Guided Evolution

Have you heard of it yet? Guided evolution. It means that God is at work overseeing the adaptation and natural selection of every plant and animal species. In other words, he continues his work-in-progress with every generation, never quite getting it right. It’s another subterfuge, another way to sneak God into science.

The problem that some theists have with evolution is not that the theory is “incorrect,” but that the theory does not need a creator to explain so many of the big questions we have about life; for example, why are we here. Ultimately, it is an emotional response to evolution that causes conflict, a desire to have explanations for the unexplained, to feel comforted by the familiar promise of God. Life is now “objectively meaningless”! That is the crux of the issue.

So how does a theologian reconcile evolution and faith so that God can still keep skin in the game? Well, he claims that the two are compatible. Check out Professor Alvin Plantinga’s talk here if you’d like to learn more. Plantinga claims that, because scientific theory doesn’t address whether or not evolution is guided by God–or any other mythical character, I might add—he can be brought in as an add-on to existing theory. I suppose this means you and I can add-on anything we’d like to any theory or scientific law. So I’m proposing that we “add on” a goddess and give her the reins in evolution. I’m thinking a woman would do a much better job with the whole childbirth thing and the excruciating pain women must suffer.

It’s also relevant to note that there is no mention of God’s great hands in the theory of relativity or the law of gravity either. It seems to me if you’re going to add him on as a rider to one scientific theory, he should be attached to all of them.

We should also examine what Guided Evolution fails to either recognize or acknowledge. Theology supports the idea that God is 1) perfect, 2) omnipotent and 3) all-knowing. So tying God onto to the back of evolution’s mighty engine reduces God to nothing more than an inept tinkerer. I mean, for chrissake, are you telling me that, after all these human iterations we continue to be plagued by the common cold and the flu? God cannot master the process of meiosis so that errors do not occur?  Seems to me that our human tinkerers have done a much better job with small pox and IVF. I’m sure you guys can come up with quite a few more examples of how God has failed as a scientist, mechanic and creator. After all, he’s left us prone to disease, organ failure, birth defects and pesky viruses and bacteria. Hell, a lowly mosquito can still take us out.

And here’s another thing. If god has his big, clumsy hands guiding the evolution of every species, then why is the world such a hostile place? Why is there so much damn suffering in so much of the world? Plantinga, of course, did not have an answer in his presentation. He falls back on the crusty cliché: “It’s not for us to know.” (You guys saw that coming, right?). The idea of a hostile planet does not reconcile well with the idea of a loving, merciful, just–and present–god. If god’s here fiddling with the world, guiding our adaptations, and he’s choosing not to alleviate suffering, then either our conception of god is wrong or we’re delusional.

While a believer may not read the bible as a collection of facts, there are certain underlying premises that one must accept for belief: that god is all-knowing, not clueless; that god is powerful, not powerless; that god is omnipotent, not impotent. If you believe that your god is the creator of all life, that he created us in his image and that he is perfect in all regards, then you cannot also believe in a second explanation of evolution, which would invalidate the Bible. God either created Adam and Eve “in the beginning,” or he’s been stumbling along in the dark, guiding our creation. You cannot have two true answers to the question: how did we get here?

And Guided Evolution is catching on. In this January 9th column titled, “Evolution is not a matter of belief,” the author writes:

“….despite the way it’s often discussed by creationists and anti-religion zealots, evolution says nothing about the existence of God. A scientific concept backed by an overwhelming amount of supporting evidence, evolution describes a process by which species change over time. It hazards no speculations about the origins of that process.”

Well, hello. Perhaps that’s because we do not yet know, and science does not wish, hope or make ridiculous guesses.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 40% of Americans don’t believe in evolution–they still believe that humans were created by God in their present form. Of those who do believe in evolution, about 25% believe god is the driving force. Only 16% of those surveyed believed that humans evolved from earlier species through an unguided process.

We have some work to do, and that is, making sure that religion doesn’t tack itself to evolution like a tail on a donkey. God should not be added-on simply to help some folks feel better about questions we have not yet answered.

I have nothing against religion. It just shouldn’t be wedded to science. It belongs in church, not our educational system. I don’t want creationism or ID to be repackaged as Guided Evolution.


68 responses to “Guided Evolution

  1. Let us suppose, for fun, that God is “guiding” evolution. This means that we accept the theory of evolution. Good. But what does this mean? Evolution, at the end of the day, is who survived long enough to pass on its genes. In other words, who wasn’t killed before they could fuck. Not only this, but the direction of our evolution is highly predicated on who we mate with. This means that for God to be “guiding” evolution, he has to personally determine who is eaten alive, who is murdered, who is raped into pregnancy, who the few happy ones on this earth get to fuck at their leisure. But for us to want to have sex with who god needs us to have sex with, he needs to make us want to have sex with whoever that is. Thus, if they want God to guide evolution, they must concede that he is solely responsible for every death on this planet, every rape, etc. AND they must also concede that we do not have free will. Something a Christian would not be okay with.

    They really don’t think their positions through, do they?

    • Thanks for such a funny response! Laughing so hard right now. Since early Christians disdained sex, the theology doesn’t quite fit in with evolution’s reliance on it.

      • Exactly. Clearly those who want to put God in evolution do not understand evolution in the first place.

      • Are you claiming that sex and procreation are somehow connected? What about storkology then?

        IMHO guided evolution as a concept is just about ultimate in deception and intellectual laziness. The former for the things @michael mentioned above and the latter because it is paramount to giving up thinking. If any deity has had his/her say in what the populations will look like then there is no need/reason for any questions.

        I somehow prefer the creationist idiots over those in favour of GE because at least the former are honestly stupid 🙂

    • @michael2232 Yikes! Talk about a grim view… 😉 I find it odd that between lust and love, lust oftentimes wins out….which confirms that we’re just like the rest of the animals.

      No, doesn’t appear that people think these things through….

