Theistic Evolution Pt. 5 – The Role of God

In this post the role of God in relation to evolution will be examined. Firstly, the question of evolution as atheistic and godless will be addressed. Secondly, an untraditional view of God is delved into in light of what we have come to know about the universe. Thirdly, the concept of panentheism is explored.


Atheistic, godless evolution?

Paul Zimmerman states that pure chance has replaced the Creator. From this it may be concluded that, since there is no more need for a creator, then there is no more need for God and that the idea of God can, and perhaps should, be discarded.

Biochemist Thomas Gray counters this view: “Evolutionary explanations of natural history are no more necessarily atheistic than are physical explanations of planetary motions or physical-chemical explanations of atomic and molecular structure.” It is not just the theory of evolution that excludes God as the cause of what it describes. Many other sciences also do not include God in their theories and explanations. Philosopher Robert Pennock brings the argument closer to home with more everyday examples: “It is misleading for creationists to characterise science in general and to define evolution in particular as ‘godless.’ Science is godless in the same way that plumbing is godless. Evolutionary science is no more or less based on a ‘dogmatic philosophy’ of naturalism than are medicine and farming.” Is farming godless because we don’t include God as one of the factors in the growth of crops or because we understand weather phenomena and don’t see it as God micromanaging the weather?

The random chance in evolution is necessary for creativity and regarding the kind chance found in evolution, Pennock explains that “it is not that mutation has no cause (deterministic or indeterministic) but that the cause is not aimed at producing a particular desirable or advantageous result.” Furthermore, this chance is governed by statistical and deterministic laws. Therefore, chance is not completely random. The scientific understanding of chance events are slightly different from the colloquial understanding. Geologist Keith Miller states that “[c]hance or random processes are often seen as antithetical to God’s action. Many people understand “chance” as implying a purposeless, meaningless, and accidental event. However, scientifically, chance events are simply those whose occurrence cannot be predicted based on initial conditions and known natural laws.” Chance occurrences were not caused by the organism itself and the term has more to do with predictability (or in this case, unpredictability) than with causation.

Evolution has not and cannot disprove the existence of God. Science has shown that the creation narratives in Genesis are not factual, but the activity of God within the world is something that has to be thought of theologically and not scientifically. Leaving God out of scientific exploits does not deny the existence of God, but the fields of science are aimed toward that which can be measured, examined, experimented with, and described in concrete ways.


An Untraditional God

An evolutionary understanding of the universe calls for a shift from the traditional Christian ideas of God as omnipotent, unchangeable, and unaffected by anything that happens. Theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke inferred several characteristics of the being of God in light of what is known about the cosmos:

  • The presence of unity and diversity points to a God who is both one and “unfathomably rich.”
  • The inherent order and regularity of natural laws points to rationality.
  • The continuous change inherent in the life of the universe means that God is active and ever-creating.
  • The vast diversity suggests a God “at play in the universe who takes joy and delight in creation.”
  • In view of human beings, God “must be at least personal or suprapersonal in nature.”
  • The presence of both natural law and chance suggests that God is the Source of both.
  • Perhaps the most important characteristic with regard to the traditional views of God is that, since chance is unpredictable, God is not unconditionally omnipotent, but self-limited.

These untraditional views of Peacocke find resonance in what is called process theology. John Haught explains process theology as follows:

In reaction to a God considered supreme, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, totally perfect, immutable, and infinite in all the divine attributes, and as such immune to any possibility of change, which was the classical Christian view of God that owed much to Greek reflection as it influenced scholastic philosophy and theology, the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) viewed all of reality as in the process of becoming and in tension between what has been and what could come to be; it envisaged that process as shared in some respects by God too. … It stresses the immanence of God involved in the continuing process of the world and in loving interaction with creatures, as distinct from the divine omnipotence and timeless transcendence and impassability of a traditional Hellenistic deity.

