Theistic Evolution: The Illegitimate Marriage of Theism and Evolution
Many Christians have come to adopt some form of evolutionary theory as set forth by naturalistic science.1 Because the very nature of evolutionary theory excludes the idea of God, those Christians who accept it as scientific fact have to find a way to reconcile their faith in God as creator with a view that completely excludes God's involvement with the cosmos, if not the very existence of God Himself.
How can a Christian reconcile a view of origins in which God is creator with a view that claims God is not creator? They have done so by baptizing the theory of evolution with God in an attempt to wed the two together. Rather than believing that purely natural, random, chance processes brought our cosmos into existence and "shaped" it into its present form over billions of years, the process of evolution is said to be guided by God (requiring the intelligent guidance of a spiritual being). In simpler terms God is said to have used evolution to create. This view is referred to as theistic evolution. While approximately 40% of all Americans maintain this view, is it intellectually coherent?2 I would argue that it is not. To say God used evolution to create (in the sense that naturalists use the term) is to say God designed by chance, which is an oxymoron.3
The typical way in which Christians examine the worthiness of theistic evolution (TE) is to compare the theory of evolution to the Bible to see if they are compatible. While this is a valid and worthwhile approach, it is not decisive and is open to many counter-arguments. For these reasons I would recommend a different approach.
All By Themselves
The first thing I would point out to a theistic evolutionist is the uniqueness of their view. To embrace TE is to segregate oneself into a camp of your own, separated at large from both other Christians and the scientific community. Theistic evolutionists find themselves estranged from Christians who see evolution as incompatible with a Biblical view of creation, and shunned by the scientific community who dismisses theistic evolution as religion in the disguise of science. Scientists are quick to point out what many theistic evolutionists do not seem to grasp on their own: TE is not evolution. This is a very interesting phenomenon considering the fact that many Christians have adopted TE out of a desire to be considered intellectually credible in the eyes of the scientific community. Contrary to their expectations the scientific community has rejected their ideas as scientifically absurd, and thus intellectually incredible. After all is said and done Christians are still marginalized.
Darwinian evolutionists (naturalistic evolutionists) do not consider the form of evolution postulated by theistic evolutionists to be genuine evolution, or even scientific for that matter because scientific evolution (i.e. naturalistic evolution) necessarily excludes the idea of God. It is an attempt to explain the origin and current state of our cosmos based solely on naturalistic means. Scientific evolution maintains that all of life and reality is the result of random chance processes. Theistic evolutionist, on the other hand, necessarily includes the idea of God. It is an attempt to explain the origin and current state of our cosmos based on both supernatural and natural means. God, they say, used evolution as His means of creation. Scientists cry "Foul! That is not evolution." Why? Because evolution is random chance without God. As Greg Koukl described evolution, it is "mother nature without father God."4 TE contradicts one of the primary presuppositions of the hard sciences: only natural explanations are adequate to explain that which is natural. Evolution is like an airborne plane without a pilot; TE is an airborne plane with a pilot. Those are two entirely different airlines and you must fly on one plane or the other!
To see the inherent contradiction between the two systems we need only ask What is evolution, and What is TE? Evolution is random chance processes with no purpose or end in mind. The cosmos simply came into being from nowhere caused by nothing and no one, and came to be in its present form because of chance events over time. Life, speciation, and existence itself are the result of random chance processes. What is TE? TE is intelligent, directed design with a specific end in mind. Chance processes and intelligent design are contradictory concepts. Purpose and randomness are exact opposites. It is simply impossible to sneak a theistic view into evolutionary philosophy and still end up with any meaningful sense of evolutionary theory.
