Alister McGrath is a well-known Christian theologian, priest, and author of many apologetic books. In one of them, “The Dawkins Delusion”, he fiercely opposes the pseudo intellectual arrogance of Dawkins’ atheism. In general I appreciate much McGrath’s work in defense of theism. For this reason I sincerely regret the need to criticize some of his opinions about theistic evolution (TE), as expressed in his interview with Nigel Bovey,”The universe is not an accident.”
McGrath rightly supports the ontological and logical necessity of a Creator of the universe, who provides to it and to all of its beings all meaning and reality, and makes it something quite other than an “accident”, as the title of the interview makes clear.
Bovey asks: “When it comes to ideas about how the world started, many people think there are only two options – evolution or the Bible. Is that the only choice?”
“There are four main positions within Christianity” and lists them as if they were a continuum, all derived from the same considerations: Young Earth creationism, Old Earth creationism, intelligent design (ID) and theistic evolution (TE). […] Each of these ideas has its strengths and its weaknesses”.
It is important to note here that TE (in the mind of his proponents and in turn in McGrath’s) is an attempt to reconcile Darwinism — unguided evolution — with theism. It is not an attempt to reconcile evolution guided by God with theism. That would be a form of intelligent design.
The differences between YEC and OEC are mainly about the age of the Earth, so they matter little in this context. Creationism is compatible with ID, just as an emphasis on God as designer is compatible with God as creator. Moreover McGrath correctly recognizes that “ID argues that a purely Darwinian account of the world cannot give a total picture”.
Actually, ID as a scientific inference is not specifically “Christian.” Any orthodox theist can endorse ID. So it is a bit odd that McGrath includes it among the “four main positions within Christianity.” But that is a detail.
What doesn’t square at all in McGrath’s list is TE, which he appears to endorse and respect far more than is warranted.
Unguided evolution (whatever meaning we give it, and all the more so if we give it a meaning based on Darwinian evolution, which is what theistic evolutionists and McGrath mean) is a theory based on chance, on randomness, i.e. accidents. If “the universe is not an accident” — as he rightly believes — how can evolution, an engine of accidents, be an explanation of “how the world started”, with the same plausibility of creationism and ID? What has to do Darwin with the startup of the universe? Darwin wrote “on the origin of species”, not “on the origin of the universe”. Just Darwinism miserably fails in explaining the origin of species, it hardly sheds light on the origin of the universe. Some TEs claim that there was a sort of “Darwinian struggle” among the universes of the multiverse, and that the outcome of the struggle explains the unique fine tuning of the universe we live in. But here we are enrolled at the university of idiocy.
McGrath claims that:
“[TE] finds a lot of favour among Christian biologists and links in well with some parts of the Book of Genesis. […] Darwin saw his theory as reconcilable with the Bible.” [He is right when says:] “The Bible includes a number of different literary forms – history, prophecy, allegory, poetry… Each needs to be identified and interpreted in an appropriate way”.
But which parts of Genesis speak of a TE god who creates by chance, such that all living beings arose only thank to many small random variations and natural selection, as Darwin believed?
McGrath says “TE sees evolution as the way in which God providentially exercises his creative processes and brings the world into being.” Evolution is pure randomness — i.e. chaos — how could God create the world (= organization, the opposite of chaos) by means of chaos? It is like construction produced by destruction. TE is an inconsistent position that cannot be at the same level of creationism/ID, which is where McGrath puts it, perhaps too charitably.
If McGrath’s evolution is the result of God’s creativity, it cannot be Darwin’s evolution, or any unguided evolution. If evolution, as understood by TE supporters, is Darwinian, i.e. unintelligent, then it has nothing to do with God’s creativity, which is intelligent design. McGrath and theistic evolutionists cannot have both ways. As Scriptures say “one cannot serve two lords”.
TE differs from creationism and ID in that it doesn’t have “strengths and weaknesses”, as McGrath says, but “weaknesses” only. It is the impossible marriage between theism (true) an Darwinism (false).
What TEs want is “a god who refrains from poking his finger into the natural evolutionary process”. This way the work of creation is done by chance and necessity and “God” is only a label, useful for the purpose of attracting naive Christians deceived by “the power of evolution” today and the illusions of atheism tomorrow.
In these conditions, it seems euphemistic to say with McGrath that “Evolution is not, by definition, atheistic”. If chance and necessity cannot do it all a Designer is necessary.
To sum up, I would have liked McGrath, who is included in “The 20 Most Brilliant Christian Professors”, to be much more severe with TE.
The sin of association between God and other things is a major one. Mind you the thing associated (evolutionism) is pure falsity. God is Truth and to put together truth and falsity is sort of unforgivable conceptual short circuit. Atheist evolutionists have used the “Trojan horse” of the means of creation to dispense with a Creator / Designer, by providing their own “means” — chance and necessity — which don’t succeed.
A Christian theist facing these anti Christian blasphemies carries a major responsibility and shouldn’t list them among the “main positions within Christianity”.
As to the means used by God to create the universe he — to use few words — could simply remember the traditional dictum referred to God: “We created the Heaven and the Earth and what is between them only by means of the Truth.”