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.

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

  1. Dear WK,
    I thought about this post but was not convinced. Maybe it would help to hear your thoughts on WIlliam Lane Craig’s defense of theistic evolution? I know you usually like him.
    It seems to me that (following Craig) the proper way for a theistic evolutionist to argue is to deny scientism and affirm natural theology. That is: We can have plenty of evidence of God the Creator even if that evidence is non-scientific. There is rationality outside of science, because the idea of scientism is false. Thus Craig and others like Richard Swinburne take the view that the arguments of natural theology are philosophical, not scientific. (Check the work of Mikael Stenmark, Jeroen de Ridder and C. S. Lewis for further critiques of scientism.)
    To further support the previous contention, it seems to me that ID itself requires the existence of other good non-scientific arguments/reasons for believing in the Creator God. After all, ID claims (reasonably) that its design argument just affirms an Intelligent Designer, not God. Therefore ID proponents absolutely require additional reasons or religious experiences beyond ID to conclude that the Christian God exists. But if such reasons exist, then why could not a theistic evolutionist like Richard Swinburne or Alister McGrath also help themselves to such reasons? And are scientific reasons for belief in God always necessarily superior to philosophical, theological and experiential reasons?
    This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, so thank you for any response!

  2. Origin of life is the litmus test for theistic evolutionists. Creationism is by definition a supernatural explanation of observed data. If you are not willimg to infer supernatural causes, then you have already dismissed the possibility of creationism, regardless of the evidence. Such people have no credibility when speaking on any creation-evolution issues.

    People like Ken Miller are like the Republican moderates. They pretend to be on your side while only criticizing people to their right. They should be called out for who they are: closet leftists. They should not be trusted.

    Creationists should take a page out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Identify the leading anti-ID activists and wage a PR campaign against them. DO NOT make the Mitt Romney blunder of saying that your opponents are good people who are mistaken. Attack their credibility, and attack it personally and ruthlessly. Comb through their papers and point out every time that they had deliberately deceived their readers. Carl Sagan, for example, was a fraud who put his finger on the scales of science in order to push them in a leftist direction. TTAPS was one example of Sagan committing scientific fraud to advance an agenda.

    I would guess that Ken Miller and his ilk have lots of dirt on them. Find it and post it, and plant people at his talks to ask questions that draw attention to these acts of fraud. That is how you win.

    1. Carl Sagan is the one who pushed the noe-discredited oscillating universe specifically because it favored Hinduism over Christianity. That should be mentioned every time his name is mentioned to discredit him as a scientist.

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