Is belief in a Creator / Designer compatible with belief in Darwinian evolution?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

What should we make of theistic evolutionists telling us that you can believe in God, while still knowing that matter, law and chance fully explain the development of all of biological life?

Consider this quotation from Phillip E. Johnson.


The National Academy’s way of dealing with the religious implications of evolution is akin to the two-platoon system in American football. When the leading figures of evolutionary science feel free to say what they really believe, writers such as Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and others state the “God is dead” thesis aggressively, invoking the authority of science to silence any theistic protest. That is the offensive platoon, and the National Academy never raises any objection to its promoting this worldview.

At other times, however, the scientific elite has to protect the teaching of the “fact of evolution” from objections by religious conservatives who know what the offensive platoon is saying and who argue that the science educators are insinuating a worldview that goes far beyond the data. When the objectors are too numerous or influential to be ignored, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read those spin-doctored reassurances saying that many scientists are religious (in some sense), that science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world), and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed (unless it is the materialists who are doing the mixing). Once the defensive platoon has done its job it leaves the field, and the offensive platoon goes right back to telling the public that science has shown that “God” is permanently out of business.

(Phillip E. Johnson: “The Wedge of Truth”, IVP 2000, pp. 88-89).

So what naturalistic scientists believe is that God didn’t do anything to create the diversity of life – that nature does all of its own creating without God. In fact, it doesn’t matter if the best naturalistic explanation is improbable or implausible – naturalists must bitterly cling to materialistic explanations of natural phenomena. Any doubts about the efficacy of naturalistic mechanisms get met by “theistic evolutionists” – scientists who think that science shows that God didn’t do anything in the history of life.

When it comes to discussing origins, you have to be very careful with theistic evolutionists. The one question they want to avoid is whether science, done in the ordinary naturalistic way, can discover evidence of intelligent agency in the history of the development of life. And that’s why you have to ask them that question first. “Is there any scientific evidence that intelligent causes were active during the history of the development of life on this planet?” Their answer to that is the same as atheists, namely: “there is no scientific evidence that intelligent causes are responsible for the effects we see in the history of life on Earth”. Theistic evolutionists and atheists agree on that: as far as pure scientific evidence is concerned, nature can do its own creating without any intelligence writing genetic code or engineering animal body plans.

Now, take a look at this article by Jay Richards. He cites some theistic evolutionists.


Biologist Ken Miller:

For his part, [Ken] Miller, a biologist, has no qualms about telling us what God would do: “And in Catholicism, he said, God wouldn’t micromanage that way. ‘Surely he can set things up without having to violate his own laws.'”

I am unaware of any tenet of Catholic theology that requires God not to micromanage. It is, however, a tenet of deism.

Got that? What really happened is that God didn’t do anything. How does he know that? From the science? No. Because he assumes naturalism. Oh, it’s true that he says that God is lurking somewhere behind the material processes that created life. But God’s agency is undetectable by the methods of science. And he is hoping that you will accept his subjective pious God-talk as proof that a fundamentally atheistic reality is somehow reconcilable with a robust conception of theism.

More from Richards:

Then we get Stephen Barr offering his private definition of “chance.”

It is possible to believe simultaneously in a world that is shaped by chance and one following a divine plan. “God is in charge and there’s a lot of accident,” said Barr, also a Catholic. “It’s all part of a plan. . . . God may have known where every molecule was going to move.”

What does Barr really believe? He believes that what science shows is that nature created life without any interference by an intelligent agent. Barr then offers believers his subjective pious God-talk to reassure them that evolution is compatible with religion. He has a personal belief – NOT BASED ON SCIENCE – that the material processes that created all of life are “all part of a plan”. He cannot demonstrate that from science – it’s his faith commitment. And more speculations: “God may have known…”. He can’t demonstrate that God did know anything from science. He is just offering a personal opinion about what God “could have” done. The purpose of these subjective opinions is to appease those who ask questions about what natural mechanisms can really create. Can natural causes really account for the development of functional proteins? Never mind that – look at my shiny spiritual-sounding testimony!

That’s theistic evolution. What really happened is that no intelligent causes are needed to explain life. What they say is “God could” and “God might” and “I pray” and “I attend this church” and “I received a Christian award” and “I sing praise hymns in church”. None of these religious opinions and speculations are relevant to the science – they are just opinions, speculations and biographical trivia. Atheists and theistic evolutionists agree on what science shows about the diversity of life – intelligent causes didn’t do anything.


One of the ways that theistic evolutionists try to affirm design is by insisting that the design is “front-loaded”. The design for all the information and body plans is somehow embedded in matter.

