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A chapter a day to counter theistic evolution

Demonstrating why Christians cannot worship both God and current scientific dogma


A chapter a day to counter theistic evolution

Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique is a 962-page destruction of the well-funded BioLogos campaign to sell macroevolution to Christians. Thoughtful chapters by scholars and scientists show that neo-Darwinism fails scientifically, with neither the fossil record nor genetics undermining the first two chapters of Genesis. Transitional ape-to-human fossils remain conspicuous by their absence, and humans and chimpanzees are not similar at the genetic level. We cannot worship both God and current science dogma.

It was hard to pick out just one element from this comprehensive work, which made WORLD’s short list for 2017 Book of the Year in the Origins category, so here’s the introduction by Stephen C. Meyer, courtesy of Crossway, which reveals many of the book’s components. While pastors and others are unlikely to read this book all in one sitting, a chapter a day will provide the basic understanding needed to refute the demands of Christians who have been taken in by the claim that we don’t have to choose between what the Bible teaches and current academic respectability. —Marvin Olasky

We start our scientific critique of theistic evolution discussing the alleged creative power of the main mechanisms of evolutionary change because theistic evolutionists want to argue that God has worked undetectably through these various evolutionary mechanisms and processes to produce all the forms of life on our planet today. They equate and identify evolutionary processes such as natural selection and random mutation with the creative work of God. Yet, we will argue in the opening section of this book, chapters 1–9, that the main mechanisms postulated in both biological and chemical evolutionary theory lack the creative power necessary to produce genuine biological innovation and morphological novelty.

In chapter 1, Douglas Axe argues that people do not need specialized scientific training to recognize the implausibility of Darwinian (or other materialistic) explanations for the origin of living forms—though he also argues that rigorous scientific analysis reinforces our intuitive conviction that the integrated complexity of living systems could not have arisen by accidental or undirected processes. Consequently, he suggests that people of faith who yield core convictions about the intelligent design of life—out of deference to the supposed scientific authority of spokesmen for Darwinism—do so unnecessarily and with a substantial apologetic cost to their faith.

In chapter 2, I (Stephen Meyer) follow up on Axe’s argument by showing that a rigorous scientific and mathematical analysis of the neo-Darwinian process does, indeed, reinforce the pervasive intuition to which Axe appeals. I show, based in part on some of Axe’s own experimental work, that the random mutation and natural selection mechanism lacks the creative power to generate the new genetic information necessary to produce new proteins and forms of life.

In chapter 3, Matti Leisola extends our critique of the sufficiency of the neo-Darwinian mechanism. He shows, citing some of his own experimental work on DNA and proteins, that random mutational processes produce only extremely limited changes, even with the help of natural selection.

In chapter 4, we briefly shift our focus from biological evolution to chemical evolution, the branch of evolutionary theory that attempts to explain the origin of the first life from simpler nonliving chemicals. In this chapter, organic chemist James Tour shows that undirected chemical evolutionary processes and mechanisms have not demonstrated the creative power to generate the first living cell from simpler molecules. Basing his argument on his extensive knowledge of what it takes to synthesize organic compounds, Tour shows why known chemical processes do not provide plausible mechanisms for the synthesis of the complex bio-macromolecules and molecular machines necessary for life. We should make clear, in introducing his chapter, that Tour does not regard himself as a partisan to the debate over theistic evolution, one way or another. He has, nevertheless, kindly given us permission to publish an abridged version of a previously published essay in order to make more widely known the scientific problems associated with chemical evolutionary theory—in particular, its lack of any demonstrated mechanism for generating the molecular machinery necessary to the first life.

In chapter 5, Winston Ewert shows that attempts to solve the problem of the origin of biological information by simulating the evolutionary process in a computer environment have also failed. Instead, he shows that, to the extent that well-known evolutionary algorithms (computer programs) simulate the production of new genetic information, they do so as a consequence of information already provided to the program by the intelligent programmer who wrote the code—thus simulating, if anything, the need for intelligent design, not the sufficiency of an undirected evolutionary processes.

