Theistic Evolutionism

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Sunday Quote!- Can Randomness have Purpose?

3vce-mrEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Can Randomness have Purpose?

The concept of chance or randomness and its relation to God’s purpose and sovereignty is one which is very interesting to me. It has applications all kinds of direct theological applications. While reading Three Views on Creation and Evolution, I came upon an application related to the origins debate within Christianity. Howard J. Van Till, who was writing in support of theistic evolutionism, considered the possibility that God could have purpose even through the process of evolution:

While we’re on the issue of purpose, let’s look briefly at a common misunderstanding–that randomness rules out purpose. It is often claimed that randomness [which]… prevail[s] in the fundamental processes and events of biotic evolution rules out the possibility… [of] any preestablished purpose… Suppose there were a perfectly honest gambling casino in which no game was rigged–every[thing]… was authentically random. Does that rule out the possibility that the outcome of the casino operation cannot possibly be the expression of some preestablished purchase? Clearly not. In fact, the operators of the casino depend on that very randomness in their computation of the payout rates to insure that they will have gained a handsome profit… (168, cited below).

Apart from the strangely worded question he asked, Van Till’s point is that there may be purpose even with randomness: a truly random casino can still be oriented toward the purpose of making money. Thus, Van Till reasons, God could have done the same thing with the entirety of creation.

Now, I think this is an interesting claim, and I also think there is some plausibility to it. However, there does seem to be a significant disanalogy as well: the casino operators don’t care about the outcome of the random games, because their overall outcome is to have monetary gain. Presumably, however, God would care about the outcome of the randomness. Just having any creatures come from evolutionary processes would not seem to fit God’s plan as established in Genesis (creation, fall, redemption, consummation). Instead, there would have to be creatures capable of participating in that plan. Of course, Van Till might simply reply by saying that God would have known the outcome ahead of time and so that’s not at issue (or some similar response).

What do you think of the notion that chance or randomness may have purpose? If not, why not? If so, do you think this may be applied to evolution as Van Till does? What other applications do you think this may have?

Links

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Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Howard J. Van Till, “The Fully Gifted Creation: ‘Theistic Evolution'” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

SDG.

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What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions

Trilobites_in_the_Mineral_Museum_in_SiófokThe origins debate within Christianity is often viewed through the lens of a very narrow spectrum. Most recently, this was demonstrated in the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  I also demonstrated this recently by answering questions for old earth creationists (see the first and second parts): some people tend to see the only options available for Christians as either young earth creationism (the earth was made in six 24 hour days 6-10 thousand years ago) or theistic evolutionism (God set it up, then evolution accounts for diversification). These perspectives, though showing a few of those available to Christians, do not actually reflect the whole realm of possibilities for Christians.

More thoughtful Christians tend to think of the perspectives as threefold. There are theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and then in between there is a kind of amorphous glob of people who hold to an “old earth” without expressing it in strictly evolutionary terms. Here, we’ll explore this amorphous glob (as well as the extremes) to show that there really is a range of options. I’m writing this mainly to clarify for many some of the difficulties in commenting on creation issues without such a taxonomy.

Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate

If I could recommend one book to anyone who is going to get involved in creation issues, I would have to say I’d recommend Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. I’m not recommending it because I think it is the best book on creation issues. Rather, I’m recommending it because I think anyone who is going to interact with these issues must be able to make distinctions between positions. Rau’s work is helpful because he has laid out many of the main categories for belief. There is, however, a downside to his work: it is necessarily simplified. He did an adequate job showing the major positions available, but the fact remains that even within each position he dilineated there are more divisions to be explored. Moreover, there are views which simply don’t fit into any specific group. That said, I think his work is extremely useful and so I’ll start with his organization as a way to introduce the taxonomy.

Rau’s Taxonomy

Rau divided the major positions on the origins debate into a sixfold division (see Rau, 41):

Naturalistic Evolution- On this view, there is no God and no purpose in origins. The process for the origin of species and its diversity is “spontaneous.”

Nonteleological Evolution- On this view, there is a creator, but there remains no intervention in the natural process which yield life and its diversity. Thus, the “conditions necessary for life” were “established at creation.” However, evolution is still without purpose and the creator did not specify its parameters.

Planned Evolution- On this view, there is a creator who had a purpose for life and its origin. This purpose is through a “perfect creation” which “naturally fulfills God’s purposes.” Thus, the purpose which the creator had was essentially front-loaded in at the moment of creation. There is no direction during the process.

