His own image and quite independent of every other form of living thing. He suggested instead that species . . . had started as quite different creatures from those we see today:  that they had undergone all sorts of subtle changes over the years, thus giving rise, by slow and natural processes, to new species.[6]

Biographer Ronald Clark:

Today, it is impossible to appreciate the changes Darwin wrought in man’s view of the universe, and of his own place in it, without understanding the basically different outlook of the 1830s. The belief on which all rested was that the biblical story of the Creation was history rather than symbolic mythology. . . . Then came Darwin. Many years later, proof of Einstein’s general theory of relativity had, as the Times put it, dealt with the fabric of the universe. Darwin was cartooned as the man tearing apart the fabric of belief.[7]

Charles Hodge, a 19th century Princeton Theological Seminary theologian and contemporary of Darwin:

From what has been said, it appears that Darwinism includes three distinct elements. First, evolution, or the assumption that all organic forms, vegetable or animal, have been evolved or developed from one, or a few, primordial living germs; second, that this evolution has been effected by natural selection, or the survival of the fittest; and third, and by far the most important and only distinctive element of his theory, that this natural selection is without design, being conducted by unintelligent physical causes. Neither the first nor the second of these elements constitutes Darwinism, nor do the two combined.[8]

Evolutionist Julian Huxley:

I suggest that it was because Darwin’s primary and main aim was to provide convincing evidence that organisms were not immutable creations but had evolved by natural means from something different; and this implied a focusing of attention on their past history. . . . Evolution in the most general terms is a natural process of irreversible change, which generates novelty, variety, and increase of organization: and all reality can be regarded in one aspect as evolution.[9]

     What kind of science is Miller suggesting that is able to combine the belief that God did something and did nothing? Miller, correctly, believes evolution is controlled by random processes and natural selection.

The explanatory power of evolution derives from its simplicity. Natural Selection favors and preserves those variations that work best, and new variation is constantly generated by mutations, gene rearrangements, and even by exchanges of genetic information between organisms. This does not mean that the path of evolution is random in the sense that anything can happen as we jump from one generation to the next. . . . Although not completely random, chance does affect which mutations, which mistakes, appear in which individuals. As we saw earlier, this inherent unpredictability is not a matter of inadequate scientific knowledge. Rather, it is a reflection that the behavior of matter itself is indeterminate , and therefore unpredictable. It is one of the reasons why we cannot predict, with any detailed certainty, the future path of evolution.[10]

     Miller clarifies his view of God’s role in creation in an interview for Doulos, a Christian magazine, and republished at the godofevolution web site. When asked if he believed that evolution was guided by God or by a random process God created, Miller says, with no hesitation, the answer to both questions is “no” and says

The most satisfying, Christian view is a God who is the master of everything, including nature itself. Does that mean that God is not involved? No, to a person of faith like myself, God is involved in every second, every millisecond of existence, not by constantly pulling strings and subverting our independence, but by supporting our existence and the natural laws that make this world so orderly and enable us to do science in the first place.[11]

     Miller also clarifies his beliefs in a story of a seminar he attended in graduate school that dealt with the evolution of an important protein. The speaker said that if one doesn’t believe in evolution, then the god one accepts is like a god that can sink fifteen balls on a pool table by taking fifteen separate shots. My God, she said, sinks all the balls by taking only one shot.[12]

     So here you have it. Miller’s God does not participate in nature by creating at particular times in Earth’s past but sets up nature in a way where random processes still occur but bring about life the way we see it now. God, per Miller, is similar to a person who sets up dominoes in a row that, when one is pushed, create a picture of something. God, per Miller, set up everything in the beginning and then got out of the way.

      Yet, there is a problem that one is likely to overlook. Nature, he says, is controlled by random occurrences and chance. Well, if chance is involved then what comes as a result of it is unpredictable. Yet, even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals a God who has intentions to bring about what He wants. A god that acts by chance isn’t guaranteeing he will bring about what he wants.

