Theistic Evolution Pt. 2 – Science and Theology

In this post we will look at the Christian acceptance of evolution and the different approaches to science and theology.

The history of science and theology and their relationship with each other at times seems to place them at odds with each other. Science and theology are often posed as direct opposites where one has to choose either one or the other. In this post, that relationship will be examined.


Christian Acceptance of Evolution

Cardinal Newman, who was a contemporary of Darwin, had the following to say regarding Darwin’s theory: “First, is Darwin’s theory against the distinct teaching of the inspired text. For myself … I don’t see that it does contradict it. Second, is it against Theism. … I don’t see how it can be. … If second causes are conceivable at all, an Almighty Agent being supposed, I don’t see why the series should not last for millions of years as well as thousands.” The Anglican Reverend Charles Kingsley was one of those who accepted Darwin’s theory at its arrival.  In the Church of England, Darwin’s theory was assimilated quite readily after the 1860’s. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many liberal Protestants accepted and preached evolution, but, as Jim Moore notes, they “were captivated by an evolutionary and biologistic vision of a progressive social order, a vision that owed more, directly or indirectly, to [Herbert] Spencer’s philosophy than to any other single source.”

It was not only after the publications of Darwin that theologians entertained the thought of a gradual development of the natural world. Augustine of Hippo had the idea that God allows nature to unfold or evolve according to certain rationes seminales, or causal principles, which were placed in creation and would bring forth the potential unfolding in the right time. One could also call them seedlike principles that would, in time, germinate and grow into their full potential. Gregory of Nissa echoed Augustine’s notion of primordial potential.


Different Approaches to Science and Theology

The idea of a conflict between science and religion, or faith and reason, only became an issue at the end of the 19th century. In 1874, at the British Association, the Irish physicist John Tyndall claimed that religion had subdued science and that in time, science will provide completely materialistic explanations for everything in the physical world. In 1875 and 1876 respectively, John William Draper (scientist, philosopher, physician, chemist, historian and photographer) and Andrew Dickson White (historian and educator) wrote books that painted Christian history as being opposed to science.  In the time of Darwin, it was understandable to be sceptic of his theory, because genes had not been discovered yet, many fossils were still undiscovered, and the earth was thought to be younger than we now found it to be. Gregor Mendel published his work with pea plants in 1866 and it was rediscovered in 1900.  By 1925 the Mendelian model of genetics was widely accepted. Conor Cunningham states that the so-called clash of science and religion was more a clash of legitimately different opinions and class. He also states that it is “wholly disingenuous to pretend, after the fact, that there was a genuine clash involving the opposition of religion to scientific discovery.”

New Testament scholar Nicholas Thomas Wright identifies four models regarding the relation between science and the Bible:

  1. Concordism, where the Bible has some information that can be harmonised with science.
  2. Substitutionism, where the Bible enjoys priority over science.
  3. Compartmentalism, where the Bible and science are kept apart as two distinct realms of knowledge.
  4. Complementarism, where the Bible and science are complementary.

In the same vein, Jonathan Clatworthy delineates four positions within the science-religion debate. These positions are:

  1. That the Bible is fact and science is mere human theory.
  2. That science is factual and the Bible is sheer belief.
  3. That science is factual about science and the Bible is factual about religion.
  4. That neither science nor religion are able to provide exhaustive facts.

The first three of Clatworthy’s positions have a shared view of positivism when it comes to facts. With positivism one encounters three more views regarding the physical world: materialism, reductionism, and determinism. Materialism states that everything is physical matter or is based upon physical matter. Eliminative materialism is the harsher option, stating that physical matter is all that exists and concepts like mind and spirit are mere illusions. Reductive materialism, which is a more widely held view, states that everything can be reduced to physical matter. Reductionism states that everything can be reduced to atoms and laws of nature. Determinism states that nothing is random or free, but that everything has physical causes.

Karl E. Peters follows the third approach to science and religion, namely, that science is factual about science and the Bible is factual about religion. According to him, science explains how things happen using nonpersonal models. Science seeks knowledge, disregarding the well-being of humans and knowledge is valued for its own sake. Religion, on the other hand, explains how things that really matter happened, focusing on values and ultimate importance. Nonpersonal models are also used, but the dominant model used is personal. Knowledge is sought for the sake of human well-being. Thus there is a difference in how these two disciplines go about explaining things that happen and also in their focus. Science cares only about knowledge. Religion cares about human well-being. Peters argues that the “Word of God represents the underlying laws that govern the evolution of the universe, and the Spirit represents random fluctuations or variations in existing states. When the Spirit ‘blows where it wills’ creating new variations, some new variations are selected to continue in accord with the ever-present Word.” In his view, the Spirit takes the role of random mutations and other changes, where the Word takes over the role of natural selection, favouring certain variations above others.

Probing further into the two realms of science and theology, Gloria Schaab mentions four distinctions or obstacles:

  • Science is concerned with the observable reality and theology is concerned with the unfathomable reality.
  • Science should focus on natural phenomena and theology should focus on supernatural phenomena.
  • Science seeks prediction and control while theology seeks commitment and moral purpose.
  • Each has its own language which makes communication between the two problematic.

Theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke brought to light things which science and theology have in common:

  • Both use observation and experience for the claims they make.
  • Both claim to concern reality.
  • Both can refer to their realities, but neither can describe these realities literally and thus both employ imagery, models, metaphors, and analogies.