Directed Evolution- On this view, there is a creator with a purpose for the diversity of life. Unlike the previous view, the creator doesn’t merely front-load design and purpose but rather intervenes throughout the course of history to bring about purpose: “changes in universe and life” are “subtly directed over time.”

Old-Earth Creation- On this view, the process by which the diversity of species came about is not through directed evolution but rather through creation over time: “major body plans” are “created over millions of years.” New diversity of life is through God’s direct creative act.

Young-Earth creation- on this view, “each ‘kind'” is “created in one week, within the last 10,000 years. All diversity of life is due to God’s creative act; any changes since then are only among the “kinds” represented on the ark.

162283main_image_feature_693_ys_4A Larger Picture

Rau’s division of these groups is extremely helpful because he hits on the major positions represented within the spectrum. Of course the only options which are available to Christians are those which do not exclude God from the picture. Thus all but naturalistic evolution remain open to the believer. Now,  the debate over how these might fit into the teaching of the Bible is not what I’m trying to dive into here. Instead, I’m simply pointing out there is diversity of views greater than the YEC/Theistic Evolutionism divide. One can see from the above that even within theistic evolutionism there is some diversity. Does evolution take place nonteleologically or did God plan it from the beginning? Perhaps God directed evolution along the way. There also is the option of Old Earth Creationism which shares many features with young earth creationism but radically diverges from the latter in many respects.

However, the spectrum opens up even more than Rau’s taxonomy depicts. The views he discusses focus primarily upon the science; that is, they are distinctions among views on the specifics of a scientific account of origins. Other views may be listed which may be distinguished by the reading of the Bible. Now, there is of course much overlap between these and Rau’s list, but I wanted to highlight a few views of interest.

First, there are interpreters like John Sailhamer in his book Genesis Unbound who hold that the text of Genesis is most specifically talking about the creation of the Garden of Eden. C. John Collins also holds to this view. They each hold that Genesis 1:1 is a kind of statement about the creation of the universe (though Collins does question whether it is explicitly about the ex-nihilo creation of the universe) and what follows as a continuous creation narrative of the land for the inhabitants. Thus, the text in Genesis does not explicitly affirm any sort of creation account and so people would be free to hold to essentially any position above apart from naturalistic evolution.

Second, John Walton’s view reads the creation account within the Ancient Near Eastern context and so he views Genesis not as a literal creation account but rather as an account showing how God is enthroned over the entire creation as King. Again, such a view would be amenable to the spectrum of views possible for a Christian as I noted.

It is worth noting that either of these is distinct from the spectrum Rau lists. They are distinct because they do not require commitment to any of the creation models. Thus, for Collins, Sailhamer, and Walton, one may simply remain open to the evidence rather than filtering the evidence through specific readings of the Genesis text. Of course, one could hold to this view and remain a young earth creationist; but none of these readings explicitly forces someone to hold to any position on the actual means of creation and speciation.

Third, there are positions related to the scientific origins which would further subdivide Rau’s categories as dilineated above. For example, young earth creationists often hold that the Global Flood can account for the fossil record and stratification. But some YECs have historically held that the Flood would have been tranquil and essentially had no impact on the Earth. Other YECs simply hold that the universe and the Earth have an appearance of age because God would have known at what age it would have needed to be in order to sustain life. There is much diversity about the mechanisms related to the Flood as well. Similarly, Old Earth Creationists exist upon a spectrum, though Rau’s principles about what unites them are correct. However, OECs are often confused with other views along the spectrum such as directed evolution. Strictly speaking, an Old Earth Creationist will not hold to the notion that speciation occurs on such a broad scale through evolution.

Conclusion

I have utilized Rau’s work to demonstrate there is a spectrum of beliefs related to the origins debate. The spectrum, I have argued, is even broader than Rau showed. Within each category he listed, there may be subdivisions. Moreover, there are some views which eschew attempts to dilineate the scientific truths but simply ascribe to reading the text. These latter views would fit with essentially any along the spectrum of beliefs so long as God is involved.

The purpose of this post is not to sow confusion for those interested in the topic of origins. Rather, it is to demonstrate that there really are more options on the table than either Young Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolutionism. Within either of those views there is much diversity, and there is a whole range in-between. Thus, let us hope that when we discuss origins we avoid falsely portraying the positions as being so limited that we fail to account for the range. Hopefully, this taxonomy will prove helpful.

