Most readers of this blog are probably aware that theistic evolution has been a hot topic in evangelicalism of late. Certainly, the aggressive support for evolution from the gang at Biologos has succeeded in stirring the pot. As did the address this summer from Albert Mohler responding to Biologos (for Mohler’s latest on the controversy go here; that link will also take you to the most pertinent links in the debate).

Given the ongoing debate, many of you should be interested in a new book from the Discovery Institute entitled God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards. The book is not necessarily a defense of Mohler’s position, but it is a strong critique of theistic evolution.

Jay Richards (whom you may remember from this work) was kind enough to do an interview with me about this new book..

Hi Jay, thanks for doing another interview for us. Maybe you can start by telling us what you’re up to these days. You’ve left Grand Rapids and are back in Seattle, correct?

Yes, I left Acton full time in November 2008. In 2009, I was a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and worked on a couple of projects related to economics. In September 2009, I also started writing as a Contributing Editor at the The American and the Enterprise blog at American Enterprise Institute, and returned to Discovery Institute full time in February 2010. We’re living in Seattle now, just a few miles from the Discovery Institute offices.

You edited this new book “God and Evolution.” Who are a few of the others contributors and why did you feel compelled to do this book?

Other than me, the book contributors are John West, Stephen Meyer, Casey Luskin, William Dembski, Jonathan Witt, Jonathan Wells, Logan Gage, David Klinghoffer, and Denyse O’Leary. All of these folks are associated with the intelligent design movement, so you might wonder why a bunch of ID folks would get together to write about God and evolution. We did so for several reasons. First, in recent years, there’s been a resurgence of attempts to reconcile theism with Darwinian evolution. Many of these “theistic evolutionists” have claimed that ID is bad theology. Some have even called it blasphemous! These accusations needed a response. Second, while intelligent design arguments are based on public evidence and standard forms of reasoning, the debate over design obviously has theological implications. Finally, speaking for myself, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that many well-meaning Christians are confused about the question of “evolution.” Too many people seem satisfied to say that evolution is just God’s way of creating without being clear on what that means.

We’ve all heard the phrase, but what exactly is “theistic evolution?”

The problem with the word “evolution” is that it means many different things—some trivial, some significant and controversial. We use the term “theistic evolution” in the book to refer to those who seek to reconcile more or less traditional theism with Darwinian evolution. Darwinism has always been defined as a purposeless process, so reconciling it with theism is a grade A dilemma. If, in contrast, a person believes that God guided an evolutionary process in creating the various forms of life, they might believe in “evolution” in the sense of common ancestry, but their view would be very un-Darwinian. They would be a design proponent rather than a “theistic evolutionist” in the sense that we use the term.

I know you’ve got a whole book on this topic, so I don’t expect you to rehearse all the arguments, but perhaps you could briefly highlight one or two scientific problems with theisitc evolution?

The key scientific problems with theistic evolution are identical with the key scientific problems with Darwin’s theory. Though we know that Darwin’s mechanism can explain some trivial things, such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria and variations in finch beaks, there’s no evidence that random genetic mutations and natural selection can create major new systems in biology. On the contrary. Much of what we know suggests that Darwin’s “mechanism” is quite limited in scope. One of the popular arguments theistic evolutionists use against ID proponents is the idea that most of our DNA is “junk.” Francis Collins (head of the NIH) is quite fond of this argument. You would expect flotsam and jetsam left over from the Darwinian process, according to Collins, if the system were cobbled together by a mindless process, but not if the system had been designed.

A decade and a half ago, some ID proponents predicted that many of these so-called non-coding regions (regions that don’t code for proteins) would eventually be found to have important functions. Well, evidence for important functions has been reported for years in the scientific literature. It’s becoming clear that some religious scholars were so quick to accommodate Darwinism that they didn’t check the evidence carefully.

You also talk about philosophical and theological problems. Do you think theisitc evolution presents dangers to orthodox Christianity?

THE central theological problem for theistic evolutionists is reconciling Darwinian Theory—which defines “random” to mean “purposeless”—with theism. The theist claims that God created the world for a purpose and providentially guides it. But it simply makes no sense to say that God directs an undirected process. This basic contradiction at the heart of the project leads many theistic evolutionists either to trade in equivocations, or to jettison major parts of traditional theism.

How should a Christian student or scholar respond when someone dismisses Intelligent Design out of hand saying “It’s not science”?

The best thing someone can do to respond to the claim that ID is not science is to take the time to read the responses to this charge from ID proponents. We deal with it a bit in the book. To make a long story very short, any definition of science broad enough to encompass Darwinism, origin of life studies, and cosmology, will allow ID arguments. Any non ad hoc definition of science strict enough to rule ID out will also rule out these other disciplines which we all accept as science. However you define science, however, ID arguments are based on public evidence from science and don’t depend on private revelation. So the question remains: Is there evidence for intelligent design in nature, or not? Even if ID were basket-weaving or European history, that’s still the relevant question.

What is the relationship between ID and young earth creationism? Are there cautions you would have for Christians in either camp?

ID differs from young earth creationism because it is based on the evidence from nature alone, and is not an attempt to reconcile the biblical text (or an interpretation of the biblical text) with the evidence of nature. ID, strictly speaking, simply claims that there are patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of an intelligent agent. That’s consistent with a variety of different creationist views, but is identical with none of them. Of course, many ID proponents have specific views about the doctrine of creation, the age of the universe, and so forth. But ID per se is distinct from these ideas.

To put it differently, if you’re a young earth creationist you’re going to believe in some forms of design. But you could think that some things are best explained in terms of design, but not be a young earth creationist. The key contrast with ID would be materialism. ID proponents think you need the category of agency to fully explain the natural world. Materialists ultimately deny this.

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50 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Theistic Evolution?”

  1. Andrew Wilson says:

    Thanks for the post, Kevin.

