I’m not sure what I think of the new book How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, put out by BioLogos (and edited by Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump) in the group’s continuing effort to gather evangelical Christians into the Darwinian fold without endangering their faith. (Note: I haven’t yet read the book; I’m simply commenting on what the authors and editors have said about it.) On the one hand, it can’t hurt to have more people accept evolution, for the more who do, the less opposition we face to teaching the truth about biology.
On the other hand, for what is a man profited, if he shall accept evolution, but reject naturalism? For, according to an article on the book at Religion News Service (RNS), and the précis of the book at BioLogos (below), the book is a farrago of naturalism and supernaturalism. Some of the authors, for instance, accept the historicity of Adam and Eve, whose existence—at least as the progenitors of all humanity—has been soundly disproven by population genetics.
Others appear to espouse theistic evolution, the doctrine that in some way God impelled the evolutionary process, usually toward Homo sapiens. Now religionists differ in what they mean by theistic evolution. The most scientific of its advocates come close to being deists, claiming that God created the laws of physics (or the Universe itself), and then let everything roll without intervention. Then, in increasing order of divine intervention, there are those who claim that God created the first life form, and then it evolved naturalistically; others who say that God created special mutations when needed to allow life to get to its acme (us); and still others, like many Intelligent Design advocates, who accept a limited form of purely naturalistic evolution—but then argue that God created some entire lineages de novo.
Can we say that theistic evolutionists are down with the kind of evolution we teach in schools? No, and for three reasons. First, the entire concept, whether it be the “let it roll” or “constant intervention” brand, invokes God’s intervention, a violation of naturalism. And it’s a violation for which there is no scientific evidence, so right away we have a mixture of evidence-based science and revelation-based faith. It’s as if we espoused physics to religious doubters by saying that yes, the law of gravity keeps the planets orbiting the Sun, but God’s hand allows that to take place (“theistic physics”). The only reason we don’t have theistic physics, or theistic chemistry, is that neither chemistry nor physics violate Scripture or attack the view that humans are the special creation of God.
Second, these theories are all teleological, invoking a directionality to the evolutionary process: “upwards” to Homo sapiens. Yet there’s not the slightest evidence for such teleological guidance: mutations are, as far as we can see, random (and mostly either neutral, having no effect on fitness, or deleterious), evolution appears to operate in any direction that confers reproductive advantage, even if that makes you less complex (tapeworms, becoming parasitic, have lost their digestive and most of their reproductive systems). And then there’s the wastage of evolution and natural selection: the thousands of individuals who die a painful death, and the 99% or more of lineages that went extinct without leaving descendants. Why did God do it that way? Theists have no answer except to invoke the Mystery of God’s Ways. But if God’s ways are that mysterious, how do they know that God is good, or powerful—or anything?
Finally, one of the great wonders of evolution is the very fact that a mindless, purposeless process, natural selection, drove the marvelous adaptations that we see in plants and animals—adaptations that, before Darwin, constituted strong evidence for God’s existence. After all, before Darwin what other explanation did we have for those adaptations? But Darwin and Wallace, in one huge blow, dispelled the strongest evidence for God that we had from “natural theology”, showing that the diversity of life could all be explained by the simple sorting of hereditary variation in populations.
It is this fact that makes evolution so marvelous: that when you see a squirrel, a sequoia, or a shark, you realize that these fantastically intricate creatures are the products of evolution over billions of years, starting only with a few inanimate molecules, and that nothing guided that save the exigencies of the environment. There is a reason why Darwin called it “natural selection” rather than “supernatural selection.”
Thus, I bridle when I see statements about the book like this one from Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos and author of the book’s foreword, quoted in the RNS article:
[Haarsma] treasures Genesis, she said, because she reads in it the message that “God is continually sustaining the universe he created with intention and for a purpose.” Science, she wrote, doesn’t replace God, “it gives us a human description of how God is creating and sustaining.”
Maybe a “how”, but surely not a why! As I noted above, it would be a cruel and capricious God who would create through evolution and natural selection. The onus is on theists to tell us why God used evolution rather than de novo creation.
Well, they are, of course, simply making a virtue of necessity. If these evangelicals were, as the book notes, forced to the conclusion that evolution is true because of the pervasive evidence, why aren’t they forced to give up the idea of Adam and Eve because of the lack of evidence? In other words, the book attempts to reconcile an evidence-based scientific conclusion with a brand of Christianity based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking.