Theoretical physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne and systematic theologian Michael Welker state that another similarity between science and theology is that both speak of things unseen. One example of the unseen objects spoken of by science is the dark companion of Sirius, known only from its gravitational action on Sirius. Another example is from quantum physics, where particles such as quarks and gluons are inferred, but will never be seen. From the obstacles and similarities it is clear that the relationship between science and theology is one of both continuity and discontinuity. Both scientists and theologians seek a clearer understanding of the reality in question.

Peacocke sought to preserve the integrity of both science and theology and thus saw their relationship as a mutually illuminative one: “Science illuminates the mysteries of creation, thereby deepening and expanding what creation discloses about the Creator. Theology illuminates the mysteries of meaning and existence that lie beyond the scope of scientific exploration.” Theologian and botanist Bram van de Beek continues in the same vein when he says that science is a fruitful source for a richer and deeper understanding of faith. It is important for dialogue that, as Polkinghorne and Welker state, “both sides should demonstrate their advocacy of truth, showing that this is not a simple task, but one that must contend with many vague and simplistic answers offered from both sides.” As a concluding remark, the words of Wentzel van Huyssteen should be heeded: “We are obliged neither to commit to some form of universal rationality nor to plunge into a sea of relativism where many rationalities proliferate.”



Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Lacey, A.R. & Proudfoot, M. 2010. The Routledge Dictionary of Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

Mathews, K A. 1996. The new American commentary: Genesis 1-11:26. Volume 1A. Nashville:   Broadman & Holman.

Peters, K E. 2007. Toward an evolutionary Christian theology. Zygon, 42(1): 49-63.

Polkinghorne, J & Welker, M (eds). 2000. The end of the world and the ends of God: Science  and theology on eschatology. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International.

Schaab, G L 2006. A procreative paradigm of the creative suffering of the Triune God:     Implications of Arthur Peacocke’s evolutionary theology. Theological Studies 67: 542-      566.

______2008. Honoring Arthur Peacocke: 1924-2006. Evolutionary theory and theology: A    mutually illuminative dialogue. Zygon 43(1): 9-18.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

Van Huyssteen, J W. 2006. Alone in the world? Human uniqueness in science and theology.        Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Theistic Evolution Pt. 1 – Introduction


Theistic Evolution

In this final chapter of my series, theistic evolution and the theology behind it will be explored. When evolution is accepted as the best and most influential model and the creation narratives in Genesis are found to be mythical, where does one go from there? How does this influence your theology?

The first section (this post) will be an introduction to theistic evolution. The next section examines the relationship between science and theology, looking at early acceptance of evolution, different approaches to the issue, and the rejection of evolution. The third post will look at anti-religious evolutionists, and the synthesis of science and theology. The fourth section looks at meaning in the forms of teleology, human uniqueness, and finding meaning. The fifth section inspects the role of God, asking whether evolution is really godless, examining untraditional views of God, and investigating panentheism. The sixth section looks at the problem of suffering, especially the “only way” argument, the place of divine intervention, and God as the suffering God. The seventh section considers ethics as an evolved aspect and as specifically Christian ethics.  The eighth section looks at salvation within an evolutionary framework and the eight section contemplates eschatology.



Philosopher Robert Pennock defines theistic evolution as “theists who accept the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution,” and who, “even though they believe in God,” are frequently “under attack by creationists.” Within the paradigm of evolution, one has to think differently about certain aspects of theology. Celia Deane-Drummond, plant physiologist and theologian, states that “the full range of possibilities inherent in working through the implications of the biological sciences on theology in its broadest sense needs to be taken into account.” The science and implications of evolution simply cannot be ignored by theology. The theory of evolution can open up new possibilities in a number of aspects of theology and these ought to be pursued for the enrichment of the Christian understanding of the world. Jesuit theologian Jack Mahoney asserts the observation of John Durant, which states that the theological issues on the forefront when it comes to evolution are focused on three main concerns: “the interpretation of scripture, the relationship between God and nature in terms of creation and providence, and the status of human beings.” Although these concerns are by no means light, one can be positive about theology in light of the new paradigm that evolution gives us. Christopher Southgate is optimistic about the influence of Darwinism on theology: “In respect of key elements of Christian theology, especially the doctrine of creation, the area of theological anthropology, and the ever-present problem of theodicy, Darwinism provides one of the most important rational elements informing a contemporary hermeneutic.” Michael Ruse echoes the approach of Southgate when he says that “although, like all good science, Darwinism challenges religion, Christianity specifically, it can and should provide a positive and creative stimulus for religious people to think about their faith and move forward in a richer and deeper way.” We cannot ignore evolutionary science, but we should not be afraid of it.

Keith Ward states that “[a]s a theologian I renounce all rights to make any authoritative statements about matters of natural science. … I take it that it is an established fact of science that human beings have descended by a process of mutation and adaptation, from other and simpler forms of organic life over millions of years.” Other theologians are not as accepting of science. Larry Witham, in his 2002 book, Where Darwin Meets the Bible, writes the following about what it entails to accept the theory of evolution:

Evolutionists will only accept a material or natural basis of life and its development. The following propositions must be then accepted: first, there is or has been no supernatural intervention in nature; second, there can be no interruption in the regularity of natural law, that is, no miracles; third, there is no ultimate teleology, that is, design; fourth, there are no preordained “types” in biological life; and, fifth, one must either reject the idea of a God or see no role for him in the origin and development of life. Theistic evolutionists usually do not understand these restrictions; they frequently hold that God is only a first cause who got the universe started. Of course, the pure evolutionist rejects even that.