Links

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Source

Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews offers a witty, heady read for Christians looking to interact with some of the most recent scientific theories. Targeted at Christians who have been befuddled by the latest scientific theories, interested skeptics who want to see if Christianity has anything to say about science, or Christian apologists looking to bolster their scientific knowledge, the book is a resounding success.

Interestingly, Andrews gets the title of the book out of the way quickly. Andrews argues against the common atheistic retort, “Well if God made everything, who made God?” He writes, “Because cause and effect is only proven for the physical world, we can no longer insist that cause and effect are relevant when it comes to the origin of a spiritual entity like God.” I am not sure about the strength of this response. It seems to potentially put God outside the rules of logic, something of which most theists are very wary. A more convincing response, in my opinion, is to simply point out that the concept of God includes necessity. Theistic arguments are designed to show just this–that God is the uncaused ground of being.

Who Made God, however, quickly jumps into stride and doesn’t look back. Andrews lucidly argues that while science can describe events and put them to the test, it cannot explain things in the sense of a comprehensive explanation. Science, for example, “doesn’t tell us why there is [a force of gravity]” (30).

Without slowing down Andrews jumps into a clear explanation of String Theory and its attempts to be a “theory of everything.” Even were science to unify into a theory of everything, however, Andrews point would still stand. The theory would offer descriptions of how things happen, but it wouldn’t explain why the theory itself worked. He also offers a few critiques of string theory, such as the counter-intuitive nature of the theory (48).

Andrews continues on, offering God as a “hypothesis.” He argues that “the methodology of science” can be applied to God (58-59). He argues that Victor Stenger’s God: the failed hypothesis fails on a number of levels. Stenger claims that God “should be detectable: (1) by scientific ‘models'; (2) by scientific measurements… (3) by scientific ‘methods'” (67). Against this, Andrews points out that Stenger is trying to exclude God from existence by “having it both ways.” Stenger argues that God should be detectable, but cannot be because the measurements of science are restricted to the physical. Obviously, this begs the question against theism.

Andrews also addresses nothing, by which I mean the redefinition of “nothing” into “something” often done by atheists (see the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig). He points out that they often use “nothing” to reference vacuum and/or empty space or dark matter. But this is either deliberately misleading or just incomprehensible (97ff). As the atheists who say this often admit themselves, this “empty” space is hardly “nothing.” It is full of energy. But beyond space, beyond the existence of our universe, outside of space and time–that is what is meant by “nothing” (105).

The God hypothesis is vindicated when it comes to the evidence from astronomy and physics. The low entropy state of our universe (117-118), along with its origin (98ff) both point to a creator. Andrews moves on to argue that the origin of the laws of nature must also point to the God hypothesis (138-153). He then goes on to argue that our biological origins, the information found in cells, and the diversity of life have their best explanation with God. To cover these arguments fully would double the size of this review, but I found these arguments just as exciting as the rest of Who Made God. A sampling: proteins and DNA must have information in order to function correctly (181ff); origin of life theories can only be explained with the God hypothesis (196ff);  evolution is nonfalsifiable (214-216); natural selection is a tautology (219-220); junk DNA isn’t junk (234ff); mutations really only help within dynamic populations and cannot lead to new species (230ff [through 240]). Andrews isn’t finished there, however, he tackles arguments for and against mind/body dualism (250ff).

Another strength of Who Made God is the format. There is a summary of each chapter prior to its contents, along with definitions of important terms. Humor is found throughout the work as the author tells funny stories or makes witty comments about the arguments. These aspects increase the readability of the book to a great degree.

This is not to say the book is without faults. Andrews’ treatment of the Ontological Argument was a bit abrupt. I’ve written on the argument before (see my posts here and here). Andrews’ critiques don’t apply to the most current versions of the argument. The most commonly used ontological argument is the modal version developed by Alvin Plantinga and others. This version of the argument doesn’t appeal to human ideas, but to modal necessity and possibility. To his credit, Andrews does point out that some philosophers find the argument compelling.

Another issue with Who Made God is the sometimes unconventional use of philosophical terms. For example, Andrews defines “phenomenology” as “The way phenomena… manifest themselves” (27). Phenomenology, however, is most commonly used (in philosophy) as the study of consciousness. Outside of philosophy, it generally refers to conscious experience or sense experience, not so much about the phenomena themselves. While the definition is not wrong, it caused some confuse, and may confuse other readers familiar with the other, more conventional uses. Another uncommon definition was given for “Monism.” Most often, the term refers to the idea that all of reality is one [i.e. it is all material, or all immaterial]. Andrews definition makes sense in context (he defines it as “The idea that mind is nothing more than the brain at work” [257] but that definition in philosophy of mind is more often used for “reductionism” which Andrews defines differently as well).

