Can a person believe in God and evolution at the same time?

Was Mount Rushmore designed?
Was Mount Rushmore designed?

Here’s a post on Evolution News that explains what theistic evolution is:

Three geologists stand at the foot of Mt. Rushmore. The first geologist says, “This mountain depicts perfectly the faces of four U.S. Presidents, it must be the work of a master sculptor.” The second says, “You are a geologist, you should know that all mountains were created by natural forces, such as volcanoes and plate movements, the details were then sculpted by erosion from water and wind. How could you possibly think this was the work of an intelligent sculptor? Only a person completely ignorant of geophysics could think those faces were designed.”

The third geologist says to himself, “I don’t want to be seen as ignorant, but the faces in this mountain sure do look like they were designed.” So he thinks a moment and says to the second geologist, “Of course you are right, these faces were sculpted by natural forces such as erosion. Only an ignorant person would think they were designed.” Then he turns to the first and says, “But what a magnificent result, there obviously must have been a master sculptor standing by and watching.”

The third geologist is a theistic evolutionist. Someone who thinks that God did nothing detectable by science in the whole history of the universe, but who also loves to talk about their religious experience and what hymns they like to sing in church. Synonyms for this definition of theistic evolution are “supernaturalist naturalism” and “theistic atheism”. I like the latter, myself. Theistic atheism. Atheism at work for my colleagues on Monday, and theism in the church for my pastor on Sundays.

Now if you call yourself a theistic evolutionist, but you think that intelligent design is detectable in nature by non-theists doing ordinary science with ordinary scientific methods, then you are not a theistic evolutionist according to this definition. This post is not describing you.

You can listen to a debate on theistic evolution between Michael Behe and theistic evolutionist Keith Fox right here to decide if theistic evolution is true. A summary is provided for those who prefer to read instead of listen.

9 thoughts on “Can a person believe in God and evolution at the same time?”

  1. And, in case you have never seen Mt. Rushmore up close and personal, I highly recommend it – well worth the long out-of-the-way drive. Drive through Custer State Park to see it the first time – from about 10 miles away, through the trees. Truly breathtaking, clearly designed. Take along a DVD of North by Northwest.

    Lots of pro-life billboards up in South Dakota as well. Apparently, the good people of SD do not believe that babies, or Mt. Rushmores, are accidents.

  2. I think it is helpful to broaden the debate as well. I mean some theistic evolutionists believe that God had a specific end in mind. One could combine that with something like Molinism and say that God used counterfactual knowledge of evolution in order to plan for humans as one of its outcomes. Does that remove God as designer? Well, in the sense you describe above this could fit the notion that, in principle, design wouldn’t be detected in nature, but it seems to me that the theistic evolutionist would not be remiss to claim that this is providential ordering of the universe for a telos.

    Anyway, just a random thought that came to mind and probably needs to be developed more. Also, could you clarify what your answer is to the question in the title? It seems fairly clear your answer is no, but I’d like to see more of your thoughts there.

    1. Well, in your first paragraphs, these are a person’s subjective beliefs, and we just don’t care about that. We care about what science shows. If science shows that nature can do all the creating, then evolution is true. If science shows that nature cannot do all the creating, then evolution is false. We don’t really care about someone’s personal preferences about God, we care about science.

      No, it’s not possible to believe in unguided evolution and guided evolution. We have to ask what does the science show. Atheists and theistic evolutionists agree: the science shows that no guiding is detectible by science. The ID proponent thinks that the guiding is detectible through science. That’s the dividing line.

      1. Not to be overly picky here, but might a better title be “Can a person believe in God and Darwinism (or macro-evolution) at the same time?” Or, maybe you mean both Darwinism and theistic evolution? I think that it eliminates the possibility that someone might counter with “evolution is change over time” or “evolution as micro-evolution,” both of which are true.

