Karl Giberson is puzzled why theistic evolution isn’t gaining adherents

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:

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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.

 

 

90 Comments

  1. Nathan Teegarden
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Dr. Giberson, I think I found out why people aren’t buying theistic evolution:

    in some undefined sense,

  2. Erik Verbruggen
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I think Jerry is being very gentle on this guy. I do like the style in this context: no need to point out the obvious to someone who is asking why no-one believes him while explaining that there is not a single reason people should.

  3. Sastra
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    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.”

    What sort of “progress” do you think can be made in “articulating what it means to say ‘God guides evolution?’” Articulate? You mean, spell out? Explain? Provide some detail?

    Hell, the entire process of theistic evolution is to avoid articulating what it means to say ‘God guides evolution.” In some undefined, unspecified, vague, airy-fairy gosh we’re-just-not-gonna-think-about-it sense God “guides” evolution. Go no deeper. Ask no questions. Make a bad analogy or two and then rest on how noble it is to give up. It shows even more faith; it’s more like what a small child would do.

    A “middle ground” which consists of nothing but excuses for not dealing with a topic is not going to stand somewhere on a continuum with science.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      It is interesting how those in both the theistic evolution and ID camps distance themselves from creationists, but once you examine their assertions it is clear not only that they are blatantly creationist but also that the creator is the Jesus dad. You always find Jesus, not an alien, not a random intelligence but Yahweh. Of we accept the theistic evolution approach, what evidence is there that it is Yahweh?

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        There are actually a tiny handful of Jewish creationists and some Islamic ones, but they are mostly in the more general tradition of Abrahamic monotheism.
        However, there are even a few Hindu creationists as reported in this article on RationalWiki
        http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Hare_Krishna_creationism

        • Posted June 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

          “Tiny handful of Jewish creationists?” Pretty much all Orthodox Jews are creationists – I wouldn’t call that a tiny handful. And “some Islamic ones?” Also, pretty much all Muslims are creationists. Your word choice is very misleading.

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

            Point taken. I meant activists in favor of promoting creation, and my word-choice was sloppy and misleading. Thank you.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 25, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

              I think what I should have said is creationists, especially the ID pretend that they are not saying it is god who designed things but really that is exactly what they think. I don’t see non religious groups promoting an alien designed universe.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 24, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t Hare Krishna (KCM) basically an American religion, ‘Hindu-lite’? Creationism would be a selling point, not just a vestige of Vedism.

        • jay
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:31 am | Permalink

          Not a tiny handful, a sizable minority.

          There is also a native American creationist movement.

          That’s fun because Christian creationists are so accustomed to arguing against evolution with arguments that just claim evolution is wrong that it’s fun to challenge them to provide EVIDENCE that their creation story is more accurate than the Lakota account, for example.

          Throws them off their game.

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Yep.

      And, hell, the entire project of religion itself is to avoid articulating anything. There’s nothing to be articulate about.

      “Theistic evolution” is one of the smaller iterations on the fractal that is religion.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    “What is of greater interest to me, however, is the failure of the “middle ground” to capture more support.”

    Sorry, Karl, but there is no middle ground between believing in god and accepting evolution.

    It is alalogous to pregnant or not pregnant, there is no middle. Science (including evolution) has shown that the fairy tales in all the holy books show no part of reality.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Middle ground is a dead weight albatross and people recognize that. It is becoming impossible in our society to make one step away from creationism without making the full step away from theism.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      As Jim Hightower said “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

      It is much easier to say the gods do everything or do nothing than trying to determine which things they do. I like to ask theists if chemical reactions can occur without gods’ interferences. If so, then why not mutations, selection, speciation, etc.? I have yet to meet one who claims gods are manipulating chemical bonds.

      • Gordon Knott
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:03 am | Permalink

        Isn’t there an attribute, considered to be on a par with ‘omniscience’, ‘omnipotence’ & ‘omnibenevolence’, called omnidirigence? It is sort of the complete opposite of Cosmic Muffin Deism: the attribute of a god who controls & directs everything which happens down to the tiniest details of chemistry & nuclear physics.

