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Reasonable Faith Podcast: The New Theistic Evolutionists

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Dr. Craig comments on a growing Theistic Evolutionist movement.

The New Theistic Evolutionists

KEVIN HARRIS:  Today we’re going to get into theistic evolution. Some of the latest stuff that’s going on in that area. It is always a good reminder to go to ReasonableFaith.org and check out everything that’s going on there. We sure do appreciate your support – your prayer support and your financial support as we continue this work. Even if you are not a Christian but you appreciate the information, the conversations that we try to bring to you, be sure and let us know. Just go to ReasonableFaith.org and contact us there. Thank you very much for your support.

Dr. Craig and I were in the studio a few days ago talking about theistic evolution:

Bill, they are being called the new theistic evolutionists – “BioLogos is a non-profit foundation formed by Francis Collins in 2007 to promote the view that an evolutionary scientific position is fully correct and compatible with Christianity.”

The New Theistic EvolutionistsDR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG:You are talking about with regard to biological complexity and evolution. This is a very specific area of science.

KEVIN HARRIS: Have you looked much into Francis Collins and his work with the Human Genome Project.

DR. CRAIG:No, I haven’t frankly, personally, because this isn’t an area of specialization for me. While I have an interest in it as a lay person, it’s not something that I’ve looked into in detail.

KEVIN HARRIS: One thing I’ll just say from the outset here because I can just hear people’s wheels turning immediately – BioLogos takes no position on Adam and Eve, the historicity of Adam and Eve. They leave that a completely open question as to how God did that. BioLogos is becoming quite influential. The Templeton Foundation gave them 8.7 million dollars. That’s “enough to bring campus ministry leaders to all-expenses-paid conferences in Manhattan, expanding BioLogo’s influence.” The key difference between BioLogos and the intelligent design movement is that “design cannot, in principal, be scientifically detected in nature, or that design could be . . . but isn’t.” A key difference there but BioLogos believes that the evolutionary consensus should not be questioned and maintains non-experts should defer to the consensus. That seems to be kind of the bottom line.

DR. CRAIG:I think this article by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute really shows how very close the advocates of intelligent design and the folks at BioLogos are. Where they differ is on this issue that you mentioned – whether or not design can be scientifically detected in the natural world, specifically in the bio-world. The emphasis is on the word “scientifically.” Here is a statement on page 5 of the article from BioLogos.

We are skeptical about the ability of biological science to prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer . . . while ID advocates are confident.

What Luskin emphasizes is that while intelligent design theorists treat design as a scientific hypothesis, not a theological doctrine, they would say that a failure scientifically to detect design doesn’t mean that God was somehow theologically absent. They would say natural explanations don’t remove God. The question really is a question about the limits of science. The BioLogos people will agree that the world is designed by God, but they would say that on the basis of a theological conviction. They would say that this design is not scientifically detectable. One of the reasons for this is because the BioLogos folks tend to be committed to methodological naturalism. This is explained on page 6 of the article:

Methodological naturalism (MN)—the view that we must pretend the supernatural doesn’t exist when practicing science—is another disagreement. BTEs [Those who hold to theistic evolution] generally believe that MN is vital for science, especially within origins research.

And ID theorists would not. So that is a critical assumption. If you do believe that methodological naturalism is vital for doing science then of course you will say that it is impossible to scientifically detect design in the natural world. But that wouldn’t preclude a philosopher like me from inferring that design is the best explanation of the biological complexity in the world. It just wouldn’t be a conclusion that a scientist could draw because he operates under this methodological constraint that I, as a philosopher, don’t operate under. I think you can see here that the line gets very thin between those who would say that there could be an argument for design that would be a metaphysical argument or a philosophical argument rather than being a part of a scientific theory in the way that the ID folks want to say.

KEVIN HARRIS: They say,

They fear that when Christians challenge the consensus, this produces “anti-science attitudes” that “hinder evangelism.” BioLogos defends the consensus, despite recent scientific discoveries affecting theories regarding the origin of life, neo-Darwinian evolution, common ancestry, and junk DNA, which contradict the consensus.

What do you think about that?

