Daniel Deen: Thank God for Evolution

One of our unofficial resident scholars, @Philosurfer, just published an article of high relevance to us.

The atheist philosopher Mike Ruse was one of Daniel’s PhD mentors, and the same intellectual empathy shines through both their work as we see in @Randal_Rauser. We have been privileged to have him here as a regular contributor, even though the LCMS denomination has a “complicated” relationship with evolution. Recently we hosted an Office Hours with him where he explains why they expose high schools students in their denomination evolution and the reality of racial injustice.

This puts into practice the encouragement of Sean McDowell:

In this article, @Philosurfer writes to an audience that largely rejects evolution, explaining the common ground between orthodox theology, evolutionary science, and questions of justice: a robust engagement with history.

Evolutionary theory is committed to a robust sense of history. What I mean by this statement is that evolutionary theory is devoted to a real and knowable history. History is not some sort of construct or ideologically infused entity (e.g., Hegel, Marx, Kant, Kierkegaard etc.). The evolutionary biologist is committed to sifting solid historical evidence in order to make claims about common descent. The Christian may be troubled with a concept such as common descent, but this unease should not overshadow the powerful ally we might have in the methodological presuppositions of the evolutionary biologist in committing to a knowable and true history.

Think about a paleontologist as he attempts to ascertain the cause of the great dinosaur extinction. The scientist must reconstruct as accurate a picture of history as possible, weighing the evidence of certain scenarios against each other. How different is this when one investigates the nature of the resurrection. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Did somebody steal the body? Did Jesus really die on the cross? These questions are addressed in the same fashion as the paleontologist.

The same is true in engaging injustice. To understand it, we have to understand history. Perhaps more importantly, is the key failure of science. Science helps us understand how we got here, but to contains within itself no imperative to be good.

Bournes juxtaposing two intellectual tensions throughout the poem. First is the vivid illustration of the failures of evolutionary science to overcome human depravity. Nothing in the science requires a higher moral standard.

Here, Bournes is just echoing Martin Luther King Jr, who was assinated exactly 50 years ago:

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress.

While technology and science are bringing us progress at an increasing rate, we need to pause and listing to MLK again. History, including historical science, can tell us something of who we are. Science, however, cannot make us good. How will we make that sort of progress too?

This is the strange place that we find ourselves (me and @Philosurfer both) wondering together about theology, science, and injustice, about Adam, Evolution and Race.


Can someone without moderator privileges try posting here? I want to be sure permissions are set right.

Testing 1, 2,3

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I think everyone is scared to post on Public Square posts. I’m not sure why no one has engages them…

The post also has that apologetic emphasis to it that is NOT the goal of PeacefulScience. So I am not really offended if people do not engage with it. Thanks for sharing it though Josh!

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I think even atheists should appreciate your effort here to deweaponize evolution in your context. Thank you.

15 posts were split to a new topic: New Language for EC?

The problem for any Positive apologetics using evolution is the philosophical baggage that it drags along. Not to mention a kind of authoritarianism that i am not convinced Science as a stream deserves when making historical claims.
Are evolutionary depictions of history Robust and accurate? When we compare christian claims of the historical truth of the resurrection vis a vis Evolutionary claims with respect to history, there is a stark difference between the quality of the claims.
Christian claims are related to absolute Truths with a capital T.
Evolutionary claims about history depend on things like inductive reasoning, materialist assumptions,parsimony,statistics, Bayesian probability etc. These need not be factually true. For example, the evolutionary claim is not that Dinosaurs existed at the particular time in history. Its that Dinosaurs evolved from earlier species. The claim is the tree of life for Dinosaurs… That’s far from being a Truth claim with an absolute T.
Its the kind of reasoning that is problematic. If we reason using the historical facts of Jesus Resssurrection using the same methodology used in the evolutionary science. The one conclusion that is impossible to come to… is the Resurrection.

So in real life, it becomes important to deny perceived truth claims of evolution. (with a capital T)… involving the power of Epicurean chance + time. And evaluate a larger implied claim of some scientists, that questions of origins can be answered in a satisfactory manner using the scientific method. The questions people ask are often orthogonal to the answers scientists give… yet somehow, the philosophy that gives meaning to the"scientific answers" is ofte not scrutinized.

Bigger Questions i find myself asking are -
is something true just because a Peer reviewed paper claims it is?
How trust worthy is “established science” in historical matters?
How trust worthy are scientists when they make public claims about reality?
To what extent do philosophical assumptions create a bias in scientific conclusions?
Are claims that are presented as a result of the scientific method actually the result of the scientific method?
To what extent is the current Scientific consensus the result of reproducible science?

End of the day, i am yet to see a theological view that completely accepts the claims of evolutionary science that does not downgrade the inerrancy of scripture or cut God down to Size from the glorious creator we see in the bible to an invisible undetectable diety. And if one downsizes God, One Downsizes Jesus also.

@Philosurfer I’ve been really impressed by how you have wisely been handling the push back here. In particular, I think this is an important quote.