For Peacocke, God can be considered in Being (who God is in Godself) and also in becoming, which is God expressing the divine purpose in the cosmos. God’s self-limitation implies that God is “a vulnerable God who is self-emptying and self-giving in love. …the attributes associated with God in Divine Becoming – self-limitation, vulnerability, and temporality – stand in contrast to classical theology and require a model of God more in keeping with a dynamic worldview” (Schaab). God’s self-limitation is not just in terms of power, but also in terms of knowledge. This self-limitation or self-emptying of God is called kenotic theology, or kenosis, after the text in Philippians 6-7 where Christ is said to have emptied Himself (ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen).



Peacocke adopted the model of panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism). Gloria Schaab summarises Peacocke’s definition of panentheism as “the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole of creation, so that every part of creation exists in God, but that God’s Being is more than, and is not exhausted by, creation.” God is greater than creation, yet the cosmos exists within the unity of God. In a panentheistic view, there is no distance between the aspects of God and the relationship of God with the world. Traditional theism sees God as existing in a different place than the world and this implies a sense of detachment.


Rudolph Brun argues against the panentheist view, his reason being that the biblical revelation regarding God’s relationship with creation states that God is not dependent upon creation. He continues to say that the world cannot exist in God and that God is not immanent in nor transcending over the world, because “God is essentially other.  The relationship between God and creation is not one of immanence or transcendence but of absolute otherness.” He continues to say that the relationship between God and creation is one of “unity in diversity” with the “analogy of love” at the centre. This analogy of love is mutual affirmation and enjoyment of the otherness that exists between God and creation. Here, one can think of the term perichoresis, as mentioned in Reading Genesis 1-3 Pt. 5 – Imago Dei and Conclusion.

Whilst keeping Brun’s concerns in mind, it does seem that panentheism is the best paradigm to use. The otherness of the world is not lost within panentheism and this model deals with suffering with adequate seriousness and concern. Schaab states that this panentheist concept “of a God who is familiar with suffering and who bears cosmic grief challenges a classical theology that envisions God as unrelated, unaffected, and unmoved by creation and its creatures. Nevertheless, it is entirely consistent with a Christian theology of cross and resurrection.” Within this panentheism, God has restricted His/Her omnipotence in order to let the universe truly be an Other. Arthur Peacocke stated poetically how God created the universe as an Other: “There was God. And God was All-That-Was. God’s Love overflowed and God said: ‘Let Other be. And let it have the capacity to become what it might be – and let it explore its potentialities.’ And there was Other in God, a field of energy … and with one intensely hot surge of energy – a hot Big bang – this Other exploded as the universe.”  Schaab explains it as follows: “For Peacocke, the panentheistic paradigm effectively integrates into one cohesive model the evolutionary and quantum insights disclosed through the sciences and the Christian concept of the trinity of God as transcendent, incarnate, and immanent.” Theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist John Cobb also accepts a panentheistic view of God, where God is present in all things, but yet God transcends all things.

In his Hymn of the Universe, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin puts into poetic form the view of panentheism:

Glorious lord Christ: the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, “In truth you are my Lord and my God”.

Nothing, Lord Jesus, can subsist outside of your flesh; so that even those who have been cast out from your love are still, unhappily for them, the beneficiaries of your presence upholding them in existence. All of us, inescapably, exist in you, the universal milieu in which and through which all things live and have their being.


And on that note, we end this post.

The next one will return to theodicy, or the question of suffering.



Brun, R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

de Chardin, P T. 1961. Hymn of the universe. New York: Harper & Row.

Gray, T M. 2003. Biochemistry and evolution. In: Miller, K B (ed). Perspectives on an     evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 256-287.

Haarsma, L. 2003. Does science exclude God? In: Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an    evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 72-94.

Haught, J F. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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

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

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

Russell, R J. 2003. Special providence and genetic mutation: A new defence of theistic     evolution. In: Miller, K B (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids:        William B. Eerdmans: 335-369.

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.

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


Theistic Evolution Pt. 4 – Meaning and Human Uniqueness

This is a longer post, so make yourself comfortable.


One of the objections against evolution is that if humankind arose from random chance, then life has no meaning. Young earth creationist and engineer Henry Morris states that “If man arose by chance, life would have no purpose or meaning.”

