Meet William James Herath. He is an author and blogger who has been called “a nutjob fundamental Christian who hates science.”
He is also self-described (yes, you read that correctly: self-described) as “completely disqualified as a voice” on the subject of biological evolution, a subject he has has written two or three books about. So he’s an interesting and unusual fellow, as you can see.
Anyway, another thing he has written is a fairly involved blog post that he calls “THREE QUESTIONS THAT MATTER… when it comes to Science, Evolution, and Faith.” (Willie, if you’re reading this, you might want to check this out.)
Some time ago, WJH approached me and asked if I would respond to his three questions, which I did a couple of weeks ago. As a bonus, I also enlightened Willie as to another topic about which he claimed total ignorance: the reason why his previous solicitations for dialogue with other theistic evolutionists had been met with hostility (according to him).
For brevity’s sake, I’ll include just the three questions here (but you’re probably going to want to skim through his full write-up for my reply to make sense), followed by my response. Whatever you think of Herath and his paper, various iterations of these questions are pretty common in YEC criticism of our views, so I think my answer is more broadly applicable than this particular exchange. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
1 – What scientific/empirical data supports Darwinian evolution?
2 – What do evolutionary biologists have to say about evolution?
3 – What do the scriptures say about evolution?
Editor’s note: Herath has changed the wording of the questions in the version of this paper on his website, which is linked above. However, the wording above is how the questions were presented in a PDF he emailed to me.
Let me start by explaining the problems with how you address theistic evolutionists, which you claim to be ignorant of. Your introduction is patronizing, offensive and, frankly, stupid. From the onset, using words like “blend,” “strain” and “accommodation” to describe our position evoke your biased presuppositions of TE as a wishy-washy compromise, even a disease (seriously, where did you get the idea that different types of a particular religious or philosophical view should be called “strains”?).
I mean, it’s wonderful and all that you “honestly” do not believe there is “a malicious bone in” my body, but after reading that condescending paragraph, I mostly just want to punch you in your pompous face.
Beyond the tone, the content is simply inaccurate as well. You broadly paint TEs as well-meaning simpletons, who settle upon theistic evolution because it’s a comfortable middle ground where they believe they will upset the fewest amount of people as they attempt to sweet-talk heathens into Jesus, when in fact, most TEs accept evolution because they have studied the evidence for it and found it to be overwhelmingly convincing. Period. You can disagree with the vast evidence for common descent, of course, but simply ignoring it as though it doesn’t exist, and we just stumbled onto TE out of the sweetness of our naive little hearts, is not going to win you a very sympathetic audience from TE believers, whom you claim to want to reach and engage with.
This carries over directly into your first question, “What scientific/empirical data supports Darwinian evolution?,” as though the vast majority of TEs will read that and think, “Huh. Well, garsh, I never dun thought bout that buhfore…” And I’m not reading between the lines here; you explicitly describe it as one of “three very poignant questions that have never been asked of them.” The fact that you honestly seem to believe no TE has ever considered whether there might be, you know, any evidence for evolution by common descent leads me to one of two conclusions: either you have never actually met and talked to a Christian theistic evolutionist before now, or you are incredibly bad at listening to and understanding the things that we say.
As far as the actual answer to your question, come on. There is more evidence that life evolves than there is that gravity exists. To give a brief overview, we know, as well as we know just about anything on this planet, that life has changed over time. We know that because the fossil record preserves the remains of thousands of species that are no longer alive, but who share similarities with species that are still around. The prevailing theory is that the species alive today are the descendants of the extinct ones we find in the fossil record. Is that an indisputable fact? No, but only because there is no such thing in science. But, from a Christian perspective, it is far more likely than the idea that God originally created thousands of minute variations on a single design, then allowed almost all of them to go extinct — coincidentally, before any human records managed to record their existence.
The word we use to describe the process of this change over time is evolution. Beyond the fossil record, which simply demonstrates change over time, evidence supporting the more specific and technical process of evolution includes comparative genetics and phylogenetic reconstruction, comparative anatomy and biochemistry, nested hierarchies, biogeography and continental diversity and distribution, atavisms, ERVs, homologous structures, vestigial structures and ring species. Numerous actual examples of speciation, selection, beneficial mutations, gene copying, new features arising from mutations and so on, have been observed, both in a laboratory setting and in nature.