In chapter 6, I critique the idea that God carefully arranged matter at the beginning of the universe so as to ensure that life would inevitably evolve without any additional intelligent input or activity. In this chapter, I show why this version of theistic evolution, though attractive as a potential synthesis of the ideas of creation and evolution, fails for demonstrable scientific reasons to account for the origin of the information in the DNA molecule—and, thus, the information needed to produce the first life.

Next, in chapter 7, Jonathan Wells shows that, in addition to new genetic information, building new organisms requires information not stored in DNA—what is called “epigenetic” (or “ontogenetic”) information. He argues that this fact alone demonstrates the inadequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanism. Whereas neo-Darwinism asserts that all the new information necessary to build new forms of life arises as the result of random mutational changes in DNA, developmental biology has shown instead that building new forms of life also depends on information not stored in the DNA molecule. For this reason, the “gene-centric” mutation and natural selection mechanism simply cannot explain the origin of anatomical novelty.

In chapter 8, I team up with Ann Gauger and Paul Nelson to show that many mainstream evolutionary biologists have now rejected orthodox neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory precisely because they recognize that the mutation/natural selection mechanism lacks the creative power to generate novel biological form. In support of this claim, we describe some of the new theories of evolution (and evolutionary mechanisms) that mainstream evolutionary biologists are now proposing as alternatives to textbook neo-Darwinism. Yet we also show that none of these new evolutionary theories invoke mechanisms with the power to produce either the genetic or the epigenetic information necessary to generate novel forms of life.

In chapter 9, Sheena Tyler describes the exquisite orchestration necessary for the development of animals from embryo to adult form. She argues that nothing about these carefully choreographed processes suggests that they might have originated as the result of random mutational tinkering or other undirected processes. Instead, she argues that they exhibit hallmarks of design.

If the evidence doesn’t support the creative power of evolutionary mechanisms, why claim that these mechanisms represent the means by which God created?

For advocates of theistic evolution (where evolution is understood to affirm the third meaning of evolution), the growing scientific skepticism about the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian and other evolutionary mechanisms presents an acute problem, quite apart from the logical and theological considerations outlined above. If many evolutionary biologists themselves no longer agree that the mutation/selection mechanism has the creative power to explain novel biological forms, and if no alternative evolutionary mechanism has yet demonstrated that power either, then the claim that apparently unguided evolutionary processes are God’s way of creating new forms of life is, increasingly, a relic of an obsolete scientific viewpoint. But that raises a question: if the evidence doesn’t support the creative power of evolutionary mechanisms, why claim that these mechanisms represent the means by which God created? Why attempt to synthesize mainstream evolutionary theory with a theistic understanding of creation?

After critiquing versions of theistic evolution that affirm the sufficiency of various naturalistic evolutionary mechanisms, the second part of the science section of the book (chapters 10–17) critiques versions of theistic evolution that assume the truth of universal common descent, the second meaning of evolution discussed above. These chapters also take a critical look at the claims of evolutionary anthropologists who assert that human beings and chimpanzees have evolved from a common ancestor.

In chapter 10, paleontologist Günter Bechley and I examine the logical structure of argument for universal common descent, with a particular focus on what the fossil record can tell us about whether all forms of life do, or do not, share a common ancestor. Though theistic evolutionists often portray this part of evolutionary theory as a fact, even as they may acknowledge doubts about the creative power of the neo-Darwinian mechanism, we have become skeptical about universal common descent. In this chapter we explain why, and use the fossil evidence to illustrate how a scientifically informed person might reasonably come to doubt the arguments for universal common ancestry.

Then in chapter 11, Casey Luskin shows that a wealth of evidence from several different subdisciplines of biology, not just paleontology, now challenges this universal common descent and the “monophyletic” picture of the history of life it presents.

In chapter 12, Paul Nelson argues that the theory of universal common descent rests less upon supporting evidence than upon a number of questionable scientific and philosophical assumptions. He argues that the theory of universal common descent has been insulated from critical testing largely because these assumptions have rarely been questioned.