However, neither of these negatives outweigh the significant positives found throughout Who Made God. You know that I’m nitpicking when my main critique focuses on a couple unconventional definitions, particularly when Andrews uses valid definitions that simplify the terminology for the reader.

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God is unique among the slew of apologetics books written at a popular level in that it offers a nearly comprehensive argument for Christianity based upon various scientific theories. Despite a few small flaws, I unreservedly recommend this book to all Christians looking to increase their knowledge of biology, physics, and astronomy. Andrews clearly and succinctly explains several scientific theories in terms which are easy to understand, while also showing the relevance for the “God hypothesis.” Readers will come away convinced that when it comes to science, their faith stands on firm ground. Books with scopes this broad most often shine their lights upon lots of topics and illumine none. Readers will find that Who Made God illumines nearly every topic it touches, bringing new insight and clarity into often confusing issues.

Source: Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy free of charge by EP books. My thanks to both Edgar Andrews and EP books.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 9/4

“An Open Letter to Young Christian Apologists” over at “Thomistic Bent.” It is pretty self-explanatory: the post says many things to us youngsters!

http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/an-open-letter-to-young-christian-apologists/

Geocreationism–a site about old earth creationism, theistic evolution, and refutations of young earth creationism. This site recently had a major, major makeover and you must check it out.

http://www.geocreationism.com/index.html

“You Skim, You Lose!” at InChristus by Paul D. Adams–this post briefly discusses our society’s tendency to blow through things without really reading them and then draws  the discussion to the book of Proverbs.

http://inchristus.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/you-skim-you-lose/

From Jewish Worldview- A Plea to Atheists: Pedophilia is next on the Slippery Slope; Let us turn back before it’s too late–a post which talks about atheism as bereft of ontology for values.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0811/atheists_pedophilia.php3

Isn’t it arrogant and immoral for Christians to evangelize? Isn’t it? Find out:

http://thegospeloferik.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/is-it-arrogant-and-immoral-for-christians-to-evangelize/

“Diamonds in the Dust” –an upcoming novel about a woman’s life torn apart in South Africa. It looks quite promising. I’ve been promised a review copy and I’m looking forward to reading it!

http://diamondsinthedust.net/

Was Jesus Real? -Arthur over at Cold and Lonely Truth writes about this common objection to the existence of Jesus with lucidity and, more importantly, sources. Check it out:

http://www.cltruth.com/blog/2011/was-jesus-real/

The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 4

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

I recently read a very interesting article on theistic evolution by Loren Haarsma and Terry M. Gray entitled “Complexity, Self Organization, and Design.” Interestingly, I found what I think are some of the most interesting arguments for the theistic evolutionist position, but I also found some of the hardest objections to the position (scientifically) that I have stumbled across.

I’ll start with the interesting evidence for their position. First, they note that the word “design” doesn’t belong exclusively to the Intelligent Design theorists, because theistic evolutionists argue that God designed the initial laws which gave rise to evolution and eventually humanity. In other words, God foreknew and intended for mankind to evolve, and set up the laws such that we would (or at least that some sentient beings with which God intended to interact would arise, 289).

They further argue that “With the right set of rules, a random, iterative process can start with a simple environment and self-assemble a complex environment” (293, emphasis theirs). The arguments for this position are interesting to me, and I am no scientist, but it seems to me that the three ways from which they argue for this possibility make more sense to me if there is some kind of intelligence behind the process.

The three strategies for self-organized complexity they argue are:

1) Preprogrammed self assembly- “…pieces are designed so that random interactions between them eventually lead to assembly of the desired complex object(s)”

2) Information transfer from the environment- objects incorporate information from the environment through “a process of random exploration and feedback”

3) Interaction among agents- “random interactions and feedback” lead to “increased productivity or survivability” (290)

It seems to me that 1) could be simply incorporated into laws at the beginning of the universe  (but these laws would have to be designed, as the authors point out). 2) seems to me as though it simply couldn’t be totally random. For evolution to work, on the understanding I’ve gleaned from my readings, the complexity would have to aid the survivability of the entity. I think a problem here is that there is no way to determine when/why/how the random interactions suddenly latch onto those things which are helpful. If it truly is a random process, then it would randomly continue to select for characteristics, casting off old ones and making room for new ones.

