The Theological Dilemma of Evolution, Part 2

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March 5, 2010 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's entry was written by Gordon J. Glover. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Theological Dilemma of Evolution, Part 2

In part 1 of this post, we looked at the theological consequences that would arise from evolution being true. But now we must look at the other side of the dilemma: what are the theological consequences that would arise from evolution being false or physically impossible?

Consider this argument: If God created all living things as separate and distinct species by supernatural acts, then His creativity would not have been subject to any physical constraints. That’s the very definition of a miracle. You see, ordinary physical processes governed by the laws of nature impose limitations and restrictions on what can and can’t be created. And when things are created naturally, specific patterns emerge based on the physical properties of the raw materials. For instance, you can’t turn ordinary water into wine without the right kind of grapes, some yeast, and plenty of time to let it all ferment. And if you want a specific wine, you have to use a specific grape from a specific region. You can’t start with a Merlot grape and end up with a Cabernet, or vice versa.

These are the types of patterns that emerge when creating things using ordinary cause-and-effect. But God, on the other hand, can create wine directly from water without the limitations or restrictions inherent with the use of pre-existing material. And since God is a completely unconstrained creator, His supernaturally-created wine can be a Merlot, a Cabernet, a Shiraz, or something altogether new – it doesn’t depend on anything pre-existing.

Now let’s bring this back around to biology. As Christians, we believe that God created each and every one of us. Yet, because he used a natural process called sexual reproduction to accomplish it, there are certain patterns inherent to every person. For instance, a person is male only if they have a Y chromosome. So all males should have the same Y-chromosome as their fathers – where else would they get it? And children should have the same mitochondrial DNA as their mothers because sperm cells pass on no mitochondria from the father. However, if God were to create people from scratch using a supernatural process, He would not be obligated to follow these or any other rules.

In other words, if God created the first living things simply by speaking them into existence, He would not have been bound by any physical constraints. Being completely unconstrained, God would have presumably been free to design and create species without following any discernible patterns. Or He could have chosen to mix and match different patterns according to His pleasure. Either of these scenarios would have been unmistakable evidence of special creation. So the fact that we do find very specific patterns in nature should interest us greatly. What is God telling us?

Well when it comes to things like the distribution of anatomical features between the species, the distribution of species around the globe, the distribution of fossils throughout the geologic column, and the distribution of genetic information between the species – God seems to be telling us that the creation of living species was dominated by ordinary processes. Not only do we find very clear and specific patterns in each of these independent sets of data, but amazingly, they seem to all converge onto the exact same scenario of natural history – a scenario that has come to be known in the scientific community as evolution, or common descent.

Now remember, when God creates by supernatural means, He is under no obligation whatsoever to design creatures according to specific patterns normally associated with natural cause-and-effect. And given the inherent theological challenges we face if evolution is true; combined with the infinite number of non-evolutionary patterns God could have just as easily used, we have absolutely no reason to expect that God would carefully design each creature such that it fits the precise patterns required by common descent. But that is exactly what a survey of the created world reveals! So if the opening chapters of Genesis are presenting a scientific and historical account of origins, why would God intentionally infuse the cosmos with coherent data suggesting that an entirely different creation scenario is true?

This is a huge theological problem for those of us who take both science and the Bible seriously. And it’s a fairly new problem in the history of our Christian faith – one that is only getting worse as we learn more about the world we inhabit. Take for example the apparent fusion of human Chromosome #2 from two non-human primate chromosomes discovered in 2005 (see video below for more). Things like this just don’t add up unless common descent really took place.

The theological dilemma of evolution is not something that can be solved by scientists working alone in their laboratories, or by theologians pouring over ancient texts and medieval commentaries. We need pastors and theologians looking into this together – which is why I am so encouraged by the BioLogos workshops that seek to bring leading scientists together with leading pastors and biblical scholars.


Gordon J. Glover holds degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Ocean Engineering and is the author of Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and Creation. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area where he works and runs the popular blog, "Beyond the Firmament".

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Rick Baartman - #6007

March 6th 2010

“theologians pouring over ancient” that should be “poring”


Armor Bearer - #6017

March 7th 2010

Kamu melihat secara jasmani saja, dan tidak melihat beberapa hal yang di luar kemampuan ilmuan jasmani itu.  Oleh karena itu, kamu keliru.

Did you catch that?  Do you understand my argument?  Are you convinced?  Of course not - I didn’t speak your language.  This website has a goal “to bring leading scientists together with leading pastors and biblical scholars”.  The problem is one of language.  No one will be convinced as long as we each insist on speaking our own language.

