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Bronze-level articleTheistic evolution

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Theistic evolution (also evolutionary creationism) is a theological response to the scientific theory of evolution, aimed at reconciling that theory with religious myths involving a creator deity. Supporters of theistic evolution generally believe in the creator deity unreservedly, and also accept the theory of evolution to varying degrees.

The term "theistic evolution" arose out of the creation vs. evolution debate, which was often portrayed as a choice between atheistic evolution and theistic creationism, with no middle ground.[1] In more recent usage, however, the term is not specific to evolution and can refer to any mixing of theistic beliefs with naturalistic or uniformitarian views.

The Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin argued for theistic evolution in his book The Phenomenon of Man. Many modern atheists see it as an attempt to shoehorn God back into science using god of the gaps-type arguments.

Contents

[edit] Forms and interpretations

Different versions of theistic evolution involve invoking differing degrees of divine guidance.

[edit] Theistic predetermination

Perhaps the least scientifically contentious opinion within the theistic evolution spectrum is the invocation of an omnipotent, omniscient (though arguably unnecessary) God who created the universe and designed its natural law. This God may be posited to know that under this natural law, life, even specifically human life, would be the result.

Many people holding this view do not believe in an Abrahamic "religion centric" god, but rather a deistic or pantheistic god that is as interested in some planet 7 billion light years away, as in anything here on earth[2]. This idea is similar to deistic evolution.

[edit] Theistic evolution and natural selection

In the next rung down the ladder, although evolution is maintained to have been carried out wholly by natural selection and mutation, God is still believed to be involved somewhere in the process, either by ensuring that some mutations would be beneficial, or by kick-starting abiogenesis by magical means. As science has yet to put forward a strong case for how life began (there are many interesting hypotheses, but nothing with strong evidence — yet) this leaves plenty of space for the intervention of a god without having to deny any current scientific facts.

[edit] Theistic evolution and guided evolution

Further down the spectrum we have guided evolution, which posits that God used evolution to evolve mankind.[3] Similarly to so-called progressive creationism, guided evolution involves a God making a series of explicit interventions and genetic modifications with the aim of producing humanity.

The scale of these interventions is not fully explained and varies; some may claim that God generated whole new organisms (making humans special and therefore separate from other animals that are wholly natural) while less extreme views may see a god prodding atoms in a gene sequence around (i.e., directly causing mutations), giving them a small, miraculous "helping hand" to be naturally selected and bring the next life form into existence.

[edit] Theistic evolution and intelligent design

Adherents of theistic evolution do not try to pretend, as cdesign proponentsists do, that their philosophy is in any way scientific.

However, in practical terms, there are many similarities between intelligent design and some forms of theistic evolution; e.g., the belief that a god intervened in the creation and evolution of life.

Followers maintain that the difference lies in the "formal principle": theistic evolution relies primarily on faith, while intelligent design attempts to use reason and evidence. However, from a factual standpoint, both intelligent design and guided evolution would need periodic or constant, unspecified, and supernatural interventions in order to function in reality—something which adherents of guided evolution must also accept. And it should be noted that evolutionary theory in no way requires such miraculous interventions in order to operate.

[edit] Proponents

Many supporters of theistic evolution are simply people who have never seen any inherent conflict between belief in God and acceptance of the theory of evolution. Others started out believing in the Bible (more or less literally) and that God created the world, but changed their views as they learned more about science and about the evidence for evolution, the age and structure of the universe, and current cosmological theories about the universe's origins.

Scientists who self-identify as religious generally hold some level of theistic evolution. Such scientists include cell biologist Kenneth Miller, notable for his work on Kitzmiller v. Dover, theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne and physician-geneticist Francis Collins, who established the Christian advocacy group, The BioLogos Foundation, in 2007. BioLogos emphasizes a compatibility between science and evangelical Christianity.

Much like Collins, Christian apologist William Lane Craig maintains that evolutionary theory is compatible with Christianity (although Craig's own views on evolution are more ambiguous than those of Collins, an outspoken evolutionary creationist). British lay theologian and The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis alluded to a belief in evolution in his apologetic works Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin decidedly went further than any of the aforementioned religious writers in synthesizing evolution and Christian theology.

[edit] Church positions

Few religious bodies have formal statements on their position, though many do support the idea that evolution is correct (or at least "correct enough") and should be taught in schools. This is the position taken by many mainline Protestant churches (many of which signed on to the Clergy Letter Project) and some Muslim groups.

Theistic evolution is the accepted official position of the Roman Catholic Church;[4] however, there is little formal discussion of what God did and did not do, or of the distinction between human evolution and the evolution of other animals.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has formally, informally and vehemently denounced evolution, organic evolution, Darwinism, and the like, as recorded in a plethora of statements and formal declarations, overwhelmingly consistent and uniform in content, assertion, suggestion, implication, and conviction, made by the highest councils and councilors of the church and by particular church scholars. Once reference for such sources: [1]

[edit] Theological perspectives

[edit] Christianity

As the Old Catholic Encyclopedia points out, a literal interpretation of Genesis was not a common feature of Christianity even in the church's early days.[5] St. Augustine in particular held the view that God had spent six days planning the world's creation, but had burped it all into existence in an instant.