  2. I can sum up my thoughts about this in a single sentence:

    “God evolved Ebola just for us because he loves us!”

  3. Even back when I was religious, I didn’t think god was “guiding” evolution. My rationalization was this: “If god knows everything, then he could set evolution in motion the way he wanted and know from the start every detail of exactly how it was going to come out. So why would he need to interfere in the process?”

    I just don’t understand christians who claim god has a perfect plan for everything, then say that he changed it, or pray for him to alter it in their favor. They make my brain hurt.

    • Ubi, prayer is definitely a ‘brain hurt’. If God has a plan, why would he change it in favor of humans’ (often self-centered) pleading? Does God change his mind? If so, then he’s not really reliable. Did he change his mind about the stuff in the OT Bible? Like forbidding the wearing of mixed fabrics and eating shellfish. In the NT, Peter said that stuff was okay now. So God changed his mind. But God apparently didn’t change his mind about gays and women. We’re not sure how he feels about slavery or honor killings, but most civilized societies have given those up despite God’s silence.

    • @ubi dubium Interesting rationalization.
      Yes, there are a lot of mental gymnastics involved with prayer….God has a perfect plan, but if it’s not the plan we want, then he has something better for us down the road….

      • Yes, you’d think that if christians believe their god “knows everything”, then maybe they should act like their god actually does know everything. Yet so many of them don’t.

  4. “Guided evolution” is not new; it is the Catholic position, which the Church calls “theistic evolution.” Prof. Plantigna seems to be repackaging the Catholic position on evolution for Protestants. His replacing ‘theistic’ with ‘guided’ is curious as is his move away from talking about intelligent design, which he has previously supported. Changing the name of the theory doesn’t make it any less insipid.

    • @Patricia Wasn’t it also called “Divine Evolution,” at one point? I agree, it doesn’t make it any less insipid. I thought his word choices were interesting. For example, he used the idea of “add-on,” as if tacking on god were some sort scientific “upgrade.” Rhetoric is everything….

  5. But Debbie, don’t you know that God guided man to figure out how to deal with small pox and how to develop IVF? Geez. It’s all part of the lessons he’s trying to teach us. I mean, he can’t just make everything perfect – then we wouldn’t learn anything and therefore wouldn’t be worthy to spend eternity with him in his castle of clouds! Don’t you understand that logic? Maybe you need to read your bible, sister.


  6. All praise the “God of the gaps!” —

  7. “I don’t know [why we’re here]. People sometimes say to me, ‘Why don’t you admit that the humming bird, the butterfly, the Bird of Paradise are proof of the wonderful things produced by Creation?’ And I always say, well, when you say that, you’ve also got to think of a little boy sitting on a river bank, like here, in West Africa, that’s got a little worm, a living organism, in his eye and boring through the eyeball and is slowly turning him blind. The Creator God that you believe in, presumably, also made that little worm. Now I personally find that difficult to accommodate…”

    ― David Attenborough

    • @LanceT Great quote. When people say, “Well, look how the human body was designed,” I always wonder if there WERE a creator, how we would we have been designed differently? For example, our eyeball would be impervious to things like worms. We assume just because everything is as it is that it is how it was supposed to be. We are limited by what we know and by what we don’t know. Did that make sense?

      • Entirely, Deb.

        Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find my self in – an interesting hole I find my self in – fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

        – Douglass Adams

    • I’ve posted this before, but I think Monty Python had it right with the song “All Things Dull and Ugly.”

      Go see Here are the lyrics:

      All things dull and ugly
      All creatures short and squat
      All things rude and nasty
      The Lord God made the lot

      Each little snake that poisons
      Each little wasp that stings
      He made their brutish venom
      He made their horrid wings

      All things sick and cancerous
      All evil great and small
      All things foul and dangerous
      The Lord God made them all

      Each nasty little hornet
      Each beastly little squid
      Who made the spiky urchin?
      Who made the sharks? He did

      All things scabbed and ulcerous
      All pox both great and small
      Putrid, foul and gangrenous
      The Lord God made them all, Amen

  8. Christians are not only familiar with evolution but are great examples of evolution visible in our lifetime. They continue to ‘evolve’ their tap dance around the ever-growing advance of evolutionary evidence. We’ve seen them go from staunch denial, to the waltz of ‘Intelligent Design’ which has now evolved to ‘Guided Evolution’.

    What’s it going to be next? God-Driven Natural Selection? C’mon….!

  9. Let’s start with some simpler questions.
    Do these people know what evolution is?
    Do these people know how evolution works?
    Do these people know why evolution works?

    This is a good example of Confirmation Bias:
    Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or my side bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

    They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

    I think that everyone can have an opinion, but you have to be ready to accept that it may be wrong and misguided and in need of correction. And that’s not an opinion. Unfortunately, too many people have beliefs that are rigid and not open to criticisms or challenge.

    People can’t critically analyze and evaluate all available information, making decisions, including those involving their beliefs, based on thought, facts and reason.

    No one likes to hear that the things they strongly believe are wrong, but it’s a disservice to all of us if we can’t be open to the idea that we are wrong, and open to learning something new or the real facts for that matter.

    Evolution it’s a process that require millions of years and hundreds if not thousands of generations. Gods have nothing to do with it.

    If we don’t acknowledge evolution, we are saying; We don’t believe that adults come from babies. We have observed them for hours and never seen one of them turning into a middle age man.

    Take care,

    • Great comment, Ishmael. (That was one of my favorite books as a kid, BTW.) Great analogy: “If we don’t acknowledge evolution, we are saying; We don’t believe that adults come from babies. We have observed them for hours and never seen one of them turning into a middle age man.”

    • @Ismael Excellent points and questions!

      Here is one I would like to add: Do they understand the concept of “theory?”

      “Theory” has two distinct meanings, and theists like to mix it up to suit their needs. I heard them switch meanings in one sentence to condemn the Theory of Evolution and then expound on the theory of intelligent design. Their arguments are often imprecise and muddled.

