Christian Darwinism Darwinism Intelligent Design

Why theistic evolution is incoherent

Spread the love

Laszlo Bencze

And why it thrives (cf BioLogos) anyway.

(Editor’s note:Bowling with God: The problem of theistic evolution” follows up on this post.)

Philosopher-photographer Laszlo Bencze explains:

Last year William Jessup University, an ostensible Christian school, invited a theistic evolutionist to speak to students. He described how he had evolved from being a young earth creationist in his youth, to an old earth creationist, passing through a phase of allegiance to the intelligent design movement, before finally settling on his last and best metamorphosis: Theistic Evolution. He used many rhetorical devices to present evolution as fully compatible with Christianity. “There is no need for a Christian to be afraid of evolution,” he explained. “Embrace it as your friend.” To drive home his point he revealed a remarkable discovery: the first four letters of evolution when reversed spell “love.”

But there’s a big problem in loving both God and evolution. The premise of theistic evolution is incoherent. The “theistic” part connotes a creator God who knows what he wants to do and does it. The “evolution” part connotes a process that is random and in no need of supervision by any conscious agent because it is sufficient unto itself. So theistic evolution might be rephrased as “a system whereby God creates using a process that he cannot influence in any way and which has no need of him.” Huh?

If the theistic evolutionist responds, “Oh I don’t mean that kind of evolution. I mean the kind of evolution which is guided by God to fulfill his purposes,” then the true evolutionist will reply, “Well, that’s no kind of evolution. That’s some sort of creation scenario and you have no right to use the evolution word.”

“But!,” protests the theistic evolutionist, “I want you to know that I have nothing to do with those Intelligent Design idiots. I’m one of you! I’m one of the smart guys who is up on science, not some primitive religious fanatic. I truly do believe that Darwin got it right and random mutation coupled with natural selection is all there is. All I’m saying is that God uses that process to create all the living things on Earth.”

“Oh brother,” says the true evolutionist, “You just don’t get it do you? As soon as you toss God into the equation you blow evolution to smithereens and reveal yourself as exactly what you say you aren’t—a religious nut case. Evolution doesn’t need god, or goals, or interference by any intelligent agent. All evolution needs is a steady supply of random mistakes and the process of elimination called natural selection. That will get you to any form of life no matter how complex. It’s beautiful and you’re just too stupid to understand that its self sufficiency IS its beauty. Now get lost. You bore me.”

As I’ve played out this imaginary dialogue, I hope I’ve made clear that the last thing a theistic evolutionist wants is to be invited into the ID camp. The whole point of being a theistic evolutionist is to be good buddies with the smart guys of the world, the evolutionists; yet, to keep a toe in the belief system they grew up with and towards which they retain warm and fuzzy feelings. In any showdown, whether it be abortion, euthanasia, or school textbooks, staying in harmony with evolution will trump warm and fuzzy feelings about religious heritage.

33 Replies to “Why theistic evolution is incoherent

  1. 1
    JWTruthInLove says:

    “Theistic evolution” has several meanings. The meaning you describe is incoherent. Others are not.

    Btw.

    The “evolution” part connotes a process that is random and in no need of supervision by any conscious agent

    In any showdown, whether it be abortion, euthanasia, or school textbooks, staying in harmony with evolution

    Abortion and euthanasia are supervised by a conscious agent. No evolution there.

  2. 2
    News says:

    JWTruthInLove, which meanings are not incoherent?

  3. 3

    JwTruthInLove:

    I’m not asking for you to spend a lot of time, but just briefly, what are some of the other meanings of theistic evolution?

    Thanks,

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    Theistic Evolution – showing God out the front door and then trying to sneak him back in via the back door (quantum indeterminacy). HT: Kenneth Miller

  5. 5
    Mapou says:

    Theistic evolution is very probably a ruse, in my opinion. It’s a way for the Church of Darwin to gain converts without appearing to be proselytising. If one goes from being a YEC to an OEC and then to a theistic evolutionist, what comes next? Full materialist/evolutionist, that’s what. The good thing is that, like everything else that comes out of the evolutionist camp, it’s stupid.