In this same section of the book, we also offer several chapters challenging the idea that chimpanzees and humans, in particular, share a common ancestor. Chapter 13, by Ann Gauger, explains what is at stake in the debate about human origins. Chapter 14, by Casey Luskin, shows that the fossil record does not support the evolutionary story about the origin of human beings. Chapter 15, by Ann Gauger, Ola Hössjer, and Colin Reeves, shows that the genetic uniqueness of human beings contradicts that story as well. Chapter 16, also by Gauger, Hössjer, and Reeves, challenges theistic evolutionists who claim that evolutionary theory and its subdiscipline of population genetics have rendered untenable any belief in an original male and female pair as the parents of the entire human race.

Finally, in chapter 17 Christopher Shaw, one of the science editors of this volume, concludes this section of the book with an interesting article on the role of bias in science that helps shed light on why so many scientists have found neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory persuasive despite its evident empirical difficulties.

Our critique of theistic evolution does not stop with scientific concerns, however. In the second section of the book, we address philosophical problems with the versions of theistic evolution critiqued in our science section. Given the known scientific inadequacy of the neo-Darwinian mutation/natural selection mechanism, and the absence of any alternative evolutionary mechanism with sufficient creative power to explain the origin of major innovations in biological form and information, we argue that theistic evolution devolves into little more than an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism—the idea that scientists must limit themselves to strictly materialistic explanations and that scientists may not offer explanations making reference to intelligent design or divine action, or make any reference to theology in scientific discourse.

In chapter 18, J. P. Moreland notes that, for good or ill, philosophical assumptions necessarily influence the practice of science. He argues that science and scientists, therefore, need philosophy, but also need to be more self-critical about the philosophical assumptions that they accept, lest they adopt assumptions that impede scientists in their search for the truth about the natural world.

In chapter 19, Paul Nelson and I critique the principle of methodological naturalism and also critique how theistic evolutionists invoke this methodological convention to justify their commitment to contemporary evolutionary theory despite its evident empirical shortcomings. Methodological naturalism asserts that, to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain all phenomena by reference to purely physical or material—that is, non-intelligent or non-purposive—causes or processes. We show that, though many scientists adhere to this rule, attempts to justify methodological naturalism as a rule for how science should function have failed within the philosophy of science. In this chapter we also critique the way theistic evolutionists invoke the God-of-the-gaps objection to reject all nonmaterialistic explanations for the origin of new forms or features of life—that is, we critique the use of this objection as a way of justifying methodological naturalism. Most importantly, we show how methodological naturalism impedes the truth-seeking function of scientific investigations of biological origins, and should, for that reason alone, be jettisoned.

In chapter 20, Stephen Dilley argues that a logically consistent theistic evolutionist should reject methodological naturalism. Dilley notes that methodological naturalism prohibits the use of theology-laden claims and that it denies that non-naturalistic theories (such as intelligent design or creationism) are “scientific.” Yet, he argues, key scientific arguments for evolutionary theory—from the Origin to the present—either rely on theology-laden claims or attempt to provide evidence-based refutations of non-naturalistic theories—thereby, inadvertently implying that such theories do make scientific claims.

In chapter 21, J. P. Moreland argues that adopting theistic evolution undermines the rational plausibility of Christianity. By assuming that only scientific methods and evidence produce knowledge, and that theological and biblical teaching do not, theistic evolutionists propagate a form of scientism that forces theists to constantly revise biblical truth claims in light of the latest scientific findings or theories—however unsubstantiated, provisional, or speculative they may be. In so doing, theistic evolutionists undermine Christian confidence in the teachings of Scripture and contribute to disdain or contempt for Christian truth claims among nonbelievers.

Content taken from Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.


Stephen C. Meyer Crossway

Stephen C. Meyer Stephen is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He holds a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, is a former professor at Whitworth College, and was WORLD’s Daniel of the Year for 2009.


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