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« The Bible on Homosexuality (Video) | Main | Does It Matter If We Evolved? »

April 20, 2010


I think Greg's argument really only amounts to an argument against using the phrase "theistic evolution" It doesn't really amount to an argument against what theistic evolutionists mean by "theistic evolution." I responded to this a while back here.

Evolutionary creationists do acknowledge there are theological questions that are raised, but they can be addressed. Theological concerns however don't make scientific evidence disappear.

Can an Evangelical Christian Accept Evolution?

Signature in the Synteny

Facing Reality

Theistic evolutionists could say God just front-loaded the system, so that while it appears mutations are random and nature is doing the selecting (secondary, intermediate causes), ultimately God is responsible.

Of course, this means design is not empirically detectable, which contradicts Romans 1 et al. So I find it to be a strange position for a Christian theist to take.

The only reason a Christian would need to fit God into the evolutionary paradigm (macro-evolution, common descent) is if there is good scientific evidence for it in the first place. I am convinced that the scientific evidence is weak at best. Most of the evidence for evolution is derived from science's philosophical presuppostion--naturalism--not the evidence itself.

This material has been recycled ad nauseam by both Stand to Reason and the wider conservative evangelical culture. This work is abysmal.

What exactly is Koukl is trying to get us to believe? He is trying to get us to think that evolution via natural selection is not compatible with theism. And where, exactly, does the inconsistency lie? Theism, after all, is just the belief that an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person is causally responsible for the universe. Apparently mere reflection on that proposition permits us to deduce that evolution by natural selection does not obtain (if we cannot make this deduction, then there is no inconsistency). How, then, does the deduction go? However it goes, it is plainly fallacious, since there is no incoherency in the notion of God creating a world where the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe eventually give rise to creatures descended from a common ancestor for whom only the fittest successfully reproduce and avoid extinction. Notice how strong Koukl’s rubbish really is. He is saying that the notion of theistic evolution is on a par with a round square! In other words, he is not merely claiming that, as a matter of fact, common descent and natural selection are false. Instead, he is saying that God himself lacks the power to create a world where the initial conditions and laws of nature give rise to creatures that compete for survival in the way our best scientific theories describe. That is just to naively mistake a failure of imagination for an insight into metaphysical necessity.

Of course, Koukl may simply define his terms in such a way as to preclude theism. For instance, he may define evolution by natural selection as the doctrine that biological species have developed via a process for which no person is even indirectly causally responsible (in the explanatory sense, not necessarily the moral sense). In that case, it is so obvious that ‘evolution by natural selection’ is not compatible with theism that one wonders why anyone would feel the need to point it out or pretend to discover it.

But though defining his terms in this way guarantees the truth of Koukl’s claims, it also renders his claim utterly uninteresting, for two reasons. First, the claim now becomes no more interesting than the claim that there are not five sided circles. That isn’t exactly the discovery of a lifetime, nor is it an insight into the causal origins of life. Second, the utterly obvious claim Koukl is defending is not denied by the theistic evolutionists that actually do work in this stuff! For instance, neither Richard Swinburne (professor of philosophy at Oxford) nor Peter van Inwagen (professor of philosophy at Notre Dame) deny that theism is incompatible with the view that biological species have developed via a process for which no person is even indirectly causally responsible. They aren’t, after all, so dense as to defend the blatantly absurd! What they defend is the notion that God is causally responsible for a universe in which some biological species develop from other biological species through a process of gradual change and competition for survival. That is what the rest of the world understands theistic evolution to express.

But again, if Koukl would like to think of evolution as the conjunction of evolution via natural selection and atheism, or if he would like to define natural selection in a way that entails atheism, then of course it will follow that the view as he defines it is not consistent with theism. One would have thought that we didn’t need an apologist to tell us that.

“Natural selection is the blindest most cruel way of evolving new species. .... I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution.”

Nobel prize winning biologist: ~Jacques Monod

Malebranche, I don't think Koukl is saying the theism and evolution are incompatible. He's saying theistic evolution is self-contradictory. It's a contradiction to say things evolved naturally and that God caused things to evolve.

"It's a contradiction to say things evolved naturally and that God caused things to evolve."

No it is not. What is contradictory is to say that an event occurs naturally and that God directly brings about the event but not by means of the causal powers of creatures.

In any event, it is an odd use of terminology according to which the conjunction of theism and evolution is consistent but theistic evolution is not.


I for one HOPE Greg means that theism and evolution are not just "incompatiable" but absolutely contradictory. (at least if the theism we are talking about is Christianity)

God most certainly could not have used evolution...because evolution's main theme is UNDIRECTED, PURPOSELESS and RANDOM. Natural selection has nothing to do with any evolving either.

Scripture says in one place that Saul fell on his own sword and in another place that God killed Saul. No contradiction here. Why should natural selection be different?

