Those who know me will be painfully aware of a shift in my views in Christian apologetics. When appropriate, I will continue to lay out my developing view of this entire landscape. But, so far, I have expressed some concerns about arguments related to the “first cause” line of thinking. More specifically, I have leveled some concerns regarding the efficacy (and validity) of both the cosmological argument in favor of God’s existence and the argument from cosmological fine-tuning (which is not a first-cause argument). I have further expressed concerns about the problem of evil and the way various Christian groups attempt to deal with it. That line of thought is ongoing in my blogs. I say all of this to lay down a rough sketch of where I’m coming from, and to situate this present commentary. Having said that, I apologize for letting this blog post ballooning as it has. I hope you have the patience to read it all. Let me begin.
I have been bemused and perplexed by William Lane Craig’s dealings with biological evolution as it relates to intelligent design and Christian faith. For example, he decided to go opposite Francisco Ayala, and defend intelligent design (ID). Ayala defended a fairly radical form of theistic evolution (TE). In terms of outcomes, the debate was about as thorough an intellectual bludgeoning as I have ever encountered. Craig provided a master-level handling of Ayala, who seemed grossly outmatched. On the other hand, Craig has insisted that this is not his area of expertise, and has elected to sit out this conversation otherwise. He has expressed being friendly with ID folks, but hasn’t placed himself in any particular camp (other than to distance himself from young-earth creationism, YEC). Moreover, Craig has spent some time defending a fairly consensus view of evolution, mostly in the context of Plantinga’s approach: It might look random to us, and we may see no hand of God moving in the evolution of biological systems…but, we can’t say he’s not there.
In his latest podcast, Craig has decided to take up this issue…sort of. My impression is that he trivializes the differences between ID and TE, and is grossly ignorant of what the theistic evolution of BioLogos (et al.) entails. And, he makes a few statements that are just flatly wrong.
For starters, Craig’s opening remark is that, when BioLogos claims to “show that evolutionary scientific consensus is fully correct and fully compatible with Christianity,” they are “talking about with regard to biological complexity and evolution. This is [a] very specific area of science.”
As I show towards the end of this blog (and have done repeatedly elsewhere), TE is a full account of the evolutionary unfolding of creation; cosmically, geologically and biologically. Those writing on behalf of TE in general, and BioLogos in specific, have been incredibly transparent about that. So, Craig is just badly mistaken on this assertion. It’s not remotely close to true.
Working from Casey Luskin’s article on the subject, Craig entirely avoids many of the points Luskin makes. For example, Luskin’s article stated,
“BioLogos challenges the traditional theological consensus on core doctrines such as the historicity and importance of Adam and Eve.”
But, Craig’s interviewer (Kevin Harris) makes the passing observation that BioLogos takes no position on Adam and Eve:
“One thing I’ll just say from the outset here, because I can just hear people’s wheels turning immediately, BioLogos takes no position on Adam and Eve, the historicity of Adam and Eve. They leave that completely an open question as to how God did that.”
Craig simply agrees, with no correction or comment.
Unfortunately, both are wrong, and Craig should know better. Those at BioLogos affirm that man evolved from a primate ancestor, and that there was never a time at which the human population was less than 10,000 individuals. That is, they believe there was no special creation of man, and thus no true original progenitors of the human race. [Given these beliefs, there is disagreement among BioLogians about what Adam and Eve represent. Some hold that God chose a couple from among the existing human population, to lead His people. Others argue that God identified the first “human” forms from within a population of primates. Etc.] Several of BioLogos’s fellows and blog contributors have made this abundantly clear. Most recently (and publicly) was Dennis Venema, who co-authored a book on the topic.
Craig then asserts that the ID community is not at odds with BioLogos and consensus science on the issue of universal common descent:
“If by ‘evolution’ you mean simply the theory of common ancestry, that is to say, that existing life forms have evolved from earlier life forms, then [Ayala] says, ‘yes, there is a consensus on that.’”