Is all of this evidence a perfect fit? No. Again, nothing is in science. If it were, the millions of biologists working in the field today would have nothing to argue about. But it fits the evidence well enough to have convinced almost every single working scientist who has studied it over the past 100 years, which is simply astounding if you know anything about the scientific community whatsoever. Any theory wishing to displace evolution would have to not only fit this evidence as well, but fit it better than evolution, and young-earth creationism is so bad at fitting with the available evidence that it is actually hilarious.
Your second question is probably the dumbest of them all (though the first and third are pretty close), for two reasons. First of all, it is entirely based on your flawed premise that the only reason TE exists in the first place is to be a Trojan horse into the camp of scientifically literate atheists. Since this is not the case, and the position is actually based on reasoned consideration and acceptance of the evidence, then your criticism has no legs to stand on.
The second and even bigger problem is that you’re equating two completely different things as though they are inextricably linked. Part of this is not your fault. The very term, “theistic evolution,” implies that the evolution and the theism are linked to and dependent on one another. This is, of course, not the case; it is simply a description of a person who holds two different and independent positions (that a benevolent, personal God exists and that evolution is true). It would be like if we had a term to describe people who like chocolate ice cream and believe in the Loch Ness monster (“chocolatey Nessie-ists”?). The term’s existence is a necessary evil; it exists simply because this is a large and frequently revisited topic of discussion, and we need some common terms to describe the various positions so we sort of know what the heck we’re all talking about.
The error you have made is to take some experts in a field in which we happen to agree — the “evolution is true” side of things — and assume we also agree with their spiritual or religious views, which, you know, makes absolutely no sense, especially considering how little most of the folks you quote know about religion or spirituality.
Look at it this way. I’m going to go a little bit out on a limb here and say you believe the earth is round. Now, let’s say I found a cartographer who also believes the earth is round, and he also happens to be a white supremacist. Now, how fair would it be, if I took a particularly racist quote from him and applied it to you, my argument being that he’s an expert in the world being round, which you agree with, therefore it’s inconsistent if you don’t also hold his views about the supremacy of the Aryan race? I’m guessing you would say, “Not very fair,” but that’s exactly what you’ve done here.
Fact is, if evolution and God are mutually exclusive, as the scientists you quote say and you seem to believe, then God is mutually exclusive with every other scientific theory about how the natural world and the universe operates, from the laws of planetary motion to the water cycle. Because, just like in evolution, the scientific descriptions and formulas for how planets move do not allow for “divine tinkering” or “resorting to a Creator or other external agent.” Same with the water cycle, and every other theory about how things work. They are self-contained processes, because that is simply what science does. It is the study of the natural world. Ergo, anything that comes from science it going to describe natural processes and natural mechanisms, without reference or regard to the supernatural.
Now, does the fact that the natural process of evolution, as derived through the scientific lens, contains no shout-outs to God mean that God does not exist if evolution is true? Sure, if it also means that God does not exist if the water cycle is true. Obviously, all this really means is that science is limited. It has no ability to measure or test or verify the existence of supernatural beings, like God, therefore the fact that its theories do not evoke God or the supernatural says nothing about whether or not they exist. Just like how the fact that a ruler cannot measure microwaves does not prove that microwaves do not exist. It simply means that they are different questions, and they require different methods and tools.
This carries into your third question, where you say things like, “What knits a human together in their mother’s womb, God or naturally existing self-arranging molecules? According to evolution, there is zero supernatural involvement.” As I’ve shown above, this line of thinking cannot be applied selectively just to the scientific theories with which you disagree. When you say that the naturalistic assumptions and limitations upon which science is performed must be extrapolated into all other realms of belief, then that creates a very black and white world. Either all science is good and true and there is no God, or there is a God, and absolutely no science can be trusted. And it doesn’t matter how “observational” that science may be, it can’t be true unless it evokes the supernatural to explain how things work (which, you know, no science does).