You can label evolution 'materialism' if you want. Call it the bogeyman if you want. But doing so doesn't address the evidence for the common descent of humans and the other primates.

The closer you look (and we've looked in great detail), the more human chromosome #2 looks like it is the result of the fusion of 2 chromosomes. Chimpanzees have inherited these same two chromosomes. The rest of our chromosomes match theirs one-to-one. Where do you get your chromosomes? You inherit them. What's this point to? We inherited our chromosomes from the same animal the chimps inherited theirs from.

In addition, the human and other primate genomes have many endogenous retroviruses in common. How do you end up with endogenous viruses in your chromosomes? Either from direct infection or inheritance. The common ancestor was infected. We and the chimps inherited.

This kind of evidence is enough in court to require deadbeats to pay child support.

And there's other good evidence for the common descent of humans and the other primates. Don't take my word for it. Look it up.

Then, look for any solid evidence or argument that refutes all this evidence. In doing so, skip the name calling. Philosophy is fine, but tie arguments to evidence.

Once you are convinced of the common ancestry of us and the other primates, what is there left to argue about?


Greg may THINK that theism is inconsistent with evolution, but that is not what he argued in this piece. That is all I meant to say.

I just looked at the link in the main text above and found this from Koukl:

“By definition, evolution offered an explanation for how things got to be the way they are without God (I'm referring to what's known as the "general theory of evolution"). This is why it made such a splash. Do you think that if God could be worked into the evolutionary picture, then evolution would have taken off the way it did? Of course not. Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker and one of the world's preeminent evolutionists, was right when he said that Darwin made the world safe for atheism. But if Darwinism can be easily baptized with theism, how can it be that Darwin made the world safe for atheism?”

This is completely sophomoric. I take it that something like this is the argument:

Koukl’s Argument(?): The theory of evolution has been widely accepted because it has been widely thought that it makes the world safe for atheism. Therefore, if living organisms share a common ancestor and developed by a process of genetic mutation and survival of the fittest, then there is no God.

What a complete and utter disaster. Not only is the conclusion obviously false, but Koukl tries to infer it from a premise reporting on the psychology and motives of the theory’s adherents. If that blunder weren’t embarrassing enough, he appeals to the authority of none other than Dawkins, the twenty-first century’s preeminent failure at philosophical reflection. Is this the kind of Christian scholarship Stand to Reason endorses?

Actually, Malebranche
From your quote, Greg's argument is:
Evolution's popularity is based on its ability to remove God from consideration and prevent him from being easily re-included. (Thus "making the world safe for atheism")

A summary of his actual argument with regard to theistic evolution is:
You can't argue that something is "random" (without purpose) and "designed" (contains purpose) in the same way at the same time, therefore theistic evolution is nonsensical.

Do you folks seriously believe that theistic evolution is the view that there is some feature of the world that is both random and not random in the same sense at the same time? Do you guys actually think that this is the view of, say, C.S. Lewis? If so, you must think that C.S. Lewis was completely stupid.

Can we just put this unbelievable nonsense to rest and get a clear statement of what theistic evolution is? Here’s a start:

Theistic Evolution: the view that God created a universe in which species developed non-miraculously from a common ancestor and over time gradually developed into different species through non-miraculous processes (such as genetic mutation and adaptations which proved advantageous for reproductive success).

This is plainly coherent and is what theistic evolutionists actually believe. Notice that this does not entail there is no God. It entails the exact contrary! Notice also that Theistic Evolution as stated does not entail the contradiction I began with. Furthermore, characterizing theistic evolution as I have is plainly preferable, since this is what actual theistic evolutionists (Lewis, Swinburne, van Inwagen, etc.) believe.

By the way, I've added Peter van Inwagen to the list of theistic evolutionists, but that might be a bit hasty. His view might be a bit more nuanced.

I believe most theistic evolutionists would say something to the effect of "God did it, he just took a really long time."
If you take a definition of evolution as just "slow change over time," there are no contradictions to calling yourself a theistic evolutionist.

What Greg is arguing is that the philosophy of evolution is far more than just "slow change over time," it is a worldview that replaces a designer with a set of dice. By definition, the philosophy of evolution demands that God be excluded by referring to random mutations and natural selection as the only forces driving change. In this context, to call yourself a theistic evolutionist is nonsensical, you cannot believe that random chance (no purpose) and design (purpose) both drive the change that we see. If there is design, it is no longer random, if it is random, there CANNOT be design.

"Evolution is more about philosophy than the science - the philosophy of materialism. There is a fundamental clash of worldviews and philosophy between evolution and Christianity."

This shows complete ignorance on behalf of Mr Koukl. Even young-earth creationists who are trained in biology know better;

"Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution. (Technically, they could also be deluded or lying, but that seems rather uncharitable to say. Oops.)"

