Thoughts on Theistic Evolution

Theistic EvolutionOne of the most controversial topics among Christians is the role of evolution, if any, in the creation of humanity. I’m not referring to debates between Christians and non-Christians, but disagreements among people in the church. One of the issues is the concept of theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creationism).

I have read a lot in the area of evolution, theistic evolution, intelligent design and related topics. I must confess that I get frustrated with the conversation. Not only is there a lack of respect in the conversation, there is also a lack of clarity. What do we mean by evolution? What role did God have in it?

For example, those who hold to theistic evolution are strongly against intelligent design. Interestingly, they are more open to the argument from design on the cosmological level. This confuses me because if God used evolution to create humanity, why must that exclude any evidence of design?

This comes down to how we define evolution. For example, Michael Behe is a strong advocate for intelligent design. Behe believes in common ancestry, meaning that humans and other animals developed from other animals and animals that are much different now can trace their ancestors back to a common life form. That would seem to be a form of evolution since animals are, in Behe’s view, evolving from less developed animals.

But theistic evolutionists and intelligent design advocates would reject that as evolution. That is because evolution is much more than a belief in a tree of life that traces different species to a common ancestor. Evolution also includes the concept of random mutation. Behe, while holding to common ancestry, doesn’t believe the changes came about by random mutations. Behe believes that the changes are the results of God’s design.

What I would want to know from theistic evolutionists is what they see as God’s role. Is evolution something that can work all by itself, without any involvement from God? Is God necessary for human life to develop? In what way are we his creation? In what way is evolution theistic? Could it be possible for God to be active in the entire process of evolution, making sure things went the way he wanted?

This is not meant to be an attack on theistic evolution. I’m open to the idea that God could have used some form of evolution to create humanity. But so far, I’m not satisfied with the current form of the conversation.


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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Theistic Evolution

  1. Theistic evolution? While this is a new term for me the implication, if I understand it, would indicate that God created evolution. I may be wrong but I will continue with the understanding that this is my assumption. I believe that God created man and man created evolution. I would even go as far as to say that anyone that believes the Bible to be the infallible, inerrant word of God must come to the same conclusion. There are many who feel that it is perfectly reasonable to pick through to Bible and keep what they like and dismiss what they don’t like. Jefferson is a prime example. However, the black and white truth of the matter is simply that it is either all perfectly preserved (KJV) and true in it’s entirety or, conversely, it is just another book without any authority. I am so firmly planted in the former that it pains me even to type the latter. In my view, any doctrine, teaching, preaching or statement that doesn’t line up with the truth of scripture is quite frankly a deception. This is not an indictment, but, it is a very small step from dismissing the account of creation to dismissing the deity of Jesus Christ. Once that is lost there is no redemption, no hope, no good, no love, no morality.

    • 1) So, if I understand you correctly then there is only one way to interpret the meaning of the creation story that is true to the author’s intention. But why should I just accept this unquestionably? Perhaps there are other ways of understanding what the author intended that lines up more closely with the truth of Scripture. Such as that the creation account is not be understood as some sort of scientific account with regards to cosmology and biology, but rather that is was a carefully crafted theological narrative with the purpose of conveying theological truths about, not only who man or God was, but also about the relationship between man and God. What is at stake here isn’t first of all a matter of infallibility or inerrancy (how important it may be) but of hermeneutics. To claim a text is inerrant, does not automatically mean that you have understood what the text actually says. And what it says is tied to the meaning an author intended and how they chose to communicate such meaning. What the author intended is also closely tied to who the intended and immediate audience was and what they would have understood given their background knowledge. (These are just some of the contextual factors involved when approaching a specific text.)

      2) If I understand you correctly then it is only if you have access to the English KJV that you have access to the Word of God. I’m not a native English speaker and I know of many Christians who can’t read or even speak English. Are you suggesting that my non-English, non-KJV Bible does not give an accurate rendering of God’s Word? Or that my non-English speaking, non-English reading friends should reconsider their faith as Christians when they have never had any contact with an English KJV (of which there are different versions, of course)?

      3) If I understand you correctly then understanding scripture in one part of the Bible, such as the creation account, for example, are subject to exactly the same contextual factors that allow you to understand other parts of the Bible such as who Jesus was, for example. But isn’t the study of hermeneutics showing exactly the opposite? Aren’t you suppose to interpret a text according to its appropriate genre and other contextual factors? I’m sorry, but to use the slippery slope argument or the cherry-picking argument to indicate on how some people may or might have approached and viewed the Bible in inappropriate ways, says absolutely nothing about how responsible hermeneutics are actually to be done.

  2. I agree with you, Stephen. This particular conversation is often fraught with alarmist suspicion and uncharitable interpretations of opposing views on both sides.

    As I understand it, evolutionary creationists see God as having designed a system (yes, finely tuned at the initial level of coming into being) that from the very first moment of its creation, had precisely the necessary properties, due to the nature of created matter and the laws that govern it, to enable the system to develop increasing complexity as He intended it.

    The implication of this view is that even if all functioning can be explained in terms of law and mechanism, it is still the case that no part of the system exists or functions that wasn’t designed and intended and therefore also ultimately created by God. It is for this reason that it is simply a mistake, EC would say, to suggest that God is not involved in any specific process that we might observe in nature. How can He not be involved if that process is what He specifically designed and intended for particular outcomes? Why is God involved only if He intervenes directly and miraculously, and not if He uses processes and mechanisms to achieve his purposes?

    Intelligent design advocates object. According to their assessment of the data, it doesn’t seem as if the existence of certain biological and biochemical systems or a body of systems, not to mention the existence of life, can be explained in terms of processes involving law and mechanism. God’s involvement can be detected precisely because of the discontinuity in natural processes.

    And thus, conflict arises in the field of biology.

    ID says that you can never exclude the possibility that God somehow and at some times intervenes in the system, because this is what the biological evidence suggest. And He is a God of miracles, after all. ID then lists, among other things, examples of irreducible and specified complexity.

    EC says that you cannot conclude so hastily that God did, in fact, intervene when you’re challenged with explaining the enormously complex data of nature, even when you recognize that God has acted miraculously in redemptive history. EC then lists, among other things, the tedious progress of science and the dangers of the God-of-the-gaps fallacy.

    You reference common ancestry. The theory of common ancestry is, of course, integral to the overall theory of evolution, so it doesn’t seem correct to say that ID and EC would reject it as evolution. The disputed question is whether specific evolutionary mechanisms (which is as a different aspect of evolutionary theory) such as natural selection acting on random mutations, are sufficient to explain the changes that populations undergo that would eventually account for speciation.

    Well, this is how I understand some of the differences and explanations involved.

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