Craig immediately qualifies that by suggesting, “That doesn’t mean that there is a single common ancestor for all life forms. Maybe there were multiple origins of life.” But that’s not what any theistic evolutionist holds. If we don’t know how many origins of life there were, then ‘evolution’ as a theory of common ancestry is not a consensus! This has been a friction point between ID and TE. BioLogos and Discovery Institute (an ID think tank) have been at war over universal common descent (or here), even (and especially) on the issue of human-primate ancestry (and here).
Given this friction, Craig swings and misses again, saying, “There is consensus about the thesis of common ancestry. And, ID theorists typically don’t dispute evolution in that sense. They’re not creationists. ID theorists don’t commit themselves to believing God created biological life forms out of nothing.”
Craig is wrong on multiple counts. Further, there’s a straw man laced in Craig’s statement, because “creationists” that are in the ID camp don’t suggest that God made all life forms out of nothing. If, however, they think that God directly made any life form out of something, they are immediately unacceptable to TE. Ironically, the ID theorist is able to entertain the idea that life could have been intelligently designed by any higher intelligence, as has been theorized by many atheist biologists (i.e., directed panspermia). If aliens seeded life here, the atheist and the ID theorist is free to pursue the facts, while the TE theorist cannot, because they reject the notion that intelligent agency can be detected by science. Craig seems unaware of this nuance.
Luskin’s article emphasizes a serious point of disagreement regarding the ability for science to detect God’s supernatural or direct activity in the world. He states,
“Fearing the ‘god of the gaps’ fallacy, BioLogos eschews arguments for faith that defy the consensus and argues the consensus is consistent with Christianity. This might prevent some Christians from becoming atheists, but it gives atheists essentially no intellectual reasons to become Christians…Even Collins concedes to atheists the crucial neo-Darwinian claim that life’s history appears ‘unguided’ (even if it really wasn’t).”
Several ideas are at play here, and Craig really doesn’t seem too interested in any of them. Luskin’s major concern is that BioLogos’s “all-out effort to show that science and the Christian faith are harmonious,” is nothing of the sort. Luskin concedes that, “BioLogos officially claims it is ‘committed to the authority of the Bible as the inspired word of God, and believes it is compatible with new scientific discoveries,’” but rightly sees the sleight of hand at play in that statement. The “harmony” is accomplished by setting up a dual reality of truths and placing faith claims on a different plane than scientific observations. BioLogos can find Christianity compatible with any and all new scientific discoveries because they make no faith claims about reality (save for the divinity of Jesus, which is a sore spot for them). That is, science could never produce a finding that would falsify a claim about the existence of God. No matter what science discovers, it cannot impinge on any claims about what God has or has not done, because they don’t claim that God directly did anything! (see below). Craig avoids this critical difference between ID and TE almost entirely.
Instead, Craig continually talks of the hair’s breadth of space between ID and TE. For Craig, they are almost entirely aligned with one another. But, neither camp feels that way, and it’s hard to imagine how Craig can be so painfully ignorant of the history between the two groups.
An entire tome has just been written by numerous contributing ID theorists, and is set to be released as a refutation of all aspects of TE. In 2010, Discovery Institute produced a similarly scathing critique of TE. And, a tremendous amount of their time is dedicated to fending off counter attacks from BioLogians and other theistic evolutionists.
In distinguishing themselves from ID theorists, the BioLogos website reads,
“At BioLogos, we present the Evolutionary Creationism (EC) viewpoint on origins. Like all Christians, we fully affirm that God is the creator of all life—including human beings in his image. We fully affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. We also accept the science of evolution as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.” [emphasis in the original]
That is, the most important distinguishing feature is that, unlike ID and YEC, BioLogians affirm a fully evolutionary explanation of all life. More on this in a moment.
It’s worth mentioning that this is a more generous rendering than the website used to offer. As of the publication of my first book (November 2015), the same webpage contained this statement:
“Supporters of Intelligent Design accept more of evolutionary science, but argue that some features of life are best explained by direct intervention by an intelligent agent rather than by God’s regular way of working through natural processes. We at BioLogos agree with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created. . . . BioLogos differs from the ID movement in that we have no discomfort with mainstream science. Natural selection as described by Charles Darwin is not contrary to theism.”