        But, your blog is subtle to me, so I might be missing your point. You are definitely much more introspective about theistic evolution than most people I know. I think you once made the point that theistic evolution is just Darwinism with a “God wrapper” or something to that effect. I think that you have connected the dots in your head, but left the details to the reader, because “it is clear that…” That’s the way I used to write my math proofs too. :-)

  3. Mt. Rushmore is an interesting analogy, but like all analogies an imperfect one. The sculpture, after all, has visible tool marks when examined closely, unlike any living organism. It has no ancestors, no DNA containing clues to its history, no fossil record of its antecedents. It’s a one-off, therefore a distorting lens to describe how those of us who embrace both evangelical Christianity and standard science (to use the article’s term, theistic evolutionists) actually understands things. The anecdote describing the interpretations of the sculpture sets up a straw man, maligning the theistic evolutionist as a functional Deist and defaming his character and intellect.
    Another analogy may be more apt: Christian believers in the modern world who have any education at all understand the biological process of fertilization in mammals, including humans, and how the gametes unite to form a zygote, which develops into a blastocyst, then an embryo, a fetus, and is finally born as a baby. Yet at the same time we also affirm that a baby is a unique creation of God. God works in and through the natural process in the act of Creation. It is not functional Deism to see that all natural processes, including biological evolution, take place under Divine providential superintendence. As the Westminster Confession avers, neither the liberty nor the contingency of secondary causes is taken away by Divine Providence, but rather established.
    The desire to look for scientific evidence of Intelligent Design is only important to those who embrace concordism, a modern innovation that has become part of a remarkable hermeneutical construct imposed onto the text of documents that would become what we call sacred Scripture, not entirely unlike the faces the sculptors tools have imposed on the rock of Mt. Rushmore.

    1. Robinson,

      First of all, in this analogy, those tool marks would simply be interpreted as additional erosional remnants. So that is merely a distinction without a difference, and hardly constitutes a valid criticism.

      Second, your observation that Mt Rushmore “has no ancestors, no DNA containing clues to its history, no fossil record of its antecedents” also applies to that first self-replicating organism.

      Until you have an organism that is capable of self-reproduction, you are at the merry whim of random chance. To suggest otherwise (as is often done) is just wishful thinking. That first organism must have arrived without predecessor because it (by definition) was not the product of reproduction.

      Of course, natural selection is a moot point here because I am specifically talking about the origination of the first living organism that was capable of self-reproduction. Even if the process of natural selection helped shape subsequent generations, it did not even exist as a functioning process until an organism capable of reproduction was somehow produced. That first organism, like the Sphinx or the faces carved into the rocks of Mt Rushmore, must have arrived without the magic of natural selection. If the modest Sphinx is obviously the product of design, then clearly life, with its much greater complexity, is as well.

      Finally, do not conflate “standard science” with “theistic evolution.” As a trained scientist, I accept standard science. It is evolution (theistic or otherwise) that I find unconvincing (from a scientific perspective).

  4. Greg Koukl describes the word “evolution” as an accordion word. It’s a word whose meaning grows and shrinks depending on how it’s being used.

    This makes discussion difficult, because the word will grow and shrink even in a short conversation. At its most narrow definition, evolution means change. At its widest definition, evolution means ontological naturalism. Somewhere in-between is genetic drift and natural selection.

    It’s an error to deny that things change. It’s equally an error to equate change with ontological naturalism. We also know that genetic drift is real enough to be represented mathematically. It’s a big leap, however, to say that genetic drift with natural selection is sufficient to explain the diversity of life.

  5. Okay, let’s say there is a designer behind the universe. But from what I can see in nature the creation and its inhabitants are opportunistic, from trees to lions. The issue is that creation seems to be amoral, which is what our economic system is. So the whole idea of God being a moral and loving creator does not fit what he created. Also, personally I do not believe that Yahweh is not the same as Jesus, and that the conflation of the old testament with the new testament was a way to give Jesus some cred among the Jews as fulfillment of the OT prophecies.

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