#301

January 19, 2013

An Evolutionary Argument against (Christian) Theism

Hello Dr. Craig,

You think that evolution is not a threat against christianity or theism in general. However, I think an argument can be made against theism or at least christian theism from evolution.

1. If God created life (biological life), he would have created life in the best possible way someone could create life, because God is a perfect being and therefore only does what´s the best.

2. Evolution is not the best way

therefore: God did not create biological life

Or in formality:

If A then B
not B
therefore: not A

Of course, it does not necessary follow from "God did not create biological life" therefore "God does not exist". God could still exist even if he hadn´t created life (seems unlikely though), but at least the biblical account says that God created humans and animals, in one way or another. So, if God did not create biological life, this would be at least a argument against christian theism, if not theism itself.

1. The first premiss: I think this is obviously true, if we define God as a perfect being, then he would always do what is the best to do. If he had to choose between A,B or C and B is the best, he would choose B.

2. I think you will disagree here, maybe even before or even with the whole structure of the argument. I can´t imagine how evolution could be the best possible way for God to create life. You could think of possible other ways that would be better. For example: God could´ve just created animals or humans withoud the biological mechanisms of evolution or do you think God is dependent on evolution to create life? I don´t think so. So why would God choose A instead of B or C, a way in which his creatures had to go through pain, death and agony, a very brutal way in which only the strong will survive, when B or C seems to be a better way?

You may ask, what do you mean by "better"? Better for whom? God? In this sense you could think evolution is a better way, in terms of easier, less complicated. It may or may not be easier to create the first cell and let it evolve on it´s own like creating everything oneself. Somewhat like a computer scientist who lays the ground and then let the programme do the rest. But I don´t think it makes sense to think in this dimensions like "easy" and "difficult" because for God it would be equal. Think of a mathematician for example. For us it may be easier to count 2+3 than 156+213 but for a good mathematician it really wouldn´t matter. God is a good mathematician, so it really would´t matter in terms of easy and difficult. Then what about better method for animals? I think creating every animal on its own would be way better for the animals than causing unnecesarry pain and random mutations that often result in negative results and even mistakes through evolution. So, all in all, evolution does not seem to be a very noble method in which we would expect God to create.

Thank you and God bless,

Michel

Germany

Thank you for your thoughtful question, Michel! I also commend you for your excellent English.

The signoff to your letter suggests that you are a (Christian) theist, which makes me wonder if this is really an argument intended to support, not atheism, but creationism over against evolution. Creationists often maintain that God and evolution are incompatible, but rather than deny God they deny that life was created by means of evolution. Indeed, your argument does not have the valid logical form that you suggest and could as easily be taken as an argument against the fact of evolution as against God. To have the valid form you suggest the second premise of your argument should be

2´. God did not create life in the best possible way.

In order to support (2´) you would have to show both that evolution is not the best possible way to create life and also that life was created by means of evolution. The creationist would agree that evolution is not the best possible way to create life but he would deny that life was created by means of evolution.

Let’s take it for granted, though, that life was created by means of evolution. Then you need to support the claim that evolution is not the best possible way to create life, as you have tried to do. It seems to me, however, that both premises (1) and (2´) of the argument are vulnerable to defeat.

Consider first (1). You take this premise to be obviously true. In fact, it is far from obvious. It commits the same mistake that your compatriot Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made when he thought that a perfect being would create the best possible world. Leibniz’s error lay in assuming that there is a best possible world! Like the natural numbers, it may well be the case that for any world you pick there is always a better world than that. Just as there is no highest natural number, there may be no best possible world. If so, then God cannot create the best possible world because there is no such thing. This has profound implications for discussions relevant to the problem of evil. It implies that no matter which world God creates there is always a better world that He could have created. But God cannot be faulted for creating the world He has chosen, for any world that He picks will be less good than an infinite number of other worlds. A perfectly good being must merely choose a good world, even though that implies that there will be better worlds that he could have chosen.

Similarly in this case: there may be no best possible way to create life. So a perfectly good being must simply choose a good way to create life. There may be better ways to create life than through evolution, but so long as this is a good way, a perfect being cannot be faulted for choosing it. Hence, premise (1) might actually be necessarily false!

What about premise (2´)? I think this premise is also very vulnerable. You seem to fault evolution because of the pain and suffering it involves. But this makes a very simplistic equation between suffering and badness. We should have learned from discussions of the problem of evil that persons can have morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering, so that a world which includes suffering is better than a world without it.

This raises precisely the question you ask: what do we mean by “better”? Better for whom? For God? Certainly not! He’s already perfect. And as you point out, for an omnipotent being all ways of creating life are equally easy.

Better for the animals involved? Hard to say! Any viable ecosystem will involve animal predation and death for the health of the system as a whole (e.g., the re-introduction of wolves was necessary in Canada in order to preserve the health of the caribou herds upon which they preyed because in their absence the caribou were overgrazing and dying). As proponents of the Gaia hypothesis have taught us, you can’t just consider “every animal on its own,” as you suggest. Moreover, given almost all animals’ apparent lack of self awareness, it is far from clear that animals suffer in the same way that we do. Maybe a world with evolution is a richer and more wonderful world of creatures. After all, seriously, aren’t you glad that God created the dinosaurs? I am! Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been thrilled with the age of the dinosaurs and the Ice Age with their wonderful prehistoric creatures. What’s not to love about these wonderful, fascinating, colorful, and often bizarre creatures? Why shouldn’t God delight, as we do, in all creatures great and small?

Or do we mean better for human beings? Aye, and there’s the rub! God’s ultimate purpose on this planet concerns bringing men and women freely into His Kingdom. The evolutionary history of the Earth is ecological scene-setting for the advent of human beings and the working out of God’s purposes among them. The primeval forests of those prehistoric ecosystems laid down the deposits for the fossil fuels which have made human advancement and modern civilization possible. Should God have just created the Earth with the illusion of age? Why think that that would have better achieved God’s purposes for humanity? How do you know that God’s purposes for the human race are not better achieved by having a genuine ecological history of the Earth rather than by creating an illusory history or a world with no apparent history at all? How do we know how many people or what percentage of people would have freely come to find God and His salvation in such worlds? We are in no position at all to speculate about such matters. But then we are in no position to speculate as to whether evolution was the best way for God to create life on this planet.