      Let me put it this way. Suppose I want to write a book, but instead of typing each individual letter, I build and program a monkey that types it for me. If the monkey creates what I want him to create, then one could still say that I created that book even though I did not type each word myself. If, however, I didn’t program it but let it type whatever it wanted and, by chance, it created an encyclopedia, then I could not claim that I created that book, take credit for its creation, or claim I intended to created it. If I did, I would be lying.

      courtesy of wikipedia commons, public domain

    My comparison to TE is clear here. TEists want you to believe that God created the biological equivalent of a monkey that types random sentences and, yet, supposedly that God intended that monkey to type what it typed even though what it types is completely by chance. Miller gets around this contradiction by supposing God is behind all creation somewhere in an ill-defined way that is incapable of being proven – much like one can suppose there’s a fox behind every bush even though you eliminate the ability to detect whether a fox is there.

      This is not the end of Miller’s problems. Miller can’t grasp that there may be more solutions to a philosophical dilemma than what his TE beliefs allow him to accept.

It is often said that a Darwinian universe is one in which the random collisions of particles govern all events and therefore the world is without meaning. I disagree. A world without meaning would be one in which a Deity pulled the string of every human puppet, and every material particle as well. In such a world, physical and biological events would be carefully controlled, evil and suffering could be minimized, and the outcome of historical processes strictly regulated. All things would move towards the Creator’s clear, distinct, established goals. Those who find discomfort in evolution often say that lack of such certainty in the outcome of Darwin’s relentless scheme of natural history shows that it could not be reconciled with their faith. Maybe so. But certainty of outcome means that control and predictability come at the price of independence. By being always in control, the Creator would deny His creatures any real opportunity to know and worship Him. . . . Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature.[13]

Miller’s believes either everything is controlled by a deity or either everything is random and unpredictable. He doesn’t leave room for anything in between. Maybe God creates humans by assembling their parts instantaneously without using an evolutionary process while he grants them free will to choose to know God or not to know him. Isn’t it possible that there can be creation and free will? Why does free will necessitate belief in evolutionist randomness?

Intelligent-design creationists, he says, must imagine a god who assembles parts of animals all at once. His god, he says, builds up life incrementally step by step via evolution. He finds this type of creation much more fitting of the Biblical god. Yet, I believe the opposite, and there is no Biblical support for Miller’s position. I’ve also got sounds reasoning on my side as nowhere else do we ask that a creator of anything use a natural process instead of creating by direct action. We don’t demand Egyptians to have created pyramids by rolling stones down a hill using only gravity to hopefully place these rocks in perfect pyramid shape, and neither do we demand this type of creation from any other creative agent whether human, animal, or even alien. Yet, Miller can’t accept a god that creates in ways that other creative agents create. What this means is that Miller’s philosophy determines what kind of creation he wants to accept, and he obviously wants to accept a god and creation that is compatible with evolution.

Miller also tries to construct an analogy between the course of biological evolution and the course of events in our lives such that if we can accept God’s providence in one we can accept it in the other. “If we can see God’s will in the flow of history and the circumstances of our daily lives, we can certainly see it in the currents of natural history,” he writes.[14] In other words, if we can believe that God intervenes in our lives, even guides our lives to produce an intended result, we can believe that God intervenes in nature. Yet, TEists believe God keeps hands off evolution once He gets it started, and so there is no way for God to intervene in our lives. If Miller is correct, I should believe that random chance guides my life rather than God’s guidance.

      John Woodmorappe and Jonathan Sarfati spotted other Miller errors as well. This should be no surprise as a sickly tree will produce rotten fruit. Among their criticisms are:[15]

  • Miller claims that creationists deny that there are beneficial mutations. However, some mutations can be beneficial without adding any genetic information as in pesticide resistance.

  • Miller is out of date as far as recent research. For instance, he tries to refute young-earth creationist arguments for a young earth using the decay of the magnetic field by pointing to magnetic field reversals. However, papers dating from the 1980s accommodate these reversals, give a mechanism for them, and predict them as part of the world after the flood.

  • Miller brings up the creationist explanation for distant starlight problem: the light-in-transit theory. He doesn’t realize many creationists have given up on that argument and many accept Russell Humphrey’s time-dilation theory.

  • Miller claims creationists seek God within the gaps of our knowledge, but creationists have said they believe in God based on what we do know, not on what we don’t know.

           Miller is not the only TEist to use poor logic to buttress arguments. I also ran into John Haught, a fellow TEist whose verbiage makes me want to pound my head against the wall.