        • Stonyground
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:26 am | Permalink

          I’d like to ask Karl whether God still pushes the planets round and round or do they just rely on their own inertia to keep turning. Maybe they rely on theistic inertia.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:38 am | Permalink

          You could call it divine determinism, an extreme form (or quite orthodox form, probably) of Calvinist predestination. The D*g who not only sacrificed Himself to Himself to avert His Own wrath, but also shoots down every sparrow that falls, and damns only innocents to eternal torment.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          Many Christians actually believe this, inconsistently. It makes a hash out of free will, but they also claim that “god sustains us in being”. The latter has to include the punch I just threw or the bullet I fired, so …

  5. John K.
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    A fundamentalist viewpoint is definitely more internally consistent. If magic is to be seriously considered as an explanation for anything at all, why not apply it consistently across the board?

    Accepting just a little science puts Giberson and his ilk in the uncomfortable position of answering why some parts get to be godly and other parts do not, and why they get to apply this method so haphazardly.

    Life either works by magic/god/the supernatural (take your pick) or it does not. I can’t imagine why taking a middle ground would be appealing to anyone.

    • Draken
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      But not even fundamentalists apply magic consistently. They go out of their way trying to explain, for example, the Flood as plausible in natural terms- see Woodmorappe and AiG. Inevitably when that becomes utterly impossible, they start calling upon miracles.

      They even try to take radiometric dating methods hostage by inventing sciency explanations of how radioactivity may not have been constant over the ages (and ignoring the nasty side effects that would have had).

      And they are forced to, because even the most deluded Ken Hams recognise that the Bible does a lousy job explaining the sun, the moon, the stars and the millions of life forms on the pale blue dot.

      • John K.
        Posted June 24, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        They want the credibility that comes with the results science has. Sadly they do not understand how the scientific method actually works, so they always fail.

        I suppose the only real difference between Giberson and Ham is how much they want to attribute to magic, their MO is exactly the same in practice. Ham just demands more of the scripture remain literal and unblemished.

        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted June 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          I think that’s true but I think there’s more to it. They also want the political justification for introducing creationism into schools. That requires a “scientific” form of creationism.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      When we knew the universe less well, one might plausibly fall back on the old chestnut of believing in both primary (supernatural) causes and secondary (natural) causes as explained here in Wikipedia.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_causation

      However, science has been so successful in explaining so much by an intricate network of natural causes that God begins to look more and more like an illusory ghost behind the universe.

  6. Kingasaurus
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Part of the problem is that Giberson just believes he’s being reasonable in not denying obvious and settled scientific information. Isn’t it more reasonable to admit that, for example, the non-avian dinosaurs actually went extinct 65 million years ago, rather than denying the obvious?

    Who doesn’t want to be more reasonable rather than less, right? Isn’t it better to be like Giberson rather than a retrograde YEC? Well, yes. The problem for Giberson is that Jerry is right – theistic evolution is an amorphous blob of an idea that only makes sens if you keep it in the back of your mind and don’t analyze it too closely. Another reason it doesn’t gain adherents is because it’s often just a way-station to complete non-belief.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      The way-station process is known from statistics of religiosity in education too. Theists becomes agnostics, and agnostics atheists, as the years of study increase.

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good point. Religious believers aren’t necessarily stupid, and even those who hold what seem to us like bizarre views can recognize the spinelessness of what usually passes for theistic evolution. In a way I have more respect for people who go the whole hog and just assert biblical literalism–at least they aren’t trying to have things both ways, like the IDers and the TEists.

      On the other hand, I’m tempted to think that if people want to have some fuzzy conception of a god who is responsible for all naturalistic processes in a way that doesn’t dispute the materialistic account of those processes–and doesn’t require teaching anything other than the standard scientific account–then what’s the harm? The problem, as Jerry’s post points out, is that nobody’s really buying that. And that’s hardly a view that I’d like–pace Gilbertson–to actively encourage.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      It can be a useful way-station. As a private tutor, I have had a couple of fundamentalist students, and I have found they’re more willing to look into the logic of evolution if I point out to them the existence of BioLogos.

      There’s a kind of magician’s sleight-of-hand in folks like Collins and Miller, but it has it’s uses.

  7. Kevin
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Statistically speaking, the rise of evolution without God has the best fit of the three groups. It is rising exponentially (R^2=.76) and is likely the strongest indication that people are abandoning religion, or at least removing any role that their religion has to do with evolution, and likely any physical processes. Which makes them functionally atheists, and only privately theistic.

