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Are Faith and Reason Opposed to Each Other? (Part 1)

November 24, 2019     Time: 15:41


Dr. Craig checks out an atheist blogger writing about Tim Keller and Evolution.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, there’s a popular blog called “Godless in Dixie” from Neil Carter who is a very good writer. He is a former Christian, he claims, and is now an atheist. He wrote an article called “Faith and Reason Are Not Really Friends.”[1] He touches on some things and some areas that you’ve been studying here lately.

He says,

You may not find this as fascinating as I do, but I recently came across a video put out by The Gospel Coalition, a think tank for Calvinists co-founded by Tim Keller, a Presbyterian pastor and author who herein verbalizes his own reservations about human evolution.

What stands out most to me is that while Keller has used up a great deal of ink over the years arguing that science and the Christian faith need not be mortal enemies, he admits here that it doesn’t really matter how univocally the sciences tell us that humans evolved gradually from other primates…he still believes the human race was specially created from scratch starting with an original couple named Adam and Eve.

DR. CRAIG: This connects with my current work on the question of the historical Adam. What Keller is arguing for is the de novo creation of Adam with no prior biological ancestry. I do not think that that is a requirement of biblical orthodoxy. I think that the Genesis narrative is highly figurative and highly metaphorical, and so when Adam is created out of the dust of the Earth I think this is simply a figurative description of God's fashioning man, and it's fully compatible with man’s having biological ancestors. But having said that, I found Carter's critique of Keller and his position to be extremely uncharitable and, I think, misconceived in several different respects.

KEVIN HARRIS: You've touched on this area as well here; what he's about to say. He says,

But why? Why would a pastor whose personal ministry has long been marketed as an outreach to skeptics undermine his credibility by openly rejecting the most fundamental organizing principle of the life sciences? Even after confessing that his fellow Christians with legitimate credentials in the relevant sciences tell him that human ancestry cannot be narrowed down to fewer than several thousand intermingling hominids?

DR. CRAIG: Now that's just silly to say that the most fundamental organizing principle of the life sciences is the biological ancestry of human beings. Obviously that doesn't organize all of the life sciences. Indeed it concerns just the last brief pinnacle of the process of life – human evolution. So it's a gross exaggeration here. And I think, as we'll see, there's nothing unscientific about Keller's point of view whether I agree with it or not.


Such is the power of faith over reason. At some point or another, there will always come a choice between the two—otherwise it wouldn’t be called “faith,” now would it?

DR. CRAIG: That's one of the first glimmerings of the sort of prejudicial approach that Carter takes in this blog. There's nothing in Keller that I know of that suggests the power of faith over reason. Rather, it would be the authority of Scripture to which Keller holds that would supersede or take precedence over the deliverances of the physical sciences. Keller is quite candid and willing to admit that the best data of the physical sciences would suggest human origins are traceable back to prehuman ancestry. But in this case he says that would contradict the authority of inspired Scripture, and since he believes that the Bible is God's inspired word and is therefore truthful in what it says about human origins, he takes it that scientists have erred in this respect; that this is a temporary foray of science that will be ultimately reversed if we have full data. And certainly the history of science exhibits many such overturning of previous theories. Just think of Newtonian physics and it's being superseded by relativistic physics, and classical physics and it's being superseded by quantum mechanics. Science truly is merely provisional, and our friends like Sean Carroll and Lawrence Krauss are very fond of emphasizing how provisional and tentative science is in its assertions. So Keller is not saying anything here that is outrageous. He's saying that although the current evidence may support human evolution, he doesn't believe in it, and he does so on non-scientific grounds (namely, on theological grounds). It's not faith over reason. This is a rational conclusion on his part based upon what he takes to be the authority of Scripture.

KEVIN HARRIS: It's pretty embarrassing if we were to throw the Bible under the bus based on some scientific discovery and then that gets overturned.

DR. CRAIG: That would be embarrassing. Now, of course the question will be: Is the science so conclusive in its conclusions that it's highly, highly improbable it will be overturned? I think that's the problem with Young Earth Creationism, for example. The idea that the entire universe was created in six consecutive 24-hour days between six and ten thousand years ago is so implausible that I think it's unlikely that scientific studies would ever suggest that that is the truth.

KEVIN HARRIS: He goes on to say that he went to Reformed Theological Seminary when he was a Christian, and then he says,

Beyond that, I have also spent a good deal of time working my way through Keller’s most well-known book, The Reason for God, individually reviewing each chapter in order to illustrate the many ways I feel Christian apologists misrepresent what skeptics think about the claims of this particular faith. The relationship between science and faith comes up a lot in the book . . . , and his treatment of the matter lies at the heart of why so many of my Christian friends keep recommending the book to me.