Teleological views of evolution were popular at the beginning of the formulation and investigation of evolution. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck saw evolution as a straight line of development, Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin) saw evolution as moving from simplicity to complexity and eventually culminating in humans, and Herbert Spencer saw evolution and progress as being almost synonymous. Lamarck and Spencer saw the drive for progress as some kind of striving inherent in nature. Charles Darwin also espoused an idea of progress where human beings and especially Victorian humanity was the culmination of the long process of evolution. The agent of progress for Darwin was natural selection.

In modern times such ideas of progress or teleology have been dismissed. In the natural sciences it has been seen that sometimes organisms retrogress, that is, “revert to simplified conditions of specialization.” This retrogression is common among parasites, but also occurs in humans, with regard to our need to ingest vitamin C. Biochemist Jacques Monod stated that one can no longer speak of teleology, but rather teleonomy. This term was coined by evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. Teleonomy means that although evolution has no goal, “evolutionary biology was concerned with identifying and clarifying the mechanisms underlying the evolutionary process.”  Conor Cunningham offers three possible reasons for the rejection of a view of progress: the first is that such ideas have been co-opted in the past by supporters of political agendas such as eugenics and fascism, the second reason is that the idea has theological connotations, and the third is that it is too difficult to establish the criteria for progress. From a scientific standpoint it is unacceptable to impose a priori ideas of causes and goals upon evolution, but one may, in retrospect, infer a kind of teleology as an a posteriori observation. Niels Gregersen states that “a teleonomy is workable as a highly generalised model saying that all that happens in the history of the universe lies within the possibility space created and selected by God’s creation,” which is a far cry from the imposed a priori concept of teleology.

Palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould used the image of a branching bush to describe the evolutionary process:  the branches spread out to fill available niches and we originated from “a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb of a fortunate tree.” For Gould, all evolutionary branches are contingent and if one were to play the tape of evolution again, it would be completely different.  Jacques Monod also argues that humankind is an accident, that our existence is entirely contingent. This is because random chance plays a role in evolution. In disagreement with Gould, another palaeontologist,  Simon Conway Morris argues that, because of convergent evolution, it is likely that evolution would give rise to intelligent beings. When the tape is played again and again, certain trends would be noticed and sentient beings would not be as accidental as Gould thought. Cunningham points out that Gould’s idea presupposes that each step in evolution is dependent and that is not how it works. Simon Conway Morris points out that “the view that evolution is open-ended, without predictabilities and indeterminate in terms of outcomes is negated by the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence … this provides not only a degree of predictability but also more intriguingly points to a deeper structure to life, a metaphorical landscape across which evolution must necessarily navigate.” Convergent evolution is brought into the scenario again. There are many instances of convergent evolution and even intelligence emerged in different species and contexts. As examples, Morris mentions the intelligence of primates, dolphins, and crows. The brain structure in these examples differs greatly, yet they have the same kind of intelligence. Wentzel van Huyssteen states the fact simply: “There are not an unlimited number of ways of doing something. For all its exuberance, the forms of life are restricted and channelled.” Natural selection is constrained by a number of factors, which results in some adaptations being almost inevitable. Alistair McGrath uses the example of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle to illustrate this point. If the Beagle had been lost and Darwin perished before even thinking of natural selection, the theory of evolution would have been discovered by someone else eventually. With regard to replaying the tape of evolution, evolutionary biologist Leigh van Valen states that one should “[p]lay the tape a few more times, though. We see similar melodic elements appearing in each, and the overall structure may be quite similar. … When we take a broader view, the role of contingency diminishes. Look at the tape as a whole. It resembles in some ways a symphony, although its orchestration is internal and caused largely by the interactions of many melodic strands.”

By playing and replaying the figurative tape, a form of relative progress can be deduced. This relative progress can also be construed from the history of evolution. Stuart Kauffman proposed that self-organization is a mechanism of evolution. This would mean that evolution tends to progress from less organized to more organized systems. On average the trend is towards more complex organisms. Although evolution cannot be seen as a teleological process, Rudolph B Brun states that it can be seen as a teleomorphic process: “Teleomorphic processes are oriented toward the generation of increasingly complex patterns the organization of which cannot be predicted.” Increasing complexity does not necessarily imply progress, but the “drive to increase complexity [is] integrating elements into new wholes.” On the basis of the tendency for increased complexity, Brun argues that “the history of the universe is thus neither predetermined (teleological) nor random.”

