Three Reviews of the Crossway Theistic Evolution Book


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

@pnelson, I know you have wanted engagement on this. How can we pick up the conversation? Don’t miss this @jongarvey and @AllenWitmerMiller and @Agauger and @bjmiller.

Robert W. Yarbrough: As far as its biblical and theological coverage, this book must be adjudged a notable success in analyzing what is at stake, and what Scripture and Christian teaching continue to affirm, in the face of an important current debate.
http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/theistic-evolution-a-scientific-philosophical-and-theological-critique

S. Joshua @Swamidass: Still, this book leaves me with a burning question. As a scientist in the church and a Christian in science, I see firsthand the strength of evolutionary science. What version of theistic evolution could be theologically sound? This question, I hope, can be received with empathy by a new generation of theologians. Help us find a better way.
http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/theistic-evolution-a-scientific-philosophical-and-theological-critique-2

David Snokes: Overall, whether or not one agrees with any or all of the book, one must agree that theistic evolution is not an obvious or easy default position for Christians; it has its own strengths and weaknesses, which deserve to be examined under the microscope like any other theological and philosophical position. This book takes that task seriously.
http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/theistic-evolution-a-scientific-philosophical-and-theological-critique1

All three reviews engage this book, the Crossway TE book (for short):


Eddie's Defense of Natural Theology
(Jon Garvey) #2

A few thoughts. First, that in a number of places in the Tome, it was said that the target was “a particular type of theistic evolution”, and if that target was sometimes too wide in the book, it may be partly because in our day TE has been popularised in a particular form far removed from its historical roots in, say, B B Warfield, Asa Gray or even Alfred Russel Wallace.

Part of the characteristic of this form is its refusal to stand up and be a particular target, which I put down, in the end, to intellectual cowardice, I’m afraid.

At the beginning of the BioLogos era, there was, in fact, a strong and fairly specific emphasis on theologically “unusual” views of creation arising (intellectually) from the Divine Action Project and the ASA discussion boards. This embraced various forms of openness theology derived partly from panentheism, and partly from the “Evangelical” vogue for Open Theism, applied to nature in terms of a God who “let nature create itself”. Names associated with include Ken Miller, John Polkinghorne, Howard van Till, Peter Enns, Karl Giberson and others.

The Tome targets some of these views theologically and philosophically, but critics have replied that times have moved on and many ECs don’t have that kind of view. The trouble is that their organisations have not repudiated, or rationally countered, those approaches, and still support most of its proponents.

The current more historically “orthodox” brand of TE seems, to me, to avoid any possibility of incoherence in its position by praising its lack of explanatory power as a theological virtue, often citing “mystery”, or “humility”, or “paradox”, when a little close examination reveals it’s simply the juxtaposition of incompatible ideas.

And so “creation” is affirmed - but left so vague in its scope that it is quite unclear even what God created, since there are still many discussions about “poor design”, “chance” showing evolution to be a “fully natural process” and so on.

The fallacious “God of the Gaps fallacy” is frequently wielded to exclude design, but in direct contradiction to allow creation (what does that even mean?), failing to realise that the argument also excludes the resurrection or any personal experience of God, and endorses the most rigid scientism.

Much work is done, then, to show that science shows nature to be a fully enclosed self-sufficient system (as in Van Till’s “Robust Formational Economy Principle”), and yet to include a now fully-redundant creator God only by faith, using misconstrued Thomist arguments or “hidden God” theologies to suggest that God must not be intelligibly involved in Creation (contra Scripture and historical theology). The loose ends this leaves are covered by the term “mystery”, couched in terms of humility about seeking to probe God’s secrets - a restriction that does not apply to scientific hubris even about the origin of life or the universe itself.

To cite one celebrated instance, science can show us that there was no historical Adam, and that St Paul was clearly wrong to believe there was; but we cannot possibly dare to know if God intended there to be parrots or carrots in the world.

In reality, all the verbiage disguises the incompatibility between an evolutionary process treated, in practice, as open-ended and unguided (there is no need for telelogical explanations in nature, and they’re unscientific) and an unclearly stated hint that God is so powerful that he can guide a process that he doesn’t guide by any particular means explored over the centuries by theologians.

