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Theistic Evolution:Bad Science, Bad Theology, or Both?

The recent trend to combine evolution with theology is called “Theistic Evolution” (TE), which claims that God's preferred method of bringing forth life is purely materialistic with no goal in mind. Another view, called Intelligent Design (ID), claims that things in nature are best explained by an intelligent agent (God).

Since 1859, Darwin’s theory has caused many people to think that the design we see in nature is only apparent. To scientists at that time, the universe seemed eternal, so God was not needed as the initial creator. As science advanced, it gained authority—far more than the authority of religion. Most evangelicals circled the wagons and retreated into: “The Bible said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Cultural engagement over matters of fact suffered. But faith was not made “safe” by avoiding these issues. Science subsumed everything, and values and religion would eventually be “explained” under the evolutionary paradigm.

The Big Bang and Discovery of DNA

In the 1960s, things started to change. The discovery of the Big Bang meant that the universe had a beginning and so needed a “Beginner.” That was good news for believers in the biblical account of creation. Also, the structure of DNA was discovered. The units of heredity (genes) had been located, and the means of replication were now understood. Darwinism (now Neo-Darwinism) seemed to complete the story—or did it?

It quickly became apparent to some (mostly mathematicians) that the four “letters” of the genetic code had to be in a very constrained sequence to provide complex, specified information independent of the laws of physics and chemistry. This resulted in a departure from Darwinism in the scientific community and modern Intelligent Design (ID) began. In the early 1990s, credentialed scientists in fields such as math, chemistry, physics, biology, information theory, and the philosophy of science began to notice each other’s work and came together—although the motive was not religion.

Darwin’s Black Box

The ideological dam broke in 1996 with the publication of Darwin’s Black Box by Mike Behe. This book discussed the concept of irreducible complexity—that the molecular machines that run the cell had to be fully present and could not be built stepwise. In other words, until there is a finished product that works, the preceding steps are blind to natural selection. Anything short of the finished product (like a mousetrap missing a spring) would offer no advantage and would not be “seen” by natural selection—or worse, it would be deselected as non-functional “junk.”

The evolutionary establishment and media came back at Behe with a vengeance. Intelligent Design was characterized as “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo”—a sign that the opponents lacked good counterarguments. During the past 20 years, the scientific establishment has taken shots at Behe, but no one has yet described how to build molecular machines through a Darwinian pathway!

Good News for the Church

With each new book and journal publication, the case for ID just gets stronger. This is good news for the Church, because it has begun to remove the boot of scientific materialism from off its neck. Along with new discoveries in cosmology, one scholar has said that this is the best time in 100 years to believe in God, since the appearance of design is showing up in so many areas of both the physical and life sciences. So, it is with some surprise that a group of Christians—scientists, pastors, and seminary professors—are starting to write books pushing back on ID and advocating Theistic Evolution (TE) to various faith organizations!

The Human Genome Project

The first major work was from the head of the National Institute of Health’s Human Genome Project. Director Francis Collins called his book The Language of God. What could be better than the head of the genome project explaining that DNA was the “language of God”? But what Collins advocated was something that looked like traditional Darwinism, which claimed as its triumph that it could produce the appearance of design without the need for a Creator or purpose. With authoritative figures on both sides, what is a non-technical believer to think? Can you believe in God AND evolution? The answer depends on what you mean by “God” and by “evolution.” Most people see “God” as a personal being that is maximally great in things that matter—not some impersonal pantheistic force. As for “evolution,” there are levels of meaning:

1. Change over time —no controversy.

2. Gene variants in a given population that can be selected based on reproductive fitness —generally accepted by all sides.

3. Limited common descent —we all have ancestors.

4. Universal Common Descent or Ancestry (UCA) —This is assumed under classic Darwinism but is increasingly being questioned even by the evolutionary establishment because the “Tree of Life,” as seen in textbooks, is based upon supposed sizmilarities in body plans (phenotypes) that do not match well with the molecular/genetic “trees.” The connecting “branches” are human constructs, and these relationships can be explained just as well by a Creator reusing parts of a previous design—just like engineers using similar designs over and over.

5. Darwinism —This includes the UCA (described above) but also claims a plausible mechanism for the evolutionary process: mutations (the source of variation) acted on by natural selection producing something that works. But is this mechanism, as elegant as it was described in 1859, really capable of producing all we see? Mutations drive evolution—but not the creation and origins of life. This begs the central question, how do you get the right mutations? Darwinism says that random mutations, i.e. non-purposeful or non-goal directed changes to DNA, generate something that has enough function to be picked out by natural selection. Each small step gradually builds function. The central problem with “gradualism” is that each mutation can happen randomly on its own. But when you need a whole series of them to all be working toward the same goal or purpose, the improbabilities rapidly multiply beyond the reasonable—even given billions of years! That’s because each new mutation has an unlikely probability of working toward the same purpose as the one before it. And when you multiply a string of small probabilities, you rapidly approach the impossible, just like getting all the numbers in Powerball—only worse!