Incorporating natural selection doesn’t seem like it would help much here either, because then those random selections which are negative would terminate the species. So my problems with 2) are twofold (even granting that God Designed the laws such that these interactions would occur): 1. there doesn’t seem to be an explanation for the process stopping the random selections (and therefore keeping the trait); 2. we aren’t talking about computer algorithms here, we’re talking living entities–if they select the wrong traits, they die.

Ultimately I found these arguments interesting reading, but I just don’t see how they support Theistic Evolutionism more than, say Intelligent Design. The authors do make the interesting point that it could have been the case that God set up/designed the laws such that life would arise, but the ways that complexity is integrated into the process seems to me, at least, to demand further explanation.

Source:

Haarsma, Loren and Terry M. Gray, Complexity, Self-Organization, and Design, in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, edited Keith B. Miller, p. 288-309.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 3

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

Theistic Evolution’s (hereafter TE) primary problem for the Christian is, of course, theological in nature. Perhaps the greatest challenge to TE is the doctrine of original sin. Recently, I investigated what advocates of TE had to say about this doctrine.

Robin Collins argues in his essay “Evolution and Original Sin” that the doctrine of original sin should be redefined into what he calls the “historical ideal” (HI) view (469). Regrettably, I believe Collins fails to provide an adequate theological defense of his view. Further, I believe there is actually a stronger way for TEs to defend against the “problem” of original sin. Collins’ argument has several key features:

1) Adam and Eve were not historical figures, but rather representatives of early mankind, having evolved from hominids (470). Collins does allow that perhaps Adam represents the “stem father” of humanity–that is, representing the first group of early hominids which arose as the human race (486)

2) The Garden story “represents an ideal state that was never realized… Genesis 2 falls into the category of a ‘golden age’ story” (470)

3) Original sin refers to the “sinful choices” of early hominids, the “continuing sinful choices” of their ancestors, and “the resulting bondage to sin and spiritual darkness that is inherited from our ancestors and generated by our own choices” (471)

Collins continues by interpreting Scripture in this light. First it should be noted that Collins takes science as one of the means by which we can interpret Scripture, despite his own assertions that the Bible is not a science or philosophy book (compare 475 to 482ff). He begins by interpreting Romans 1:18-32, but he believes the more important verses are in Romans 5:15-19. Paul writes in Romans 5 that:

“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

These passages seem to suggest that Adam was indeed one man, just as Jesus is one man. Collins argues, utilizing Swinburne’s argumentation in Revelation, that a speaker’s message does not necessarily include the presuppositions as part of the intentional conveyance. One immediate problem with this (though Collins seems to view it as a bonus) is that Paul is seen as either not necessarily believing what he was saying–which seems unlikely–or he was profoundly mistaken in his presuppositions. The statement is to be distinguished from the presupposition. “The statement is whatever the speaker, by public criteria, is seeking to add to the existing beliefs of the hearers” (Swinburne, Revelation, 30). The problem is that I don’t think this argument applies here, for it seems that Paul is not just presupposing that there is one man, but also utilizing that presupposition as part of what he is seeking to add to his hearers’ existing belief. For Paul is saying that it is one man through whom all mankind fell, so, too, is it one man through whom all mankind is saved.

The argument that Paul and his hearers shared the presupposition of one man, and therefore this is not part of his intended message, misses the context of Paul’s message. For Paul makes this statement in his letter to the Romans, not to fellow Jews who shared his presuppositions! Therefore, it seems to me that although the “one man” part of the statement could be taken as a Pauline presupposition, it is also part of the message conveyed. He is intending to add to his hearer’s existing belief (borrowing from Swinburne’s phrasing) that one man fell for all and one man atoned for all. This message is almost vacuous on an account which inserts possibly thousands of hominids in for the first “one man” (something Collins has no hesitation doing, see page 481 “…understand Adam… as theologically representing both everyman and the very first members of the evolving group of hominids that had gained moral self-consciousness”). I see no reason to accept such an interpretation textually.

I’ll leave out Collins’ interpretation of Genesis 1-4 for now, as I believe summing it up in the above points is sufficient. Rather, I want to turn now to an evaluation of his argument. First, I note that it seems necessary to add to the above outline of Collins argument the following clause:

4) Scripture is not inerrant–it is inspired in the sense that God “enlighten[s]” humans to “grasp new truths about the nature of reality and God” (473)

I reject 4 as incompatible with sound formulation of doctrine. I’ll not specifically address his argument point-by-point as that would fill up too much space. The main problem with Collins’ account of original sin is that it trivializes certain Bible passages (notably Psalm 51:5) and misinterprets others. But I don’t want to get into the finer details of his account. I think that Collins’ account is actually extremely weak. Only those willing to accept point 4) above will be able to take such a view on original sin as possible. Is there a way for TEs to avoid this uncomfortable assumption? I think there is.