“But it is quite clear that they [early post-Reformation theologians] did not believe Scripture with its definite theological aim presented any unified world picture. And it is clear that they did not consider it incumbent upon them to favor or reject on theological grounds any of the cosmological hypotheses of their day.
–Robert D. Preus

This seems to contrast strongly with, for example, @jongarvey, but I tend to agree.

@Philosurfer, how would you answer this?

With that quote in mind, it seems that while origins are important to our theology, cosmology might be not be nearly as important. I’m inclined to agree. These are linked concepts, but also (as we see in a Genealogical Adam), can be separated.

I disagree. I grant that the blog post is too simple to develop carefully the similarities between various reasoning strategies in evolutionary biology and, say, biblical archeology. However, I think they are different in degree, not kind. Check out Timothy McGrew’s paper in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology entitled, “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” PM me and I can share the chapter with you.

It isn’t the Bayesian framework that I am too terribly interested in, but that a cumulative case or a consilience of inductions or an inference to the best explanation is developed for the resurrection. How is this methodologically neutral approach any different than when a paleontologist begins discussing what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? Philosopher Carol Cleland has done some interesting work on historical explanation in the sciences.

Yep, I totally agree. And your “Bigger Questions” are great ones to discuss. But, in relation to my blog post, it would seem that those questions are going to put one down the slope of negative apologetics as you attempt to get a biologist or whoever to question the foundation and/or rationality of scientific beliefs. And here is the rub, are you willing to allow your interlocutor to raise those very same questions, slightly modified, for Christian beliefs?

For example:
Is something true just because the Bible claims it is?
How trust worthy is “established theology” in historical matters?
How trust worthy are theologians when they make public claims about reality?
To what extent do philosophical assumptions create bias in theological conclusions?
Are claims that are presented as a result of theological method actually the result of theological method?
To what extent is the current theological consensus the result of reproducible science?

If you are willing to admit these questions, then how would one decide whether science or theology gives the better answers?

I agree with this sentiment. In fact, we have seen @swamidass struggle with this on this very site! However, and I realize that this is distinctly Lutheran, but I can’t follow the downsize God, downsize Jesus. A Lutheran would say downsize Jesus and you downsize (or better, outright lose) God. Does evolutionary theory downsize Jesus? I do not think so, and to some extent that was the thrust of my blog post.

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I resist the claim that my affirmation of evolution downsizes Jesus. This appears to be a grand misreading of my position of it is my position that is included here.

However I do not accept that evolutionary science is the whole story. Perhaps you are not referring then to me.

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Yeah, the baggage is really hard to sort through and really makes any sort of genuine conversation difficult. I have recently learned of how deep some of that baggage runs when discussing my post among my own tribe. However, the problem is universal to any public discussion of a topic sensitive or not-sensitive. Look at how many conversations on this forum have had to slow down and rework redefine the Darwinism vs Neutral Evolution concepts for us all. I’ll grant that the baggage tends to get a bit more emotional in the public realm during a conversation about science/religion in an apologetic context, but one must continue to converse in the conversations we find ourselves in and continually “come to terms” with each other. That seems key to start sorting through the baggage. But, I will admit that it is exhausting, mentally taxing work.

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You missed my point entirely. The reasoning behind evolution is an assumption of natural causes and an outright rejection of any supernatural event. So the “inference to the best explanation” would be anything tat explains the facts best without resorting to a supernatural explanation.

Neither give the best answers. In the end of the day, belief in a the bible must be consequent to belief in Jesus. Making the case that God exists and must be sought is important. Origins and history all connect to this. As paul said in Acts 17,
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
If people are not convinced that God made the world and all in it and , and all human beings… Why would they seek him?
As to Jesus, the first evidence i put forward is my experience of him, i.e my testimony. We are not called to prove anything, we are called to witness to what we have experienced.
This is the crux of apologetics as i see it. All the philosophy, theology,science etc are just to prepare the listener to hear a personal testimony. Whether of the apostles themselves, or our own… Maybe both.

Jesus is the second person of the Trinity through whom and for whom all things are created. He sustains all things by his powerful word.
So if you downsize God’s role as creator, you downsize Jesus… because He is the creator.
End of the day, nature witnesses to a creator… calling all people to seek him. And the one to be found is Jesus.Evolutionary theory calls that witness, an “appearance of witness” that can be the result of random chance + time. (I am sure people will object to this. But cut through all the semantics, this is the bare bones claim of the Science)
In short, the Triune God is one. Our concept of God applies as much to Jesus as it applies to the father or the Holy Spirit.

I’m not aware either that I’ve ever said post-Reformation theologians did favour or reject any cosmological hypotheses on theological grounds, or that I’ve advocated doing so myself.

What I have done is, in the past, show how theological presumptions generated particular hypotheses, and more recently, suggested that the theology of nature that arose at the time of Bacon is inadequate to deal with the phenomena of nature that now interest us, including the questions of origins that preoccupy us in a way that they didn’t past generations.

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But “downgrade” is a very subjective term. It is commonly used to refer to scales (downgrading a credit rating from A+ to A, for instance) but in this sense I’m reading it as “not as it ought to be”. That’s fine, but it makes it more opinion than authoritative, it seems to me.

