In the past six months that I’ve been running GOE, I’ve yet to encounter a reader whose moniker is more awesome — or more perfectly suited to a fan of a website about biological evolution — than the one who contacted me last week.
His name is Darwin Bloise. Here’s what he had to say:
Hello Mr. Tyler, I enjoy your site a lot. It has helped me see the truth of how evolution and the Bible can coexist. However, every so often, I see things like this. The first two links on it are apparently reasons as to why evolution can’t coexist with Christianity, and stuff like that always scares me, because if it can’t, and evolution is true, then we’re out of luck. Please see if the arguments have any actual merit. Thank you.
P.S.: Yes, you can use my name. But only because I find it hilariously coincidental to my dilemma.
Bencze thinks theistic evolution — the idea that a sovereign, personal creator-God is compatible with evolution by natural selection — is “incoherent,” and he explains why:
But there’s a big problem in loving both God and evolution. The premise of theistic evolution is incoherent. The “theistic” part connotes a creator God who knows what he wants to do and does it. The “evolution” part connotes a process that is random and in no need of supervision by any conscious agent because it is sufficient unto itself. So theistic evolution might be rephrased as “a system whereby God creates using a process that he cannot influence in any way and which has no need of him.” Huh?
Bencze goes on and on along this same line of thought, trotting out the tired old trope of the stupid, sniveling theistic evolutionist who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the “cool kids” clique of legitimate scientists (which comes straight out of the Disco Tute’s playbook, by the way). This is, essentially, the ID version of K-Ham’s patented COMPROMISER™ argument.
I’m not much interested in responding to Bencze’s or the Disco Tute’s caricature of theistic evolutionists (after all, as a theistic evolutionist myself, my primary goal in everything I do is to try and be accepted by everyone and avoid offending people). But I think the content of his actual argument does merit some further examination. And, indeed, this is a question that comes up pretty frequently from those who would like to see people like me stop “riding the fence” and pick a side (they tend to get confused when a given conflict can’t be broken down along the simple lines of “atheists vs. Christians”), so it’s a perfectly appropriate topic for discussion on this site.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid I might disappoint my new friend Darwin — at least a little bit. You see, I imagine he was hoping I would really tear into Bencze’s argument, going into grisly detail about every point on which I think he goes wrong.
But that’s not what I plan on doing, because I actually don’t think the philosopher/photographer’s argument is very far off. Evolution as a self-contained process relying on nothing more than a few natural mechanisms and God as an omnipotent, creative, sovereign Being does seem like a contradiction in terms. The idea that these two premises could coexist does appear completely impossible.
And yet, not only do I personally affirm these two seemingly incompatible truth claims, I believe they are completely in line with the portrait of God revealed in scripture. Allow me to explain.
One of the main difficulties with the theistic evolutionary viewpoint — which Bencze correctly identifies — is that evolution relies on random mechanisms, like mutation and genetic recombination, as the drivers of the variation upon which natural selection operates, and if the outcomes are predetermined (a necessary consequence of a creator-God being “in charge” of the process), then the mechanisms are, by definition, not random.
This is a perfectly valid and straightforward argument: Random things can’t be predetermined or directed, and predetermined or directed things can’t be random. But, of course, the darned Bible goes and throws a wrench into our nice, neat human logic, by explicitly declaring that God does direct, determine and oversee random occurrences, like the casting of lots: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
A practical example of this can be seen every time a child is conceived. Even the most ardently anti-science creationists wouldn’t deny what modern science has shown us about the meiotic process that constructs our unique DNA sequences at the moment of fertilization. These processes are completely random. Were the universe restarted the day before you were conceived, there is no logical reason to think your genotype would turn out the same way.
And yet, no Christian really believes people are nothing more than unguided, roulette-wheel constructions of a sampling of genes from our parents; instead, we affirm that we are the intentional creations of a God who said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”
Most Christians believe that God is both entirely sovereign over human affairs, and that we have free will. These beliefs are derived from scripture, which at various times, clearly conveys that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will,” and, at other times, clearly conveys that our salvation is predicated on some sort of personal and willful response.
God’s sovereignty connotes a God who knows what he wants to do and does it. “Free will” connotes that humans have the ability to choose between right and wrong, without the undue influence of a supernatural being. Obviously, if God is stacking the decks one way or the other, pulling the strings so everything turns out the way he wants it, then we don’t really have free will after all, do we? Therefore, the existence of both God’s sovereignty and our free will — again, a premise I believe most Christians accept and which has overwhelming biblical support — might be rephrased as “a system whereby God works all things according to his divine will using beings and processes that he cannot influence in any way.”
To quote Laszlo Bencze, “Huh?”
The point is that, if God can be sovereign and, somehow, also allow people to have free will, then he can also be sovereign and allow nature to take its course.
And the larger point is this: The Bible contains many mysterious truths, and the idea that a spiritual God could be sovereign over a natural, seemingly random process is far from the most perplexing of them. I mean, let’s be honest here: Anyone who believes that God is, at all times, both one being and three separate and distinct beings doesn’t really have the right to tell me theistic evolution is incoherent. Any first-grader can tell you that 1+1+1=1 is bad math. So is 1+1=1, which is the mathematical equivalent of the doctrine of the Incarnation, the idea that Christ was, at once, both fully man and fully God.
These are paradoxes, scenarios that seem impossible and yet, may nevertheless be true. The fact that I don’t fully understand them does not cause me to reject my faith, because I don’t presume to think I should be capable of fully understanding God. And indeed, these paradoxes have not caused undue trouble to many of the millions of Christians who have accepted them through the ages.
So, is theistic evolution incoherent? My answer is yes, but not any more incoherent than anything else God’s word and God’s work have revealed to be true.