Tag Archives: Howard Van Till

Can a person believe in God and fully naturalistic molecules-to-man evolution?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

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.

And for the record, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the standard Big Bang cosmology, and a 4.5 billion year Earth. 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. We have blog posts and computer science code, that’s evidence for a programmer. We have DNA and proteins and sudden origin of body plans, that’s evidence for a programmer, too.

Apologist Melissa reviews “God and Evolution” by Jay Richards

Book Review: God and Evolution
Book review: God and Evolution

Mysterious Melissa reviews Jay Richards’ “God and Evolution“. Jay is the editor, and there are lots of chapters by lots of different people. I am currently reading this book before bed, so this review is timely and encouraging for me.

Here’s the overview:

God and Evolution, edited by Jay W. Richards, is an essay anthology designed to explain and clarify the essential definitions, scientific claims, theological issues and philosophical problems that pervade the debate about the compatibility of neo-Darwinism and religious faith. The central question of the text, specifically, is whether or not theistic evolution is a tenable position for theists of Christian or Jewish persuasion. Each essay expands upon a different aspect of the subject, but together they have a common goal: to shed light on what Richards refers to as the God and evolution enigma. He argues that this is a gray area that sorely needs illuminating; he says, “In a sense, it touches all of the biggest questions we can ask about ourselves and the world we live in.”

So what part looks the most interesting?

This part:

Section II begins with Jonathan Witt’s essay, “Random Acts of Design,”  in which he reveals the inconsistency of Francis Collins’ argument for theistic evolution inThe Language of God. Witt points out egregious flaws in Collins’ view of intelligent design theory and problems with the rebuttals Collins makes against irreducible complexity.

Jonathan Wells picks up the case against Collins’ viewpoint in the following essay, “Darwin of the Gaps.” Specifically, he answers Collins’ claim that intelligent design is a “God of the gaps” argument. Rather, he says, it is an inference to the best explanation, given the evidence. Wells goes on to point out the failure of Collins’ past assertions about “junk” DNA and its supposed support for Darwinian evolution.

Next, Jay Richards critiques Howard Van Till’s Robust Formational Economy Principle in “Making a Virtue of Necessity.” Richards explains that the appeal of Van Till’s position is that it attempts to make Christianity compatible with methodological naturalism by claiming that the creation is entirely self-sufficient in its creative power, exhibiting no evidence of divine activity. He then points out the fundamental theological problem with the Principle, namely, that there is to reason to assume a priori that God should have or did indeed create a world that never needs his intervention.

In the subsequent essay, “The Difference it Doesn’t Make,” Stephen Meyer describes and critiques the idea of “evolutionary creation” promoted (most notably) by Dennis Lamoureux. Meyer points out the theological and scientific shortcomings of this view, which entails a purposeful “front-loaded” creation instilled with natural laws capable of producing biological complexity and diversity.

There are basically three (related) groups of people who I really cannot stand. The first group is pastors and campus club staff workers who refuse to learn and promote apologetics. The second group is people who think they are Christians but who support the political left. And the third group is theistic evolutionists. I really, really, really do not like theistic evolutionists. So any time someone is set to give them a good thrashing, count me in. Which is why I’m reading the book. There are also chapters explicitly for Protestants, Catholics and Jews in the book.

Other things that Jay does

By the way, science and philosophy aren’t the only things that Jay Richards can do. Check out the links below, he is heavily into economics. In fact, he is the one who recommended Thomas Sowell and F.A. Hayek to me back when he was writing “Money, Greed and God“. And he has a new book out that you can pre-order called “Indivisible“. I haven’t ordered that new book yet, but it might be something like this free booklet (click to download PDF) that he edited for the Heritage Foundation. All my favorite scholars are in the booklet – Paul Ryan, Michele Bachmann, Jennifer Roback Morse and Arthur Brooks. The funny thing about that booklet is that it is a collection of essays by fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. But all the social conservatives had to write about fiscal conservatism, and the fiscal conservatives had to write about social conservatism! Who knew?

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