As I noted at the end of February, Uncle Karl Giberson and Francis Collins have issued a new book, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, that seems to comprise material mainly lifted from the “questions” sections of the BioLogos website.
This, of course, is a challenge for bloodhound Jason Rosenhouse, who keeps a sharp nose for all things creationist. He must be something of a masochist, because he regularly plows through creationist and accommodationist tomes, but in so doing he saves us the trouble of reading them. Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason’s just reviewed the Giberson and Collins book. As usual, he produces a long and thoughtful review, and without rancor—though he’s quite strong in his judgment. The book is a defense of theistic evolution, and Jason gives it two thumbs down.
Here’s a snippet in which Jason discusses G&C’s pathetic attempts to show why it was of course much better for god to create through evolution than by merely poofing stuff into existence (theology is the art of making religious virtues out of scientific necessities):
Eventually we come to the two most serious issues, the problem of evil and the problem of human significance, and it is here that I believe Collins and Giberson really have not thought things through. Their basic replies are familiar: Evolution ameliorates the problem of evil by distancing God from the rottenness of nature, and evolutionary convergence shows that humans were inevitable.
Of course, there is an obvious reply to that first point. If you set in motion a process that you know will lead to a horrifying end, then you are as morally responsible as if you caused that horrifying end directly. If you drop an anvil onto someone’s head, you cannot absolve yourself by saying, “It wasn’t me! It was gravity!” We must explain, then, why God set in motion a process that he knew would lead to massive pain and suffering. Here is their answer:
“That nature has freedom is highly provocative and theologically suggestive. God created the world with an inbuilt capacity to explore novelty and try new things, but within a framework of overall regularity. … The key point here is that the gift of creativity that God bestowed on the creation is theologically analogous to the gift of freedom God bestowed on us. Both humans and all creation have freedom. Our freedom comes with a moral responsibility to use it properly. But that does not prevent us from doing terrible things. The freedom God gave humans was exercised in the construction of gas chambers at Auschwitz and Dachau, and in the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. But because humans have freedom, we do not say that God created those gas chambers. God is, so to speak, off the hook for that evil.
In exactly the same way, outside of the moral dimension, when nature’s freedom leads to the evolution of a pernicious killing machine like the black plague, God is off the hook. Unless God micromanages nature so as to destroy its autonomy, such things are going to occur. (p. 136-137).”
This, I’m afraid, makes little sense. Their proviso “outside of the moral dimension” effectively kills their argument. As is clear from the discussion leading up to these paragraphs, nature is “free” only in the sense that it lacks causal determinism. That is not at all the sense in which humans can be said to be free. (Of course, there are thorny issues about the meaning of free will, but I think we can leave those aside for now.)
. . . There is plenty more that is wrong with this book, but I think you get the idea. In the end there is not a single thought or example here that is original, and Collins and Giberson repeatedly fail to grapple with the real concerns people have about evolution. All is standard boilerplate, about how to read the Bible, or resolve the problem of evil, or preserve notions of human specialness, or to protect any meaningful role for religion in modern life. They will need to do better if they really want to persuade sincere Christians that their worries about evolution are unfounded.
Inevitably, Josh Rosenau appears in the comments, defending G&C’s efforts to reconcile theology and science, and helpfully suggesting other ways that theology could rationalize god’s creation through natural selection:
There are several possibilities. One is that the prospect of creating through the unwinding of natural processes held some inherent intellectual interest to the creator. Another is that creating through natural law would not inevitably lead to evil, or at least to any particular evil. By the Doctrine of Double Effect, one could argue that the good aimed at is all that matters, and that accidental ill effects are not relevant.
It’s a sad situation when an atheist tries to help people like Giberson and Collins peddle their specious version of evolution. Rather than envision the creator using natural selection as a form of mental masturbation, why can’t we just short-circuit the whole exercise and admit that there’s not a smidgen of evidence for god?
This book is an embarrassment for its authors, particularly Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. The spectacle of the country’s most powerful scientist explaining why a nonexistent sky father allows cats to torture mice, or bubonic plague to kill millions of people, is beyond belief. But he and Giberson will be excused because their brand of delusion is socially sanctioned. Imagined if they explained natural selection as the product of loose thetans set free by Xenu!