Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

God and Evolution: A Response to Stephen Barr (part 2)

This is the second of three posts responding to Stephen Barr. The first post can be found here.

Mainstream Theistic Evolution: Directed or Undirected?

In the initial decades after Darwin proposed his theory, theistic evolution typically was presented as a form of guided evolution. Although Darwin himself rejected the idea that evolution was guided by God to accomplish particular ends, many of Darwin’s contemporaries (including those in the scientific community) rejected undirected natural selection as sufficient to explain all the major advances in the history of life. Instead, according to historian Peter Bowler, there was widespread acceptance of the idea “that evolution was an essentially purposeful process… The human mind and moral values were seen as the intended outcome of a process that was built into the very fabric of nature and that could thus be interpreted as the Creator’s plan.” [Bowler, Darwinism (1993), p. 6]

This view of evolution as a purposeful process began to disintegrate early in the twentieth century after Darwinian natural selection underwent a resurgence due to work in experimental genetics. Once Darwin’s theory of undirected evolution became the consensus of the scientific community, the task for mainstream theistic evolution became considerably harder: Now one had to reconcile theism not just with the idea of universal common ancestry, but with the idea that the development of life was driven by an undirected process based on random genetic mistakes. But how can God “direct” an “undirected” process? The answer of many leading theistic evolutionists is clear: God didn’t.

For example, former Vatican astronomer George Coyne claims that “not even God could know… with certainty” that “human life would come to be.” [“The Dance of the Fertile Universe,” p. 7] And biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University, author of the popular book Finding Darwin’s God (which is used in many Christian colleges), insists that “Evolution is a natural process, and natural processes are undirected” and flatly denies that God guided the evolutionary process to achieve any particular result—including the development of human beings. Indeed, Miller insists that “mankind’s appearance on this planet was not preordained, that we are here… as an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.” [Finding Darwin’s God (1999), pp. 244, 272]

Miller does say that God knew that the undirected process of evolution was so wonderful it would create some sort of rational creature capable of praising Him eventually. But what that something would be was radically undetermined. How undetermined? At a 2007 conference, Miller admitted that evolution could have produced “a big-brained dinosaur” or a “mollusk with exceptional mental capabilities” rather than human beings. [Quoted in West, Darwin Day in America, p. 226]

Similar claims that God doesn’t know or guide the specific outcomes of evolution can be found in the writings of Georgetown University theologian John Haught.

So, contra Stephen Barr, even many leading theistic evolutionists insist that Darwinian evolution must really be undirected. Again, Barr can try to redefine modern Darwinian theory to allow for guided evolution. But because Barr’s attempted redefinition of evolution is rejected by most evolutionary biologists (not to mention many leading theistic evolutionists), it does nothing to resolve the tension between modern evolutionary biology as currently understood and practiced and Judeo-Christian theism.

Be this as it may, what can one say about Barr’s redefinition of evolution on its own terms? If one were to accept Barr’s redefinition of Darwinian evolution, would that actually solve the tension between evolutionary biology and Judeo-Christian theism? I will examine the matter further in my third and final post responding to Barr.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



__k-reviewDarwinismevolutionStephen Barr