By Bayard Taylor
What should a Christian believe about God and creation?
Some Christians hold firmly to one view, but not all Christians agree about which view is correct. Some have rejected God or the Bible as they’ve studied the science surrounding creation theories. And others, confused by the controversies, just try to avoid the subject.
Here, adapted from Bayard Taylor’s book, is a survey of five main creation views, with arguments for or against each of them.
Part 2: Design & Evolution
Enter up the center aisle: Intelligent Design (ID). The Intelligent Design movement is a restatement, in modern terminology, of a very old argument for God, the teleological argument—which means argument from design or purpose.
Psalm 19 uses a form of this argument as it begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, New King James Version). Similarly, the apostle Paul uses a form of this argument in Romans 1:18-20. Verse 20 says, in part, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (NKJV).
In Christian history, some form of Intelligent Design has often cropped up in philosophical theology. In the fourth century, Augustine used it in The City of God.17 In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) employed it as his fifth argument for the existence of God.18 And at the start of the 19th century, William Paley took the best of biological science available at the time and argued for God’s existence in what would be his last book, Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802).19 Paley’s book was required reading for all Cambridge undergraduates (including Charles Darwin) for nearly 50 years after Paley’s death.20 Here’s a sample of Paley’s famous watchmaker argument:
Imagine yourself walking on a beach. If you stub your toe on a stone, you’ll likely imagine that it happened there by purely natural processes. However, if you come across a watch, you’ll likely realize that the watch, different from the stone, could not have occurred by accident, but was a mechanical device carefully designed to keep time. If we turn our gaze toward Nature and observe aspects of biology such as the eye, which is much more complex than a watch, we’ll understand that an Intelligence (who is God) must be behind such marvels.21
The argument for God from design will always have a powerful, persuasive force.
The contemporary Intelligent Design movement is defined by the phrase “irreducible complexity in biological systems.” Michael J. Behe, a leading proponent of this view and author of Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996), likes to use the metaphor of the mousetrap. All the parts of the trap must be assembled in order for the thing to catch mice; if any one part is missing or improperly assembled, the gadget is useless.
Similarly, the human eye, the clotting of blood, and bacterial flagellum (the molecular motor and tail that enable bacterial cells to move) all exhibit irreducible complexity. ID says these incredibly complex biological systems could not have occurred gradually, that they must have happened all at once. Therefore, ID proponents point to an intelligent designer.
Intelligent Design followers prefer to present their viewpoint more as science and less as philosophy or theology. Here’s how Behe, a Roman Catholic, professor at Lehigh University, and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute22 put it in an interview for a Time magazine cover story:
We were taught in parochial school that Darwin’s theory was the best guess at how God could have made life. I’m still not against Darwinian evolution on theological grounds. I’m against it on scientific grounds. I think God could have made life using apparently random mutation and natural selection. But my reading of the scientific evidence is that he did not do it that way, that there was a more active guiding.23
To its advocates, Intelligent Design is a wedge that pries apart the worldview of naturalism from the practice of science.24 The hope is that Intelligent Design can scientifically demonstrate the existence of God, challenge the deficiencies within Darwinism, and unmask naturalism as an anti-God worldview.
If Old Earth Creationism’s “biblical literalism” takes a step away from Young Earth Creationism’s “strict biblical literalism,” Intelligent Design takes a few steps more. Like Old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design is comfortable with the Big Bang and a universe that is 15 billion to 20 billion years old. Unlike Young Earth and Old Earth, many Intelligent Design proponents would be comfortable allowing the Genesis 1 creation accounts to speak more poetically and less literally.
Intelligent Design’s reasons for rejecting Darwin flow with the Young Earth and Old Earth assertions that macroevolution is only a theory; with the assertions that transitional fossils can’t be found; and with the second law of thermodynamics ruling out increasing complexity in a closed system. Plus, all three say you can’t fit evolution into the creation-fall-redemption narrative of Scripture.
Other pioneers of the Intelligent Design movement are University of California-Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial (1991), Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (1997), and The Wedge of Truth (2002); and William Dembski, research professor of philosophy and author of Intelligent Design (2002), The Design Revolution (2004), and The Design Inference (2006).
