Why Evolution Is True

Karl Giberson defends accommodationism

Karl Giberson, whose accommodationist book Saving Darwin I reviewed in The New Republic, is vice president of The BioLogos Foundation, the Templeton-Foundation-Funded organization headed by born-again Christian Francis Collins.  Giberson is also a trained physicist, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College, and head of a faith and science initiative at Gordon College.

I criticized Saving Darwin — and BioLogos as well — for their insistence that the evolution of human beings (or of some humanlike form of devout animal) was inevitable.  As part of a scheme to accommodate evolution with Jesus, BioLogos (and other accommodationists like Kenneth Miller  and John Haught) must devise a way to reconcile naturalistic evolution with the Christian view that humans were made in the image of God as the goal of the whole creation.  This magic is accomplished by claiming that God either set up the evolutionary process so that it would produce H. sapiens as an inevitable outcome, or that He intervened at some juncture(s) to ensure that humans would appear.  Either way, such a view completely violates the scientific presumption (and evidence) that evolution is a purely materialistic and unguided process — a process without a goal or, indeed, any determined outcome.

A weekly feature of BioLogos (which provides hours of entertainment and nanoseconds of enlightenment) is “Science and The Sacred,” a weekly online column where “leaders of the BioLogos Foundation share insights on the latest ideas in science, faith and their integration.”  In this week’s column Giberson takes on yours truly:

God or Matter?

The University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne recently objected to the suggestion that humans might actually be a part of God’s creative plan. Like most of the so-called “new atheists,” he denounces the idea that evolution — all by its lonesome, blind, purposeless, unguided self — would ever find its way to such an improbably unique species as human beings.

Although we know a lot more than we used to about evolution, I don’t see how we can have any certainty whatsoever about what kinds of things evolution might or might not be able to do. It was not long ago we thought 100,000 genes were required to make a human being, and now we know it can be done with approximately 20,000, or roughly the same number as rice and sea urchins. There is a lot we still don’t know about how evolution works, but this is not the point I want to make, for I have no desire to hide inside the shadowy corners of science and hope that they are never illuminated by the light of scientific progress.

Coyne’s objections are really just the traditional objections to belief in God repackaged as scientific objections. Traditional theism — which is the foundation for a majority of people’s worldviews, including scientists — is a richer and more complex version of reality than materialism. As a theist with a deep respect for science, I believe in all the same remarkable laws and particles that undergird the worldviews of scientists. But I also believe this reality is rooted in the creative and sustaining activity of God. God can act in the world and provide a larger understanding of the way things are.

Theists have both God and science as important parts of their reality. But many Americans reject particular scientific ideas like evolution or the big bang theory because they think they are incompatible with belief in God. The BioLogos Foundation is committed to helping religious people make peace with such scientific ideas, a project Coyne describes as a “hilarious goldmine of accomodationism.”

But what about the accommodationism of materialists? How do they reconcile their materialism with the rationality of the world? It seems to me reality has to be grounded in one of two deeply mysterious foundations: God or matter. Each has its own set of questions. Theists wonder about the nature of God’s existence, the problem of evil, how and why God acts in the world and why God has chosen to remain hidden from us. These are difficult questions and certainly must trouble thoughtful believers. But don’t materialists have another set of mysteries? Don’t they have to wonder about the nature of physical existence? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are the laws of nature so rational? Why is our species so religious? Is the world just a big pointless accident?

In Coyne’s excellent book, Why Evolution is True, he suggests we can “make our own purposes, meaning, and morality.” I know I am not alone when I say I am not entirely satisfied with this. I think the materialists have their own accommodationist project to work on, and I suspect it may turn out to be even more hilarious than ours.

Karl Giberson is executive vice president of The BioLogos Foundation and director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.

Well, I appreciate Giberson’s praise for my book but still disagree strongly with his views.  First of all, he mischaracterizes mine: “[Coyne] denounces the idea that evolution — all by its lonesome, blind, purposeless, unguided self — would ever find its way to such an improbably unique species as human beings.”

Not so. I never said this. Indeed, this would be a moronic assertion, since blind, purposeless evolution has found its way to human beings.  My position has always been that the evolution of human beings may not have been inevitable, nor is there any way we can confidently assert from the facts of science that it was.  I won’t go over my arguments, which you can find in The New Republic piece.  The onus is on crypto-creationists like Giberson and Miller to show that the nature of selection, environmental change, and genetic mutation makes the evolution of a creature with humanlike intelligence and rationality an inevitable outcome.  This they have not done, though they must if they wish to reconcile an inevitable appearance of humanoids with straight, undiluted Darwinism.

And Giberson claims that we rationalists have our own set of problems:  “Don’t they have to wonder about the nature of physical existence? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are the laws of nature so rational? Why is our species so religious? Is the world just a big pointless accident?”

The answer to the last question is “yes — so what?”   And why is there something rather than nothing? As physicist Victor Stenger has shown repeatedly (don’t these guys ever read him?), the answer is “because ‘nothing’ is unstable.”

Why is our species so religious?  We’re working on that, and there are lots of answers that don’t include the existence of celestial deities.

Finally, why are the laws of nature so rational?  That’s a dumb question. The laws of nature aren’t rational: WE are rational, and there are good reasons, based on natural selection and culture, why we should be.

The point is that there are provisional but testable answers to the questions that “plague” us rationalists (for example, physicists’ theories about how our universe came into being), but no testable answers to the questions that trouble supernaturalists like Giberson.  Take the existence of evil: we will never know why, if there is a god, innocent people undergo needless suffering (e.g., the death of children from horrible diseases and the death of thousands from “acts of God” like tsunamis).  There are lots of theological answers (every one ridiculous), and no way to discriminate among them. Indeed, the most sensible answer to the problem of evil is that there simply is no god.  I, for one, am content with the idea that bad things like tsunamis happen to good people for no reason at all other than movements of the Earth’s crust, and that small children get leukemia or cholera because of random mutations or the evolution of pathogenic organisms.

Behind all this, I think, is the longing for the “richer and more complex view of reality” that Giberson finds in religion.  But what could be richer or more complex than the material universe as we have it — a universe full of great mysteries and wonderful things to find out?  What Giberson means by “a richer and more complex view” is “after I die I’ll be able to meet my dead relatives in the sky.”  Such a view may be more complex, but it’s not richer.  It’s impoverished by adherence to magic and superstition.