Can You Believe in God and Evolution? A Guide for the Perplexed
Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006. 98 pages.
Those of us looking for a resolution to the creation-evolution debate need help. We are being pushed in one direction by creationists and in another by atheists: either God or Darwin, but not both. Any via media is seen by creationists as compromise and by atheists as fudging. Atheist Sam Harris, in a recent web review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God, calls Collins’ effort at reconciling faith and evolution a failure that is “predictable, spectacular and vile.” At the other extreme, Ken Ham, head of Answers in Genesis, also in a web comment, declares Collins’ faith to be alien to the Bible.
Peters and Hewlett’s little book makes the case for a middle position known as theistic evolution. The meaning of this term used to be very broad, covering even conservatives like B. B. Warfield, who accepted the idea of an old earth on the basis of the “day-age” interpretation of Genesis. Now such a view would be labelled progressive creation or old-earth creationism. Modern theistic evolutionists, on the other hand, are those of us who accept Darwinism as good science but who still affirm that God is the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We may be critical of Darwinism in some respects, but our criticisms are not motivated by religion; they are similar to criticisms levelled by non-religious scientists.
When Christians encounter evolutionary science for the first time, they typically consider a number of responses one after another. They reject atheistic materialism and decide to continue in the faith. Peters and Hewlett take this response for granted and do not attempt to justify it at length. The book is aimed more at Christians who might be drawn toward creationism or intelligent design (ID). The authors recommend a thoughtful rejection of these views followed by an enthusiastic acceptance of theistic evolution. Unfortunately their discussion of the interpretation of Genesis is almost an afterthought and seems sidetracked by theological speculation.
Creationism comes in at least three forms: scientific creationism (Henry and John Morris), biblical creationism (Ken Ham), and progressive creationism (Hugh Ross). Peters and Hewlett express admiration for all of these attempts at resolution and for the sincere faith of the people involved, but ultimately find them all inadequate, scientifically and theologically. They reject all forms of creationism on the basis of their naïve approach to biblical interpretation, their embarrassing weakness in actual science, and their unnecessary contribution to the misunderstanding of Christianity in the public arena.
ID is an intellectual movement that says that Darwin’s natural selection is not an adequate explanation of biological organization: an intelligent designer is also required. Peters and Hewlett show that the “science” of ID consists almost entirely of criticisms of natural selection and does not lead to new findings. As such it is not productive science. ID also fails to establish the identity of the intelligent designer. If she is within the natural world, then she herself would require a designer, who would also need a designer, and so on ad infinitum. If the designer is supernatural, then she is beyond the reach of science by definition. Theologically, the idea of a highly interventionist Creator undermines human freedom and makes it difficult to understand the goodness of God.
Theistic evolution has also been harshly criticized. Its association with social Darwinism and eugenics is well known. Peters and Hewlett regret that evolution often comes “shrink-wrapped” with such alien, non-scientific companions but insist that evolutionary science can be dissociated from these unwelcome passengers. We owe it to our kids to make science safe so that they can thrive as scientists and as believers.
How can Christian theology and evolution actually work together creatively? Peters and Hewlett find the answer in eschatology. Science deals in explanation and prediction within the physical world, but has nothing to say about purpose. This is what may lead an atheist to nihilism. Those of us who have a robust hope in God’s redemption can wait for the purpose to be revealed in the eschaton. When a branch falls off a tree it has no purpose, but when it is picked up by a Masai boy and used as a spear shaft it can be seen as having been purposeful all along. We find meaning for the world in its “end,” a word that means both final state and purpose.
This book deserves to be in every church library where its restraint and good sense will be a refreshing change from the inevitable shelf of creationist one-sidedness. It should also be read by those who are reading Dawkins and Harris and their ilk to show that it is not necessary to be pushed into their barren atheism.