This statement has now been erased from the BioLogos site (as of August, 2017). But, their full ascription to Darwinian evolution as being synonymous with “evolution” remains (save for Joshua Swamidass). That is, the “evolution” that BioLogos considers consensus science is night and day different from any form of “evolution” being advanced by ID theorists (whose major axe to grind is in undercutting Darwinian evolution). Craig should know this.
What’s more, individuals at BioLogos have made it their daily pre-occupation to take swipes at ID. For them, as Luskin pointed out, the real war is with ID and YEC, not atheism (e.g. the efforts of Joshua Swamidass against ID). Venema (of BioLogos) essentially dedicates all of his efforts to refuting intelligent design.
As I mentioned, Craig really doesn’t deal with any of the theological implications of TE, even though they are serious and many (see also).
Obviously, I have written and blogged robustly on this topic. If Craig was aware of the lay-of-the-land in this arena, he would know exactly what TE entails, and why it is theological untenable. It is beholden to the validity of the Darwinian mechanism, universal common ancestry, and an entire unfolding of cosmic, geological and biological history in which no design can be inferred. When they say that science cannot detect the supernatural, what they really mean is that science explains the world naturalistically, without need to resort to the supernatural, ever. I have quoted this time and time again, but John Haught made this clear:
“An ‘ultimate’ theological account of cosmic and biological evolution in no way interferes with purely scientific explanations of evolutionary events…We would look in vain for God in the history of nature or in human history if what we are looking for are special divine interventions.”
The offerings of Francis Collins and Karl Giberson (both founders of BioLogos) aren’t much better. Collins’s creation account is as follows:
“1 – The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago
2 – Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life
3 – While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time
4 – Once evolution got under way no special supernatural intervention was required
5 – Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes
6 – But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.
God intentionally chose [evolution] to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him.”
Notice that God’s creative or direct action is not specified at any of the first five steps. In fact, Collins feels it necessary to specify that God wasn’t active and isn’t necessary in explaining what happened. Further, Collins has backslid on those items in step six, now arguing that morality is evolved.
I offer Giberson’s account of creation in my book, alongside three creation accounts offered by atheists, and they are indistinguishable. That is, on TE, God’s action isn’t necessary to explain anything. They think He’s there. But they don’t think God directly or supernaturally acted anywhere (secondary causes or immanence are sufficient throughout). But don’t take my word for it. Collins and Giberson co-authored a book in which they openly reject, “the concept of a God who is involved in the creation at certain times and only observes at other times.”
This is essentially a nicer way of picking up on TEist John Polkinghorne’s view that “an evolutionary universe is theologically understood as creation allowed to make itself.”
This was a point that Craig should’ve seriously considered, because Luskin clearly delineated it in his article:
“One reason [theistic evolutionists] rarely critique atheism may be because they feel the materialistic creation story of the new atheists ought not to be questioned. Indeed, theistic evolutionists make essentially the same scientific arguments as atheistic evolutionists—BTEs simply baptize materialistic theories of origins by adding, ‘By the way, God did it this way’—although they’d admit you can’t empirically detect God’s actions in any of it.”
Yes, and that’s a concern. But, not to Craig. His appraisal of BioLogos’s view is that,
“If you do believe that methodological naturalism is vital for doing science, then of course you’ll say that it’s impossible to scientifically detect design in the natural world. But that wouldn’t preclude a philosopher like me from inferring that design is the best explanation of the biological complexity of the world.”
Again, Craig is badly mistaken in his appraisal of TE. On his view, the theistic evolutionist could claim that God is directly and explicitly responsible for the biological complexity of the world, but science can’t detect it. But the folks at BioLogos don’t do that, and they attack anybody who would make such an argument. Their entire view is housed around the idea that science is able to tell us how biological complexity came about, not that science fails to do so.
This can be easily illustrated by using an extreme example. Why does BioLogos (and Craig for that matter) reject YEC? Because science rejects it! They don’t believe that, even though science cannot detect God’s work in some special creation described by a literalist view of Genesis, it happened. Science has spoken, and it has told us that these things have happened over long epochs of time via some evolutionary process, not in some supernatural way that science fails to detect.
