DNA Code Intelligent Design

Can a person believe in both God and Darwinian evolution?

The term for a person who believes in fully naturalistic evolution but who also believes in God is “theistic evolutionist”.

Terrell Clemmons takes a look at one organization of theistic evolutionists “Biologos”, and makes a distinction between their public statements and the real implications of their public statements.

Here is the PR / spin definition of theistic evolution:

Evolutionary creation is “the view that all life on earth came about by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Evolution is a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes in creation.” This view, also called theistic evolution, has been around since the late nineteenth century, and BioLogos promotes it today in a variety of religious and educational settings.

And here is the no-spin definition of theistic evolution:

As Dr. Stephen Meyer explains it, the central issue dividing Bio-Logos writers from intelligent design theorists is BioLogos’s commitment to methodological naturalism (MN), which is not a scientific theory or empirical finding, but an arbitrary rule excluding non-material causation from the outset. “Unfortunately,” Meyer writes,

methodological naturalism is a demanding doctrine. The rule does not say “try finding a materialistic cause but keep intelligent design in the mix of live possibilities, in light of what the evidence might show.” Rather, MN tells you that you simply must posit a material or physical cause, whatever the evidence.

What this means, according to BioLogos’s own epistemology, is that God is objectively undiscoverable and unknowable—a tenet that sits squarely at odds with Christian orthodoxy, which has for centuries held that God is clearly discernible in the natural world (e.g., Romans 1:20). Obviously, this is theologically problematic, but Meyer also points out that theistic evolution faces problems from a scientific standpoint as well, as the technical literature among evolutionary biologists is moving away from the Darwinian mechanism.

Whenever I talk to theistic evolutionists, I try to stop them from talking about the Bible or their faith, because that’s not what is interesting to me. I don’t really care about their history as a religious person, or where they go to church, or who their pastor is. When I talk about origins and evolution, I only care about the science. What the ordinary process of scientific inquiry tells us about nature? Does nature have the capacity to create all of the varieties of life without any intelligent agency playing a role? Or, are there parts of nature that are similar to computer programs, blog posts, and term papers, where the best explanation of the effect is an intelligent agent choosing how to arrange the parts to achieve functionality?

I don’t accept molecules-to-man unguided evolution. This is not because I start with faith and let faith override the findings of science. It’s because I think that if you look at specific areas of natural history, there is clear evidence of intelligent agency, such as in the origin of life, or the Cambrian explosion. These effects in nature are well-studied and well-understood, and they look much more like the code that a computer scientist (like me) writes than the simplistic “order” created by wind erosion or crystalline patterns or anything the blind forces of nature could produce. Blind forces are observed to make small changes – short or long finch beaks, fruit flies with 4 wings and no balancers, bacterial resistances.

What’s also interesting is how often theistic evolutionists drop the theism but keep the evolution.

Consider this article about Stephen Matheson from Evolution News:

Biologist Stephen Matheson is a longtime critic of the theory of intelligent design. His extensive attacks on Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, for one, ranged from the substantive to the trivial and personal. The tone was frequently…abrasive, and we responded at the time. With Arthur Hunt, Dr. Matheson has debated Dr. Meyer in a forum at Biola University. Formerly a professor at an Evangelical Christian school, Calvin College, Matheson is still listed as a Blog Author at the theistic evolutionary website BioLogos, where it notes that he enjoys “explor[ing] issues of science and Christian faith.”

Well, his theistic evolutionary explorations have now terminated. As he reports on his personal blog page, where he took a hiatus of more than five years along with a break from his teaching, he is “happily” no longer a Christian.

OK. Now that’s just one case, but what about Howard Van Till, also of Calvin College?

Salvo magazine takes a look at what he wrote in a recent book:

In what follows I shall use the term “naturalism,” when unqualified, to represent neither more nor less than the rejection of supernaturalism. Stated positively, naturalism is committed to the belief that all events that occur within this Universe are consistent with and adequately explained by the system of natural causes. This commitment necessarily entails the additional belief that the system of natural causes is fully adequate to account for all events that transpire. Focusing on the issue of the Universe’s formational economy, we can say that naturalism—as here defined -entails the RFEP.

He now gives presentations for atheist groups entitled “From Calvinism to Freethought”. Freethought is a euphemism for atheism.

Now, for the big three Western monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. To deny supernaturalism IS to deny the robust theism present in the world’s big three monotheistic religions. Van Till denies theism as commonly understood now. And again, this isn’t because of the science. His heavy handed naturalistic assumption squashed out any kind of serious inquiry into areas like the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine tuning, the origin or life, the Cambrian explosion, biological convergence, so-called junk DNA, deleterious mutations, and so on. Places where you can see that naturalistic forces cannot do the creating that Van Till has faith that they can.