Suppose God made the world.

Suppose He made the world's natural laws.

Suppose He then made one cell and put it in the world with the world's natural laws.

Could He do these things in such a way that we turn up after a while?

Could He or not?

We're not talkin' square circles here are we?


Of course He could, but that's not evolution (at least not Greg's definition). Evolution is RANDOM, if God arranged the laws of nature to the point that slow change over many eons produced us, it was still design.

Random = Purposeless
Design = Purpose

The "philosophy" of evolution? I wasn't aware that evolution was a philosophy. I thought it was an empirical hypothesis concerning the efficient causal history of life on earth. "But Dawkins and other scientists say that it is a philosophy." Yes, and they say many other senseless things. Since when did STR take the philosophical musings of these fools seriously? In any event, the "philosophy of evolution" that Koukl is rejecting is just plain old naturalism. It's a lot older than the theory of evolution, doesn't entail the theory of evolution, and is not entailed by the theory of evolution. Furthermore, it doesn't take a PhD in philosophy or anything else to notice that naturalism and theism are not consistent. Ninth-graders could tell you that.

RonH and Alan,

Thank you for calling a spade a spade! Unlike Koukl, you both seem to be interested in keeping empirical hypotheses distinct from metaphysical dogmas.

As I said previously, if "slow change over time" is all that is meant by the term evolution, I would have no problem with it whatsoever and I doubt Greg would either.

Natural selection is a different matter altogether, and that gets us back to the OP:

"In natural selection, specific circumstances in the environment allow a particular individual to survive and reproduce, passing its mutated genes on to the next generation. Serendipitous conditions in nature, not God, make the “choice” about what survives. Now, if nature is selecting, then God is not selecting. The two are at odds with each other."

First, I want to say that microevolution (the change within species or between close species) is definitely a proven fact and not worth arguing about. Practically everyone on each side (with the possible exception of the creationist's "kook fringe") agrees that this occurs and it is generally agreed that this is due to natural selection (as defined above).

However, when talking about radical change between enormously disparate species (say a mouse and a snake):
The evolution side says that the radical modifications were caused by the same process that caused species x of mice to have a shorter tail (random chance and natural selection).
The creation side says that the radical modifications are too enormous to have been caused by chance and invoke a creator (when he created and his precise method is a matter of personal preference).
Finally, the theistic evolution side says that random chance and natural selection caused the radical changes that were at the same time directed and designed by God.

There's the contradiction: Everything was formed exclusively by random chance AND formed according to the design of God.

You can't have it both ways, but that's what theistic evolutionists try to do.


What is chance in a theistic world?

God knows and plans everything. Chance is an illusory thing we see when we can't see His plan. The history of life is as the biochemistry and the fossils say it is. But it was all Planned in advance. That is theistic evolution the way I know and laugh at it.

Yet, at least it admits common descent and has a friendly name.


And that's my point (and I believe Greg's point as well).

A theistic evolutionist speaking about chance (in a universe created by God) is talking about something radically different from a materialistic evolutionist speaking about chance. They are in fact two contradictory terms. One is undirected and purposeless, the other is precisely chosen and purposeful. If you treat them as the same you are lying to yourself. That is what theistic evolutionists do, they try to keep their feet in both camps, saying to materialistic evolutionists "we're talking about chance" and to creationists "we're talking about design."
This is an inconsistent and dishonest position to take, similar to a Muslim who claims to be a Christian because both religions talk about Jesus.

Soft tissue and intact DNA found in dinosaur fossils can't be more than 100,000 years old at the very maximum, but evolutionists still claim such creatures and sedimentary rocks they are found in are on the order of 100 million years old. Clinging to long ages isn't science when it contradicts clear observational evidence, but irrational as is the entire 'space dust to a frog to a prince' fable. All fossils reveal fully functioning creatures that have the appearance of purpose and design, but never transitional forms with partially developed features. See Miracles of God, Evolution or False Prophets? to see what science truly reveals about our origins.


about soft tissues


All theists are faced with the question: What is chance?


A design illustration - Games are designed by human designers and often contain random processes (dice, a spinners, shuffled decks, etc.). What are the purposes of these random processes in designed games? To add variety (no turn or game is exactly the same) and to ensure that all players have equal opportunity (fairness). I think a love of variety and fairness are attributes of God described in both general and specific revelation. Mendelian genetics operate on the assumption that alleles dissociate *randomly* during meiosis (and few creationists would argue with Mendelian genetics). Thus, much of who we are (how God created us??) is due to a random process. The presence of one random element in biological evolution in no way presents a contradiction to those who also believe in God as the ultimate cause. And just because atheist biologists press that contradiction (out of personal, not scientific, agendas), does not mean they are correct. Time and chance happen to us all (Ecclesiastes).

God controls the world. He knew every allele you'd get at the dawn of time. He is always free to intervene. That is not chance.