Original sin, on TE, can be almost what it is on other views. The key feature is to point out (as Hugh Ross, an Old Earth Creationist does) that it is only human death that is explicitly seen as the consequence of sin. Thus, God can be seen as letting evolution happen until beings capable of moral reasoning evolve, then specially creating souls within humans or setting souls up in such a way that they emerge from humans (the latter view seems less plausible, but I’ll ignore that for now). God chose two specific hominids, planted souls in them, and placed them in a garden. The rest of the Genesis story can be taken fairly literally, with some modifications here and there, and original sin loses no meaning. Thus, the TE needs to acknowledge special creation of 1) The universe/matter/etc. and 2) Human souls. This doesn’t seem like an implausible “out” for the theistic evolutionist.

Finally, I want to address a few minor points in Collins’ essay. The first is that he seems to think special creation is somehow a negative thing. When critiquing other views, for example, he asserts that if God brought Adam and Eve into the garden to speak with them, He’d have to teach them a language, “which would involve a major act of special creation” (493). This is counted as a negative against a sort of Old Earth Creationist account. But I’m then curious as to what Collins thinks of the creation of the universe! Surely this “special creation” is an even more major act than teaching some animals to speak a language! I don’t see any plausible way for a Christian to use the presence of divine action as an argument against other views. Second, Collins seems to reveal some tendencies of agreeing with Intelligent Design (p. 496ff, for example, he argues for “theistically guided evolution”–how does this differ from ID?).

Thus, I think Collins’ view of original sin on TE is actually a weaker argument than that which can be made. I think the theistic evolutionist can augment his/her view with some acts of “special creation” and thus maintain a view that allows for inerrancy of Scripture without having to twist it as much as Collins does. Perhaps, however, I’m merely reflecting my own tendencies rather than accurately representing TE. If this is the case, however, and TE simply cannot coincide with the doctrine of inerrancy, for example, then I find this a strong reason for rejecting TE, particularly in light of competing models like intelligent design or Hugh Ross’s RTB Model.

Sources:

Collins, Robin. “Evolution and Original Sin.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Edited Keith B. Miller. Wm. B. Eerdman’s. 2003.

Swinburne, Richard. Revelation. Oxford University Press. 2007. (A later edition than that cited by Collins, I’m utilizing my own text)

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 2

This is part of a series of posts on the means by which life came about within Christianity. See other posts on the topic here.

Last time I wrote about theistic evolution I mentioned I was quite excited to get into some the scientific side of the debate. I delved into that a bit with my first post on old earth creationism as well as in my post on young earth creationism. While I think that perhaps the biggest problem with theistic evolution from a Christian view is theological, I do believe it is important to examine the scientific aspect of all sides of the debate as well. Thus, I turned to Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, a work full of essays on theistic evolution, to give me the scientific aspects of theistic evolution.

Common descent is central to the notion of atheism. Often, common descent is the source of objections to the theory of evolution (Miller, 152). Common descent is the assertion that all life on earth is descended from an “unbroken series of ancestor-descendant relationships to a single ancestral life form” (Miller, 152). Perhaps the most frequent objection to this is the sparse distribution of the fossil record.

Miller argues that the fossil record, rather than being incapable of demonstrating common descent, provides “persuasive evidence for macroevolutionary change and common descent” (153). He quickly qualifies this statement, pointing out that most often people either assert that the fossil record is so sparse that nothing can be demonstrated by it or that it is so complete that all details can be brought to light.

Miller then points out the vast problems with trying to fill in a fossil record which, according to evolutionary theory, covers hundreds of millions of years. Some of these problems include the infrequent fossilization of soft bodied or thin-shelled organisms, environmental factors such as weather, scavengers, or water levels, erosion, irregular sedimentation, etc. (154-156).

Transitional forms also encounter the problems of classification. The way species are categorized can directly affect whether a species is seen as a transitional form. “The grouping of organisms in a classification scheme does more than describe nature: it also interprets it” (158). Miller goes on to discuss two types of classification: the Linnean and cladistic classification. Linnean classification views species as types. One individual is seen as the ideal “archetype” of the species, while all others are compared to this “archetype” and then seen as types or offshoots of this individual. This, argues Miller, “exclude[s] transition[al fossils] by definition” (158, emphasis his). Cladistic classification, by contrast, assumes an evolutionary scheme and places animals into overarching schemes based on such assumptions. Thus, species may not be grouped so much by common characteristics as they are grouped by characteristics seen as having a common ancestor (159).

