God and Evolution, and TE, and ID

Sometimes I think I’ve never had an original idea in my life. It’s not at all that I like to follow the crowd. On the contrary I love discovering new truths. On occasions I’ve had a wonderful new insight, say from the Bible, or have drawn strands together from primary sources, and have shared it with friends who say they’ve never heard of that before, and think it’s great. A few months later, I’ll read the self-same thing in John Calvin or C S Lewis (or usually some much lesser luminary).

Once I stumbled on an interpretive key that made practical sense of the Book of Revelation to ordinary believers. I began to teach on it in youth groups, bible studies and so on, to the accompaniment of the sound of scales falling from eyes. Eventually I decided it was worth writing a book. After several months hard work, when the tome was almost complete, a friend offered help by lending me a commentary he’d just read – which turned out to be mine, only better-written (and in print of course).

My affliction is a blessing really. I’ve always wanted to plumb the riches of orthodox faith, not invent new things that will overturn it – and the latter is not unusual, even in places you wouldn’t expect it. I have no sympathy for the Charismatic “Fundamentalist” Bible teacher whom I once heard say, “If you’ve not heard this teaching from me, you’ve probably not heard it from anyone.” The hearers, I suppose, were likely to say, given his popularity, “Oh goody! We’re getting the latest stuff from the Holy Spirit!”, whereas their gut reaction should really have been, “It’s most likely tosh, then.” As indeed it was.

As The Hump has plodded on its artiodactylian way, with some encouragement and much discouragement, the prevailing theme has been the desire for theistic evolution to return to an orthodox theology supported by solid philosophy and metaphysics – a subsidiary theme being the poor fit of the old Neodarwinism to that, as compared to much that is being discovered in biology. So, once more, I have toyed with the idea of writing a book for the Church in general – and baulked at the unlikelihood of finding a publisher in the present state of the culture wars.

But I now find that book has been written. And it was actually published before I even began The Hump and was just a punter at BioLogos. It’s Jay Richards’ God and Evolution, which was recommended to me by our Eddie Robinson. Its existence naturally engenders the (erroneous) belief that the entire Hump project used it as a textbook. Actually it’s a straight example of theological convergence.

One can summarise it as a critique of the then-new BioLogos type theistic evolution, combined with an apologia for Intelligent Design, Those two aspects are actually quite separate, in that the critique is made not from the “ID as science” viewpoint, but from the perspective of theology, Evangelical, Catholic and even Jewish. Therefore what is opposed are the “free creation” kind of ideas you’ll be familiar with if you’ve hung around here. Richards’ has found just the same incoherence, obfuscation and frank heterodoxy in theistic evolution that turned me from being a supporter (and even writer) at BioLogos to being a critic.

Richards, and his co-writers, also get support from studies in Thomistic and other philosophy – thereby interacting with the version of AT origins thinking proposed by Ed Feser, that somehow champions a completely design-free creation doctrine. As you’ll know, I dug into Aquinas and found Feser to be at odds with Aquinas on this, despite Feser’s utility in bringing modern philosophy unfavourably into the light of older ideas. It was all documented in 2010 – I just duplicated the research.

I’ll quote just one, refreshing, passage, which sweeps a broom through all those polemics in Haught, Polkinghorne or BioLogos itself about the “tinkering God” of ID or Creationism (but also of Irenaeus, Newton, Asa Gray, David L Wilcox or B B Warfield), too incompetent to get natural laws right first time so that the whole pageant of life, including mankind, emerges spontaneously. Why, they ask, would our God do it that way? Jay replies:

We could spend all day constructing scenarios by which God might create such a world. Maybe he wants to be able to interact with his creation or with his creatures in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly. Or maybe he wants his creation, or certain pockets of it, to reflect the fact that he has not only given it being and created it, but that he has designed both it and its constituents. Maybe he prefers a world that has a certain “artificiality” to it, and that is clearly not self-explanatory, at least for the open-minded. Maybe he fancies a world where natural scientists, in searching the starry heavens, would get a glimpse of the King of Heaven.

