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Theistic Evolution and the Moral High Ground

Evolution News

C. John Collins, a Fellow with the Center for Science & Culture, has an excellent review of Adam and the Genome, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. Evolution News has already devoted considerable commentary to this book, mostly recently, “Discussion Over: On Adam and the Genome, Former BioLogos Fellow Backs Down.”

Some highlights: Collins points out that Venema’s use of “language evolution” is a poor analogy for (his form of) biological evolution. Why? Changes in language always happen due to “agents’ decisions; and language itself cannot reasonably be thought to have arisen from a purely immanent process.” He notes that Venema fails to acknowledge a guided, non-mechanistic evolutionary origin of humans as a possibility.

The Only “Honest” View?

He holds McKnight’s feet to the fire for pretending that only his view is the “honest” one, implying that other views aren’t “honest.” This stance is ironic given McKnight’s unacknowledged theological unorthodoxy. Another good point: Regarding Adam and original sin, it’s not just St. Paul that McKnight is contradicting, but Jesus and the Apostle John. Collins reminds us that if science and orthodox Christianity can be harmonized, then this book doesn’t demonstrate as much since its theological proposals are so controversial:

We are often told that the natural sciences and theology are largely complementary and therefore do not conflict. This book does not support that relationship: the biology is being used to support a particular (and highly controversial) theological position.

Well said.

Seizing the High Ground

Lastly, Collins writes:

The second strategy is what we may call “seizing the high ground,” and thereby denying it to those who disagree. For example, Venema tells us that Todd Wood, a creationist who acknowledges the strong evidence for evolution, is “just being honest about the state of the evidence” (p. 41); that leaves me wondering whether disagreement on the interpretation is thus accounted dishonest. In what appears to be an (uncharacteristic) ad hominem, he declares that “there does not appear to be anyone in the antievolutionary camp at present with the necessary training to properly understand the evidence” (p. 65); the scientific critiques that have been offered to his work show that this is not true (and should not have been said). I have already mentioned McKnight’s use of the principle of “honesty”: does he mean to imply that those who disagree are less than honest? He mentions “vitriol flowing from the more fundamentalist side of this debate,” which he takes to be symptomatic of fear (pp. 100–1). Now, I agree that there is far too much vitriol. But I have seen it from more “sides” than just the one. Further, I am left wondering whether most disagreement, even strong disagreement, will be counted as “vitriol.”

Dr. Collins stands up for civility, and courageously calls out those theistic evolutionists who try to seize the moral high ground when they don’t, in fact, have it.

No doubt his side-margin notes on this book would make for interesting reading.

Photo credit: Davyd Betchkal, via National Park Service.