Creationism then Intelligent Design and now, another choice for Christians, Theistic Evolution
(Don’t miss poem at end of blog, “Darwin is My Hero”)
Creationism does not offer scientific explanations to the sophisticated and educated Christian concerning evolutionary science, and neither does Intelligent Design, (ID), for exactly the same reasons. The believers in both positions have been criticized by liberal Christians such as Francis Collins in his book, The Language of God, but for the most part, Christians don’t criticize Christians (they just go to war with each other somewhere down the line). Although Creationism and ID have major philosophical disagreements they usually don’t criticize each other.
Both Creationism and ID philosophies ignore the mass of evolutionary evidence now available in the fossil, molecular, cosmological, biochemical, geological, genetic and anatomical record, to mention just a few of the physical sciences that confirm evolution. Literally, every day we hear of more evidence. So, what are conscientious, intelligent Christians and theists to do without creating a destructive revolution and alienating themselves from family and friends? They need another choice, a label that distinguishes them from the “miracle believers” with minimal bloodshed.
Liberal Christians and those of other religions are embarrassed, but usually remain silent, as their religious leaders speak for them and preach to them and assume all is in accord. It happens ever Sunday, where I bet up to half the congregations of traditional Protestant and Catholic churches listen and pray obediently, but silently reject most or all the bible miracles. They, like many of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and others, have doubts about the need for supernatural events. They feel they can be Christians without miracles. Many Christians are not in accord with their leaders; they just lack a loud voice and a label to put on their bumpers. Fortunately, they now have another choice, which describes them better. It’s called Theistic Evolution. Theistic Evolution simply means one believes in both a prime creator and evolution. Concerning Jesus? He was a great teacher, philosopher, and if need be, the son of God. OK, I’ll let them have one miracle temporarily. My theory is that this miracle will eventually fade in the sunshine of science.
Actually, Theistic Evolution has always existed in the sidelines with no one willing to champion it. It is something educated and science-loving Christians have been dreaming about, for hundreds of years. They want to accept evolution without giving up their belief in God.They want their cake and eat it too.
I am pleased that finally, there are some liberal Christians who are willing to acknowledge and defend Theistic Evolution because nothing else adequately describes their belief system. Two of these defenders, Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett, have done so in a 2006 book, “Can You Believe in God and Evolution?” The book celebrates Darwin’s 200th Anniversary. It is advertised as “a guide for the perplexed.” And so it is.
A main player in this controversy is The Templeton Foundation, which has long promoted a softened and compromised position on science and evolution by financing books, publications, seminars, and research in order to bring science and religion together. The Foundation claims there does not have to be a conflict between science and religion. After several dismal and embarrassing failures with Creationism and Intelligent Design in the courts, the Templeton Foundation apparently believes that it will be more productive to support theistic evolution. They believe theistic evolution will be less objectionable to the scientific community and more popular with educated Christians who believe in evolution. The Templeton Foundation has spread its encompassing arms wide enough to accept all three contradictory philosophies, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and now Theistic Evolution.
Radical Christians are no doubt, dismayed with the Templeton support shown to Theistic Evolution. They believe the Templeton Foundation has gone too far in presenting the authors of the book “Can You Believe In God and Evolution?” with the John Templeton 2007 Book of Distinction Award.
I discovered the book in a church library and checked it out under a relative’s name. This book is worth reviewing because I know few of you have read it or will read it. A summary of the book follows.
The back cover does this concisely so I will quote from it. “How can I be faithful to God and fully enjoy the progress of science?” (they say yes you can and tell how), “Who is Charles Darwin and what did he actually say?” (they accurately explain who he was and what he said), “Can you believe in God and Evolution?” (they claim it is possible), “Does teaching evolution corrupt our social values?” (they say no), “Can science be a Christian vocation?” (they say yes), and finally, “How can we interpret the creation story in the bible?” (they tell how. A day in the bible doesn’t necessarily mean 24 hours.) The authors are partially successful in answering these questions, even from an atheist’s point of view.
What follows are opinions of the authors. They were so vague in places I had to guess what they meant. They did their best to offend as few people as possible. They believe Christians can believe in both God and evolution. God created or allowed evolution and put it into action billions of years ago. However, God plays no other role in evolution, He does not guide it, interfere with it, alter it in any way. Evolution, mutation and natural selection happen as is claimed by science, without input from God. Their ambiguous God was the original creator but then stepped back and keeps his hands off nature. Evolution is not evil and neither was Darwin. Creationism is a misguided belief and so is Intelligent Design. The authors, and Francis Collins, correctly reject the claims of Young Earthers, creationists, and Intelligent Design advocates. Furthermore, the authors reject any divine interference with nature. These are huge concessions by them. I was surprised the Templeton Foundation would be associated with this book while at the same time continue to be supportive of Intelligent Design. The two positions are contradictory. Could it be they are, or at least try to be fair-minded? I congratulate the authors and the Foundation for what appears to be their attempted reconciliation with non-theists. It is the first step on the pathway from miracle believer to atheist/agnostic.
