Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Excerpts from biologist Wayne Rossiter’s new book contra theistic evolution

arroba Email

Waynesburg University (Pennsylvania) biology prof Rossiter offers excerpts from In the Shadow of Oz:


So what exactly is being espoused by the theistic evolution camp? Before we start to offer thumbnail sketches, we can more basically describe this view as an attempt to unify theism and evolutionary mechanisms. Most readers will interpret this as a marriage between God and Darwin, but there is much more at play here. With titles like, The Reconciliation of Christianity and Biological Evolution, Finding Darwin’s God, and How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, it seems obvious that theistic evolutionists also want to give the impression that they’re proffering a view that deals only with the narrow interface between theism and Darwinian evolution.

But, the content of those books tells a different story. As will be made obvious in the quotations and references I offer in this book, they’re actually offering a full-blown worldview, complete with its own creation story. When I say that theistic evolutionists seek to unify theism with evolutionary mechanisms I am referring to a full arsenal of cosmic, geologic, and pre-biotic processes, in tandem with biological evolution. It is a full history of the universe, leading up to (and through) the present. . . .

Polkinghorne adds that, this new form of natural theology represents a “shift from design through making to design built into the rational potentiality of the universe . . . [and the] finely tuned fruitfulness of natural law.”9 This is the first nonsensical statement I wish to expose. The argument is that God so brilliantly conceived of his creation at its inception that he didn’t need to interact with it again. But, because of the inherent stochasticity of the universe, pointing to God’s preconceived plan in the potentiality of the universe is more like saying that my wife and I designed our child from her inception such that she would become a tea drinker at age fifty-eight. Gifting something with potentiality is not the same as intentionally directing specific outcomes. . . (pgs 11-12)

A few theistic evolutionists also hesitantly point to the improbable inception of life on Earth as evidence for a grand creator (though many are much more tentative on the issue). In general however, the active part of the God project ends abruptly at the Big Bang (or before), and the universe (and life) is left to its own devices, with no specific outcomes pre-ordained. This is often characterized as a form of freedom offered by God. For example, Polkinghorne tells us that, “an evolutionary universe is theologically understood as creation allowed to make itself.”18

Theologian John Haught has written,

Theologically speaking, process theology suggests that we should logically foresee, rather than be surprised, that God’s creation is not driven coercively, that it is widely experimental, and that it unfolds over the course of a considerable amount of time. . . . Evolution, according to process theology, occurs in the first place only because God’s power and action in relation to the world take the form of persuasive love rather than coercive force . . . to compel, after all, would be contrary to the very nature of love.19

Of course, I am not offering freedom to Jell-O if I simply throw it against the wall and leave it. Yes, the Jell-O is free to decay, or feed flies, or whatever, but there is no conscious entity that has suddenly been gifted with the ability to make free-willed decisions. That is, a universe of inanimate matter, left to its own devices, is not free in the way we use the term, but rather, it is a universe left alone. What we’re left with is much of a Prime Mover, rather than any type of active God. Additionally, it should register on our radar that Haught is espousing some strange form of pantheism, in which he treats the material universe as if it’s a conscious thing for God to love and offer free-will to. This is not unique to Haught. Giberson and Collins have written that they reject, “the concept of a God who is involved in the creation at certain times and only observes at other times. In harmony with the most generally accepted concept of theism, we affirm a God who is at all times involved, yet who still allows a degree of freedom to the creation.”20 Again, the implicit assumption is that the creation is capable of freely choosing. (pgs18-19)

. . . In many ways, their objection(s) are rather boilerplate. Chief among them is the tiresome and overused “God-of-the-gaps” argument. Long the favorite complaint of atheists when dialoguing with theists, the theistic evolutionists regurgitate it on command as well. The argument works something like this: historically, religions have made many supernatural claims about the world. Over and over again, science has discovered purely natural explanations for those phenomena. Thus, God’s job description has continued to evaporate over time. It follows that the positing of a non-natural cause for additional phenomena will result in the same embarrassing withdrawal once a naturalistic explanation is discovered. Finally, it is intellectually lazy and theologically folly to simply insert God wherever there is a gap in scientific knowledge. . . . Giberson warns,

“As soon as we start highlighting specific places where we think we glimpse God’s handiwork, we open ourselves to the old ‘God of the gaps’ problem.”11 This is telling. Giberson admits here that theistic evolutionists are not open to the possibility that any phenomenon is the direct work of God.

