“How do you reconcile God and evolution? … Do you agree with evolution how Darwin explained on his book “origins of species?”
I really appreciate this question Herrera since it enables me to touch comment on several questions pertinent to this discussion. My answer might seem long but I believe it would be worthwhile to get elaborate where necessary.
1. My Personal View.
Firstly, I am not in any way antagonistic towards evolutionary theory, in fact, I would side with a theistic evolutionary model. I am particularly inspired by the work of Christian geneticist Francis Collins’ and his scientific ministry team at Biologos. I believe they are doing great work in defending the Christian faith and pursuing the truth no matter what. I am also fully aware that many of my readers would take the other view, namely the Young Earth Creationist view, or just generally reject evolutionary theory. And that’s fine. In fact, I support freedom of thought and inquiry and I would even urge readers to come to their very own conclusions concerning this matter whether it agrees with my personal views or not.
Further, I put a lot of weight on expert consensus. To say that the overwhelming number of scientists accept evolutionary theory would be to make an understatement. I see it along the same lines of someone being diagnosed with, say, cancer and subsequently seeking out the most appropriate treatment. The suffer could consult 1000 professionals in the field as to what would be the best way forward cornering treatment. 997 of these experts would say treatment A would be the best while the other 3 say B would be better. Given this it would be almost absurd to go with the 3 as opposed to the 997. That is the sort of perspective I have come to realize in the religion-evolution debate. Consensus is just so overwhelming stacked against critics of evolutionary theory. Another observation I’ve repeatedly noted is that those scientists, and philosophers, who do deny evolutionary theory are almost always religiously motivated. Sure, they provide scientific arguments against it but it is odd that those who do are almost always Christian. That tells a story in of itself.
Lastly, since consensus affirms evolutionary theory it does not mean that there is no disagreement and debate concerning evolutionary mechanisms. This is often, rather disingenuously, picked up by critics who allege that “evolution is a theory in crisis.” Not true at all. Some scientist doubt the explanatory power of natural selection but that does not mean they doubt the general framework of evolutionary theory.
2. Herrera’s Phrasing of the Question.
Now, the way in which Herrera phrased his question, “How do you reconcile God and evolution” I tend to find somewhat questionable. This is because it assumes right out the gate that there is some incompatibility between God, at least a transcendent one, and evolution. This is not the case as much as the likes of Richard Dawkins and co. fool people into believing that it is. Evolution is purely and strictly a scientific theory, and scientific theories do not rule out the existence of the supernatural. This is because science operates under the assumption of methodological naturalism of which limits science’s explanatory scope strictly to the natural world. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga explains this well, “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” (1).
This makes sense. If a transcendent God who sustains his creation really exists then why would a naturalistic explanation rule him out? After all, this transcendent God is responsible for the entire universe in the first place. Philosopher of science, and mathematician, John Lennox captured this nicely in explaining that God no more competes with a scientific theory as does Henry Ford competes against the laws of internal combustion of the Ford motor vehicle. God is not imprisoned by our ability to explain how God did his work in the first place.
3. Where the Problem Really is.
The problem that evolutionary theory does pose for the Christian is on how he makes sense of the biblical text. This is because the Bible makes many alleged objective truth claims. For example, most Christians believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings of which, I have argued, the Bible actually rejects in favour of its opposite. However, many Christians believe that Darwinian evolution insists that the biblical story of Adam and Eve is a myth and that God has no role in the development of life. Theologically speaking if evolution denies a historical Adam and Eve then it would mean that there can be no Original Sin, no Fall, and no saviour in Jesus, and so on. Remember, however, that if these are the reasons the Christian rejects evolution then he does so because of his theological commitments and not because of scientific evidence. This is, I contend, the major reason as to why so many Christians reject evolutionary theory in the first place. However, many Christian thinkers have countered this skepticism through brainstorming well thought out and articulate explanations as to how evolution sits with one’s holding to the existence of a historical Adam and Eve. However, other explanations have been proposed such as C.S. Lewis and Alister McGrath’s holding to a non-historical model. Billy Graham and Tim Keller see evolution as compatible with Adam and Eve as real historical people. There are further theories proposed by other thinkers such as Denis Alexander and so on.
4. Genesis and Evolutionary Theory.
My personal view is that the biblical author of Genesis did not intend to write a treaty on modern scientific theories, and especially not on evolutionary theory. Our best textual analysis, and scholarly consensus, establishes that the Genesis narrative, especially the creation account, is very much grounded within an ancient Near Middle Eastern context. We find that the Genesis creation narrative, on many occasions, parallels other Ancient Near Eastern myths. The author reworks them in such a way as to powerfully and creatively manufacture his own theologically rich narrative. Christian Old Testament scholar Peter Enns argues, via his incarnational model (which I find quite compelling), that God used a category that we call “myth” to reveal truth to the ancient Israelites. The problem is the baggage that comes with the word myth. Enns believes that we should abandon this word altogether as it prejudices the discussion before we even have it. He defines myth as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” As long as that this was the intention of the biblical author (the “why” and not the “how” question ) it doesn’t matter what evolutionary theory says about the development of man and other creatures in the context of the Genesis narrative.
Imagine that a religious text explains that God created the Earth and placed it on a large stone pillar. Now, a few thousand years later modern scientists are wise enough to know that Earth is suspended in space and definitely does not sit on a stone pillar. Now, does that disprove the inspiration of this religious text? No, not at all. This is because the text was not penned with the intention of conveying a scientifically accurate depiction of how God created the Earth. Its real purpose was simply to explain that God did, in fact, create the Earth. This analogy shows what I believe we have with the Genesis account. And this is what I think we have with Adam and Eve. I personally hold to the existence of Adam and Eve but it is wholly unwarranted to impose a modern scientific reading on an ancient pre-scientific text. To do so clearly demonstrates a modern, western arrogance.