When theistic evolutionists claim God used evolution to create the world what they are saying is that God used randomness to create; that God is directing an undirected process. That is an oxymoron. To create implies design-there is some end in mind, and the means to that end is specific and intentioned. One cannot design something by chance. If I wanted a straight flush in the game of poker I could do one of two things. I could pick from the deck those cards that are required for a straight flush, or I could shuffle the cards and deal myself a hand to see if the necessary cards would be dealt to me at random. But it would not make any sense to speak of designing the hand by shuffling.5 Shuffling cannot ensure the results (the end), and thus it is not design. Likewise, God could not have used evolution to create because that is tantamount to saying God designed the world through randomness.
To give further evidence for my point, consider the difference between the mechanism of naturalistic evolution and that of TE. According to Darwinists nature does the selecting, and such selecting is random and pointless. According to TE God does the selecting, and such selecting is particular and meaningful. Now either God is selecting or nature is selecting; either an end is in mind or there is not. It cannot be both. That's why Darwin had no tolerance for a theistic version of evolution. He wrote, "The view that each variation has been providentially arranged seems to me to make Natural Selection entirely superfluous, and indeed takes the whole case of the appearance of new species out of the range of science." [Quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 200.] Darwin wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: "If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish. ... I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent." [Charles Darwin, letter to C. Lyell, October 11, 1859, in Darwin, F., ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. II (Basic Books: New York, 1959), 6-7.] Richard Dawkins commented on Darwin's remark, saying, "In Darwin's view the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a non-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. ... For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all." [Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (Penguin: London, 1991), 248-249.] Darwin, and others since him, have understood that evolution and theism are at odds with one another. For example, Michael Denton wrote,
As far as Christianity was concerned, the advent of the theory of evolution and the elimination of traditional teleological thinking was catastrophic. The suggestion that life and man are the result of chance is incompatible with the biblical assertion of their being the direct result of intelligent creative activity. Despite the attempt by liberal theology to disguise the point, the fact is that no biblically derived religion can really be compromised with the fundamental assertion of Darwinian theory. Chance and design are antithetical concepts, and the decline in religious belief can probably be attributed more to the propagation and advocacy by the intellectual and scientific community of the Darwinian version of evolution than to any other single factor.
[Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Burnett: London, 1985), 66.]
Others have echoed these sentiments as well. Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine understand that eliminating God's causal activity from the universe was the driving force of Darwin's view:
[A]ccepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products. Darwinian evolution was not only purposeless but also heartless-a process in which the rigors of nature ruthlessly eliminate the unfit. Suddenly, humanity was reduced to just one more species in a world that cared nothing for us. The great human mind was no more than a mass of evolving neurons. Worst of all, there was no divine plan to guide us. These realizations troubled Darwin deeply, for in his day, materialism was even more outrageous than evolution. Some scholars speculate that fear of being branded a heretic for his materialism contributed to Darwin's 21-year delay in publishing his theory.
[Joseph S. Levine and Kenneth R. Miller, Biology: Discovering Life, 2nd ed., (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1994), 161.]
William Provine wrote:
[Y]ou have to check your brains at the church-house door if you take modern evolutionary biology seriously. The implications of modern evolutionary biology are inescapable, just as the conclusion of an immense universe was inescapable when we shifted from a cozy geocentric view to the heliocentric conception of our solar system. Stated simply, evolutionary biology undermines the fundamental assumptions underlying ethical systems in almost all cultures, Western civilization in particular. The frequently made assertion that evolutionary biology and the Judeo-Christian traditions are fully compatible is false. The destructive implications of evolutionary biology extend far beyond the assumptions of organized religion to a much deeper and more pervasive belief, held by the vast majority of people: that non-mechanistic organizing design or forces are somehow responsible for the visible order of the physical universe, biological organisms and human moral order.
[William Provine, "Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics." Science, Technology, and Social Progress, Steven Goldman, ed. 1989, pp. 253-254.]
Of course, it is still possible to believe in both modern evolutionary biology and a purposive force, even the Judeo-Christian God. One can suppose that God started the whole universe or works through the laws of nature (or both). There is no contradiction between this or similar views of God and natural selection. But this view of God is also worthless. Called Deism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and considered equivalent to atheism then, it is no different now. A God or purposive force that merely starts the universe or works thought the laws of nature has nothing to do with human morals, answers no prayers, gives no life everlasting, in fact does nothing whatsoever that is detectable. In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.