So, often universal providence is denied (eg by the philosophical voice of BioLogos), occasionalism eschewed, concurrence too spooky to be discussed. The scientific determinism that would, perhaps, allow God to “front-load” the big bang so that everything turns out as he planned is rightly dismissed as Deistic (but also incoherently dismissed as curtailing creation’s “freedom”, whatever that means… actually, it means “afflicted by randomness”, but that’s seldom acknowledged). At the same time, such a blatantly deistic idea of a God who stops acting after the Big Bang is used as an explanation, whilst denying it is deistic, deterministic or implausible given the nature of the universe.

The net result is that the more traditionally orthodox theistic evolutionists seem content to believe that God created all (or some) things wisely (or imperfectly) “through evolution”, whilst evolution is conceived as, in essence, a shotgun. God can do the logically impossible, guiding an unguided process. One outcome of this is that the many atheists appearing on the boards at BioLogos are seldom distinguishable from the believers when discussing Evolutionary Creation, but only when “religious” topics come up.

That’s before one gets to the reformulation of Scripture to conform to such an unformed and self-contradictory account of the world, which the Tome addresses at length but, in my view, too much from what seems a Young Earth and biblically literalist perspective.

In short, one of my main beefs with Evolutionary Creation is that it does not provide a coherent synthesis between theoligical and scientific accounts of the world, and that it doesn’t even care. There is no coherent theory, or group of theories, of “Evolutionary Creation” or “Theistic Evolution”, but only rather circular discourse affirming “Creation/Theism” and “Evolution” separately.

What version of theistic evolution could be theologically sound? Well, that discussion is going on here, and at the Hump of the Camel, and at some other places, amongst those either distancing themselves from the term “theistic evolution” or being suspected by “mainstream” TEs of denying the EC “faith”. The TEs themselves are, instead of rising to the challenge, contemptuously dismissing their critics as, usually, being ignorant of the science and “creationists in a cheap tuxedo.”.


The Divine Action Project
(Guy Coe) #3

The mind can be so senseless as to rip the heart out of reason.
“God of the gaps” becomes the rallying cry of a permanent spiritual malaise due to a naked nimbyism towards having to exercise faith.
At that point, the clownish emperor of a self-vaunted soul definitely has no clothes on.


(T J Runyon) #4

I’d like to add this review as well. By JW Wartick. Smart guy from BIOLA. Check out his entire blog. Good stuff.


(George) #5

@T.j_Runyon,

Wow! You are right!

Wartick gets right to the heart of the matter! … thusly!:

" For whatever reason, this agreed-upon definition of theistic evolution doesn’t actually appear in the introduction that is supposed to define theistic evolution, but that’s just a minor problem of strange oversight. Grudem then cites Francis Collins and Karl Giberson in support of this definition. I don’t have access to the work cited, but the quote is not a definition from the two authors but rather a statement that just says their model doesn’t require “intrusions from the outside” [i.e. as in so-called “intervention” by God] for the creative process…"

"The definition the editors agreed upon for this work, then, has two primary parts: an affirmation and a denial. The affirmation is simple: God created matter.”

“…The second part of the definition is the denial, and it has several components. It essentially boils down to saying that God did not specially intervene in any aspect of the development of life on earth…”

“…Due to the broad diversity among theistic evolutionists, there will be plenty of disagreement with this definition. It is clear the editors needed a working definition, but it is not clear why they chose to use this rather than draw more explicitly from major TE definitions used by primary thinkers.”

“Indeed, Biologos, the largest theistic evolutionist organization, provides its own, in depth look at the beliefs that are typical of their position. Among these are:”

“We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.”

[And] “We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes. Therefore, we reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God” [ 2]

The implied conclusion?:

That this massive book attempts to refute Theistic Evolution by attacking the one definition of Theistic Evolution specifically REJECTED by the largest Theistic Evolutionist group in the world!

Whether this is best described as the Red Herring approach, or the Straw Man approach, it is no wonder the ID crowd doesn’t earn any high marks with this book!


(Guy Coe) #6

And thus, another potential hurdle on the road to mutual understanding… although possibly meant to be an attempt at promoting it. Sounds like the thesis and organization of the book is a bit confused from the start.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #7

5 posts were split to a new topic: Eddie’s Response to Review of Crossway TE


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #9

You cannot possibly be referring to me here. At what point do you start to put forward that BioLogos is not the only important Mecca for TE anymore? There also is Peaceful Science.

Of course I am guilty of both “sins”. Let my confession be widely known. I admit I deny the EC faith. I am a Chistian who affirms evolutionary science, not a TE. I want a better way.


