How Theistic Evolution Outstrips Both Creationism And Naturalism

The most productive way to think about the creation controversy will be in terms of models. There are rivaling models that attempt to account for all of the relevant data. If there is some evidence that contorts a model beyond its limits, that will count against that model. The fact that some model serves as the best explanation does not necessarily mean that it is true, though. It only means that according to the best evidence that we have, it is the most robust model. In this article, I will be assessing models such as theistic evolution, creationism, and naturalism, and explaining how theistic evolution outstrips both creationism and naturalism. When I refer to creationism, I mean the doctrine that God created mankind in full form, in an act of instant, special creation (with the age of the earth being basically irrelevant to this discussion). When I refer to theistic evolution, I mean the doctrine that God decreed the process of organic evolution. When I refer to naturalism, I mean the doctrine that the natural world is all that there is, and accordingly, only natural forces are responsible for evolution.

In assessing these models, I will use criteria such as (1) explanatory capabilities, (2) the degree to which something seems contrived, (3) simplicity, (4) accordance with accepted beliefs, and (5) plausibility. The model that prevails where others begin to break down will be thought to outstrip those models. I generally think that theistic evolution outstrips both naturalism and creationism.

Theistic Evolution Resolves The Timetable Problems

There is a legitimate scientific controversy issued by scholarly advocates of intelligent design. Men such as Drs. Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Douglas Axe have published this critique in credible scientific journals. The critique of evolutionary theory is basically that there is just not enough time for it to have occurred. This criticism has likewise been advanced by Christian apologists such as Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Hugh Ross. Craig cites Drs. John Barrow and Frank Tipler to support this critique of evolution.

In fact, the timetable problem has received so much attention that it was the object of the criticism of evolutionary biologists Herbert Wilf and Warren Ewens in their peer-reviewed paper ‘There is plenty of time for evolution.” Dembski and co. published a peer-reviewed paper assessing their model, pointing out a few areas in which it is not consistent with standard models of evolutionary theory.

The most prominent inconsistency was featured in Dembski and co’s paper. They write, “First, within their model are implicit information sources, including the equivalent of a highly informed oracle that prophesies when a mutation is “correct,” thus accelerating the search by the evolutionary process. Natural selection, in contrast, does not have access to information about future benefits of a particular mutation, or where in the global fitness landscape a particular mutation is relative to a particular target. It can only assess mutations based on their current effect on fitness in the local fitness landscape.”

In other words, Wilf and Ewens attempted to resolve the timetable problem by endowing natural selection with foresight, the ability to predict which mutations will be beneficial. This would resolve the tension, but it would traverse the boundaries of naturalism. It seems that this phenomenon would be better explained on theistic evolution than on naturalistic evolution. After all, in and of itself, natural selection cannot predict the future. It can only go through cycles of trial and error.

Again, this does not mean that we have to dogmatically believe theistic evolution or that this is irrefutable. We only believe that based on the current stream of evidence, theistic evolution is more likely than its rivals. But some scientific evidence could emerge that counters the current state of affairs.

Evolutionary Psychology And Adapted Behavior

There is a lot about our very own behavior that we never think about or understand. When you talk, you might move your hands. You might facially exhibit an emotional response. You might have a muscle reflex that serves no active function. When it gets dark, you feel tired and go to sleep. When there is threatening stimuli, you feel compelled to either fight or flight. When you see a canine, it fills you with joy. But why do we exhibit these behaviors? Theistic evolution has explanations of these behaviors in the form of evolutionary psychology.

On the other hand, it might be argued that creationism has explanatory power, but it would not really be intellectually satisfying. One can easily say, “God created us that way,” but that is not a full explanation. On the evolutionary model, one can provide a mechanism, explaining how that came to pass. But, one may object, even if the best creationist explanation for how something came to pass is that God created them that way, perhaps they could explain why God created them that way, and that might empower the creationist explanation.

One problem that might arise with this approach was pointed out in Dr. Graham Oppy’s book The Best Argument Against God. Applying Dr. Oppy’s point here, God could have created mankind with any number of behavioral reactions. He could have created mankind such that they did not need to sleep, for example. Since we are assessing rivaling models, the creationist model would have the burden of proof. It would need to be able to show not only why God created that way, but that it was the most efficient way to create mankind, which I do not think is a burden of proof that they can bear.