Before moving on, I want to quickly address the God-of-the-gaps objection lodged by theistic evolutionists. I find it entirely spurious. It is a logical trap, and I’m not sure why more people don’t expose it during debates. The claim is that, if there is a natural explanation for a phenomenon, God didn’t (directly) do it. At the same time, we’re not allowed to invoke God where explanations are lacking (i.e., the “gaps”). Said another way, if we can explain it, God is unnecessary, and if we can’t explain it today, we still shouldn’t invoke God, on the off chance an explanation emerges in the future. This is somewhat like betting on a coin flip where the rules are heads–I win, and tails–you lose. Both the explained and unexplained phenomena are off limits. That is, there is no situation where the agency of God can be invoked. So what’s left?

What’s left is the place where material phenomena don’t even happen and can’t be measured, and this is where the theistic evolutionists keep their God. An easier way to phrase the God-of- the-gaps objection is to simply make the blanket assertion that God cannot be detected in anything physical or material. This is precisely the position that theistic evolutionists have assumed. Worse, for all of their complaints of God-of-the-gaps arguments, it is the theistic evolutionists who make them most frequently when they suppose that God came down to conceive Jesus, to raise him from the dead, to work miracles, to gift us with a spirit and free-will or even to have “front-loaded” creation so that it would arrive at some intended state in the future. For all of their contempt for ID, they seem utterly unaware that they are also offering a brand of ID. If they believe that God exists and is intelligent, and they believe he created anything at all, then he is an intelligent designer! . . . (pgs 15-16)

. . . Perhaps most ironic is that theistic evolutionists are proffering a form of ID when they invoke God as a causal agent in creation at all. If God is needed to explain the fine-tuning of the initial conditions, such that intelligent life was inevitable, then they too are throwing an intelligent designer into the naturalistic explanation. This is particularly true for those who think God had a role to play in first life, or who see God intimately involved in pulling the puppet strings at the quantum level. They are the very thing they belittle. As a seemingly embarrassing point-and-case, consider the recent book, God is Here to Stay, by McFaul and Brunsting. In the second chapter (which deals in part with naturalism and evolution), they write, “like the God of the Gaps perspective, we reject the ID approach because it assumes that modern science is permanently incapable of explaining the causality links that appear in nature. . . . In this sense, the ID argument parallels the God of the Gaps approach . . . .”48 Then, in the last chapter, they write, “This takes us to our final question. Is it more credible to believe that the evolutionary process that produced conscious, self-aware life on Earth is the work of random forces or of an intelligent designer? . . . It is far more credible to believe that this process did not evolve through undirected randomness but rather according to the design of an intelligent creator called God.”49

Apparently, for these authors, there is a difference between an intelligent designer and an intelligent creator called God. (pg 55)

So then, is there a guiding hand in the process of creation? BioLogos maintains that “the demonstration of such supernatural activity in the history of the natural world is, we think, unlikely to be scientifically testable.”55 Here, “scientifically testable” is tantamount to “detectable,” since science attempts to describe the nature of our total physical or material reality. Note also that they specifically constrain God’s inaction to the natural world (meaning, they apparently are open to supernatural workings in human history). Miller is more transparent, saying,

[Believers] hunger for the undisputable miracle in the stone . . . something that will show them a “Made by Yahweh” stamp inside the machinery of nature. In principle, it is always possible that we will find such a mark, but scientific history argues that it is very unlikely. Time and time again, science has shown that natural phenomena have naturalistic causes, and that the physical logic of the universe is self-consistent.56

Statements like the ones provided above function as a firewall, erected to protect Christian claims from the flames of naturalism. They allow for a fully naturalistic explanation of the unfolding of cosmic and earthly history within their theological framework. One might ask then, what exactly would be evidence against the existence of God? After all, if we are not expecting to see his “stamp” on nature, then his existence becomes an untestable assertion in itself. This sounds eerily like Carl Sagan’s allegory of the “dragon in my garage.”. . . (pg 57)