[William Provine, review of Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution, by Edward J. Larson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, 224 pp.), in Academe, January 1987, pp.51-52.]
Many theistic evolutionists readily admit the disparity between the naturalistic concept of evolution and their own. They make it clear that their acceptance of evolution is not in toto, but in part. Theistic evolutionists agree with Darwinian evolutionists concerning the process by which our present world came to be (gradual change over time, "natural" selection), but not the means (random chance events). Theistic evolutionists propose a different means of evolution than do Darwinian evolutionists. The evolution of TE is not natural, but supernatural; it is not determined by truly natural selection, but by supernatural selection. The only point of agreement between the two views is that our present world came to be by small, gradual changes over millions of years. So while TE adheres to the form of evolution, it abandons the means (purposeless and unguided selection by nature) and supplants the basic premise of evolutionary theory (philosophical materialism). When compared to its scientific mother, the "evolution" of theistic evolution is barely recognizable.
Why Believe in Theistic Evolution?
If TE is not the same theory that secular scientists espouse, and proposing a form of TE does not give Christians intellectual credibility in the eyes of the scientific and academic community6 leaving Christianity just as marginalized as it was before, why do some Christians feel the need to maintain a theistic evolutionary view? The only sufficient reason is that theistic evolutionists are convinced that evolution is true. If they did not feel that scientists have demonstrated the truth of evolution to the extent that it would be intellectually dishonest to deny its truthfulness they would not exert their energies trying to reconcile the Bible and their faith with it (for it is not an easy task!). It is only the persuasion that evolution is true that is a sufficient cause for Christians to propose a theory such as TE.
This is a very important point to grasp. Persuasion of the truth-worthiness of evolution precedes the view of TE both epistemologically, and temporally. This being true, if it can be shown that evolution without God is impossible, the theory of evolution is flawed at its core and unworthy of acceptance as truth. If it is unworthy of acceptance on its own merits there is no need to find a way to reconcile the Biblical account of origins with the atheistic scientists' account of origins. The whole pursuit of TE is rendered meaningless.
If acceptance of the truth of evolution precedes the formulation of TE epistemologically and temporally an obvious question should come to mind: if the theory of evolution is so scientifically sound that it is impossible to be intellectually honest and yet reject it, why does it have to be baptized with God for it to be considered true? Darwinian evolutionists say evolution occurred without the aid of intelligence. If their theory is so compelling why do theistic evolutionists reject this core tenet of the theory? The disparity between the naturalistic concept of evolution and their own is the greatest liability of TE, for this fact alone demonstrates that the theories of evolution are not sound in themselves and thus there is no reason for Christians to incorporate them into their worldview. Let me explain further.
The theory of evolution is intended as a purely naturalistic explanation for the cosmos. As a theory of origins it either stands or falls on its own merits. The theory is either sound or it is not. If it is sound in itself there is no room for faith in God because the soundness of evolution depends on the lack of God's existence and/or involvement with creation. If the theory is not sound there is no reason to accommodate the Biblical teaching so that it is compatible with evolutionary theory.7
Let's say someone was to ask you why water boils. You explain that science has demonstrated that water boils when a specific amount of heat is applied to a specific amount of water for a particular amount of time. You go on to say, however, that in addition to the scientific particulars water boils because little fairies appear from another realm and add magic dust to it. The latter explanation is simply not necessary if the first statement is an adequate explanation for the process. There is no need to invoke another source for the boiling of water if the original source is sufficient to explain it. Likewise, there is no need to invoke God into the process of evolution if the scientific explanation is adequate and sound in its own right. What we must ask, then, is whether the theory of evolution is sound on its own terms or not.