  10. I appreciated this post, and having read Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies,” I have been wearied by his playing-not-to-lose paradigm. One turn of phrase from your post caught my attention, and I intend to obscond with it:

    “It seems to me if you’re going to add him on as a rider to one scientific theory, he should be attached to all of them.”

    A rider – I love it. Just like insurance. Coincidence? Too good to pass up the chance of passing onward. 🙂


  11. @Brisancian Yes, like insurance. Glad you liked it. In the end, isn’t that what this irrational belief is all about?

    I think in the talk he linked, Plantinga gives a summary of where the conflict lies. I wasn’t convinced, of course. A friend of mine recently recommended Mary Midgley’s book, The Myths We Live By. It’s interesting so far….

    • My primary objection to Plantinga’s WTCRL rests in the fact that he argues to defend the suitability of a generic and streamlined theism (does not exist), and then concludes that Christianity is thereby a more suitable context for modern science than materialism. The problem facing this strategy is that we have no such theism; it is a chimera. Actual instances of theism, like Christianity, have warts and hangnails, innumerable direct contradictions to the evidences of both (1) science and (2) history/archaeology. So the entire argument winds up being “much ado about nothing.” It is, of course, incoherent even if the basic stratagem is granted a nod, but why go that far?

      A bit like when NT Wright argues for the resurrection based on its originality within a context of Judaism and the startling growth of the early church. Yet he does this without discussing other quasi-original and fast growing cults, without addressing mythological inheritance, without discussing Mormonism and Islam and Cargo Cults, etc. They put their arguments in a schoolroom diorama, and against that rather flat backdrop, they argue that it works.

      Tiring, and provincial.

  12. I believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster guides evolution. After all, the theory of evolution doesn’t say anything to the contrary. (Have you been touched by his noodly goodness?)

    Furthermore, I believe fairies stand on top of things to keep them from floating away, thus gravity, and giant invisible hamsters run along the equator to make the planet spin.

    Prove me wrong.

    • “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

      ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    • @deosullivan3 I have been bathed in his mystic broth and touched by his noodly appendage.

      Your forgot to mention that the correlation between piracy and climate change still remains intact. Granted, it might be a little bit of causation without correlation, but the data is what it is!

      (I know feel intellectually dirty and need to go find some mental bleach.)

  13. I wonder why there is this urge to put a god into the evolution theory. I mean, really, why not into quantum physics? After all, that would matter more than biological evolution, and would affect the whole universe. For instance, if the electric charge of the electron would be slightly different from, say, the fifth decimal, than matter would have completely and substantially different properties and most likely unable to support life. That’s something to tinker with!

    I suspect evolution is appealing because it is deceptively simple. It looks like you can talk reasonably about it even if you are the average bloke or the likes. Well, it is not. Biology, like any modern science, is a damn complex thing and requires decades of study to be mastered and even in that case only on a subset of it. Geez, I am a software and microelectronic engineer, and it takes years to get really competent in the field that allows you to understand and build…. a smartphone, which we just use and never really think about.

    There is nothing simple about the world and the way it works, and all this desire to put a godly hand somewhere in the explanation is just a display of deep, profound ignorance. The tragedy is not the childish desire to explain the world with the supernatural, it is the failure to acknowledge once own ignorance about the world, and get the desire to get over it.

    • Oh- so very well put- and I totally agree!
      (loving this last sentence: The tragedy is not the childish desire to explain the world with the supernatural, it is the failure to acknowledge once own ignorance about the world, and get the desire to get over it. )

      Just waitin’ for the integration of God into the laws of thermodynamics. Can’t wait to hear them explain how entropy (a measure of disorder-Wiki definition) is the opposite of godliness.
      (I probably shouldn’t be giving them ideas)

    • I agree with vh–very well-put, loricott. I think another reason why evolution is appealing to so many theists is because it is taught in the schools here in the US. They want to make sure that the idea of god is ingrained at an early age, especially in the classroom.

  14. Ops! Sorry about the typos in the previous post. The autocorrection of my iPad keeps having a mind of its own 🙂

  15. Alll,

    If you haven’t seen this, I just found this article which offers an explanation for, “What came before evolution?” Basically, it states that atoms organized themselves into structures in response to entropy. Read more here:

  16. Thank you for this master piece. I find Plantinga’s position very plausible given the following reasons:

    1. Charles Darwin held that position, in Chapter XV: Recapitulation and Conclusion of Origin of Species by Natural Selection, that Creator breather of life. If this is the case then the Creator must have set the natural laws, and nature itself in a way that organism will evolve. He set the process into motion and laws to guide such a process. Darwin and most of his Christians early supporters did not find a problem with that. Unless his theory is hijacked neither should we.

    2. God as viewed from deistic point of view would not be challenged by a slow painful and suffering-rich process. The objection that unpleasant process, if correct thus, does not challenge God per se but God’s providence.

    2.1 It is possible not necessarily true that God as you described has a moral justified reason to use such a process. If that is possible, then the objection that it is unpleasant process thus no such Deity seems wanting.

    3. Whether the process is guided or not seems more of a metascience question than nature science. A prior commitments would influence which side one end and not verse. Plantinga’s case, as I understood, is not that science should add God in explaining evolution by natural selection, but that this process does not eliminate God. Christian can hold both views without there being any inconsistency.

    If we are to let our children think critically and for themselves we ought not be intolerant to different views, mostly those we are not comfortable with. The first thing I will teach my daughter is introduction to logic, of cause in her level, and I will allow her to read whatever she wishes and be taught whatever she will be taught. Rejecting foreign views to be taught to our children shows that we have failed our job as parents, preparing our children to think for themselves and we do not trust that our children are amazingly smart, and with our guidance mature there gifts.