Evolution Meets Theology

      Haught should be commended for criticizing atheistic evolutionists for trying to remove belief in God from our world. Yet, he accomplishes this by trying to find a god that is compatible with his brand of evolution. For instance:

      Moreover, evolution has allowed theology to acknowledge at last that the notion of an originally and instantaneously completed creation is theologically unthinkable in any case. If we could imagine it at all, we would have to conclude that an initial creation, one already finished and perfected from the beginning, could not be a creation truly distinct from its creator. Such a “world” would simply be an appendage of God, and not a world unto itself; nor could God conceivably transcend such a world. It would be a world without internal self-coherence, a world without a future, and, above all, a world devoid of life.[16]

      Christians have, traditionally, thought God is distinct from His creation – a creation He can choose to make or not make. This is true regarding any other creation we can embrace whether the agent is human, animal, or alien. It appears that the only reason Haught has problems with a god that is distinct from the world He creates is because God, at least as He’s presented in the Bible, is different than what Haught wants God to be, which is a god that is compatible with evolution.

     

from wikipedia commons, courtesy of Ahsanriaz6157

from wikipedia commons, courtesy of Ahsanriaz6157. If Haught believes what he says, then he must believe  that a junk car must be part of a continuous car creation.

Another problem I have with Haught is that he thinks the universe is an ongoing creation despite the fact there are signs of degradation. According to the second law of thermodynamics, everything is running down and becoming disorganized. There may be local increases in complexity and order, but that comes because of deliberate design. In fact, one of the primary young-earth creationist arguments comes from this fact. If this is continuous creation, then Haught must suppose that a rusty car that is deteriorating must be part of an ongoing car creation.


Haught also thinks that evolution explains the origin of evil.

      But if the universe is still unfinished, then we cannot demand that it should here and now possess the status of finished perfection. And if the universe is not perfect, then this can mean only that it is now imperfect. Moreover, if ours is an imperfect world, the appearance of evil (including the suffering and struggle depicted by Darwinian science) is not inconceivable. Evil and suffering could be thought of as the dark side of the world’s ongoing creation.[17]

      However, Christianity has always explained that evil is part of humankind’s fall from perfection. According to the book of Genesis, God looked at creation and decided it was good and only after that did things go sour. If we believe Haught, the Bible is wrong because creation was not finished but unfinished, and evil was not a bad property of His creation but a crucial element in creation. To say that evil is part of creation is contrary to what the book of Genesis says about it and slanders God by making God a creator of evil. This certainly isn’t the Biblical God I’ve grown to know. If Haught believes his kind of god is a god who considers evil a part of good creation, then  he doesn’t believe in the Biblical god.

      Atheists have throttled theists with the supposed evidence that life originated by chance without divine intervention. Even if there can be evidence for evolution, per Haught, there can still be a place for God as the “ultimate explanation” – whatever that means.

However, theology may still provide an ultimate explanation of why evolutionary creativity occurs in the spontaneous and self-creative manner that it does. For if ultimate reality is conceived of neither as mindless or impersonal “matter,” as materialism sees it, nor simply as an “intelligent designer,” but fundamentally as self-emptying, suffering love, we should already anticipate that nature will give every appearance of being in some sense autonomously creative . . . Since it is the nature of love, even at the human level,  to refrain from coercive manipulation of others, we should not expect the world  that a generous God calls into being to be instantaneously ordered to perfection. Instead, in the presence of the self-restraint befitting an absolutely self-giving love, the world would unfold by responding to the divine allurement at its own pace and in its own particular way . . . The notion of an enticing and attracting divine humility, therefore, gives us a reasonable metaphysical explanation of the evolutionary process as this manifests itself to contemporary scientific inquiry.[18]

      According to the Bible, God created the heavens and the Earth and sent Jesus to die for our sins, and the two are nowhere linked such that the need for redemption necessitated a “hands off” approach to creation. As usual, Haught molds God to fit his evolutionist beliefs.

      After reading this paragraph from Haught, you’ll notice the same thought process as Miller. In order to make room for evolution as process of creation, Miller and Haught shunt God into a realm where He is behind everything. The question remains though: “What did God do?” In TEist land though, we can’t ever be sure of the answer to this because evolutionist theory always takes precedence over Biblical precepts.

 A Side Trip to Chardin Land

      Reading Haught, I was reminded of another theistic philosopher who reasons much the same as Haught – that of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – a man who wanted to adjust Christian theology to fit evolutionist presuppositions. As a result, if one follows Chardin or Haught one is left with a god wholly different than that in Christian theology.

