May 6, 2017

Cliff’s Edge - On the Intellectual Incoherence of Theistic Evolution

Suppose scientists decide to study the origins of chess: from the rules of the game, to the principles and laws behind those rules, to the color, shape, and composition of the squares, the board, and the pieces themselves.

Suppose, too, working from the philosophical presupposition of ontological naturalism, they limit their research to the physical components of the game alone. That is, they are not allowed to probe, peek, or theorize beyond the material elements before them, on the assumption that only from within these material elements and their precursors did the pieces, the board, and the rules of the game arise to begin with.

However, because human beings—transcending and existing outside of the material elements of the game—had, in fact, created chess, whatever process that these scientists theorize as the origin of the game will, by default, be wrong because they ruled out the correct one. It’s like detectives in a homicide who rule out the murderer as a suspect. Regardless of the compelling evidence they find against another suspect, or how many judges and juries they convince of this suspect’s guilt, they have, by logical necessity, convicted the wrong person.

They have created a circle so vicious that it devours itself on the first lap.

In parallel, regardless of the vast body of evidence that these scientists interpret as affirming their theorized process of chess’ origins, or how many decades of peer-reviewed papers are published assuming that process; or, regardless of the fruitful technology derived from their theorized process, or how many generations of scientists are nurtured on it, logic alone (again) demands that the process be wrong.

Suppose, however, other scientists argue that some power, such as humans, transcending the narrow boundaries of ontological naturalism had to be involved in the creation of chess. Though rejecting as inadequate the dogmatic naturalism underpinning the process, they nevertheless have accepted the process itself—even if the process itself was premised on a philosophical assumption antithetical to their premise, which is that some power, like humans, was involved in the creation of chess. But by using a premise to justify a process contradicted by that same premise, these scientists have created a circle so vicious that it devours itself on the first lap, like a snake eating its tail right up to through its own head.

This chess analogy parallels theistic evolution, especially when that theism is based on Scripture. The process, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, is premised on ontological naturalism, an assumption antithetical to any reasonable interpretation of the Genesis creation account. And that is because the Genesis account is suffused with a transcendent supernaturalism that contradicts the naturalistic presuppositions of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis.

Numerous times I have written on the attempts, often painfully embarrassing, of those seeking to harmonize a process (the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis) with a premise that contradicts that same process (Scripture). One of my “favorites” (but not the most far-fetched) was by John Polkinghorne. Despite Scripture revealing how intimately involved God was in creation—even to where the Lord had breathed into Adam’s “nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7)Polkinghorne wrote that God veiled His creative activity behind the mask of evolution in order to spare creation from being “overwhelmed by the naked presence of infinite reality.” No wonder an atheist evolutionist like Jerry Coyne could write that attempts by Christians to harmonize evolution with Scripture “are so clearly contrived that they can hardly be taken seriously.”

It gets worse. Most Western Christians know of Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and perhaps the world’s most famous apologist for evolution. The only difference between Richard Dawkins and theistic evolutionists is that Dawkins doesn’t believe that God started the process, or had anything to do with its unfolding. On most everything else—the process itself, the timing, the means, the eons of death, extinction, suffering—professed Bible-believing Christians dance a tango with Richard Dawkins and his atheist ilk.

What does it say when educated, intelligent, and well-meaning Christians have more in common with the author of The God Delusion than with the author of Genesis? It says that Christians need to choose one (evolution) or the other (Scripture). But to choose both is, as with the chess analogy, intellectually incoherent.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is set to be released this fall by Pacific Press.