    I would love to know your thought. Thanks

    • Hi Prayson Daniel,

      Welcome and thank you for your interesting comment. It is always good to question. Before I address your points, I would like to remark on this comment: “If we are to let our children think critically and for themselves we ought not be intolerant to different views, mostly those we are not comfortable with.”

      I could not agree with you more. We do have to be tolerant of different views, and exposing our children to all world views is important. However, there is a difference between allowing children to learn about others and indoctrinating them with information that has no basis in truth or reality. Therefore, we are teaching children tolerance when we say, “Some people believe that god created this world, and that’s okay. We respect their beliefs. BUT, we do not believe this because there is no proof and it does not make sense given what we know about the world.”

      As to your points:
      1. I vaguely remember that reference from reading Darwin in college. It’s been a long time. However, Darwin was a product of his time. Naturally, he will use the language and the ideas of the culture in which he was raised. As you know, Darwin struggled even with the idea of evolution because it ran counter to what the church had taught. I’m not sure how much he believed (no one is), and it is also important to note that he was not the first person to look at the world through an evolutionary lens. I would also point out that, simply because “Darwin and most of his Christians early supports did not find a problem” with the idea of a deist god, is not any sort of proof. There were a lot of ideas that humans either 1. proved wrong later (the earth is not flat and is not the center of the universe) and 2. discovered (how genes work and which parent determines the sex of a child).

      2. Whether we view god through a deist’s perspective, as a hands-off or as having abandoned mankind, or as a god who is currently hands-on in the evolutionary process doesn’t matter. There isn’t proof for either concept. Of course, we could say, “Well, one cannot prove that god does NOT exist.” And this is very true. But, currently, the information we have about the world does not support this. Also, if we were to accept that god breathed life into the universe and stepped back and allowed it to evolve, we have to acknowledge that the creation narrative in the bible–and indeed many stories–then becomes invalidated.

      3. I do understand what Plantinga is suggesting: that evolution leaves room for god, and not so much that he is insisting science to include god as the focus of the theory. However, by the very nature of his talks and papers, he is suggesting, but using terms such as “add-ons” that god is indeed a integral and intrinsic part of evolutionary theory. God is the impetus for evolution. Plantinga is tacking him on to the end of a scientific theory. That, IMO, is comingling science and religion and something that should be avoided.

      Whew. Long comment. Hope that addressed your issues. I appreciate the dialogue! 🙂

      • Thank you Deborah Mitchell for our discourse. Your response is full of gentleness and warmth that will do great service for us to exemplify.

        Deborah I think presenting a case in that manner would not stimulate our children to think for themselves and would possibly chain them in our own conclusions. Maybe there is no proof and it does not make sense, but let them come to that conclusion by themselves. I will be reading with my daughter Epicurus, Plato, Hume, Nietzsche, Kant &c. I will be reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, punctual equilibrium theories &c., but at the same time I will read with her Augustine, Aquinas, cases for and against intelligent design, old and young creationism and let her decide for herself which conclusions she will come to hold.

        This is the reason I will teach her first and foremost logic and critically thinking. Bringing in children to hold our conclusions will not help them think for themselves.

        On Response to 1-2 points:

        1. True, Darwin was a product of his time, but so are we. The point was he would not have an issue with Plantinga’s case. Sadly, the product of our time is polemic literatures on both sides that will not tolerate the idea that Christian God and Darwinian evolution are quiet compatible. Plantinga is attempting to show that they are compatible. His position is not new. Early supporters of Darwin, in your side of pond for example like Asa Gray and B. B. Warfield, saw no problem at all. Some Christians before Darwin’s theory who held an old earth view accepted and supported Darwin when he came out with his theory.

        2. The point here is not that God exists or not, but that the case you presented is not strong. A person holding the deistic view would not be challenged by the fact that the process is so unfriendly. Deist rejects revelation thus the Bible is out of their picture.

        2.1 It is true that the creation narrative, understood literalistically, does become invalidated. Augustine, over 1500 years before Darwin, and many Christians throughout Christian history read creation narrative as poetic literature rich with symbolism. The only view invalidated is a young earth creationism and the like. Sadly many young earth creationists, mostly on your side of pond (States), believe their view to be the only view.

        Sorry for the length. It is such an interesting topic. And you are such a warm, kind and intelligent person. Let me know your thoughts Deborah. 😉

  17. Prayson,

    Deborah’s case is a bit stronger than you think. There are a couple of conflations in the counter case you’ve presented.

    First, you seem to switch willy-nilly from points that could only support deism to cases made for theism. But further, you’re also conflating points that support theism generally with those that support Christian theism specifically.

    There is no intrinsic conflict between Darwinism and deism. Nor even between it and a generic theism. But that doesn’t jailbreak Christian theism. The *specific* claims of Christian theism face enormous issues with Neo-Darwinism… not as it was understood once upon a time, but as it is understood today. Specific and troubling points include:

    1. There is not the slightest hint in the Hebrew texts that species morph into other species, nor that they share common ancestry. To say that they could be made compatible is a weak argument – i.e., the extreme minimal claim that they do not entirely exclude one another. But for the one true divinely received text recounting creation, we could expect a bit more fidelity from God. This is not a small point of the creation of species, which are discussed, and discussed with no reference to interrelatedness whatever.

    2. The Hebrew and Christian texts are explicit: corruption of humanity resulted from the fall. Thorns and thistles would plague mankind… i.e., the damage was not localized, but affected creation. Paul flatly says that all of creation groans under the burden of corruption due to man. This is simply and entirely mistaken. Whatever happened in primordial history with the spiritual (allegorizing now) relationship of God to man, our propensity to kill, rape, steal, make war, etc., all predated even being human. This is a theological crisis, a crisis facing the central theological claims of the text, which are negated for the simple reason that “it just didn’t happen that way.”