If TEists believed as Craig thinks they do, they would not attack Michael Behe. On the one hand, Behe has argued that biological complexity cannot come about as the result of some unguided evolutionary process. He believes irreducible complexity must be produced by an intelligent designer. But, Behe also affirms universal common ancestry, and doesn’t think that God actively works to directly do things in the biological world (he holds that God chose our world as the lottery ticket that was a winner, destined to fall out as it has). Yet, the theistic evolution crowd has vilified him. Why? Because, to quote Richard Lewontin, they “cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” Science tells us how evolution happens, and evolution happens as Darwin conceived it to happen: without a guiding hand.
The conversation takes an odd turn when Craig then decides to lay responsibility for the perceived conflict between ID and TE at the feet of the creationists. He argues, “I think that the reason that the debate in biology has become so poisoned, as opposed to the debate in physics, for example, over fine-tuning, or the origin of the universe, is because of the battles over teaching creationism in the public schools.”
Of course, many of the court cases Craig alludes to were inclusive of ID, and TE proponents gladly stood alongside atheists to testify against them. In fact, Kenneth Miller (a TEist) has made a habit of facing off opposite ID proponents in both court and in debates on this issue (here, here, and discussed on BioLogos here). And he’s not the only one. So the issue is not about teaching YEC in the classroom. The issue is about teaching any form of intelligent design as an alternative in science classrooms. And BioLogians are as adamantly against it as anyone.
All that I can glean from such a comment by Craig is that he must feel the same way about the teaching of cosmology in public schools. His grandchildren should be taught a theory of the origin of the universe that is consistent with methodological naturalism, and therefore devoid of any suggestion of intelligent design. And, perhaps that is how he feels. Again, the irony is that there are secular intelligent design theories (directed panspermia in biology and simulation theory in cosmology) that would be permissible in the science classrooms. But, they would be rejected in principle by BioLogos, because, once again, they reject the very possibility that intelligent design could be detected by science.
This brings me to my last observation. Craig argues for a particular way of approaching these issues:
“It relates to what I’ve argued specifically with regard to the fine-tuning of the universe, or the origin of the universe. What I’ve argued is, science can provide evidence for a religiously neutral premise in a philosophical argument for a theologically significant conclusion. . . .So, for example, when you take the fine-tuning argument, one of the premises is that the fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance. And the arguments people give against physical necessity have nothing to do with God. Similarly, those who think the fine-tuning is not plausibly explained by chance don’t do so on theological grounds.”
Frankly I had to listen to “religiously neutral premise in a philosophical argument for a theologically significant conclusion” several times to understand what he even meant. Two things come to mind. First, there are religiously non-neutral premises being espoused in the science classrooms of every public school. Being confined to methodological naturalism, they begin and end with the assumption that there are no phenomena caused by the supernatural. As I mentioned above, the child sitting in a physics or astronomy class will be given only a naturalistic explanation for the universe and all phenomena within it. Even as Craig has spent a lifetime arguing—from science—that God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe.
Second, anybody familiar with Craig’s work understands that he is not just offering religiously neutral premises in philosophical arguments for theologically significant conclusions. He argues against the competing hypotheses of chance and necessity (both naturalistic), and posits intelligent agency as a replacement explanation. If he was just talking from outside of scientific hypotheses and/or explanations, he wouldn’t attempt to refute the theories put forth by physicists and cosmologists. He would simply congratulate them for producing an explanation inside the confines of methodological naturalism, and then agree to disagree on the metaphysics.
To clarify this point, let’s revisit his view on teaching biology. He feels the science classroom should be free of references to God. Thus, he must desire that science teach only naturalistic causes. So, even if the evidence points to intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of life, Craig wants the runner up explanation to be taught, even if he believes there are superior reasons for thinking an intelligence is responsible. If that’s true, he should retire from arguing that physicists and cosmologists should accept God as the best explanation for the universe. The same could be said of history. Craig would want history to conclude that Jesus was just a man, and didn’t rise from the dead, since that violates naturalism. If we can’t teach ID in the science classroom, what place does it have in anthropology or ancient history? Do we want classes that teach the truth (as best we can discern), or those that confine themselves to methods that prevent certain kinds of truths? That is the question.