DR. CRAIG:I guess I do think that it is good to have mavericks who will challenge the consensus. There are some interesting examples in the article of where this has taken place. The old consensus that biological complexity is the result of natural selection operating upon random mutations is now being seriously questioned. The old consensus is eroding. Moreover, he rightly points out that in some areas such as origins of life there is no consensus! So it is not as though one can submit to the scientific consensus there because there just is none. It remains up for grabs. So I do think that one should be an independent thinker and ready to challenge the consensus where the evidence leads otherwise. I suspect that the BioLogos people would agree with that, though he is able to show that there are quite a number of statements where their representatives have said that we need to go with the scientific consensus. But if that scientific consensus would begin to change, surely they would have the good sense to recognize that scientific advance is possible and that even scientific revolutions can take place.

KEVIN HARRIS: Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute (an ID theorist organization) in his article says, “This might prevent some Christians from becoming atheists, but it gives atheists essentially no intellectual reasons to become Christians.”

DR. CRAIG:That is an odd concern. That is an apologetic or evangelistic concern, isn’t it? It seems to assume that the only arguments for God’s existence are scientific arguments or arguments that appeal to biological design. That is simply not true. As you know there is a wide range of arguments of natural theology for the existence of God and not just arguments based upon biological complexity. I would also say, though, that I did appreciate the point he made in the article that when he surveyed BioLogos blogs he found that less than 2% of them were devoted to offering a critique of the New Atheism whereas more than 34% were devoted to promoting scientific evidence in favor of evolution, 40% promoted pro-evolutionary theological or historical views. I think that is telling. I think that would worry the BioLogos people themselves if they were aware of that – that their literature is primarily focused on convincing Christians to embrace the theory of evolution rather than on being directed toward secularists and convincing them of the compatibility of theistic faith with modern science. They do need to, I think, have an outlook that reaches out more.

KEVIN HARRIS: If you are going to claim to be a Christian, even evangelical, organization which they tend to be then evangelism would be a concern rather than just all the in-house fights. I think that Casey Luskin sums up what he thinks at the bottom of the first page. He just says, I think a lot of this is due to cultural pressure and BioLogos tends to be caving into that rather than all this new discovery or the way science is going or recent discoveries and things like that. They are embarrassed by an anti-scientific attitude, or at least a reputation, even if it is warranted or unwarranted, for being anti-science Christianity. And God-of-the-gaps – they are afraid of that. They are afraid of those two things. Therefore they are saying let’s just go with the consensus. It can all be done.

DR. CRAIG:I think undoubtedly cultural pressure would be felt by informed Christians today which might make BioLogos an attractive option for them, but I don’t think that the commitment of BioLogos to evolutionary theory is simply due to cultural pressure. I think they would say that this is where the evidence points and that they’re following the evidence where it leads. That will be a question to be discussed between groups like BioLogos and Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis and others that are involved in debates of his sort. Discovery Institute, of course.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s just take a look at some of the things that BioLogos believes. Collins really spelled a lot of this out in his book The Language of God. The listener can look at that book and see. By the way, Francis Collins is no longer the head of BioLogos. There has been a leadership transition. But he says that part of the reason that theistic evolution is so little appreciated is that it has a terrible name. So he embarked to find an acceptable term and proposed to rename theistic evolution as “bios through logos” or BioLogos. What would that be? That would be life through the word.

DR. CRAIG:Right. The new name for theistic evolution is “evolutionary creationism.”

KEVIN HARRIS: Wow!

DR. CRAIG:Which I find a very interesting term.

KEVIN HARRIS: Talk about a loaded term!

DR. CRAIG:They are wanting to cast their view as a view of creationism. It is a kind of creationism because they believe that God has created life on this planet, but they would say it’s evolutionary creationism – God did this through biological evolution. It’s really the same thing, I believe, as theistic evolution but it’s perhaps a more congenial name. As Collins said the other one was an off-putting name and “evolutionary creationism” is a more attractive way of packaging it.

KEVIN HARRIS: ID theorists – intelligent design theorists – and BioLogos theistic evolutionists both agree that Christianity and science are compatible.

Christianity has contributed positively to the development of modern science. Both would also agree that science (rightly understood) contributes positively to society, that scientific research is an important and dignified calling, and that Christians should consider new scientific discoveries, no matter who makes them.

I think all of that is important, but I tell you, most of the Christian church, at least seems like in the West, are really getting this. They are saying, yeah, we embrace science.