Cunningham reminds us that an increase in complexity is not without cost and risk: “…such progress involves more intense, acute pain, suffering, and so on. A stone doesn’t cry or scream. This wonderful adventure in mortality is forever accompanied by an increasing potential for destruction: the more sophisticated and refined the limb, the more broken it can become.”


Human Uniqueness

Wolfhart Pannenberg reminds us that one cannot really know the purpose of a process as a whole before that process has not been completed. It is too narrow in scope to think that the whole aim of evolution was to produce human beings or other intelligent life forms. Both in Genesis 1 and in the doctrine of the Resurrection it is made clear that the whole cosmos is contained in the scope and yet humankind does hold a special place in the cosmos.

For some, the theory of evolution and especially the evolution of our own species seems to rob humankind from the special place appointed to us in the Bible. Raymond Surburg wrote the following in 1959:

The Biblical account of man’s creation militates against the evolutionary theory which makes of man a primate, an animal, and nothing more. The philosophy of evolution seeks to rob man of his distinctive character by making him nothing more than a highly developed animal. Instead of regarding man as having been created in righteousness and holiness, with the capability of fellowship with God, evolution holds that man’s moral nature evolved from the law of the jungle.

Brun emphasizes that the human species was not put on Earth from outside, but that we “have emerged through the natural creative process from within creation.” Is it really such a terrible thing to be part of the animal kingdom? Southgate states that our relatedness to other organisms should not be seen as a threat, but rather a cause for celebration. We are part of the whole ecological sphere on Earth and we are dependent on many things, e.g. the bacteria in our bodies that help our digestion of food, the plants that photosynthesise oxygen, the organisms we use for food, etc. Cunningham states that finding repulsion in regard to our shared ancestry with other animals has more to do with ontological pride than Darwinism. It has more to do with our low regard of other organisms and “mere” matter. Jane Bennett states that “[t]he problem of meaninglessness arises only if ‘matter’ is conceived as inert, only as long as science deploys materialism whose physics is basically Newtonian. …matter has a liveliness, resilience, unpredictability, or recalcitrance that is itself a source of wonder for us.” When one sees the wonder of all that is, the knowledge that we are part of this great cosmos is not a negative idea, but a positive one. Bram van de Beek observes that it seems to have been a bigger shock that humans became animals than that God became human, as if there is a bigger distance between human and animal than between human and God. It is as if people regarded the difference between the human creature and all other creatures as greater than the difference between God and creatures. Van de Beek also states that we are bound to the cosmos with every fibre in our body and that it is as a human creature, which is a creature that cannot be separated from all other creatures, which God chose to come to Earth as.

We are part of the natural world and this does not destroy the doctrine that human beings were created in the image of God and that this has given humanity a unique place among all other forms of life. Jack Mahoney states that the doctrine doesn’t necessarily depend upon “revelation or on the immediate creation of every individual soul by God, as tradition has explained it.” Pope argues that we can accept that “the evolutionary process generated the development of important and distinctive human capacities, notably to understand and to love, that constitute the natural basis for the affirmation that we are made in God’s image.” We have more developed capacities than other creatures and that already sets us apart. It should be noted that no single capacity should be taken as the definitive capacity of human uniqueness. Darwin’s idea that the difference between human language and animal language is one of degree rather than kind seems to be correct. This is true for other human characteristics as well. John Haught states that “[n]ature is an emergent rather than a strictly vertical hierarchy, but it is nonetheless a hierarchy.” With humanity a new level of consciousness has emerged. In the words of geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “A new level or dimension has been reached. … The transcendence does not mean that a new force or energy has arrived from nowhere. … No component of the humanum can any longer be denied to animals, although the human constellation of these components certainly can.” Southgate notes that the special significance of the human species is affirmed by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, “that it was as a human that God, in the words of the Gospel of John, took flesh and dwelt among us.”

