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

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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?

 

Sources:

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.

 

 

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

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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.”

 

Sources:

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.