In the end, that’s why I don’t like this form of reconciliation, for while it touts the science, it dilutes it with superstition and enables faith-based “truths” at the same time. Is our goal simply to have people sign on to Darwinism, or is it to have them adopt a scientific attitude towards evidence? I prefer the latter, for its implications for society are far more profound.
The BioLogos description of the book underscores its problems:
We hope this book can serve both of these purposes. Undoubtedly, some people reading these pages are deeply suspicious of evolution. Perhaps they’ve seen Richard Dawkins, that ardent defender of evolution, sneer at religion and call it a “virus of the mind.” Or maybe they’ve heard Ken Ham, a young-earth creationist with an audience of millions, warn that “evolution and millions of years”—what he summarily dismisses as “man’s word”—are baseless ideas that contradict the clear message of Genesis and inevitably lead down the slippery slope to atheism, or worse, liberal Christianity. More nuanced views are often drowned out by the polarizing rhetoric at either extreme.
BioLogos represents another choice. Our mission is to invite the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation. Some of us are believing scientists who find the weight of evidence for evolution so strong we would do injustice to God’s message in creation if we didn’t speak out. Others are biblical scholars and theologians—including some who argue passionately for the historicity of Adam and Eve—who see no scriptural warrant for rejecting biological evolution, even of humans. They are grieved by the way Scripture is often forced to answer twenty-first century questions that it was never intended to address. Pastors and educators in our community see firsthand the devastating impact of the false creation-or-evolution dichotomy our Christian subculture has embraced so thoroughly. They see young people encountering compelling evidence for evolution and feeling forced to choose between science and faith.
If they accept Adam and Eve—presumably based on “scriptural warrant”—why do they reject creationism, based on exactly the same scriptural warrant, indeed, the same bit of scripture containing the Adam and Eve fable? As for having to choose between science and faith, well, yes, the rational person should. You can’t accept scientific evidence based on one set of criteria, and simultaneously accept religious stories as true based on a completely different set of criteria. In Faith versus Fact I develop the argument that the Abrahamic religions, and others as well, are indeed grounded on assertions about the world and cosmos, and thus potentially susceptible to empirical testing—or rejection if there’s no evidence for them. I quote many theologians, including Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, the cofounders of BioLogos (Collins has a chapter in this book), saying this: “Likewise, religion in almost all of its manifestations is more than just a collection of value judgments and moral directives. Religion often makes claims about ‘the way things are.'”
More from the book description at BioLogos:
. . . It doesn’t take long for the reflective Christian to realize that neither science nor Christianity has all the answers. Science can’t tell us much about Jesus Christ or the way to have a relationship with God; you can search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and you won’t find any descriptions of DNA or quantum mechanics! Some questions are obviously scientific and some are obviously religious. The difficulty comes when both seem relevant, as in the question of humanity’s origin. For cases like this, the way forward is to allow science and faith to dialogue with each other. Learn the best science. Talk to religious thinkers you trust. Give grace to everyone, remembering that our human attempts at knowing are finite and provisional.
A related theme you’ll see surfacing again and again throughout these stories is the commitment that all truth is God’s truth. Whether truth is found in Scripture or through careful study of the natural world (even when that study is undertaken by unbelieving scientists!), our contributors see God as the ultimate source of all truth. This gives us unshakable confidence that there will ultimately be no contradiction between science and theology. God is the author of both. Sometimes this is referred to as the “Two Books” model of revelation. Psalm 19 captures both of these: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (v. 1) and “The law of the Lord is perfect” (v. 7). They are complementary.
This assumes, of course, that religion does tell us the “truth” about Jesus Christ and the way to have a relationship with God. But Islam gives us completely different “truths” from Christianity. Which one is right? Science has a way of adjudicating these issues; religion doesn’t.
In the end, that’s why a dialogue between science and faith is futile. Or rather, it’s a one-way dialogue—a monologue. Science can tell religion which of its claims are false, but religion can’t tell science which of its claims are true. And it is this asymmetry that compels a rational person to choose between science—construed as a combination of evidence, observation, agreement, and reason—and faith.