    At the risk of opening a can of worms, many of the theistic evolutionists I’ve read (Denis Alexander, Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, Simon Conway Morris, etc) are often very clear that they don’t think theistic evolution is “purposeless”, or even (if to use the word means denying God’s providence) “random”. So I’m not sure that Jay’s split – theistic evolutionists believe in “purposeless evolution”, and those who believe God guided it aren’t really theistic evolutionists – holds up in the face of what such writers actually say. Most of the writers I’ve just mentioned are emphatic on God’s providential use of evolutionary mechanisms (genetic mutation and natural selection) to bring about what he wanted to create, much as he uses erosion to “shape the valleys” and the water cycle to “bring the rain from the heavens”, and so on. I’ve seen 1 Kings 22:17, 34 cited more than once in this context, to demonstrate that things which look random to us are not random to God.

    I guess my point is that if Jay’s book, and your post, are looking to show what’s wrong with theistic evolution, I think more clarity is needed on what exactly theistic evolutionists believe. There is some unbiblical nonsense coming from the BioLogos website, as Al Mohler rightly pointed out last week, but there are lots of more careful writers (one thinks of Keller’s paper on the subject on the same website) that can’t be rejected using the distinction Jay suggests. In my opinion!

    But thanks, as ever, for the helpful, irenic and thought-provoking post!

  2. What’s Wrong with Theistic Evolution? Oh, just everything.

  3. John says:

    Evolution says the earth is billions of years old. Genesis says the earth is thousands of years old. It seems like “intelligent design” is trying to combine the two.

  4. Kevin Davis says:

    Purposeless?!

    Even most non-theistic evolutionists emphasize immanent teleology (not transcendent teleology) in their evolutionary schemes. Theistic evolutionists add transcendent teleology. Either way, Jay Richards’ characterization is off. Kevin, I would love to see you interview Alister McGrath on this topic. Unlike Collins, McGrath knows his theology, so he is careful about the way he frames his thoughts, and the language he uses, regarding evolution.

  5. G. Kyle Essary says:

    John,
    Just to be clear, Genesis says nothing about the age of the earth, nor does the rest of Scripture. I would challenge you to find an evangelical Old Testament scholar who claims that it does. For instance, Walton, Sailhamer, Bright, Collins, Longman, Waltke, Wenham, etc. all make clear that the text is ambiguous at best on the topic. If you would like to discuss the details from the Hebrew text of Genesis 1, then we can, but for a faithful, conservative reading that care deeply about what the text itself says, you may want to look into finding a copy of Genesis Unbound by John Sailhamer, or a copy of the Tyndale, Word, NIVAC or Expositors commentaries. To be honest, I held a different position on the age of the earth until I started reading Hebrew in college and realized that faithfulness to the text required me to admit that the it was not nearly as clear on this topic as I previously thought.

    Kevin (and Jay),
    This is called a culture “war” for a reason, but as believers I think we should insist on reading our “opponents” in a spirit of charity. When Jay says that evolution is purposeless and random in the context he is using it, he falls into a dilemma. On the one hand, that may be the consensus view of evolution, but as already mentioned by Andrew, that’s not the position of theistic evolutionists who consider themselves evangelicals (McGrath, Morris, Collins, etc.). These each hold to theistic evolution and believe that as we learn more about the details, evolutionary pathways will become more clear showing how the system could be “front loaded.” This purposelessness would be explicitly denied by Catholic Thomists as well. Even Darrel Falk, head of Biologos, said at the Vibrant Dance conference last week that they agree with Hugh Ross and Stephen Meyer that all of the universe is designed, but that God uses evolutionary pathways to bring about His design. Of course, there are some “theists” out there like John Haught who might agree that it’s random, but even he wouldn’t say it’s purposeless in that there is no teleology. So who is he critiquing as a theistic evoltuionist? Ayala? Maybe we should find out if he’s a theist before we critique him as one.

    So on the one hand, it doesn’t seem as though this critique is reading his colleagues charitably since they would deny one of his main premises of evolution. On the other hand, I’m not sure how far apart they are from someone like Michael Behe who holds to common descent, but is wary of “natural” selection. Any theologian worth his salt already rejects the false dichotomy between natural/supernatural that comes not from Christian theology, but from the Deist controversies of three hundred years ago.

    At the conference last week, I was impressed by how much Deb Haarsma, Stephen Meyer, Doug Axe, Darrel Falk and Dennis Venema agree on. The odd duck may have been the guys at Reasons to Believe, but not due to their science…due to their readings of Scripture where they believe that secret scientific teachings were hidden in the text long before the readers could understand them.

  6. Garrett League says:

    Richards’ charactreization of junk DNA is very misleading. Steve Matheson of Calvin College has set the record straight on that topic in a whole series of posts, and I suggest those who want the story from the other side read them:

    http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/search/label/Junk%20DNA

    I also find it interesting that he says the key problem for TE is that evolution is, by def., undirected, but Christians claim God made things by on purpose. That’s just not the case. Natural selection is non-random. Mutations are effectively random, ie, unpredictable. But unpredictable does not mean unguided (a teleological, not scientific statement) and it certainly does not mean uncaused. Since God is the cause of causes and every lot cast is known and indeed ordained by him, what is random (unpredictable) to us is not to God. Therefore I see no contradiction there.

    Personally, I think the biggest problem for TE is the same problem that all other non-YEC positions have: Adam and Eve, death before sin, and original sin. Throw in theodicy for good measure. Those problems are probably shared by Richards as well.

  7. ScottL says:

    Though some Christians will disagree, I think the BioLogos Foundation has done a solid job in wrestling with both the study of Scripture and the study of science.

    Currently, there is a series over at Scot McKnight’s blog looking at issues connected to all of these questions as we consider what if evolutionary creation was the way in which God brought about all of creation: article 1, article 2, article 3, article 4, article 5

  8. Malin Friess says:

    I second what Andrew Wilson has written. Theistic evolutionist are careful Christian thinkers who have arrived at what they believe is the most accurate synthesis of the word of God and science. I think we should all have some humility regarding our confidence in theistic evolution, ID, or YEC…and all should be welcome under the umbrella of evangelical Christianity.