With that in mind, the creationist model is in a difficult position. Even if the creationist model were true, it would be much harder to prove than other models. Further, with the weight of the issued criticism, it might fail the test of simplicity, being that it posits not only that God created in some way, but also that his method of creation is the most efficient method. I can sympathize with the creationist here, but still I think that theistic evolution outstrips creationism in terms of behavioral psychology.

The Evolution of DNA And The Problem of Information

Zebras have stripes. Think for a moment about that proposition. If I were to erase that proposition, it still have semantic content. If that proposition were never stated orally or in writing, it would still have truth value. If it never crossed the mind of a single human being that zebras have stripes, the proposition that zebras have stripes would still have truth content. As I argued here, true propositions really do exist and they do not seem to have any basis in material objects. Yet information has to come from an intelligent source, because messages only come from minds.

The influential psychologist Dr. CG Jung believed that all human beings shared a repository of images that were passed down from ancient history. That information has an intelligent source – the human beings of the past. But what about the information encoded in the DNA and RNA molecules? Scientists compare these molecules to encyclopedias. Richard Dawkins wrote on page 116 of The Blind Watchmaker that in human DNA, there is the rough equivalent of about 100 volumes of the Encyclopedia of Brittanica. Since theistic evolution has an intelligent source, while naturalism does not, it will be favored to explain the evolution of human DNA.

Notice also that I am not positing that the DNA or RNA molecule were made in an act of special creation, ex nihilo. Instead, I am suggesting that naturalistic evolution cannot account for the semantic content in the DNA molecule, because messages only come from minds, and coding only comes from coders. The course of the evolution of the replicator is better explained on theistic evolution than it is on naturalistic evolution. Naturalistic evolution might be able to explain it, but it would strain more than theistic evolution.

Theistic Evolution Makes More Sense of God’s Modus Operandi

Creationists are sometimes heard saying that God does not need to take billions of years of evolution to achieve his end. He can do it in six days. He can do it in a nanosecond. While God certainly can create something in a short period of time, that is not really his typical modus operandi. Let’s start somewhere that basically all Christian creationists will agree. Evan Minton pointed out here that God could have freed the Israelites from the bondage of the Babylonians in the space of a nanosecond. But he took 70 years. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. The Messiah left 2000 years ago.

You may be tempted to say, “Ah, but there are reasons for that.” But that is precisely the point. God rarely does things in an instant, not because he cannot, but because he has reasons for taking a longer time. Perhaps he enjoys expressing his role as the Creator, and prefers to take a long period of time. There is nothing implausible about that.

The problem will be worsened for non-evolutionary old earth creationists. As an old earth creationist, you will believe that the earth and every planet in the universe took billions of years to form. Everything in the universe and all of God’s processes throughout the Bible and human history have taken very long periods of time. But for some reason, he made an incredible exception with mankind? I am just not tempted to believe that. God’s modus operandi seems to be better explained on theistic evolution than on creationism.

Why Think A Thing Like That?

In Dr. Alvin Plantinga’s book Where The Conflict Really Lies, and briefly in Warranted Christian Belief, he advanced what is known as the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). The EAAN states that there is no reason, on naturalism, to believe that natural selection would produce cognitive faculties aimed at yielding true beliefs. Our cognitive faculties yield survivability rather than truth.

There are several examples that may illuminate the difference between a belief that is formed for survivability and a belief that forms because it is true. Plantinga seems to like the illustration of the tiger. Suppose you were to encounter a tiger in the jungle. It starts growling at you, but you form the false belief that it is a big kitty cat, and you want to play with it. You also form the false belief that the best way to play with it is to run away. False beliefs would, in this case, lead to survivability. Consider this more practical example. Imagine that a man does not know that sex produces pregnancy. He thinks that the only purpose of sex is to feel good. The biological cause is the propagation of the species, but he is ignorant of that, and in fact holds the false belief that the only purpose of sex is the good feelings. False beliefs, again, lead to survivability. There are many examples such as these.

