Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Theistic Evolution

Under the banner of Theistic evolution, a growing number of Christians maintain that God used evolution as His method for creation. That, in my estimation, is the worst of all possibilities. It is one thing to believe in evolution; it is quite another to blame God for it.

Not only is Theistic evolution a contradiction in terms, kind of like talking about flaming snowflakes, it’s also the cruelest the most inefficient system for creation one can imagine. Jacques Monod put it this way:

“[Natural] selection is the blindest, and most cruel way of evolving a new species…The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethic revolts…I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution.”
The bottom line is this: an omnipotent, omniscient God does not have to painfully plod through millions of mistakes, misfits, and mutations in order to have fellowship with humans. He can create humans; indeed, He created humans in a microsecond.

If theistic evolution is true, Genesis is at best an allegory and at worse a farce. If Genesis is an allegory or a farce, the rest of the Bible becomes irrelevant. If Adam did not eat the forbidden fruit and thereby fall into a life of perpetual sin terminated by death, there is no need for the second Adam; there is no need for redemption. In other words, if you compromise the first part of Scripture, if you allegorize the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the rest of the Bible become irrelevant and meaningless. Ideas have consequences. We must always think about the consequences and that is part and parcel of learning to think biblically or Christianly.


Michael said...

Hank, Thank you for all you do! I believe (and I'm sure I've heard you say it before) that in this day and age the subject of "origins" is fundamental to our entire understanding of God and the world around us. We, as Christians need to take this subject seriously, and of course be always "ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear".

Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

If you think that natural selection produces mistakes and misfits, then you don't really understand it. Genesis is not a science text. It says God did it. It doesn't say how. God is not threatened by good science, and good science produces evidence of natural selection. We should be looking for areas where science and the bible can stand on the same ground, not looking to exclude because we feel threatened. If god did it the way you said he did, why did it even take him a microsecond? Why the emphasis on speed to begin with? Why are does your faith hang on such a thin thread?

Anonymous said...

If God worked so hard to make it look like evolution was responsible for the natural order, don't we owe him to at least pretend we believe it happened that way?

Flint Cowboy said...

Hank, I liked your piece about the eye. I can never even comprehend how someone can believe that the whole universe and life in all its complexity can have arisen apart from God's purpose.

But to deny any role to natural selection is to expose us and the gospel to ridicule in the eyes of anyone with any scientific training. And to make it a blunt either/or choice is, as Francis Collins says, to set young Christians up for failure when they go away to college--or maybe, like Bill Maur or Richard Dawkins, when they go away to middle school.

1. The best case for "intelligent design" is made by those who accept the theory that the universe came into existence in an (intricately designed) big bang about 15 million years ago. They also accept "development" and "common descent."
2. Most creationists or anti-evolutionists I have read distinguish between "micro" and "macro" evolution. All accept some type of "micro" evolution, involving natural selection.
3. Natural selection on a small but very significant scale is occurring daily as we breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria by our foolish over-use and misuse of antibiotics.
4. Nature contains cruelty as well as beauty. Whether you blame it on the fall or on natural selection, it is now God's will that it be so. This is how God's world works as we witness and experience it now.
5. Genesis 1 is not an allegory. It is an example of divine condescension. Ancient people understood the world as they experienced it. They pictured the sky, for example, as a solid sheet or dome. They observed the sun rising in the morning to run his race, and setting in the evening (as it is poetically pictured in one of the Psalms). They assumed that the sun must have passed beneath the earth and made a journey through the night before reappearing the next morning.

Genesis 1 uses the mental pictures and concepts the ancient readers understood to pain a picture of the origin of the earth as God's good creation, the immediate or natural source of our life, and our home. It is not an allegory, it is a simplified picture using concepts and images available to the first readers. If you like, it is kindergarten level science, it is not exhaustive in details but it gives us a true picture: The earth comes from God and life comes from the earth by God's command and blessing--and it's all good.

The statement, "Theistic evolution is the worst of all possible worlds," may have been rhetorically effective at one time, but it is now counterproductive. Serious Christians are grappling with the issue and trying to find a way to interpret scientific findings in light of their faith--and vice versa. It doesn't help to remove one option.

Myself, I don't consider myself a theistic evolutionist or an evolutionary theist. I am a Christian, a follower of Christ, trying to make sense of my world and trying to make a difference in it. I accept the scientific evidence that bacteria causes disease, but that doesn't make me a bacteriologist--theistic or otherwise. I accept other scientific theories--such as the theory that electricity flows from the negative to the positive--that I don't fully understand and that are not of crucial importance to me--I know how to plug in a radio. I realize that scientific understanding of electricity may change, and I will glad revise my view of the subject when presented with new evidence--or even with the claim that competent and respected scientists have changed their views. But I don't think I will every call myself a theistic electricionist, an electric Christian, a Christian electocutionist, or anything like it.
Right now, I am convinced that competent scientists have studied the evidence and are convinced that life arose on earth long ago and developed from less complex to more complex forms, and that natural selection played a role. That belief is not part of my faith, it is not something I put my faith in, but it is something that my faith tries to deal with. I mean, if there is any truth to those ideas, they have to be compatible with my faith that Jesus is the alpha and the omega, that in him all things were created and through him all things will ultimately be renewed.