The evolutionary history of our lineage can serve to add insight into the uniqueness of human beings. From paleoanthropology and archaeology, it has been revealed that our predecessors have “symbolizing minds,” which are linked to spoken language, mental symbols, thinking, feeling, reasoning, imagining, and planning ahead. The emergence of consciousness and symbolic behaviour in our lineage has been linked to the emergence of religious consciousness. Van Huyssteen states that an “imaginative, embodied interpretation of the imago Dei specifically directs us toward recognising that our very human disposition or ability for ultimate religious meaning is deeply imbedded in our species’ symbolic, imaginative behaviour, specifically in religious ritual as that specific embodiment of discourse with God and with one another.” This view of human uniqueness should be holistic. Van Huyssteen states that a “responsible Christian theological perspective on human uniqueness requires a distinct move away from esoteric and overly abstract notions of human uniqueness and a return to embodied notions of humanness where our embodied imagination, sexuality, and moral awareness are directly linked to the fully embodied self-transcendence of believers who are in a relationship with God.”


Finding Meaning

One of the biggest issues that creationists have with evolution is that “then the only basis for value, the only source of purpose, the only foundation for meaningfulness would be lost” (Robert Pennock). Social psycholigists Stefan Schulz-Hardt and Dieter Frey suggest three main reasons for the importance and universality of the human quest for meaning:

  1. Meaning gives stability to existence, allowing humans to orientate themselves.
  2. Meaning offers a defense against the threat of meaninglessness.
  3. Meaning can be seen as the subjective response to an objective reality. It is part of the attempts of an individual to align their internal, subjective world to the deeper order of things, which is objective reality.

John Haught, using the analogy of words printed on a page, illustrates the point that one cannot deduct meaning from scientific investigation alone (my emphasis):

Just as a purely chemical analysis of this page cannot possibly detect the influence of the author’s intention in the specific arrangement of words and sentences, so also evolutionary biology and biochemistry could never by themselves discover any possible meaning inscribed in the cosmic story or in life’s unfolding. Meaning or purpose simply cannot show up at the level of scientific analysis. … My point is that every process or set of events can be read at different levels of comprehension, and each reading level leaves out content that others include.

While meaning might be absent when looking at one level, it might be found when one reads on a different level. Mark Isaak states that having a purpose is not dependent upon origins, e.g. the North Star arose by random chance, but people have used it for a purpose for ages. Origins and history are not the only places to seek meaning. Robert Pollack states that there is meaning to be found in free will: “the fact that we find within ourselves the capacity to choose – on any grounds at all, but especially on irrational grounds, against judgement, against data, against survival, against reason, even against death – to learn, remember, teach and act in this way and not another, returns meaningfulness to us.”

Haught provides four aspects in which a Christian theology can find meaning within the process of evolution:

Without in any way contradicting biology, a theology of evolution may take note, first, of the fact that the general drift of life has been in the direction of increasing complexity, consciousness, and freedom. And the movement of evolution toward such outcomes has occurred without any suspension of the set of “grammatical constraints” that go by the name of “natural selection.” Second, theology may attest that in its overall advance, what this drama is about is the liberation of nature from an endless imprisonment in lifeless and mindless determinism. Third, since the God of boundless love revealed in Jesus influences nature by way of attraction rather than force, a Christian theology of evolution may assume that God enlivens and gives meaning to the world not by pushing it forward from the past, but by calling it into the freshness of an always new future. And fourth, the “purpose” of the evolutionary drama consists, at the very minimum, of the intensification of creation’s beauty, a beauty that, to Christian faith, is everlastingly sustained and patterned anew within the life of God.

These four aspects of meaning exemplify the multi-layeredness of the interpretation of reality.



Brun R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

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. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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

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

McGrath, A E. 2009. A fine-tuned universe: The quest for God in science and theology.    Louisville: Westminster John Knox 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.

Nichols, T L. 2002. Evolution: Journey or random walk? Zygon 37(1): 193-210.

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.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schlepping? 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.