Collins is transparent about this, announcing that theistic evolution, “will not go out of style or be disproven by future scientific discoveries.”22 For anybody keeping score, this is somewhat akin to guaranteeing that you’ll never miss a shot in a game of basketball, so long as you never shoot. Theistic evolution cannot be disproved, because it makes no testable claims. (pg 46)

It turns out that, at least when our stories include species-species interactions, the selective pressures they inflict on one another are necessarily weak. A variety of studies on ecological networks (which are just entire systems of interacting species)—both empirical and theoretical—have demonstrated that these systems are only stable when the majority of the interactions are weak.80 The preponderance of evidence in the literature assures us that ecological communities are just loose assemblages of weakly interacting species. Evidence for this dates back to the early twentieth century, when Henry Gleason began to extinguish the fairytale that ecosystems are somehow like “superorganisms.” Some false ideas die hard—after all the Gaia Hypothesis still exists—but practitioners of ecology have long recognized that communities (the living parts of ecosystems) are not made of species that are intimately dependent on one another for survival. But how is this? Don’t predators need prey, or bees need pollen? The answer will sound foreign to most. Simberloff and Dayan (1991),81 and many since that time, have offered a solution to the riddle of niche requirements and species identity by invoking the idea of functional roles (they called them guilds) in communities.82 They argued that, when communities assemble, species are not added because there is a special list of species that must interact with one another due to their co-evolved histories, but instead because of the roles each species fills in the evolving community. Just as a department doesn’t need ten secretaries, and a building only needs so many janitors (and perhaps even fewer faculty members!), so too with communities. Once a particular type of top predator (functionally speaking) is established, its membership precludes similar types of predators from joining the community.

Thus, ecosystems will come to contain functionally similar types of species, but not necessarily the same individual species. The real kicker is that members in communities are also not persistent (at least not locally). There is a growing movement to understand the dynamics in particular locations as unstable situations in which species “blink” in and out over time.83 That is, species may be regionally persistent but subject to continual local extinction and reintroduction.

Further, when a species is lost, species of similar make and model are free to establish in their stead. Thus, if organisms evolve in response to the selective pressures put upon them by others, it is not because of those particular species (in name or identity), but because of the niches or roles that they (and likely many other species) possess. Put more plainly, species should be evolving to niche space, and not in response to other particular species. If true (and it seems to be), tales of stable and long-standing interactions between cheetahs and gazelles become even less likely to be real, or are at least impossible to verify. . . (pgs 140-143)

. . . As previously discussed, the vast majority of mutations are either neutral (have no fitness correlate) or are deleterious (they harm fitness or survivorship). In order to secure a permanent evolutionary step in a species, the entire species (usually thought of as a population in this context) must carry the new trait. Assuming that the trait is heritable (which Darwinian evolution must), we are really talking about new genotypes conveying an adaptive advantage such that, at some time in the future, all individuals in the population are descendants of that first mutant genotype. We call this fixation or a “selective sweep.” But, as reported by Weissman and Barton (2012), “In large populations, many beneficial mutations may be simultaneously available and may compete with one another, slowing adaptation.”87 While there is little discussion of this problem in the literature, it is nonetheless real and considerable. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned previously, multiple selective pressures might be simultaneously acting on an individual or population. Given that there may be many new genotypes available in large populations, and that those genotypes might offer adaptive solutions to many competing selective pressures, it might be very difficult to get a wave (adaptive mutation + natural selection) that is strong enough to sweep across all of the competing waves. Instead, the suggestion is that populations (and thus species) might be caught in a multidimensional (n-dimensional) tug-of-war.