Here is Stephen C. Meyer to assess that:

It’s very important to understand that there is no scientific evidence for design (information) being front-loaded. So although the theistic evolutionists are talking about design, it’s still in the realm of faith – not detectable to scientific investigation. And as Dr. Meyer explained, it doesn’t work to explain design anyway.

I attended a Wheaton College philosophy conference where Dr. Michael Murray read a paper advocating for this front-loaded view of design. I raised my hand to ask him a question, “hey, philosophy guy, did God front-load the information in that paper you’re reading, or did you write it yourself?” But the philosophy moderators must have known that I was an engineer, and would talk sense into him, because they never called on me. However, I did e-mail him later and asked him if he had any evidence for this front-loading theory, and couldn’t God write sequence information in time the same way he had sequenced information in his essay. He replied and said that front-loading was more emotionally satisfying for him. That’s philosophy, I guess. Thank goodness an engineer wrote his e-mail program so that he could at least come clean about his silly view.

The quickest way to disarm a theistic evolutionist is to ask them for a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life. And for a naturalistic explanation of the Cambrian explosion. And so on. Focus on the science – don’t let them turn the conversation to their personal beliefs, or to the Bible, or to religion. No one cares about the psychology of the theistic evolutionist. We only care what science can show.

5 thoughts on “Is belief in a Creator / Designer compatible with belief in Darwinian evolution?”

  1. How can Darwinians & theistic evolutionists support or advocate for any form of Darwinism and/or naturalism with the following info present about the Cambrian Explosion:

    “In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin considered this sudden appearance of solitary group of trilobites with no apparent antecedents, and absence of other fossils to be “undoubtedly of the gravest nature” among the difficulties in his theory of natural selection. He reasoned that earlier seas had swarmed with living creatures, but that their fossils had not been found due to the imperfections of the fossil record.[15] In the sixth edition of his book, he stressed his problem further as:[18]

    ‘To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer.’ ”

  2. I’m just curious as to what you think of the theory of common descent. Many prominent ID theorists seems to be quite open to the idea.

    “The first point one has to get straight in discussions like this, is that ID is not the opposite of evolution. Rather, it is the opposite of Darwinism, which says life evolved by an utterly unguided, undirected mechanism. If god directed the process of evolution, or rigged the universe to produce complex life, then that is not Darwinism – it is intelligent design.”

    ~ Michael Behe, Good News, January 2011

    I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it.”
    ~ Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 1996

    “I’m open to common ancestry … I don’t think I would go as far as Eugenie. I think there is still some question about that but I know there are some very strong lines of evidence for common ancestry … So I’m open to that. That’s not a problem for me if that’s how it turns out.”
    ~ William Dembski,

    The theory of intelligent design does not challenge the first two meanings of evolution – change over time or the idea of common ancestry. Though some of us are skeptical about universal common ancestry. But it does specifically challenge the idea that a purely undirected process – natural selection acting on random variations or other similarly materialistic mechanisms – can account for all the form that we see in the biological world. So we’re not trying to erect a stereotype of the theory and knock it down. Just the opposite. We’re trying to be clear and precise about what we are critiquing and what we’re not.”
    ~ Stephen C. Meyer,

      1. WK & Raf,

        You can easily dismiss it.

        Please read the following article (Here is an the abstract of this article):

        ‘Although overwhelming circumstantial evidence supports the existence of the universal common ancestor of all extant life on Earth, it is still an open question whether the universal common ancestor existed or not. Theobald (Nature 465, 219–222 (2010)) recently challenged this problem with a formal statistical test applied to aligned sequences of conservative proteins sampled from all domains of life and concluded that the universal common ancestor hypothesis holds. However, we point out that there is a fundamental flaw in Theobald’s method which used aligned sequences. We show that the alignment gives a strong bias for the common ancestor hypothesis, and we provide an example that Theobald’s method supports a common ancestor hypothesis for two apparently unrelated families of protein-encoding sequences (cytb and nd2 of mitochondria). This arouses suspicion about the effectiveness of the “formal” test.’

  3. I forgot to add: and please pay attention to the last paragraph of this study:

    ‘Charles Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species [22] as follows: “I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from someone primordial form, into which life first breathed”. Darwin seems to have discarded multiple origins of life on Earth. However, as Theobald [2] correctly noted, the theory of UCA allows for the possibility of multiple independent origins of life [23, 24]. The UCA hypothesis simply states that all extant life on Earth has descended from a single common ancestral species. There must have been a huge amount of extinctions during the course of the history of life, and there is no way to know what kinds of life became extinct during the early evolution of life. Still, it seems likely that a huge amount of trials and errors of different forms occurred during the emergence of life and that UCA if existed was just one of them. Further, as argued by Raup and Valentine [24], the probability of survival of life is low unless there are multiple origins. Even if the UCA hypothesis holds, the survival of the particular form of life does not imply that it was unique or superior.’

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