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

Theistic Evolution Pt. 3 – The Rejection of Evolution, the Anti-Religious Evolutionists, and the Synthesis of Science and Technology


During the 19th century it was commonly believed that science would prove that human values and judgements have a deterministic character. It was also believed that human beings are basically determined mechanisms. Evolution seemed to strengthen the deterministic views and thus those who opposed these views were motivated to deny evolution as such. Other popular views that seemed to be supported by evolution were that of racism (specifically European superiority) and eugenics. Those who opposed such ideas were lead to be pitted against the theory of evolution. Evolution was tied up with the advancement of socialism and atheism by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which also resulted in theologians rejecting the whole package. In contemporary times, the conflation of evolution and philosophical materialism adds another reason for creationists and Intelligent Design proponents to reject the theory of evolution.

Jonathan Clatworthy makes the following observations, ending off with an appeal:

After 1859, catastrophists were losing the scientific arguments so they concentrated instead on presenting the Bible as an alternative source of scientific facts. Their successors today look for scientific evidence against evolution, while being committed to their own view of the Bible as a source of scientific facts. Like many sectarians, they often claim that they are the only true Christians and anyone who disagrees with them isn’t a true Christian at all even if they think they are.

Ranged against them are the anti-religious campaigners who take them at their word and treat them as the only true Christians, but reach the opposite conclusion that all religious belief is anti-scientific, anti-rational and based on unjustifiable dogmas.

These two groups are in many ways mirror images of each other. They are both committed to that late 19th century positivism which makes a sharp distinction between facts, known as absolute certainty, and on the other hand, beliefs and faith.

… Finally, these two groups are equally committed to discounting all the religious believers who accept evolution and all the scientists who believe in God.

… We need to reaffirm the value of science not just in order to produce new technologies, but so that we may appreciate and explore the richness of the world around us, how we ought to relate to it, what is the point of all this life, and who if anyone gave us that point.

It is important to see how Clatworthy points out how the two extremes are actually only two side of the same coin. The creationists and the anti-religious evolutionists are the same, except for the fact that they support opposing teams. With regard to the anti-religious campaigners, John Haught makes the interesting observation that they play the role of “cryptotheologians… They may think they are moving beyond theology; but by placing a scientific account in a place previously held by theology, they reveal that they too are still theologians at heart.” Conor Cunningham states that to see religion as a failed attempt at explaining the world is akin to, in the words of Terry Eagleton, “seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for the bus.” They are not the same thing. It’s like comparing apples and pears.

Haught goes on in the same vein to say that:

 If science and theology are supposed to be addressing entirely different sets of questions, it makes no sense that one has defeated the other. … By trading in theology directly for science, many evolutionists today are also making another kind of blunder, the underside of the first. They are assuming that theology has for centuries been nothing more than a primitive attempt to do science in a prescientific age, and that it must now give way to a more reliable kind of science, especially Darwinian biology.  Here again the fundamental assumption is that science and theology are playing the same game, trying to provide information about the natural world, and that modern science has proved to be much better at it than traditional theology. This false assumption, one that Dawkins shares with the literalist creationists he loathes, has been the dominant theme in his well-known fulminations against religion. However, by shoving Darwinian explanations into the same explanatory slot that theology had previously inhabited, Dawkins is still assigning evolutionary science the task of being a worldview or a whole new belief system. He is still playing his game in a theological arena, even if he insists that theologians must be disqualified from appearing there.

Here the creationists and ultra-Darwinists again share a common misconception about theology as being a scientific way to understand the world. Both of these camps can be described as fundamentalist. Cunningham points out that one cannot take a fundamentalist position as the representative of a worldview and that “[t]hinking atheism and thinking religion alike must conduct their various discussions in a manner that leaves the vulgar rants of all modes of fundamentalist thinking behind.” He goes on to say that just as creationists make a caricature of evolution in order to refute it, so atheists set up a caricature of religion. Religion is often seen in very reductionist terms, e.g. As something that was once useful in the evolution of homo sapiens, but which can, and ought to be discarded. Wentzel van Huyssteen states that to see religion simply as a phylogenetic memory, such as the fear of snakes and spiders, is to take a reductionist stance with regard to the human predisposition to religion as well as religious faith itself. To illustrate how science and religion can work together, Cunningham paints a picture of science and religion in terms of lovers:

Such activities of the mind as religion and science can be thought of as lovers – it is their difference that allows for desire while at the same time providing more sense of union. For both converge on the truth, just as both are moved by a desire for the truth. But scientism and religious fundamentalism refuse such enabling difference and produce a world of narcissistic masturbation, for all they see is themselves, so that love for the world is impossible – in fact, there is no world left.