Robert Pollack states two aspects of the natural process of evolution that can be enriching: “First, we find that all life is related. Second, we find that our lives – every human life – is lived best in relationship with others, and that whether or not two persons think they are related, they are. These two aspects of Natural Design, though they do not relieve us of the burden of mortality, do point us in an unexpectedly liberating way, to a life of meaning.”  It’s about relationships between humans and also between our species and all the other species with which we share our home planet. This notion is not alien to the Bible, nor the creation narratives. Simon Conway Morris writes that “we need to re-examine how science reveals unexpected depths to Creation while religion informs us what on earth (literally) we are going to do about it.”



Dean-Drummond, C 2005. Theology and the biological sciences. In: Ford, D F & Muers, R (eds). 2005. The modern theologians: An introduction to Christian theology since 1918.  Oxford: Blackwell Publishing: 357-369.

Durant, J (ed). 1985. Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford:   Basil Blackwell.

Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown     University Press.

Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.

Pennock, R T. 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge:  MIT Press.

Pollack, R. 2007. “Intelligent Design,” natural design, and the problem of meaning in the natural world. Crosscurrents, 125-135.

Ruse, M. 2006. Darwinism and its discontents. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Southgate, C. 2011. Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job: A Christian response to Darwinism, Zygon 46(2): 370-395

Zimmerman, P A. 2009. Darwin at 200 and the challenge of intelligent design. CTQ 73: 61-75.

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 4 – The Question of Suffering

This post will look at how creationism and Intelligent Design falls short when it comes to the question of suffering. In my mind, the question of suffering is one of the most fundamental questions in theology.

What makes the creationism and Intelligent Design most problematic in a theological sense is the question of suffering. Within the Christian tradition, there is no place for a kind of demiurge or designer other than God. Thus, the only Creator or Intelligent Designer could be the Christian God. In order for God to create by means of evolution, it follows that God would use “the suffering of very many creatures.” The question then follows: If God can intervene to introduce certain elements of complexity, why could God not intervene in the suffering of a myriad of creatures? The philosopher David Hume was brutally direct in stating the problem: “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?” Michael Ruse makes a similar point:

Many vile afflictions are caused by minor changes at the molecular level. The effects multiply, bringing on lifelong pain and suffering. If the designer is around to make the very complex, why doesn’t he take a little time to repair the simple but broken? Either he cannot, in which case wonders how powerful he really is and if he truly has designed the very complex; or he does not, in which case one wonders about his intentions toward the world of life, including humans. Either way, the designer seems not to be something that can be identified with the Christian God, which is the underlying aim of the Intelligent Design theorists.

Biologist Robert Pollack points out that Intelligent Design reduces the suffering in this world to “but a preamble for a world to come, in which a totally new Intelligent Design will provide all the solace, peace, and love of which nature seems so severely depleted.” This reduction does not provide satisfactory answers to the question of suffering. Pollack goes on to say that this view keeps us from acting to do good in the world:

This is why as an article of faith, ‘intelligent design’ is truly powerful, and deeply troubling. As science, it is meaningless: nothing in nature supports it; nothing in nature demands it; nothing we can do will either prove or disprove it. But as a belief, it distracts us from all acts that we – as individuals but more important as families, faiths, nations, and even as a species – can perform in this world, to diminish the catastrophic consequences of natural disasters and human cruelties.

A famous example of the problem of suffering and Intelligent Design is the ichneumonidae wasps that lay their eggs in a living caterpillar. In South Africa there are four genii of the family Ichneumonidae. Osprynchotus species parasite the nests of other wasp species that build nests with mud. Enicospilus species parasite the larvae of noctuid moths. Gabunia species parasite the larvae of long-horn beetles (family Cerambycidae). Theronia species parasitize the larvae and pupae of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, and bees), and Neuroptera (lacewings and antlions). Charles Darwin referred to this specific instance of endoparasitism in a letter to his friend Asa Gray: “There seems to be too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars…”

I have been (un)fortunate enough to witness the eruption of parasitic wasp larvae (Apanteles acraea from the family Braconidae) with my own eyes. The wasp larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside until they are ready for pupation, at which moment they eat their way out of the still living caterpillar and begin spinning their cocoons on the surface. I have recently began the hobby of caterpillar rearing, where one rears caterpillars, documenting their life history, and then send the results off to a lepidopterist for research. It is an interesting and mostly rewarding hobby with the added value that it benefits science. A cucullia inaequalis caterpillar that I was busy rearing had been parasited without my knowledge and great was the shock when I checked up on it only to find a large number of writhing wasp larvae that were starting to spin their cocoons on the outside of the caterpillar. Their poor host was alive and not paralysed throughout the entire ordeal. You can view the video here and see a photo album here. After they had spun their cocoons, the caterpillar somehow got itself free from under them and started walking around with gaping holes in its soft body. It died a few hours later.


