Tag Archives: Biologos

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.

What is theistic evolution? 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.

William Dembski replies to theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk

William Dembski is much nicer than I am, and so he takes theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk to task very gently.

Excerpt:

In the paper to which Falk responds, I lay out four non-negotiables of Christianity as well as four non-negotiables of Darwinism. Falk and I are united on the four non-negotiables of Christianity, but differ a bit on those of Darwinism. The four non-negotiables of Darwinism that I list are common descent, natural selection, human continuity, and methodological naturalism. Because Falk and I both reject Darwinism, there’s quite a bit of overlap in how we view these four non-negotiables. Nonetheless, I think it will help readers of my essay and Falk’s response to clarify some of our differences here, subtle though they may be.

With regard to common descent, I agree with Falk that God could have brought about life by means of a large-scale form of evolution that links all organisms to a common ancestor. That said, I don’t accept common descent. I think the scientific evidence is against it (for my reasons, see my book The Design of Life, coedited with Jonathan Wells). Also, even though common descent may be acceptable in broad theological terms, I think it is problematic exegetically with regard to Scripture. Simply put, I think you’re going to have a hard time getting large-scale evolution out of Scripture or rendering the two compatible.

With regard to natural selection, Falk appears to accept that this is the principal mechanism by which organisms are brought into existence successively by an evolutionary process. At the same time, Falk does not want to see natural selection as devoid of purpose but rather as a mechanism through which God is able to accomplish his purposes. But in that case, in what sense is selection “natural”? Is Falk’s view of natural selection, when viewed as a scientific hypothesis, any different from Richard Dawkins’s? And if their views, taken scientifically, are the same, what is the evidence for the creative power of this mechanism?

Falk extols “God’s marvelously ordinary processes of creation: ordinary because they follow his natural laws so faithfully, marvelous because they have resulted in a world of complex and beautiful life.” In my view, the word “ordinary” is entirely out of place here. As I’ve argued with Robert Marks in a paper titled “Life’s Conservation Law,” even if life is the result of an evolutionary process driven by natural selection, it would have to be a form of selection finely tuned by an environment that is itself finely tuned (see our contribution to The Nature of Nature, edited by Bruce Gordon and me — the paper in question is available online here).

Falk takes exception to my thinking it “odd” that God would create by natural selection, and thus by a process that gives no evidence of intelligence. And he rejects my charge that such a method of creation “occludes” God’s activity. Falk, echoing Psalm 19, proclaims that all aspects of creation bespeak God’s handiwork and glory. Now let me concede that “oddness,” in the sense of what appears odd to us very limited human beings with our very limited vantages on the world, is not a good criterion for determining what God would and wouldn’t do. Still, it hardly seems that God is mandated to create via a process that provides no evidence of his creative activity — and nowhere does Falk admit that God provides actual evidence of himself in creation (at best he allows that nature provides “signposts” — but what exactly are these signs? who is reading them? why should we take them as pointing to God?). Moreover, for Falk to echo the psalmist is hardly an argument for the world proclaiming God’s handiwork and glory, because many atheistic evolutionists will deny Falk’s confident affirmations of divine perspicuity.

I’ve seen this directly. I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck. Thus, when Falk echoes Psalm 19, what more is he doing than giving expression to his own faith? Indeed, what more is he saying to atheists than merely “I see God’s hand in all of this and you don’t — you’re blind and I see.” Perhaps faith has given him sight that atheists lack. But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature? God, as omnipotent, can certainly make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.

Still, the more interesting question here is whether there is a rational basis for Falk’s faith that is grounded in the order of nature. ID, in finding scientific evidence of intelligence in nature, says there is. Falk, along with BioLogos generally, denies this. But in that case, how can he avoid the charge that the faith by which he sees God’s handiwork is merely an overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith? Note that I’m not alone in thinking it odd that God would create by natural selection. Many atheistic evolution see evolution as a brutal and wasteful process that no self-respecting deity would have employed in bringing about life. Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and the late Stephen Jay Gould were united on this point.

There are three things that annoy me greatly and cause me to lose my temper. One of those things is theistic evolution, which to me is essentially atheism with unnecessary subjective verbiage added on top. My advice for discussing evolution with a theistic evolutionist is to never, ever allow them to talk about anything about religion. Just focus on the science and what the science can show. Anything else they say about their personal feelings and beliefs that isn’t scientific is just an attempt to deceive the listener. Never ever allow a theistic evolutionist to talk about possibilities – what God could or could not do. That is irrelevant to the discussion because it is outside of what science can show.

The central question when discussing evolution is this: can we use the ordinary methods of science, just as Dembski’s method for recognizing design based on specified complexity, in order to detect intelligent causes? Atheists and theistic evolutionists are united on the answer: NO. Darrel Falk and Richard Dawkins agree that there is no way for science to show that an intelligence is needed to explain some effect in nature, because natural mechanisms can do the job with the probabilistic resources available. Design theorists think that you can infer that intelligence is the best explanation – for some effects that pass the mathematical tests.