    3. The Neo-Darwinism of today is far more troubling than the views of Darwin himself. We now know how many extinctions there have been. We now see the waste etched into the genome. We know how long people were on the earth before God appeared to give our revelations. Nothing in the text of scripture discloses this; nor do they answer for it; and in fact they are antithetical in every presupposition. The world was made as a well-working mechanism in Genesis, and the creatures that were made are the ones that we still see. The scriptures do not describe a God who created those animals using an engine of death, devouring, and extinction.

    4. Augustine will not help. He was part of the Hellenistic movement to salvage troubled mythologies that the Greeks were already undertaking. He plied the same methods to the Hebrew and Christian myths. Still further, he was grappling with issues like the age of the cosmos – not the origin of man or sin. In order to make a case for how scripture should be read or was intended, you must make the case from the divinely inspired authors themselves. Augustine was not one of these. He was part of the later patch job, thinking with a Greco mindset, not unlike modern theologians. But what did the author of Genesis think? What did Paul think?

    5. Grant the same latitude to the other peer creation myths of the same era. They are as accurate and as legitimate as Genesis, once we pitch requirements for factual accuracy, theological coherence, etc. Any case for Genesis must simultaneously demonstrate why it is singularly accurate on the backdrop of its contemporaries; i.e., why they fail where Genesis succeeds.

    This is the issue with our modern efforts at textual rehabilitation: there is nothing in Genesis to commend it to us as legitimately coming from God. Where it should have been the one ancient myth that proved eerily accurate – almost like the information came from someone who was there when the world was made – it does not.

    Plantinga argues for compatibility with a generic theism. And that happens to be a theism that does not exist in the real world; it is a chimera. The problems are historical and scientific – and theological.

    • Great comments, Prayson and Matt. I really enjoyed reading them. Thank you.

      Matt did a thorough job of covering a lot of the things I would have addressed, though not nearly so eloquently!

      There is one more thing I’d like to add. Prayson, in your comment above, you wrote: “It is true that the creation narrative, understood literalistically, does become invalidated. Augustine, over 1500 years before Darwin, and many Christians throughout Christian history read creation narrative as poetic literature rich with symbolism.”

      If genesis is read “as poetic literature rich with symbolism,” then it must be acknowledged that we have no divinely-inspired or revealed knowledge of god and our origins. The bible (and god) simply becomes a projection of man.

      I do understand–and respect–that you want to teach your daughter about god and allow her to choose for herself if she wants to believe. I personally would not teach my children that the god myth is any more real or true than any other myth (mermaids, King Arthur, Santa, Satan, Bigfoot, etc.). This is not being intolerant; this is merely faithful to facts and to logic. And I don’t want our educational system to hold these myths as true and as a viable part of science.

      Having said this, I’ve told my children, if they choose the comfort and hope of belief when they get older, I will not be disappointed in any way. Religion is a coping mechanism, and I understand that. Hopefully, as adults, they will understand that, too.

    • Skillfully and carefully reasoned responses, Matt and Deborah. It is a pleasure and deep joy responding back, even on Sabbath 🙂

      Matt, I am sorry for a quiet confusing comment that I presented. I tend to think more than I write, plus English is my third language, thus difficult to express myself both grammatically and linguistically correct. It is my fault.

      The point I was making, putting it into a context, was addressing Deborah’s problem with Plantinga’s position about the compatibility of evolutionary process with theism (which includes deism, thin theism, pantheism, standard/classical theism &c.). The unfriendly process, she argued as I understood, appears at odd with an omnicompetent deity believed by Christians.

      The first was to correct that if her case is true then it affects only a certain type of theism and not theism in general. Deism was one example of a form of theism that her critique would not affect.

      The second part was to correct that the unfriendly processes does not logically affect standard theism (Christianity, Judaism &c.,) because it is possible not necessarily true that an omnicompetent deity has a moral sufficient reason(s) to use such a process. If that is possible, her case does not logically affect Christian theism.

      In my rebuttal I agreed that a certain form of understanding creation saga would be invalidate. Given that Christians through out the history have a variety of understanding creation saga, the only Christians, her case would affect, are young earth creationists.

      The Hebrew texts ought not be understood as a cosmo-biological textbook but a text written by Jews to Jews. The art of reading such literature (hermeneutic) should take its background into consideration. The Jewish creation saga has a great similarity to other ancient near east creation saga of the same period. Saying they can be made compatible is not an argument, for it to be weak, but a proposal to which Plantinga presented a case to show that it is the case., for example, present rich materials by Christian evolutionist scientists such as Francis Collins and respectable theologians such as N. T. Wright and Timothy Keller. If Neo-Darwinism was not compatible with Christianity, I find it odd that brilliant and well talents people like them compared to my knowledge would not have discovered that already.

      Deborah I do not see how it follows that If Genesis is read “as poetic literature rich with symbolism,” then it must be acknowledged that we have no divinely-inspired or revealed knowledge of god and our origins? Before I argued that this is a false premise, I would love you to expound more so I do not fail into attacking a strawman 😉

      Dearly thank you both for a wonderful discourse. Looking forward to reading your responses.

      • Hi Prayson Daniel,

        No worries. Your English is excellent!

        I’m not sure how deism is really relevant to this discussion. Sure, a deist’s god could have set the world into motion and then left or abandoned his work. But a deist has no “proof” for her god. Both deists and naturalists rely on making observations of the world around them to support explanations of how things work. The former, the deist, credits certain observations (i.e. complexity) to god, a supernatural force, while the naturalist does not. Therefore, the unexplained causes of things such as “how did all this raw material get here?” is up to interpretation. Over the centuries, as science has found many of the reasons why nature/humans/the universe work as they do, god has been edged out of man’s life. It’s quite clear that we’ve pushed god to the fringe, where there are still some unanswered questions. I’m not sure Ben Franklin would be a deist if he were living today.