The Pteromalus puparum wasps from the family Pteromalidae parasite final instar caterpillars and then live and pupate within the larva and pupal form of the butterfly or moth. The adult wasp then emerges from the pupa via a small exit hole. Parasitism is almost never immediately fatal to the host, because the parasite requires the host to be alive for as long as it is needed. Most parasite species are highly specialised.

The biologist David Hull states that “The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.” This is the kind of God that can be deduced from evolution, which, as Hull describes, is “rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror…” David H Bailey adds to this, pointing out the difficulties of creationism and Intelligent Design when it comes to “the many troublesome features of nature, such as pain, disease, violence, and the millions of species that have become extinct.”

The Catholic biologist Francisco Ayala states that “As floods and drought were a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world, predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases were a consequence of the evolution of life. They were not a result of deficient or malevolent design.” Ayala also states that “I do not attribute all this misery, cruelty, and destruction to the specific design of the Creator. … I rather see it as a consequence of the clumsy ways of the evolutionary process.” He claims that it will be good for people who have faith to accept natural selection as being responsible for “the design of organisms, as well as for the dysfunctions, oddities, cruelties, and sadism that pervade the world of life.”



From the previous sections it can be seen that, theologically speaking, creationism and Intelligent Design has certain pitfalls. The two main pitfalls are dishonesty on the part of God and the problem of suffering, which weighs the heavier of the two. The dubious use of the Bible is also a point of concern and the bad science coupled with bad theology is a pock mark on the face of Christianity.


Also See:

10 Astonishing Examples of Bizarre Parasitic Life Cycles

10 Disturbingly Weird Parasites

Parasitism in Forest Ecology


And now something light-hearted…




Ayala, F J. 2009. Charles Darwin: Friend or foe? Word & World 29/1, 19-29.

Daintith, J & Martin, E. (eds.) 2010. Oxford dictionary of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Darwin, F. (ed). 1898. The life and letters of Charles Darwin. Vol I. New York:  D Appleton and Company.

Griffiths, C, Picker, M & Weaving, A. 2004. Field guide to insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Pollack, R. 2007. “Intelligent Design,” natural design, and the problem of meaning in the natural world. Crosscurrents, 125-135.

Ruse, M. 2006. Darwinism and its discontents. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Southgate, C. 2008 The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 3 – Unintelligent Design and God of the Gaps

In this post we will look at some “design flaws” in nature. This is really interesting and there are many instances. I will only touch on some of these. At the end I will briefly look at the God of the Gaps argument.


Unintelligent Design

Michael Ruse, philosopher of biology, states the problem plainly: “There is far too much wrong with the world – too many instances of malfunction – to think that a designer has been directly involved with making organisms.” Conor Cunningham makes the observation that to equate God with the mechanism of natural selection comes to an immediate problem: “Now, an immediate problem with this was the confusing paths developed by evolution, for they appeared random, and even contradictory. Many of these paths came to a dead end – hence extinction. If a God were involved in this sometime-successful chaos, one might think it to be a rather odd God.” That is the picture seen from a view when one steps back and takes in evolutionary history in general. In the big picture there are many dead ends. When it comes to specific species, there are more specific examples of unintelligent design., which will be discussed below.

There are several instances where the apparent design of organisms does not seem to be very intelligent, even downright dumb or wasteful. One of these examples is the detour taken by the laryngeal nerve in mammals, expressed in its most extended form in the giraffe. This nerve stretches from the brain, loops around the ductus arteriosus (near the heart), and then makes its way back up towards the larynx. In a human being, the detour is several centimetres, but in a fully grown giraffe the detour can be up to over 4.5 metres. Why? What a waste of nerve fibres. There is no functional reason for the detour made by this nerve and as Richard Dawkins writes: “Any intelligent designer would have hived off the laryngeal nerve on its way down, replacing a journey of many meters by one of a few centimetres.”


Such “design flaws” are evidence for evolution. Robert Pennock explains that “[t]he reason that odd arrangements and makeshift adaptations are evidence for evolution is that these constitute a kind of pattern that is an expected effect of evolutionary processes, which must work at any given moment within the constraints imposed by previous evolutionary development.” Evolution can only work with what it has and thus has no way of working around the detour and making a direct route for the laryngeal nerve. An evolutionary explanation states that in fish the nerves and blood vessels serve gills that are neatly in sequence. With the gradual steps toward mammals, these nerves and blood vessels became stretched as, for example, the neck became longer. There was no way for natural selection to fix the nerve looping over the ductus arteriosus.


Another example, which is closer to home, is that of the male human’s vas deferens. The vas deferens is a tube that conveys sperm from the testes to the penis. The starting point and end destination are rather close together, but the vas deferens takes its own detour, looping around the ureter and then descending down to the penis. Ruse explains the detour with an everyday example when he says that “the sperm duct is rather like a garden hose that takes an unneeded loop around a distant tree, on its way from tap to nearby flower bed.” Why would an intelligent designer make such a useless loop? Once again the evolutionary explanation makes sense of the detour: The testes were originally in the abdomen, but descended lower, probably due to temperature issues. The vas deferens got hooked over the ureter and the process of evolution simply kept on lengthening the vas deferens.


