Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Mission Impossible: From the BioLogos Files

David Klinghoffer

The mission of theistic evolution (TE) sometimes seems to be to do the impossible. The type of evolution TE proponents must really struggle to reconcile with their faith is not mere change over time or even universal common descent, but the Darwinian version of evolution that neither expects nor permits finding any objective evidence of design in biology.

The staff at BioLogos are best known for their efforts to promote Darwinian theory to Evangelical Christians. In a way, they win my admiration for even trying. But you can’t be surprised that the nature of the quest results in strange convolutions — as, for example, when they write to their supporters and other interested observers of the public discussion. I don’t seem to be on the right email lists for the group, but our colleague Steve Meyer passes along a couple of gems that he received.

One implores, “Meet the Mantis Shrimp, Stephen!” Under a charming and beautiful photo of the creature, BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma provides a wonderful description of the mantis shrimp with its “sixteen types of color-receptive cones, allowing them to see ultraviolet wavelengths invisible to us.” She asks:

Stephen, do you see God’s glory in this amazing creature?

Any theist who’s also an advocate of intelligent design unsurprisingly sees “God’s glory” reflected in nature. Meyer replied to the email, “Yes, I do. It looks like it displays evidence of His extremely intelligent design. What say you folks about that?”

Another email from BioLogos on “The Jewel-Feathered Micro-Dinosaur” asks Dr. Meyer, “Did you know this about the hummingbird, Stephen?” The email is signed by evolutionary biologist Sarah Bodbyl Roels. She winds up to this:

Whether experiencing their brilliant colors and dazzling aerial displays, or pondering their specialized characters, hummingbirds are awe-inspiring.

I see God in these jewel-feathered micro-dinosaurs, do you?

Meyer:

Thanks, Sarah, I definitely do see evidence of the Divine Nature (God’s power and wisdom, Romans 1) revealed in these exquisite creatures. 

Many of us think of the features of living organisms (such as those of the hummingbird’s you cite) as evidence of intelligent design!

Perhaps you and other colleagues at BioLogos increasingly do too. Perhaps we are finding common ground?

Have you seen our film? You might recommend it to your readers!

http://flightthegeniusofbirds.com

By all means, if they’re discovering new common ground with ID, warmly welcome these good people and thoughtful scientists aboard. Don’t, of course, hold your breath waiting for it. Whether it’s hummingbirds or mantis shrimp, the signature of theistic evolution is to resist recognizing scientific evidence of its own claims about nature. 

Another Missive

Writers at BioLogos have been busy. Another missive asks:

How is God involved in the natural world?

This month we celebrate some amazing animals that God created, from the jewel-feathered hummingbird to the secretive brook trout. At BioLogos, we also celebrate that we can understand the natural processes God uses to create, such as evolution.

The email points readers to a post by Jim Stump, who is Senior Editor for the organization. 

The article goes on the defensive against the recent volume Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, edited by Meyer, Moreland, Shaw, Gauger, and Grudem. Stump relates, “We’ve been asked by many people over the last few months for a response to the book.” I bet they have, because this huge yet accessible work is an ultimate, devastating response to mainstream TE.

Stump doesn’t think the book is a contribution to any useful “dialogue.” Why? He says it has misrepresented the theistic evolutionary view. He points to a passage in the book that offers a brief definition of TE:

God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes. (67)

Stump scolds the book:

Dialogue is most productive when the participants have a deep understanding of each other, and one way to gauge deep, mutual understanding is the ability of each side to describe the other’s position accurately and charitably. In that respect, the new book doesn’t appear to be a contribution to dialogue with BioLogos….

It’s hard to read that statement and not see it as an endorsement of a kind of Deism — God created and then let the natural process do its thing. I don’t think any of us affiliated with BioLogos would accept that as an accurate description of our beliefs. We join with the contributors to the book, then, in rejecting views of evolution that make God a spectator to what matter can do on its own.

But Dr. Stump has misunderstood that brief and actually quite clear summary, which, as he doesn’t mention, is footnoted and otherwise adequately backed up. The footnote, by editor Wayne Grudem, says:

This definition of theistic evolution was written by the editors of the present volume as a concise summary of the view we are opposing. In the paragraphs that follow, I have provided several quotations from authors who support theistic evolution in this sense, and these quotations give more detailed explanations of what the viewpoint involves.

The chapter goes on to cite the words of leading theistic evolutionists, BioLogos founder Francis Collins, former BioLogos vice president Karl Giberson, and a statement from BioLogos itself. And the summary doesn’t equate theistic evolution with deism. It says that according to TE, God “did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change.” Which is entirely accurate, as the previous two communications from the group demonstrate. Meyer in his introduction to the Theistic Evolution book (p. 45) is also clear in distinguishing the form of TE associated with BioLogos (not deism, though “theologically problematic”) from the so-called front-loading view (“indistinguishable from deism”). So to complain of being tarred with deism is a misrepresentation of our position.

Theistic evolution can accept ecstatic declarations of the wonders of nature — hummingbirds, mantis shrimp, anything. It can accept, as Stump puts it, that “God guides, God designs, God creates.” Wedded to Darwinian theory, what it can’t countenance is any objective, “empirically detectable” traces of design.

This is, needless to say, a peculiar position for Christians or any theists to take, not least in the light of mounting evidence for design. In the Comments section under the article, in answer to a reader, BioLogos Managing Editor Brad Kramer echoes Jim Stump, “No more plans at this time to talk about the book.” Well, that’s a shame, but not entirely unexpected.

Photo: A mantis shrimp, by Jens Petersen [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], from Wikimedia Commons.