Like my well-meaning friends, Keller wants to convince his readers that there is no significant conflict between science and the central tenets of the Christian faith. In Chapter 6 of The Reason for God, he suggests that you can be a good Christian and still accept some version of evolution—provided you reject any version which views natural selection as merely, well…natural.

DR. CRAIG: So I take it that Keller is suggesting divine superintendence (in some way) of the evolution and development of life.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says (quoting Keller),

Christians may believe in evolution as a process without believing in “philosophical naturalism”—the view that everything has a natural cause and that organic life is solely the product of random forces guided by no one.

DR. CRAIG: So what Keller is rejecting here is not biological evolution but rather philosophical naturalism which says that organic life is an unguided process solely the product of random forces. What Carter doesn't realize is that what Keller is saying here is perfectly in accord with modern evolutionary theory and modern science. It's so important that we understand that when biologists talk about random mutation they do not mean “by chance” or “unguided by anyone.” That is philosophical naturalism, as Keller says. What the evolutionary biologist means by “random” is that mutations do not occur with a view toward the benefit of the host organism in which they occur. Mutations may be deleterious, they may be advantageous, but they do not occur with a view toward enhancing the survival of the host organism in which they occur. They are in that sense “random” but that doesn't mean they occur by chance or that they are unguided. It is perfectly consistent with evolutionary biology to say that the mutations that bring about changes were guided by God and perhaps even caused by God.


The scare quotes [referring back to Keller’s quote] obscure the fact that you really aren’t talking about evolution via natural selection if you feel there has to be locatable evidence of supernatural intervention in there somewhere—a guiding hand if you will.

DR. CRAIG: That isn’t what Keller said. Here he's saying that you're not talking about evolution by natural selection if you feel there has to be locatable evidence of supernatural intervention. I didn't hear that from Keller – that it's locatable. Keller could consistently maintain that the process of evolution has been guided by God – even that various mutations were caused miraculously by God – to advance the evolutionary process. But there's nothing that suggests that we would know where those divine acts occurred. I think he is imputing to Keller a view that Keller himself has not espoused.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then Neil Carter says,

But the un-guidedness of evolution is fundamental to understanding the way our modern sciences have shown us that we came into being.

DR. CRAIG: Would you read that sentence again!


But the un-guidedness of evolution is fundamental to understanding the way our modern sciences have shown us that we came into being.

DR. CRAIG: And I just explained that that is not true. What it shows is that Neil Carter himself does not understand evolutionary biology. He thinks that “random mutation” means that these mutations are unguided or occur by chance, and that isn't what an evolutionary biologist means. What he means is that they are not for the purpose of the benefit of the host organism in which they occur. They don't occur with a view toward the advantage of that organism. But they could well be guided by God. To give an illustration. Suppose God causes a mutation in an animal so that it's crippled and therefore becomes easy prey for predators. In that case God has caused an evolution for the benefit of these predators to feed them but not for the benefit of the host organism in which the mutation occurs. So the idea of guidedness is fully compatible with the notion of randomness, and Carter’s failure to understand this just shows his superficial grasp of evolutionary biology.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Next he says,

Theoretically, one could decide that God chose this wasteful, inefficient, and often quite brutal process in order to shape life in the direction he wanted it to go, although it certainly would raise some serious questions over what this says about a deity who would do it this way.

DR. CRAIG: And what that is raising is the problem of natural evil. This is not a scientific question anymore. He admits that God could guide the evolutionary process from the organisms in the primordial soup to man, but he says it would cause a lot of natural evil along the way. And that is in the province of the philosopher to discuss, and I have discussed it, for example, in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, and it would lead us astray at this point to get into concerns of theodicy. But this is not a scientific point. It does nothing to undermine Keller's point of view.

KEVIN HARRIS: By the way, when it comes to wasteful and inefficient, that doesn't really apply to God who doesn't have to hold to waste and inefficiency. He's got unlimited resources.

DR. CRAIG: You know, you’re right. He does use the words “wasteful” and “inefficient” and that wouldn't be really applicable to God. Efficiency and marshaling one's resources are only values for someone who has limited time or limited resources which do not apply to God. Now, it would still involve the problem of evil. The idea of the brutality of the suffering along the way. But you are right, the elements of wastefulness and inefficiency simply fall out when you are dealing with a being like God.

KEVIN HARRIS: All right, let’s stop right there, and we’ll pick it up right there next time as we continue to look at this article.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 15:41 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)