In certain company, Jesus had the rather annoying habit of answering a question with a question.
It had the effect of turning the tables on those who were trying to trip him up, while getting others to think through what was being asked. For example, when a religious leader asked Jesus how he could gain eternal life, Jesus’ response—“What is written in the Law?”—pointed the leader to what had already been revealed, to what, in fact, the man already knew.
But what would Jesus have said to someone asking, “Good teacher, you have great wisdom. Tell me, if you would be so kind—how did life begin?”
The scenario is not as far-fetched as you might think.
At the time of Jesus’ public ministry, a number of alternatives to the Genesis story were well-known and actively peddled in the marketplace of ideas. One was “atomism,” a thoroughly naturalistic explanation of the universe developed in the fifth century B.C.
As the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus spun it, the universe was made up of indivisible, and infinitesimally small, grains of matter (“atoms”) whose chance collisions and combinations over untold eons brought everything into existence—even thinking, sentient beings. Have a familiar jingle?
Like neo-Darwinism, atomism gave intellectual comfort to those inclined toward atheism, while raising honest doubts among those who accepted the Old Testament account. So it is possible—maybe likely—that some seeker or schemer would have asked Jesus to settle the controversy between Moses and the philosophers, or, in today’s parlance, between religion and science.
Fast-forward 2,000 years. There are those who say “Controversy? What controversy?” One is Francis Ayala, evolutionary biologist and former Catholic priest.
Ayala, 2010 winner of the Templeton Prize (for his “exceptional contribution affirming life's spiritual dimension”), recently stated that "scientific knowledge, the theory of evolution in particular, is consistent with a religious belief in God...” Well, yeah, since knowledge—true knowledge, scientific or otherwise—is sourced in the Author of truth.
But the knowledge of which Ayala refers is not the “after its kind” microevolution accepted by the religious and non-religious alike; it is the “mud-to-man” macroevolution of neo-Darwinism. Consequently, the Templeton Prize winner went on to exclude “the tenets of creationism and the so-called intelligent design” as knowledge consistent with belief in God.
If Ayala’s exclusion sends your head aswirl, Francis Collins’ explanation will help right it. Collins is a celebrated geneticist and evangelical Christian:
ID [intelligent design] portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan for generating the complexity of life. For a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God, this is a very unsatisfactory image.
Almost unimaginable is a curious way for an awed believer to put it. That aside, Catholic biologist Ken Miller heartily agrees about ID’s klutz-Creator. Miller, author of Finding Darwin’s God, likens the God of ID to “a kid who is not a very good mechanic and has to keep lifting the hood and tinkering with the engine.”
Francis Collins and Ken Miller are “theistic evolutionists”; believers who believe that creation was accomplished by Darwinian processes enfolded into the laws of nature by God. Never mind that theistic evolution, both the front-loaded variety they embrace and the God-guided one they deride, is intelligent design, their critique of ID, despite its reasoned charm, is built on syllogistic sand.
Collins and Miller claim that evolution deflects the blame from God to nature for all of nature’s “bad designs,” like the panda’s thumb or the inverted retina of the eye. Ayala raises the human jaw bone as an example, touting that any engineer responsible for its design “would be fired the next day." Darwinism is not only compatible with religion, it is essential to maintain God’s good reputation.
But that doesn’t quite work. If a software engineer inserts a random-number generator into a computer program intended to control a factory’s hazardous emissions, he, not the program, is answerable for any unabated toxic materials released. Similarly, if God engineered a random, unguided process into nature, he, as the engineer, is responsible for the effects of that process, whether good or bad. On the other hand, if God infuses some creatures with intelligence, reasoning, and free will, they, not he, are morally accountable for the consequences of their actions.
There are further problems for theistic evolution from any faithful reading of Scripture; not the least of which is that the “creator by proxy” is contrary the entire biblical narrative, not just the first chapters of Genesis:
To those who insist that the eye is the product of a process rather than a Person, the Psalmist asks, “Does he who formed the eye not see?”
To those who claim that God distanced himself from creation through evolution: 1) Solomon states that God is the “Maker” of “rich and poor” alike; 2) John writes, “Through him all things were made” and “without him nothing was made that has been made”; 3) Paul declares, “all things were created by him...in him all things hold together”; 4) the author of Hebrews reveals, “The Son...sustain[s] all things by his powerful word,” and 5) a few chapters later, “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
Now about those “bad” designs, several things are to be said.
A design flaw could be real or it could be apparent, the result of ignorance concerning purpose and function, as has been the case for numerous anatomical features prematurely dismissed as “vestigial”—the appendix, tonsils, pineal gland, coccyx, and thymus come immediately to mind.
But even if a defect is real, it says nothing about the original design (or the Designer!) and how that design may have been degraded by cumulative changes over time brought on by changing environmental pressures.
Also, even the best humanly designed systems involve unavoidable engineering tradeoffs. For instance, a car designer must balance the need for safe and reliable transportation with the needs for fuel efficiency, comfort, handling, and low engine emissions. If he calls for a body construction of two-inch plate steel, the car would be safe but not fuel efficient. If he designs it with balsa wood, it would be fuel efficient, but neither safe nor durable. If he specifies tires made of solid rubber, the tires would never have a flat, but they wouldn't deliver a comfortable ride or easy handling, either.
In short, every component in a car is designed not for its optimum performance, but for the optimum performance of the system. It stands to reason that the same holds for biological systems whose complex designs exceed those man-made many times over. And, it might very well be that only in a temporarily flawed world could the essentials of the best possible world be forged: the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.
The American Scientific Affiliation is advertised as “a fellowship of Christians in science.” Results from a recent ASA survey on the origin-of-life indicate that over 60 percent of its members fit in the TE camp. For example, nearly 61 percent of the respondents believe that “Homo Sapiens evolved through natural processes from ancestral forms in common with primates” and less than 30 percent believe that “Adam and Eve had no contemporaries, and were the biological ancestors of all humans.”
Many respondents referred to Adam and Eve as “metaphors,” symbols,” “fictional characters,” and “representations.” Like their atomist and Darwinist bedfellows, they relegate the Genesis narrative to myth and with it, the witness of the biblical writers, including that of Jesus himself.
So how would Jesus respond to Democritus, Darwin, or a member of the ASA? I suspect the same way he responded to the Pharisees: He would direct them to what had already been revealed (“What did Moses write about this matter?”); then, after patiently watching them shrug their shoulders, he would answer:“But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.