  9. Robert Huff says:

    I agree there should be room within evangelical Christianity for those who believe in theistic evolution, Intelligent Design, or young earth creation. As someone who rejects many of the foundational assumptions of evolution (theistic or otherwise), I am more concerned that there is less and less room for people like me within mainstream churches. Specifically, it is my impression that secular evolutionists can be quite hostile toward those who don’t accept Darwin’s theory. If theistic evolutionists have accepted the science taught to them by secular evolutionists, will they also adopt this attitude of intolerance toward those with whom they disagree? From what I understand about the suppression of ID research (and the oppression of ID scientists) at Baylor University, the answer – at least in some cases – seems to be “Yes.”

    Regarding the theory itself, theistic evolution seems to reject the modernist idea that living things evolve on their own. Similarly, liberation theology (which the Emergent Church seems to subscribe to in some form) rejects Marx’s belief in the natural progression of history. That is, living things don’t evolve without direction from God and history doesn’t progress without conscious participation by mankind. Thus, I wonder if the rejection of modernism by much of secular and Christian society is related to the increasing popularity of theistic evolution and the Emergent Church.

  10. taco says:

    ID is bad theology, TE is just unbiblical.

    Science is not something to be “synthesized” with the Word of God. Sorry Malin, but syncretism between materialistic naturalism and the Word of God is not something I am willing to do. Science, is something that requires Christianity to be true in order to even be understandable. Science gets it purview from the Word of God, not the other way around.

    I recommend the book “Always Ready” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen as a starting point in understanding this topic and much more.

  11. First of all, Richards was right when he pointed out that ‘junk’ DNA isn’t really junk:

    http://www.junkdna.com

    The idea of “Junk DNA” is a Darwinism-of-the-gaps.

    Second, most of the guys over at BioLogos aren’t orthodox at all.

  12. taco says:

    “Even most non-theistic evolutionists emphasize immanent teleology (not transcendent teleology) in their evolutionary schemes. Theistic evolutionists add transcendent teleology.”

    You’ll have to explain to me why this is helpful… Simply adding on “transcendent teleology” when it is explained by “immanent teleology”, according to evolutionists, is nonsensical.

  13. John Murphy says:

    Thanks for the post, Kevin!

    I’ll have to agree with Garrett League here (and I hope this is covered in the book, “God and Evolution”). The huge problem for evolutionary theists is the historicity (or lack thereof) of Adam and Eve. Generally, I’ve found that they fall into one of three camps. Camp 1 says, some version of “Adam and Eve weren’t actual persons.” Camp 2 says, “I’m still working on that problem,” which is to say, “that is an unsolvable problem, but I really don’t want to deal with it.” Camp 3 does cartwheels trying to explain death and destruction in all of the animal kingdom before the advent of Adam and Eve.

  14. Paul says:

    It’s fascinating that Kevin complains when Christianity Today is condescending towards Al Mohler but doesn’t complain when Jay Richards is condescending towards theistic evolutionists “many well meaning Christians are confused…some religious scholars didn’t check the evidence carefully” etc. This wouldn’t be caused by the fact that you like Al Mohler but don’t agree with theistic evolution would it Kevin?

    Just as Al Mohler defines “yoga” in such a way that it contradicts Christianity, so Jay Richards defines “evolution” such that it contradicts Christianity. However, as Richards knows perfectly well, theistic evolutionists like McGrath, Collins and Polkinghorne don’t define “evolution” the same way he does. So he just ends up criticizing people, in effect, because they define a word differently from him. So what? Who cares?

    The question I would ask Jay Richards is this: “So Jay, you say you believe there’s evidence for ID in nature. If that’s correct, why do scientists like McGrath, Collins and Polkinghorne who are Christians and know far more about science than you do (and far more about theology than you do in the case of McGrath) think that ID is nonsense?”

  15. “Though some Christians will disagree, I think the BioLogos Foundation has done a solid job in wrestling with both the study of Scripture and the study of science.”

    The BioLogos Foundation preaches lies for their master. They laugh at the thought of a literal Adam and pervert the scriptures left and right.

  16. Andrew Hall says:

    Just like the Big Bang, I think it’s sad that so many Christians have thrown away aspects of scientific theory which can only plausibly be explained from a Christian theistic standpoint. (I can explain the Big Bang later.) I’ve gone back and forth many times about the issue and have gone back to theistic evolutionism as the best option. (FYI it’s not because I’m a biology teacher.) Scientists need to let ID and TE work together, because in reality they truly do. Especially from an Information Theory standpoint (see Stuart Pullen’s book on this), functional proteins cannot arise given our time scale, given purely “random” mutations. Given evolution, divine providence must be involved in order to bring about the mutations that have occurred. If evolution occurred, it could only have occurred (from a probability perspective) if a sovereign, providential God were directing it. If we throw out evolution without careful exegetical consideration, we throw out one of the strongest explanations for the Creator’s existence.

    What appears unguided or random to the atheist is a guided, directed process–though we may not understand it all. World history appears random, unguided, purposeless–all vanity. Yet clearly God wields the nations and sets up and desposes kingdoms (cf. Isaiah 10, Daniel 4-5). Anyone who believes that God works through secondary causes should at least be open to the idea of theistic evolution.

  17. Paul Bruggink says:

    Jay Richards appears to be setting up a strawman theistic evolution that he can easily knock over. He would do well to recognize that theistic evolution comes in many varieties (see, for example, Deborah & Loren Haarsma’s “Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution,” p. 252).

    Also, in Jay Richards’ entire 387-page book, there is only one somewhat dismissive reference to Simon Conway Morris’ work on convergence in evolution. Just because convergence is “far from being accepted by most Darwininan biologists” (p. 292) does not preclude that “we may find fertile new ground for a dialogue between science and religion. Thus the Darwinian mechanism is entirely unexceptional, but I would argue it possess a hitherto unrecognized predictability as is evident from the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence.” (Simon Conway Morrris, “Evolution and the Inveitability of Intelligent Life,” in “The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion,” edited by Peter Harrison, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 166).