    The other two trends: creationism and evolution with God are difficult to fit. It is like data driven by waffling insecurity and doubt. These people do not know what to believe. It is time to get on the bus of science.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

      The ‘exponential’ look of that curve is what I was thinking of last time, when I suggested a rapid rise was on the cards, but a proportion is bounded by [0,1] and the simplest curve is logistic; we’re still missing at least two parameters for the asymptote and inflexion point.

      It would be interesting to have data on individual trajectories among the Pew question categories (or a better-posed question), but that would be a different kind of survey.

  8. Taz
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I wonder why 2+2=5 isn’t catching on as a nice middle ground between the extremists who say 4 or 6.

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Very well put! An excellent point, and made with no more words than necessary.

    • qlz
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Nice. And one could also represent it as: 2+2+y=4, where 2+2=the evidence (fossil record, anatomy, gene homology, etc., etc., etc.) and 4=evolution. Accomodationists persist in adding the x (=god), which is clearly unnecessary. Of course, as Prof Ceiling Cat demonstrates with the hypothetical “moderate” chemistry model, one can add a god presence on top of any scientific theory if we care nothing for the principle of Occam’s razor, and if the goal is to assert the supernatural over the natural. What motivates accomodationists anyway? The desire to conciliate? Some abstruse commitment to the religious tenets or the supernatural?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        y?

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        2 + 2 + x = 4

        x = god

        Solve for “god.”

        b&

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          +1 (in the googlific, not the mathematical sense of the term)

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    As always, fun to pick at and rant over the accommodationist bones after the theists have thrown them under the bus. The fossils of Dysfunctionalis Strategicus are amazing: not a single bone connects to another, it is an amorphous mess of a transitional species.

    When the Intelligent Design movement got started, many of us were hopeful that it might move the conversation forward,

    And so Giberson’s anti-science stand is finally stated by no other than himself. The man is mired in 1802 pre-science, used to promote 2014 anti-science. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmaker_analogy ]

    He is an intellectual barbarian, and he should be ashamed.

    … such a basic question as the historicity of Adam and Eve is … divisive among evolutionary creationists …

    How is not accepting the non-existence of a single breeder pair human bottleneck to “accept the science you learned in high school”?

    The man is a wandering cognitive dissonance!

    And so is Collins re evolution of moral behavior. No wonder their position fall apart at the slightest touch by reality.

    The latest poll suggests that the most robust positions on human origins in America are at the extremes, with an uneasy middle ground.

    How is squatting on the fence of The Asylum not extreme? Giberson’s scientific GPS is not giving him his position…

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      …and nightjars are flying all around his head, interfering with his view of Big Ernie. They are calling from the forest, the rocks, and the bare desert ground to remind him that if he listens to their songs, there is no need to imagine the voice of a nonexistent god.

  10. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Give me an accurate characterization of God and I’ll think about it.

  11. reasonshark
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    When our green line is the highest one on the graph, I’ll consider this a success of science education and reason advocacy. It took almost ten years (from 2002 to 2012, unless I’m misreading the graph) to go from 12% to 16%. An increase at all is to be welcomed, but one that slight is not good enough. Can’t it go any faster? :(

    • Draken
      Posted June 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if the aggressive onslaught of Islam has contributed to the progress of atheism. Is it me or do I see a sudden hop around 2001 (9/11), and again around 2012 (Arab spring, Islamic winter)?

      As a result of rampant islamism, the backwardness of that religion vs. christianity has become a discussion topic, and religion is no longer self-evident. Is my amateur speculation.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        This is certainly true. Gnu atheism was provoked by 9/11 and the Bush era quasi-religous response to it. Many formerly silent atheists, myself included, became very loudly out as a result.

  12. Posted June 24, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Yes, “theistic evolution” makes no sense. It is, indeed, like saying “theistic gravity.”

    The reason that there are still quite a few in the middle, such as scientists Karl Giberson, Francis Collins, and Denis Lamoureux,
    is because they don’t agree with some evolutionists’ philosophical positions.

    You say,
    “They accept a strange mixture of science and superstition.”
    That might be true of those who self-identify as “theistic evolutionists”
    but
    I don’t think it’s true of evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky or of cell biologist Ken Miller.

    It seems to me when one mixes philosophy with science (or, worse of course, religion) one gets a distortion.

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes, “theistic evolution” makes no sense. It is, indeed, like saying “theistic gravity.”

      Exactly.

