Do Christians Need to Reconcile Evolutionary Theory and Doctrines of Divine Providence and Creation?

Rather than ask, “Can we reconcile orthodox evolutionary theory with orthodox theological commitments?”, I ask: “Should we?”

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Nothing new here. Meyer just trots out his old claims. And he actually cites Susan Mazur as an authority.

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Indeed. I was annoyed at Stephen Meyer’s Susan Mazur excursus.

[The sound engineering of the ETS session was not top-flight and so I struggled to hear some portions of the audio recording. Accordingly, during the interaction Q&A portion of the session I wasn’t always clear as to who was speaking—but I’m reasonably confident I could identify William Lane Craig and Stephen Meyer in their exchanges.]

And while the other respondents were actually addressing the session topic, “Can We Reconcile Evolutionary Theory and Doctrines of Divine Providence and Creation?”, Meyer simply fell back on his PRATT list of “evolution is a theory in crisis” tropes. It sounded like he was simply playing to his own constituency rather than taking advantage of a prime opportunity to engage the broader academic community at ETS.

Worse yet, he had the audacity to complain that the other speakers in the session had failed even to mention a single body of evidence and argument supporting the theory of evolution and to challenge his complaints against the TOE. At that point I heard William Lane Craig challenge him with the obvious and simple explanation which I will paraphrase as: Of course not. That is not the purpose of this session. The question is about the potential reconciliation of evolutionary theory and doctrines of creation!

Meyer’s rebuttal to Craig seemed to me evasive, lame, and illogical. It sounded like he basically said that there was no point in reconciling evolutionary theory and Christian doctrines of creation at all when the theory of evolution is such bad science. He basically ignored the discussion points raised by the other speakers. I guess he came to deliver a lecture to his fans and wouldn’t relent until all of the world’s evolution-affirming scientists and theologians repent of their foolish idea.

Again, the sound engineering quality of my audio file was not great so please correct me if I have at all misrepresented the conference session.


I’m really not sure what use the broader academic community would have for Meyer, anyway.


In a sort of awkward bass-ackwards way, Meyer has hit upon the very point which makes the Theistic Evolution volume so completely irrelevant to any thinking person.

If indeed the first question, before attempting to reconcile a scientific body of knowledge with one’s paranormal beliefs, is whether that scientific body of knowledge accurately describes the world, then indeed, if evolutionary theory were in crisis, there’d be little point in figuring out how to fit it into one’s schema of the paranormal. There’s really no need to figure out how you accommodate the plainly false, or the eminently disputable, in any such way.

Of course, that’s not the case, but he has got the order of operations right. The first question is always, and unavoidably, one of science: one’s paranormal beliefs CANNOT be true if they conflict in any way with ascertainable reality.

Now, anyone is free to dump on “theistic evolution” all he likes. But the problem with that is that there’s only one piece of it that’s movable in the slightest. “Evolution” isn’t going away. The “theistic” part, however, might be shifted very easily if people are going to hold to the view that their paranormal beliefs REQUIRE the falsity of evolution. Such a set of beliefs cannot be true.

So what we really have is a man, and a whole volume of some of the most useless essays, bent on destroying any way in which these paranormal beliefs can be squared with reality. Usually when I see that sort of thing, the proponent of it is an atheist; but I am sure atheists are grateful for the aid given to their cause, from whatever source. The options are evolution with theism, and evolution without theism, and if Meyer et al. want to contend that the first is untenable, well, I think that as a matter of reasoning they are wrong, but I’m not reluctant to accept the offer.


The real question is why evolution is singled out. The larger question seems to be how Christians can reconcile our scientific understanding of nature with Christian doctrines. We could just as easily be talking about theistic quantum mechanics or theistic thermodynamics. If the theist already accepts that God can act through natural processes as described by our scientific theories, then there is already a path for theistic evolution.


I’ve often wondered about this. For instance, the data on geology is just as robust and, in a manner of speaking, there for us all to see. And though geology doesn’t quite have the same impact on “creation”, the age of the earth and the deep time required for evolution go hand in hand. Of course, there’s always the concern that the entire community of geologists (and astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, etc) are fudging the numbers.