    In addition, there is much work being done on the problems that Garrett League mentioned in his comment, some of which has been discussed on BioLogos and Jesus Creed. The web site of the American Scientific Affiliation, http://www.asa3.org/, is another excellent source. See especially Learn More and Useful Information on the left-hand side. The book “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation,” edited by Keith Miller (Eerdmans, 2003) is another good starting point, as are the books “Theology After Darwin,” “Reading Genesis After Darwin,” “Darwin, Creation and the Fall,” “The Groaning of Creation,” and “The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.”

  18. renee says:

    We know how old the earth is by using the geneologies with the birth and death rates, at some point the bible and written history converges to the point that we dont need seperate geneologies. This is how we know how long humans/animals have been on the earth. Now the actual earth the bible says existed before human etc creation. It tells us it was void and disjointed until God combined them. THere is nothing unbiiblical by claiming the earth;s material is old. THe lies come when you said the earth in its current compilation is old, or that humans are older – and worse that they evolved from lower species. The bible says no such thing. FOr people to not understand that the point of equating humans with evolution is to discount the genesis account therebye discounting the fall, the need for the death and resurrection of christ – and thus the existance of GOD in general.

  19. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Renee,
    In Genesis 1:1, the text says that God created (bara) the sky and the land (hashamayim, haaretz). This is a marism, similar to me saying that he was dirty from his head to his toes. Does that mean that his ears were dirty? Probably, as were his hands, et. al. It means that he is completely dirty. So unless you take this to be a title verse (which causes problems because the beginning would then start in verse two where there would be an uncreated chaotic mess), then most everything was created (bara) in verse 1. On the first day, there is nothing created either. The text says that God told the light to “be,” but this says nothing about its material origins, just that he wanted the light to shine. A similar pattern is used elsewhere in the OT with these words (‘or and hayah) to simply mean “the sun came up.” The purpose seems (acc. to verse 5) that God is “calling” the different aspects of creation in order to assign their function in regards to man (whom he will bara later in the chapter). After assigning function to the light and darkness as night and day, God “makes” (asah) the expanse. Here we have a different word than bara (create) that was used in verse 1. The word used here is also to assign function to the aspects of His creation which the text has already said in verse 1 was created (bara). This is the pattern for the rest of the chapter with the exception of the great creatures in v. 21 and the people in v. 27, which are both created (bara).

    Then at the end of the section, there is an interesting phrase when it says God completed all of his work “which God created (bara) to make (asah).” If both words simply mean “created” as some take it, the what could this mean? It seems much more likely that God created everything (bara) in verse 1 and then assigned functions to it throughout the rest of the chapter that culminate in him assigning “the land” for the people with all of the creatures under their care.

    I hope this brief (and there’s so much more that could be said)

  20. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Oops, I hit submit too quick.

    It would have ended, “I hope that these brief comments show that there is much more going on in the text than we usually see. The text is much more concerned with assigning function to the land which will be the dwelling place between God and his people. The language is full of priestly imagery, and hints of the tabernacle in the wilderness. These are the focus of the passage, and not directly topics like origins, the age of the earth, etc. Let’s not forget that this text was written down by Moses and given to a people preparing to enter the promised land, where Gods presence would dwell and if they obeyed the covenant, they would be His people and He their God. That’s the primary concern of Genesis 1.”

  21. Grant says:

    “What’s wrong with theistic evolution”

    The same thing that’s wrong with “theistic gravitation”, or “theistic magnetism” or “theistic radiation”.

    The first word doesn’t belong there. It has no relation to the second term in the phrase. It contributes nothing in the way of actual information content to what is being described. It’s just tacked on ad hoc to satisfy a certain camp’s religious preferences. It is, in every case… tacking “ecplanation X”… and transforming it into “explanation X… (because God of course!)”

    That would be the short version of what’s wrong with it.

  22. Paul Bruggink says:

    Grant,
    That is exactly why many people now prefer the label “evolutionary creationism.” Problem solved.

  23. Dave Sr. says:

    I applaud Jay, and those who fight such a battle, but for me it’s too time consuming, as I’m being led in other directions for reaching those who fight against God’s reaching out to them. As for those who don’t receive the simple message, that God is just trying to win their favor towards him, especially in this case, the scripture is clear, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Decide for yourselves who God is referring to in that passage, but if you get angry…it’s probably you.

  24. Grant says:

    Paul: Sorry, I fail to see how the content of the phrase “evolutionary creationism” differs from that of “theistic evolution”.

    Could you explain to me what tacking the “creationism” on the end adds to our knowledge of the processes occuring?

  25. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Dave,
    What translation are you quoting from? Is that the NIV? I would simply encourage you to look into the meaning of the word “sunesin” and “suneton” that are translated as intelligence and intelligent by the NIV. There is a reason few (if any other) translations render the word that way. It means discernment or understanding. This is made very clear by the fact that Paul is referring to Isaiah 29:14, where the Hebrew word “byn” is used. This word always means discernment or understanding, but not intelligence.

    In fact, Scripture teaches clearly elsewhere that we are to love the Lord with all of our minds. It would be a shame to reject the claims of those who are more intelligent than ourselves simply for their being more intelligent. Often, God has given them more of an ability to learn and discern. Let us humbly take what they are teaching and, like the Bereans, test it against Scripture.

    As I’ve attempted to show above, when you spend hours upon hours in the text, sometimes things become less clear than they were before and you realize that the conflict isn’t with Scripture, but with your fallen interpretation.

  26. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Grant,
    The purpose of the phrase “theistic evolution” is to show that those holding this position believe that God works immanently in the process, as He does in embryology, geology, et. al.

