Saturday, August 14, 2010

In Defense of Theistic Evolution

It was not my orignal intention to defend theistic evolution on this blog, for fear it would alientate fellow beleivers. Then again, how many people, beleivers or otherwise, appear to be reading these posts? So I might as well go ahead.

I beleived in what might be called "theistic evolution" from a very early age. I never heard of the Genesis creation story in Sunday school. Somehow, it wasn't taught. I read all about the history of life on earth in Life's World We Live In book at home, and in the numerous books on dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals I brought home from the library. I knew all about the Mesozoic, Eocene Miocone and Plestocene well before school-age. I saw the intricate design in nature all around, and just assumed that somehow it was the work of God. I assumed the same thing about the how life developed on earth and simpler forms grew into more complex ones. God had to be somehow controling it. I'm not sure when I first encountered the Hebrew creation story, but it must have been sometime when I was in second or third grade, in the doctor's office with a copy of Uncle Arthur's Bible Stories. This contained beautiful paintings of the garden of Eden, with the newly created animals of all types. I loved those paintings. But the story implied these animls just appeared out of nowhere at God's will. There was no scientific explanation of how they were created. The general beleif of Creationists is, of course that they created by miracles. There was nothing scintific involved in the creation of the natural world at all.

My discovery of the creation story was initially frightening because it seemed to imply none of those hundreds of prehistoric beasts ever existed. All the animals depicted in those paintings were modern species. But I was taught that everything in the Bible was true. It seemed to imply that half my childhood had been a fraud. I asked my science-teacher father if the Genesis stories were true. He replied that, no they probeably weren't true, and I was greatly relieved. I assmued at the time that the origin of humans was a mystery, though I'd heard some thought we came form apes. But then my parents bought me Album of Prehistoric Man (I already owned the Album of Dinosaurs and the Album of Prehistoric Animals), and Zdenek Burian's book on prehistoric man man as a Christmas gift in the third grade. And I foud that humans really did evolve from apes, and the so-called "missing links" couldn't be missing. What was an australophithicus, then? I was fascinated that I could actually trace my ancestry back to non-human animals, clear back to the origin of life itself.

Creationists have always seemed to me to be pretty much kill-joys who, thankfully, are scientifically on wrong side of the debate. It would mean tossing the whole sceince of the how life developed through the intricately malleable structure of DNA out the window. Not that creationists ever deny the mere existence of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Perhaps some did in the past, but I've never read or heard anything by a creationist which denied the existence of extinct lifeforms; in fact modern creationists have created an entire idelogically motivated fantasy-world in which dinosaurs, mammals, and ancient near-eastern civilazations flourished on the continent of Pangea a were 6,0000 years ago! Sounds like something out of the lost-world pulps of the 1930s. Yet the creationists are promoting this fantasy as scientifically and historically accurate. The 1990s televised version of Conan Doyle's The Lost World featured a caraciture of a Bible-thumping creationist (a character not present in Doyle's story)who insists that "the devil mae that place!" Actually, any modern creationist would be absulutely delighted if a lost world of dinosaurs were discovered in the modern age! Some creationists with a passion for dinosaurs, are, in fact enthusiastic cryptozoolologists. Even the presence of Doyle's ape-men would be brushed aside, with the insistence that they were "just apes", despite their ability to walk apright!