        I digress. Back to your argument, if we were to say, “The deist’s god (which is not the belief system for most believers anyway) is at the helm of evolution,” then other statements would be equally valid. The naturalist could say “the force of nature/laws of physics” is at the helm. I could say that my pet dragon, who designed and started the entire life-sequence, is an add-on to evolution and the impetus for life. Why? Because the deist has no more evidence than I do. She relies solely on her own observations.

        All this talk of deism, however, seems rather moot since Plantinga is a self-identified Christian. He is reconciling his belief system with science, and his ideas should be scrutinized from a Christian perspective.

        The Hebrew texts (at least, the Torah) are as valid as the NT Bible and the Qur’an. All are considered the “word of god” by their believers. The OT and the Qur’an share similar stories. In fact, some of the stories, as you know, can even be found in Hinduism and other ancient cultures. All religious adherents believe their holy texts to be “true.” You noted the creation myth, is “poetic literature rich with symbolism,” which means that Genesis is not the word of god; it is not “true.” It is a work of fiction with symbolism. A snake may represent evil, but it may also represent curiosity or strength. The Bible cannot be both “true” and “not true.” It cannot be both the “word of god” and symbolic literature. As for your statement here: “If Neo-Darwinism was not compatible with Christianity, I find it odd that brilliant and well talents people like them compared to my knowledge would not have discovered that already.” I find this terribly odd, too. But, of course, for every “brilliant” philosopher who believes that Neo-Darwinism is compatible with Christianity, there is another brilliant scientist who doesn’t believe that god–or any other mythical creature–should ride piggy-back upon science.

  18. Prayson – wow, for a third language, your skills are quite impressive. I’m American, which makes me mono-lingual. 🙂 I do speak math though, LOL.

    Anyway, I’ve spent quite a lot of time on BioLogos myself. Its a great resource for thought on these matters, at least as a starting point. I particularly like the essays by Alexander – I find him one of the most honest people on there. Wright and Plantinga are legitimate thinkers in their own right. But Collins and Keller offer little new – they mostly regurgitate Wright-ish theology. Collins is of course a skilled scientist, but he falls down on philosophy, often failing to recognize even elementary fallacies promoted by CS Lewis, etc.

    What I have found regarding the interface between Christian origins and Scientific origins is this: watch the authors carefully for what they choose to leave out. The literalists like to leave out scientific issues. The allegorists like to accept the science and leave out the troubling points of theological ramification – like the five points I’ve cited.

    Plantinga does not answer those five points. Neither does anyone else on BioLogos. Some, like Alexander, nod that they are problems and concede that they do not have answers for them. I saw an interview once with Dembski (I.D. proponent) where he very bluntly said that there is a serious problem with the theodicy implications of evolutionary development (my points 2 & 3). His solution? He suggests that perhaps god went back in time and put the long history of evil and suffering in the developing world after our fall in the garden, such that it looks like our fall didn’t actually cause it. That is, that God rewrote history to infuse it with evil, backward and forward. Needless to say, this is a very disturbing suggestion. But this is the kind of suggestion that one is left to come to in order to resolve points 2 & 3.

    I would suggest a change in tack. Don’t ask whether there are some thinkers out there who seem to get along OK with both ideas clattering around in their heads at once – i.e., the scriptures are true, science is true, and in a nebulous way they are OK with it. Instead, ask whether they actually have answers to the points raised above. And if you find someone that does, please let me know. I feel like I’ve read everybody, and they all avoid looking the bull in the eyes. Golden rule: if you have to appeal to authority, your position is in trouble.

    Its the quiet crisis of Christianity, at least on the more liberal and less literal side of the house.

    • Thank you Deborah and Matt. The wisdom that is poured out in your responses are priceless. I am honored and humbled that brilliant giant and classic minds like you would spare time for ant-like-minds folks like me.

      Deborah, I brought in deism as an example of a form of theism that is not affected by your critique, viz., queerness of unpleasantness of the evolutionary process in a universe claimed to be created by an omnicompetent deity, if true. The aim is not to argue for or against existence of a deistic deity but to test the truthfulness of the premise.

      Qur’an’s Suras are Muhmmand’s or whoever wrote them 600 A.D. commentary of the Hebrew text and agnostic Christians texts. This is why it very similar.

      Deborah, I am missing a case for why if Genesis’ creation account is read “as poetic literature rich with symbolism,” then it must be acknowledged that we have no divinely-inspired or revealed knowledge of god and our origins.
      Both of us agree that the Bible, or any other texts for that matter, cannot be true and not-true at the same time and same sense. This is not an issue here. The issue is what justification can you give for the premise that Genesis’ creation saga cannot be both the “word of God” and “symbolic literature”? This is the premise I wish to know its justification.

      Imagine Eloise, my daughter, wrote a poem rich with symbolism about the love I have for her mother. Does the symbolism capture the true love that I have for mother? Definitely. Would it not be odd if a third person stated that you cannot hold both that “the love described between Prayson and Lea is true” and “hold that Eloise wrote symbolic literature”?

      In short I am trying to understood your position Deborah. I am reaching out to you for you to help a young confused fool like me understand.

      Matt, I agree with you more than I thought I did. Thank you so much.

      Looking forward with delight to reading your responses.

      • @Prayson Daniel,

        I really appreciate you reaching out, but I do not think that I have any more wisdom or insights than anyone else. I am trying to understand your position, too.

        I’m much further away from my crisis of faith than Matt, I believe. It’s been 25 years for me. At the time, I was an undergrad, and I was eager to read as many philosophical essays and texts as I could, from the ancients through the 20th century. (The new atheists were not on the scene yet.) I was looking for answers in others, but what I realized was that there aren’t any. No philosopher offers elucidation. I am still a little interested in the epistemology of belief, but not nearly as enthusiastic as I once was. The only thing I am really interested in now is good boundaries. I respect your belief. I don’t want to argue you out of it. I just think religion should be kept out of certain places (like education, government, etc). It’s personal. It’s faith, not science, not proven. This brings me back to Plantinga. Why force God/religious belief where it does not belong? Sure, you can push and twist and force God into the theory of evolution–as you can any myth; you can “add” God on to any scientific theory. (Not specifically “you,” but any person.) But there is no evidence for God as there is evidence for evolution. God is simply human speculation, and he has not been subjected to the rigors of science. In promoting peace and respect among all faiths and all people, why should a Christian philosopher and theologian claim that his God is the driving force behind a scientific theory?