Evolution Cannot Stand on Its Own Two Scientific Feet
Are there scientific and philosophic liabilities with the theory of evolution that should cause us to doubt its truthfulness as an explanation of the origin and current shape of the cosmos? Is there reason to believe that the case for evolution is not as sound as scientists would like to make it? Yes, there are.
For evolution to be fact three things must be true: existence had to come from non-existence out of nowhere caused by nothing, life had to come from non-life (abiogenesis), species had to undergo macro-evolution from one species into another. If it can be demonstrated that even one of these positions are lacking in scientific support or are philosophically incredible evolution will be undermined and falsified as a valid worldview. If all three are shown to be false one would be entirely dishonest to continue his embrace of evolution as fact. All three tenets of evolution can in fact be shown to be in error.
The theory of evolution maintains that at one point the cosmos did not exist, but then did exist at another. How did this happen? How did something come from nothing out of nowhere caused by nothing? Guess what. Nobody knows. While evolutionists have proposed several theories to suggest how this might have happened, they are merely hypotheses with no substantial support from the field of science. They are merely postulated because the theory requires some sort of starting point.
This should cause us to ask a critical question: If scientists do not know how evolution happened, how do they know that it happened at all? If they answer, "Because we are here," they commit the fallacy of circular reasoning. Evolution is not a theory that attempts to explain that, but rather how. It attempts to explain how our cosmos came into being, and how it has come to be in its current shape. If they cannot explain how evolution could have begun why should we believe that it ever did?8 There is no rational reason to do so. If no one can set forth a valid and coherent explanation for how nothing becomes something by means of nothing and nobody then evolution cannot even get off the ground as a theory worthy of serious consideration. It takes more faith to believe that matter simply popped into existence fully charged with energy and that the non-existent nothing became the existent something than it does to believe that a rational, powerful, and creative being actively caused matter to come into being.
For evolution to be sound it must also be demonstrated scientifically how it is that abiogenesis might have occurred, and reasons anyone should believe that it did occur. It is interesting that a tenet as central to evolution as the idea that life came from non-life is contradictory to a known law of science: the law of biogenesis. The law of biogenesis states that life can only come from life. Apart from the fact that this theory contradicts the strongest authority in science (scientific law), do evolutionists have any idea how such an event occurred? No, but they still maintain evolution anyway. Why? Because they presuppose its truth and then try to find justification for their philosophy? Why? Because it is the only philosophy that can explain the cosmos without employing the God-card that is so feared by the natural sciences.
To say life came from non-life is like saying a fork turned into a fish. How could this have happened? Do we have any scientific evidence to support such a belief? None whatsoever. Do current scientific observations support the possibility of such? Absolutely not.9 So why believe it? Because it must have occurred for evolution to have occurred. But how do we know evolution occurred? Because we are here. Again, this is circular reasoning, presupposing that evolution is the means by which we got here and then arguing for a certain mechanism to explain it that has no justification other than the faith of the individual himself. This makes plain the truth about evolution: evolution is not about science, but about religion and philosophy.10
If for life to have existed abiogenesis had to have occurred, and yet we have no scientific evidence or epistemological justification for believing it did, why believe it? We only have reasons to assume that it did not, and indeed could not occur. If evolutionists have no way of justifying their belief in abiogenesis other than by the fact that the theory of evolution requires it, and if evolutionists are not able to explain the process by which it occurred other than by faith that it did somehow, then evolution as an explanation for life is a faith commitment that is not worthy of belief.
Finally, do we have good reason to believe that species undergo macro-evolution? When we look at the data we find that the answer is no. There are two primary arguments against such a notion that I will only briefly articulate here.
The first argument is based on the fossil record. If species underwent evolution from one species to another over millions and millions of years we would expect to find a fairly detailed depiction of the process preserved in the fossil record. We would expect to find thousands of animals that were in the midst of a transition, half-formed or with obvious mutations that were not beneficial for its survival. We would also expect to find a detailed picture of the chronological process by which one species changed into another. What do we find? Nothing. There are no half-formed species, and each species appears separate from others with no fossil evidence of its gradual change.
