Theistic Evolution

By Mark JonesScreen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.13.33 PM

After discussing the tensions among evolutionists concerning the precise mechanism of evolution, I thought it might be good to address the underlying metaphysical assumptions of words that are used in the academy, such as “evolution.”

The explanatory power of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis has given a number of scientists reason to abandon belief in the Christian God. However, Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), provides an exception to the general trend of Darwinists. Fully committed to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, Collins also claims to be a Christian. His book aims to show that belief in Darwinian evolution and Christianity are compatible, provided that Christianity is explained in such a way that does not contradict modern science. For that reason, he derides Young Earth Creationism (YEC) as “intellectually bankrupt,” one of the “great tragedies of our time” (p. 177).

He manifests a strong antipathy not only for YEC, but also for the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, because ID is not consistent with Darwinian evolution: “ID’s proposal of the intervention of supernatural forces to account for complex multicomponent biological entities is a scientific dead end” (Language of God, 187).

In The Language of God, Collins coins the term “BioLogos” (God speaking life into being) to describe his synthesis. He provides six points that explain how Darwinian evolution explains everything, except the uniqueness of human beings:

1. The Universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.
2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.
3. While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time.
4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.
5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.
6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history (p. 200).

According to Collins, accepting these premises enables individuals to adhere to an “entirely plausible, intellectually satisfying, and logically consistent synthesis,” namely, that God created the universe (13.7 billion years ago), and established natural laws to govern the universe. The mechanism that gave rise to living creatures is the same mechanism that gave rise to human beings (pp. 200-201). Such a view, according to Collins, satisfies both science and the great monotheistic religions of the world.

Collins argues for a type of theistic evolution. He understands that “evolution” has a certain meaning in his scientific context, and he is not simply talking about “microevolution,” which nobody disputes. But he is also a “theist.” In fact, he must be given credit for being so clear about what evolution actually means in the scientific community.

Collins is not a theologian. Yet, because of his wholehearted commitment to Darwinian evolution, his theology becomes rather anemic – a sort of “God of the gaps,” which has certain corollaries with Stephen Jay Gould’s view, called “NOMA” (non-overlapping magisteria).

Underlying Metaphysical Assumptions

An inherent philosophical presupposition guides evolutionary thinking. Though disagreement exists among a number of leading evolutionists concerning the mechanisms of evolution, many of them are in agreement that a supernatural being (i.e. God) must not be invoked to help out with the difficulties. For this reason, Darwinian evolution is fundamentally atheistic.

Professor of biology at Cornell University, William Provine, candidly admits that embracing evolution makes atheists of people: “One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.” The famous Harvard geneticist, Richard Lewontin, admits, because of his prior commitment to materialism, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

According to the Darwinian model, human beings are an accident. If this “finely tuned” universe “banged” again, who knows what types of creatures would result? Douglas Futuyma recognizes that many find the idea that the human species was not designed somewhat hard to fathom; “but this seems to be the message of evolution” (Science on Trial, 13).

Evolution presupposes naturalism. Indeed, as Philip Johnson notes:

Naturalism is not something about which Darwinists can afford to be tentative, because their science is based upon it […]. Darwinists know that the mutation-selection mechanism can produce wings, eyes, and brains not because the mechanism can be observed to do anything of the kind, but because their guiding philosophy assures them that no other power is available to do the job. The absence from the cosmos of any Creator is therefore the essential starting point for Darwinism (Darwin on Trial, 117).

No problem is insurmountable for the theory of evolution. How the inorganic became organic still perplexes Darwinists. They simply have no answer. However, Darwinists believe in the mutation-selection mechanism, and its ability to achieve creative wonders, not because these wonders can be empirically demonstrated, but because no other explanation exists that does not involve God.

Philosophical naturalism remains so deeply ingrained in the thinking of evolutionists that they cannot possibly imagine another way of explaining the diversity of life on Earth.

In Collins’s own synthesis, he admits that the “precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown” (Language of God, 200). Nonetheless, he states, “this is not the place for a thoughtful person to wager his faith” (p. 93).