David H Bailey adds more examples to the list of human design flaws. Due to our upright stance, humans are prone to back ailments and while most mammals are able to generate their own vitamin C, we have lost the ability. Our sense of smell is poor, because about 30% of the genes related to our sense of smell are made void by accumulated mutations. Even though our eyesight is very good, humans have a blind spot which is caused by the optic nerves that originate at the front of the retina and then travel to the back of the retina. The eyes of molluscs are better “designed” with nerve connections at the back of the retina which results in eliminating the blind spot. Former Dominican priest and evolutionary biologist Francisco J Ayala poses a thought-provoking, yet tongue-in-cheek question: “Did the Designer have a greater love for squids than for humans and, thus, exhibit greater care in designing their eyes than ours?”


In vertebrate eyes, the nerve fibers route before the retina, blocking some light and creating a blind spot where the fibers pass through the retina and out of the eye. In octopus eyes, the nerve fibers route behind the retina, and do not block light or disrupt the retina. In the example, 4 denotes the vertebrate blind spot, which is notably absent in the octopus eye. In both images, 1 denotes the retina and 2 the nerve fibers, including the optic disc (3). (

As conclusion, Bailey writes that “[e]ach of these examples makes perfect sense from evolutionary history, but they are inexplicable as the product of meticulous design by a transcendent Being.” Palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris states that the God of Intelligent Design would not be “encumbered with a customary cliché of bearing a large white beard, but … the very model of scientific efficiency and so don a very large white coat. ID [Intelligent Design] is surely the deist’s option, and one that turns its back not only on the richness and beauty of creation, but also, and as importantly, on its limitless possibilities. It is a theology for control freaks.” At first glance, Intelligent Design seems to bring theology and evolution closer together, but this is a misapprehension.


God of the Gaps


Many creationist and Intelligent Design arguments lead to what is known as the “God of the gaps.” This argument, in short, places the activity and influence of God in the gaps left by science. Basically a “we don’t know, therefore God” stance. For Haught, this type of argument is not only bad theology, but also bad science, as it is to “shrivel what infinitely transcends nature into something small enough for mathematical equations to capture.” Mark Isaak explains that arguments from incredulity (e.g. irreducible complexity) create a God of the gaps. God is used as a convenient excuse and not the ground of all that is. Bailey mentions that it has been called theological suicide, because the gaps get smaller and smaller as scientific knowledge expands. It is indeed a dangerous path for theology to take, because God is pushed more and more to the side and eventually there will be no more room for God in the picture of the universe.



Ayala, F J. 2009. Charles Darwin: Friend or foe? Word & World 29/1, 19-29.

Bailey, D H. 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon thought 43(3): 62-81.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Dawkins, R. 2009. The greatest show on earth: The evidence for evolution. London: Bantam Press.

Haught, J F. 2008. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Second edition. Boulder:   Westview Press.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 2 – Mature Earth & Intelligent Design


This post will look at the theological problems behind Mature-Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design.

Mature-Earth Creationism

Mature-earth creationism is also called the appearance of age argument or ideal-time creationism. Phillip Gosse, Henry Morris, and John Whitcomb, Jr. have been proponents of this argument. In his 1875 writing, Omphalos, Philip Gosse introduced the idea that God created the universe to look old. The universe is not billions, millions, or even hundreds of thousands of years old; it just looks that way.

The biggest theological problem with mature-earth creationism is the implied trickery or dishonesty on the part of God. Why would God create a universe and give it the appearance of age? What’s the point? Would a loving, righteous God place dinosaur fossils in certain strata of the earth’s crust in order to dupe the creatures He/She seeks to have authentic, meaningful relationships with? Keith Miller, a Catholic biologist, writes that: “In order to defend God against the challenge [Creationists] see from evolution, they have to make him into a schemester, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. … To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.” Such a deceiving God is not worthy of worship.


Intelligent Design

In this section the focus is shifted to Intelligent Design. With regard to Intelligent Design, Christopher Southgate asks the question of whether it is the best option to pose. “It is a type of explanation that must always be vulnerable to Occam’s Razor; it introduces an extra entity, a designer, into the system – an entity that is untestable and uncharacterizable, over and above the range of entities included in an evolutionary explanation.” Catholic theologian John Haught states that one of the biggest problems with Paley’s argument from design is “the intellectual integrity of Paley’s core argument. How could one speak of observing “design” in nature? One observes nature, but one infers design in nature.” There is a significant difference between observation and inference. Bram van de Beek states that inferring intelligent design from nature simply means that we can recognize that our human intelligence as a complex phenomenon has similarities with other complex phenomena, but that inferring the existence of an Intelligent Designer is taking it too far.


David H Bailey raises an important issue: “[b]ut like Creationists, ID scholars have not yet produced a solid body of quantitative, falsifiable scientific hypotheses of their own; instead, they have focused their efforts on identifying weakness in the established evolutionary theory.” Haught goes further to say that “Intelligent design injudiciously passes over the disorderly, undirected aspects of evolution that are also part of the life processes. It ignores the darker hues in the Darwinian story that gives a tragic cast to evolution and thereby strain the credibility of any theology.” It could be said that Intelligent Design takes an easy way out and ignores the dark side of nature.


John Haught makes much of what he calls “the drama of life.” Bailey quotes Haught as saying:

If God were a magician or a dictator, then we might expect the universe to be finished all at once and remain eternally unchanged. If God insisted on being in total control of things, we might not expect the weird organisms of the Cambrian explosion, the later dinosaurs and reptiles, or the many other wild creatures that seem so exotic to us. We would want our divine magician to build the world along the lines of a narrowly human sense of clean perfection.

