This post is a continuation of the 2018 Westminster Conference on Science and Faith in which I previously featured Dr. Vern Poythress and his take on theistic evolution. In this post, Dr. Stephen Meyer- a former geophysicist and college professor- continues this theme.
Meyers asks why are there so many people of faith who adopt an evolutionary framework when reading Scripture, and he says it’s partly because ‘science says so’. I think the answer to this question is far to complex to answer in one post, but that’s a good place to begin.
Theistic evolution, obviously, seeks to combine the elements of evolutionary thought with faith. It’s an accommodation position which starts in elementary school and continues through high school and college. Evolution is presented as truth in children’s books, it’s promoted on television and movies, and marketed on a large scale. Many people simply accept evolutionary thinking without critical thought because that’s all they’ve been taught; they don’t realize that they’ve conformed to societal norms, and they don’t recognize the cost for doing so. Churches certainly share some of the blame because few really address the issue at all- whether it’s to avoid controversy, or out of ignorance… they leave that to the public schools who are more than happy to educate children in materialist philosophy. There are even pastors who apply evolutionary thinking to Scripture because they believe it themselves.
I think those who would identify themselves as theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists) would claim they’re following the scientific evidence wherever it leads. But is that really the case? Science has largely been idolized in our society, and, unfortunately, that can lead to stifling true scientific progress, or worse; just look back on history at some of the horrors done in the name of science: The Holocaust, human experimentation, the abortion industry, unnecessary surgical procedures. Despite all this, society is reluctant to identify or reject bad science that has become popularized.
Evolution has been elevated to unquestionable scientific status for some time now, so it’s easy to see why it’s accepted by so many. Science has achieved so much over the last four hundred years that people are willing to overlook the horrors, believing those things will never happen again; they’ll believe whatever is promoted, even at the cost of their religious beliefs. Some don’t want to be labeled ‘anti-science’ if they disagree with mainstream scientific thought, or they hold science in such high esteem that they disparage those who don’t agree with the ‘scientific consensus’ on any particular issue. Others even think disagreeing with mainstream science is somehow dangerous. Because of all this, there are people of faith willing to either give up parts of their theology in order to resolve the conflict, or reinterpret their beliefs, and they settle for some kind of theistic evolution.
But here’s the rub: none of that is necessary. According to Meyers, people of faith don’t have to give up foundational beliefs in order to maintain a healthy attitude towards science. In fact, there are leading figures in science publicly expressing skepticism of the biological mechanisms triggering evolutionary change. Meyers points to world-class biologists who routinely express doubts about neo-Darwinian theory and the creative power of natural selection and mutations. These people recognize real problems. At the 2016 Royal Society Conference, for example, Austrian evolutionary theorist Gerd Muller discussed the “explanatory deficits” of “the modern synthesis,” which is neo-Darwinian theory. Meyers highlights some of these unsolved problems, like the origin of phenotypic complexity (the anatomical and structural features of organisms), the origin of phenotypic novelty (the origin of new forms), and the origin of non-gradual forms or modes of transition (abrupt fossil appearance).
I find this fascinating because mainstream evolutionists downplay these problems, and many would deny they even exist. This attitude is prevalent in modern textbooks. When pressed, however, honest evolutionists will, on occasion, admit to these serious flaws and their lack of understanding. Muller acknowledges this, admitting that the “neo-Darwinian paradigm still represents the central explanatory framework of evolution, as represented by recent textbooks” but it “has no theory of the generative.” What he means is that natural selection and mutations can’t account for novel new body plans and traits that must have happened if evolution were true.
To this end, Meyers states that theistic evolution is “tricky,” and understanding it really depends on how theists define evolution and what they believe about our origins. Simply claiming that organisms change over time isn’t a very good definition because it doesn’t distinguish between competing evolutionary and non-evolutionary worldviews. While it’s true that we observe minor changes and variation over time, one doesn’t need to be an evolutionist to recognize that.
Further, if theistic evolutionists believe in unlimited change and universal common descent, then they probably accept the evolutionary tree of life with many branches and one trunk. But that’s a problem because we don’t observe this in the fossil record, and many evolutionists acknowledge this.
Meyers then points to the Cambrian explosion and says this is another problem for the theistic evolutionist because there’s a sudden appearance of new body plans, but no transition. Where did they come from, and how were they formed? The ancestral forms either don’t exist in the fossil record, or they’re highly contentious.
Meyer identifies further challenges to the creative power of natural selection. He says evolutionists must provide an explanation for the origin of genetic information; genetic information has to get there somehow, but it can’t design itself. Information can only be created by a designer, or programmed by a programmer. Therefore, evolutionists must account for something that shouldn’t exist, and they can’t.
In the real world, Meyers explains that computer programs can’t operate very well with mutations and glitches. Yet that’s exactly what evolutionists rely on for their paradigm, and it’s not working out for them. In 1966, Murray Eden recognized this problem, and he summed it up by saying, “No currently existing formal language can tolerate random changes in the symbol’s sequences which express its sentences meaning is almost invariably destroyed.” This came to be known as Eden’s Doubt.
Another problem Meyers points to is the origin of genetic circuitry called DGRN’s, or developmental gene regulatory networks. The information in our cells can’t go through much change without causing parts of the organism to shut down. That’s not a good thing, and it’s certainly not helpful to the cause of evolution. An organism relies on gene regulatory networks, and Meyers says this poses catastrophic theoretical problems for Darwinian evolution and the cause for innovative information.
Meyers goes on to claim that evolution can’t explain the rise of epigenetics and the information rich hierarchical organization found in our cells, which requires complex programming.
To be fair, evolutionists have proposed theories to address these issues, but they’re incomplete and unconvincing. They’ve proposed ideas like punctuated equilibrium, self-organizational theory, evolutionary developmental biology, epigenetic inheritance, neutral theory and natural genetic engineering, but each one has serious flaws.
Another reason why Meyers considers theistic evolution to be contentious is based on identifying the cause or mechanism of evolutionary change. If one believes evolution is an unguided and undirected process, then life cannot be designed; but that’s a problem because we do find evidence of design. Yet the theistic evolutionist must deny any appearance of design and claim it’s just an illusion.
The theistic evolutionist obviously must decide for themselves the extent to which God was involved in the evolutionary process; otherwise, if God wasn’t involved, then what’s the purpose for believing in God, and what can we really know about him? They also need to distinguish themselves from atheists, who reject the existence of God and his creation of the universe and all life. In addition, theistic evolutionist must address the origin of sin, death, and suffering, our need for a savior, the Bible’s claim that organisms reproduce after their kind, the existence of Adam and Eve, and Noah’s flood. Do they believe these things are all real, or are they made up?
Theistic evolutionists find themselves in the middle of a battle, and they align with whichever side based on convenience. But I would argue that they would be better served by accepting God’s revelation of man’s origin as described in the Bible. I believe God designed and created the universe and earth for us, and he created life to reproduce after their kinds. This is consistent with the scientific evidence.