Silver linings or rose-colored glasses?

The lengths some will go to deny the obvious. President of BioLogos, Deborah Haarsma really twisted the facts in her recent post. She opened with,

“A new Gallup poll released Monday shows some exciting developments in the faith and science conversations.”

The poll asks people to affirm one of the following positions:

  • Human beings developed over millions of years, but God guided this process
  • Human beings developed over millions of years, but God had no part in this process
  • God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years

Haarsma takes the first option to be in favor of theistic evolution (entirely ignoring the fact that this is just at home in the ID community). The second option is atheism. The third, Young Earth Creationism. She concludes:

“[The poll] suggests that young-earth creationist views are on the decline…[and] that those who recently left the ‘present form’ view did not lose their faith in a shift to atheism, but adopted the ‘God guided’ position.”

She derives all of this is a most specious and disingenuous way. The poll contains data dating back to 1981. But, Haarsma cherry picks convenient dates spanning small periods of time in order to make her case (specifically confining the span of interest to just three years: 2014-present). If we simply look at the entire pattern from 1981 to the present we see a very different reality: In 1981, the number of people ascribing to the YEC view was 44%. Today it is 38%. In 1981, the number of people ascribing to the “theistic evolution” view was 38%. It’s exactly 38% today. No change over the last 36 years. In 1981, just 9% ascribed to the atheist view. Today, it is 19%. Take home message: Atheism has more than doubled, and theistic evolution hasn’t budged. Quite a different story than Haarsma offers.

Taking the long view, we see support for my thesis: The BioLogos crowd is not interested in converting evolutionists into Christians, but rather converting Christians into evolutionists. Haarsma is overjoyed that there are fewer YECists in the world, even as there are twice as many atheists (a pattern supported by another recent article). This also supports a statement made by Slate Magazine last year:

“BioLogos is a stopgap, the training wheels you put on your bike before realizing you can ride without them.”

But BioLogos wasn’t done this week. Also on the website, Praveen Sethupathy posted an article proclaiming, “One of Darwin’s Greatest Supporters Was a Devout Christian.”

In it, she argued,

“One of the earliest and most enthusiastic American supporters of Darwin’s thesis was a man named Asa Gray. He was a botanist at Harvard and a devout Christian. After critical examination of the theory and extensive back-and-forth interaction with Darwin himself, he found the theory so beautiful, so compelling that he was among the first to galvanize support for Darwin’s theories here in America… Notably, Asa was not troubled at all by what he called ‘accidental’ or ‘random’ processes in nature, because he believed that creation was endowed with a certain amount of freedom.”

Of course, it was the “accidental” process that Gray and Darwin could not agree on. Darwin was insistent that his theory, functioning largely as a secular theodicy, explained, “the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of nature.” To Darwin, this nature was, “utterly inexplicable on the theory of creation.” That is, his theory of evolution was intended to be a replacement of theistic creationism. He could, perhaps, “look at everything as resulting from designed laws,” with, “the details, whether or good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.” That is, if a god designed such laws, that god was indifferent to their outcomes. This god wouldn’t really care one way or the other. Again, Darwin was offering a theodicy. The most important aspect of Darwin’s theory–could a designer be behind the curtain–is precisely the thing that Darwin and Gray could not agree on.

Asa Gray (and several others, like Charles Lyell and Alfred Wallace) vociferously disagreed with Darwin. They saw the unfolding of evolution by natural laws as deeply teleological, with predetermined ends that fulfill God’s intentions. This conflict was (and is) of serious consequence to the scientific theory of evolution. The definition, as accepted by all sides, has been offered as the following:

“When it is said that mutation or variation is random, the statement simply means that there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes [by mutations] and the adaptational needs of an organism in the given environment.”

This is Ernst Mayr’s rendering, and it has been the basic understanding since the modern synthesis (stated most recently in November, 2016, at the meeting of the Royal Society of London). Consistent with Darwin’s view, this definition maintains that the process is not directed towards advancing any line or creating any particular organism. It’s a lottery with no outcomes in mind. Thus, if Gray et al. were right, then the very definition of Darwinian evolution is wrong.