The question that we will need to ask will be what good reasons we have to believe naturalistic evolution could produce truth-seeking cognitive faculties when survivability will do the job. Ironically, this was stated eloquently in the famous passage by Charles Darwin, posthumously named Darwin’s Doubt. He wrote in his letter to William Graham, “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

Of course, this argument, like the others, is probabilistic. The most that one can say is that it is more likely that natural selection is driven by theistic evolution rather than by naturalistic evolution, given that our cognitive faculties are aimed at truth.

A Common Ancestor Makes More Sense Than A Common Designer

Typically, shared DNA is advanced as one of the primary pieces of evidence for evolution of all biological organisms. It seems to prove that we are all related, akin to how DNA can prove that a man is related to his sister or his mother. The creationist will typically retort that this shared DNA only demonstrates that we have a common designer. God used the same blueprints on all living organisms. There are basically two responses to this objection. First, the common design hypothesis could equally be used to show that you are not related to your mother. Perhaps you just had a common designer.

Second, discoveries in DNA go a little deeper than that. Among what are typically called the “great apes,” there is actually a difference between human beings and the others. We have 46 chromosomes (one from each parent) while the others have 48. This discovery actually has the potential to falsify evolutionary theory as it relates to humans, because it raises the question of where that extra pair of chromosomes went. A possible way to resolve this is to suggest that one of chromosomes resulted from the fusion of two primate chromosomes. Ken Miller said in the linked video that if the chromosome is missing, human evolution is effectively falsified. Yet that chromosome was precisely what was found, meaning that evolution overcame a major hurdle and even emerged stronger. With that in mind, it would seem like theistic evolution provides a better model for understanding human chromosomes than creationism.

Occham’s Razor

Naturalists are divided about whether they should object to theistic evolution. Some see theistic evolutionist as an ally against what they regard as an anti-scientific agenda. Others just oppose all religious thinking. Either way, one of the primary criticisms that they might mount is what is known as Occham’s Razor. William of Occham was a philosopher and theologian (a Christian). He is best known for the idea that if a model has superfluous elements, a simpler model will be preferred. Since theistic evolution has God working behind the scenes where naturalistic evolution will suffice, God would be thought to be superfluous.

However, Occham’s Razor is not intended to cut away any and all complexity. It only targets unnecessary complexity. I have argued throughout this article that theistic evolution is a superior model because it explains some things better than naturalistic evolution. In that regard, God would not be superfluous.

God of The Gaps

A God of The Gaps arguments occurs when an apologist attempts to fill in a gap of scientific knowledge with God. A good example might be abiogenesis. Some will say that because we do not know how life first arose on earth, that therefore God must be the only explanation (though there might be more sophisticated treatments of that argument). In the case of theistic evolution, they will say, God is just filling in the gaps that evolutionary science has yet to plug. But in a few decades, those gaps in evolutionary science will be filled.

The problem with this objection is that the arguments that I have made for theistic evolution are based on what we do know, not what we do not know. We know that there is not enough time for evolution to unfold. We do know that the DNA molecule is encoded with information comparable to 100 encyclopedias of Brittanica. On the other hand, Plantinga’s EAAN was a philosophical argument based on the premise that natural selection yields survivability, not truth. I do not know that in any of these cases, I could be accused of using a God of The Gaps Argument.

If the naturalist were to suggest that perhaps eventually, scientists will discover that there is enough time for evolution to unfold, that would still not render this a God of The Gaps argument. It would only mean that the evidence changed, not that it was found. Further, for the naturalist to say that would be to commit precisely the same fallacy – Naturalism of The Gaps.

How Theistic Evolution Outstrips Both Creationism And Naturalism

Something redeemable about theistic evolution is that it fuses creationism and naturalism, stripping away the unsavory and retaining the profitable. In theistic evolution, we have the explanatory scope and scientific backing of evolutionary theory, while retaining intelligent causation. Both of these views – creationism and naturalism – are insufficient to account for the data related to the evolution of biological organisms. Theistic evolution is the preferred model.

However, I understand that there is also the problem of biblical integration. I did not address that here because I written extensively about it elsewhere. Please see the recommended reading if you are interested.

Recommended Reading:
If Atheism Is True, It Follows That Atheism Is False
Why We Should Rebrand Young Earth Creationism As Neo-Ussherianism