    The reason some prefer “evolutionary creationism” is that the focus then is on creationism and not on evolution. The purpose of the phrase “theistic evolution” was to show that some biologists, theologians, people in the pew, etc. believe that God created through evolutionary processes. To them, evolution is secondary to the primary cause, which is God and that’s why they change the name of their view to reflect that conviction.

    Your “argument” against such a position is that “theistic” adds nothing to the term evolution in terms of actual information, and is only ad hoc. Since God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and given us clear revelation that all of Creation came through Jesus Christ, then I think that’s rather important information to add to the story. Since we live in such a world (i.e. reality), claiming that the most important fact of nature (whether creation was 5 days ago, 6000 years ago or 13.2 billion years ago) is “ad hoc” doesn’t say much for your view, only that you have rejected God’s revelation of the most basic elements of reality.

    What’s the solution? Look to Jesus Christ. He demands that you repent of your sin and turn to Him for life. If you reject this, so be it, but your rejection of His claims does not serve as evidence that His claim on reality is incorrect.

  27. Grant says:

    “Your “argument” against such a position is that “theistic” adds nothing to the term evolution in terms of actual information, and is only ad hoc. Since God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and given us clear revelation that all of Creation came through Jesus Christ, then I think that’s rather important information to add to the story. ”

    Ok then, tell me why it’s ipoetant in a biological sciences context then. Evolution is a scientific theory of biology, tell me why exactly I need to insert the “theistic” part in to that

    Tell me how declaring to me that you believe all of Creation came through Jesus Christ tells me one iota more information about the endogenous retroviral insertion pattern in primates than I had before you told me that.

    What does it add to my understanding of genetic drift?

    What detail about the process of speciation does it reveal to me that I did not have before?

    Give me one… single… piece… of information about biology that requires me to explicitly bring theism into the biological sciences. In *some way* differentite evolution that happens “theistically” from the alternative thus requiring us to make up a seperate label for it to identify it as such.

    Otherwise we’re right back to where I said we were. That it is, in every case… taking “explanation X”… and transforming it into “explanation X… (because God of course!)” to satisfy your religious sensibilities and nothing more. You are bringing nothing to the table.

  28. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Grant,
    I don’t think you’re understanding what’s being said here, and that’s probably my fault. Let me attempt to figure out where the misunderstanding is taking place.

    1. You ask, “tell me why it’s [impor]tant in a biological sciences context then. Evolution is a scientific theory of biology, tell me why exactly I need to insert the “theistic” part in to that.”

    That’s actually what we’re saying. The reason that those who claim to be evolutionary creationists have changed the terminology is because their claims are not on the scientific claims of evolution, but about their view of creationism. They believe that creation came about by evolutionary processes, so in that regard using “evolutionary” as an adjective is helpful. Since theists claim that all of creation is theistic, it doesn’t seems redundant to say “theistic evolution” like it would to say “theistic baseball” or “theistic dentistry.”

    2. You go on to say, “Give me on… single… piece… of information about biology.” Why would anyone expect theism to give them ‘information’ about biology? You seem to be making a category error here. Theism is a metaphysical claim on reality, and you are wanting information dealing with the physical aspects that are a different discussion altogether than the metaphysical aspects of reality.

    3. Now, theism informs biology as a whole, as do other metaphysical claims, but not necessarily within the field. For instance, a theist is justified in believing that the natural world acts in uniform ways since God’s nature is eternal and unchanging, and the metaphysical aspects of reality conform with this theological truth. A theist sees the symmetry, intelligibility, beauty and uniformity of nature as being reflective of God’s nature, which He has revealed in Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ.

    4. Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist at Oxford) once asked a seemingly silly question, “What has theology ever done for science?” Of course, the question itself seems rather naive of scientific history as well as philosophy, but Denis Alexander (molecular biologist at Cambridge) answered the question by saying, “quite a lot.” You may be interested in what he said: http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/Issues_Alexander2.php

  29. G. Kyle Essary says:

    That should be “it seems redundant to say ‘theistic evolution’ as it does to say ‘theistic baseball’…

  30. Grant says:

    Alright, I still think it’s unnecessarily confusing to weld the concepts of evolution and creationism together into a single term, especially considering the long history those two concepts have with each other that will inevitably lead people to conclude you’re trying to inject creationism into evolutionary biology when you use it, but if you’re making no claims on the science all well and good as far as that goes.

    “Theism is a metaphysical claim on reality, and you are wanting information dealing with the physical aspects that are a different discussion altogether than the metaphysical aspects of reality.”

    *When* people claim that theism must be injected into the sciences (which I accept that you are not doing here) *then*, yes, I most certainly expect that information it provides dealing with those sciences and the physical realities they are concerned with be demonstrated.

    “Now, theism informs biology as a whole, as do other metaphysical claims, but not necessarily within the field. For instance, a theist is justified in believing that the natural world acts in uniform ways since God’s nature is eternal and unchanging, ”

    This is where you an I part ways, mainly because I cannot discern what definition of “justified” you could possibly be using to make that statement unless your threshold for “justification” is so incredibly low that anything not demonstrated to be logically impossible makes the grade as a justified belief.

    Tacking on “…since God’s nature is eternal and unchanging” to the end of everything you just said that preceeded it is what we refer to as an unfalsifiable hypothesis. No possible information or observation could ever even hypothetically disprove in whether it was a true statement or not. So in that sense, if your standards for justification were essentially non-existent, yes… you could say you were “justified” in believing such a thing. However the other attribute of an unfalsifiable hypothesis is that they contain null informational content or explanatory power by their very nature. If you cannot determine whether a statement is right or wrong, the statement doesn’t actually tell you anything at all. Which means including it in the statement you just made is completely superfluous.

    As for point 4 it was Dennett, not Dawkins (although I have little doubt Dawkins would ask the same question). I am reading Alexander’s response now, so far I am midway through it and not terribly impressed by it, and frankly think he has his cause-effect relationships quite clearly backwards. I’ll post thoughts on it when I finish reviewing it.