I admit I have been simplistic. There is no way I can review this whole book by authors Peters and Hewlett in a couple of pages. They describe in great detail the whole spectrum of beliefs and disbeliefs, opinions, agreements and disagreements among miracle believers and science believers. They try to be accurate and fair in their descriptions and they do a good job as far as I can see. They end up with an ambiguous God who has diminished power. They touch all the bases for sure, and try never to say a disparaging word. I was impressed on how well they managed this. They don’t overtly take sides; they just try to state what all the opinions are, and there are a lot. They have a way with words and try very hard not to piss any one off. Who knows, they might even agree with my analysis of what they have written.
Warning to secularists: Someone will attempt to introduce this book into public school science classrooms. They hope, where Creation Science and Intelligent Design have failed, Theistic Evolution will succeed.
Now here is the good news. I believe the concept of theistic evolution will draw Christians, and other religious folk, away from their more fundamentalist belief systems. It will eventually undermine other strict theistic beliefs and replace them with moderation. Liberal Christians, who felt uncomfortable under the previous Creationist/I.D. label, are now one step closer to a total non-theistic approach to their lives, whether they realize it or not. To liberal Christians, this book and its offering of a rational science/religion philosophy may be the beginning of the end to their other supernatural religious beliefs. Rather than drawing secularists into the web of supernaturalism, theistic evolution philosophy does the opposite; it tempts liberal Christians into a scientific and naturalism approach to their lives. It undermines radical Christianity and other radical religions.
Some non-theists will strongly disagree with my hunch/belief, and they may well be right. Who knows for sure? They suspect those, who approve of this label change for liberal Christians, are too accommodating and compatible with the enemy. Those who advocate theistic evolution as a first step on the way to atheism, are labeled accommodationalists and compatablists, not well thought of terms in the atheist community. To be clear, no belief in a supernatural God can be compatible with science, but it can be compatible with evolution. If their God plays no role in evolution or science but is just an approving onlooker, it is a step in the right direction, is it not?
Debating the subject
I have done my share of debating evolution and the separation of church and state issue, with little positive effect, as far as I know. It’s like talking to a brick wall. There is absolutely nothing I can say that will convince Fundamentalists and Evangelicals of anything contrary to their preconceived childhood beliefs or from an emotional “born again” conversion. I have long since given up this strategy in favor of what I hope will be a gentler and more persuasive strategy when blogging, commenting, and face to face debate.
How does one convince religious radicals to reject their most cherished and long held beliefs and accept a totally new belief system against their will? I think it cannot be done, with “in your face debate.” Perhaps a more devious (cunning) approach would be more successful.
Let us take advice from professional debaters with the understanding that there is no unbiased jury that decides who won the debate. Audience applause is merely a reflection on the numbers of supporters of a point of view. We must remember the debate is not for glory and not for demolishing and making a fool of one’s opponent, as much as some of us might like to. Rather, debates are best used to whittle away, in very small bites, the certainty of the religious audience, especially the few vulnerable individuals that are inevitably part of any audience. Frontal attacks don’t win the enemy over to a point of view. Victories too often do the opposite, they alienate the losers and seed future conflicts. Secular victories embitter and strengthen the opposition’s will to continue the battle. Simply put, there are better ways to convince supernatural believers that their beliefs are unfounded. Frontal assaults don’t work with a strong determined opponent but guerrilla tactics may have a better chance.
Here are some (not original) suggestions. 1– Present yourself as a sincere searcher for the truth, one who would give up his most cherished beliefs in light of new convincing information. Don’t present yourself as the enemy. 2 – Admit that science is your yardstick in measuring truth. Admit you cannot accept faith as a reason for believing but you are willing to listen. 3 – Don’t refer to biblical miracles, rather refer to supernatural events (outside of nature). 4 – Say you are searching for evidence of miracles and thus far have not found any. Claim that if or when you found a miracle you would be willing to reconsider your present beliefs. 5 – Ask if there is any chance, no matter how small, that they would alter or reconsider their views. What would it take for them to moderate their views? 6 – Use the failure of intercessory prayer as an example of the non-existence of miracles. Opponents will cite studies that indicate intercessory prayer works, so be familiar with the studies and the fact that there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies in reputable science journals that prove prayer works outside the placebo effect. Check out my blog on that subject, “Intercessory Prayer: Does it Work?” Oct.31. 7 – Try not to use the inflammatory word, evolution. Instead, substitute, change over time, or slow change, gradual modification, etc. rather than the word evolution. The “evolution” word closes all ears.
Don’t be disappointed if you seem not to have any success in changing anyone’s mind about evolution. Remember, the goal is to plant a small seed of doubt. If you can do that, you have done your part in defending evolutionary science.
I admit, I’m not the best debater, I’m not a philosopher, and I’m not a scientist. I’m just an atheist who believes what a wise man once said; “Every journey starts with a small first step.”
Darwin is My Hero
Darwin is my hero. He turned the world around
and freed us all from ignorance wherever it was found.
The faith of popes and preachers he truly did confound,
because his new theory was true and most profound.
In spite of what he told the world, some still cannot conceive
that not all the stories read in church, are to be believed.
Between the lines, when carefully read, the truth you may perceive.
Don’t let the darkness of the past, your open eyes deceive.
Some still cling to fairy tales and still swear and do proclaim
that the truths from Darwin’s mind were, at best, profane.
They urge you to reject what came from Charlie’s brain,
if heaven is the goal you eventually must attain.
If you believe that you must choose between the “word” and “theory”,
and of the facts of science you always must be leery,
look again and you will see there just is no restriction
to believe both in God and Darwin, if that is your conviction.