. . . It gets worse. When sweeps do occur, “existing beneficial alleles [variants of the same gene] that are not present in the original mutant individual must be lost in the absence of recombination.”89 That is, any useful variation that is not shuffled into the adaptive genotype by sexual reproduction is simply erased forever by the sweep. So the success of one sweep (i.e., one evolutionary step in some direction), can erase large swaths of standing potentiality in other adaptive mutations. While the entire study (and the references therein) are worth a look, the grand finding was that the inclusion of competing mutations cut the probability of fixation of any one adaptive mutation by 10–1000 times (depending on the strength of selection). That is, not only must we get the right mutation in the right place and time, but it must survive competition with other adaptive mutations working through the population. The “sweep” theory begins to look more like a child throwing gravel in a puddle; ripples everywhere, and no directional force to any of them. (pgs 143-145)

. . . As it stands now, evolutionary theory attempts to represent stasis (non-change), devolution (loss of complexity or form), gradual change, and geologically sudden massive change all at the same time. To date, no rendering of Darwin’s theory serves as a law by which any one of these outcomes can be expected or predicted. . . .(pg 125)

This situation reminds me of that classic science fiction film, The Blob (1958). In the movie, Earth is visited by a somewhat unexpected alien guest. The alien life form is a mindless jelly that continually grows as it absorbs everything it touches. There is seemingly no way to combat the creature, as bullets, missiles and bombs are simply absorbed into the ever-growing monster. In many ways, this is what the theory of evolution has become. The pattern may be discernable, but the process escapes us. The number of one-off unique scenarios are as endless as the variety of explanations Darwin’s theory engenders. All of them are held true within a massive blob that is modern evolutionary theory. That the ideas often contradict or logically exclude one another is apparently not a problem. Karl Popper was right when he observed that, “every ‘good’ scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.”94 If nothing else, the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is clearly like no other universal metatheory. It is far too complex, convoluted, and incoherent to be awarded such a status. Can we admit that Darwinian evolution is, at best, simply a historical science? The answer seems to be to the negative. The reason why this situation persists is simple; as has been said elsewhere, “you cannot wake someone who is pretending to be asleep.” (pg 149)

Miller doubles down on placing us within the aimless contingencies of cosmic evolution saying, “mankind’s appearance on this planet was not pre-ordained,” and that we are, “an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.”37 He adds, “Did the ancestors of vertebrates have to survive the Cambrian? Did mammals have to evolve from vertebrates? Did one group of mammals, the primates, have to take to the trees?

Was one tiny African branch of these tree climbers absolutely predestined to survive and give rise to Homo sapiens? The answer in each case is no.”38 However, there is an abrupt shift among theistic evolutionists once we are on the doorstep of civilization. Suddenly new features “emerge,” making us uniquely spiritual beings in the universe. Polkinghorne fervently believes that we represent something unique in the animal kingdom, possessing a, “certain degree of freedom,” that our, “impression of choosing what to do is not an illusion,” and that, “human choice [is] an irreducible fact of human experience.”39 As they must, essentially all theistic evolutionists think we have evolved to a point where God would start paying attention to us. This is a tacit admission that Homo sapiens does represent something different, and that this difference offers us unique relations with God. Using a model offered by Peter Enns and Jeff Schloss, the BioLogos website has been advancing the use of a new species name for the humans who are descendants of Adam (again, acknowledging that “Adam” was probably not a specific human created by God). They write,

Another view sees human-like creatures evolving as the scientific evidence indicates. But at a certain point in history, it is possible that God bestowed special spiritual gifts on those who had developed the necessary characteristics. This historical event would endow the recipients with the Image of God. We can say that Homo divinus was therefore created from Homo sapiens. With these spiritual gifts came the ability to know and experience evil.40

Yes, you are reading that correctly. They have created a fictional species name to spiritually separate humanity from its primate heritage. Among those “spiritual gifts” is free-will, which itself is synonymous with a conscious mind (not a brain that’s activities are determined by physical laws). I want to emphasize the point that this move is diametrically opposed to Darwinian theory. In fact, it was Darwin who argued that, “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals . . . certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”41 . . . (pgs 73-74)