I don’t accept any kind of macro-evolution – evolution of body plans or organ types. My problem with evolution is not Bible-based, it’s science-based. If the science shows the need for intelligent causes, and I think it does, then I think that the naturalists need to adjust their assumptions and pre-suppositions to match the evidence. On the Internet have ball sorts of programs written in different computer languages. They are evidence for programmers. In nature, we have DNA and proteins and sudden origin of body plans, that’s evidence for a programmer, too.

4 thoughts on “Can a person believe in both God and Darwinian evolution?”

  1. It’s even harder to believe that Darwinian theory and evolution are compatible except in the most trivial of ways: microevolution – populations of dark and light colored moths evolving into light and dark colored moths, or speciation – two populations of the same species losing the ability to interbreed.

    1. At the very least, a good theory of evolution should explain the pervasive patterns of natural history: Disparity preceding diversity. Natural history reveals that the disparity of the major plans preceded the diversity of species. Darwinian theory predicts exactly the opposite: the diversity of species should ultimately produce differences in species that first produce new genera, then new families, classes, orders and finally new body plans (phyla). Natural history shows a pervasive pattern of top-down. Darwin predicted bottom up. You simply can’t get more incompatible with the natural history of life on Earth. The question is why any Christian would want their beliefs to be compatible with Darwin’s. Evolution (in the sense of Progressive Creation): Yes. Darwin: NO!

    2. Darwin’s mechanism was even backwards. Darwin was not without his critics. In his book, “Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth”, Soren Lovtrup points out that “some critics turned against Darwin’s teachings for religious reasons, but they were a minority; most of his opponents … argued on a completely scientific basis.” He goes on to explain:
    “…the reasons for rejecting Darwin’s proposal were many, but first of all that many innovations cannot possibly come into existence through accumulation of many small steps, and even if they can, natural selection cannot accomplish it, because incipient and intermediate stages are not advantageous.”

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  2. The bottom line is that Darwin discovered the mechanism that prevents major evolutionary change from occurring on a gradual step-by-step basis and he should have come to directly opposite conclusions. He even admitted so in the Introduction to his Origins of Species, but loved his theory more than the evidence of natural history and the fossil record which he called imperfect. “Theory good, Data bad” isn’t the best of mottos for any scientist, yet Darwin seemed to have earned it.

    He should have read the Introduction to his Origin of Species a lot more often:

    “I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question, and this cannot possibly be done here.”

    Why not? And why not now? Why don’t scientists realize that science no longer needs a neo-Darwinian god-of-the-gaps, Pure Chance, to account for the arrival of the fittest? Why don’t they instead develop a Theory of Macro-Stasis or Theory of Conservation to explain how nature actually functions in the absence of Progressive Creation? After all, we can’t allow a divine foot in the door of the natural sciences even if we are left without a materialistic explanation for major evolutionary change. Who says major evolutionary change was natural anyway?

    Nature didn’t have a natural cause. Ask Francis Collins who was key in creating BioLogos. He knows that either the Cosmos or its Creator must have always existed and he knows that science tells us that it wasn’t the Cosmos.

    Just keep in mind that Darwinian theory is just as compatible with natural history and major evolutionary change as Intelligent Design is to Unintelligent Design.

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  3. I wonder if part of the issue depends on your view of predestination.

    I tend to think God acts in the natural world but also natural laws also act in the world. If I pray for an event (say I pray for my mother in law to recover from cancer) and it happens the way I prayed did a miracle happen? I think it is hard to say for sure. Perhaps God acted in the world perhaps not. Perhaps God gave the surgeon the thought that he should check this lymph node again or perhaps he acted in my mother in laws body to help her recover etc. I mean I think I can just look at the whole and say her chances were slim and I think God acted somehow, without explaining exactly how God acted in the world.

    I think the same is true when it comes to evolution. I can’t say what may have happened due to natural law and what God more directly influenced. If a certain animal lives or dies before having offspring that effects evolution. Is every death before offspring a direct action by God?

    But I look at the whole and I do agree with you. On the whole I do look around at the world and my experience etc and think – no this didn’t just come about from molecules bouncing around. That seems unlikely. And if anyone is so sure that it did happen naturally then I would ask them how many times did it happen? I mean if they are saying the probability that this happened naturally is so very high that it is absurd to think it required something supernatural then why would it only happen once? And I don’t mean *exactly* like it did happen but even other forms of intelligent life at all. How many times?

    It seems to me that the reality I experience is so unlikely to happen from molecules naturally colliding without any purpose that a supernatural explanation is more probable. That is an explanation beyond natural laws. But I can’t get into the weeds and say this particular part of the chain is where God acted and this link was just guided by natural laws. Just like I might think it was likely a miracle that a person survived cancer but can’t say exactly how God did it or what parts were just natural laws.

    So I think that makes me a sort of theistic evolutionist. But I am open to being called other things.

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