  6. 6
    ecs2 says:

    I think theistic evolution and Darwinian evolution are incompatible. This is because Darwinian adherents insist on inserting unguided into their definitions. There is no way to test or verify whether RM or NS are unguided, and really no good reason to assume they are other than strict adherence to a materialist worldview.

    You extend the same assumptions in your original post:
    “The “theistic” part connotes a creator God who knows what he wants to do and does it. The “evolution” part connotes a process that is random and in no need of supervision by any conscious agent because it is sufficient unto itself”

    The way you wrote it, a conflict is apparent. But a theistic evolutionist is obviously extending a definition of evolution as a mechanism of change which is guided by God, and therefore is not random or unguided.

    There are a lot of different varieties of theistic evolution – almost none of them suffer from the contradiction described insofar as I understand them.

    FWIW, I don’t necessarily prescribe to theistic evolution, but I don’t view it as implausible.

  7. 7
    Moose Dr says:

    Eric Anderson, “just briefly, what are some of the other meanings of theistic evolution?”

    I believe that the magic line between evolutionist and not is Universal Common Descent. UCD has been called the “fact of evolution”. Those of us who hold to UCD can rightly be called theistic evolutionists.

    I cannot for the life of me read the data as being created by accident and a simple filter. I therefore believe that an agent is twiddling with the data — ID. It is not much more theologically reasonable to hold to UCD and an active agent* than it is to hold to UCD and God created rules doing it by themselves. I therefore am not bound at all by theology to take the ID position. I hold to ID simply because the data compels it.

    *A UCD position must reject a literal “Adam” and “Eve”. A UCD position assumes that homo sapien existed hundreds of thousands of years ago, not 10k or less.

  8. 8
    StephenB says:

    esc2,

    But a theistic evolutionist is obviously extending a definition of evolution as a mechanism of change which is guided by God, and therefore is not random or unguided.

    The Neo-Darwinist model, which most Theistic Evolutionists accept without critical analysis, proposes unguided evolution in the name of science. It cannot be reconciled with “a mechanism of change which is guided by God.” That is the point of the post.

  9. 9
    vjtorley says:

    The meaning of theistic evolution has changed a lot over the past forty years. I can remember the time when someone who believed that evolution was guided by God and mutations directed by God would have been called a theistic evolutionist. Most people holding that position 40 years ago would have also been happy to add that there was scientific evidence of God’s guidance of the evolutionary process, too. I conclude that the theistic evolutionists of yesteryear would have to call themselves Intelligent Design theorists if they were alive today. (Some of them still are, of course!)

  10. 10
    turell says:

    As a person of Jewish upbringing, I think theistic evolution is very reaonable as defined by vjtorley. Evolution happened and is generally guided by God. And of course ID is an obvious conclusion. What is the problem?

  11. 11
    StephenB says:

    turell

    What is the problem?

    The problem is that most contemporary Theistic Evolutionists do not subscribe to its reasonable expression as outlined by vjtorley. The majority subscribe to the unreasonable expression as promoted by BioLogos, which could be accurately characterized as Christian Darwinism.

  12. 12
    vjtorley says:

    Hi turell and StephenB,

    As I see it, the differences between the old and the new versions of theistic evolution are twofold: in the new version, God’s guidance is scientifically undetectable, and additionally, outcomes are planned only in broad outline. Thus a popular modern theistic evolutionary view would be that God intended the universe to generate intelligent life, and perhaps helped that process along by some undetectable shuffling at the quantum level, but He did not specifically intend the evolution of Homo sapiens. Also, under the new version of theistic evolution, it would be scientifically illegitimate to infer the existence of a Designer (let alone a Deity) from the evolutionary process. At most, one might argue that the laws of Nature point to God. That’s a very watered-down position to take, and I don’t think it’ll convince any atheists.

  13. 13
    JGuy says:

    It’s materialism in a cheap tuxedo.