6. The Blind Watchmaker Thesis —If the Watchmaker is unseen, why assume He exists? This is what the atheist evolutionary establishment is selling: a totally mechanistic process that mimics the appearance of a designer. This is virtually identical to the Theistic Evolution position, except they want to ordain the process as God’s method of creating. God is simply a gloss on the atheistic position! Theistic Evolutionists make it sound like God was guiding the process, which is almost identical with the materialist position, but with a few equivocations. The Darwinist position is that it is an “undirected” process. If you tell a biology professor that you believe in evolution, but God directed it, they will rightly tell you that you missed the point. It comes down to a problem in logic. How can a purposeful God use a purposeless process for a purpose?

“Junk DNA” Has a Purpose

So how does geneticist Francis Collins and his BioLogos organization sell Darwinism as God’s plan? First, he correctly states that God can use secondary causes—e.g., did God carve the canyon or did the river? No one would need to involve God for the canyon project—but that is a difference in kind from building a hydro dam on the river! Collins cites “bad design” as evidence of Darwinian random tinkering, such as the backward wiring of the eye—a favorite on atheist websites. But Collins’ main argument is that the genome, his field of expertise, has only about 3% of its length actually coding for proteins—the stuff that does the work of life: structure and metabolism. The rest was called “junk DNA.” It was assumed that this was evolutionary garbage accumulated over millions of years and has no function (although it once did) and is now carried along in the genome as “junk.” The problem is that a major study called ENCODE has proven that this “junk” has a major function in the way genes regulate each other with on and off switches through gene regulatory networks! Collins eventually acknowledged this.

After Collins makes his “no design” arguments, he then contradicts himself and says the design occurred all at once in God’s mind and was expressed at the creation moment. Collins uses bad design and “junk” to take God out of the picture and then puts God back in at the creation moment. To his credit, Collins believes in design at the cosmic level. But he and most of his associates at BioLogos believe in Methodological Naturalism(MN)—the idea that even if there is a God, we must do science as though He isn’t there. MN’s problem is that it is a convention of science that ALWAYS looks for natural causes and rules out supernatural causes a priori. It doesn’t need to do this if the evidence for a natural cause is strong, like the river carving the canyon. MN’s only appeal to this rule is when the nature of the cause is in doubt and they don’t want to let a divine foot in the door. But Christians have always believed God is made known in nature (e.g., Romans 1:20).

You Get What You’re Looking For

Methodological Naturalism is fine in operational science but not necessarily in origins or historical science and certainly not in information science. As Bill Gates admits, DNA is a code, although far more complicated than anything we can come up with. Microsoft is not shaking up scrabble letters to write code! Code always points to a “coder,” and the burden of proof is on those who claim otherwise. Just as with information and codes, a design inference is justified.

Critics of Intelligent Design, like Collins, claim that ID is just a “God of the Gaps” argument, and any gaps in evolutionary theory will be filled in, as this is the way science always works. But it’s not a sure thing that science always fills in the gaps, and Darwinism has its own problem with rapidly expanding gaps!

So Intelligent Design is more than a critique of Darwinism. It is a positive argument about the type of action we do understand: the creation of complex, specified information which always has a personal cause and one that can be objectively identified once we are well past the limits of chance—and we see a specified pattern that contains a message leading to something functional.

What Does This Mean for Believers and the Church?

The loss of youth in churches is a complex social phenomenon, but Intelligent Design is showing that it has the power to change minds and open the way for belief. Most likely, the mainstream media or secular educational system will not tell students that recent discoveries in science actually lend support to belief in God! So, it is up to parents and churches to make this information available.

Now is not the time to surrender, just as the evolutionary establishment is recognizing the problems of Darwinism behind their own walls! Secularists know the power of Darwinism to make the “undecided” into “intellectually-fulfilled atheists,” as Richard Dawkins says. Students today need to know that Theistic Evolution is nothing more than “Naturalism in clerical robes”—and instead, consider the case for Intelligent Design: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Paul Ernst, an atheist for 50 years prior to his conversion, holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and has done coursework in philosophy. He is the author of the book, You Bet Your Life: A Toolbox for Making Life’s Ultimate Decision. Paul is an invited speaker on faith and science issues at the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines, and numerous church groups. He and his wife Mary live in Boulder, Colorado.

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20190402
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Oct-Dec 2019. CCMUSA.