The second reason to question macro-evolution as true is the phenomenon known as irreducible complexity. An irreducibly complex system is one in which all parts of that system are necessarily required for the system to function. If any one piece were missing or damaged the system as a whole could not function. An example of an irreducibly complex system is a mouse-trap. A mouse trap requires a base, spring, hammer, catch, and a holding bar. If any one piece was missing you wouldn't simply catch less mice; you wouldn't be able to catch any mice at all because the system could not function until all the pieces existed and were assembled in the right order.
Biologically speaking blood coagulation is one example among many of a biological irreducibly complex system. When a pressurized blood circulation system is punctured a clot must form quickly in the right place and time or the organism will bleed to death. Furthermore, it must confine itself only to the cut lest all the blood in the organism solidify and the organism die. For our blood to perform these two essential tasks requires a complex process of activating and deactivating several enzymes in a precise order by means of proteins. If any one of these enzymes were missing, or if any one of these enzymes were out of order the organism would either bleed to death or die from complete body coagulation. How could such a thing be according to Darwinian evolution? It would require that each of these enzymes evolve at exactly the same time. According to Darwinism, however, it takes thousands, if not millions of years for evolution to occur. So what would happen to all the blood-based organisms which were waiting for the enzymes responsible for blood coagulation to evolve? They would have died out in the process and none of us would be here today to contemplate the question. Evolution cannot account for irreducibly complex systems, and as such we have no reason to believe that macro-evolution occurs.
Many theistic evolutionists are well aware of these fatal flaws in evolutionary theory, but supply God to patch up the system. God, it is said, can account for all of the things that evolution cannot. It is believed that if scientists would only allow the God-card into the question of origins that their case would be made complete. But what does this realization concede? It concedes the fact that evolutionary theory is not sound in itself. It requires something else to prop it up, namely theism. If evolution is not an adequate or coherent explanation of origins in its own right why would Christians ever want to wed their theology to it?
The only reasons to wed evolution and theism is because we find evolution to be an irrefutable fact of science, or have a desire to be accepted as intellectually credible among the scientific community. That evolution is not irrefutable is evidenced by the many criticisms leveled against it by philosophers, paleontologists, mathematicians, and even Darwinian scientists themselves. Furthermore, it is evident that theistic evolutionists themselves are not convinced that Darwinian evolution is an irrefutable scientific fact, otherwise they would not feel compelled to add God to the evolutionary equation to fill in the gaps of the theory.
If we don't need to wed evolution and theism because of the incontrovertible nature of the evidence for evolutionary theory, then those who do wed the two must be doing so in order to appear intellectually credible among the academic world. But if evolution is the problem-ridden theory that theistic evolutionists recognize it is, wouldn't it be the mark of foolishness to adopt this view, and serve to discredit our intelligence in the academic community? What is more, scientists dismiss Christians' claims to believe in evolution because theistic evolutionists employ supernatural rather than purely natural means to explain the cosmos. To a Darwinian evolutionist this is nothing short of religion dressed up in scientific garb, and thus invalidated from the outset.
If there are scientific and philosophical liabilities inherent to the theory of evolution that disable it from standing on its own two scientific feet there is no reason for the Christian to adopt the theory in any way, shape, or form. Baptizing it with God to fill in its scientific and philosophic deficiencies does not give the view more credibility, but less credibility. The recognition that God must be added to the evolutionary equation to give it a solid footing just goes to show that the evidence for evolution that caused us to believe in the fact of evolution in the first place cannot be as overwhelming as we initially believed it to be. If the evidence for evolution was as good as some Christians are under the impression it is, adding God to the theory is no more necessary than invoking fairies to explain why water boils. If Darwinian evolution is sound on its own terms it does not need God to fix it, and indeed has no room for God; if naturalistic evolution is not sound on its own terms we have no reason to accept it as true, and thus no reason to do the exegetical and theological tango with Scripture to accommodate it. If science is adequate to explain origins there is no need to invoke God. The fact of the matter is that the ideas of evolution and creation are diametrically opposed to one another and cannot be reconciled in any meaningful sense without compromising the basic tenets of each idea as they exist in themselves.
