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Christianity and Science, Science

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 2: Science

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the scientific critique offered in the book.

Science

I admit I am by no means an expert in science and so do not feel adequate to fully interact with the scientific chapters in this book. Chapter topics include “Three Good Reasons… to reject Darwin’s Explanation of Life” by Douglas Axe, the problem of information for evolution, the problem(s) of mechanism(s) for evolution, the question of first life and its arising on earth, the problem of having front-end loaded design for evolution, DNA mutations being inadequate to explain evolution, embryology as a challenge to evolution, multiple chapters against universal common descent, arguments for unique human origin, and the way bias can lead investigations in science.

Again, it would not be possible to even give an overview of all of these chapters without several thousand more words, so I’ll just go over a few of the notes I took throughout the chapters.

Douglas Axe’s chapter includes a rather strange claim that is pretty central to his whole proposal. He has argued before about the plainness of design and our ability to detect it. He continues this argument in his chapter arguing for rejecting Darwinism. Yet one of his points is that things like clouds do not point clearly to design. Specifically, he states:

To the theist… nothing happens apart from God. But then, no theist came to that view by looking at clouds or craters [on the moon]. Such things are not at all inconsistent with God’s presence, but neither do they confront us with his presence. (90)

Such a statement is quite strange, because historically it seems pretty clear that such things do, in fact, point to God’s presence for many theists. Most notably, the Bible itself states rather clearly: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). It seems obvious from this passage that David, at least, felt that such things as clouds and the skies and the heavens—yes, perhaps even moon craters–declared the glory of God and the works of God’s hands. They are used as paradigms for showing the exact thing that Axe says they are not. But of course to admit that would be to undercut Axe’s whole point. After all, if the mundane things may actually point us to God and indeed confront us with God’s presence, then the whole objection to Darwinism based on it reducing life to “natural” causes itself falls apart.[3] 

Stephen C. Meyer’s chapter that argues having “Front-End Loaded” design makes no difference for theistic evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists has its own problems with grand claims. Meyer states:

Some theistic evolutionists affirm that God actively directs the evolutionary process by… directing seemingly random mutations toward particular biological endpoints… this view contradicts the (scientifically) orthodox neo-Darwinian view of the evoltionary process as a purely purposeless, unguided, and undirected mechanism… (218).

It is odd, though, for Meyer to insist that theistic evolutionists must have their directions of speculation or insight governed by atheistic perspectives (he specifically cites Richard Dawkins in favor of his assertion). Of course, the whole point of being a theistic evolutionist is that God exists and so saying God may be involved in the process is simply an outworking of that theism. To artificially limit theistic evolutionists to the thought process of Richard Dawkins is a bit absurd, and again hints that the way these authors are looking at TE may itself be problematic.

In the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Does it Work?” by Stephen C. Meyer, Ann K. Gauger, and Paul A. Nelson, the authors ask “Why insist on synthesizing Christian theology, or a biblical understanding of creation, with a scientifically failing theory of origins [read : evolution]?” (257). I can’t help but wonder at this total confidence. I continually try to learn more and read magazines like Smithsonian and Scientific American. I read manuscript-length science book when possible. Time and again, I find that there are new and continued confirmations of evolutionary theory in these magazines. Yes, the theory continues to change, but it also continues to find affirmation in discovery after discovery. Yet authors like those of this book continue to rely on the same quotes time and again to support their own assertions.[4] If it is true that evolution is truly a failing theory of origins, why is it that we don’t see the majority of scientists turning away from it? Sure, it is possible there is some massive conspiracy, but is that what we are being asked to believe?

Finally, in a chapter arguing against human evolution by Casey Luskin entitled “Missing Transitions: Human Origins and the Fossil Record,” I found a number of problems. The first is that Luskin’s chapter often focused on works focused towards lay people in the reporting on fossils, apparently trying to show how sensationalized new discoveries are. But having excitement over new fossil discoveries–and having sometimes inaccurate reporting–does not somehow discredit those same fossil finds. Another difficulty is one I have seen time and again in creationist and ID literature, namely that they argue that because there is not an exact, agreed upon sequence of A-B-C…Z, there must be no sequence. But of course, that doesn’t follow whatsoever. It may be that the sequences is not A-B-C…. but rather A-C-B….Z, but that hardly means there is no sequence with start and endpoints. This is a problem I have observed time and again, and an argument I found pretty compelling for many years until I began to research more and more of the literature. Simply having disagreement about the order of transitional forms does not entail that there are no transitional forms. Yet Luskin makes exactly this kind of argument on pages 444ff. Indeed, he makes it explicit in his conclusion, after quoting a pair of paleontologists to the tune of saying that the sequence of human ancestors is unknown, Luskin confidently asserts “With the fossil evidence for human evolution so weak, why should our theistic evolutionist brothers and sisters insist that the church must adopt their viewpoint?” (473). That is a major non sequitor. Imagine a defense attorney on a murder case arguing that because the prosecution could not precisely put a serial killer’s victims in order of when they were killed, it followed that there were no murders or that there was no sequence. Of course, anyone paying attention would be shocked at this seeming confusion. But that is what Luskin and others are expecting readers to accept as evidence against TE, saying simply that because there is disagreement of sequence, there can be no sequence.

[3] Indeed, the earliest days of theistic evolutionists had advocates making this exact point. George Frederick Wright, for example, argued that just as it is not problematic to acknowledge the movements of the planet are due to natural causes, it would not be problematic to see life’s development as the same. See my post on Wright’s theology.

[4] Multiple sources cited are older than 20 years. Time and again, people familiar with Intelligent Design will find themselves reading the same quotes from the same authors. Of course, if someone is right, the age of what they wrote or the fact that it gets quoted multiple times is hardly a problem. But I am left wondering why we can’t hear about more recent publications showing how disastrous evolution is or more dissenters from evolution. Instead, disagreement about details is often taken to be the same as showing evolution is wrong or that evolution is in crisis.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

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