  14. 14
    Jon Garvey says:

    I throughly agree with VJT, and that there has been an unnoticed and regrettable drift to polarised positions in recent decades, much to the hurt of the Church as well as the whole science-faith discussion.

    I did a long series on the difference between theistic evolution as first understood in Darwin’s time, and “how she is spoke” nowadays which starts at http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.u.....evolution/. Some might find it instructive.

  15. 15
    JWTruthInLove says:

    @News:

    JWTruthInLove, which meanings are not incoherent?

    The “supervising” of evolution is obviously an optional part and depends on the design plan.

    Theistic evolution has been described as the position that “evolution is real, but that it was set in motion by God”:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution

  16. 16
    turell says:

    12 vjtorley; The whole key to me is Adler’s “The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes”. The huge gap in mental capacity and the difference in skeletal form and physical capacity takes us totally away from the great apes. I don’t even consider ourselves primates. We are extremely diffferent. And there is no given reason for it in the challenges of nature. The apes are as happy as they ever were to live and survive just like they were 6 million years ago. They DID NOT change at all. Chance mutation, ID folks have shown, cannot induce the drive to human changes. Therefore there must be supernatural forces at work, i.e. God. Take bacteria as an example. they are the first life form, they are still here, the most successful and largest biomass life form. Why did muticellularity happen? Same reason. It was pushed. A little philosophic reasoning using the moded we see of evolution leads to realizing God is guiding the process. In the time allowed there is no other way for it to have happened in the evolutionaary pattern we see.

  17. 17
    jerry says:

    I did a long series on the difference between theistic evolution as first understood in Darwin’s time, and “how she is spoke” nowadays

    Thank you for the link. I just spent the last hour or so reading the six posts. I recommend them to all.

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    If it ain’t unguided it ain’t science. And we theistic evolutionist’s just ain’t like the rest of you anti-science rubes.

  19. 19
    TheisticEvolutionist says:

    Christianity like most religions are not compatible with theistic evolution without contradiction. If someone wants to be a theistic evolutionist then they should be non-Christian (non-religious) such as myself. Evolution and a loving God is incompatible. Some of the Eastern religions who believe in non-personal pantheistic God/s is compatible with theistic evolution.

    The BioLogos is an embarrassment and it’s only followers are American’s who have up-bringing from the Bible and still want to hold on to some of that belief.

    There are several kinds of theistic evolution. The most popular version of this was in the 19th century, it said that God started the universe and the laws of nature or set life in motion and then just letting it run by natural processes. This is view later became known as deistic evolution;

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deistic_evolution

    Now from what I have read the BioLogos subscribe to the above view as they do not believe in supernatural intervention in the evolutionary process (so when it comes to evolution they are deists), but they also believe in a personal God of the Bible and that this God is actively involved in his creation but not with evolution as he let natural causes take over. It makes no sense at all. If they were not Christian advocating a personal God then perhaps what they were doing would make sense. You get sit all day finding contradictions with it.

    Another kind of theistic evolution which is mostly out-dated is the belief that God has been actively involved in the evolutionary process i.e. supernatural intervention at various geological periods or in everyday life.

    Alfred Russel Wallace and the biologist St. George Jackson Mivart both held that view. According to Thomas Huxley:

    “Mr. Wallace thinks it necessary to call in an intelligent agent–a sort of supernatural Sir John Sebright–to produce even the animal frame of man; while Mr. Mivart requires no Divine assistance till he comes to man’s soul.”

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/N....._evolution

    The third kind of theistic evolution is a form of pantheistic evolution. Some Eastern religious sects subscribe to that belief. It basically argues for an all-encompassing, immanent God that is equated with nature. There is no personal deity. Ernst Haeckel was an advocate of this view. It would probably be more correct to classify it as pantheistic evolution.

    My own opinion on the subject is that non-personal God/s are entirely compatible with evolution.

  20. 20

    All of the comments seem to underscore the larger point of the OP.

