We Can Reasonably Dismiss the Claims of Theistic Darwinists
Over the past few decades, a coalition of atheists and religious persons—collectively called the “Evolution Lobby”—has embarked on a campaign to preach Darwinism to the skeptical public. The stated goal of the campaign is not to convert the religious community to atheism, although many involved wouldn’t mind that result. Rather, the campaign aims to pressure people of faith into adopting “theistic evolution”—belief in both God and full-blown Darwinian evolution.
This campaign has support from the highest echelons of the scientific community, with millions of dollars being poured into it from groups like the Templeton Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
In 1984, the NAS kicked off its involvement in the campaign by issuing a booklet declaring it “false . . . to think that the theory of evolution represents an irreconcilable conflict between religion and science.”1 A Gallup poll taken two years earlier found that 38 percent of Americans held a theistic evolution position—i.e., the belief that “human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.”2
Again in 1999, the NAS published a booklet preaching that “many scientists are deeply religious” and “science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience.”3 A Gallup poll that same year found that 40 percent took the “God-guided” view.
The next and most recent official NAS statement was issued in 2008, when a third booklet emphatically declared that “the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith.”4 A poll taken two years later, in 2010, found that the percentage of theistic evolutionists remained at 38 percent—exactly where it had been some two-and-a-half decades earlier, when the NAS began its campaign.
Clearly, the Evolution Lobby’s campaign is not exactly having the desired effect. Nevertheless, the “God-guided evolution” viewpoint is increasingly being discussed both inside and outside the church.
Whenever someone avers belief in “God-guided evolution,” it’s important to clarify what is meant by “evolution.” It can mean something as benign as (1) “Life has changed over time,” or it can entail more controversial ideas, like (2) “All living things have a universal common ancestry,” or (3) “Natural selection acting upon random mutations produced the complexity of life.”
When the average theistic evolutionist says he believes that “God used evolution,” what he often actually means is that God supernaturally intervened at various points in Earth’s history to direct the course of life. He accepts evolution in sense 1 above, and maybe sense 2 as well, but has doubts about sense 3. This viewpoint differs dramatically from the standard neo-Darwinian paradigm that currently reigns in biology.
As defined by its proponents, neo-Darwinism is a blind process of natural selection acting upon random mutations without any guidance by an external agent. According to the architects of this theory, the evolutionary process has no goals or predetermined outcome, and is by definition unguided. Under this view of life, human beings are accidents of history—and not just their bodies, but their brains and behaviors as well, including their moral and religious impulses. Thus, true neo-Darwinian theistic evolutionists (and they are out there) claim that, somehow, God guided an unguided process.
But many of those who adopt the “theistic evolutionist” moniker actually reject neo-Darwinism and hold a view that’s much closer to intelligent design, that is, to the belief that an intelligent agent has actively intervened—in a meaningful and detectable manner—to guide the development of life. The Evolution Lobby, however, will never be satisfied until such people fully capitulate to the Darwinian view. That is why so many arguments are made to pressure religious believers into accepting neo-Darwinism. But do any of these arguments actually present good reasons to become a full-blooded Darwinian theistic evolutionist? Let’s consider some of them.
1. Everyone’s Doing It
Perhaps the most common reason offered for accepting Darwinian evolution is that someone else does, particularly someone prominent, like Francis Collins, the geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project and converted to Christianity late in life. But just as there are many noteworthy scientists who accept Darwinism, there are also many scientists who dissent from that view (a list of more than 800 of them can be found at www.dissentfromdarwin.org).
Nonetheless, theistic evolutionists love to claim that the scientific “consensus” is on their side and to demean those who disagree as ignorant or uninformed. Francis Collins himself has written the foreword to books that say things like, “almost all scientists (including Christian ones) believe in the gradual appearance of life on this earth,”5 or “biologists today consider the common ancestry of all life a fact on par with the sphericity of the earth.”6 The not-so-subtle implication is that, if you challenge this “consensus,” you’re no better than a flat-earther and an embarrassment.
Independent thinkers should resist such pressure tactics. The “consensus” can be right, but it also can be wrong. In fact, every scientific revolution started off as a minority view. Sixty years ago, the “consensus” believed the continents were fixed, but today we can observe continental drift in real time. In science, it isn’t the vote count that matters, but the evidence. If we accept Darwinian evolution simply because it’s popular in certain circles, then it’s not the evidence that shapes our views, but fear of man.
2. God Had to Do It
Some argue that if God could have used evolution, then he must have done so, while others insist that God must only work through material causes. Of course, all theists believe that God can (and often does) use such causes. But he is hardly restricted to them. Rather than telling God what he could or shoulddo, why not just look at the evidence of what he did do?
3. It’s a Separate Subject Anyway
A third reason put forth for accepting evolution is that science and religion can never conflict because they speak to different subjects. Often called the “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) model of science and religion, this view holds that science talks about objective facts, while religion deals with fuzzier (and lesser) topics like God, faith, and spirituality.
The NOMA model fails because it contains a false description of both science and religion. Religion can indeed make claims about facts, particularly historical ones. Likewise, science can speak to subjects also addressed by religion, as it does when it makes claims about life’s origins. In fact, scientists sometimes address religion directly, as when evolutionary psychologists try to explain the origin of religion in strictly Darwinian terms, contradicting typical religious explanations that the human impulse to worship was implanted by God (see “Reverse Psychology” in Salvo 7, or “None of the Above” in Salvo 12). Thus, while science and religion may use different methods for obtaining knowledge, they commonly speak to overlapping subject matter.