      After Newton, we understood that no gods were necessary to shepherd the planets in their grand procession across the sky; rather, gravity and inertia did the trick. Yet, there are inherent instabilities with time and multiple bodies that Newton wasn’t able to figure out, leading him to conclude that the gods were still needed to keep the chaos in check.

      We now know better.

      Well, most of us…apparently, Ex-Uncle Karl never got that memo….

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Yes, “theistic evolution” makes no sense. It is, indeed, like saying “theistic gravity.”

      The Onion is waaay ahead of you…

  13. Ed K
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    This is an excellent point:

    “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.”

    To me, this is one of the most damning indictments of accommodationism. From a statistical standpoint, I completely agree that these trends in public opinion suggest that accommodationist efforts are generally ineffective.

    • Posted June 24, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      It depends. If theistic evolution was losing people to atheistic evolution at approx. the same rate as it was poaching from YEC, it would appear not to change. I don’t know that this data alone indicates that accommodationist efforts are ineffective at getting people to accept evolution – but they certainly seem ineffective at promoting long-term acceptance of both science and religion.

      Theistic evolution might just be a temporary home between YEC and atheism for many people – it was for me!

      • Ed K
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        That’s very interesting. I wonder how common it is for theistic evolution to act as a kind of temporary home between YEC and an embrace of true naturalism?

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          Obviously, we’d need a specific poll asking the question, but anecdotally it would seem that it’s pretty common. I would guess it’s far more common than going from being a YEC to accepting naturalistic evolution overnight. Too many embedded beliefs to change at once. I actually may wonder about how much rigor one devoted to analyzing his or her beliefs if such a sweeping change of worldviews happened instantaneously.

          • GBJames
            Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            The cases I am aware of, like Dan Barker and Jerry DeWitt, all entail a transition process that takes time to play out. It kind of necessarily involves some kind of theistic evolutionary state for a while.

  14. docbill1351
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Uncle Karl wonders why theistic tea making isn’t catching on.

    I mean, one moment it’s water and the next it’s tea! Nobody can explain that.

  15. ladyatheist
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Odd that someone who believes in theistic evolution is writing about his position’s impending (ha!) extinction and not praying about it. After all, extinction is part of evolution.

  16. Posted June 24, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    This is comedy gold. He even openly calls it a “have your cake and eat it too” position, a term to describe ideas that are self-contradictory, and then wonders why many people wouldn’t buy into it.

    As for this being a moderate position, PZ Myers wrote all that needs to be said years ago:

    Note to BioLogos: squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town.

  17. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how many Christians are just the position of their denominations and not thinking too deeply about it. Or trying not to.

    In the US, 7.5% of Americans are former Catholics that have left that church (though not all for nonbelief). Given that Catholic doctrine supports theistic evolution, that alone could be a significant piece of the puzzle.

    I’ve read elsewhere that mainline protestant churches (also more likely to teach theistic evolution) have also lost members in favor of both nones and evangelicals. But Pew seems to avoid the mainline/evangelical taxonomy, so I can’t see that trend in their data.

    http://www.pewforum.org/2008/02/01/chapter-2-changes-in-americans-religious-affiliation/

    Certainly many “nones” don’t have a deeply considered position on evolution based on a thorough understanding of the facts. They just accept the consensus of authorities they trust. Though the opportunity to learn more is always present, many don’t care to.

    Would believers be any different, in accepting without much reluctance, the consensus of the authorities they trust?

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Statements by the last couple of Popes support theistic evolution, but it is not a teaching that the Church mandates its followers to accept. I believe it was in a poll Jerry posted a couple months back that I saw 23% of American Catholics still accept YEC. That’s smaller than other religious groups, but still a large chunk.

      Here as an interesting read from a Catholic Creationist organization: http://www.kolbecenter.org/the-traditional-catholic-doctrine-of-creation/

      The end of the article has some Ken Ham style speculation on the limits of science, but the article is packed with citations from past councils in the Church as well as Popes through the ages. The Church hierarchy may officially allow acceptance of theistic evolution, but their claims to teaching a constant, unchanging truth down through the ages simply can’t be established. The jig is up; there’s also ample material in the article showing that God has been more than just a Ground of Being down through the ages, it may be one attribute that was claimed, but it was far from the end of the definition.