    Being a “theistic evolutionist” depends a great deal on what one means by “evolution.” And to mainstream evolutionists, it must be purely based on natural and material processes, with “no divine foot” allowed in the door.

    So the theistic evolutionist can proclaim to believe in some kind of evolution guided by God, but the ardent materialist will retort: “Then you aren’t talking about evolution.”

    At the very edges someone might be able to stay in the club by proclaiming God’s influence to be so indirect and so obscure as to be nearly non-existent (e.g., Miller’s quantum tinkering idea). But anything more than that is likely to be soundly disputed by ardent materialists as being decidedly non-evolution.

    This isn’t to say that materialists have a justified monopoly on the word “evolution.” Just that we need exercise caution to not deceive ourselves into thinking that the word is being used the same way by all parties in the discussion.

    “It is,” to quote one author, “perhaps the most slippery word in the English language, because of the way it changes meaning.”

  21. 21
    Mapou says:

    Let’s me see if I understand this definition game. I don’t believe in either common descent or Darwinian evolution. But I believe there was a period of design evolution over hundreds of millions of years during which the intelligent designers created new species while reusing existing DNA sequences as much as possible.

    Does this mean that I, too, am a theistic evolutionist? I would rather think of myself as a design evolutionist.

  22. 22
    StephenB says:

    VJT

    As I see it, the differences between the old and the new versions of theistic evolution are twofold: in the new version, God’s guidance is scientifically undetectable, and additionally, outcomes are planned only in broad outline. Thus a popular modern theistic evolutionary view would be that God intended the universe to generate intelligent life, and perhaps helped that process along by some undetectable shuffling at the quantum level, but He did not specifically intend the evolution of Homo sapiens. Also, under the new version of theistic evolution, it would be scientifically illegitimate to infer the existence of a Designer (let alone a Deity) from the evolutionary process. At most, one might argue that the laws of Nature point to God. That’s a very watered-down position to take, and I don’t think it’ll convince any atheists.

    VJ, while I agree with the general thrust of your point, I do think that there is a critical element that you are leaving out. Contemporary theistic evolutionists, especially those of BioLogos fame, defend their dubious formulation by appealing to the “science of evolutionary biology” as understood in a Neo-Darwinisic framework. Put another way, they defer to the model that evolutionary “experts” have put forward, which, as it turns out, proposes an unguided, undirected process.

    Thus, there is not, in my judgment, any way of getting around the fact that they are arguing for the impossible proposition that a purposeful, mindful Creator used a purposeless, mindless, process to achieve indeterminate ends. That is why they allude so often to the idea that God gave nature the “power to create itself.” It seems perfectly reasonable to raise the relevant point: Either God or nature is calling the shots. It can’t be both.

    Yes, the meaning of theistic evolution has changed in the past few decades. That is precisely why Christian Darwinists get away with their impossible claims. They are taking advantage of our memory of the reasonable models while they smuggle in their unreasonable model.

  23. 23
    Mung says:

    Mapou:

    Does this mean that I, too, am a theistic evolutionist?

    No, it means you’re a genetic reductionist, a view that is becoming less and less sustainable.

  24. 24
    SteveGoss says:

    JGuy @13: It’s materialism in a cheap tuxedo.

    Maybe more like: materialism in a bathrobe masquerading as vestments.

  25. 25
    Mapou says:

    Mung:

    No, it means you’re a genetic reductionist,

    How can I be a genetic reductionist (assuming I understand what the term means) since I believe that, unlike animals, human beings have spirits?

    Do I believe that the intelligent designers used existing ape DNA to engineer human beings? Yes I do. If that makes me a genetic reductionist, so be it.

    a view that is becoming less and less sustainable.

    According to whom? I don’t care about that. In fact, I think it’s probably a good thing. I’m a rebel at heart.

  26. 26

    StephenB:

    Thus, there is not, in my judgment, any way of getting around the fact that they are arguing for the impossible proposition that a purposeful, mindful Creator used a purposeless, mindless, process to achieve indeterminate ends. That is why they allude so often to the idea that God gave nature the “power to create itself.” It seems perfectly reasonable to raise the relevant point: Either God or nature is calling the shots. It can’t be both.

