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June 23, 2010


Is there really a philosophical problem with affirming the following:

Theistic Evolution: God fashioned the world such that, through natural, non-miraculous processes, perhaps involve genetic mutation, natural selection, sexual selection, etc., a wide variety of animal species would develop over time from a single species.

From what I heard on the latest radio show, Koukl’s big gripe with endorsing this is that if it is true, then we don’t need to insert the miraculous hand of God in the middle of history to explain the existence of the variety of animal species we find today. Wow, I wasn’t aware that was such a philosophical problem. I thought God was a skillful enough artisan that he could create the natural order such that through its own processes it accomplished the aim of grace and the kingdom of God.

Is there also a philosophical problem for a theist who believes that most (if not all) stars were formed completely naturally? Is that also something that was baked in a naturalistic oven and so has no place at a theistic table?

A follow-up. Koukl has made at least two philosophical objections to theistic evolution: first, theistic evolution is ‘design by chance,’ and so is just nonsense; second, evolution was not developed within the theistic worldview and doesn’t appeal to miraculous intervention.

I’ve already stated why the latter objection is no more of a problem for theistic biological evolution than it is for theistic stellar evolution. What about the first objection?

This too is a poor objection. It is not obvious that evolution needs to appeal to any metaphysically serious notion of ‘chance.’ Evolution, after all, is consistent with complete causal determinism, and if causal determinism is true, there is a robust sense in which nothing is left to chance. So, evolution is consistent with there being a robust sense in which nothing is left to chance. Furthermore, it is possible to state the Principle of Natural Selection without appealing to chance. Consider the following remarks from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on natural selection:

Natural selection is a causal process...The bare bones of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection are elegantly simple. Typically (but not necessarily) there is variation among organisms within a reproducing population. Oftentimes (but not always) this variation is (to some degree) heritable. When this variation is causally connected to differential ability to survive and reproduce, differential reproduction will probably ensue. This last claim is one way of stating the Principle of Natural Selection (from here on PNS).

Here are Darwin words on the matter:

I have hitherto sometimes spoken as if the variations—so common and multiform in organic beings under domestication, and in a lesser degree in those in a state of nature—had been due to chance. This, of course, is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation. (Darwin 1959, 131)

Second, even if we articulate genetic variation in terms of ‘chance,’ we may be clear that all we mean is that the causes of the genetic variation are not themselves aiming at adaptiveness or fitness, just like the cause of a fair shuffle of a deck is not aiming at a royal flush, though it may produce a royal flush (even in a deterministic universe!).

If we are going to reject theistic evolution, we will have to go to the empirical evidence and give up these weak objections.


Very nice. I agree with your critique.

I think y'all must use the empirical evidence of scripture. Theistic philosophy cannot mind if all the guidance was In the Beginning.

Seems to me that, to a determinist (theistic or not), chance is a heuristic - not a real thing.

Well, there's one way I know of for chance to be in an atheistic world:if quantum non-determinism throws off macroscopic results. I can't see why theists would be realists about chance at all. Maybe you can explain.


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