“Evolution provides a theological solution to a theological problem, and the science is sandwiched somewhere in between. But the theological premises are denied so the theological result is seen as coming from science, and science inappropriately attains the status of truth giver.” I made that observation in Darwin’s God, and unfortunately it remains just as true today.
The latest example of this phenomenon comes in a brand new volume, Calvinism and Middle Knowledge, where, in Chapter 2, philosopher and theologian Kirk MacGregor strongly argues that evolution proves Molinism. Molinism was one of the dozen or more religious motivations and mandates for evolutionary thought, and now in the 21st century, evolution is used as a proof text for Molinism. See the sequence? Religion drives the science, and the resulting theory is then used to confirm the religion. This can only work where (i) there is a loss of historical continuity, where evolution is seen as an objective, tabula rasa, empirical finding, and (ii) there is a breakdown in the science. Below I summarize MacGregor’s argument, and explain why it fails scientifically, and is incoherent.
MacGregor accepts evolution for reasons that anyone familiar with the origins debate will recognize. He cites molecular and morphological evidences and arguments for how evolution could have occurred via a long sequence of mutations, and he says evolution has far greater explanatory power than special creation. Just because evolution can occur, however, does not mean it is likely to have occurred. MacGregor accepts the evidences and arguments that evolution is astronomically unlikely to have occurred. It may seem that he has a dilemma: evolution occurred yet could not occur. But for MacGregor all of this demonstrates the truth of Molinism:
Far from constituting a threat to theism, the macroevolutionary account of life’s origins and development actually demonstrates the existence of God and the supremacy of God’s knowledge. Due to the astronomically low probabilities of countless trans-group and simultaneous unrelated mutations, which I believe the scientific evidence demonstrates to have occurred, the God who created the universe must be endowed with middle knowledge. Such knowledge of what would happen in every possible biological scenario, especially those which are causally unconstrained, is the only means whereby God could choose to create a world where this dizzying and interdependent array of biological improbabilities would naturally materialize to generate life in all its complexity. In other words, the evolutionary schema, with its extraordinarily lengthy chain of remote probabilities, could only unfold in time-space if the God who exists knew what would contingently happen in every possible set of circumstances and then proceeded to create an initial quantum phenomenon which naturally issued in precisely those innumerable contingencies necessary for the evolution of intelligent life.
In other words, what may appear to be a chance naturalistic process was actually foreseen by God, and arranged by God by selecting an initial, quantum, state of the universe. MacGregor does not explore, and perhaps has not substantially considered, a key difference between his approach and Molinism; namely (and very simply put), with Molinism God foresees but does not determine the future decisions of His morally free creatures. This will lead to an incoherence in MacGregor’s approach (more below on this).
MacGregor provides reasons and evidences for accepting evolution that are typical of the evolutionary literature. He is unaware that these reasons and evidences have been dealt with extensively and have long since failed badly on the science. To begin with, it is an exercise in confirmation testing. For each evidence, complicating factors are simply omitted. And the vast array of contradictory evidences not considered at all. One example of each will suffice.
One of MacGregor’s evidences are “suboptimal improvisations” and the so-called vestigial structures. For example, MacGregor writes that God’s special creation of whales with useless leg bones appears inexplicable, for whales would no longer descend from land-living ancestors with legs. No one could validly argue that such structures resulted from sin, as they emerged on anyone’s reckoning before the Fall.
This classic evolutionary argument from disutility has failed over and over, and it is no different this time. In this case, it has long since been considered that these “useless” whale bones are likely used in reproduction and this was eventually confirmed. As one evolutionist admitted:
Our research really changes the way we think about the evolution of whale pelvic bones in particular, but more generally about structures we call “vestigial.”
