In keeping with my promise to review other theistic evolution books not discussed in my critique, Shadow of Oz, I now move to another older offering, Evolution: From Creation to New Creation, by Peters and Hewlett. I’m dealing with it only because I am aware that it is used in various places, including a noteworthy seminary.
The book begins with the normal muddled genuflections to “peace” at the interface of science and faith, noting that even the National Academy of Sciences “would like to bring peace to the battlefield” (p. 18). Of course, NAS would so by appealing to science and religion as “different ways of knowing.” Effectively, per the usual, science tells us about the material happenings of life, whilst religion offers us warm, but entirely unverifiable, feelings about what it all means.
Peters and Hewlett attempt to describe the various ways of dealing with evolution within the context of theology. In so much, they do a decent, though not always entirely fair, job of cashing out the various views. But they leave no doubt where they fall on that spectrum. The ultimate theology they attempt to advance in final summation is that of Teilhard’s which they label as the “far end of the subspectrum” of theistic evolution.
For some reason, the authors repeatedly use Dr. Kenneth Miller to forcefully affirm that evolution is a proper science, that its evidences are beyond reproach, and that Creation Science and Intelligent Design fail. Oddly, they do so, while defining Miller as a deist. I deal with Miller in great detail in my book, but suffice it to say, they use Kenneth Miller because he is utterly unequivocal and entirely overconfident in his positions, confused as they are.
Peters and Hewlett also do a nice job of setting up the historical context of Darwin’s discovery, and its transition into the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Yet, they do almost nothing by way of justifying it as the top of the heap with respect to evidence or explanatory power. There seems to be no other game in town for them.
They repeatedly affirm that “the problem for theologians as posed by scientists is that no purpose can be seen within nature” (27). That is, they pull no punches in declaring that science accurately reports to us that there is no teleology or purpose (not even progress in their minds) to evolution. It is precisely as the secular biologists perceive it. So, how do they reconcile this with the God of creation? In the end, they climb aboard process panentheism, in which “creation at the beginning was not a once and for all time event; rather, God continues to create and we witness this by observing transformation in the ongoing natural and historical processes” (25). As they put it, “In our version of theistic evolution, we will avoid locating purpose or direction or even value within nature; yet, we will affirm a divine purpose for nature” (28).
Things get messy when they attempt to construct an eschatological view of evolution. Peters and Hewlett argue
“[We] share with deism the advantage of opening up nature as an arena to be understood on its own terms, according to its own principles, free of premature ideological commitments. Yet, [we] also share with theism the advantage of a coherent understanding of a God who acts in our world, care for us creatures, and promises redemption from the vicissitudes of life’s struggle” (29).
I would point out that this is of little help. That God should care for His creatures is useless to them, in the absence of redemption and interaction. And, for all of life but humankind, this is the position the authors take. They strongly affirm the “noninterventionist divine action” position, in which there is both divine action, “as well as a divine-hands-off understanding of the dialectic of law and chance in natural selection” (30). Life unfolds in an undirected (teleologically speaking) path that could’ve been otherwise, and the process is filled with massive death, struggle and suffering. There is no answered prayer for God’s creatures, nor redemption in some Apocalyptic sense. For Peters and Hewlett, this was God’s way of letting the cream rise to the top: we being the cream.
Here they reject the evolutionary line of events, declaring that the Darwinist has taken a step too far in making the “leap from what is physical to metaphysical, or leap from biological nature to human nature” (47). They go on to make claims about the separation of humans from other animals by some divine gift of the soul. Peters and Hewlett write, “Our spiritual side is somehow different from that of other life. . . . We hold that the human soul is a special creation of God. Even if the soul is an emergent phenomenon not requiring an interventionist interpretation of divine action” (169). This is problematic, because they open the door to a property of humanity that may be derived from naturalistic (emergent) sources, cannot be detected by scientific naturalism, but “operates out of or through our physical structure. . . yet is not reducible to this structure” (169). Thus, they want a ghost in the machine that can be created by the machine, but is transcendent to, and in control of, the machine. Yes. Incoherent on so many levels.
The authors also spend a good amount of time demonstrating the folly of applying Darwinian principles to humanity, mostly in the atrocities of human eugenics and in the postmodern views of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. While they are right to warn against these things (on moral or ethical grounds), they do not justify why they are scientifically wrong ways of understanding the human race. Worse, the very end of the book espouses the “co-creator” position, in which we can take the reins of our evolutionary future, and shoot an area towards transhumanism. Precisely the sorts of things argued by the eugenicists!
Their final chapter attempts to formulate their own theological worldview, and is particularly frightening. As mentioned before, they hold that the creation is unfinished, but that we are continually evolving towards a new creation that is “very good”. God’s “good creation” was not accomplished as some point, and then sullied by the Fall of man. Rather, the creation began chaotic, flawed, and immoral, and is evolving towards a perfected state. This is how they sidestep theodicy. The world is nasty, brutish, and short, but that wasn’t what God had in mind. We’re evolving away from those lowly beginnings. However, the authors are careful to point out, “Charles Darwin did theologians a favor by expunging purpose from natural selection. . . A restricted Darwinian approach to biology, minus progress serves to undercut the social misuse of what scientists discover about nature. This is something theologians need to applaud” (159). So, we are not to look at the physical products of the evolving creation as some symbol of eschatological advancement towards a “very good” creation. As they put it, “We plan to look for this divine purpose where it belongs, namely, in God. The purpose for the long history of nature over deep time is not a built-in telos . . . purpose comes from the end looking backward. . .” (159).
As one might expect, Peters and Hewlitt make the case that God’s hands-off approach is some form of liberation and freedom to the creation, allowing it to create itself. Once more and to the hilt, let’s be clear: inanimate objects are not free to choose, and chance does not equate to choice. That view is pantheism.
Two other concerns must be mentioned. First, the work of the cross—the central feature of Christian faith—is ripped of its context in the theology of Peters and Hewlett. Recall that, sin comes “in the first Adam”, but is conquered by Jesus, the “second Adam.” As Paul put it, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15: 21-22). That is to say that the condemnation of sin was brought about by man, in the past, and relationship has been restored in the cross. However, the creation is said to continue in its decay. It was never in a state of evolutionary transcendence. Jesus warns that things will get worse, with brother rising against brother, daughter against mother, and proclaims, “there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matt. 24: 21). Jesus warns that thing will be so bad that the time will be cut short, lest all perish. Such claims are thrown on their heads by Peters and Hewlett. Never mind that the last century was the bloodiest in human history, and the universe—as science understand it—is not really evolving towards God, but is careening towards oblivion and heat death.
Anyway, as is always the case with theistic evolution, Jesus once again becomes the stumbling block. Nowhere in my reading did I see the authors defend the supernatural aspects of Jesus Christ as a God-man. This makes sense. To do so would be to shelf methodological naturalism, and to make claims in direct opposition to the scientific naturalism they’re so loyally defending. I will stop here, but it’s also worth noting that they offer no explanation as to how we will arrive at this new creation, nor how we will transcend naturalistic processes to reach the spiritual plane of existence with God. I guess we’re supposed to just hang on tight and wait to find out.