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Darwin’s Corrosive Idea: The Case of Stephen Matheson

David Klinghoffer


Our recent report of survey data, “Darwin’s Corrosive Idea,” by CSC associate director John West, documents the impact of materialist ideas about origins on religious faith, as well as on ethics and the belief in human uniqueness. The report is meticulous, objective, and highly detailed. A painful personal story that came to my attention may serve as an illustration of the phenomena Dr. West reports.

Matheson.jpgBiologist Stephen Matheson is a longtime critic of the theory of intelligent design. His extensive attacks on Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, for one, ranged from the substantive to the trivial and personal. The tone was frequently…abrasive, and we responded at the time. With Arthur Hunt, Dr. Matheson has debated Dr. Meyer in a forum at Biola University. Formerly a professor at an Evangelical Christian school, Calvin College, Matheson is still listed as a Blog Author at the theistic evolutionary website BioLogos, where it notes that he enjoys “explor[ing] issues of science and Christian faith.”

Well, his theistic evolutionary explorations have now terminated. As he reports on his personal blog page, where he took a hiatus of more than five years along with a break from his teaching, he is “happily” no longer a Christian.

Happily? Upheavals like this are rarely unaccompanied by personal turmoil. I don’t know what thoughts or experiences led Matheson to this point. Was he just strolling along one day when it suddenly dawned on him that his favorite apologetic argument had a serious hole in it? Unless he chooses to share more with his readers, all we can say for sure is that many people, speaking for themselves, report the eroding effect of evolutionary thinking

Before the break, the most recent entry at his blog, from September 2011, took issue with “folks at the Discovery Institute,” Stephen Meyer and Casey Luskin, in an exchange with Matheson’s BioLogos friend and fellow theistic evolutionist Dennis Venema. There then comes the long hiatus, and cut immediately and rather dramatically to January 2017. Matheson now relaunches his blog, still titled Quintessence of Dust, with his momentous announcement:

Quintessence of Dust was built almost ten years ago, with a set of themes and goals that don’t all fit in 2017. Most notably, the blog was conceived when I was a Christian, and for five years addressed issues and questions that I knew to be of interest to evangelical Christians. I am happily no longer a Christian, and will remodel the blog to reflect that. I do still live in the United States, in 2017, where evangelical Christianity exerts significant influence. And I know a lot about that world. So religion will be an occasional, if tangential, topic. But now I will write as a skeptic, as one who has transitioned from Christian humanism to just plain humanism.

Describing himself as a “former developmental cell biologist” as well as a former Christian, he promises to keep readers abreast of “cool science.” I wish him well, and it’s good to see that at least in a professional context he has landed on his feet. He indicates that he currently works as a Senior Scientific Editor for the journal Cell Reports.

We know other cases of theistic evolutionists whose journeys veered from their own faiths. A group like BioLogos, ostensibly devoted to outreach to fellow Christians, seems to spend an inordinate amount of time blasting intelligent design and seeking to turn Christians away from the theory. Why? There’s a strange brittleness to these attacks, which I think would leave an outsider puzzled. I myself, as a Jew, not a Christian, find them puzzling. (Don’t worry, the Jewish community has its own neurotic conflicts.)

In personal terms, the psychology of theistic evolution is fascinating. However, against the backdrop of polling data, perhaps we should not be surprised by it. Dr. West finds, among other very interesting figures:

Nearly 7 in 10 atheists and more than 4 in 10 agnostics say that for them personally, unguided chemical evolution and Darwin’s mutation/natural selection mechanism have made the existence of God “less likely.”

That makes sense, and theistic evolutionists with any sensitivity must be aware of the corrosive nature of the idea they champion. Some will say that the strange posture of theistic evolution has to do with the recognition that, for many individuals, it serves as a resting place on the way from faith to loss of faith. It appears to have been that, in any event, for Steve Matheson.

Image: © Mariusz Niedzwiedzki — stock.adobe.com.

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David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.