In a theistic world every event is chosen by God. There are no accidents. There is no need to wear your seat belt.


Just because God sees every roll of the dice from outside of time doesn't mean He loaded them.

Could he have made the world so that my last roll was snake eyes instead of double 5's?

In other words how can he know all and create all without deciding all.

Can you die if it's not your time?
Can your seatbelt save you if it is?

So I can walk in front of a train and if it's "not my time" then I'll be okay? There is a whole lot of metaphysical ground between everything is a result of nothing but chance and every little event is controlled by God (not that He couldn't control every event...but does He chose to?).

You are importing rationality into the Christian worldview.

In a theistic world, can your seatbelt save you if it's your time?


Theistic evolution is a modern day heresy. What you are indirectly saying is that death existed prior to Adams sin. If this were the case, why did Christ have to die on the cross? What's so bad about sin, if death, disease, and suffering ALL existed prior to Adam/Eve? I will interpret history through the Bible, and not vice versa. As to all the great claims of evidence, prove it. Stop using microevolution (which no one disputes)to prove macro. The two are mutally exclusive.


As to all the great claims of evidence, prove it.

Can you be a little more specific?


"What you are indirectly saying is that death existed prior to Adams sin. If this were the case, why did Christ have to die on the cross? What's so bad about sin, if death, disease, and suffering ALL existed prior to Adam/Eve? I will interpret history through the Bible, and not vice versa."

Was there death before the Fall?

Death Before the Fall of Man

Denis Lamoureux - The Sin-Death Problem: Toward an Evolutionary Creationist Solution

"As to all the great claims of evidence, prove it. Stop using microevolution (which no one disputes)to prove macro. The two are mutally exclusive."

The evidence provided was for macroevolution.

Human Genomics: Vestiges of Eden or Skeletons in the Closet?


Is that Tony as in ToNy?

Can you provide another link for the Primate Ancestors...

I am not allowed from here. :)



There was eating before the Fall and eating implies death.

I think Newbietu’s 4/20 @ 3:47 post sums up Koukl’s point best.


To respond to your initial comment, a theistic evolutionary view that says God front-loaded the process still means God is directing the process, but he is doing so through intermediate causes. But Darwin would disagree with this assessment. For Darwin, the variation that arises in species is random, and nature—not God’s front-loading of physics—is selecting what traits to pass on to the next generation. While a theistic evolutionist could agree with Darwin’s view of biological history (mechanism, etc.), he would have to disagree that it is a blind process.

Koukl’s point is not that a theist cannot think God created over a long period of time via mutations, but that a theist cannot think the process is random. That would contradict his theism, because theism holds that God is creator of all life (whether one understands His involvement to be interventionistic or front-loaded).

You said of Koukl, “Instead, he is saying that God himself lacks the power to create a world where the initial conditions and laws of nature give rise to creatures that compete for survival in the way our best scientific theories describe.” That’s not what he’s saying at all. He’s saying if God is involved (either directly through intervention, or indirectly through front-loading), then the emergence of new mutations and their selection is not something determined by chance, but determined by God. The evolutionary process would not be blind, but guided. And since Darwin’s theory entails blind, random, chance events, it cannot be combined with theism. A theist can affirm Darwin’s view of biological history, but not the ateleological aspect of his theory.



Fine, you can define Darwinism as you please. I think your conception of ‘randomness’ is inadequate, since a physical determinist can be a Darwinist even though physical determinists believe that the past and the laws of nature render physically possible only one future. Lets not pretend (as Koukl does) that Koukl, by objecting to Darwinism as defined, is coming anywhere close to objecting to the hypothesis that humans evolved from non-human species. And let us also not pretend (as Koukl does) that Koukl is attacking the more intelligent forms of theistic evolution that are found in Swinburne and C.S. Lewis. Attacking the dumbest version of a view isn’t necessarily a problem for the view.

A determinist just moves the "randomness" up the scale, he doesn't get rid of it. Instead of seeing randomness in situations all around us, all randomness is moved to the starting point of the universe (and we know there was one...).
If the determinist is a deist, the deity created the universe setting the starting conditions in such a way that we would form.
For an atheistic determinist, the universe randomly came into existence with a random set of starting conditions that happened to interact in a way that produced us.
Even a determinist is stuck at the Design/Random question.

There is nothing self-contradictory about Theistic Evolution. Species arose through undirected processes that were directed by God. Simple.

"Theistic evolution means design by chance. That’s like a square circle--there is no such thing. Blending Darwinian evolution with creation is like putting a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit."

Terribly weak, simplistic analogy that will satisfy those who have no interest in looking into the scientific aspects of evolution. Since this appears to be the level of debate.

Discovered/created by chance, Penicillin (anti-biotic), Coca Cola, Plastic, Teflon, the pacemaker...

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