  31. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Grant,
    Thanks for continuing this discussion. You are right on it being Dennett, not Dawkins. It’s been quite some time since I read that article and I forgot who originally posed the question.

    In terms of justification I would want something like a coherent explanation for holding certain beliefs that comports best with reality. If God reveals Himself as eternal and unchanging, then we must trust that claim even if we can not empirically test it, because He would have a greater knowledge of such a claim and we would have no way to empirically analyse it.

    Empirical analysis though, tells us very little (if anything) about the nature of being itself, and even then only with a great amount of humility. Empirical analysis allows us to study nature, making observations and measurements, but does little beyond this. Thus, lacking the ability to empirically analyse a metaphysical doesn’t say anything about the truth or falsity of such a claim.

    Thus, lacking empirical testability says nothing about whether or not the claim is unfalsifiable. For instance, the law of identity…one of the most basic laws of the nature of reality, is untestable by any empirical analysis. If though, one could argue logically against such a metaphysical claim, then it could be shown to be false. Such would be necessary to show that theism (a metaphysical claim) is false.

    Yet today, those experts (even at secular, top-ranked universities) who specialize in the logical arguments for and against God’s existence are predominantly theistic (72.3% lean toward or accept theism and 19.1% lean toward or accept atheism, with 8.4% who are either polytheists, deists, agnostics and other according to the recent PhilPapers survey). The numbers are obviously much higher when you include top-ranked religious schools (such as Notre Dame). Thus, if when lacking specialization we should trust experts, then they claim that whereas the claim of theism is falsifiable, no argument has been successful in this regard yet.

    I say all of that merely to say that it seems you are mistaken in rejecting metaphysical claims because they are not accessible to tests that are made to observe and measure the physical.

    We are far off topic at this point, so I’m going to resign from the conversation. Thanks for discussing in a calm and even manner. Such conversations are rare online.

  32. truthmatters says:

    Everyone should ask themselves this question. Is my origin Ape or Adam? Based on your decision, how do you know what you are saying is true?

  33. Grant says:

    Alright, here’s the problem I have with Alexander’s response to the “what has theology given science” question.

    His entire answer is based on the premise that theology gives us the reason to assume that the laws of nature are static and predictable because this is derived from the “eternal and unchanging” nature of God… God created the universe… so obviously the universe would have “eternal and unchanging” rules for science to discover and that’s why science went looking for them.

    This is an absolutely ridiculous and self evidently false claim.

    It takes very little thought to see why this is so. The regular and consistent and predictable behaviour of the basic attributes of the physical world in which we live is a self evident fact. It is something a chimp can (and does) discern. To argue that theology was necessary to tell us it was there to be discovered and quantified by science is pure nonsense.

    Without a belief in an unchanging God that created the universe we don’t get Newton’s las of gravitational attraction. REALLY? Nobody EVER notices that when we drop things they always tend to act the same way and eventually expresses what that behaviour is in rigorous terms? The only reason Newton figures this out is because his belief in God told him he should expect it and otherwise that just doesn’t happen?

    Certain social/environmental factors no doubt lead to credit being *assigned* to belief in God for such things, especially in the early days of science when care had to be taken not to be labelled heretical for whatever findings one was uncovering or face sometimes severe consequences… but that credit actually being deserved? Ridiculous.

    If anything informed our understanding of the world around us, it was the regularity and order of the natural world that led people to hypothesize a creator deity that reflected those attributes, not the other way around. I can say with as much certainty as it is possible to speak with on the subject that our knowledge of the predictable behavior of natural forces came WAY before the idea of an eternal and unchanging God. A beagle is capable of discerning the former, you cannot argue to me that humans couldn’t figure it out until after they had formulated a theology that showed them the path to science. Early humans, and the even earlier primates that preceeded humans, may not have been able to mathematically quantify and model gravity, but they knew if someone stepped off a cliff the same thing was going to happen every… single… time. They did not need to work out a theology to tell them how the predictable nature of the natural forces of the universe should be expected before figuring this out. There can be no reasonable argument over which of these two things preceeded the other.

    Since this basic premise or variations upon it underlies every point he goes on to try and make in his argument, and this premise is nonsensical, I find what he has to say unconvincing to say the least.

  34. Grant says:

    @ truthmatters: Ape. And I “know” what I’m saying is true based on, to give just one example from among the overwhelming mountains of evidence we have on the subject, the nested heierarchical pattern of endogenous retroviral insertion patterns in primate DNA… which demonstrate with basically as close to ironclad certainty as it is possible to acheive in science that we share common ancestry as there has never been any other proposed explanation for that data that gets anywhere near accounting for it and it perfectly matches evolutionary predictions.

    Any other questions?

  35. G. Kyle Essary says:

    I must respond (and I promise this will be the last time), because your comments only restate your problem and show nothing about the truth or falsity of our position. In fact, they show clear misunderstanding of the points Alexander was making, so hopefully I can clarify them in a way you will understand.

    As a side note, apparently my giving you a complement for being calm and even required you to contradict it? Let’s try to keep things civil, okay?

    You say, “Without a belief in an unchanging God that created the universe we don’t get Newton’s [laws] of gravitational attraction[,] REALLY?” You immediately go on to say that “Nobody EVER notices that when we drop things they always tend to act the same way and eventually expresses what that behaviour is in rigorous terms?”

    Observing the world cannot logically lead you to “laws.” At best observations lead to the conclusion that “whenever I tested this it appeared this way and whenever you tested this, it appeared to this way also.” It is an irrational leap on your part to move from, “A group of us have observed apparent attraction between two bodies” to “the law of gravitational attraction.”

