Many Christians, and an ever increasing number of them, hold that evolutionary biology is compatible with theism. This view often stands even though evolutionary biologists claim that the genetic mutations driving evolution forward occur randomly. Knowing this, many other theists have argued that the theory of evolution is incompatible with theism. This is because theists believe that events do not occur randomly in a universe designed by God. Usually, on the part of a theist, “random” is taken to denote something without purpose and design, which makes it understandable why he rejects it.
However, evolutionary biologists do not intend random to mean purely by chance or without purpose and design. To say something of the sort is not a statement of science but instead a metaphysical one, as philosopher William Craig explains that “science is just not in a position to say with any justification that there is no divinely intended direction or goal of the evolutionary process” (1). In agreement Professor Alvin Plantinga argues that “The theory of evolution doesn’t say that the whole process is guided by God. Of course it doesn’t say that. But it also doesn’t say that it isn’t. Being a scientific theory, it doesn’t make any statements on that point” (2).
Instead, to the biologist random means that mutations occur without benefit to the host organism. As some apologists have pointed out, this would mean that evolutionary theory is compatible with belief in God, as well as God’s directing the course of evolutionary development toward an intended end. Likewise, if “random” is defined in this way then it is not incompatible with direction or purpose. For example, Craig speculates how a mutation can be both purposeful and random, “suppose that God in His providence causes a mutation to occur in an organism, not for the benefit of the organism, but for some other reason (say, because it will produce easy prey for other organisms that He wants to flourish or even because it will eventually produce a fossil that I will someday find, which stimulates my interest in palaeontology, so that I embark upon the career God had in mind for me). In such a case, the mutation is both purposeful and random.” Therefore, the theistic evolutionist (the Christian who believes in both God and evolutionary theory) may argue that God caused some mutations to occur at certain key junctures in the process towards an end goal. Of course, like the above point noted, this cannot be said to be a statement of science. However, Craig explains that when the atheist scientist use randomness to mean “unguided” or “purposeless,” it is a good case of “the philosophy of naturalism which tries to piggyback on legitimate science” (3). This peggybacking is what Professor of physics Howard Van Till calls an “irritating cultural phenomenon,” (4) since evolutionary theory is so often associated with naturalism.
Thus, in stark contrast what is commonly believed, explains Peter Hess, is that “Theologians, clergy, scientists, and others belonging to many religious traditions have concluded that their religious views are compatible with evolution, and are even enhanced by the knowledge of nature that science provides” (5).
1. Craig, W. 2012. Evolutionary Theory and Theism. Available.
2. Bishop, J. 2016. Alvin Plantinga on Christianity, Science & Naturalism. Available.
3. Craig, W. 2012. Ibid.
4. Van Till, H. When Faith and Reason Cooperate. Available.
5. Hess, P. 2012. Science and Religion. Available.