Must Christians Accept Evolution?

The simple answer to the title question is “Yes”… or “No”… or “Sometimes”.

Bible merged with Origin of SpeciesIf you talk to (or read) many devotees of Darwinian evolutionary theory, either professional or layman, you will often find them perplexed as to how any “rational” person can deny the “fact” of evolution. For them, it is so clearly the only valid explanation for life’s history that, for one to not accept this obvious truth, you have to be either a) ignorant of the evidence or just misunderstand it; or, b) blinded by religious dogma. (Maybe both.) Or, possibly, c) you believe the evidence points to evolution but are deceitfully using ID/creationism for personal gain. (Fame? Limited. Fortune? Very limited. Thrill of being an iconoclast? I suppose, maybe. Actually, being a science professional who is a “Darwin denier” is more likely to earn you scorn in your profession and cost you friends and tenure, maybe even your job.)

So, there is enormous pressure, particularly among scientists and philosophers, to go with the flow. Outspoken, serious questioning of the creative abilities of the Darwinian process is not to be countenanced. But, what about “religious” people? Isn’t there a conflict between “science” and “faith”? How can someone believe in both?

Over the past few years, it has become more acceptable within religious circles to be a “theistic evolutionist” — or, more fashionably, “evolutionary creationist”. The Christian association known as the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) has been dominated by theistic evolutionists for years, now. More recently, scientific luminaries like Dr. Francis Collins and Biblical scholars like Peter Enns have “come out” as theistic evolutionists, thereby lending both theological and scientific credence to the position. Collins’ BioLogos Foundation has become the premiere Christian science/faith advocacy group — particularly among evangelicals — with a decidedly theistic evolutionary bent.

But, there are still a lot of people who don’t buy into it. Not surprisingly, the non-theists typically think “theistic evolution” is just another faulty (and perhaps deceptive) attempt to reconcile scientific fact with religious myth. And many Christians of different stripes think such an approach cedes too much to the scientific establishment and comes dangerously close to — if not succeeds in — compromising Scriptural teaching.

In an article over at the Huffington Post, author Jonathan Dudley claims that,

“[A]nti-evolutionists believe they are defending the Christian tradition,… [but] in reality, they’ve abandoned it.”

Biologos Foundation logoIf I understand Dudley correctly, Christians must accept “evolution”, because evolutionary theory is the “best science” of the day and orthodox Christians have historically accepted the idea that the “book” of Nature is a reliable witness. So, if certain influential scientists tell us evolution is true because of X and Y, we Christians must believe it. And, since many Christians reject many tenets of “evolution”, they have therefore “abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.”

“Christians must accept sound science, not because they don’t believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.”

Well, yes and no. What’s your definition of “sound science”?

I think scientists these days are doing amazing work, conducting very clever experiments, and making wonderful discoveries. The problem is that, sometimes, a combination of worldview and self-imposed limitation will cause them to bias their interpretations of evidence and shape their conclusions. This filter is often unconscious (subconscious?), but it’s there.

Dudley seems to equate “science” with scientific inquiry that assumes at least a hard methodological naturalism and probably metaphysical naturalism, as well. But, such an a priori commitment to naturalism has already ruled out the possibility of evidence suggesting non-natural causes. If only certain types of answers are allowed, then on the chance that your presuppositions are wrong, you may never find the actual answers you need. How can this possibly be acceptable when following the evidence in science’s search for truth — i.e., that which corresponds with reality? I find that an Intelligent Design approach, which includes a limited methodological naturalism and a softened or eliminated metaphysical naturalism, works at least as well to explain the world — often better.

In fact, Dudley does address the issue of scientific bias, noting the concerns of (godfather of the modern ID movement) Phil Johnson about “highly philosophical presupposition” taking precedence over a lack of “incontrovertible empirical evidence.”

“And to a certain extent, this line of argument makes sense. Science is not a neutral enterprise. Prior beliefs undoubtedly influence interpretation…. But beyond a certain point, this reasoning breaks down. Because… creationism has failed to provide an alternative explanation for the vast majority of evidence explained by evolution.”

