Is It Time to Retire Theistic Evolution?

Is It Time to Retire Theistic Evolution?

Some commentators are saying the term "Theistic Evolution" is unnecessary and even misleading. Dr. Craig weighs in.


Transcript Is It Time To Retire ‘Theistic Evolution?

KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. Today Dr. Craig looks at an article that says that perhaps the term “theistic evolution” is itself inaccurate, and maybe the label or term should be retired. What do you think? We'll get into that today.

By the way, we won't get into the nuances of the creation-evolution debate today, but you can go to our Defenders section at ReasonableFaith.org; there is a whole section from Dr. Craig's Defenders class on creation-evolution[1], so you may want to do some catching up there. If you haven't gotten into the habit of listening to Defenders, be sure that you do. The teaching is so good and so thorough from Dr. Craig. So many of you have said Keep it up! Keep it coming! So navigate to that section when you go to ReasonableFaith.org

Dr. Craig, there is an article in Forbes / Science from a science writer, John Farrell - “It's Time To Retire 'Theistic Evolution.'”[2] I want to look at this article. Among the many views that are out there, theistic evolution is one of them. How would you summarize that position?

DR. CRAIG: I thought that it was summarized pretty well in this article by Ken Miller, where he says that the term,

implies that a god had to pre-ordain the outcome of the evolutionary process or at the very least guide it along to produce the world of today, including human beings his chosen creatures.

The idea is that the evolutionary process is super-intended and planned by a transcendent, intelligent Creator – God.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. So on the scale, it would seem to be you have young Earth creationists, progressive creationists, then you have theistic evolutionists, and then all the varied varieties between.

DR. CRAIG: A bewildering variety under those general rubrics.

KEVIN HARRIS: We all know that there is a lot of in-fighting. It is an in-house debate in the Christian church. The point of this podcast is not going to be to say which one is correct, but is theistic evolution just kind of an unnecessary term? Because as one Catholic writer who has a PhD. in chemistry, Stacy A. Trasancos, writes,

You accept the science on its merits or you don’t, she said. It doesn’t matter whether you’re religious, or not. But if you are, accepting what science has to tell should not be a problem.

She continues,

Think about it. If you are a believer, it is already implied that you see all biological and physical processes as created and held in existence by God. You do not need “theistic” in front of biological terms. Who speaks of theistic reproduction? Or theistic gestation . . .

DR. CRAIG: What she is saying is that evolutionary theory is inherently a theory about purely natural causes. And so to qualify it as theistic evolution doesn't really make any difference. It is the same theory, so why not just say you believe in evolution? Why say you believe in theistic evolution? Her point is that if you are a theist you think that all physical processes in the world are governed by God and yet you don't qualify them by putting the adjective “theistic” in front of them. I think she makes a good point. She is saying, You believe in a certain evolutionary account of biological complexity, and it doesn't add anything to that to say that you are also a theist. But then it seems to me that that contradicts the next paragraph in this article which is Ken Miller's statement where he says that what theistic evolution implies is that “a god had to pre-ordain the outcome of the evolutionary process or at the very least guide it along to produce the world of today, including human beings his chosen creatures.”[3] Miller says, “I don't believe that at all.” He rejects that account. So Miller, in contrast to Trasancos, does think that the label describes a distinct view – a view that he rejects.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He says he doesn't believe in it at all. He claims to be Catholic. But he says, “Evolution is a fully-independent natural process driven by chance and necessity.” It is almost like he is saying, God is there, but God didn't have anything to do with evolution.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That does seem to be his view, whereas the theistic evolutionist would say that God pre-ordained its outcome and perhaps guided it along without miraculous interventions but nevertheless this was under the superintendence and direction of a provident God. While granted it is not a scientific description of the view, it is a sort of metaphysical or theological perspective that Miller himself says I don't believe in and is different from a naturalistic view. The fact that the difference is philosophical or metaphysical shouldn't lead us to think that it is not significant. There could be differences that are not scientific differences.

KEVIN HARRIS: People get irked – scientists get irked – because if they see any hint of someone trying to put something supernatural into the evolutionary process – evolutionary record of Earth – they get upset. Because once you start introducing supernaturalism then all bets are off, there is no way to test that. That is what they get upset about.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, but the theistic evolutionist, as I understand the view, doesn't do that. That would be a progressive creationist – someone who would see God as intervening miraculously along the way to produce things which natural causes would not have brought about. It does seem to me that the view is a different view from naturalistic evolution. This is the view, as he says, that the staff at BioLogos accept, except they have adopted a new label, I've noticed. Instead of calling it theistic evolution, they call it “evolutionary creationism.”

KEVIN HARRIS: Oh, really?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. Evolutionary creationism. They emphasize, We, too, are creationists. We, too, believe that God is the Creator. He is ultimately behind this, but he used the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection to product biological complexity on this planet.

KEVIN HARRIS: That's what interests me about this article. There seems to be a pretty substantial overlap between progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists in that progressive creationists believe that God created in long periods of time and allowed adaptation, allowed some mutations, and all of these things. God was ultimately behind it.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and the types of theories that could fall under these general categories can be very diverse depending upon what sort of interventions you might see God making, whether you believe in the doctrine of common ancestry or not. Under these general labels there can be a wide range of specific views understanding how God relates to the universe and to the origin of biological complexity. I would just disagree with the claim here that the term “theistic evolution” makes absolutely no sense. Miller's description of it makes perfect sense, and he rejects that view. He doesn't say this is a meaningless view. He says it is a view he thinks is false. I don't see why they are so bothered by this, except to note, I think, in Farrell's article a kind of anti-creationist bias that taints the article. He speaks, for example, later on of a bizarre strain of anti-science mentality among Catholic creationists. That is a very ungenerous description. I don't see any reason to classify all creationists as anti-science. They can have a different view of how life and biological complexity originated, but that doesn't make them anti-science.[4] Similarly, the characterization of creationists as being those who are fighting to get creationism of one kind or another taught in public schools – science classes. That turns creationism into a sort of political movement or agenda rather than a viewpoint. I think that, again, is ungenerous. The viewpoint deserves to be assessed on its own merits without talking about the efforts of some people to get creationism to be taught in schools.

KEVIN HARRIS: We've talked about it – and you've commented on it as well – and that is the term “creationism.” If you say that today that means young Earth creationism, even if you are an old Earth creationist or a progressive creationist or a theistic evolutionist. You believe that God is Creator, you are in some form a creationist, but don't call yourself that because you will be labeled as one particular creationist – young Earth. What we ought to be is precise in our definitions.

DR. CRAIG: Right, and that is the disadvantage of all of these labels. What is a theistic evolutionist? What is a creationist? What is a progressive creationist? Those labels shouldn't be the stopping points of our discussion. They are just the starting points. We need to always ask the person we are speaking with, “What do you mean by that? Can you lay out the view in more detail?” You will find that, for example, the view of intelligent design theorists like, say, Michael Behe or Michael Denton may be very different from the views of someone like a Hugh Ross, and those are going to be very different, again, from a Ken Ham or from a Kenneth Miller. These labels, though meaningful, can mask a whole lot of different perspectives. We need to dig deeper and define exactly what positions people hold to.[5]



[1] See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/s9

[2] See http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2016/03/19/its-time-to-retire-theistic-evolution

[3] 5:08

[4] 10:08

[5] Total Running Time: 13:44 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)