At this point, it’s worth remembering that theistic evolutionists ascribe to an entirely naturalistic description of the universe’s history, up until the emergence of our species. They are adamant not to pick a fight with evolution, but rather form-fit their theology around it. They then try to maintain entirely contradictory views inconsistent with science thereafter, affirming all sorts of directed and intentional action from God in the creation of the human spirit and in the life of Jesus Christ. If theistic evolutionists roll over supine to the science of evolution, why not the science of archaeology? Is paleontology so much more trustworthy? Clearly, archaeologists and anthropologists have found no evidence for a divine hand in any event in antiquity. There are no peer-reviewed papers on God’s alteration of geological structures in Mesopotamian times, nor phenomena like staffs becoming snakes and the sort. Science sees no supernatural events in evolutionary history, and theistic evolutionists agree. Science also sees no supernatural events in human history, nor present-day events, yet here, the theistic evolutionists balk. In truth, their scientism is strictly confined to evolution.

Further, even though most theistic evolutionists affirm conscious free-will in our species, there isn’t one scientific article on the role of free-will in aiding early hominid evolution, and modern neurobiologists are convinced that they can demonstrate that mind does not exist. For that matter, neurobiology has come up empty in looking for genuine free-will and consciousness.

Yet they assume these things? Then again, maybe not. After all, Miller also wrote, “Evolution answers the question of chance and purpose in exactly the same way that history answers questions about the course of human events. . . . History, like evolution, seems to occur without divine guidance.”14 So maybe Miller punts on the stories of the New Testament and the promises of intervention in our lives after all. As I’ve hinted, his views are vexing. I would add that evolution isn’t exactly like human history for a man who believes that our species alone possesses free-will and a soul. That too is odd….(pgs 155-156)

. . . consider Collins’s claim that, “if Christ really was the Son of God, as He explicitly claimed, then surely of all those who had ever walked the earth, He could suspend the laws of nature if He needed to do so to achieve a more important purpose.”50 Apparently Collins believes that the Son was willing to do what the Father was not. Theistic evolutionists do not sit in a well-protected barricade, tossing stones at a glass house. If anything, they sit in the kitchen and toss rocks into the living room. . . (pg 55-56)

. . . This leads us to one more topic we should broach before getting into the creation story of theistic evolution. As a template to work from, let’s continue with Giberson’s writings: “Intelligent Design and scientific creationism seem inadequate to me, because they reduce God to one agent among other agents in natural history. If ID is true, then it implies that the agents of evolution are natural selection, sexual selection, God, mutation, chance, and whatever else you want to list.”12 This too is silly. It creates a false dichotomy that a God who is active in his creation is somehow just a part of it. By analogy, as an older man, my grandfather worked at a gas station, taking out the trash, cleaning toilets, and sweeping the parking lot. His friends became worried that he had fallen on hard times, and finally one of them approached him about it. “Why are you working as a janitor at a gas station?” asked the friend, to whom my grandfather replied, “Because I own the place.” (He and my grandmother actually owned three gas stations at the time.) Thus, Giberson’s claim is logically vapid. Further, the theistic evolutionist must concede that invoking Jesus as God incarnate, existing as a material being in physical space-time is the ultimate example of God acting as “one agent among many agents.” In fact, any place in which they invoke God’s miraculous hand would be such an instance (for example, as in the book of Acts, where Jesus blinds Paul, or when the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles at Pentecost, or when Peter struck down Ananias and Sapphira). At the moment the theistic evolutionist claims direct miraculous activity, he is victim to having made God just one cause among many in history. (pg 16-17)

Though he would not admit it, Dennett’s analogy pre-supposes that someone (or something) has produced an objective and static code for the algorithm (evolution) to solve. That is, his mechanism only works if there is a concrete code that the algorithm can solve. It is entirely unclear that this assumption is true. The solution to the algorithm of the struggle for existence has produced both bacteria and dolphins, each of which are with us today, and only one of which has survived the test of time. But, even if we award the power of natural selection to steer evolution towards some directed ends, what is natural selection? It is a pressure that sorts fitness values among conspecifics in a population. Leave more progeny, and you win. But what sorts of things represent selective pressures? Predation, competition, infectious disease, mutualism?