  18. MR
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Part of the problem is it is difficult to know what theistic evolution even is. Most people who answer yes, probably simply mean they believe in both god and evolution and have no problem with or are unaware of the cognitive dissonance. If we exclude that it is not a form of intelligent design creationism, what could it be. Perhaps we could say it is some form of the Catholic interpretation of evolution. divine spark of life, evolution, evolution, evolution, primate to Adam miracle, sin, sin, sin, history, miraculous sperm in virgin, redemption, sin, history, crusades, inquisition, history, history, pedophilia scandal,history. I know there have been hand waving attempts like Collins suggestion that god guides natural laws and morality, or Ken Miller that god guides quantum mechanics, but both of these are not even wrong, since they haven’t been formulated into anything which resembles intelligent design or creationism (not that they should, since it would be an exercise in filling gaps that don’t exist). Perhaps theistic evolution implies god works in micro steps occasionally altering a hemoglobin here, a cytochrome C there, until humans are produce, but this would be a hypergradualistic form of intelligent design. So maybe the drop in theistic evolution essentially reflects people recognized the god hypothesis is a delusion more than anything else. Why add something to a theory that was never necessary to begin with.

  19. Tulse
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    If Karl needs to understand the problem, he should just read what he wrote:

    God guides evolution in some unspecified way is a “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” position [...] in some undefined sense [...] We can’t explain the difference between our position and that of the atheists. Even such a basic question [...] is so divisive among evolutionary creationists

    I don’t know why Karl is surprised — it really sounds like he doesn’t really believe in theistic evolution either, but is desperately trying to convince himself otherwise.

  20. Posted June 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Moderation can certainly have benefits, but not in all situations. How does one moderately imbibe poison? Or an empty glass?

    Giberson’s perception that he is fully drinking from the gleaming chalice of comforting, sweet religion while simultaneously taking a deep draught from the goblet of bracing science is just that, a perception, one modeled for his generation. Religion is being regarded more like a toxin or just empty nonsense nowadays.

  21. Posted June 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    As a person raised Catholic and taught that the Earth is only 6000 years old, I think I can speak to Giberson’s concerns. The first time I was introduced to evolution was in 1994 when my father encouraged me to write my first High School term paper advocating the Creationist position. About the only thing I remember about it was that it quote-mined Stephen Jay Gould. Being that my Biology teacher at the school was also a Creationist, evolution was left out of the AP coursework because “there just wasn’t time to cover it at the end of the year.”

    I passed the AP exam and so tested out of college level Biology. I didn’t give the question much more thought for the better part of the next decade, but when I did, I couldn’t shake the thought that a god who is all powerful surely could devise a mechanism like evolution. Hell, it could devise any mechanism it wanted to.

    Fast forward another decade and these “sophisticated” arguments for theism are no less satisfying than the Creationist view was. Of course, the main driver for this is that there are numerous unevidenced claims in the “best arguments” for God and that even if arguments for theism were granted, it simply doesn’t support the claims of the great majority of theists in the world about divine revelation and the dogmas that go along with it. Hart, Feser, Fr. Kimel, et al can blog I ate all they want about philosophical arguments for a Ground of Being, which they call the best argument.

    I have been perusing some of Feser’s blog posts of late and the posts as well as the comments are full of ad hominem attacks calling New Atheists stupid, dogmatic, out of touch and intellectually dishonest for not engaging these arguments, all while bloviating about the uselessness of ad hominem attacks. Feser isn’t a theistic evolutionist in the sense that Giberson is, but he certainly seems to attribute a god as the sustaining cause of everything. He dismisses the work of numerous other theolgians, based on logical argument which only underscores the reason so many former theists like myself do not embrace theistic evolution.

    Theologians tend to diverge, while science converges. As to answering the beat arguments for God, what I don’t see any attempt to do is answer the best objection against theistic claims, namely that a philosophical framework can be logically consistent and dead wrong. If empirical evidence contradicts a premise, the idea should be dismissed. In the most charitable view, it is easy to demonstrate two logically consistent ideas which contradict each other. Without evidence, we simply have no way of giving preference to one over the other. Theologians are not converging on any consensus over time. Evolutionary biologists are. So why the hell would anyone accept the former over the latter?

    • Gavin Young
      Posted July 6, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      I fully agree with your words of “If empirical evidence contradicts a premise, the idea should be dismissed. In the most charitable view, it is easy to demonstrate two logically consistent ideas which contradict each other. Without evidence, we simply have no way of giving preference to one over the other.”