        To recap: I think what you want me to know is that the concept of God is compatible with evolution. You do not see a conflict here.


        • Deborah, you have a ton of wisdom more than you may self believe. You are a brilliant mother passionately concerned about yours and our children. Thank you for our discourse. I am exceedingly thankful for you sharing a little about your history.

          As important as our belief (or lack of) in God is, proof or no proof of such a being is, the place of God or no-God is, God as human’s speculation &c., are, I think we ought to filter them out for us to critically examine your case. The issue I am trying to understand is not on these other equally important topics, but your case against Plantinga’s argument for compatibility of God (if God exists) and evolutionary process.

          I explained that Plantinga is not attempting to push, twist or add God into the theory of evolution. Plantinga is simply arguing that belief in God and theory of evolution are quiet compatible. He attempted to show that it is false that the theory of evolution leads to intellectually satisfied atheism, as Dawkins believe.

          I pointed out that Charles Darwin himself in Origin of the Species had Deity in his theory already. He concluded his work with:

          “There is grandeur in this view of life [origin of species by natural selection], with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” (Darwin 1909: 529)

          Of course we can sweep Darwin under the rag of a product of his time (but so are we). Even if true, it is irrelevant. The point is early supporters of Darwin and Darwin himself had no issue and would not have issue with Plantinga’s case

          To show that it is an issue, a case need to be presented, It is here where I have an problem with your case Deborah. We ought to critically examine the truth-value of your premises, whether we are theists or atheist, it does not matter. It is not I am a theist that I find the argument against Plantinga as not strong but as an unenlightened layperson trying to judge if you did show that Plantinga’s attempt is a failure. This is the reason I am reaching out to you to help me understand your case by defending your central premises.

          I am looking forward reading your wisdom Deborah.

          Darwin, Charles (1909). The Harvard Classics 11: Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin (C. W. Eliot, Ed.). New York: P.F. Collier & Son.

          • Prayson Daniel,

            I have been following your exchanges with Deb and others with interest, but I’ve only found the time now to contribute.

            As Deb has pointed out, the belief in god is something that can be made compatible with any theory: evolution (god guided it), the big bang (god lit the fuse ;-), gravity (god’s pulling the strings), etc. But what do these additions really add to the validity of the given theories? I would argue, nothing.

            I’m sure you’ve heard the famous (surely apocryphal) story of the emperor Napoleon I who, upon receiving a book of science from Pierre-Simon Laplace, asked the author why he made no mention of the universe’s creator. Laplace supposedly answered, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

            As for Darwin, you cite the end of On the Origin, but that book was written relatively early in Darwin’s life (though it was published much later). His Autobiography and correspondence show that Darwin had very eclectic religious views and even called himself an agnostic. See

            The only thing that the god hypothesis does is provide a convenient way of naming an unknown scientific origin. We push further and further back and when we can go not further, we simply say, well, that’s where god comes in. But then, as we make progress, we push even further back, which means we push god’s role even further back. One day, I feel that god will be pushed out of scientific discussion altogether.

            Now, far be it from me to say that you don’t have your own personal reasons for believing in a god. That’s fine. No problem. The more power to you. However, where we have a problem is when believers wish to establish school curricula and shape public policy according to their personal religious beliefs. That I cannot abide.

            So thanks for the discussion.

            • Thank you Deo for following and adding more input into this wonderful discourse.

              If Deborah believes that belief in God can be made compatible with theory of evolution (I have not inquired about other theories) then Plantinga’s aim is accomplished.

              I believe we are asking two different questions: (a) is belief in God compatible with theory of evolution and (b) does belief in God/ of God existence add to the validity of evolutionary theory. The issue I have is with (a) not (b).

              Darwin became an agnostic in respect to a benevolent and omnicomptent Creator. The reason behind his move, I would argue, was not the truthfulness of origin of species by natural selection per se but the problem of pain and suffering. Darwin could not persuade himself that “a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice”(Darwin 1860 Letter To Asa Gray) See also Letter To “Doedes, N. D.”((1873) and Darwin, Charles (1958) The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882, with Original Omissions Restored, ed. Nora Barlow. London: Collins.

              But Darwin’s position is irrelevant Deo, my point was that Plantinga is not adding anything new into the Darwinian theory of evolution but arguing that it is compatible with belief in God. Deborah, if I understood her correctly, has an issue with Plantinga’s case. It is her case against Plantinga that we ought critically ponder together. Whether we affirm or not with her conclusion, is irrelevant. What is relevant here is is her premises true and is her arguments sound. This is all I am reaching out for.

              Deo, I think both believers and non-believers establish school curricula and shape public policy according to their personal beliefs (or lack of). The problem, mostly on your side of pond (assuming your are from States), is that the extreme sides are trying to kick another out without carefully presenting good cases for or against their positions.

              Our children are sadly caught up in our already founded conclusions. They are not give a place to examine the arguments for or against themselves. By doing so we are fostering a dangerous and religiously and secularly cultic environment of muting opposition views without critically examining them and letting our children do the same.

              This is why I explain to Deborah that I will teach my daughter logic and critical thinking and then read with her Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Augustine, Aquinas, Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, &c to her. I will present best arguments presented for and against believing in God. . I will read with her Darwin’s Origin of Species, Dawkins’ Self Gene &c but at the some time read the works of Punctual Equilibrium theory defenders, design theory by Paley, and modern ID &c. I will read with her the Bible, Qur’an and other books. My desire is to foster a self-thinking child (I am a book lover, reader and collector)

              My reasons behind are to let my daughter come up with her own conclusions and never to be caught up in her father’s held conclusions.