      Chardin was born in 1881 in France. He entered training as a Jesuit in 1899 but also became highly interested in science. He later encountered Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution which pictured an evolving universe instead of a static one.[19] He wrote numerous books detailing his attempted union of Christian creationism and evolution with literary success. In 1965, John Kobler put Teilhard’s total book sales over a million copies. In France, the Association of the Friends of Teilhard de Chardin,which boasted roughly a thousand members, sponsors lectures, symposiums, and week-long conventions. Cult-like followings celebrated him in Italy, Germany, England, Belgium, and South America. The Paris Museum of Natural History opened a wing full of his documents and memorabilia. Despite negative reactions to him among Christian conservatives, The Vatican pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair included his portrait in a gallery of the century’s greatest men.[20]

       A few paragraphs from Chardin should indicate that for Chardin, like Miller and Haught, evolution takes precedence over whatever the Bible says as far as scientific and theological statements.

If, as a result of some interior revolution, I were to lose in succession my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, and my faith in spirit, I feel that I should continue to believe invincibly in the world. The world (its value, its infallibility and its goodness) – that, when all is said and done, is the first, the last, and the only thing in which I believe. It is by this faith that I live. And it is to this faith, I feel, that at the moment of death, rising above all doubts, I shall surrender myself.[21]

If we Christians wish to retain in Christ the very qualities on which his power and our worship are based, we have no better way . . . of doing so than fully to accept the most modern concepts of evolution. . . . By disclosing a world-peak, evolution makes Christ possible, just as Christ, by giving meaning and direction to the world, makes evolution possible. . . . Now I realize that, on the model of the incarnate God whom Christianity reveals to me, I can be saved only by becoming one with the universe. Thereby, too, my deepest “pantheist” aspirations are satisfied, guided, and reassured.[22]

     It appears that anyone who tries to align the god revealed in the Bible with evolution will mold that god to fit something it is not. If anything, it shows the two can’t be reconciled and one is left with only one choice: either choose the Biblical creator with creation as revealed there or some other god that is a mere artifact of Darwinism. One can’t have it both ways.

      I don’t doubt there can be serious Christ-believing Christians who are TEists. However, such people are playing with a  fire that can only burn their faith eventually.

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[1] Phillip Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1997), Chapter 3.

[2] Phillip Johnson and Denis Lamoureux, Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1999), 42.

[3] Ibid, 28-29.

[4] Gould, from Natural History (March 1997) as reprinted in Robert Pennock ed., Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (London: MIT Press, 2001), chap. 34. See also http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html. This is a view that religion and science each inhabit their own area of inquiry and do not overlap.

[5] Charles Darwin, The Origin of the Species (New York: New American Library of the World, 1958), 443.

[6] John Chancellor, Charles Darwin (New York: Taplinger, 1973),  13.

[7] Ronald Clark, The Survival of Charles Darwin:  The Biography of a Man and an Idea (New York: Avon, 1984),. 5.

[8] Mark Noll and David Livingstone, ed., What is Darwinism: Charles Hodge (Grand Rapids: MI, Baker House, 1994),89.

[9] Julian Huxley, Evolutionary Humanism (New York: Prometheus, 1992), 27, 29.

[10] Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (New York: Cliff St., 1999), 233-234.

[11] http://www.godofevolution.com/interview-with-biologist-ken-miller-part-2/

[12] Miller, 283.

[13] Ibid, 289.

[14] Ibid, 239.

[15] John Woodmorappe and Jonathan Sarfati, Review of Finding Darwin’s God, https://www.trueorigin.org/mutilatingmiller.pdf.

[16] John Haught, God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2000), 37.

[17] Ibid, 38.

[18] Ibid, 53.

[19] http://teilharddechardin.org/index.php/biography

[20] Jeffrey Stueber, “Why Evolution is First and Foremost a Religious Belief,” Lutheran Science Institute journal, 2013, http://www.lutheranscience.org/home/180015283/180015283/180153808/Journal%202013%20-%20WhyEvolutionIsReligious%20Part%202.pdf

[21] Teilhard de Chardin, How I Believe (London: William Collins Sons, 1969), 19-20.

[22] Ibid, 79-81..

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