To my surprise (and to their credit) the Washington Post has given a platform to John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, to discuss why “Darwin’s theory poses such a challenge to faith“:
The real sticking point is Darwin’s claim that all of life—human beings included—developed through a blind and undirected process of natural selection acting on random variations. In the words of late Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”
There are ways to try to reconcile Darwinism’s undirected process with theism, but they involve throwing overboard some long-cherished beliefs about God.
The first idea to go is the belief that God directed the development of life toward specific ends. According to biologist Kenneth Miller, one of the most prominent proponents of “theistic” evolution, God did not plan the specific outcomes of evolution—including the development of human beings. Miller describes humans as “an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.” While God knew that undirected evolution was so wonderful it would create some kind of creature capable of praising Him, that creature could have been “a big-brained dinosaur” or “a mollusk with exceptional mental capabilities” rather than us.
Seeking to lessen the discomfort such arguments pose for most religious believers, Francis Collins suggests that God “could” have known the specific outcomes of evolution beforehand even though He made evolution appear “a random and undirected process.” In other words, God is a cosmic trickster who misleads people into thinking that nature is blind and purposeless, even though it isn’t.
One need not be a religious fundamentalist to find such arguments less than satisfying. Indeed, one need not be religious at all. Media coverage notwithstanding, theistic evolution has been shunned by leading evolutionary biologists, 87 percent of whom deny the existence of God and 90 percent of whom reject the idea that evolution is directed toward an “ultimate purpose” according to a 2003 survey.
West raises some interesting points about the “new theistic evolutionists” that make you wonder why they are given such deference in debates on this issue. Their position appears to be rejected by almost everyone: evolutionary biologists, Christian theists, French deists.
Since Miller’s view is obviously incompatible with a strong view of God’s omniscience, it’s not surprising that many Christians (particularly those of us of the Calvinist variety) reject it outright. What is less often recognized is that it would also have been rejected by most thinkers during the Enlightenment. Voltaire, for instance, claimed “We are intelligent beings: intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a crude, blind, insensible being: there is certainly some difference between the ideas of Newton and the dung of a mule. Newton’s intelligence, therefore, came from another intelligence.”
“This argument is old,” adds Voltaire, “and none the worse for that.”
In contrast, Miller’s view is, historically speaking, rather novel—and not entirely coherent. If God did not have a plan for the specific outcome of evolution, as Miller contends, then he must have at least had a general plan for the process to create some form of creature with “exceptional mental capabilities.” But then the process would no longer be undirected, which means that it is not compatible with the Darwinian view of evolution.
Ironically, the view held by Collins and Miller shares much in common with the position of creationists. If evolution is random and undirected then the probability of a “creature capable of praising Him” (i.e., a being similar to humans) coming into existence is extremely low. God would likely need to run the experiment a number of times to get the desired outcome and then select that instantiation (maybe that’s why we have the multiverse). This special selection of results, however, is not so different than creationist’s view of special creation—in each God simply chooses the outcome he desires. Also, Collins’ view of God making evolution appear undirected is similar to the idea that he planted dinosaur fossils and created geological strata to fool us into thinking the earth has been around more than 6,000 years. Creationists have to interpret the evidence to fit their theological preconceptions; Collins has to interpret the evidence to fit his theoretical preconceptions.
The debate over God’s role in evolution is often portrayed as pitting proponents of theistic evolution (Miller, Collins) against advocates of intelligent design (The Discovery Institute, Voltaire). But a more accurate distinction would be between those who believe that evolution is intelligently directed and those who think the process was “random and undirected” but overseen and/or set in motion by an intelligent agent. This latter view appears to be incompatible with both orthodox Christianity and orthodox Darwinism. So why is it considered an intellectually respectable option for believers?
(Via: Gene Veith)