Two significant institutions that promote Intelligent Design worldwide are Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in Seattle, Washington, and Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas.25
Theistic Evolution: Chimps, Ahoy!26
Enter stage middle-left: Theistic Evolution (TE). I’m not particularly thrilled about this name because, left undefined, theistic could refer to Baal, the storm-god of the ancient Canaanites; Molech, the child-eater of the biblical Ammonites; the unfeeling “first cause” and “unmoved mover” of the philosophers; the insincere, philandering Zeus of the Greeks; the Allah of Osama bin Laden; there-are-many-gods polytheism; pantheism (in which everything is viewed as god); or even make-yourself-a-god of the New Age spiritualities. All this creates a confusing disharmony of voices that detracts from the beauty and uniqueness of the God of the Bible.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a better name, and the term is commonly used. So when I use Theistic Evolution I’m referring to an evolution that involves not just any god or gods but the one true God, creator of the universe, who first revealed himself as Lord God (Yahweh Adonai) to the Jewish people and to Christians as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (the Trinity).
Theistic Evolution is the belief that God created the universe in such a way that macroevolution happened. As Howard Van Till, a proponent of this view and physics and astronomy professor at Calvin College, says, creation was fully and “optimally equipped”27 with all the potential needed to yield the richness, diversity, and complexity of life-forms and life-systems that we see today.
Theistic Evolution is not new. When Darwin’s theory first came out, it caused tremendous controversy. Some saw it as a great threat. Others incorporated evolution into their theology. Still others took a wait-and-see attitude.28
Early on, Catholics divided along similar lines. After a century and a half of hashing things out, Theistic Evolution has won some measure of acceptance. In his 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, titled “On Evolution,” Pope John Paul II said:
Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of [two earlier papal documents, one of which left some room for the possibility of Darwinian evolution], some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.29
“More than an hypothesis” was John Paul II’s carefully worded way of saying that so long as God’s providence was understood to be over evolution, evolution itself did not contradict Christian teachings. He was saying that it’s possible to believe in the truth of the meaning of Genesis, the dignity and value of human beings created in the image of God, and in mainstream science, all at the same time. You don’t have to make an either/or choice between evolution and the Bible.
Theistic Evolution proponents would say that Genesis 1 tells the story of our origins in a way that communicated perfectly well to its original audience, people who lived in a society without the science of today, about 3,500 years ago. They would argue that the Genesis 1 account focuses on the who of creation—not the what or the how, not the science or chronology of creation—and that the primary message is that God wants us to know he is the sovereign Lord over all of creation and superior to any other gods or goddesses that people mistakenly worship.
Other theistic evolutionists include Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975), a pioneer in synthesizing evolutionary biology with genetics, and an Orthodox Christian; Kenneth R. Miller, a Roman Catholic, professor of microbiology at Brown University, and author of Finding Darwin’s God (1999);30 Darrell Falk, biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University and author of Coming to Peace with Science (2004); and John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest, practicing scientist, and author of many books, including Science and Creation: Searching for Understanding.
Naturalistic Evolution: Clan of the Angry Monkey31
And finally the spotlight turns to Naturalistic Evolution (NE), evolution that arises out of the philosophical-religious worldview of naturalism. Some have called this viewpoint evolutionism or scientism. I don’t use these terms because I find them vague and confusing.
The Naturalistic Evolution lowdown on origins is that we are here as a result of nothing other than time, chance, and matter; life is just a cosmic accident; and when you get right down to it, our search for ultimate reason or meaning in life is a cosmic joke. The world is without design or purpose. Values become mere opinions or social conventions, untethered from any real concepts of right and wrong.
Naturalistic evolutionists often seem to be mad at God (even though they don’t believe he exists!), as if God, or belief in God, is the root cause of misery in the world. To be sure, bad beliefs about God have led to plenty of misery. But if life is all about survival of the fittest and nature that is “red with tooth and claw,”32 why should a nonexistent God get so much blame?
Worldviews are a lot like religions: every worldview wants to convince the world that it alone is true. With his many anti-God books, atheist and prolific author Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion) exhibits a fervent, missionary zeal. It’s clear the British scientist’s goal is to convert as many as possible to his worldview. In The Blind Watchmaker he writes:
I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence.33
As Dawkins puts it in another of his books, River Out of Eden:
The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.34
Whoa! Pretty depressing, huh?
Another expression of the religious aspect of this worldview is found in the work of E. O. Wilson, a Harvard professor, one of the most eminent evolutionary biologists of the last century, and the father of sociobiology (studying ethics as biology). Wilson claims that Darwin is hands down “the most important man who’s ever lived” because he was the first human being “to see things as they really are.” Pressed in a TV interview with Charlie Rose—“More important than Jesus, or Buddha?” Rose asked—Wilson affirmed his view.35
A ripe illustration is the National Association of Biology Teachers’ 1995 Statement on Evolution:
The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.36 (Emphasis added.)
Notice the absolute nature of the words unsupervised and impersonal. Harsh, strongly expressed comments like these are widespread in the literature of this belief, starting with Charles Darwin, the grandfather of the movement, and continuing down to Stephen Jay Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002), Dean Hamer’s The God Gene (2004), and many others.
