Just not working

First off, let me say that this post will feel much like the ones I’ve offered in the past. It will once again address so-called theistic evolution. I hesitated in offering any public commentary in response to Denis Lamoureux’s review of Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. I’ve come to the belief that many of our academic debates distract us from the cross, and act to divide believers in unhealthy ways. I think many (perhaps myself included) have hinged their faith on the outcome of a particular view or theory, rather than focusing always on the empty tomb (which to me is the most important thing in Christianity). Still, I am reminded of just how close the theistic evolutionist’s bombs land to the cross and the empty tomb. Close enough to jeopardize belief in these central claims (whether they know it or not). So, I decided I would offer some concerns.

Let me say that there are some areas in which I agree with Dr. Lamoureux. I have my reservations about the massive tome (1007 pages) offered by Moreland et al. First, at its size and cost, it really becomes an expensive door stop. Most aren’t likely to read it, nor are they willing to drop $60 to get it. Second, it does clearly demonstrate just how theologically invested ID is. It doesn’t have to be that way. ID could exist as a scientific view, apart from theological claims. But it seems obvious that ID is functioning as a form of creationism. I don’t have a problem with that, but the ID community has denied such underpinnings for decades. That is where my agreement with Lamoureux ends.

His first criticism is a tired old complaint that ID is God of the Gaps. Every time I see such criticisms, I have to wonder if the one lodging the complaint has read our responses to it. As Lamoureux describes it,

“according to a God-of-the-gaps approach to divine action, there are ‘gaps’ in the continuum of natural processes, and these ‘discontinuities’ in nature indicate places where God has miraculously intervened in the world.”

His concern is that these gaps get filled by scientific (read, naturalistic) explanations. He simply doesn’t see any real gaps in descriptions of nature or history (though he does feel God works miraculously with our species. How that is not a God-of-the-gaps claim on his side, I do not know).

So in general, he simply doesn’t see God’s direct intervention in any aspect of creation. Here, he would find great support among the vast population of scientists who are non-believers.

Lamoureux, like most of the TEists I’ve read, raise the God-of-the-gaps for a second reason. They see direct divine intervention as some odd form of deism. Later in his review (page 125) he states,

“Being old earth creationists, they believe that God initiated the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago and that he used the natural process of cosmological evolution to create suns, planets, moons, and so forth. But, for 10 billion years after the Big Bang, he did no intervene in the universe until 4.1 billion years ago when he miraculously made living cells. Since the Creator formed the inanimate world through a natural process and did no use God-of-the-gaps interventions as stated in Genesis 1, does it mean that proponents of ID Theory are liberal theists? Or worse, for the first 10 billion years after the Big Bang, are they in effect deists?”

This is a silly argument, but worse than that, it actually kills theistic evolution (if the argument were valid). If the use of natural processes by God to create the inanimate universe is a form of deism, then Lamoureux is effectively a deist clear up to the point that God directly acts with the human race! He doesn’t see God intervening directly at any prior point!

But, the argument is not valid. Theistic evolutionists like Lamoureux believe that,

“The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process.”

(More on the specifics of this claim later). The “sustained” part is often described as God’s immanence. So, while the unfolding of that history does not require any divine intervention (i.e., a fully secular scientific account is sufficient), God is really there for every single event (Lamoureux tells us “God is behind each and every natural process in the world, including the mechanism of evolution). Of course, the Christian ID theorist really argues the same thing. God sustains all creation. But, the ID theorist also believes that God directly intervenes, not that He only intervenes. For these reasons, I wish theistic evolutionists would just stop making this bad argument. It is demonstrably a mischaracterization of the ID/creationist view.

Now there could be an additional point of agreement here, if Lamoureux could be more clear about his views. He rightly points out that ID has mostly been anti-Darwinian. Their obsession is with the undermining of a blind evolutionary process like Darwinian evolution. As I’ve written, you cannot be intended and unintended at the same time. You cannot use an honest (chance) lottery to give your uncle money. And, you cannot have chance (“random”) mutations as a means to achieve specified outcomes. There is much more nuance we could add here, but that is the main thrust of the ID argument. (There is a significant debate regarding whether or not chance events can be used to search adaptive space and arrive at pre-specified outcomes.)

But, Lamoureux seems to agree. He writes,

“Evolution is teleological and features a plan, a purpose, and a final goal. Evolutionary creationists firmly reject dysteleological evolution and the belief that the evolutionary process is the result of irrational necessity and blind chance… Evolutionary creationists are also adamantly opposed to secular interpretations of evolution such as deistic evolution, Darwinian evolution, Neo-Darwinism, atheistic evolution, and dysteleological evolution… Moreover, this evangelical Christian view of evolution asserts that God planned men and women to be the pinnacle of creation…”

If Lamoureux now speaks for all TE, then we seem to have hit a point of agreement. And yet, Lamoureux doesn’t really seem to be able to put his full weight on the statement he just made. He immediately follows up this comment with the qualifier,

“Now it must be noted that natural selection and random mutations are important mechanisms in biological evolution.”