But what a pallid and impoverished world that would be. It would lack the drama, diversity, adventure, and intense beauty that evolution has in fact produced. …

Fortunately, the God of our religion is not a magician but a creator. And we think this God is much more interested in promoting freedom and the adventure of evolution than in preserving the status quo.


A world made by Intelligent Design would be perfect, but it would lack the drama of life. Conor Cunningham states that the God of Intelligent Design is not a god to worship. It is not a god worthy of worship. George L. Murphy, physicist and theologian, argues that “God does not compel belief of skeptics by leaving puzzles which science can’t solve.” Once again that seems to imply that God is playing games with people. God is fooling people and tricking them into believing. Cunningham goes on to say that the God of Intelligent Design “would merely be a domesticated god, a ‘natural’ god. This ‘god’ might have bigger biceps, a Jedi Knight of sorts. He might be merely Homeric, but he certainly won’t be Abrahamic. To worship him would be like worshipping a whale or a mountain – one worships it because it is big.”


God as Intelligent Designer

Niels H Gregersen, from the University of Copenhagen, points out that “the meaning of the term ‘divine designer’ is under-determined. …its content obviously changes as one goes from one level of abstraction to another, and from one application to another. Usually, the divine designer is tacitly assumed to be the Creator of all-that-is (and not only a forming principle), but historically as well as logically the idea of a creator is not entailed in the notion of design.”


Haught argues that “Paley’s image of God as the divine artificer of the world reduced God to the world’s level. Where was any sense of transcendence, mystery, or glory?” Van de Beek agrees that an Intelligent Designer would not be a transcendental power, but rather an immanent phenomenon. “[S]uch a perfectly designed universe would have no room for life, freedom, and new being. An initially fixed and finished universe would have no future. It would also be insentient and mindless.” Such a universe would be static instead of lively and dynamic. This argument is once again emphasised when Haught says that the perfectly designed world of Intelligent Design would be “dead on delivery. Since it would already be perfect, it would also be finished; and if finished, it would have no future.” The Christian faith is a faith which values the past, lives in the here and now, but also reaches forward into the future. In a perfect world, there would be nothing to strive towards, which in the Christian tradition is the consummation of everything in Christ. There would be no place for the “drama of life.” Haught explains how one might see God as the originator of novelty and the path of life. Indeed, the idea of common descent as such need not imply any diminishment whatsoever in the power of God to create. “Think of the Creator as bringing into being a world that can in turn give rise spontaneously to new life and lush diversity, and eventually to human beings. In that case, evolution is the unfolding of the world’s original God-endowed resourcefulness.”  He goes on to state that “[t]he divine maker of such a self-creative world is arguably much more impressive – hence worthier of human reverence and gratitude – than is a “designer” who moulds and micromanages everything directly.” The God of evolution is a God of freedom and self-sacrifice. This God is a God of hope and promise, allowing the world to unfold, without coercing or manipulating it. Haught states that this “God of freedom and promise invites, and does not compel, the creation to experiment with many possible ways of being, allowing it to make “mistakes” in the process. This is the God of evolution – one who honours and respects the indeterminacy and narrative openness of creation, and in this way ennobles it.” The God of evolution is a humble, self-donating liberality that avoids any unmediated manipulation of things. A world that is perfectly design and created would be a static world, without novelty. Haught continues his argument as follows:

If you are the kind of theist or atheist who demands here and now a world with no design flaws, you are asking for an anaemic idea of deity and a divine creation devoid of a deeper, dramatic coherence. If a fixed and frozen universe is what you want, then you may insist of perfect design as envisaged by ID and most contemporary evolutionary atheism. But if you prefer a truly surprising and richly creative universe, then you may be religiously open to evolution. Isn’t it conceivable that Darwin’s three-part recipe for evolution wells up from a hidden dramatic depth of nature wherein there resides an inaccessible wisdom that those obsessed with perfect design simply cannot fathom?

Christian belief, at any rate, does not depend for its credibility on the existence of a world without design flaws. … Furthermore, if you explore the bible carefully, you will not find an elegant engineer there either. God’s intimate relation to the world is before all else one of liberation and promise rather than the imposition of design.


It is important to keep in mind that the Bible is a book which tells of liberation and promise in a world where all is not perfect. The Christian faith ought not to act as if we are not living in a world which is flawed, which is in constant change, and which has brokenness. The Bible is clear about the fact that all is not well and that God seeks to restore all things in time.


The next blog post will take a look at what I call “Unintelligent Design.”



Bailey, D H. 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon thought 43(3): 62-81.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Haught, J F. 2008. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Second edition. Boulder:   Westview Press.

______2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Miller, K B. (ed.) 2003a. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B        Eerdmans.

______2003b. Worshipping the Creator of the history of life, in Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 205-207.

Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.

Murphy, G L. 2003. Christology, evolution and the Cross. In: Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 370-389.

Southgate, C 2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 1 – General

For the next couple of posts we’ll look at the theological problems raised by the creationist and Intelligent Design views. This one will be a general look at creationism. This is were the theological muscles get flexed after the science and socio-historic criticism has been dealt out. Firstly, we look at criticism of creationism. This includes scientific ignorance, the ludicrous claims made by creationists, the unethical ploys adopted, and the disregard of proper exegesis.


