Karl Giberson, the former Executive Vice President of the accommodationist organization BioLogos, has started writing for The Daily Beast. And, judging by Sunday’s column, “What’s driving America’s evolution divide?“, he seems to be having either a crisis of faith or a crisis of tactics.
His starting point is the most recent Gallup data on American beliefs about human evolution. Here are the data over 30 years:
I’ve posted about this before, and what the data seem to show is a consistent rise in the proportion of people who believe in purely naturalistic evolution (only 19% in total, but nearly a doubling from 1982); a stasis in those who accept young-earth creationism; and, over the last three years, a 7% decline in the proportion of those accepting “theistic” evolution: evolution somehow guided by God. One important thing to realize is that, when it comes to human evolution, 62% of those who accept it [31%/(31% + 19%)] think that God had a hand in it. Even in 2014, then, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans accept evolution as we scientists see it. But the trend is heartening.
Not to Karl Giberson, though. He’s a devout Christian, and, as an official of BioLogos, he was devoted to helping evangelical Christians accept evolution as not conflicting with their faith. To do that, he had to promote theistic evolution, for that’s the only kind of evolution a young-Earth creationist could really accept. Giberson himself is a theistic evolutionist.
To Karl, the rise in naturalistic evolution is understandable, for the proportion of “nones” (those who don’t adhere to an established religion) is increasing in America, and the Barna Group has found that many young Christians are leaving the church because they perceive it as “anti-science.”
What bothers Giberson, though, is that the theistic evolution group isn’t increasing:
What is of greater interest to me, however, is the failure of the “middle ground” to capture more support. Believing that God guides evolution in some unspecified way is a “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” position, and I would have expected movement into this category. You can accept the science you learned in high school and simply affirm that, in some undefined sense, evolution is “God’s way of creating.” This is known as theistic evolution or evolutionary creation and has been championed vigorously by people like Francis Collins, Ken Miller (although he rejects the label) Sir John Polkinghorne, myself, and others. The BioLogos organization that Collins and I launched a few years ago, and the more recently formed Colossian Forum promote this view. And it is also the view that has been consistently—if quietly—promoted at most of America’s evangelical colleges for decades. So why is it moving backwards rather than forwards?
Well, I’m not that puzzled. From where would the theistic-evolution camp gain adherents? Surely not from the naturalist evolution camp, for once you accept evolution as a purely naturalistic process, why would you suddenly start thinking that maybe God tweaked evolution after all?
Could theistic evolution poach from the young-earth creationists? It could, but only if accommodationism was successful. If efforts of groups like BioLogos or the Clergy Letter Project or the National Center for Science Education’s “faith project” really worked, the proportion of young-earth creationists would be dropping and the proportion of theistic evolutionists rising.
That’s not happening. In fact, the opposite is happening—if you accept that the drop in theistic evolution is real. This really puzzles Giberson, but he unwittingly gives the answer near the end of his piece:
My flag has been planted in this failing middle ground since before Gallup started asking people to choose sides. But, over those several decades I have been disappointed in how little progress we have made in articulating what it means to say that “God Guides Evolution.” When the Intelligent Design movement got started, many of us were hopeful that it might move the conversation forward, but it remains mired in the same anti-evolutionary quicksand that gobbled up its predecessor, scientific creationism. It can do little more than say that God—or, they would insist, “an unknown intelligence”—is the explanation for this or that evolutionary puzzle.
Evolutionary creation/theistic evolution doesn’t fare much better, however. We can’t explain the difference between our position—“God guides evolution”—and that of the atheists—“evolution runs by itself.” Even such a basic question as the historicity of Adam and Eve is so divisive among evolutionary creationists that many propose a roster of mutually exclusive possibilities rather than address the question directly.
I gave the answer above to why the middle ground is losing: accommodationism doesn’t work, nor does converting naturalists into theistic evolutionists. So there’s no reason that middle ground should increase. The reason it’s decreasing is palpably obvious: America is becoming less religious as young people either lose their faith or fail to embrace any. Further, as they become less religious, they become more pro-science (being religious is a barrier to accepting science). And if you’re pro-science and a “none,” theistic evolution simply isn’t credible.
It’s telling that Giberson, who is a Ph.D. physicist and a theistic evolutionist, says something like this: “We can’t explain the difference between our position—’God guides evolution’—and that of the atheists—’evolution runs by itself.’ Even such a basic question as the historicity of Adam and Eve is so divisive among evolutionary creationists that many propose a roster of mutually exclusive possibilities rather than address the question directly.” I’m almost dead certain that Giberson, like his ex-BioLogos colleague Pete Enns, sees Adam and Eve as a complete myth, which may have some metaphorical value.
But Giberson’s claim that theistic evolutionists can’t explain where and how God works to “guide” evolution—a claim that is absolutely true—is the answer he’s seeking. Theistic evolution isn’t scientific; it’s simply a form of creationism. The term “theistic evolution” encompasses a diversity of views: everything from the milder forms of intelligent design, to God making specific mutations to allow the appearance of humans, to God having designed the process to produce a given result, and then not interfered thereafter. “Theistic evolution” is in fact a grab-bag of disparate theories, none of which can be supported (or distinguished from other forms of theistic evolution) by evidence. What they all have in common is that they tack theological add-ons onto a process that seems purely natural. So if you’re pro-science—which means you’re already in either the theistic evolution or naturalistic evolution camps—you have only one way to go: into naturalism.
At the end Giberson says this:
The latest poll suggests that the most robust positions on human origins in America are at the extremes, with an uneasy middle ground. In origins, as in Washington politics, moderates are slowly going extinct.
But theistic evolutionists aren’t moderates at all. They accept a strange mixture of science and superstition. Why is it being a “moderate” to have one foot in each camp? Would Giberson accept as a “moderate” form of chemistry the rejection of the polar ideas that 1) God forges each chemical bond Himself and 2) the bonds form purely as a result of physical law, but accepting that 3) God tweaks some chemical bonds—particularly the ones involved in promoting life (e.g., the binding of DNA strands)? Why is it “moderate” to accept only a little bit of God? To me that’s an extreme view, one that buys into ideas with no evidence behind them.
Why isn’t the “moderate” class growing? For two reasons: America is becoming less religious, and accommodationism doesn’t work.