Adventures in New Places —Ann Gauger on the Dabar Conference
(Jon Garvey) #10

I happen to have a blindfold with me - just stand against the wall…:grinning:

“Part of the characteristic of this form…”


(Guy Coe) #11

BTW, it is not publicized much, but there are many, many other flavors of ID proponents. For example, in the afterdiscussions of two separate ID events now, I have been approached by those who feel free to speak about and pass out copies of The Urantia Book, e.g., and particularly that group’s version of the NT and its teachings on Jesus. I was handed a free copy. It’s rather bizarre, to say the least.
There are alien intelligence and alien civilization colonization advocates – just about anything besides God that can be imagined as a “designing intelligence” has found in this tent a comfortable home, with strange bedfellows.
This keeps the ID speakers presenting their tenets in the broadest of terms, believe me. I made the comment once that followers of Hoyle’s “directed panspermia” should find a friendly home among ID advocates, and was met with delight by some rather odd-looking fellows (I blended right in).
All that to say, that the popular notion that the ID movement only consists of sneaky creationist theists trying to keep a back door open in the scientific research is an wholly inadequate notion, at the membership level. It is a much bigger tent, in practice, than the book identifies in theory.
Thought you all might find that interesting. I, in fact, do support them in looking for, and elucidating the science of, the “something extra” needed beyond mere materialism to account for OOL, the origin of humankind, the development of human consciousness and language, sociability and the, apparently, “hardwired” impulse towards spiritual or religious values.


(Charles Edward Miller) #12

It sounds like you accept the Christian faith and an evolutionary process; however, TE and EC are being rejected. Is it because that BioLogos leans toward a liberal TE or perhaps Deistic Evolution. I find your Peaceful Science quite conservative and I feel comfortable with that. Biologos is rather unfriendly to me since I accept a conservative faith in the church. Is that your feeling too?


(George) #13

A great quote from the reviewer!:

“My point then, is that this book, while giving good coverage of part of the ID movement, does not represent all of ID, and does not represent the official position of the Discovery Institute, which is non-committal on the question of evolution, i.e., descent with modification of all living forms from earlier forms. I don’t think that Joshua will object to my qualification, and so this isn’t a point of dispute between us (I hope!), but is offered merely as something that readers of Joshua’s review (and of the Crossway book) need to know.”


(Kenneth Turner) #14

It has always troubled me when ID (or YEC, OEC) use the TE wiithout always clarifying what their real target is to those who don’t know the details or don’t investigate too deeply.

I am sympathetic to your critique here. Still it would’ve been far better if the editors sent BioLogos their summary definition of TE to see if it is accurate. But BioLogos, as you know, thinks it’s a straw man. It would’ve been an easy thing to do. Now BL has an easy “out.” it’s a shame, because I too want BioLogos to answer some of the concerns you raise.

Yep, that’s my assessment too. I did like some of the philosophical discussions about the nature of science and methodological naturalism. But the biblical and theological stuff was disappointing overall.

The lack of care on definition I noted above is why I fear this excellent question is not getting enough attention more widely. I think the posture of the Crossway book prevents this discussion, rather than encouraging it.


BioLogos and the Crossway TE Book
(Kenneth Turner) #15

I know that one of the authors (I’ll leave unnamed) said he wouldn’t have participated if he knew what the final result was going to be.


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #16

Guy, thank you for this insight. I equated ID = DI which is not the case. ID can extend far beyond the realm of the three Abrahamic religions. I didn’t realize that until you mentioned it. As an atheist working on keeping religion out of science education, I now have to work on keeping the “ancient alien” crowd out also.


(Guy Coe) #17

May I suggest you work even harder at keeping the Urantia Book crowd at bay? There are faiths that teach peace as a virtue, and others that do not. It is not benign to surrender yourself over to possession by a spirit being, channeling information that is the equivalent to making oneself out to be a god. Too many of those in one room, and someone might not make it out alive. Just as odd was my encounter with two modern druids, who tried to frighten me, but I told them they had no power over me, so I said not to bother trying. The druids, however, were not at an ID event. Usually, those draw nice polite crowds with unpredictably fascinating reasons for being there.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #18

3 posts were split to a new topic: Scientology? Really?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #22

7 posts were split to a new topic: How Should Scientists, Theologians and Philosophers Interact?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #23

A post was merged into an existing topic: Eddie’s Defense of Natural Theology


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #24

@dga471 our friend @eddie makes his response over here: Eddie's Defense of Natural Theology.