These are all properties of the interactions between organisms. Thus, the guiding hand of natural selection is itself bound to the interplay between mutations in the genomes of interacting organisms. If we draw an analogy between genetic mutation and the nightly lottery drawing, then we see that mutations are like the numbered balls that shoot up each tube (i.e., are chosen) from a common circulation chamber. There is some probability that any one number will be drawn, and the sequence of numbers is a product of those individual drawings.

Let the balls in the chamber represent the organism’s genome, and the balls selected represent the mutations actually offered up to natural selection. If by “selection” we mean “the interaction between two or more species,” then all we really have is a system in which the individual chambers (genomes) present randomly drawn balls to one another. Natural selection is largely just lottery chambers that face each other. That is, natural selection is not directed or non- random. Rather, it represents linked stochastic processes, as the chance-based mutations that lead to variation in one organism represent the selective pressures that sort stochastically derived variation in another. Thus, natural selection is also chance-based (even when considering environmental pressures like nutrient availability, drought, fire, etc.). [pgs 88-89]

See also: The Evolution News & Views review In Shadow of Oz, Biologist Wayne Rossiter Critiques Theistic Evolution

In the “conversation” that theistic evolutionists say they want to have about science and faith, theistic evolutionists capitulate to nearly all of the ideas and beliefs of atheists, thinking this will somehow attract atheists into the religious camp. It won’t work, because theistic evolutionists almost never challenge anything at the core of atheist beliefs. This leaves Christians — and anyone else for that matter — facing some confusing and conflicting messages:

And at this point, that is a brand to sell, not buy.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

From Amazon

In the century and a half since Darwin’s Origin of Species, there has been an ongoing–and often vociferously argued–conversation about our species’ place in creation and its relationship to a Creator. A growing number of academic professionals see no conflict between Darwin’s view of life and the Christian faith. Dubbed “theistic evolution” this brand of Christianity holds that God has used processes like Darwinian evolution to achieve his creation. But is that true? Can Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection acting on chance mutations be reconciled with God’s intentionality in producing particular outcomes? Does humanity represent the apex of his creation, or just an erasable and ephemeral signpost along a path still being revealed? Does theistic evolution permit God to intervene supernaturally in the workings of his creation? Can we as humans be made in the image of God if we are just one of the millions of products of evolution? Can we salvage concepts like freewill, meaning, purpose, or an eternal soul within theistic evolution? In this book, Wayne Rossiter assess theistic evolution, and whether or not it is consistent with Christianity and secular science. His conclusion is that it bears little resemblance to classical Christianity, and promotes a century-old understanding of evolutionary theory. Theistic evolution renders God a passive player in creation, so far removed and undetectable that he resembles a mere shadow of the Creator described in Christianity.

"Believe in Evolution" What does this mean, exactly? mike1962
I wish well for book sales for this writer yet evolutionary biology rises and falls on the quality of evidence behind its great claim of the origin of biology. The biology cries out that its so complicated ONL:Y a intelligent being could create it. This is what the bible says. SO is there biological scientific evidence for evolution?? Is it there for its great claim? Is there any? i say there is none and most creationists say there is little. Thats the rib. creationism doesn't just debunk evolution evidence but denies it exists. First things first. All evolutionist have to do is state their top three favorite evidences(bio sci) and they will of won a third or half the battle. No other scientific theory in modern times has ever been denied like evolutionary biology. either its critics are strangely blind to its evidence or its proponents are blind to its lack of evidence to justify it as a scientific theory. Thats what the books should be proving. Not presuming evolution is proven. Robert Byers
For the theistic evolutionist: Did God know what Adam would look like? Did Adam look as God planned? buffalo
“Evolution answers the question of chance and purpose in exactly the same way that history answers questions about the course of human events. . . . History, like evolution, seems to occur without divine guidance.”
Well except for that nasty business of the nation Israel, once being dispersed throughout all the world like their ancient writings said God would do to them, are now back in the land like their ancient writings said God promised He would do for them. They seem to be "evolving" against all odds -- all while being surrounded by nations bent on destroying them. Let's certainly not include that outlier when looking for answers about the course of human events without divine guidance. awstar

Leave a Reply