Synthesis of Science and Theology

Molecular biologist Kenneth Miller addressed the perceived dichotomy between reason and faith in the following way (my own emphasis added):

I think that faith and reason are both gifts from God. And if God is real, then faith and reason should complement each other rather than be in conflict. Science is the child of reason. Reason has given us the ability to establish the scientific method to investigate the world around us, and to show that the world and the universe in which we live are far vaster and far more complex and infinitely more wonderful, than anyone could have imagined 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.

Does that mean that scientific reason, by taking some of the mystery out of nature, has taken away faith? I don’t think so. I think by revealing a world which is infinitely more complex and infinitely more varied and creative than we had ever believed before, in a way it deepens our faith and our appreciation for the author of that nature, the author of that physical universe. And to people of faith, that author is God.

Instead of being the enemy of faith, science can be enriching and point out new wonders and new understanding. Daniel J Fairbanks, a Latter Day Saints biologist, states the following:

Those who sincerely seek both scientific and spiritual understanding would do well to abandon the dichotomy. Denying the evidence of evolution, including human evolution, is honest only in ignorance. The incredible diversity of life on Earth, the many fossils unearthed, the varied yet similar anatomical features among species, the obvious hierarchical arrangement of life, and the literally millions of ancestral relics in our DNA – all undeniably attest to our common evolutionary origin with the rest of life. … Indeed, we can find wonder, even comfort, in embracing our biological relationship with all living things. As Darwin understood, ‘[T]here is grandeur in this view of life.

Faith does not requires us to turn a blind eye to the evidence for evolution, but rather the opposite. Rudolph B Brun states that the church should be interested in what science can teach us, because “[w]ithout integrating these insights into its teachings, the church cannot proclaim the Christian message in a credible way today.” The credibility and honesty of those who proclaim Christ are at stake. David Bailey concludes that it is not only futile to fight against science, but that it is also unnecessary. There is no real reason to fight against science as if it is the enemy of religion and theology. Christopher Southgate explains that “theories about the origins of religion, or its neurophysical basis, can never evacuate religious faith of its truth claims. Believers do not offer objective, falsifiable scientific evidence for God, and their claim to the authenticity of their experience of divine revelation cannot be falsified by science.” Brun continues in the same line of thought when he states that “[j]ust as there is no saving plan that can be detected by historical research into the life and death of Jesus Christ, so the history of creation told by science cannot document any plan of a creator.” He also points out three contributions made by science that are essential to a deepening of the Christian faith:

  1. The teleomorphic process of evolution is always the same.
  2. Synthesis never destroys.
  3. Evolution works by integrating diversity into unity.

What these three contributions mean to theology is that the “incarnated Word of God creatively transforms nothingness into creation step by step, letting creation become itself” (Brun). This creative transformation elevates the old into the new by means of the grace of God. The grace of God allows the universe to become, to adapt, to be an entity and an other.

The evolutionary history of religion cannot be denied and can also bring new and deeper insight to theology. According to Wentzel van Huyssteen, religion was an important part in evolution, a catalyst in human consciousness. “Put theologically, this could be seen as a hint that responding to God’s calling helped to form the self-consciousness of the modern human, and hence gave rise to an enhanced potential to respond in self-giving love – ultimately for Christians that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”


In the next blog post we will look at the search for meaning. Is there a teleology in the process of evolution? Human uniqueness will be explored and the notion of meaning. Does evolution make life meaningless and completely arbitrary or is there still some meaning to be found or made?



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

Brun R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

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. 2009. Theology, evolution, and the human mind: How much can biology explain? Zygon 44(4): 921-931.

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

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

Peacocke, A. 1985. Biological evolution and Christian theology – Yesterday and today in Durant, J (ed). Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford:   Basil Blackwell. 101-130

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



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.