Sunday, April 03, 2022

Nature's God: Why Christians Should Accept the Theory of Evolution. An Article in "Skeptic"

 Skeptic magazine is one of my favorite journals, and its editor--Michael Shermer--is one of my favorite writers.  The most recent issue has an article by me: "Nature's God: Why Christians Should Accept the Theory of Evolution" (pages 41-50).

American Christian fundamentalists tend to reject Darwinian evolution for at least two reasons.  The first is their belief that the Bible is God's Revelation and that part of that Revelation is its clear teaching about the divine creation of the world that denies Darwinian evolution.  The second reason is their belief that Darwinian evolution contradicts the foundational principle of the American creed that human beings have been created equal and endowed with rights by their Creator, as affirmed in the Declaration of Independence.

In my article, I argue that both beliefs are mistaken, and that Christians should all accept the theory of evolution.  My general aim here is to promote peace between science and religion.  I am especially interested in persuading American evangelical Christians to see that evolutionary science does not necessarily deny their faith.  My motivation for this probably comes from the fact that as a young man I was an evangelical Baptist who denied the truth of evolution.  

My article incorporates some material from some of my blog posts--herehere, and here.

In this same issue of Skeptic, there is another article that takes a position similar to mine in looking to reconcile science and religion.  Nathan Lents (an atheist and evolutionary biologist) has an article ("Mytho-History: The 'Evolution' of Adam and Eve") on William Lane Craig's book In Quest of the Historical Adam.  Craig is one of the most influential philosophers and theologians in the evangelical tradition of Christianity.  

In this book, he argues that the Biblical story of Adam and Eve as the first human beings created by God can be understood as compatible with the truth of evolutionary science.  His argument has two steps.  First, he claims that the creation story of Genesis should be identified as "mytho-history."  It is a "myth" like other creation myths in the Ancient Near East in that it was not intended to be taken literally in all of its details, because it employs poetic imagery or allegory.  But it is still a true myth insofar as it asserts that Adam and Eve were true historical persons who were the ancestors of the entire human race.

His second step is to claim that there is scientific evidence to support this as historically true, because there is scientific evidence for the historical Adam as a real individual of the species Homo heidelbergensis that lived in central Africa about 750,000 years ago.

In this way, Craig promotes a peaceful relationship between science and religion, in a way similar to the position taken by the theistic evolutionists at Biologos (Francis Collins and his colleagues).

Craig concedes, however, that two parts of the Genesis creation story that are essential for evangelical Christians are theological articles of faith that are unfalsifiable and thus outside the realm of science.  The first is the belief that Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and God cursed them for this.  The second is the belief that this sin of Adam and Eve has been transmitted to all human beings by inheritance as "original sin."

As Lents indicates, Craig has provoked opposition from both of the evangelical camps debating the question of whether the historical reality of Adam can be reconciled with evolutionary science.  The traditionalist camp says that Adam and Eve really existed and that this cannot be compatible with evolutionary science.  The revisionist camp says that the story of Adam and Eve is purely allegorical and thus does not contradict the evolutionary science of human evolution.  Craig irritates the traditionalists by claiming that there is an evolutionary explanation for the historical reality of Adam and Eve.  And he irritates the revisionists by claiming that Adam and Eve are not purely allegorical.

I have written previously about the evolution of Adam and Eve and about Craig's argument that the scientific idea of the universe coming out of the Big Bang supports the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

I have also written about what Darwin thought about the Bible here and here.


W. Bond said...

How does Craig explain the fact that Genesis does not portray hunter/gatherers -- unless one considers that to be Eden, which doesn't fit the story well (no children, no death, no toil, etc)? Cain and Abel are, of course, farmer and shepherd.

In fact, one might note that neither Jerusalem nor Athens address our pre-agricultural, pre-pastoralist prehistory. In the story of ancients vs moderns in political philosophy, the "discovery" of hunter-gatherers during the early modern period seems often overlooked -- even though it is right there, like another purloined letter on the shelf. The implications for understanding human nature unavoidable.

Larry Arnhart said...

Craig can say that most of Genesis 1-11 is mythic--that is, fictional--echoing Near Eastern creation myths. But still the historical existence of an original human couple is true.

Roger Sweeny said...

There is a third reason why Christians don't want to accept the theory of evolution. Evolution is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad process. In nature, almost no living thing survives long enough to reproduce. And they don't die pleasantly. They starve, they freeze, they suffer from disease. They are killed, or perhaps eaten alive, by other living things. The few that survive sometimes have genetic differences that make them "fitter". Continued for a long enough time, out of all this suffering comes us.

The God who would pick this process to make us certainly does not seem to be a good God. How is it possible to square evolution with, say, 1 John 4:8 or 4:16, "God is love"?

I first encountered this argument in Jason Rosenhouse's wonderful little book, Among the Creationists (Oxford, 2012).

"The processes of Darwinian evolution just are not the sort of thing in which a just and loving God can take delight. As Richard Dawkins has noted, 'The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation.' [9] Indeed. That evolution occasionally produces something an observer might regard as beautiful is scant mitigation for the awesome quantities of suffering the process entails." (p.145)

"The savagery of the evolutionary process cannot be seen as a stepping stone from a chaotic past to a glorious future. We are not evolving our way out of it. It is entirely possible that a few thousand years from now humanity will be extinct, but whatever species remain will still be involved in a struggle for existence. Natural selection will continue to reward them for whatever bits of sadism and malice facilitate the insertion of their DNA into future generations." (p.150)

Ironically, this is a better understanding of evolution than many people who "believe in evolution" have. So many of the latter think of evolution as some vaguely bloodless process that "makes things better". Just something that kindly Mother Nature does. But Mother Nature is a bad mother. She doesn't just allow her children to play in traffic. She forces them to. (I wish I knew where I first encountered that metaphor. Google has not been my friend.)