  22. Posted June 24, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Also sub

  23. derekw
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately the Gallup poll, due to the way the questions are phrased, would lump the Old Earth Creationists (OEC) with the YEC. There has been significant growth in OEC (most ID proponents subscribed to it) in the evangelical church and this is not represented by the poll numbers.

    • Gavin Young
      Posted July 6, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I fully agree with those words. During the time I was a theist I was a biblical old earth creationist, but of the kind who believed that humans were created no more than about 6,000 years ago. I am not an atheist but I own a number of Christian Bible dictionaries and commentaries, some of which are conservative and some of which are evangelical. I notice that a number of them say that old earth creationism (including the day age idea) is compatible with the Bible. Many of them also say that biblical flood might have happened 10,000 years ago or earlier. Many of them also say the the biblical flood might have been local instead of global. Many of them say that the city of Jericho existed during about 7000 BCE/BC and that civilization (with writing) existed in ancient Sumeria/Babylonia in 3500 BCE/BC.

      Even Pat Robertson now says he believes our planet Earth is much older than about 10,000 years.

      • Gavin Young
        Posted July 6, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        In my above reply when I said ‘I am not an atheist …” I meant to say “I am now an atheist …”.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted July 6, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          That does rather change the meaning of the sentence!

      • Gavin Young
        Posted July 6, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Regarding my reply of “I notice that a number of them say that old earth creationism (including the day age idea) is compatible with the Bible”, it not just a number of them, but nearly all of the ones I purchased.

        • Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

          To clarify what I meant by “… old earth creationism (including the day age idea) is compatible with the Bible” I mean that it fits the Genesis creation accounts at least as well as the young earth creationism interpretation, if not more. Likewise as least as strong a case can be made, than for young earth creationism, that the biblical writer(s) of the creation account of Genesis believed it took more than six solar days for the earth and physical heavens to come into existence (and for Adam to name the animals), or that the writer(s) at least intentionally allowed for such an interpretation (such as by not mentioning an end to the seventh ‘day’ (unlike in regards to ‘days’ one through six) of the creation account of Genesis 1:1 – 2:4. [If you want evidence for such claims, you can read a number of books and internet articles on the subject.] Furthermore, though even old non-evolutionary creationism (even its progressive creationism form) does not fit the scientific evidence nearly as well as does modern cosmology theory coupled with the modern biological evolution theory, it nonetheless does a considerably better job than does young earth creationism. I think that those factors are why old earth creationism (along with a local flood view) is growing within the evangelical Christian community (though not likely within fundamentalist Christianity) and the belief in it is reflected in the numerous Christian Bible dictionaries and commentaries produced after around the year 1880, especially in recent decades.

      • Posted July 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        I think the whole argument for Biblical compatibility is the next big area where headway can be made for challenging those on the fence about their beliefs. Compatibility alone means absolutely nothing.

        Barack Obama being President is compatible with the United States winning the World Cup. Richard Dawkins converting to Islam is compatible with 17 to 20 foot seas off the Cape of Good Hope. There are literally an infinite number of things that are compatible. When the two things have nothing to do with each other, it simply doesn’t matter. Anything interpreted in a sufficiently abstract and metaphorical way can be made “compatible” with reality. The important focus needs to be on whether the compatibility warrants giving any credence to the belief.

        My ability to jump over the moon is compatible with the moon being made out of cheese. If you wake up tomorrow and start telling people that I jumped over the moon and snatched up a chunk of cheddar as I passed by to prove it, asserting their compatibility isn’t going to prove your sanity.

  24. Posted June 24, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    “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 not a flattering description. In fact, it sounds pretty gnuish to me.

    Huh.

  25. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Giberson:

    I have been disappointed in how little progress we have made in articulating what it means to say that “God Guides Evolution.”

    1) I trust you have read the earlier comments in this thread. I often ask proponents of ID to describe the designer, and to put forward a coherent, testable hypothesis of how he/she/it/they designed the universe/the world/life/human beings. None has done so. In a similar manner, I would ask that you present what you mean by “God Guides Evolution” in unambiguous language. Until that is done, I think we can both see why the position would not gather adherents—it would be no different than a political party which could not articulate a platform.