Your question about scripture contains a number of breathtaking leaps in what I will generously refer to as “logic.” Your first error is to equate the gospels with the Genesis creation accounts, as though they were a direct, apples-to-apples comparison. As you know, there are many different types of writing in scripture, and not all of it should be interpreted the same way. Just because the Gospel of Luke may be a historical account does not mean we should necessarily apply a historical lens to the Psalms, or Revelation, or even the parables that appear within the Gospel of Luke.
There are many, many differences between the creation accounts and the gospels, which would strongly suggest they should not be interpreted exactly the same way, but one of the simplest ones is this. In his chapter 1 intro, the author of Luke explicitly describes the purpose and nature of his writing and those of the other gospels. And he describes these writings as “orderly accounts” of “the things that have been fulfilled among us,” passed down by “eyewitnesses.” In other words, the gospels are self-described as historical accounts, to be accepted or rejected on the basis of their accurate description of real events.
Genesis 1-3, on the other hand, contains no disclaimer in which the purpose or nature of the text is clearly described, and it certainly is nowhere in scripture purported to be an “eyewitness account” (contrary to the claims of Ken Ham and the like). Therefore, I believe it is and should be open to reasonable interpretation, and I think that many of its elements — such as its indeterminate place and time, the contradictory nature of Genesis 1 and 2, and clear metaphors like talking snakes and trees with magical properties — point to it being a symbolic text.
You draw yet another absurd false dichotomy here, suggesting that there are only two options for interpreting things like God’s creation of woman, either that it literally happened exactly the way it is described in your English, probably King James, translation of it, or it is “false.” Would you apply this same test to Psalms? If so, I think we have to throw out Psalms. What about Revelation? What about Proverbs? What about, I don’t know, every single parable Jesus ever told? Man, that’s a shame; I sure liked His parables.
Sorry, but the biblical authors liberally used symbolism and metaphor all the time, because they are powerful literary devices that allow writers to convey complex and important ideas in simple and easy-to-understand terms. Applying a ham-fisted “literal or bust” hermeneutic to whichever books you arbitrarily presuppose to be history is just a bad, stupid way to read the Bible.
Finally, accepting science does not mean believing miracles are not possible. Science describes and tests how the natural world normally operates. Miracles are what happens when God, the author of nature, chooses to step in and do something a different way. I don’t know of any Christian who rejects the idea that God can do miracles, “Because science,” certainly no theistic evolutionists (and I know many), so to say that one must believe one or the other is asinine.
The main difference between the miracles of Christ that you mention, and the creation of the world, is that we have no evidence of the former that we might analyze. They were singular acts of history, to be accepted and believed on faith, or rejected. The creation of the world is not like that. We still have the world, and we can (and do) study it. We as Christians can (and do and should) allow our study of God’s world help us better understand how we should read parts of God’s word that are subject to different reasonable interpretations. This is exactly what the church did several hundred years ago, when the science of Copernicus and Galileo was allowed to correct our mistaken view of Bible passages that seemed to clearly say the earth does not move (e.g. 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1 and Psalm 96:10).
Is it possible that the creation of the world was simply a miracle, like Jesus walking on water, and therefore, scientific inquiry into the creation of the world is not trustworthy? Sure, but the problem is still that we have the world and can study the world, and all of the evidence available to us points, consistently, to it being very, very, very old. To suggest that God actually made it much more recently is also, necessarily, to say that interwoven within his creation was an inherently deceptive act: that he created radioactive rocks with most of their radioactive isotopes already converted into their decay products to suggest that they were much older than they were; that he created craters on the earth and all over the other heavenly bodies to suggest a long history of meteor impacts that never actually happened; that he sped up the speed of light (several million times) so that we could see distant objects whose light should have taken millions of years to reach us if light had been traveling at its normal (and normally constant) speed.
And so on. For me, at some point, it just becomes easier to say, “OK, well, I think my interpretation of this one chapter of the Bible must be wrong,” rather than believe God is basically a trickster playing some insane long game, the goal of which is apparently to lead scientists to hell.
I hope this all answers your questions, and sheds some light on theistic evolutionists as well (though we are not a homogeneous group by any means).