This of course is the Neo-Darwinian model! So, he seems to ascribe to this “secular interpretation” after all. Like most, Lamoureux tries to bridge this gap by suggesting that,

“natural processes [like random mutations] operate within the boundaries of an overarching set of physical laws that are ordained and sustained by the Lord.”

Thus, his view maintains that these larger laws of necessity are able to direct random mutations so as to achieve pre-determined outcomes (e.g. the argument from convergent evolution). I have my doubts about just how precise such outcomes can be, but you don’t need my arguments against his view; Lamoureux seems to discredit himself. A few pages later in his review (page 121), Lamoureux points out that,

“bursts of new plants and animals often occur after mass extinctions in which 50 to 90 percent of species disappear in the ‘blink of an eye’…the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago also eliminated about 75 percent of species on Earth.”

It seems to me that these events are also part of the “overarching set of physical laws,” and yet they could easily snuff out life on the planet over and over again. It’s a good thing that humans weren’t on the scene during such an event. Otherwise, the “pinnacle of creation” would have been utterly annihilated. Does that sound like a guaranteed plan for creating something in God’s image? As one last aside, I would point out that, if Lamoureux does in fact reject all of those other dysteleological views of evolution, then he sits squarely outside of the mainstream literature in evolutionary biology. Perhaps he should spend more time correcting the secular scientists and their errant models, as opposed to criticizing his fellow Christians.

Lamoureux also points out all of the pseudogenes (genes that no longer function or serve a purpose) in the genomes of organisms. This seems like profligate waste created by an unintelligent process (though I’m also skeptical about whether or not these ‘pseudogenes’ in fact serve no function. e.g. studies like this). He then offers the observation that baleen whales grow useless teeth that are often lost even before birth. I don’t know much about the developmental biology of marine mammals, but let’s assume he’s right. As a Christian who believes God “created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process,” the outcomes he discusses seem like pretty shoddy and unpredictable work. [As an aside, I do think some of these issues apply to all old earth views, not just TE].

There are many other issues I have with his review (particularly his rather blithe conflation of speciation patterns and the origins of novel features and body plans), but I want to end on one honest query I have for Dr. Lamoureux. There’s an old saying that, if you’re good at something, you don’t have to tell others. They’ll tell you. Now, I’ve never mentioned at any point (anywhere) that I’m an evangelical Christian. I don’t have to. It’s known. Yet, Lamoureux reminds readers that his view is evangelical eight times in a single article. It’s clear that he’s self-conscious about the opinion that TE is not seen as evangelical (he never defines what “evangelical” means to him).

If he is worried about this perception, I think it’s for good reason. For several pages, Lamoureux deals with Wayne Grudem’s hermeneutics. He even outlines Grudem’s charge that there are twelve “historical and scientific facts” about origins that contradict TE. We don’t need to list them all, but the main items are that human beings were created de novo, that Adam & Eve are historical real people, that human death begins with the fall of Adam & Eve, etc. Now, Grudem is but one contributor to the Theistic Evolution book, and I won’t say that I completely agree with his arguments (I haven’t read him enough to say that). But the issue of human origins and Adam & Eve are critical.

One of the things I’ve never been able to wrangle out of TEists is a coherent account of humanity. Nearly all TEists (Lamoureux included) flatly reject that God directly created Adam & Eve. Instead, humanity emerges from within a breeding population of primate ancestors. This presents many difficulties. First, essentially all Christians hold that primates (ancestors or otherwise) are not made in the image of God. They are not morally culpable, and are not spiritual beings capable of damnation or salvation. So, the TEist must navigate that moment in which some “human” was born to a primate mother. God looks upon the human and says “Adam” and yet “Adam” must breed with non-human animals.  This Adam can attain immortality (either in salvation or damnation) while the rest of his kin simply perish. It’s just a real mess to deal with. Lamoureux doesn’t touch this at all.

The second major problem is what to do with evil, the fall and the entire enterprise of Christ’s sacrifice. On Lamoureux’s view, death, disease and suffering are part of God’s good creation. He intended them. They are part of those “overarching” physical processes that guide creation. Yet, the Bible (front to back) teaches that death, disease and suffering were not part of God’s original plan, and that they are things that must be conquered. Jesus does not look upon a crippled man, or a man suffering from leprosy, and say ‘behold, God’s good work.’ He heals them of their afflictions, and we are repeatedly told that they are an aspect of this fallen world, and must be conquered. (more on this in a moment). The connection between the death initiated by the “first Adam” and the life restored by the “second Adam” are just too clear. Lamoureux also doesn’t touch this.