    2) Let me press it a bit further; perhaps this should be labeled point 1a. Please explain the differences, if any, between any or all of the following statements:

    “God Guides Evolution.”
    “Allah Guides Evolution.”
    “Krishna Guides Evolution.”
    “The Flying Spaghetti Monster Guides Evolution.”
    “Zhang Xi Guides Evolution.”
    “Ra Guides Evolution.”

    I think you see where this is heading. As Stephen Roberts famously remarked: “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Once again, the lack of clarity in your presentation is what is preventing your ideas from gaining a following.

    3) I posted this here once before; perhaps, though, you didn’t see it. Pretty much the only thing that I used to believe when I was a young-earth creationist, and that I still believe now that I am an atheist evolutionist, is that anyone who believes in theistic evolution simply doesn’t understand two things:

    1) theism, and
    2) evolution.

    A clear-eyed view of what is truly involved in evolution removes from the realm of possibility the involvement of any god that any non-sociopath might care to worship. I commend to your intellectual perusal an excellent book by Carl Zimmer, Parasite Rex.

    4) Finally, perhaps the most important reason why people are not becoming theistic evolutionists is simply that the position is not necessary. For naturalists, the “theistic” part is not only unnecessary, but also anti-rational. For supernaturalists, there is no reason why their particular god should have used such a long, drawn-out, wasteful, cruel process, when he could simply snap his figurative fingers and have life, the universe, and everything come into being just as he wanted it to be. I don’t deny that there exist a number of theistic evolutionists; only that they should not be surprised that their numbers are not growing, given that anyone not already committed to the position, whether scientist or religious believer, can detect the inherent contradictions and incoherencies in the position with very little difficulty.

    Best Wishes,

    Mark Joseph

    • Gavin Young
      Posted July 6, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Excellent post! I am an atheist who used to be a Christian. Even while I was in the process of loosing my Christianity I didn’t believe in theistic evolution, though during the last few years of me being a Christian I wonder if maybe Yahweh/Jehovah God used evolution to create various kinds of species (but during that time I didn’t definitely believe that he used such).

      It was while I was a Christian that I first learned about the idea of punctuated equilibrium model of evolution. I considered the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution to be more plausible than the traditional gradualistic model of evolution, since the punctuated version seemed to much better fit the fossil record. Now that I am an atheist and an evolutionist I believe that macroevolution (that is the evolving into existence new species, genera, taxonomic families, orders, etc.) primarily happens according to the manner described by the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution. That includes the idea that it typically happens in small isolated populations and usually only after a drastic sudden (in geological time terms) environmental change.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 6, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        It seems we are cut from similar cloth.

  26. Jeffery
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I think it all boils down to the inescapable fact that some ideas are right, and some ideas are wrongety-wrong-wrong. A fact, in and of itself, cannot be “partly” right, or “partly” wrong.

  27. Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Before I say this I would like to add a caveat: I don’t think there are any “good” arguments for God, and what I’m about to say isn’t something I consider any real proof of God; it’s just something I can’t get my head around.

    Eclipses.

    It just so happens that the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun and the sun is 400 times further away and therefore they are the same size in the sky and the moon can cover the sun exactly. That blows my mind. What were the chances? I think that if was God (and I’m not saying I’m not ;-)), then I would defintely do some tripped out shit like that while creating the world, just to create a cool spectacle.

    Like I say, it’s no evidence for God whatsoever, but it’s long been something that confused me. I’d find it easier to comprend if there was some gravitational effect between the three bodies that meant the moon was more likely to end up where it is, but I’ve never heard of such a thing. Without that, isn’t it crazy that we have eclipses? Maybe it’s God way of saying “I’m here people. I’m just real shy, so I sent you this incredible, breath-taking natural marvel as a clue. P.S. Stop fucking killng eachother. Jesus people, do you need it carved in stone?”

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      There’re all sorts of such coincidences if you start looking for them, and humans are particularly well suited to spotting coincidences and patterns even where none exist.

      In the case of eclipses, it’s a question of timing as much as anything. The Moon used to be much closer to the Earth, and thus appeared larger. It’s continuing to recede, and we just happen to live in a rather narrow window of time, geologically speaking, when the two have the same angular diameter. The earliest mammals may never have seen an annular eclipse, and there won’t be any more total eclipses several hundred million years in the future. In a planetary system already halfway through its roughly ten billion year lifespan, to find ourselves in the middle of a billion-year period with mixed total and annular eclipses isn’t all that remarkable from a cosmic perspective.