At its core, Naturalistic Evolutionism is reductionistic; it forces all of reality into a single cookie-cutter, that of materialism. In this worldview, appeals to “God” can never be anything more than vain wishful thinking, fearful responses to death, flights of fantasy, or cynical attempts to control others.
And yet, naturalistic evolutionists are human beings created in the image of God; therefore, their flamboyant denials of God cannot be regarded as their final word on the subject. People can change, and often do start thinking about eternal things as they get older. At the end of his life, from what I have read of his later writings, Gould had eased off his caustic attacks and left the door open a crack for God.
Dawkins himself, although he rejects any god along the lines of those found in monotheistic (single-god) religions, calls himself “a religious nonbeliever” and says, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility.” He talks about “a pantheistic reverence [for nature] which many of us [scientists] share.”37 Wilson says in the first chapter of his book Consilience that it is only natural for people to reason backward from effects to causes to the “first cause,” and that naturalism cannot refute the idea of God as creator. Furthermore, Wilson candidly opens his heart by sharing his longing to find grace, which led him to be “born again,” baptized at 14:
The still faithful might say I never truly knew grace, never had it; but they would be wrong. The truth is that I found it and abandoned it. . . . I was enchanted with science as a means of explaining the physical world, which increasingly seemed to me to be the complete world. In essence, I still longed for grace, but rooted solidly on Earth.38
Here we find nature doing the job God intended it to do: to elicit from us who are created in God’s image an indescribable sense of beauty, magnificence, and humility before something much greater than ourselves. Even dyed-in-the-wool atheists, it seems, are struck with wonder at creation. Every one of us, in our deepest heart, whether it agrees with our professed worldview or not, whether we admit it or not, says: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3, 4) It’s not such a big jump from wonder to God.
16The name comes from the Intelligent Design aim of tossing a “monkey wrench” into the finely tuned machine of philosophical naturalism.
17See Francisco J. Ayala, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion (Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2007), p. 23 and endnote 18 for chapter 2. (In all notations afterward: Ayala.)
18Ibid., pp. 23, 24 and footnote 19 for chapter 2.
19Ibid., p. 26. Ayala’s brief history of Intelligent Design arguments before Darwin’s work is very helpful; see pp. 23-26.
21Paley’s Natural Theology is available to read online. See the University of California Museum of Paleontology website at www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/paley.html (accessed May 19, 2007).
22See Steven C. Meyer’s Discovery Institute webpage. The institute’s catchphrase is “a non-profit, non-partisan, public policy think tank . . . dealing with national and international affairs.” Discovery’s website is at www.discovery.org (accessed May 20, 2007; in all notations afterward: Discovery).
23Claudia Wallis, “Evolution Wars,” Time magazine (August 15, 2005; 35).
24For example, Phillip E. Johnson’s The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002).
25Discovery (accessed May 28, 2007). See also Redeeming Darwin: The Intelligent Design Controversy, a booklet, DVD, and website developed by Probe Ministries and EvanTell (Richardson: Probe Ministries and Dallas: EvanTell, 2007).
26The name comes from the Theistic Evolution belief that humans and chimpanzees genetically share an ancient common ancestor.
27A phrase coined by Howard J. Van Till. See his essay in Three Views on Creation and Evolution, J. P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds, editors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999; rev. ed. 2004).
28Ayala, 163, 164. Another excellent resource on the history is George Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
29From Pope John Paul II’s speech (October 22, 1996), found on the Catholic Information Network at www.cin.org/jp2evolu.html (accessed March 19, 2008).
30Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1999, 2007). (In all notations afterward: Miller.)
31The name refers to the irony that Naturalistic Evolution disbelief in God is so often accompanied by anger at God.
32A phrase from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H. (1850), canto lvi. Found in Oxford, p. 536 #29.
33Found on Amazon.com at www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0393315703/103-336466-0384612?v=glance (accessed March 21, 2008).
34Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 133; quoted in Ayala, 173.
35See Charlie Rose’s video interview of E.O. Wilson and James Watson at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6927851714963534233&q=james+watson (accessed September 17, 2006).
36Found at the National Council for Science Education website, www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/8954_nabt_statement_on_evolution_ev_5_21_1998_asp (accessed September 3, 2005). The 1995 statement was corrected, after vigorous debate, in 1998.
37Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), quote from first chapter found on Richard Dawkins’ website at richarddawkins.net/godDelusion (accessed September 10, 2007).
38Larry Arnhart, “Evolution and Ethics,” Books & Culture, November-December 1999, 36-39.
Bayard Taylor has served as an editor for a Christian publishing company and as a campus minister.