How many of you are acquainted with a pastor or theologian who could follow the line of argumentation in the main blog post, along with the chain of comments that follows?  And why should they?  How many years have you spent studying your respective areas of science in order to be able to engage in this dialogue?

Conversely, would you not criticize a pastor or theologian who comes to you with an eschatological, soteriological or dispensational line of reasoning?  He would not be speaking your language.  If you want to engage in dialogue with the mainstream of Christianity, then you need to stop talking about Chromosome #2 as if they will understand what you’re talking about.  You are talking past them, and will likely have no impact.


Karl A - #6038

March 7th 2010

Armor Bearer: Saya mengerti, dan saya tahu saya sering keliru.

I know where you’re coming from (speaking the same language), but I disagree.  I think the BioLogos staff does a pretty good job (especially now that Pete Enns is on staff) varying the content of the blog posts - some fairly science-oriented, some fairly theologically/biblically-oriented.  Different days will interest different personalities - not all of them are completely interesting to me, but many are.

I’m not a scientist, but when an evolutionary creationist writer explained about chromosome #2 in his book, I got it pretty quickly.

Even more so, BioLogos has on its website simple answers to basic questions, things that should be fairly easy for a layperson to “tangkap” (grasp). 

Now the rather arcane dialog between Glen and Mike, that’s another matter…


Gregory Arago - #6160

March 8th 2010

As a translator and editor, Armor Bearer, I’m sensitive to what you say. Indeed, the issue of communication is *huge*. Glad you raised it!

What sort of language(s) are you looking for in science and religion dialogue that BioLogos does not (yet) include? I’ve requested participants to contact more anthropologists, whose language(s) could be quite helpful here. What do you suggest to help create a favo(u)rable atmosphere for discussion, especially with ‘evangelicals’ (another tough word to pin down) about ‘science’?

What I take from Glen & Mike’s conversation is that people hold different meanings of terms ‘design,’ ‘teleology’ & ‘special creation,’ among others. ECs & TEs both (seem to) accept ‘teleology’ or ‘guidance’ in their view of ‘biological evolution’. But how can this be shown as reasonable or legitimate from a scientific perspective?

Glen doesn’t want to be called EC or TE. Does this mean he is not or cannot be a theist? Unsure.

What then does the term ‘BioLogos’ offer to the mix of views? I’d be curious to hear how you approach them too, Armor Bearer!


Amy C - #6164

March 8th 2010

Armor Bearer,

I, too, understand your point.  Being neither a scientist nor a theologian, I have to take off my armor and dig through the internet, books, scripture and articles to try to fit the pieces together and understand the language.  I’ve found the book Relics of Eden by Daniel Fairbanks to be particularly helpful in explaining DNA.  Incidentally,  Chapter 1 focuses on the fusion of Chromosome #2.


Dan Baright - #6765

March 13th 2010

Dear Gordon Glover - # 5884, 5926

You wrote:

“But the evidence for common ancestry is based on very specific patterns.  The reduncy of the standard genetic code and the abundence of non-encoding DNA facitlitate the accumulation of non-harmful genetic markers across various biological groups.  And the patterns of similarities and differences in these markers can only be one way if species have all descended from a common ancestor.”—- GJG


Long ago I also was a practicing Presbyterian. I am curious regards the theology concerning common ancestry. Is it the firmly held belief that since common ancestry is absolutely the only means by which identical genetic sequences, especially error-ridden sequences, can be duplicated acrosss various species—is it also the belief there that ideas such as symbiosis, lateral gene transfer, other common environmental factors over the eons, and common genomic predeterminism are all heresies?  Is that your belief?


Gordon J. Glover - #6818

March 14th 2010

Dan,

It’s possible that there is another natural mechanism capable of producing the same patterns that we currently attribute to common descent.  However, no such mechanism has been discovered.  And gene transfer does garble op the tree of life when it comes to bacteria and other single celled organisms.

Not sure what you mean by your last question though.


Hosea Handoyo - #6883

March 15th 2010

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for writing this brilliant piece of article which has stimulate a constructive discussion. I certainly benefited from that. I am a Biologos - scientist in training with strong evangelical background. I am still having difficulty even in convincing my parents who are YEC. Personally, I still have some questions (please forgive me if these have been addressed somewhere - but I would be grateful if you could help me point out where I could read the discussion).

1. In Genesis, post Gen 2-3, there are many others ‘actors’ which are crucial in Bible such Enoch and most of these people lived >100 years old. How TE can explain this?
2. Genealogy in the Gospels, clearly mentions from Adam to Jesus - really explicitly mention name by name..

Look forward to hearing from you.

God bless.

-Hosea


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