DR. CRAIG:I don’t see anti-scientific attitudes to be prevalent in the church. The disagreement between these ID or intelligent design theorists and the folks of BioLogos is really very, very subtle, and it has to do with whether or not the inference to a designer is an inference that can be scientifically made. Can the scientist qua scientist infer justifiably that biological complexity is due to some sort of guiding intelligence. Notice that the ID people are quite willing to admit that this may be non-miraculous, that it may be evolutionary in the sense that there is common descent from prior lifeforms, that biologically complex lifeforms have evolved from simpler ones. The degree of agreement between them is very extensive. It all gets down to this issue of whether this is a scientific inference or not, and that will largely depend upon your attitude toward methodological naturalism which is not a metaphysical difference between them. It’s a methodology. It’s just which methodology do you want to adopt.

KEVIN HARRIS: How does this relate to your teaching? You’ve taught us so much. And that is scientific discoveries can provide philosophical inferences and that’s what we look at.

DR. CRAIG:It does relate to what I’ve argued specifically with regard to the fine-tuning of the universe or the origin of the universe. What I’ve argued is that science can provide evidence for a religiously neutral premise in a philosophical argument for a theologically significant conclusion. That avoids a god-of-the-gap problem. It avoids the problem of methodological naturalism. What it is simply saying is you can give scientific evidence for premises that are neutral theologically but in the context of a philosophical argument can lead to a conclusion that is pregnant with theological significance. So, for example, when you take the fine-tuning argument, one of the premises is that the fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or to chance. The arguments that people give against physical necessity have nothing to do with God. They indict that hypothesis on purely scientific grounds. Similarly, those who think that the fine-tuning is not plausibly explained by chance don’t do so on theological grounds. They provide theologically neutral arguments against explaining fine-tuning by chance, and in particular through the multiverse hypothesis. So the question would be I suppose: could you frame arguments of that sort for intelligent design in biology without saying I am offering an alternative scientific hypothesis? I am simply using the scientific evidence to support premises in some sort of philosophical argument for an intelligent designer.I’ve not tried to do that. This isn’t my area. But it is not clear to me why not. I don’t think that the inference to an intelligent designer needs to be scientific in order to be respectable, justified, and warranted. It is a matter of indifference to me whether you call it a scientific inference or a philosophical inference. The question would be: is such an inference justified in light of the evidence?

KEVIN HARRIS: If I could make this observation, it would be so good to do what you say to do, and that is (I’m paraphrasing here): You know what? We’re free as followers of Christ to relax and follow the evidence where it leads. The landscape is so inflamed right now that it is hard to do that. If you were to go to college and you said, You know, I’m going to study science (and you are a Christian). Your science professor more than likely is going to be in a very inflamed state because of how political everything is right now and because of the work of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis and all the young Earth creationists and all this stuff is very inflamed.

DR. CRAIG:I think that the reason that the debate in biology has become so poisoned as opposed to the debate in physics for example over fine-tuning or the origin of the universe is because of the battles over teaching creationism in the public schools. It has become politicized in biology where proponents of creationism tried to make room for creationism to be taught as an alternative in public school science classes. The court has repudiated that over and over again and pushed creationism out of the public schools. That I think has resulted in the inflamed and emotional state of the conversation in the realm of biology today that thankfully isn’t characteristic of the debate in physics that I’m more involved in.

KEVIN HARRIS: Francis Collins writes here on page 5 toward the bottom:

“science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science.” Under Collins’s view, God’s “domain” is seemingly fenced off from “nature,” which belongs to “science.”

DR. CRAIG:I don’t feel comfortable with that statement by Collins either. I can understand why he would say that we cannot explore the spiritual domain using the tools of science. That would in a sense be an expression of methodological naturalism. But to say that God’s domain is somehow in the spiritual world is contrary to the Christian view that God’s lordship is also over creation. God isn’t hermetically sealed off in some sort of a spiritual heaven. His lordship does include the physical natural world as well.

KEVIN HARRIS: I thought the same thing because Paul says that God’s handiwork can be clearly seen and Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God and it gives forth knowledge and speech.

DR. CRAIG:Right. The question would be: is that a scientific inference or not? The ID people would say it is, and the BioLogos people would say no this is not a scientific inference. So the difference between them can be very subtle.

KEVIN HARRIS: But wouldn’t that be one of the reasons that you would not want to fence God off from nature?

DR. CRAIG:I would say it is more like the Christian doctrine of creation that would lead me not to fence God off. God is lord over the universe that he has made, he is providentially active in it, he has chosen its laws of nature and set them, and everything is under the providential, sovereign direction of God. BioLogos people and ID theorists would both agree with that, I think. I think Collins’ statement is mischosen myself.