Robert Cornwall states that taking the Genesis creation accounts literally makes it look like Christianity “has been left behind intellectually.” Conor Cunningham echoes this sentiment when he says that “the advent and rise of creationism and its understanding of the Bible represent a lapse into intellectual barbarism, a complete desertion of the Christian tradition.” St Augustine’s words are just as applicable today as when he wrote them between AD 397 and 400 in Book 11 of his Confessions: “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.” This scorn of the unbelievers is called irrisio infidelium. Augustine explained the serious ramifications of irrisio infidelium:

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full off falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.


Part of the ignorance found within creationism is the ridiculous claims made to support the creationist stance. Mark Isaak states that “the invalid ‘proofs’ necessary to support antievolution, a global flood, and a young earth have pushed people away from Christianity.” Bram van de Beek agrees that attempting to make science fit with the literal interpretation of the Bible results in pseudoscience. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pseudoscience as “a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.” Pseudoscience is a cause of mockery and may prevent others from taking any Christian claims or communications seriously. Robert T. Pennock provides an example of absurdity invoked to defend the creationist account against evolution: “To defend the scientific plausibility of Noah’s Ark, ICR creation-scientist John Woodmorappe provides a book-length feasibility study and finds himself arguing that Noah solved the problem of animal waste management by training the animals to urinate and defecate upon command as someone held a bucket behind them.” Perhaps the most ridiculous claim was the one made by Accelerated Christian Education, which states that the Loch Ness Monster is proof against evolution (see the Top 5 Lies Taught by Accelerated Christian Education). After some unwanted publicity about the inclusion of Nessie in a science curriculum, Accelerated Christian Education has decided to leave Nessie and a “sea monster” caught by a Japanese fishing trailer out of the new editions. I actually did that science PACE and mostly forgot about it until I read Jonny Scaramanga‘s blog about the lies taught by ACE.



In addition to ridiculous claims, sometimes unethical means are utilized to argue for creationism. There are those in the creationist camp that choose to demonize the perceived enemy by arguments such as the following by Henry Morris: “Satan invented the evolutionary concept and is using it as his vehicle to deceive the nations and to turn men away from God.” Robert Cornwall adds an interesting observation: “…the voices that yell the loudest are the most extreme. It is either the militant fundamentalist or the militant secularist… These two extremes agree on one thing: that literalism is the only legitimate religious voice, which means that one must choose between God and evolution.”


Besides simply being bad science and at times using unethical arguments, creationism also fails to take the interpretation of Scripture seriously. Christopher Southgate states that “creationism both fails to take science seriously, and uses a very dubious method of interpreting Scripture.” Creationism tends to take a literal stance to Scripture and see the Bible as absolutely inerrant. As Van de Beek states, creationism fails to take into regard the osmosis between context and theology. The stance of inerrancy ignores textual criticism, source criticism, syncretism, and the values of the authors. Basically, the approach used by Biblical literalism does not do the text justice. Isaak lists several examples of factual errors and contradictions in the Bible that shows how the literal, inerrant reading of the Bible does not treat the Bible properly:

  • Lev 11: 6 states rabbits chew the cud.
  • Lev 11: 20-23 speaks of four-legged insects, including grasshoppers as four-legged insects.
  • I Chron 16: 30 and Ps 93: 1 both state that the earth is immobile.
  • In Gen 1, God creates Adam after all the other animals, but in Gen 2, Adam is created before the animals.
  • Matt 1: 16 and Luke 3: 23 differ over the genealogy of Jesus. According to Matthew, the grandfather of Jesus was Jacob, but according to Luke he was Heli.
  • Mark 14: 72 differs from Matt 26: 74-75, Luke 22: 60-61, and John 18: 27 about the number of times the cock crowed. According to Mark the cock crowed twice and according to the others it crowed three times.
  • II Sam 24: 1 and I Chron 21: 1 differ over who incited David to count the people. II Sam states that it was God and I Chron states that it was Satan.
  • I Sam 17: 23, 50 and II Sam 21: 19 differ regarding who killed Goliath. In I Sam it was David and in II Sam it seems to have been Elhanan.
  • I Sam 31: 4 and II Sam 1: 8-10 differ regarding who killed Saul. According to I Sam, Saulorder his armourbearer to killhim, but the armourbearer refused and Saul fell upon his own sword. In II Sam, Saul asked an Amalekite to kill him and the man agreed.
  • The details of the death and resurrection of Jesus is different in each of the four gospels. Matt 27: 37, Mark 15: 26, Luke 23: 38, and John 19: 19 have different inscriptions on the cross. Matthew cites the inscription as THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS, Mark cites it as THE KING OF THE JEWS, Luke cites it as THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS, and John cites it as JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. These are not major differences, but all four cannot be literally factual.
  • Matt 27: 5-8 and Acts 1: 18-19 differ over Judas’s death. According to Matthew he gave back the blood money and hanged himself. According to Acts, he fell in the field he bought with the money and burst.
  • Gen 9: 3 and Lev 11: 4 differ regarding what may be eaten. Genesis states that one may eat everything that lives, whereas Leviticus states that the following may not be eaten: any animals that chew the cud but do not have cloven hooves and any animals that have cloven hooves but do not chew the cud.
  • Rom 3: 20-28 and James 2: 24 differ regarding faith and deeds. Romans focuses on faith, whereas James emphasizes that faith without deeds is dead.
  • Ex 20: 5, Num 14: 18, and Deut 5: 9 state that sons inherit sins from their fathers, whereas Ezek 18: 4, 19-20 and John 9: 3 state that sons do not inherit sins from their fathers.


