Theories of Evolution
By: Regis Nicoll|Published: November 21, 2008 1:04 PM
Which One Do You Believe?
“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that.)” (Richard Dawkins)
As secular agitations grow over fears of paleo-politicians and educators smuggling religion into the classroom, belief in evolution has become a litmus test to sort out anti-science throwbacks from the smart set.
Last year, 10 Republican candidates for the presidential nomination were put to the test when a debate moderator posed the “gotcha” question: Who believes in evolution? Although most of the hopefuls answered in the affirmative, their responses revealed nothing about their true attitudes on evolution or public school curricula. That’s because “evolution” carries manifold meanings spanning a range of origin-of-life theories.
What a person believes about “evolution” depends on what meaning he associates with the term. Most people, religious believers included, accept some form of the theory.
Take the late Pope John Paul II. In a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, John Paul called evolution “more than a hypothesis.” As expected, the pope’s statement drew instant praise from the Darwinian establishment. But had the world’s most prominent religious figure endorsed
According to the Catholic Church catechism (the edition that JPII approved after his “endorsement”) “God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."
But since unintended, unguided chance is a central tenet of Darwinian evolution, the late pontiff was not putting the papal seal on modern evolutionary theory. Rather, as he remarked in an earlier statement, “[the doctrine of creation] is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy.”
So what do we make of his 1996 statement?
While John Paul, like the debate moderator, never clarified what he meant by evolution, he offered: “. . . rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based.”
Those “several theories” cover a wide spectrum.
THE THEORY SPECTRUM
At the opposite end is “micro-evolution”—the in-built process of genetic variation and inheritance that enables species to adapt, within pre-defined limitations, to changing environmental pressures. Micro-evolution explains why dogs, for example, come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities, yet are forever distinguishable from other life forms by their unique gene pool. Even with thousands of years of intelligent intervention (dog breeding), dogs have always remained dogs, with improvements in their stock more than offset by increased susceptibility to disease and shortened longevity that has tended to make them, from a Darwinian viewpoint, less, not more, “fit.” The long history of animal breeding strongly suggests a terminal point of evolutionary progress, bounded by in-built genetic limitations.
Which end of the continuum a person leans toward will be determined by his philosophical presuppositions. For those committed to unintelligent causation, “evolution” will forever mean the unguided, material mechanism of macro-evolution starting all the way back to a pre-biotic swill of chemicals. For those committed to the biblical “after its kind” propagation, only the small-scale changes of micro-evolution are admitted. Still others embrace a middle way: “theistic evolution,” whereby macro-evolution is accomplished with a little divine help.
In theistic evolution, the complexity and diversity of life is neither the result of a single creative act, nor of an unconscious, natural process; but of small, gradual changes accumulated over time that are guided, or front-loaded, by God.
Over 50 years ago Pope Pius XII gave a nod to this hybrid theory when, in Humani Generis, he acknowledged that although ensoulment comes directly and instantly from God, the human body might come from “pre-existent and living matter.”
Theistic evolution finds appeal in two types of people: those who want an intellectually satisfying way of reconciling their religious beliefs with the claims of science, and those who want to exonerate the Creator for the existence of evil by making him a God who, after his creative work, has taken a much-needed vacation.
In this theory, God operates in one of two ways: as a cosmic Tinkerer who created the physical universe and the laws governing it (including evolution), afterward allowing nature to take its course with tweaks here and there; or, as a hands-off Creator who withdrew from his handiwork to give it the freedom to find its own way, a way he either would not or could not interfere with.
These theological novelties are laden with their own set of problems, besides those they are intended to fix.
Those attracted to the cosmic Tinkerer deny God the power or will to get creation right from the get-go, but trust that he guides it, ever so surely, along—possibly through hidden actions in the quantum realm. But if God lacked the inclination or ability to fashion creation from the outset, why should we expect that to change with time?
Because—as some proponents argue—God Himself, along with the universe He created, evolves.
In a divine process of trial and error, God tests what works and what doesn’t work, adapting His techniques accordingly. As He steers the created order toward increasing perfection, God Himself matures and evolves into an evermore capable deity.
Of course, this is sheer tautology; for there is no reason to believe that God would or could make things better, unless He is the Omnipotent who declared: “I the LORD, do not change” and “I make all things new.”
Forgotten, or ignored, is the ancient story of One who spoke into the expanse a small blue planet, teeming with flora and fauna in variegated splendor. His crowning achievement was a special pair stamped in his image, placed in a pristine environment, and endowed with all the resources needed for success. But a moment of examination resulted in failure and, with it, the introduction of a corrupting force began the sure descent of morbidity and mortality.
Contrary to our modern fancies, evil is not an artifact of poor craftsmanship or of poor genes selfishly seeking advantage on the savannah, but of poor choices. Which means that the culpability for the history of misery in this sin-warped world falls squarely on us.
Frankly, that doesn’t play well with folks who’ve come to believe that “love means never having to say you’re sinning.” Or with evolutionary scientist Steven Pinker, who, after taking stock of wasps, viruses, muscular dystrophy, and the like, quipped: “If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows.”
Well, Dr. Pinker, he did, and they did, and much more—all because we, not He, needed a Savior. Those who see
The answer could be “yes” to both, but it is certainly “yes” to the latter.
The big takeaway from Genesis is that the magnificent works of creation are not the products of some step-wise, glacial process of nature and necessity, but of an abrupt outpouring of divine intent and power. It is a repeated pattern. Throughout the sweep of scripture, God’s creative, curative, and miraculous works come suddenly and completely, not in partial installments over geological time frames. With a command, a touch, a word, the universe is birthed, man is formed, a sea is parted, the blind see, the deaf hear, the sick healed, and a Savior raised.
At the same time, creation is not a collection of homogeneous, inflexible life forms. Each species is a majestic mosaic of shapes, colors, sizes and features with the ability to adapt to changing environmental challenges within “after its kind” limitations.
So the next time someone puts the “gotcha” question to you, ask them whether they mean macro-, micro-, or theistic evolution.
"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." (Pope Benedict XVI)
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: email@example.com.