Speaking of this, one of the greatest continuing falsehoods promoted by Creationists is the idea that there are no transitional forms. The fossil record is simply overflowing with them. As recently as twenty years ago, the evidence for whale ancestry was virtually unknown. Now the record of whale evoltuon is virtually complete, with all of the fossils of limbed whales discovered in the near east and North Africa. From Pakicetus to ambulocetus to durodon to basilosaurus and beyond. The record of human evolution, also, is virtually complete. Even the links between the links have now been filled. Australopithicus to Homo habilis to Homo Erectus to Homo heidelbergensis to Homo Egraster to Homo Neanderthalus and Hommo Sapiens--where are the supposed remaining gaps? But no amount of fossil record will be enough to convince creationists, most of whom even admit that they must hold to their beleifs no matter what. The reason for this is easy to discern. They beelive that once a non-literal interpretation of any Biblical passage is allowed, others will follow which may result in the outright rejection of Scripture and of Christ's sacrifice. This fear of "slippery slope" is why Young Earth Creationists such as Ken Hamm insist on the narrowest, most literal interpretation of Genesis possible.
Nor is this fear entirely unjustified. Darwin himself had his faith destroyed by the theory that made him famous. The recent film Creation, which details the life of Darwin following the return from his voyage on the Beagle protrays this effect on him as harrowing and tragic, escpecially in relation to the terrible early death of his young daughter. In spite of some unethical behavior on the part of a pastor it does not show atheism to be in any way "liberating" or "morally progressive," the way it championed by the current crowd of secular intellectuals. His newfound atheism does not lead Darwin to "freedom of thought" according to the movie, but to despair.
To demonstrate why the evolution=athiesm attitude is flawed, let me give an example from Expelled, the recent pro-Creationist movie by Ben Stein. At one point, he shows a CGI-animated sequence of the interior workings of a single cell. It is designed as incricately as a factory or computer program, the obvious point being that how could all this possibly have arisen by blind chance? The error which Stein and other creationists make is the assumption that evolution is itself
inherently atheistic and implies blind chance. But the very same evidence for design in that cell and innumerable structures throughout nature is also very much present in the evolutionary process itself. There are different types of theistic evolution, of course. One sort assumes that God created the first life in the ocean, then stayed out of it and allowed life to evolve independently. This is classic God-of-the-gaps, because it is simply replacing God with an unknown and assuming the first act of creation was a miracle. In other words, if it isn't spontaneous generation vis miraculous means, then God didn't do it. This is not, of course, what I am talking about here. I'm arguing that evolution itself is the process by which God creates. And as such, it is full of evidence for design. Some atheists have recently denied the notion that some lifeforms are "higher" then others, but this is not entirely accurate. Life evolves from simpler to to more complex (and in general more intelligent lifeforms in animals), while at the same time, branching out in order to fill all the availble ecological niches. As the environment alters, the niches change, and life forms adapt to refill them,or else they die out to be replaced by new lifeforms. Throughout the millions of years of earth history, the environment has altered and lifeforms have grown more complex as a result. The evolution of humans is indeed a story of advancment, though it also true that early human prototypes branched out into the then available niches. All of this is points to the conclusion that were created by scientific means, and that earth is a huge biological laboratory.
Most defenses of evolutionary theory, theistic or atheistic, are essentially defenses of science. However, there is one additonal defense which is from a moral standpoint rather than a sceintific one. It has to do with one of the cannards which atheists are fond of flinging at believers; Old Testement Atrocities. This is not a subject I care to discuss on Sabbath Keeper's Forum, becuase most people there passionatley beleive all of the Bible must be taken literally. I wager to guess that most are not emtirely comfortable with the massarces, unjust killings, and other atrocities either committed by or ordered by the Hebrew God. But they feel they must rationalize them some way because the Word is the Word. Some have taken the Genesis creation story as a allegory. But I beleive that the evidence shows that the OT writers just copied the story from a version in ancient Egypt. Admitting that some parts of the Bible might not be correct historically is just the point here; once you admit this, you no longer have to accept that OT atrocities are historical either. In fact, archeological evidence now suggests that no great wall encircled the city of Jericho at the time the invasion is supposed to have taken place. The conclusion? God didn't really order the deaths of those people. To belive He did means beleiving God is capable and willing to commit evil acts. The writers of the Old Testement likley wanted to emphasize the terrible and wrathful nature of their God. But they did so from a human-centered tribalistic perspective. This is precisely the way it looks when one examines the Old Testment. God was for the Hebrew people alone, and they commited genocides to appease His wrath. They writers may have accurately predicted the coming of Christ, but they got it wrong about the true nature of God (at least in some of their wrtings) and what sort of man the Messiah would be. He was not a war-leader, but a Prince of Peace, who taught that God was for the whole world NOT just the Hebrew people. Yes, Christ did indeed fulfill Old Testement prophecy, but he did so in a way totally unanticipated by those who had predicted him.


  1. An intelligent essay. I myself, at present, am an Old-Earth Creationist; but I routinely defend Theistic Evolutionists against the accusation that they are no different than atheists.

  2. On the other hand, I can't go along with your dismissal of the purging of the Canaanites. For God to order someone killed IS NOT evil the way a human-originated murder is evil, because God OWNS every life, and has the right to make His own disposition of it.

  3. My problem with theistic evolution is how death or the Fall fit in it all.
    Isn't death necessary to evolution? Then it would not be a direct result of the Fall, nor would it be bad... (taking that a little further, why should Christ conquer death at all? It's merely part of Creation.)
    The other thing is the Fall. I've gone to a talk or two about evolution. At the end of one, the professor simply confessed, "I have no idea how the Fall fits in. We're still working on that."
    Your thoughts?

  4. Jospeh Ravitts
    -I don't beleive that wether one owns a life gives one the moral responsibility to take that life. In a hyopthetical situation (which may some day be not so hypothetical) suppose that, either by accident or design, scientists manage to create some sort of artificial intelligence, which has its own capability to experience emotion including joy and suffering, the same as humans. This would mean the creators would have moral responsibility toward this intelligence, including the responsibility not to take its life.

    -As a theistic evolutionist, I interpret the story of the Fall as metaphor. Just about any sin (which is considered the result of the Fall) is tied directly to our animal nature, rather than the purpose God created for as humans. Sin is essentially selfish. During our evolution, certain behaviors contributed to survival and reproductions. As creatures made in God's image, we are called rise above our sin nature. We all know that the more selfish one is, the more one disregards the rights of others--and the further we are from living a Christian life. This is the problem with sexual sin. All sex is selfish at its core--not that makes it inherently evil, but the reason why moral restraints must be placed upon it. War and tribalism in general, which has been observed and documented in chimps is also a direct result of our animal heritege, a relic of evolution. In a sense, I beleive we really are called to fight evolution--not in the sense of denying it ever happened, but in overcoming our inherent selfishness.