Only with proper exegesis can one make sense of these contradictions. The process of exegesis includes several forms of criticism, these are:

  • Textual criticism, which seeks the earliest or original wording of a text.
  • Historical criticism, which seeks to understand the historical, geographical, and cultural setting of the text. Questions regarding the author and the intended readers and their social norms and structures are investigated.
  • Grammatical criticism looks at the morphology and syntax of the text. Grammatical rules are investigated.
  • Literary criticism looks at the broader literary context. Questions regarding the relation to other texts, composition, structure, and rhetorical style are addressed.
  • Form criticism looks at the passage of text itself. Form, genre, and the life situation are examined.
  • Tradition criticism investigates the earlier stages of development a text has undergone before its present form.
  • Redaction criticism focuses on the final form of the passage and seeks to find out the intention of the author and/or final editor.

From these forms of criticisms it is clear that biblical interpretations is by no means an easy undertaking. The literal reading of the text ignores the rich background behind it and leads to an impoverished view.


Also see:

Creation Harms Christianity – Sacerdotus

The Simple Truth about Biblical Literalism and the Fundamentalists who Promote it – Sean McElwee



Cornwall, R. 2007. Charles Darwin goes to church: A literature guide to the evolution versus intelligent design debate. Congregations, 35-38.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Hayes, J H & Holladay, C R. 1982. Biblical exegesis: A beginner’s handbook. London: SCM        Press.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Pennock, R T. 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge:         MIT Press.

Scaramanga, J 2012a. How the Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution. [Online]. Available:    [Accessed 29 July 2016]

______2012b. Top 5 lies taught by Accelerated Christian Education. [Online]. Available:    [Accessed 29 July 2016]

______2013. No more Nessie for Accelerated Christian Education. [Online]. Available:    [Accessed 29 July 2016]

Southgate, C 2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London:   Westminster John Knox Press.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern   denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

On the Petition “Stop Promoting Satanism in South Africa”

A certain petition has been making waves in the local metal community. It was posted by the vaguely named Christians SA, which turned out to be a certain C Nielsen, frontman of Because of Betrayal. View the petition here. Shots were fired and memes were made.


Falling under the general term of Christian myself, I think the petition is misguided and counterproductive.

People are freaking out about bands turning young people into satanists. A normal human being should be perfectly able to encounter different opinions without being swayed by all of them. Imagine you’re walking in a mall and see a poster about Colgate toothpaste. Immediately you think that Colgate is the best toothpaste ever. A few minutes later you see a poster for Aquafresh. Immediately you are convinced that Aquafresh is the best toothpaste ever. You decide to grab a quick snack and hear someone talking about veganism. Immediately you decide that veganism is the be all and end all of food and diet. Does that sound ridiculous? It;s because it is. Frankly, if you think that a band can change your child’s entire point of view then you should’ve raised them better.

The petition states the following: “This “right” which they label as “Freedom of Speech” and “Constitutional Law” and the uprising in Record Labels/Event Companies completely undermines the majority and ethical values our “fair” nation stands for and abolishes the Christian values our forefathers and leaders took generations to build to create Freedom in SA.” Chapter 2 point 15 (1)  of the Bill of Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.” Point 16 states that:

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes— (a) freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; (c) freedom of artistic creativity; and (d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research. (2) The right in subsection (1) does not extend to—(a) propaganda for war; (b) incitement of imminent violence; or (c) advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

The last point would be the only one that a petition like this could possibly stand on when it comes to bands playing here. Point 17 (1) states that “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.” Now that’s fine and good, but then one should also respect the rights mentioned in points 15 and 16. Fundamentalists are not known for being consistent, though (e.g. using OT text to state that homosexuals deserve death, but ignoring OT texts about eating pork).

South Africa is not a Christian country. It is a secular state. If Christians want to have freedom to practice their religion then they have to grant others their freedom as well. This petition and the desire to oppose freedom of religion and expression are harmful to not only those who would be censured, but also to the Christians of the country. It sparks unnecessary antagonism from those upon who this petition is imposed, as well as those Christians who are not of the militant and/or fundamentalist type. I don’t think a Christian state is a good idea in any case. That’s how abominations like the Crusades and witch hunts happen.

Some of the signatures are worried about these bands polluting our high moral code. I’m not sure what country they are living in, but it certainly isn’t South Africa in 2016. While it is true that 80% of SA citizens claim they are Christian, I suspect that many if not most are what are called nominal Christians. Nominal Christians are those who would, when asked about it, answer that they are Christian in their beliefs. They might even go to church, but that is where it stops. If our country were 80% full of Christians who were serious about the faith they believed in, we wouldn’t be struggling with corruption or such an appalling crime rate. It’s easier to point the finger to a perceived outside danger. The real issue facing Christianity in SA is not a band or two playing metal, but the Christians themselves who do not practice what they preach. Rather look to yourselves and change who you are first.