If Darwinian evolution is sound Christianity is simply false. If Christianity is sound Darwinian is false. But both cannot be true because the foundational concepts inherent to each view mutually exclude the foundational concepts of each other. Any attempt to mix them is the formula for spiritual and intellectual absurdity. That, my friends, is what TE is: spiritual and intellectual absurdity. Theistic evolution means design by chance, which is like square circles. Such things do not exist, and neither does theistic evolution.
Theistic Evolution is Unnecessary
Before a TE view is necessary to wed faith and science it must be shown that the science behind evolutionary theory is sound. If it can be shown that the scientific evidence necessary to ground evolution as truth is inadequate, there is no good reason to wed faith and science in some form of TE. An examination of the data makes it clear that the evidence required by science has not yet been supplied, making any theistic evolutionary view unnecessary.
Theism and Evolution are Incompatible
Not only is TE unnecessary, but it is incompatible with the theories that theistic evolutionists have found so convincing. Evolution advocates random chance processes whereas theistic theories advocate directed design. Evolution is blind and random with no end or purpose in mind; theistic creation is purposeful and meaningful with an eye to a particular end. In evolution nature does the selecting; in theistic creation God does the selecting. Now either God is selecting or nature is selecting; there is either an end in mind or there is not an end in mind; creation is either directed or by chance. One thing is for certain, however, it cannot be both because these depictions of reality are mutually exclusive.
1. There are seven basic tenets of Darwinian evolution that are presented here in logical/ chronological order: 1. Something came from nothing caused by nothing from nowhere; 2. Life came from non-life (abiogenesis); 3. Small changes occur in nature and organisms over time; 4. The cosmos has existed for an extremely large amount of time; 5. Change in the cosmos works on random chance; 6. Naturalistic processes and the struggle for survival select which changes are passed on to succeeding generations; 7. Everything in the universe is increasing in order, decreasing in randomness; 8. The small changes that nature has selected over large periods of time allow one species to transform into another (transitions of biological life). Of these seven basic tenets of Darwinian evolution theistic evolutionists tend to accept only tenets three, four, seven, and eight.
2. This figure is according to a 1991 Gallop Poll.
3. Gregory Koukl, "Michael Behe's Theistic Evolution"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/evolution/michaelb.htm; Internet; accessed 15 June 2000.
4. Greg Koukl, "Evolution-Philosophy, Not Science"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/evolution/phnotsci.htm; Internet; accessed 14 June 2001.
5. Gregory Koukl, "Michael Behe's Theistic Evolution"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/evolution/michaelb.htm; Internet; accessed 15 June 2000.
6. Christians who embrace TE are often seen as those who are weak in their faith as well as their science.
7. Greg Koukl, "Evolution-Philosophy, Not Science"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/evolution/phnotsci.htm; Internet; accessed 14 June 2001.
8. This point is derived from a taped lecture presented by Gregory Koukl titled "Why I am Not an Evolutionist." Date and location of the lecture is unknown.
9. This is especially telling because science deals with that which is observable, verifiable, and repeatable. It is obvious that scientists could not have seen life come from non-life when life came into existence (because they are a living organism themselves), so to affirm that such occurred is blind faith, and unscientific. It is unscientific in that it was not observable, and in the fact that no one has ever witnessed it occurring, ever! If we have never seen it happen, and have no viable mechanism that would enable it to occur, it is pure faith to affirm that it did.
10. Greg Koukl, "Evolution-Philosophy, Not Science"; available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/evolution/phnotsci.htm; Internet; accessed 14 June 2001.
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