Another example of how MacGregor’s evidences do not serve his purposes is the so-called nested hierarchy pattern of biological forms which MacGregor claims is accounted for through the successive branching pattern of evolutionary transformation. Again, this icon of evolution has failed badly. It is simply false that the evolutionary tree pattern is explained by a successive branching pattern. As I have documented many times, the problem is not that there are a few outliers. We’re not talking about a third-decimal point error. Empirical contradictions to the expected nested hierarchy are everywhere, and at all taxonomic levels. They are pervasive and consistent, and it is fair to say that the so-called nested hierarchy pattern is imposed onto the data rather than read out of the data. Homoplasy is rampant in biology, and there simply is no justification for the “nested hierarchy” pattern, such as it is, as an evidence for evolution. Indeed, by modus tollens what the evidence is telling us is that evolution is false, by any reasonable interpretation of the evidence. If an evidence would be powerful evidence for a theory, then the failure of that evidence must be evidence against the theory.
Finally, MacGregor’s position is incoherent for several reasons. First, as noted above MacGregor claims the so-called “suboptimal improvisations” found in biology are strong evidence for evolution. Evolution explains these, whereas with special creation such evidence is inexplicable, and is ruled out. This centuries-old argument is powerful, but it is theory-laden. This can be seen in MacGregor’s terminology: “improvisations.” On the evolutionary view, such suboptimal designs are “improvisations,” but on the special creation view they are not. The term “vestigial structures” is also theory-laden. There is nothing inherently “vestigial” about those whale bones, our appendix, or the many other examples evolutionists cite. There is no measure of “vestigial-ness.” The very language MacGregor uses is steeped in evolutionary assumptions.
In fact, the evolutionist’s claim that such evidence is inexplicable and therefore rules out special creation hinges on the theological doctrine that divine intention is to optimize function and fitness. God must create according to the evolutionary concept that designs are driven by fitness (which, in turn, is defined as a reproductive advantage). We might say MacGregor’s theology is based on evolutionary theory but, of course, this goes back long before evolution. It would probably be more accurate to say MacGregor is a utilitarian, which was an important influence and mandate for evolution.
So the first problem is that MacGregor’s position is theory-laden, and circular. The evidence that MacGregor finds to be a powerful confirmation of evolution entails evolutionary assumptions. The next problem follows on the heels of the first; namely, that MacGregor’s position is unbiblical (the Bible does not present a utilitarian Creator, and at times flatly indicates the opposite). Normally this would not be a problem — anyone can hold and advocate any belief he wants to. But MacGregor’s entire argument is intended to be biblical. So he has a significant internal contradiction, in addition to being theory-laden, and circular.
Greater God Theology
Another problem is that MacGregor believes the divine creation acts are confined to the beginning. This sort of idea is sometimes labelled as “front-loading.” Rather than divine intervention occurring over time, the Creator sets up the initial conditions just right for the desired result (including the evolution of humanity) to unfold. MacGregor here follows the Greater God theology which, again, traces back several centuries and was important in mandating an evolutionary origins narrative. The classic case study is Leibniz’s rejection and horror at Newton’s proposal that God tweaks the solar system every so often to maintain its stability. Leibniz slammed the notion as blasphemous. The greater god causes the causes of effects, rather than merely causes the effects themselves, as Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus put it. MacGregor follows this belief, and the resulting front-loading will be instrumental in his confirmation of Molinism.
But this confirmation of Molinism is arrived at not by an objective analysis of the empirical evidence, as MacGregor suggests. MacGregor did not have to incorporate front-loading. Following Robert Russel, MacGregor could have envisioned divine action as occurring, at the quantum level, over time. But that would have violated his greater god theology and, crucially, it would have obviated the confirmation of Molinism. So the thesis of the paper — that Molinism is confirmed by science (evolution in particular) — is false. In addition to the utilitarianism we saw above, the conclusion for Molinism also hinges on the greater god theology. On top of all this, as with utilitarianism, greater god theology also is not biblical. Again, this is a problem for MacGregor because his argument is intended to be biblical.
Finally, MacGregor’s utilitarianism and front-loading are contradictory. MacGregor simultaneously holds that (i) God would not create those suboptimal improvisations (hence evolution must be true), and (ii) God knows all possible futures, and how they are brought about, and He selected an initial state which created the world. This means that God created those suboptimal improvisations, which He would never create.
Unfortunately, religion has infected science and the result is bad religion and bad science.
Image: Luis de Molina (1535-1600), after whom the doctrine of Molinism is named.
Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.