      …even if it is a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        ‘Tis very true indeed. I could argue that it’s amazing how we just happen to find ourselves occupying this particular narrow window of time, but you could just as easily argue, if not this one, then another. There are so many possible conincidences that some of them are statistically guranteed to go our way. It just so happens that for us, it’s this one. Perhaps, in a few billion years there will be a conscious lifeform on earth saying “Isn’t it incredible that the moon just happens to be far enough away to fit perfectly over Jupiter in the sky? There must be a god!”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Fibonacci scrolls must really blow your mind then! :)

  28. Filippo
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    sub

  29. Posted July 6, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I agree with Jerry Coyne that theistic evolution includes those people who believe in the idea of “… God having designed the process to produce a given result, and then not interfered thereafter.” With that in mind, note that the Gallup poll forces people to pick the position that comes closest to their view of how humans came to exist. Many of the people might not see their exact belief listed as a choice in the poll. As a result of those factors, I think that it is possible that a considerable percentage of those who answered “… God had no part in this process” of evolution are actually theistic evolutionists, but of the kind who believed a god (but not necessarily the Christian god) designed the process of evolution and then avoided intervening in the process. Furthermore I think that interpretation is supported by pollsters indicating that regarding the ‘nones’ (those adult members of the USA population who say that they have no religino) only about 20% of them are atheists and most of the rest of them consider themselves to be “spiritual though not religious”.

    Karl Giberson, Francis Collins, and BioLogos might actually be successful in getting a considerable percentage of people to believe a god created the process of evolution, but without being successful of getting people to believe the god is the Christian god. Perhaps many of the people being converted to theistic evolution are those who are coming to believe in some vaguely defined type of god instead of holding onto belief in the Christian god (and instead of coming to believe in the Christian god). Another possibility is that maybe they (Giberson and team) are getting a considerable percentage of creationists to switch to belief in theistic evolution, but that while that is happening maybe a considerable percentage of long-time theistic evolutionists are switching to believing that no god is involved in the process of evolution (other then perhaps initiating the process of evolution).

    Regarding the percentage of creationists (whether they are the young earth type or the old earth type) who believe humanity has existed for no more than about 10,000 years, it appears to me that the percentage of people in that group has begun to decline. Notice in the Gallup chart that after about the year 2000 the percentage of people in that category (in each of the Gallup polls after the year 2000) has been below 47%, whereas it was at 47% in 1993 and in 1999. Further note that after the year 2006 the percentage was below 44% in three polls. During one of those times it was only 40% and in this year’s poll it was at 42%. Note also the increase in the ‘god not involved’ group’s percentage (up to 16%) in the year 2010 seemed to mostly be at the expense of the ‘god directly created humans’ group’s percentage (down to 40%). I anticipate that at some point within the next five years the percentage of people who believe that a god directly created humanity (no more than about 10,000 years ago) will drop to below 40%. When the drop happens it might be accompanied by a temporary increase in the percentage of those who believe a god guided the process of human evolution, as what happened at about the start of the year 1998.

    I agree with Michelle Beissel’s words (in post number 20) of “Religion is being regarded more like a toxin or just empty nonsense nowadays.” For example as I (an atheistic ex-Christian Humanistic Quasi-Christian) [I invented the term "Humanistic Quasi-Christian"] read the Bible these days, there is less and less of the Bible I appreciate other than some of the moral/ethical statements, some of the wisdom sayings, and the literary style of some of the of the other statements. I consider less and less of the Bible as having accurate actual historical content, and more and more I see the Biblical stories as being propaganda (of the kind that entails deception).

  30. Posted July 10, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Regarding reasons.org article, see also Part 1 of the article. It is at http://www.reasons.org/articles/how-young-earth-creationism-became-a-core-tenet-of-american-fundamentalism-part-1 .

  31. Posted July 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    When I said “… who later began the ancestor of the begotten individual named …” I meant “… who later became the ancestor of the begotten individual named …”.

  32. Posted July 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    When I said ‘When I said “… old earth creationism (including the day age idea) is compatible with the Bible” I did didn’t mean in a sense …’, I meant ‘When I said “… old earth creationism (including the day age idea) is compatible with the Bible” I didn’t mean in a sense …’.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] 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. [Read more] […]

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