Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Theistic Evolution's Trap

I’ve been reading through the book Theistic Evolution, a compilation of essays by some of the leading thinkers in the intelligent design (ID) movement. It’s a very thoroughgoing treatment of the weaknesses of theistic evolution (TE), which is the belief that
God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes.
—Wayne Grudem, “Biblical and Theological Introduction,” Theistic Evolution, p. 67.

This belief is contrasted with ID, which is a broad category but includes all those who believe that God has been directly involved in the creation and the ongoing maintenance of the universe.

The book has been an interesting, though difficult, one to read. There is a good deal of technical language, and I was especially unfamiliar with the concepts in the first half of the book dealing with the science behind ID. However, I would still recommend it to anyone interested in learning the weaknesses of the evolutionary worldview.

One thought occurred to me while reading that I considered particularly worth sharing. I had it after rereading Grudem’s definition of TE on p. 784, and it struck me as something I did not see at all mentioned anywhere in the book.

The whole purpose of TE is to square religious faith with science by saying that neither has anything to say about the other. Its proponents are perfectly willing to accept all the conclusions that atheistic scientists draw about the natural world. They do not even see evolution as a method that God employed and guided to form life in the universe. They consider it to have been totally aimless, so that anyone would be fully justified in assuming there was no God to make it all happen. That way, they do not have to upset those for whom religious faith is anathema.

The book goes to great lengths to point out the futility of this approach. If you encourage a worldview in which God needs not been seen, then you do nothing to encourage people to look for Him. But on top of this, none of the authors (to my recollection) points out the logical conclusion of TE that undermines the entire proposition.

Evolution (or more accurately, neo-Darwinism) assumes a purely materialistic process. Lifeforms do not come into existence or adapt as the result of any spiritual or intellectual process. It is all the result of random chance as physical elements react. The atheistic evolutionists believe the physical matter came from nowhere. The theistic evolutionists believe that God put it there and left it alone. Either way, though, the result is that everything in nature is predetermined.

In an unguided universe, nothing is directed. It simply moves forward until it bounces off of something. Then it moves in its new direction until it bounces off of something else. There are no choices being made. This means that the only actual cause in the universe is the first cause, whatever it was that put everything in motion. After that, the parts simply run like gears in a clock.

Leaving aside the implications of this view for atheism, let’s focus on what it means for TE. They say that God is the “first cause.” God was powerful enough to make everything and to set it in motion. Most of them would also affirm that God is wise enough to know everything that goes on in creation. This would mean that God knew every move that every part of His creation would take before He even set it in motion. In fact, His setting it in motion in the particular way that He did would have predetermined every one of those movements. It all followed the path that He set for it.

If that were the case, then it could not honestly be contended that “God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene” in nature. In such a purely mechanical system, nothing could be random. God did not simply sit back and watch it work. It could only work in the way He intended.

This puts those who believe in TE in between a rock and a hard place. First off, it puts them at odds with the atheists whose sensibilities they do not want to offend. Ultimately, God is in control and can be observed to be in control by the fact that He created the universe (since, logically, something outside the universe had to give it its beginning). Secondly, this position is not orthodox Christianity.

It shares certain similarities. Most Christians accept the fact that God knows everything that would ever happen, and that nature follows laws that absolutely determine its behaviors. However, Christianity affirms that this determinism has limits. God imposed these limits by giving free will to humanity. When we abused that free will, seeking our own desires rather than relationship with God, it had a ripple effect that affected all of creation (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:18–22). This was not God’s desire. It was not how He wanted the world to be, but how He allowed it to be. He allowed it so that He could show us grace and give us the chance to turn back to Him. That very freedom is theological proof that materialistic determinism is untrue.

Theistic evolution is forced to deny the existence of this freedom since it would mean that God acted in nature after the creation of the universe. While seeking a compromise, TE instead ends up speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It inadvertently speaks of God’s predeterminate control to those who do not want to hear of it, while also denying the existence of grace to those who rely on it. It is a contradictory system of thought.

Many Christians are drawn to TE because they see it as a way out of struggling with the world. But if they think deeply about it, they will see it is nothing but self-defeating nonsense. If we want to maintain our faith, then we have to follow it in the way that God has set it out for us in His word. That does mean we will have to argue for it with people who refuse to recognize it as the truth. But better to be in conflict than to be incoherent.

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