Theistic schizophrenia

OK – let me build on some recent posts to look at what seems to be the state of theistic evolution in our time.

First, some basic definitions derived from Francisco Ayala. For the purposes of this discussion:
Final causation = external teleology = design (not taking design in the more restricted sense of engineering metaphors, etc)
This cluster is opposed to chance/necessity, seen as the outworking of the laws and initial state of the Universe. Thus Ayala would see the fine-tuned constants, etc, as final causation/external teleology/design, but nothing in evolution downstream of them as such. It’s a useful distinction that fits well with my previous piece.

To clarify this, suppose that hidden within these constants and laws was, say, a convergent evolution principle created so precisely as to be bound to lead to man. In that case, man would be a result of design in Ayala’s terms. But in fact (a) no such principle is certainly known and (b) Ayala says that the evils in nature show that God’s teleology is not at work in evolution. Note that such “evils” include death, waste and suffering, on which the whole of evolution hinge. So (at least to be consistent) Ayala must deny the existence of such “design laws” and restrict God’s purpose to what we know from physics: that he made the Universe broadly congenial to life.

In this Ayala differs not one jot from naturalistic atheists. Here’s atheist Lawrence Krauss, in the Wall Street Journal, cited by Mike Gene:

Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague idea of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world’s organized religions. As Sam Harris recently wrote in a letter responding to the Nature editorial that called him an “atheist absolutist,” a “reconciliation between science and Christianity would mean squaring physics, chemistry, biology, and a basic understanding of probabilistic reasoning with a raft of patently ridiculous, Iron Age convictions.”

Now let me enumerate some curiosities of current theistic evolution, and see how they might be related to the above.

  • Ayala is in good standing as a TE, has written for BioLogos, and has not been contradicted on the theological position above.
  • R J Russell describes the position as “statistical deism” and says it is the prevalent TE stance.
  • TEs have a knee-jerk abhorrence to the concept of “design”, as exemplified by Darrel Falk’s, Dennis Venema’s or Ken Miller’s theological criticism of fellow Evangelicals Stephen Meyer and Richard Dembski whilst commending Ayala, and even echoing his argument from natural evil against God as the creator of living things.
  • God’s giving of “freedom” to nature is much praised by TEs, and is opposed to the restrictive or coercive alternative of design.
  • The power of chance in evolution is repeatedly argued in BioLogos posts, but the control of God over chance is never asserted.
  • TEs characteristically say that Scripture is ambivalent on design, though on any dispassionate reading it is abundantly teleological regarding creation (and chance!) from start to finish.
  • Logical challenges to the “freedom of nature” argument by myself and a number of others have been met almost entirely by silence on BioLogos for 18 months or more. When answered at all, the responses have been merely rhetoric (“So do you believe God created the structure of polioviruses?”) or diversionary (“You’re a Calvinist, of course”/ “some of us can accept mystery”).
  • Sometimes TE arguments, when summarised, seem to say “God is not the final cause in evolution, but he is the final cause in evolution, and it’s a mystery.”
  • YET the same TEs will say that God uses evolution as his creative tool (ie as a medium for external teleology);
  • and TEs are attracted to incomplete quasi-teleological ideas like Conway Morris’s convergent evolution;
  • and they will say that God is pleased with the outcomes of evolution (contradicting the “evil in nature” argument);
  • and many will say that God intended man (as man), which is a claim to final causation/design;
  • and many will say (eg brutewolf recently) that God “knit them together in the womb”, ie that he took personal care over their creation, which is also a claim to external teleology;
  • and prominent TEs like Falk have spoken out against scientism, because it denies the Christian doctrine of creation by a loving God, whilst supporting Ayala-type accounts of creation indistinguishable from scientism.

Listing these things all together seems to me to summon up a picture of split personality – or to put it more accurately, of cognitive dissonance (my catchy title including “schizophrenia” is of course entirely inappropriate, if popularly accessible!). As currently formulated, most theistic evolution (particularly that seeking to remain “orthodox” to Christianity) is, I believe, trying to hold together what cannot be held together. I could spend a lot of time examining this in detail (and maybe will as time goes by) but this conclusion may give food for thought:

TEs are trying to change theology radically whilst remaining faithful to orthodox (and especially evangelical) theology – and to kid themselves it’s a minor adjustment. And they’re doing this to accommodate to a science/philosophy schema which, as Ayala and Krauss demonstrate, is fundamentally incompatible with orthodox Christian teaching.

I suspect some fear that the accusations of the unbelievers – that science both contradicts and disproves religion – are genuine threats, istead of the sophistic puffery they actually are. In my view TEs find themselves at this pass because (a) they are unwilling to critique adequately the philosophical and metaphysical presuppositions of their science and (b) they are unwilling to turn to models of orthodox Christian theology that can integrate both final causation (design) and efficient causation (chance/necessity understood non-naturalistically) – and which also accommodate without conflict the ability of those two things to account for both good and evil, under (and not apart from) God.

There are no square circles – but there are ellipses, as Kepler found.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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