The evolutionary biologists I interact with regularly would certainly not say that they believe in a small or impotent God. I think they might say, more often than other Christians might, that the way God seems to interact with the world is primarily through the natural process He created. They often see this idea of God usually working “through nature, rather than overriding nature” as God being “bigger” to them than if He were to use a constant de novo creation. I think they simply reject the idea that a God who built a universe that can produce humans through evolutionary means is necessarily less than a God that can simply de novo speak humanity into existence.

I think you have a better case on inerrancy, but that is such an ill-defined (or at least, hard to implement) term that I’m not sure if it’s that meaningful.


Okay, this is a good point. I agree that the reasoning behind evolution to a scientist qua scientist will reject the supernatural. In the same way that a theologian qua theologian will reject materialism. The JAMA article on the death of Christ made no mention of God’s action in the world, but gave a medical description of what happened. A theological description would include more supernatural action such as God forsaking his Son. However, when these two people remove themselves from the laboratory and the office, they are speaking in a new context (a public context) that is neither the lab nor the theologian’s office. At this point, methodological similarities between scientist and theologian in how they operate epistemologically is speaking in a language that a scientist understands (Col. 4:5).

I trust Jesus’ experience more than my own…

but this is true in the sense that building relationship is important to keep a conversation going through time.

I agree, but there is an ordering that Scripture seems to reveal in how we approach or understand the different aspects of the Trinity – I’ll defend a Christocentricity where Christ is the norm in Scripture. This means, my epistemic foundation is always in and through Jesus. The Spirit works in me on account of Christ and for the sake of Christ, and it is in and through Christ that I know the Father.” Thus, you are correct that diminishing God, would diminish Christ. The only way I’d know God was actually diminished would be through the loss/diminishing of Jesus.


Precisely, and it is the adoption of this reasoning behind evolution that allows people to ignore the evidence for Jesus resurrection. In such a mindset, resurrection is not a possibility to be considered and the incompleteness of any natural explanation is explained by gaps in our understanding of the history.So, its important to point out that evolution is the inference to the best explanation, provided there is no God acting in the universe.
Since God exists, evolution is not the “inference to the best explanation” in all cases.

Doesnt make any difference. You haven’t experienced “Jesus Experience”. Our belief in him is a product of the holy Spirit working in us to convict us of his reality.Hence every argument/witness is content for the Spirit to work with. Without Grace, no one will believe any way. The Gospel itself is a means of grace.

Do you actually think that diminishing the “supernatural” work of God will not diminish the fact of the resurrection or any of Jesus miracles? I also adopt a christocentricity where christ is the norm in scripture. And Christ is involved in creation. All things are created through him. apart from him nothing was created. If you want to see whether Christ is diminished, just approach the gospels with the same “zeitgeist” behind evolution.
In a certain sense using the word “natural” itself is wrong. Everything is from God. when we think of the “natural” as something that could exist of its own apart from God, we are in serious error. And this is a very clear risk with evolution. The idea that nature can create itself given enough time, props up nature as an alternate creator.
There is only one I AM… in whom and from whom all of us have our being.

Except that when they explain exactly how this happens, God is behind the curtains. Hidden so that no one can detect a trace of his actions. So much so that, all life could be explained equally well whether there is a God or not. This is because the xplanation does not require Gods wisdom or power… All that is hidden behind contingency and “stochastic processes”.
IMHO they mostly over estimate the “explanatory power” of evolution.
Edit: This might be a good way fro scientist to approach biology. Its not a good way fro theologians to approach creation.

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He is necessarily less because he failed in his Objective. If the objective of god was to create life and ultimately humans through purely natural processes, then he failed when Adam fell. Post that he is been busy interfering in human history to the extent of incarnating as a man to redeem humanity and His creation.
This view of God fails as soon as it comes into contact with any of the content of the bible. Leading to tendencies to re-interpret everything written in it.

I feel like that is a statement of (reasoned) opinion and not necessarily or even logical true. If God’s purpose was a universe that could “create” on its own, that could develop to the point of being capable of loving and engaging with Him, and where at some point beings could freely choose to depend/follow/love Him, I don’t consider that a failure or a “lesser” God.


I just don’t buy this. Most scientists have determined that “evolution is the inference to the best explanation” regardless of if there is or is not a God acting in the universe.

They are only saying that science doesn’t (and may not, because of it’s particular set of questions and methods) detect a trace of his actions, not that “no one” can. It seems as if you agree with the metaphysical naturalists that science is the only way to determine truth, you just disagree on whether God has been detected. Many of us see more than one way to get at truth (which is one reason why we have historians, philosophers, and theologians) so it isn’t making God less to say that science can’t peek “behind the curtain”.

Science doesn’t have much of anything to say about the Resurrection. I think it’s universally agreed upon (including by the Bible) that dead people stay dead … unless something miraculous happens, and science just can’t say much about it. That’s not the fault of science or scientists, and it certainly doesn’t say anything about the authority of the Bible or the existence of God.