Some who push NOMA have less-than-pure motives. Bora Zivkovic, a lecturer at Wesleyan College, has admitted this, saying, “NOMA is wrong, but is a good first tool for gaining trust . . . to help [students] accept evolution.”7 Thus, as Phillip Johnson noted, under NOMA, science and religion are “‘separate but equal’ of the apartheid variety,”8 and the real intent behind NOMA is to draw religious voices into submission to whatever science says. NOMA cannot resolve the debate; only the evidence can.
4. It’s Metaphysically Neutral
Yet another argument from theistic evolutionists is the claim that the “unguided” aspect of Darwinian evolution is merely a “philosophical gloss” or an “add-on”9 promoted by new atheists who use bad philosophy. While many new atheists undoubtedly make poor philosophers, the “unguided” nature of Darwinian evolution is not a mere metaphysical add-on but has always been a core part of the theory as defined by its leading proponents. Unfortunately, even some eminent Christian philosophers appear unaware of this.
For example, Alvin Plantinga cites Ernst Mayr, a leading architect of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, to claim that the random nature of mutations “is clearly compatible with their being caused by God.”10 But when defining neo-Darwinism, Mayr wrote that “there is no necessary direction, no thought of necessary progress, and no reaching of any final goals” and that “close study of evolutionary progress shows that its characteristics are not compatible with what one would expect from a process guided by final causes.”11 That doesn’t sound much like a process that is “clearly compatible” with divine causation.
Plantinga notes that when evolutionary biologists speak of the “random” nature of mutations, they merely mean that mutations arise without regard to the needs of the organism. Evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala makes this argument, stating, “Mutations are random or chance events because . . . [they] are unoriented with respect to adaptation.” Plantinga would suggest that this is compatible with God guiding evolution, but Ayala defines Darwinian evolution by stating that “natural selection does not operate according to some preordained plan.” Ayala continues:
The scientific account of these events does not necessitate recourse to a preordained plan, whether imprinted from the beginning or through successive interventions by an omniscient and almighty Designer. Biological evolution differs from a painting or an artifact in that it is not the outcome of preconceived design.
Ayala concludes that, “in evolution, there is no entity or person who is selecting adaptive combinations.”12 Again, that doesn’t sound like a religiously neutral model of biological origins.
Indeed, in surveying how mainstream biology textbooks define Darwinian evolution, we learn it is a “random,” “blind,” “uncaring,” “heartless,” “undirected,” “purposeless,” and “chance” process that acts “without plan” or “any goals”; that we are “not created for any special purpose or as part of any universal design,” and that “a god of design and purpose is not necessary.”13 If those don’t entail claims that cut against theism, what would?
Moreover, if Darwinian evolution is irrelevant to faith, why do so many atheists cite it as a reason for abandoning religion? A 2007 poll of 149 evolutionary biologists found that only two “described themselves as full theists.”14 Likewise, a survey of biologist members of the NAS found that over 94 percent were atheists or agnostics.15 It’s no coincidence that Eugenie Scott—the de factohead of the Evolution Lobby—signed the Third Humanist Manifesto, or that the world’s most famous evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, is also the world’s most famous atheist. In Dawkins’s own words, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”16
Darwinian evolution might be a “secondary” matter for theists, but that doesn’t mean it is an unimportant one. Just because some purport to reconcile evolution and traditional theism doesn’t mean that Darwinism is theologically inert.
Everything but the Evidence
Although some people can apparently do the mental gymnastics required to believe that God created life by guiding an unguided process, it is clear that many arguments offered for Darwinian evolution, like the four reviewed above, are shallow and only talk around the issue. They fail to address the most important thing—the evidence. We’re out of space for this issue, so for that crucial inquiry, stay tuned for Salvo 22. •
1. Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (1st ed., National Academy Press, 1984).
2. “Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design”: gallup.com/poll/21814/evolution-creationism-intelligent-design.aspx.
3. Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (2nd ed., National Academy Press, 1999).
4. Science, Evolution, and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy Press, 2008).
5. Darrel R. Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
6. Karl W. Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne, 2008).
7. See Anika Smith, “Lying in the Name of Indoctrination” (Aug. 27, 2008): evolutionnews.org/2008/08/lying_in_the_name_of_indoctrin.html.
8. Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (InterVarsity Press, 2000).
9. Alvin Plantinga, Science, Religion & Naturalism: Where the Conflict Really Lies (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011).
11. Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought (Harvard Univ. Press, 1991).
12. Francisco J. Ayala, “Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (May 15, 2007): pnas.org/content/104/suppl.1/8567.full.
13. See Casey Luskin, “Smelling Blood in the Water,” in God and Evolution: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith (Jay Richards, ed., Discovery Institute Press, 2010).
14. Gregory Graffin and William Provine, “Evolution, Religion and Free Will,” American Scientist (July–Aug. 2007): americanscientist.org/issues/pub/evolution-religion-and-free-will/1.
15. Edward Larson and Larry Witham, “Leading scientists still reject God,” Nature (1998): stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html.
16. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (W.W. Norton, 1986).
From Salvo 21 (Summer 2012)
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is a scientist and an attorney with a PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg and a JD from the University of San Diego. In his day job, he works as Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, helping to oversee the intelligent design (ID) research program and defending academic freedom for scientists who support intelligent design. Dr. Luskin has written and spoken widely on the scientific mechanics and implications of both intelligent design and evolution. He also volunteers for the "IDEA Center," a non-profit that helps students to start IDEA Clubs on their college and high school campuses. He lives and works in Seattle, Washington, where he and his wife are avid enjoyers of the outdoors.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #21, Summer 2012 Copyright © 2022 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo21/the-evolution-lobby