Now, this is certainly not to ignore that there really needs to be much theological deliberation over these questions. For example, accepting evolutionary theory given a historical Adam and Eve does bring up a host of theological questions. This is surely the case given some of Paul’s proposed theology in the New Testament concerning original sin, salvation and so on. We needn’t deny that these are important questions but I contend that if proposed theories are even possible it then does not provide a logical defeater of traditional Christianity.
5. Evolutionary Problems for Atheistic Naturalism.
In truth I find evolutionary theory to actually undercut a naturalistic worldview. This was most persuasively argued by prominent professor and philosopher Alvin Plantinga in his evolutionary argument against naturalism. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel has always been quite open via a very similar kind of critique of Darwinian evolution and its ability to account for the reliability of our cognitive faculties, as well as morality and so forth. Plantinga’s argument is that if human beings are a result of a purely naturalistic evolutionary process then one needs to maintain that the main purpose of our cognitive faculties is for survival and reproductive fitness. In other words, this process couldn’t care less for true belief because evolution only cares whether or not our actions are adaptive and whether or not they contribute to our fitness. Therefore, the naturalist would be incorrect to expect that his faculties would be aimed at truth as they would solely be aimed at fitness. The implication for the naturalist is that if his mind is aimed at survival then it follows that the mind cannot be trusted when it thinks it knows the truth. Even the father of the theory Charles Darwin had this doubt as did the well-known atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as the contemporary Thomas Nagel. So, at this moment I am quite convinced that what the atheist naturalist thinks is his trump card against “religion” (because religion is always taken to be one monolithic construct) is actually his biggest problem (maybe not the biggest but definitely a big one).
Another problem for the naturalist is that the probabilities concerning a purely unguided naturalistic evolutionary process is overwhelmingly improbable, to put it mildly. This was captured by two prominent scientists John Barrow and Frank Tippler in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. In it they lay out ten steps that a naturalistic evolutionary process would need to have gone through in order to bring about modern man. However, their calculations suggested that each of these steps were so improbable that even before it could ever possibly occur our sun would have ceased to exist and in the process obliterated the Earth. The number that Barrow and Tippler calculated for atheistic evolution to have produced mankind purely by chance fell between the values of 4^-180^110 000 and 4^-380^110 000 (2). A number beyond cognitive comprehension. Would you suspect someone was rigging the process if you won the lottery 4000 times in a row? I suspect so. Philosopher William Lane Craig, upon reviewing the probabilities calculated by Barrow and Tippler, explains that evolution is not “a good argument for atheism, quite the contrary, I think it provides grounds for thinking that God superintended the process of biological development” (3).
6. Evolutionism vs. Evolution.
Having been involved within the atheism-religion debate for some time it is quite noticeable that many atheists aren’t only satisfied with just evolutionary theory; in fact that want to go a step further. Thus, what usually happens is that they end up holding to evolutionism. In other words, evolutionary theory itself becomes the atheist’s religion (4). Computational cell biologist Kathryn Applegate explains that “The real danger is not evolutionary theory, then, but Evolutionism – the all-encompassing worldview” (5). This occurs when the atheist attaches and feeds his naturalistic philosophy into evolutionary theory. But the problem is that atheism is a philosophical worldview whereas evolution is a scientific theory. In other words, they are separate things. Often, for example, the atheist will force evolutionary theory into asserting things that it is strictly unable to assert. Consider the words of the late biologist William Provine:
“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either” (6).
Now, what evolutionary biology told Provine “loud and clear” is itself not a scientific assertion. It is a philosophical assertion. The theory of evolution doesn’t rule out any of the things Provine alleges that it does, such as life after death, the existence of gods, objective morality, purpose, meaning and hope. Therefore, this is not Provine’s science speaking as opposed to his own atheological philosophical belief system. I am not saying that Provine is wrong in his bleak diagnosis of reality, after all he could be right. But what I am saying is that it is not a scientific explanation. This, however, proves to be a good portrayal of evolutionism in action. Evolutionism is not evolution. Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse agrees, “too often evolution operates as a kind of secular religion, pushing norms and proposals for proper (or, in their opinion, improper) action… we who cherish science should be careful to distinguish when we are doing science and when we are extrapolating from it, particularly when we are teaching our students. If it is science that is to be taught, then teach science and nothing more” (7)
7. Darwinian Evolution and Chance.
A further confusion concerns the world “chance” on Darwinian evolution. According to Darwinian evolution it is believed that genetic mutations driving evolution forward occur randomly. It is here that Christians take a stand. How could God ever be involved in a process that is random? 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” (8). 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.” This peggybacking is what Professor of physics Howard Van Till calls an “irritating cultural phenomenon” (9).
Thus, if this is possibly true, which Craig argues that it is, then Darwinian evolution by random mutation and natural selection does not provide a defeater of God’s existence nor Christianity based on Jesus’ resurrection.
1. Bishop, J. 2016. Alvin Plantinga on Christianity, Science & Naturalism. Available.
2. Barrow, J. & Tippler, F. 1988. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. p. 566.
3. Craig, W. 2009. Does God Exist? William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens. Available
4. Bishop, J. 2016. Exposition on the Doctrine of Evolutionism. Available.
5. Applegate quoted by Carneiro in Evolutionism in cultural anthropology: a critical history (2003). p. 2-3.
6. Provine, W. 1994. Origins Research. p. 9.
7. Ruse, M. 2003. Is Evolution a Secular Religion. Available.
8. Craig, W. 2012. Evolutionary Theory and Theism. Available.
9. Van Till, H. When Faith and Reason Cooperate. Available.