    It’s an even more irrational leap to move from the original observation to the claim that “it will happen again tomorrow” or “it happened like this 13 million years ago.” You have no epistemic warrant for such claims, and that’s one of the most self-evident incoherent aspects of the naturalistic worldview. It is impossible for a naturalist to justify that it is true that tomorrow the laws of gravitational attraction will work, much less that it’s a “law.” This is what David Hume struggled with, and it proved too daunting a task for even him to rationalize a solution. You see, at best, your worldview only provides you to speak of probabilities for the time period of experimentation and extrapolations beyond this are irrational. Thus, your lunch nourished you today, so hopefully based on prior probabilities it will also nourish you tomorrow.

    And this is where naturalism gets dangerous to the scientific enterprise. At this point, you must resolve yourself to a certain pragmatic view toward nature. Since, at best, the naturalist can only get to probabilities, she must now resolve herself to the conclusion that “this has worked in the past, hopefully it will work today.” But is this pragmatic perspective enough to get science off the ground? I think not! Those who have said, “This has always worked before” are not the types who challenge the previous paradigms and move knowledge forward. It’s one thing to use a pragmatic argument against walking off a cliff, but another altogether to use it against finding more efficient forms of medicine, or to use it against pseudoscience. This concoction of snake oil, tonic and rat eggs has always made my head feel better…let’s just keep using it.

    Thus, Newton’s theology allowed Him to assume that God has created the world in a regular working manner and that observations today will reveal truths that would have been true fifty years ago and will be true tomorrow. It was his theology and not his empirical observations that allowed him to move from repeated measurements to law. It is theology, namely those metaphysical beliefs about the symmetry, beauty, intelligibility, etc. of the universe that provide the very basis for doing scientific research. Only a move from pragmatism to realism can justify doing the hard work of science at all (which is evidenced by the fact that most scientists work as realists while claiming to be pragmatists).

  36. Grant says:

    I was completely calm. The caps were emphasis, not shouting. And nothing I said even approached incivility. What exactly are you referring to?

    Moving on:

    “Observing the world cannot logically lead you to “laws.” ”

    I am sory, but the only conclusion I can draw from such a statement is that you do not know what a scientific law is. Scientific laws are mathematical descriptions of observed behavior. It is quite impossible to get them without observation, stating that observation cannot lead to them is… and I’m sorry if you interpret this as being uncivil… an incomprehensible argument.

    Newton’s law of gravitation (F=G[(m1m2)/r^2]) is verbally described as “we observe that when two objects of mass are placed in proximity the force they exert upon each other is equivelent to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them, multiplied by a fixed constant”.

    Laws are simply observations, mathematically described, which we find to be true under all conditions. So I cannot comprehend how anyone could ever state that observations cannot lead to laws when laws ARE observations.

    You go on to state that:

    “At best observations lead to the conclusion that “whenever I tested this it appeared this way and whenever you tested this, it appeared to this way also.””

    Which is how we validate that a law is a law and not just a conditional circumstance. Invariance under repeated testing. Something you appear not to be aware of or appreciate. As far as I can tell you seem to think that scientific laws are equivalent in nature to absolute commandments. “The universe SHALL behave in this manner.” That is simply not the case. They are descriptive, not prescriptive. “The universe DOES behave in this manner, that is what we observe it doing.”

    And the law will hold as long as we continue not to find observational data which contradicts it. In other words, as long as we continue to observe that it is true. But ALL findings in science, and that most certainly includes the laws, are conditional on the current state of evidence. That is a basic fundamental principle of scientific methodology. Obeservation trumps everything else, always. If tomorrow we observe data contradicting a law, and we verify the observation isn’t in some way flawed or invalid (eg: “no, that planet did not suddenly sponaneously reverse orbit, you bumped the telescope you doofus”), then the law is going down. And there will be no appeal to the fact that it can’t change because it’s existence is derived from an eternal and unchanging deity, since it did not in any sense originate from such a proposition. It originated from simple observation.

    “But is this pragmatic perspective enough to get science off the ground? I think not! ”

    Considering that the rejection of absolute claims of truth and the rigid and unyielding insistence that ALL scientific findings are, at their very best, best approximations of which we are as certain as current data allows…. are bedrock principles of the scientific method which constantly drive research forward towards more and more refined and accurate descriptions of the physical world I have to say I beg to differ with your opinion that it would be inadequate to get science “off the ground”. You might have well have just said that the scientific method is insufficient to perform science.

    “This concoction of snake oil, tonic and rat eggs has always made my head feel better…let’s just keep using it.”

    (First, really bad example…. it says far more about lack of rigor in conducting testing and the need for peer review than it does about the reliability of test results over time. That said…)

    You are simply contradicting yourself here. First you complain that the best that science can do is determine that something is, provisionally, *probably* correct… which self evidently means that it is always quite aware that “it always worked before” is no guarantee that we won’t find conflicting evidence later… then you imply that science left to its own deviced without a theological backing would go the opposite direction and just blindly accept that anything that worked before will always work in the future which makes no sense at all.

    It is in fact trying to derive sinch things from the hypothesized existence of an “absolute and unchanging” creator God that would far more likely lead to such a conclusion. Science knows it’s conclusions are approximations based on observation and thus that future observation can overturn or refine them. But if you introduce the idea that past observations are supposed to reflect the nature of a supreme and eternal unchanging entity that detemines the nature of the universe then past observations should never be contradicted in the future and indeed, “it has always worked before” could be a completely sufficient justification for believing it will always work in the future.

  37. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Obviously we’re at am impasse as you refuse to realize that your responses only continue to show the problem without answering it.

    I had written a long response, but lost it. Suffice it to say that your position requires you to hold positions concerning the nature of laws that are not only an extreme minority view (your descriptive anti-realism being held by 6.3% of philosophers of science at secular universities, and also falls prey to devastating critiques in line with what I’ve previously said (see for instance Nancy Cartwright’s arguments showing the inconsistency between descriptive and explanatory power if you hold to such a perspective. Most philosophers believe that such a position ultimately undercuts the scientific enterprise altogether.

    I’d also suggest that you go back and re-read what I said, because despite your claiming that I contradict myself, you have only misread what I wrote (or misunderstood it).

