Thursday, May 20, 2004

Colson on Theistic Evolution I once heard Hank “The Bible Answer Man” Hanegraaf, author of The F.A.C.E. that Demonstrates the F.A.R.C.E. of Evolution, argue that theistic evolution was even worse than the atheistic variety. According to theistic evolution, you see, we still have evolution but now we're blaming God for it.

Many Christians view theistic evolution as a dangerous compromise with the forces of secularism. One such Christian is Charles Colson, whose semi-literate delusions appear frequently at this blog. Here's his latest commentary on the subject, aimed at those spineless, weak-kneed, sell-outs who think evolution does not preclude a belief in God:

The idea that perhaps evolution was directed by God appears to be an attractive solution and one frequently embraced by Christian students trying to reconcile their faith with the teachings of their science teachers.

Evolution’s basic premise makes this approach inherently flawed, however. Imagining that evolutionary theory allows for a Creator—that evolution could be a God-guided process—is exactly what establishment scientists do not allow.

Prominent Darwinists from Stephen Gould to Richard Dawkins to John Maynard Smith insist that evolution is unguided and purposeless. As Phillip Johnson puts it in Defeating Darwinism, “The Darwinian theory doesn’t just say that God created slowly [over millions of years]. It says that naturalistic evolution is the creator—and God had nothing to do with it.”

Evolution in the Darwinian sense is both mindless and godless. As the famous evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson put it, “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”

Of course, like all scientific theories, Darwinian theory says nothing at all about God one way or the other.

Colson fundamentally misunderstands the sense in which evolution is unguided and purposeless. Given our current understanding of genetics, the variation that arises in natural populations seems to be random with respect to the needs of the organism. This element of chance ensures that the evolutionary paths taken by natural populations can not be predicted ahead of time. Any species alive today is the end result of many unpredictable events, and would almost certainly not evolve again were we to “rewind the tape”. This is what scientists have in mind when they describe evolution as unguided or purposeless.

But arguing that species Homo sapiens would not evolve again is different from saying that a species with the cognitive abilities of human beings would not evolve again. For example, eyes have evolved over forty times independently. This suggests that if we could replay evolution over again, we would still end up with creatures that had eyes. This phenomenon is known as convergent evolution. Perhaps higher intelligence is such a feature as well. This view has been defended with some eloquence by theologian John Haught, paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, and science writer Robert Wright, among others. This view is controversial among scientists (and I am among those who dissent from it) but it is entirely within the bounds of scientific orthodoxy. There is also nothing inherently religious about it.

The specifics of the evolutionary process can not be predicted ahead of time, but perhaps the broad patterns can be. This is what theistic evolutionists are arguing.

Colson continues:

Darwinists cannot afford to abandon this claim, Johnson says, because their whole approach is founded on naturalism, the doctrine that nature is all there is. Darwinian evolution tries to explain how nature did this without any assistance from a supernatural entity. Thus, an attempt to reconcile Darwinian evolution theories with creation “is an evasion of the conflict, not a resolution to it,” Johnson warns.

People are kidding themselves when they think they can believe in both creation and evolution. What’s at stake is not merely the details of evolution versus the details of Genesis in the Bible. Rather, the issue is the stark, fundamental claim that life is the product of impersonal forces versus the claim that it is the creation of an intelligent Designer.

I can not imagine what Johnson means in describing reconciliations of evolution and creation as “an evasion of the conflict”. What is being evaded by arguing that God creates by a process that allows for an element of chance?

As for Colson's last line, evolution only says that a relatively simple sort of life can evolve into a relatively complicated sort of life, given sufficient time and a hereditary mechanism that satisfies certain properties. It has nothing to do with the origin of life, nor does it have anything to do with why there is a universe having the properties necessary for evolution to occur.

In my view, there is no need to invoke the supernatural to explain any of these facts either. But at least theistic evolutionists are willing to engage the facts that science has uncovered. Colson and his ilk are far more interested in keeping their readers ignorant and fearful.


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