Category Archives: Evolution

Theistic Evolution, Creationism, and Science Education

I feel I was a bit harsh in my last post. When I read it there was more malice than I think there ought to have been. The topic is silly, but I’m sure Gary Bates is not a silly man. I didn’t get much sleep last night, I guess it made me crabby? Most of my posts are actually compelled by insomnia, so if you catch a typo or bad grammar please chalk it up to sleeplessness. Unless it’s a split infinitive, I think it’s alright to boldly go where no one has gone before. The OED agrees btw.

So there is no controversy in the scientific community; human beings are on a roughly 4 billion year old Earth as a result of roughly 2 billion years of evolution. We came to be as a result of physical processes which caused rudimentary life to form, although the exact processes at work are an ongoing investigation (which is fine, of course, the project of science is to solve problems and fill gaps. The presence of a problem or a gap does not disprove or discredit science, it gives it something to do.) Western Academies of Science all advocate this version of the Theory of Evolution and the associated physical/chemical origins of the Universe, the Earth, and life. The controversy in “teach the controversy” is unequivocally about theology, not science.

This makes it somewhat ironic that the Young Earth Creationists tend to be conservatives. American Science Education falls behind when it fails to keep up with scientific developments, and the result will eventually be that related skilled jobs will migrate towards nations where Science Education more closely mirrors scientific consensus. That tax dollars are paying for science education which leaves American students at a disadvantage compared to Swedish and Japanese students is fiscally irresponsible.

Pragmatism aside, many Christians believe that the Theory of Evolution is compatible with their theology. This view is called “Theistic evolution”, and it basically says that God did make human beings, but the way he chose to do so was a ~14 billion year process called the Big Bang culminating in ~2 billion years of evolution on a ~4 billion year old Earth. A group of Christians called Biologos advocates this view. I like their name, I always loved that “biology” means “life-knowledge”. Creation Ministries International, on the other hand, doesn’t like them.

Creation Ministries doesn’t like theistic evolution for two reasons. First, it contradicts their theological world view – when the Bible said that God made all the animals in one day that’s what they believe actually happened. That wasn’t a metaphor for a 10 billion year process, it’s the literal truth according to them. Secondly, they say Theistic evolution is a slippery slope to Atheism.

The first point is bang on. Theistic evolution contradicts a Biblical Creationist worldview. However, for the last 100 years the viewpoint of the scientific community has been that the Biblical Creationist worldview is not correct when it comes to the origin of the Earth or human beings. Of course the consensus of the scientific community has been wrong before, but a 100 year consensus (and among academic biologists evolution is as close to consensus as science ever gives) of scientific experts is a very strong reason to include something in science education. It could turn out that Creationism is actually right, but until the science shows it we’d be jumping the gun to teach what the scientific consensus might one day be. Creationists are free to believe that day will come, but they aren’t free to treat the current consensus as invalid because of that belief. That isn’t how science works.

So to make their theology gel with scientific consensus, many Christians advocate Theistic Evolution which says that we got here the way science tells us, but God started and maybe guided the whole thing. It literally takes evolution and tacks on God (theism).

To a scientist, evolution and theistic evolution are identical; “God started evolution” is not a testable hypothesis, so it rests outside of science. “Evolution happened”, the common ground, absolutely is testable and in fact it has been tested many times. The two theories are the same outside of the theology, and a scientist would test and evaluate those theories in the exact same way. Evolution is a postulate of biological sciences and God starting evolution is a postulate of theology. Put differently, in practice Occam’s Razor converts theistic evolution into evolution simpliciter (except that theistic evolution allows simultaneous belief in God-as-creator.)

This view requires a non-literal reading of Genesis of course. Biblical Creationism typically requires that its subscribers take the Bible as 100% inerrant literal truth. However not all sects of Christianity are committed to this view, and many recognize that the Bible often speaks in metaphor and should be read as a moral lesson and not as a history lesson. Creation Ministries think that “It’s not Christianity” to ascribe to this view but that’s false; it’s just not their version of Christianity.

The allegation is that these Christians take Evolution as a higher authority than God because scripture must be “distorted” to fit with the theory of evolution. But that isn’t the case at all. Scripture must be reinterpreted in light of the progress that science makes, but that doesn’t mean that the authority of the Bible is compromised. The Bible is at the core a moral lesson, and morality cannot be proved or disproved by science. Peripheral facts about who begot whom give context to the parables; they do not give validity to the parables and they are not the meaning of the parables.

But what about the slippery slope to Atheism? Atheism is legitimately not Christianity after all, so maybe that’s what CMI is talking about.

Think about this – suppose we read Genesis non-literally and we say Adam and Eve are metaphoric, they’re symbolism for the core of a person or something. Why did Jesus die on the cross for original sin if that original sin is purely imaginary? That’s crazy! And if God wanted to create life why did he do it in a way that started with 10 billion years of nothing? Wouldn’t he want to get right into the important stuff? This is Dawkins’ argument, but CMI seems to be adopting it (a very out of character move).

Well before we investigate that, consider this miniature Pascal’s wager. Even if we take it as true that evolution entails a religious crisis for believers, evolution is a scientific consensus that all believers will be exposed to. It is a fact about how we got here. Would it be better if we take the bible as non-literal and have a crisis of faith, or should we take it as literally inerrant in which case the Bible is actually disproved by evolution? A crisis of faith sounds better than a loss of faith.

And besides, isn’t it a good thing that people ask questions about their most fundamental presuppositions? Is it scary to do so? Of course! If there is no God then you’re going to suffer an inevitable, final, permanent and complete death. A lot hinges on it, and I suspect that at some level that’s a large part of why people cling so tightly to religion.

But believing wrong things in the core of your being makes you think wrong things. For more on that point see the page on axioms, the link is to your right. But one good example is Biblical Creationism; because these people believe in the core of their being that every word in the bible in inerrant truth they believe that the earth is 10,000 years old, a blatant falsehood that has been contradicted by mountains of evidence. Evaluation of our fundamental beliefs is scary but immensely important to our development as rational beings.

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