In a letter to Asa Gray, Darwin would write,

“I see a bird which I want for food, take my gun and kill it, I do this designedly. An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightening. Do you believe that God designedly killed this man?… If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed.”

In the Origin of Species, he says,

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals.”

That is, Darwin’s mechanism was most certainly not indicative of your grandma’s Christian theism. This god was red in tooth and claw (if it existed at all).

And so, while we see that Gray had no qualms with the idea that species arise by means of natural selection acting on variation, he had serious concerns about the variation being undirected. This, of course, is precisely contrary to the story Sethupathy attempts to make. Frankly, I find this deeply disingenuous, as it attempts to offer the novice and uninitiated some false illusion of easy compatibility.

For example, Sethupathy ends by making the unevidenced statement, “Randomness does not imply lack of order or purpose. Instead, it can—operating under specified constraints—weave a pretty beautiful tapestry, like how evolutionary processes bring about the diversity of biological life.”

This is odd in light of what theistic evolutionists have to say about the process of Darwinian evolution.

Kenneth Miller has written, “Mankind’s appearance on this planet was not pre-ordained,” and that we are, “an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out…Our species, Homo sapiens, has not triumphed in the evolutionary struggle any more than a squirrel, a dandelion, or a mosquito . . . We are all winners in the game of natural selection. Current winners, we should be careful to say.”

He has added, “We would have no reason to suppose that primates, mammals or even vertebrates would emerge in a second running of the tape.”

Francisco Ayala goes further, saying,

“I think Intelligent Design implications are blasphemous, because they imply that God is inept. Like in the design of the jaw. And everything else . . . you every animal or plant is incompetently designed, and is a cruelty. . . .”

Thus he says “I prefer to see this as natural selection, rather than [as] a consequence of design by an intelligent designer, the Creator. . . . I don’t want the God of benevolence and the omnipotent God to be given the credit for having made that creation.”

Of course, Darwin himself could find no God in his theory at all:

“My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details.”

“There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created.”

“There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.”

Darwin’s interpretation of his own theory is correct in that, when taken as is, it leads to these conclusions. It remains the unfinished task of BioLogos to recover God where Darwin could not. It is incumbent upon them to explain how our existence can be both intended (by God) and unintended (through Darwinian evolution) at the same time. We all sit at the edge our seats awaiting such an explanation, but our backs are getting tired.

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5 thoughts on “Silver linings or rose-colored glasses?”

  1. Excellent assessment if this situation. I, too, have long since believed that theistic evolutionists are far more concerned with Darwin than they are with God. Darwin could not salvage God from his theory, but Ken Miller is going to “find Darwin’s God”? Now that you mention it, my back is really tired too.

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  2. To be a bit of a devil’s advocate: if the last several years show a growth in movement from YEC to TE, doesn’t that indicate a recent trend?

    Regarding Darwin, Lamoreux (sp?) spends an entire chapter in his most recent book – Evolution: Nature and Scripture say Yes! – trying to prove Darwin was an advocate of theistic design, mostly based on some letters written later in his life. I am not convinced, but the TE’s are make a run for it. I think they are more excited about Darwin than Jesus…

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    1. Hi Walt. Your comments are always welcome. I would object slightly to your rendering. The data most definitely do no indicate (at least not explicitly) that there has been a growth in TE in the past 4 years. It only shows that belief in an old-earth account has increased. It only says “man developed, with God guiding it.” I would say that’s just as much (if not more) overlapping with ID than TE. Many TEists don’t think God guided the process at all.

      Of course, there are other observations to be made. First, that the TE-friendly view has increased over the past 4 years only gets them BACK to where they were. This is not an advance, it’s a recovery! And yes, the atheistic view has plateaued, but it has done so at more than double where it was. This seems not to alarm them. As BioLogians always point out, YEC is liability in that, when they defect, they don’t find some more liberal view of Christianity, the simply go straight to atheism. We might also start asking, at what point along that transition from YEC to full-on atheism (i.e., all of the variations of old-earth) we must begin using air quotes around “Christian.”

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  3. This reminds me of the old joke about Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation “TE is the first step (or training wheels) from traditional Christianity to Atheistic evolution”. The poll seems to suggest this.

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