Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

A Deist in Christian Clothing?

The one year anniversary is approaching for the publication of Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, so I surveyed the responses it has received, particularly from Christians. One of the most prominent critics is Denis Lamoureux, who has PhDs in both biology and theology. Throughout his career he has attacked any argument for the detectability of design in nature. He has also confidently declared that life can be fully explained by the working out of natural processes. His position might raise the question as to whether he is actually a deist in Christian clothing, attempting to undermine traditional beliefs about creation from within the fold.

The answer to that question would clearly be no. Lamoureux is a sincere Christian, and he believes he is serving the Church by promoting an evolution-faith synthesis (EFS). This synthesis allows religious academics and laypeople both to maintain their beliefs and to accept Darwinian evolution, which he views as being supported by overwhelming evidence. Moreover, he explicitly distinguishes his position from deism in several respects, which he outlines in his book Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes (pp. 49-50):

I firmly believe that every natural process discovered by evolutionary scientists was ordained by the Creator. I also believe that God sustained these processes during the billions of years of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution.

Let me offer an analogy to explain how I view the creation of the world. Imagine God’s creative action is like the stroke of a pool cue in a game of billiards. Divide and label the balls into three groups using the words “heavens,” “earth,” and “living organisms,” and let the eight ball represent humans. In depicting the origin of the world, a six day creationist sees the Creator making single shot after single shot with no miscues until all the balls are off the table. No doubt about it, that’s impressive.

However, as a Christian evolutionist, I picture God using only one stroke of his cue representing the Big Bang. His opening shot is so incredibly precise that not only are all the balls sunk but they drop in order. The balls labeled “heavens” fall first, then “earth,” followed by “living organisms,” and finally the eight ball — the most important ball in billiards — signifying human beings. To complete the analogy, the Lord pulls this last ball out of the pocket and holds it to his heart to indicate his personal relationship with men and women.

Isn’t the Creator who uses just a single stroke to sink all the balls infinitely more amazing than the God of the six day creationists who takes shot, after shot, after shot? I believe that the Lord’s eternal power and unfathomable foresight is best illustrated by creating through an evolutionary process that he set in motion with the single miraculous event of the Big Bang.

Loaded Dice

He has also compared the laws of physics to loaded dice, designed to generate desired outcomes. In effect, he argues for design, but he pushes its implementation back to the fine tuning of the laws of physics and the precise choice of the universe’s initial conditions. His EFS appears particularly attractive to those entering biological disciplines since it allows its recipients to both avoid conflict with their secular peers and to bypass the countless hours of study required to grasp the key scientific issues. However, it poses some serious problems.

Of primary importance, the entire framework is based on key scientific assumptions which are now known to be false. First, it requires that the initial conditions of the universe could have been set with sufficient precision that the information for the generation of life could have been embedded in nature at the moment of creation. However, such front loading is precluded by the property of physics known as quantum indeterminacy — the necessary incompleteness in the description of a physical system.

Quantum Indeterminacy

The evolution of matter and energy only appears to operate as billiard balls following clear trajectories at larger length scales. At microscopic levels, a physical system must be described by quantum mechanics which only provides the probability distribution for possible states of the system through time. For instance, the angle at which a particle deflects off another particle cannot be exactly known beforehand. Instead, only its probability of occurring within different angle ranges can be calculated. As a result, any information stored in the initial configuration of matter and energy at the beginning would have completely degraded through such quantum processes as quantum fluctuations within a fraction of a second. An analogy would be attempting to hit a trick pool shot to sink five balls in the middle of an earthquake. The constant jostling of the balls would prevent any attempt from succeeding. Another analogy would be attempting to set the position and momentum of every particle in and around Earth in such a way as to ensure that a tornado moving through a junkyard a year later would assemble used car parts into a fully functional high-performance sports vehicle. Such a task would be theoretically impossible.

The Laws of Physics

Second, the laws of physics were clearly not designed to generate life. All natural processes drive collections of molecules toward either higher entropy, lower energy, or both. However, the origin of life requires simple molecules to move in the opposite direction toward lower entropy and higher energy. That is thermodynamically impossible without outside assistance. Taking into account these errors, Lamoureux’s description of nature collapses into a form indistinguishable from deism.

At other times Lamoureux and his colleagues have described nature using such terms as guided or goal directed. However, these sentiments completely contradict the standard description of Darwinian evolution as presented in nearly all universities, U.C. Berkeley providing a typical example:

Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity — it is mindless and mechanistic. It has no goals; it’s not striving to produce “progress” or a balanced ecosystem.

Attempting to argue that God guided an inherently unguided process which is mindless and mechanistic and has no goals to achieve predetermined goals is logically incoherent.

A Benevolent Fiction

Many of Lamoureux’s audience have minimal understanding of quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, or the intricate details of Darwinian evolution. As a result the EFS represents little more than a benevolent fiction. However, its inherent deficiencies have more serious consequences for those who encounter hostile skeptics. This danger was demonstrated vividly in a debate between Lamoureux, Stephen Meyer, and Lawrence Krauss. Krauss is an atheist whose primary goal seems to be to use science to discredit belief in God. During the debate, Lamoureux attempted to detach Darwinian evolution from atheism using his EFS, but his arguments appeared so unconvincing that Krauss did not even bother to respond. If anything, he saw Lamoureux as an ally in his drive to argue against the evidence for direct design in nature and in his promoting a harmony between evolution and faith which is so scientifically and logically unsound that it could be dismantled by a savvy atheist with relative ease.

Compounding the danger, Lamoureux unwittingly encourages Christians to embrace not a meaningful dialogue between faith and science but a self-imposed intellectual captivity where they surrender their right to critically evaluate materialist theories about the origin and development of life. Moreover, they commit to suppressing any evidence they encounter in nature for direct design. This Faustian bargain offers its recipients acceptance into secular academic circles, but it leaves them intellectually defenseless against the Krausses of the world. They are like police officers who are issued protective vests made from cardboard. They might feel grateful for the protection at first, but their attitude would quickly change if they ever encountered an actual bullet.

Photo: Denis Lamoureux at TEDxEdmonton (screen shot), via YouTube.