KEVIN HARRIS: In the middle of page 6 it says,

BioLogos calls the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in studying nature no more than “a hint of the presence of the Creator” since “a logical demonstration” of God’s existence “is not available.”

Does that conflict with your view on mathematics?

DR. CRAIG:Let me just look at the footnote. This is a reference to an article by Ted Davis – “Belief in God in an Age of Science.” I’m not sure the degree to which Ted Davis speaks for BioLogos. I suspected he doesn’t. He may be a member of BioLogos but I would say Ted Davis assesses the argument in that way. The question there would be whether or not the argument from the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics is a powerful argument for God’s existence or just sort of a suggestion that God exists. I think it’s fairly powerful myself. I think it’s very difficult to find any sort of explanation for the applicability of mathematics to the physical world apart from theism. So I’m inclined to think of this as a fairly strong argument for God’s existence. But I don’t think of it as a scientific argument, I guess. I think of it as a philosophical or metaphysical argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: We can spend a lot of time on how to handle the consensus, and this article does. We don’t have time to look at all of it here.

DR. CRAIG:Let me say one thing about that. In preparing for my debate with the evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, I read a number of things that he had written. I thought it was very helpful when he pointed out that the word “evolution” has a broad range of meanings, and depending on how you define it will determine whether or not there is a consensus today concerning it. If by “evolution” you mean simply the theory of common ancestry; that is to say that existing lifeforms have evolved from earlier lifeforms then he says, yes, there’s a consensus on that – present-day lifeforms evolved from earlier lifeforms. Indeed I think even many creationists would believe in that. That doesn’t mean that there is a single common ancestor for all lifeforms. Maybe there was multiple origins of life and these different forms evolved from there. But Ayala would say that’s where the consensus exists concerning evolution – complex lifeforms have evolved from earlier less complex lifeforms. The second definition of evolution is that this evolutionary process is to be explained in terms of random genetic mutations and natural selection. He says this on the other hand is much more controversial, and there is no consensus about that. In fact, as Luskin mentions, in 2008 Ayala participated in a conference in Austria in which these mechanisms were sharply challenged and they basically said the old neo-Darwinian synthesis is dead. These explanatory mechanisms are inadequate to explain the state of biological complexity that we observe. So there isn’t a consensus on that point. The third definition of evolution Ayala mentioned is the reconstruction of the tree of life that we’ve all seen in textbooks with its various branches leading finally to homo sapienson one of the twigs on one of the branches. Ayala says there it is just completely in chaos. No one has any confidence about how to reconstruct the evolutionary tree of life. So when Luskin talks about challenging the consensus, what you will notice is that it is mainly about challenging evolution in the sense 2 or sense 3 – the explanatory mechanisms and the evolutionary tree. As Ayala has already admitted, yeah, there is no consensus on those things. But there is consensus about the thesis of common ancestry. ID theorists typically don’t dispute evolution in that sense. They are not creationists. ID theorists don’t commit themselves to believing that God created biological lifeforms out of nothing, but may well have used earlier lifeforms to evolve or develop to lifeforms we see today. So the question isn’t evolution in sense 1 or challenging that consensus. The question would be whether or not evolution in that sense warrants an inference to an intelligent designer and whether this is an inference that a scientist as a scientist can draw.

KEVIN HARRIS: As we conclude, what do you think? Is this a good strategy? Is the BioLogos strategy good?

DR. CRAIG:I think it is good that they’re on the scene. I think it’s good to have a big umbrella and have young earthers and progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists. If they want to call themselves evolutionary creationists, sure. That’s all right. I think it is good to have a diversity of perspectives. I guess what bothers me is when these organizations take a doctrinaire position that excludes people like myself who are genuinely inquiring and haven’t yet come to a firm conclusion – hasn’t made up his mind. When I heard Deborah Haarsma, who is the current president of BioLogos, speak at the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Society a couple of years ago, I was troubled by the fact that there is no room in BioLogos for a person like, say, Fuz Rana who works at Reasons to Believe who hasn’t bought into the neo-Darwinian paradigm, who is still open to other explanations. There wouldn’t be room for someone like me who is still inquiring and hasn’t come to a firm conclusion. I think that is a shame. I would like to see these organizations more open, more of a big tent or big umbrella that would welcome people of differing perspectives because they all do recognize that a commitment to biblical Christianity permits a diversity of perspectives. So why shouldn’t their organizations reflect that diversity?

(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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