              • Hi again, Prayson, I am American but currently living in Europe, which is how we can trade responses while most of America is still asleep!

                Here’s the thing: if Platinga’s aim is to show that evolution and theism are compatible, it’s not a very high bar of achievement. As I wrote, theism can be made compatible with many theories, but what does it matter? Evolution can also be made compatible with belief in fairies, demi-gods, and giant celestial teapots. So Platinga hasn’t accomplished much, I’m afraid.

                Now if he were able to show how evolution is compatible with biblical fundamentalism, that would be a huge intellectual accomplishment…and a neat trick since the two are incompatible at even the most literal of levels.

                I agree that various people shape curricula from different vantage points and for different reasons, many of which are not altogether altruistic. In the US, the creation of a great many textbooks is controlled by a small number of publishers that are put under great pressure by politicians, monies interests, and other unsavory types. The stakes are high indeed: control the schools and you control the future of a nation.

                So when textbook publishers want to put a sticker on science books saying that evolution is “only a theory,” I consider that to be acting in bad faith vis-a-vis science. Evolution is the single best answer to fundamental questions about biology, and even if Darwin could not conceive of many things like DNA and phenotypic plasticity, these and other subsequent discoveries in science have fallen in line with the essential theory as put forth by Darwin.

                Letting children make up their own minds sounds like a good idea, but we have to be careful. It has gotten so bad that my daughter’s high school biology teacher last year told her class that evolution and the creation story in Genesis essentially say the same thing. If the teacher really believes this, she shouldn’t be teaching biology. On the other hand, maybe the teacher just didn’t want to get into any arguments or field calls from upset parents. But when the teachers says these things as a way to defer judgment or “let people make up their own minds,” she does a great disservice to her profession, to science, and to our nation’s future. These two accounts do NOT say the same thing: evolution is built upon an established and demonstrable scientific basis and Genesis accounts (there are two, after all) are based in previous mythologies, a bronze-age non-scientific worldview, and no evidence whatsoever.

                Are you also in Europe? Africa? Asia?

                • Thank you Deo for your response. I am blessed to be surrounded by intelligent and wise folks like you. I am in Copenhagen, Denmark but Tanzanian by birth.

                  I think it is irrelevant whether or not evolution is compatible with fairies, demi-gods, and giant celestial teapots in this case.

                  Plantinga presented his case for compatibility of God as believed in a mere Christianity with the theory of evolution. This is the issue. If we reduce Plantinga’s Oxford University Published-case to be similar to fairies, demi-god and teapotians case, I think we do it an academic injustice, whether we agree or disagree with him.

                  Deo, I think that Hebrew text ought to be read as in ancient near East Jewish context and background, and not as a contemporary biological text.

                  Augustine, over 1500 years before Darwin, wisely stated: It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [none-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 ).

                  Teaching Hebrew creation account(from a literalistic view) as science misses the point of what creation saga in ancient near east where suppose to be. Hebrews were countering other creations sagas in their time which view creations as the result of gods fighting with other elements such as water, light, darkness. Hebrews countered those pagan saga with an idea that God created all things. He is sovereign over water, light, darkness because He created them. The idea was that God made everything that was made. Reading other ancient near east creation story, you will get to understand Genesis creation story in its context and background.

                  But again all above is irrelevant, what is relevant is examining Deborah’s premises 🙂 Thank you for everything Deo.

                  • Ah, Copenhagen. I’ve never been, but I’d very much like to visit one day. I currently reside in France.

                    Well, there are many things that we can agree on here, such as reading the bible as science and the competing creation sagas of the bronze age.

                    We can also agree that fairies and celestial teapots are irrelevant to the theory of evolution, but that’s precisely my point. But the theory of evolution doesn’t need a god either. Species evolve through natural selection and its corollaries. Platinga and Oxford University Press, I suppose, are proposing solutions to problems that don’t exist.

                    As Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

                    Finally, I don’t think our discussion is irrelevant at all. You’ve joined a community of thinking people on this blog. It is not merely an interrogation of Deb’s premises or a simple exchange between two people. Dialogue among everyone here–and across humanity–is of great importance if we’re going to live together in peace and harmony. I look forward to more exchanges, perhaps on this thread, perhaps on future ones.

              • Hello again, Prayson Daniel.

                Deo pretty much summed it up–that we *could* “add-on” any myth to evolution. Yet this is of no value. In fact, if anything, I find it somewhat dangerous to attach it to evolution because it is simply unfounded and further cements myths as scientific.

                Furthermore, when Plantinga proposes that God is an add-on, that places god in the seat of “first cause.” It’s essentially just another first cause argument, and I assume you already know the weaknesses of this. So Plantiga is doing the same thing many philosophers and theologians have done since Plato.

                Plantinga, in the talked linked above, criticizes Dawkins for concluding that “evolution reveals a universe without design.” He says that, to arrive at this conclusion, Dawkins is guilty of thinking, “It hasn’t been proven impossible, therefore it’s true.” Yet Plantinga is guilty of EXACTLY what he claims Dawkins does. Even more so. I know I mentioned this already but you have brought it up again. There is a difference between teaching children to be open-minded and tolerant to others’ beliefs and indoctrinating them with those beliefs. Will you teach your daughter to believe that the devil lives in the ground and can reach up and grab her at any time? Will you teach her that it is possible that monsters live under the bed or that Santa Claus flies a sleigh? There are children who went to school with my son who believed all these things. Kids are not born believing in god. Adults have to convince them first. If you are really teaching a child to think critically, then he will not naturally believe in god.

                It doesn’t matter where Plantinga’s paper was published. An inconsistent or illogical premise is still inconsistent and illogical, even if it’s dressed in a tuxedo.

  19. Reblogged this on bestweekofmylife and commented:
    “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” – Dawkins

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