Interestingly, this section seems to echo one of the statements I remember from a talk on Young Earth Creation I listened to on campus, in which the speaker stated that often scientists can look at the same evidence and come up with completely different interpretations–even though the evidence is the same. I’ll be keeping this in mind in my future interactions with the varied positions in this dialogue. Here, it seems the cladistic classification is preferred, though one may ask whether this is because one wants to presuppose evolution and move from there, or if it is because the fossil record points more readily towards evolution. Did the evidence lead to the classification or did the classification lead to the evidence?

Transitional forms often are attached to misconceptions. Miller warns against assuming that such a form would appear as a logical step from one type of animal to the next. Rather, he states that “Such forms will be unlike anything living today”. This is because “transitional forms are found by moving down the tree of life into the past, not trying to jump from limb to limb” (161). Thus, when thinking of transitional forms, rather than seeing a kind of orthogenesis (one step at a time) that would suggest, perhaps, species 1 => species 2 => species 3, the view should be a branching phylogeny which looks more like a tree than a straight line. Thus, transitional fossils could be radically different from the species to which they gave rise (163).

After this point in his chapter, Miller goes into some examples of just these types of transitions viewed in the fossil record. His examples include reptile-to-mammal evolution, a land creature-to-whale evolution, horses, tapers, rhinos, etc. having a common ancestor, and others (164-180). Due to such transitional evidence in the fossil record, Miller concludes that “transitional fossil sequences between higher taxonomic groups are a common feature of the fossil record” (180).

One may question Miller on a number of points in this chapter. The different classification systems is one presupposition that must be made. Another objection that came to my mind as I was reading was the definition of transitional fossil. Again, it seems as though the definition may be changed to fit the theory, rather than the theory changed to fit the definition or the evidence. Why couldn’t it be that transitional fossils are just what intuition suggests, and there really aren’t too many? Rather, the assumption seems to be that other fossils may be used for the transitions. Why make such an assumption? Is there any reason to push the transitional definition to the usage Miller is endorsing? I don’t know.

I enjoyed Miller’s chapter greatly. It is always nice to get a breath of fresh air amidst my readings of analytic philosophy or epistemology. I have enjoyed this series greatly, and I can’t wait to continue.

Finally, in closing, I would like to note two things again. The first is my stance on this whole debate: I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, I believe that God did and does directly intervene in creation and the universe, and I believe that God has been and always will be the creator and sustainer of the universe. Thus, I am biased, just as anyone who approaches such questions is. Second, I have noted before that this series is meant to be for the in-house Christian debate on these matters. I’ve had a number of caustic comments thrown my way from those uninterested in such a debate. I welcome non-Christians to the discussion, but only if they can participate in a civil manner.

Miller, Keith. “Common Descent, Transitional Forms, and the Fossil Record.” Edited Keith Miller. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.  Wm. B.Eerdman’s. 2003.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Argument Begins: Theistic Evolution

This post is the second in a series discussion the Argument about Creationism/Intelligent Design/Evolutionism in Christianity specifically. Click here for links to the rest of this series.

Theistic Evolution is probably the group I am farthest from, largely because I do still see some problems with the evolutionary theory (noting that I am no scientist or expert in the field) and I also have problems with the theological arguments advanced by Theistic Evolutionists in supporting their view.

I have decided to start off by reading a selection from Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, edited by Keith B. Miller. I start with Theistic Evolution because I want to survey fairly as many sides of the debate as possible. The article I started with is called “Christology, Evolution, and the Cross” by George L. Murphy.

The essay is exclusively a theological one; it is dealing with the issue of Christology in light of evolution. Murphy argues that God, on evolution, can be seen as working in the world just as He worked in the world through Christ. Christ humbled Himself when he became man. So, too, argues Murphy… “God voluntarily limits his action in the world, rather as a parent limits what he or she does to allow a child to grow and gain some understanding of its world and control of its environment and life” (372).

Further, Murphy argues against those who may accuse Theistic Evolutionists of being deistic in nature. He states that “God does not simply stand above the evolutionary process and make it happen. In the incarnation God becomes a participant in the process…” (375). Thus, God does in fact participate in a very theistic manner.