    Statement 1: Scientific observation alone leaves no grounding for beliefs about induction, the intelligibility of nature and the other aforementioned metaphysical assumptions required for science to even begin.

    Statement 2: Pragmatism ala “this has worked and we blindly assume that it will continue to work in this manner” undercuts the scientific endeavor by minimizing the need for inquiry. If “x” works and you see no need for “x+” you will not look for “x+”

    These are not in contradiction, but you attempt to show they are by arguing around the actual topic.

    You say, “It is in fact trying to derive sinch things from the hypothesized existence of an “absolute and unchanging” creator God that would far more likely lead to such a conclusion. Science knows it’s conclusions are approximations based on observation and thus that future observation can overturn or refine them.”

    Except for the fact that we know that we are fallen and limited and incapable of completely knowing the mind and nature of God. Thus, we pursue such knowledge even more steadfastly. The pragmatist keeps accepting what works, the Christian theist wants to delve deeper into the mind of God.

    I’ve enjoyed the exchange, and will no longer respond (no matter the accusations of contradiction or your further restatements of your problem). Thanks for the discussion.

  38. truthmatters says:

    Grant, So… you believe your origin is Ape. So… where are the missing links?

  39. Theistic Evolution is heretical and those who hold to it are liars and the truth is not in them. Luke ties the second Adam to the first Adam. Jesus talks about the creation account of Moses as historical fact. These TE ppl are the those who will not endure sound doctrine. Kevin why allow this trash to continue this long in this forum without defending and declaring the clear truth of the word of God on this matter?
    – Show quoted text –

    God is love but, love is not God.

    If you belong to Christ:
    May you be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Also, may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Know that He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.

    If you do not belong to Christ:
    “Meet me in heaven! Do not go down to hell. There is no coming back again from that abode of misery. Why do you wish to enter the way of death when heaven’s gate is open before you? Do not refuse the free pardon, the full salvation which Jesus grants to all who trust him. Do not hesitate and delay. You have had enough of resolving, come to action. Believe in Jesus now, with full and immediate decision. Take with you words and come unto your Lord this day, even this day. Remember, O soul, it may be now or never with you. Let it be now; it would be horrible that it should be never. Farewell. Again I charge you, meet me in heaven.”
    ~ C. H. Spurgeon

    In service to Christ Jesus who is my Savior and our Lord,
    Mike

    May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

  40. Grant says:

    “Grant, So… you believe your origin is Ape. So… where are the missing links?”

    You know, that question is made all the more painful in contrast to the quality of the other discussion I was having here.

    The short answer is, depending on how exactly you are defining the term “missing link” there either aren’t any, or there is an endless supply. Neither of these situations presents a problem.

    In the “there aren’t any” camp we are defining a “missing link” as some unexplainable gap in the fossil record the bridging of which we simply cannot fathom unless we were to find some mysterious missing species (the link) which would give us some “Aha! Eureka!” moment that would show us how the heck humans got here.

    We already have quite a nice continuous progression of hominid fossils than you very much, we have a perfectly decent picture of how humans got here. While everyone would love to fill in that sequence with more amd more and more fine details there simply is no “missing link” in ths sense of the term. The links are all filled in nice and neat and tidy. If you disagree, by all means tell me where we’re missing something.

    Feel free to use this as a reference when explaining where the missing part is to me:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/images/hominids2.jpg

    In the “there is an endless supply” camp we define a “missing link” as any gap of any kind between one fossil and another, no matter how closely related in time and morphology those two fossils are. In this case we can never, ever fill in the missing links. We can only multiply them. Any time we found a fossil (call it Fossil B)directly “between” two that we already had (Fossils A and C) we would just declare “Aha! Now there are TWO missing links! What came between A and B? and what came betwen B and C?

    (And then when we found those… AHA! what came between THEM!?!?! Now we have FOUR missing links! And the more me fill in the more “missing links” we create as things get progressively sillier.)

    You can choose to deal with the question either way, it doesn’t really matter to me. Neither of them keeps evolutionary biologists up at night.

  41. Grant says:

    Sorry truth, linked the image but not the legend…

    A) Pan troglodytes, chimpanzee, modern
    B) Australopithecus africanus, STS 5, 2.6 My
    C) Australopithecus africanus, STS 71, 2.5 My
    D) Homo habilis, KNM-ER 1813, 1.9 My
    E) Homo habilis, OH24, 1.8 My
    F) Homo rudolfensis, KNM-ER 1470, 1.8 My
    G) Homo erectus, Dmanisi cranium D2700, 1.75 My
    H) Homo ergaster (early H. erectus), KNM-ER 3733, 1.75 My
    I) Homo heidelbergensis, “Rhodesia man,” 300,000 – 125,000 y
    J) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, La Ferrassie 1, 70,000 y
    K) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, La Chappelle-aux-Saints, 60,000 y
    L) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Le Moustier, 45,000 y
    M) Homo sapiens sapiens, Cro-Magnon I, 30,000 y
    N) Homo sapiens sapiens, modern

    There you go.

  42. truthmatters says:

    Grant, which one the Homo Sapiens was your great grand pappy? You know its rather funny that when we tell the fairy tale of a frog turning into a prince, that even a child believes it is silly. Yet when they grow up some tell them it truth.

    The Bible tells us God through Jesus Christ spoke creation into existence by His word. Jesus ministry on earth testifies to that fact. When He spoke the winds and the waves obeyed His command, When Jesus beckoned Peter to come to him, he walked on water. When Jesus called Lazarus from the dead his flesh was immediately restored as well as all those who were healed by Him. All these miracles as we know them were done at His command, they were done throughly and in a moment, obediently, by His word. So when God said let their be light. Light did not take billions of years to evolve, but came forth immediately at His command. Like Lazarus God spoke Adam into existence by His word.

    “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Hebrews11:3.

    Do you have faith?

  43. Kevin DeYoung says:

    It seems like there are just a few people going back and forth on this. I’m going to end the comments. Thanks.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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