Maybe God is like a novelist who includes himself as one of the characters in his novel. Maybe he has fashioned a world that bears empirical marks of his creative activity. Perhaps he desires a world that is more like a violin than a self-winding watch, an instrument he can play, or an arena in which he can act in different ways, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly… Perhaps God is like a gardener, who gives his garden ample opportunity to develop “on its own”, while nevertheless giving it being, tending, plowing, weeding, and watering from time to time. Or maybe he just wants to annoy methodological naturalists and all those intellectuals who presume to set restrictions on his activity.

Amen. The book covers theodicy. It deals with concurrence v mere conservationism. It touches on theological history. And I have to say it deals with these things in more depth, and breadth, and straightforward honesty than I have seen in the obfuscations and quote-mining of much of the the theistic evolution literature.

So does that make me a convert to the Discovery Institute? Even if that were so, it shouldn’t make a difference unless culture wars are more important to you than arguments… and that’s certainly true for too many. My main response to the question, though, is that properly speaking, ID’s concern is to demonstrate design in nature, and whilst I don’t deny the validity of that possibility, I’m not so concerned with that aim. My desire is to make genuine biblical faith and genuine science fit together through the doctrine of creation. Inasmuch as this book attempts that, it’s not doing ID.

Now I’ve said that God and Evolution reflects my own exploration of modern theistic evolution to a tee. But one complication is hot off the press. As my last post shows, BioLogos, in the person of president Deb Haarsma and the essay she linked to by Robert Bishop, has just made a more positive, and hugely more open, statement about its position that answers many of my doubts of the last four years. Perhaps BioLogos is changing – I guess it’s even possible that it held these views all along, but was too coy to come out and say so and save us all, and very many Evangelicals, uncertainty: so it published heterodox theories simply as a matter of balance.

Or at least, I should say that to an extent it answers my doubts (and of course those raised in Jay Richards’ book). So far, at least, nobody official at BioLogos has replied to the questions raised in my reply to Deb. As in the past, we all have to chew over a single Presidential Encyclical, rather than have it clarified by true interaction.

I’m concerned about the remaining ambiguities. I’m concerned that BioLogos never suggests that its position is shifting (though Jim Stump justified its caution on divine action on the grounds of its youth as an organisation – that suggests it anticipates change at least). I’m concerned that it never distances itself from the less orthodox proponents of theistic evolution, many of whom have written for, or been associated with, BioLogos. I’m concerned that its scientific content always has the flavour of “Look – there’s no sign of God’s purpose here, is there?” rather than “Look – another example of the glory of God!”

Are they secretly sympathetic to the “semi-Deists”? Divided amongst themselves? Afraid to upset them because they’re co-belligerents against Creationism, or because they have dominated the science-faith origins debate and popular TE books for decades? Currently such questions are lurking in the background and, at least, tempering my enthusiasm for the latest positive statements. That may all change, of course, if dialogue ensues.

In that context, God and Evolution would even be useful for those at BioLogos (who still misrepresent what their critics both inside and outside the ID camp actually believe), in order to understand why suspicions about their Evangelical credentials remain. At the least, it could provide a checklist of issues to address candidly. They wouldn’t even have to let on that they’d actually read a book published by the dreaded Discovery Institute.

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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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2 Responses to God and Evolution, and TE, and ID

  1. Hanan says:

    This rabbi has written extensively on Judaism and evolution. Here is one post:


    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Hanan

      Obviously I’m not completely au fait with Jewish responses to evolution, but Klinghoffer in the book does a good survey and critique. Briefly, there is a rough parallel with the Christian scene – the very orthodox reject evolution but couldn’t give a toss about science anyway.

      More moderate people, apparently across the board, tend to take the line in your link, which is pretty much like the TE position in its strengths and its one weakness – the failure to grapple seriously with the metaphysical assumptions closely tied up with NeoDarwinian evolution in practice. That is, there is little to counter the Dawkins kind of claim that evolution makes atheism intellectually respectable – it’s back to the worries you’ve expressed about God’s being involved if evolution is chance-driven.

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