So you have atheists and theistic evolutionists on one side, and intelligent design people on the other side.

Is evolution compatible with Christianity?

Denyse O’Leary found this article at the Washington Post about a Christian woman who discovered Darwinian evolution through the works of Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne. She found it to be incompatible with Christianity. (H/T Uncommon Descent)

Excerpt:

But of course evolution poses a problem for Christianity. That’s not to say it poses a problem for all Christians, since many Christians happily accept evolution: they see Genesis 1 as merely a metaphor, and declare that if God chose to create us using evolution, that’s fine by them. I used to be this kind of Christian myself; but I must confess that my blitheness was only possible because I had only the vaguest possible idea of how evolution works and certainly didn’t know enough about it to realize that unguided-ness is central to it.

While I welcome anyone who recognizes that the evidence for evolution is such that it cannot sensibly be denied, to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject.

And:

Evolution poses a further threat to Christianity, though, a threat that goes to the very heart of Christian teaching. … Evolution could not have produced a single mother and father of all future humans, so there was no Adam and no Eve. No Adam and Eve: no fall. No fall: no need for redemption. No need for redemption: no need for a redeemer. No need for a redeemer: no need for the crucifixion or the resurrection, and no need to believe in that redeemer in order to gain eternal life. And not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.

That’s the understanding of evolution that she got from Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne.

Denyse O’Leary mentions that there is a group of “Christian” Darwinists who have no problem at all with the scientific claims made by atheistic Darwinists. They oppose intelligent design – the idea that science can detect effects in nature, like protein sequences, that are best explained as the result of intelligent causes. When it comes to what the science can show, atheists and “theistic evolutionists” agree: God didn’t do anything. So why are these “theistic evolutionists” pushing a theory that leads people to become atheists, when properly understood?

William Dembski reviews a new book by two theistic evolutionists

From Patheos, an opening statement by William Dembski. This is the first part of a four-part debate with two scientists of the Biologos group, which advocates for theistic evolution. (And not to be confused with the Biologic Institute, which is supportive of intelligent design).

Excerpt:

Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, “There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin–not one–which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species” (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence. Repeatedly readers are informed that mountains of overwhelming evidence support Darwin’s theory and that the authors are “unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution.” And just so there’s no doubt, in that same paragraph, they reiterate, “There are certainly a few scientists who reject evolution . . . But these are never premier scientists.”

Oh, you reject Darwinian evolution; you can’t be a premier scientist. What counterexample would convince Giberson and Collins to retract such a claim? How about Henry Schaefer’s signature on a “Dissent from Darwin” list? Schaefer heads the computational quantum chemistry lab at the University of Georgia, has published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal articles, and is one of the most widely cited chemists in the world. Then again, Giberson and Collins look askance at this list (according to them, it has too many emeriti professors and not enough biologists). But why engage in such posturing about scientific pecking order in the first place? The issue is not who’s doubting Darwinism, but what are the arguments for and against it and whether they have merit. Giberson and Collins’ constant drumming of mainstream and consensus science is beside the point–science progresses by diverging from the mainstream and by breaking with consensus.

Because Giberson and Collins assert that natural selection is such a powerful mechanism for driving evolution–and one that admits no reasoned dissent–it’s worth recounting here briefly why the intelligent design community is so skeptical of it. It’s not, as theistic evolutionists often suggest, that we have a desperate need to shore up faith and morality and are using ID as our instrument of choice to accomplish that end. Rather, it’s that natural selection is, in essence, a trial and error tinkering mechanism for which all evidence suggests that its power is quite limited. Trial and error works fine when you have something that’s functional and are trying to enhance it or adapt it to a new situation.

But for natural selection, as a trial and error mechanism, to traverse vast swatches of biological function space, we need to see an extended series of small gradual structural changes (under neo-Darwinism, these are genetic mutations leaving effects at the phenotypic level) that continually improve, or at least maintain, function, with evolving functions and evolving structures covarying and reinforcing each other. But we know of no detailed testable (macro-)evolutionary pathways like this in any field, whether in the evolution of living forms or in the evolution of language or in the evolution of technologies. In fact, when we can trace such evolutionary pathways, we find that significant change happens in creative leaps, not via trial and error tinkering.

Everyone who has read Dembski’s opening remarks in this four-part series is raving about the quality of what he’s written. I was hoping to wait for the response before publishing his opening salvo, so we could balance it, but no reply has appeared yet. For me, there is only one issue in the debate about the origin of life: if natural causes can create life from non-life with the time and resources available on the early Earth, then show me the mechanism. That’s all I want to see – the evidence that natural causes can do the creating that the naturalists say that it can do. I don’t want to hear about feelings, possibilities, what God could or couldn’t do, philosophy, what church you attend, your favorite hymn, the way you were raised, your religious experiences, etc. I just want to see you prove that nature can do all the creating that you say it can do.