Some biblical scholars[citation needed] have looked to Genesis 1:24, which reads:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

It is argued, based on this verse, that the Bible could be reinterpreted to mean that God used the agency of the earth (natural law) to "bring forth" living creatures rather than directly "creating" them. (On the other hand he explicitly creates whales and other sea creatures a little earlier which sort of weakens the argument.)

[edit] Islam

Similarly, the Arabic word khalaq, commonly translated as create, can also mean create by small alterations to successive versions of a thing. In the context of the Qu'ran, this can mean that God created humans by guided evolution, and indeed this idea was well recognized in the Middle East in the ninth century.[6]

[edit] Criticism

As a via media position, theistic evolution is criticized from both religious and non-religious perspectives.

[edit] Creationist positions

Creationists are very critical of theistic evolution, which they say is a non-Christian doctrine and gives support to naturalism.[7]

[edit] Atheist positions

Atheist accommodationists argue that spending time attacking theistic evolutionists is badly spent; firstly, because they are not actively trying to stifle science education, and secondly, because they do not necessarily deny all scientific facts, as young earth creationists must. This, say the accommodationists, means that they can be powerful allies in the fight against creationists, and that encouraging theistic evolution in religious circles, possibly along with the controversial NOMA principle that religion and science can meaningfully coexist, would be better in the long run than discounting theistic evolution altogether.

New Atheists, who are much less persuaded by NOMA arguments, maintain that supernatural explanations are simply wrong in principle and that trying to find common ground with holders of magical beliefs is a compromise which helps nobody.

[edit] Arguments against theistic evolution

The theistic parts of theistic evolution are often taken on faith alone. This kind of belief in theistic evolution can only be refuted by appeals to world-views such as philosophical naturalism that reject any other ways of knowing. Of course, theists arguing from faith, will not likely be swayed by any argument that demands proof of their god.

[edit] General theistic evolution and Occam's Razor

One general counter-argument is that if one accepts that natural selection can explain everything that is observed on its own, without God violating natural law, and if divine intervention is indistinguishable from naturalistic causes, then God becomes an unnecessary hypothesis that should be dispensed with, per Occam's Razor.

[edit] Arguments against guided evolution

One variant of theistic evolution, guided evolution, makes stronger claims that prompt a wider variety of counter-arguments.

For example, guided evolution posits that God's guidance was required for currently existing species to evolve. This implies the existence of gaps where a natural methodology would be unable to explain observations — in other words, this is a classic appeal to the God of the gaps.

An adherent of guided evolution would need to give evidence of cases where God's intervention is necessary to explain any "gaps" in evolutionary theory. Scientists do not believe that there are any such gaps; but even if there were, trying to explain those gaps by proposing that God intervened raises a challenge to parsimony, not to mention the wrangling over questions such as which god intervened, and how the interventions were carried out.

[edit] Theistic evolution and the problem of evil

Many theistic evolutionists believe in an omnibenevolent God. For those who believe that the problem of evil is an insurmountable problem for theism and that theodicies are a load of dingoes' kidneys, evolution provides a wealth of examples of seemingly unnecessary suffering as species evolved through "Nature red in tooth and claw."[8]

[edit] Scale of the universe v. anthropocentric evolution

Another counter-argument for some versions of theistic evolution, involves the scale of the universe. Previously, the earth was thought to be the center of the universe, and the idea that the universe came about with humans as a specific purpose or goal did not seem so far-fetched. These days, thanks to heliocentrism and later developments, our view of the earth is more of — as Douglas Adams put it — a utterly insignificant little blue-green planet orbiting a small unregarded yellow sun lying far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy.

Evolution and the sheer size of the universe strike further blows at the idea of humanity as the ultimate purpose, seeing as how humans have existed for only a tiny fraction of the lifespan of a planet that takes up an infinitesimally small portion of the visible universe. There is no "final product" to the process of evolution itself, which is atelic (goalless).[9] Humans are simply one of millions of species that have been born, walked the earth, and since become extinct over billions of years.

Thus, the counter-argument goes, the more we contemplate the immense span of the cosmos, from the sub-atomic level up through the enormous mostly empty expanse of space-time, the less significant any event (e.g., the foundation of the Temple, the Incarnation, God's revelation to Muhammad, the natural phenomena personified by pagan deities) or personage becomes, and the less likely it becomes that any god would take a special interest in humanity.[10]

This, though persuasive, is one of the weaker arguments against theistic evolution, being an argument from incredulity. Given that religious types argue this way constantly, though, it may actually sway them if you're lucky.

[edit] Books on theistic evolution

[edit] Good books not on theistic evolution but whose titles might confuse you

  • Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2009) by theologian Michael Dowd.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Many scientists including Eugenie Scott, Ken Miller, and even Stephen Jay Gould have argued that there is a danger in reducing, or appearing to reduce, the evolution debate to the false dilemma of "God or science — choose".
  2. For example, Polkinghorne's Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology (2011)
  3. http://www.religioustolerance.org/evolutio.htm
  4. MESSAGE TO THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES: ON EVOLUTION
  5. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_%281913%29/Biblical_Chronology
  6. http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/nov96.html
  7. Theistic Evolution and the Creation-Evolution Controversy by Jerry Bergman
  8. Natural selection: God’s tool?
  9. See unguided evolution.
  10. But it is, of course, completely ludicrous to suggest that this subjective view of humans as utterly insignificant stemmed, not from any factual basis, but from the instincts fostered by Protestant notions of total depravity.
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