The third major problem is it is so clear that the authors of the New Testament (including Jesus) affirmed a historical Adam & Eve (as well as oddities like Noah and Jonah). Lamoureux does not deny this. He affirms it. He gladly admits that these ancient authors believed God directly created things and that Adam & Eve were historically real. But, Lamoureux himself, rejects these things. He writes,

“In the same way that the Holy Spirit accommodated and allowed the biblical writes to employ an ancient understanding of astronomy in the creation of the heavens, the Lord also permitted an ancient biology in conceptualizing the origin of men and women. the de novo creation of humans in Genesis 1 and 2 is an incidental ancient vessel that delivers the inerrant spiritual truths that the Lord created us and that we bear the image of God…should anyone be surprised that the biblical writers accepted the de novo creation of the universe and life, including humans? No. This was the origins science-of-the-day in the ancient world. And, of course, the apostle Paul believed in a historical Adam as stated in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. However, does this apostle’s belief that Adam was a real person mean that Adam actually existed? No.”

I always wonder which Old Testament figures and events the TEist does affirm. Was Abraham real? Moses? Of course, two gospels draw a line from these early characters to Jesus (Luke goes to Adam, while Matthew stops at Abraham). It was important.

So, we are supposed to dismiss Adam & Eve (and all creation accounts in which God directly intervenes), because these beliefs are just archaic “science of the day.” But, I wonder (I honestly wonder), would Lamoureux be consistent in applying this principle? These were ancient peasants who were superstitious, living in a world filled with fables and tales and talk of spirits. Today, we know what causes a man to have leprosy, to be crippled, or to be mute. Yet, there are nine times in the New Testament where such afflictions are directly linked to demonic activity. What does Lamoureux do with those? Did Jesus really draw an evil spirit from a boy who suffered seizures (Luke 9:37)? What nonsense, given modern science. And why stop there? Discussions of such miracles and messianic leaders were prominent superstitions of the day. On what grounds does Lamoureux keep Jesus, but scrap the rest? These are the bombs I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Lamoureux wants desperately not to be labeled a “liberal” Christian (even as he flatly declares that “intelligent design is unbiblical”). But, how can this label be avoided, given his positions? I ask these honestly, and I invite Lamoureux (and other TEists) to respond in honest conversation.



2 thoughts on “Just not working”

  1. Hello Wayne,
    Good to see you writing again. And I agree, what the TE’s are doing has a real impact on theology, despite their protests to the contrary. I too noticed the same couple of things about “Theistic Evolution”. It is big. I have read it and it is solid and thorough, but I am afraid those that could most benefit from its contents – pastors, students, informed laypersons, etc. – will never read it because of its size. The benefit of the shorter books put out by BioLogos and others of like mind is that they are concise and to the point, even if they ignore many issues and tend to be pretty shallow. And it is mildly amusing that ID’s proponents have stressed its ‘non-deistic/theistic/Christian” stance – and many of its proponents like Klinghoffer and Denton are not ‘believers’ – and yet in this volume a number of the believers among them have expressed ID as a support for the historical evangelical view of the Bible and history. I agree that generally ID is congruent with historical Christianity, but it is interesting to see them come out of the closet so to speak.
    It is hard to fathom that Lamoureux is trotting out the ‘god-of-the-gaps’ fallacy. He is a pretty smart fellow so it is tough to believe he does not understand that ID is not “we don’t know how this happened so God must have done it” strategy, but is instead a “this is a marvelously complex structure that requires step-by-step assembly in a numbered sequence requiring a significant amount of detailed information in a specific time frame to exist” understanding of (primarily) biological life, which therefore requires an intelligent designer. The only thing I can figure is there is a willful decision to reject ID based on a commitment to evolution that results in a refusal to understand simple logic and evidence of design. I see cracks in that wall, one of which is what appears to be a growing cadre of scientists who, while they may not be embracing design, no longer reject it out of hand. With every new book by an ID proponent, there are new names writing recommendations on book jackets and first pages – names that come with significant scientific credibility and obviously don’t mind putting their name out there on books critical of neo-Darwinian evolution. It is a good sign I think – which is why it is amazing to me that many of the TE’s are clinging uncritically to what seems to me a ship taking on water.
    Science aside, it is the theological implications of TE that are most disturbing, a point you made well. Most TE’s, and maybe Lamoureux most of all, dismiss any idea that their understanding will affect basic beliefs of the Christian faith and confidence in the integrity of the Bible. Whereas the Bible from stem to stern is replete with historical assertions rooted in the early pages of Genesis, Lamoureux and his ilk apparently think Jesus, Paul et al felt it okay to dispense deception, all in the name of ‘accommodation’, a concept I don’t think he understands. A big problem is that things become very arbitrary, as to what is historical and what is ‘accommodation’. I don’t have access to the American Scientific Affiliate, so I cannot speak to his specific review. But in his book Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! he states clearly: “Though evolutionary creationists contend that the biblical accounts of origins are based on ancient scientific concepts, they firmly believe that real history in Scripture begins roughly around Genesis 12 with Abraham.” (120) Besides not giving any indication of how the historicity beginning at Genesis 12 was decided, the ‘roughly around’ should give us pause. If I cannot trust the Bible to speak truth about a history it is so strongly rooted in – like no other holy book – how can I trust it to speak to the unseen that I am relying on for life, hope and salvation? The critique presented by Theistic Evolution tackles this very issue, one that is vital for the church in the future. And that is why your ‘critique of a critique of a critique’ is spot on and needs to be widely read.

    Liked by 2 people

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