My suspicion is that the reason is that evolution contains human evolution, and thus evokes a more personal, visceral “I’m not descended from no monkey” response. Geology is more impersonal and so does not elicit such a response…


Very much so, I think. In fact, I think sometimes that people have less of a problem with being descended from fish than they do with being descended from monkeys. The latter is too close, too visible, too personal. I watched the video of that recent panel discussion with Joshua Swamidass and I really noticed the uncomfortable way the host sort of choked when she would say “hominid” or “hominoid,” both terms which, one had the feeling, she felt referred to something dark and horrid and very other. Of course, we are those things, and that would perhaps horrify her more.

It reminds me of two funny things. One was Mike Huckabee saying he didn’t think he was descended from a primate, and Ken Miller pointing out, on a separate occasion some time later, that not only is Mike Huckabee himself a primate, but that his mother is certainly also a primate. The other was the time that Bill O’Reilly got tremendously incensed over someone having had the audacity to call the Pope a “primate.” Somehow, years of membership in the Roman Catholic church had failed to deliver the multiple meanings of the word “primate” to O’Reilly, including the one which roughly equates to “bishop.”


This appears to me to be a much more logical (as if that matters) strategy to pursue. Singling out evolutionary biology’s conflict with an interpretation of Genesis by a minority of Christians makes no sense as theology. It can only be derived through politics.


I think there’s again a distance and personal/impersonal divide there. Monkeys bear sufficient resemblance to humans to make some people uncomfortable about the obvious similarities. Fish are sufficiently dissimilar that it can be viewed at an intellectual rather than visceral level.

It may be a bit like the difference between having a criminal for a parent (embarrassing) versus having an infamous pirate for an ancestor (just a bit of color to the family tree).


That really is a splendid analogy.


The Bible says that God brings rain, so do we call someone a theistic meteorologist because they accept the reality of natural processes that produce rain?


And in a similar way to how we can do historical inference in geology by explaining rock formations, continents and so on with observed mechanisms and physical forces, e.g. pressure, molten rock cooled and solidified etc - we do the same in biology where we explain gene sequences and biodiversity with observed mechanisms. These gene sequences(and species) evolved from a common ancestor by this series of mutations subject to drift, selection, recombination etc.

For any particular rock formation or geological feature we have to invoke some complex long series of events involving erosion from wind and flowing water, sedimentary deposition und so weiter. Analogously for any particular organism, or a particular genetic locus, some long series of mutations culminated in what we observe in the present.

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This is certainly part of it. But it’s also that more theological implications hang on human origins (e.g., the historicity of Adam and the fall) than does the age of the earth (e.g., Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15). (And Genesis 2-3 doesn’t have the same amount of poetic markers as Genesis 1.) This is why GAE (and other models) serve an apologetic purpose to woo some into the tent.


Yes, but I think the rejection of descent from (other) primates is the more primal, and thus more obdurate, response. This can be seen from Puck’s comment:

It can also be seen in the fact that people would typically phrase their objection to being descended from monkeys, rather than insisting on being descended from Adam.

As long as such primal aversions are in play, I think theological/intellectual attempts to win people over will be less successful than their advocates might hope. I would also (based on some things I’ve read, but cannot immediately put my hand on) suspect that this aversion may be stronger in more conservative Christians.


There is another side to this, should scientists defend evolutionary theory again religious doctrine or beliefs? The answer is “no”, because science requires testable hypotheses and material evidence which religion simply does not have. Far too often I see people rushing in to defend science against non-scientific claims, which can only lead to endless argument (and often does).

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Dan, I think you may need to clarify your point, as I (for one) am not following what point you’re trying to make.

Also, I would point out that lack of “testable hypotheses and material evidence which religion simply does not have” does not necessarily stop religious people from making empirical claims that can, at least potentially, be subjected to empirical testing.


If there is an empirical claim, then full speed ahead. What I mean is that many claims from YEC or ID are vague, ill-defined, and not at all testable or falsifiable. Far too often I see people rush to defend evolution when there is no testable claim to counter, and this is wrong. There are several good reasons not to take the bait for these claims. One is that with no defined claim the other person is free to move the goalposts. Another is the defender is volunteering to present a lot of information is a generally unwilling audience, which is a lot of effort and time to no good result…

The right way to respond is to wait patiently, asking questions and drawing them out until they make a solid empirical claim. THEN you hit them with evidence and make them defend their own claims, rather than defending science against a meaningless claim.

I’m pretty sure all of us have made this mistake. I see others make it frequently. I still make it sometimes myself, because it can be hard to avoid. Some of those IDC folks are experts at baiting people into the wrong argument, and we need to be better at recognizing this tactic and avoiding it.