I noticed a few things here. First, Dudley subtly conflates Intelligent Design with creationism, which as I have pointed out before is inaccurate and unfair. Second, from the examples he gives (which I haven’t listed here, obviously), when mentioning “creationists” he obviously has in mind those of the “young-Earth” (YEC) variety. This is understandable, since they are the most widely known, but it is frustrating for us of the “Old-Earth” (OEC) persuasion. OECs have many of the same concerns with the YEC approach, and some of the evolutionists’ criticisms (e.g., age of Earth and universe) are not issues for us, yet we get lumped together. Plus, there is an even wider spectrum of positions within the bigger, ID umbrella. Thirdly, with this emphasis on creationist presuppositions and lack of explanations for certain things (though I think the word “adequate” should be inserted for fairness’ sake), I think Dudley too easily dismisses the problems resulting from the abovementioned presuppositions of evolutionists.

iconic ape-to-man progressionDudley asserts that when Christians reject evolution, they are rejecting…

“the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, [which] has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday.”

Now, I will admit that he does have a point here. For many young-Earth creationists, there is a strong suspicion about whether non-Christian scientists are even capable of coming to valid conclusions about scientific data, at least where worldviews and origins are concerned. (Some even throw in a conspiracy theory about scientists hiding the truth from the public for good measure. Aside from general problems with huge conspiracy theories, I don’t know why they would do that if they can’t recognize the truth, anyway.) But, OECs and many others who support Intelligent Design don’t generally hold such views. Our main concern is that, despite excellent research by well-meaning scientists, naturalistic presuppositions (consciously or not) often color interpretations of the evidence. Evidence that works as well or better in a non-naturalistic (i.e., design) model, or possibly even contradicts all evolutionary expectation, gets force-fit into the neo-Darwinian model. Again, there are certain a priori assumptions that only allow a strongly naturalistic paradigm.

I also have to point out that Dudley’s use of the word “evolution” is another problem, since there are multiple possible definitions. Based on this alone, my answer to the titular question would be “It depends…”. Appearance of change over time? No problem. The fossil record clearly bears this out. Microevolutionary changes and variation within species? Again, no problem. To reject these would truly be to reject “sound science” based on observation. That would be bad. (Perhaps not the equivalent of rejecting a fundamental tenet of Christianity, but definitely disturbing.) But, then, even young-Earth creationists accept these natural phenomena. The problem is when one extrapolates from microevolution and cites it as proof of macroevolution (i.e., large-scale changes resulting in major new organs, systems, body plans, and taxonomic groups). Much is made of the supposed “proofs”, though there really isn’t any “incontrovertible empirical evidence.” Nevertheless, this is typically what evolutionists (such as Dudley) mean, though they sometimes equivocate between it and the other two definitions.

Dudley concludes with the following:

“In doing so [i.e., rejecting evolution], they’ve not only led America astray on questions ranging from the value of stem cell research to the etiology of homosexuality to the causes of global warming. They’ve also abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.”

Here, the leftism expected from the Huffington Post truly shines through. But, he doesn’t even get this right. (Pun intended.) Christians recognize the value of stem cell research; but, most of us don’t think the marginal-to-nil advances in embryonic stem cell research is worth the destruction of fully human embryos. Without getting into the issue of the origins of homosexuality, Christians are not of one mind on this, and many think people are or can be “born that way.” Similarly, Christians are of different opinions on the causes of global warming; it is the catastrophic eventuality that many Christians find doubtful, both for scientific and theological reasons. And how is any of this directly related to evolutionary theory?

Grad student in chemistry labAs for abandoning a “central commitment of orthodox Christianity,” I obviously think Dudley is wrong on this one, too. On the contrary, I think we are being not only rational but true to the Biblical principle of testing for truth when we exhibit a certain amount of skepticism and ask probing questions. As Dudley admitted, “Science is not a neutral enterprise. Prior beliefs undoubtedly influence interpretation.” We need to be careful not to accept certain theories when their tests and proofs are so often tainted by philosophical prejudice and cultural agenda. Besides, doesn’t the scientific quest for truth demand that theories be continually tested and challenged? Isn’t “out of the box” thinking encouraged anymore?

In the end, Dudley is guilty of the usual equivocations and/or assumptions about certain terms. He at least partially conflates and misrepresents the positions of ID proponents and creationists. He sets up half a straw man by focusing on challenges to young-Earth creationists, while ignoring the legitimate challenges to evolutionary theory which are exacerbated by its own proponents’ biases. Indeed, he is guilty of those biases himself. And he fails miserably at making the acceptance of neo-Darwinian evolutionary orthodoxy a necessity for Christian orthodoxy.

So, assuming the usual “macro” definition of “evolution”, my final answer to the question in the title is, “Certainly not.”

* For an alternative to both evolution and young-Earth creationism that is both scientifically and theologically sound, please visit www.reasons.org.

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