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".