This is a candid admission, which shows just how relentless the pursuit of naturalism is among scientists. He admits the precise mechanism of the origin of life is unknown; but his commitment to Darwinian evolution (i.e., naturalism) keeps him from affirming that God directly, not indirectly, was responsible for the origin of life.

Interestingly, Collins argues for God’s existence based on moral life (i.e., altruistic behavior among humans), but he urges extreme caution for God having anything to do with creating biological life. Moreover, Collins finds the Darwinian explanation for the moral law unsatisfying and therefore bases his belief in God in part on the argument for the existence of the moral law. Nonetheless, his reasoning about the origin of life problem should be equally applied to his reasoning for the moral law. Darwinists do in fact have explanations for altruistic behavior, and Collins has been pressed on this by his colleagues. Perhaps the evidence for a “moral law” is not the place for a thoughtful evolutionist to place his faith?

Francis Collins admits the entire story of evolution, even if he does not know how life originated. But he believes in a “god” who finely tunes the universe to allow for the possibility of evolution. Collins’s “god” is a “First Cause” who begins the process, without necessarily having anything to do with producing organic life, and “retreats” for roughly fourteen billion years only to “interfere” again by sending Jesus to die and be raised again.

Those who refer to themselves as theistic evolutionists, need to be pressed on “the blind watchmaker thesis” that is so crucial to Darwinism. Richard Dawkins has explained the idea of the “blind watchmaker” and its implications for how we view the theory of evolution: “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view” (The Blind Watchmaker, 21).

The blind watchmaker thesis explains the philosophical implications of evolution. Phillip Johnson claims that he has found it “very difficult to get theistic evolutionists to discuss the blind watchmaker thesis” (p. 168). But does an appeal to God’s providence solve the problem of how random mutations can produce new species? Can we accept the mechanism of natural selection coupled with random mutations and at the same time argue that God’s providence ensured that human beings would eventually result from a cell? This type of reasoning obscures the real issue, however. Evolution cannot account for new genetic information. Indeed, providence on its own cannot account for new information, either.

Regarding the dilemma of new genetic information, the eminent French Zoologist, Pierre Grassé has proved to be a thorn in the side of Darwinians, such as Theodosius Dobzhansky, on precisely this point. Against the Darwinists, Grassé suggested that science does not know how new quantities of genetic information arrived (Evolution of Living Organisms, 2). Evolutionists still need to explain how a genetic mutation can increase information in the genome.

Theistic evolutionists could claim that the arrival of new genetic information resulted from God’s creative and sustaining energy; and they could maintain that God intervened from time to time to provide the required mutations to ensure that humans would eventually evolve. However, this view is technically not “evolution” or natural selection. And no Darwinist would accept such a construction, even if it were slightly friendlier to Darwinian evolution than typical “creationist” views.

Hypothetically, if I were to hold to “theistic evolution,” according to natural selection, Open Theism or Socinianism would be my preferred theological option.

In the end, the term “theistic evolution” is a contradiction in terms. Evolution, as understood by the scientific community is a purposeless, random process that did not have man in view. There are metaphysical assumptions that are built into the way they attempt to explain the diversity of life on earth. Christian theism is, however, teleological (Col. 1:16), and we have our own metaphysical presuppositions.

“Theistic evolution” basically means, “Purposeless purpose.” If God “guides” this process, it is not evolution. Theistic evolutionists talk about evolution as a gradual process of speciation that a Creator could have used. But the scientific community rejects this understanding of evolution. Far too many theologians have been (perhaps unwittingly) duped by thinking that “theistic” really does modify “evolution,” but this is wrong-headed. Plus, no one quite knows what “theistic evolution” means. They have no unified confession of faith.

I worry that theologians who are open to “theistic evolution,” do not quite understand what’s at stake when they willingly use the term “evolution,” as something more than what can be empirically observed (i.e., not just microevolution). They grant far more to the Neo-Darwinian scientific community than they need to. The so-called evidence for “Darwinism” rests upon a (fully naturalistic) presupposition that allows evolutionists to come to no other conclusion. No wonder they are so dogmatic about their claims. There simply is no other alternative.