Further, Murphy raises a point I find very interesting (if initially somewhat strange). If evolution is true, then God coming as fully human includes that evolutionary history within mankind. Thus, Jesus, the incarnate God, literally takes the sins of the world upon Himself. Not just the sins of mankind, but all things. Murphy cites Colossians 1:20 (here in context with 19) “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Murphy argues that on Theistic Evolution, people can take this quite literally. Being fully man and fully God, Christ was taking on the reconciliation of all things (having the history of creatures’ DNA), not just mankind. Jesus is the liberation that all creation was looking toward (385).

I find these points something to think about for a while, but I must object to Murphy’s view on a few aspects. Murphy, following the quote cited from page 375, states that God is redeeming the “…losers in the ‘struggle for survival’–for in the short run Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate are the survivors. And the resurrection of the crucified means that natural selection, important as it is as an evolutionary mechanism, is not God’s last word. There is hope for those who do not survive” (375).

I’m really not sure what to make of this. I think that Murphy is reading way too much into these verses. It seems that he does this often–reading evolution into parts of Scripture that don’t even seem to closely reflect it (if, indeed, any of Scripture can be said to reflect evolutionary theory, a claim that I find dubious at best). But taking his argument as it stands, it seems fairly interesting. Looking at the large scheme of things, a Theistic Evolutionist can offer an apology for Christianity from an argument of this sort. Why does God use death (natural selection) to bring about good (i.e. humanity and later redemption)? The Theistic Evolutionist can now answer “Christ is the answer” (just as one may answer with Covenantal Theology the problem of evil). Christ came in order to give God’s final answer to the perceived wrongness of the world. He came to promise an eternal life and redemption to all creation. It’s certainly a very different view than anything I’ve read before, and one I will contemplate as I continue my studying.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced by Murphy, but I think that he has shown me that the Theistic Evolution side does take Scripture seriously and that they are very sincerely Christian. He notes that “Every aspect of genuine human nature is saved only by… God in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ” (379).

There are some major problems with Theistic Evolution that I maintain. The first is an explanation of the “Image of God” in mankind. If man is simply evolved from lower lifeforms, what is the “Image of God”? Further, how does one perform Theistic Evolutionary exegesis (not eisegesis) on God’s special creation of man out of dust? The second major problem is original sin. If the wages of sin are death, how was their death before sin? These are questions that stand unanswered as of yet in my reading, and I don’t see any easy answers forthcoming.

Some criteria, on my view, for an acceptable explanation of the origins of life include: 1) God’s specific interaction with nature in a theistic, rather than deistic sense (and I believe Murphy may have dealt with this on a small scale in his essay) 2) An adequate explanation of original sin and its meaning with creation and the origins of life (and must thus include an account of redemption through the divine Christ), and 3) An adequate explanation of the special creation of Adam and Eve. These points still have some pretty heavy weight against theistic evolution.

I want to note that one very valid point that Theistic Evolutionists make is that, as far as scientific inquiry goes, critics of evolution must offer a competing scientific model. It’s all well and good to criticize evolution and point out the flaws in the theory, but what can replace it? One may try to answer that this seems like a positivistic claim- why should we, as Christians, have to argue within current scientific means for a Creationist account? I think that this counter is ineffective, however, as it is true that scientifically speaking (not philosophically or religiously speaking), one must offer a competing model if one wants to overthrow the current one. This is a question I will be exploring in the future, as I have read parts of works in which competing models are indeed offered (such as Intelligent Design or Hugh Ross’s “Creation as Science” model).

I’ve been getting into a bit of a rut with what I’ve been reading, and this kind of makes all of it fresh again. I’ll be interspersing theological articles and books throughout. For me, the most important thing in this debate is Scripture and sound doctrine. Whatever side is right is that which stands closest to the absolute authority and truth of God’s Word. I’m looking forward to looking at the scientific aspect of the debate, in order to see how the sides present their cases.

For further reading/sources:

Murphy, George L. “Christology, Evolution, and the Cross.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Edited Keith Miller. 2003.

Theistic Evolution – Perspectives.

Works I will be referencing/reading as part of this series:

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation

Mere Creation. Edited by William Dembski.

Ross, Hugh. Creation as Science.

Ross, Hugh. More than a Theory.

Behe, Michael. The Edge of Evolution.

Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box.

Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 1.

Van Fange, Erich. In search of the Genesis World.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator.

Collins, Francis. The Language of God.

Rehwinkel, Alfred. The Flood.

Dembski, William. Intelligent Design.

-many more

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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