    This is an excellent point and one that starts to get to the heart of the matter.

    That coupled with the fact that there is absolutely no credible evidence that the laws of nature can produce anything even remotely resembling living systems. So the indirect “setting up the laws of nature” approach doesn’t have any legs to stand on. More direct intervention is required. That is, unless one is willing to accept blind, purposeless processes.

    —–

    The problem is really that many people are not as well informed as they should be.

    Many people think they need to genuflect to the answers of “science” when it comes to the evolutionary storyline, when in fact if they were to study evolutionary theory in more detail they would learn that it has no answers to anything of consequence: not the origin of life, not the existence of information-rich systems in biology, not the source of biological novelty, not the origin of intelligence and consciousness.

    There is really no need to grant large swaths of intellectual ground to alleged evolutionary mechanisms in the question of the origin and diversity of life on the Earth. Nothing of real consequence been shown to arise through such evolutionary mechanisms; and anything such mechanisms have been shown to produce is inconsequential.

  27. 27
    Mung says:

    I think the first question to ask of any “theistic evolutionist” is, do you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?

    Second might be, how do you reconcile redemptive history with natural history?

    Was Theodosius Dobzhansky a theistic evolutionist?

  28. 28
    vjtorley says:

    Hi StephenB,

    Your comment on contemporary theistic evolutionists was right on the money:

    Thus, there is not, in my judgment, any way of getting around the fact that they are arguing for the impossible proposition that a purposeful, mindful Creator used a purposeless, mindless, process to achieve indeterminate ends. That is why they allude so often to the idea that God gave nature the “power to create itself.” It seems perfectly reasonable to raise the relevant point: Either God or nature is calling the shots. It can’t be both.

    That contradiction has been lurking at the back of my mind for a while, but you nailed it. Thank you.

  29. 29
    StephenB says:

    Eric Anderson @26,

    VJTorley @28,

    Thank you for taking time out to consider and comment on this vitally important matter. There is just enough sugar in the TE confection to make young Christians swallow the poison whole and join the ranks of the anti-ID militants.

  30. 30
    Axel says:

    ‘“But!,” protests the theistic evolutionist, “I want you to know that I have nothing to do with those Intelligent Design idiots. I’m one of you! I’m one of the smart guys who is up on science, not some primitive religious fanatic. I truly do believe that Darwin got it right and random mutation coupled with natural selection is all there is. All I’m saying is that God uses that process to create all the living things on Earth.”

    The theistic evolutionist seems to wonderfully personify not just the Pascal’s eminently Christian truism of the heart’s transcendental wisdom: ‘The heart has its reasons reason knows not of’; but also the materialists’ own version of it: ‘The heart has its unreason, reason knows not of.’ Such passionate, secular fundamentalism, but alas based immovably on their wilful unreason, in the face of the ever mounting evidence.

  31. 31
    Axel says:

    Without presuming to vie with the estimable William J Murray, in the matter of his profound apothegms, allow me to render my own ‘pronunciamento’ into a more pithy form:

    The materialist’s heart has its unreason, reason knows not of. God bless them for trying.

  32. 32
    Axel says:

    BUT, God bless them for trying!

    … a better balance, I think.

  33. 33
    Axel says:

    A critic once said of Jane Austen’s characters that they were heads carved on cherry pips.

    And just as the stature of today’s Republican leaders would seem to stand in the same relationship with the stature of the Presidents, whose heads were sculpted on Mt Rushmore, so would the stature of these cultists of materialism and Unintelligent Design appear in relation to that of the great paradigm-changers of the last century, and indeed, earlier centuries, all believers in Intelligent Design – and none who would have believed that nothing could have turned itself into everything. A nonsense, a priori, for crying out loud!

    Back to the flower-pots and test-tubes, Richie et al, and leave the discursive thinking to the theologians and philosophers, there’s good chaps.

Leave a Reply