Friday, April 19, 2013

Evolution is a poor test for rationality

In my last post, I presented three questions I've heard young people ask--people who think highly of Jesus and even seem to want to become Christians and follow Him, but worry they can't without sacrificing their rationality, their decency, or both.

The first question is: Can I be a Christian and still believe in evolution? They seem to be reasoning that rational people accept evolution, but Christians don't accept evolution, and so Christians are not rational.

As I explained in my last post, Christians can accept evolution, and many do. But there's another problem with this reasoning. Many people have the idea that you must accept evolution if you're a reasonable person who has been properly informed of the evidence for it--that acceptance of evolution is a test for rationality.

But evolution is a very poor test of rationality. Let me explain.

This jacaranda tree has nothing to do with the topic of this post. But it's very pretty, isn't it?

You should know two things.

First, you should know that, in academic society, it is generally considered unacceptable to reject evolution.  Generally, in the academic circles I've traveled across America (admittedly, not that many), it is simply assumed that rational and well educated folk are evolutionists.

Second, you should also know that it is acceptable in academic society to be a theistic evolutionist. You can think God created life and still be considered rational, just as long as you think God used evolution to do it.

Now, one more bit of preliminary observation, and then in the next paragraphs I will finally get to the point. The case for evolution, like the case for most theories in science, is cumulative; you don't argue for it from a single piece of evidence; you argue that it is the best explanation of several different pieces of evidence. Now the evidence for evolution can be divided into two main categories. There is the evidence that life evolved, and there is the evidence that natural processes are sufficient to account for life on earth as we know it today. The first kind of evidence only supports the claim that it happened, while the second kind of evidence supports the claim that it happened in a certain way, that is, by natural causes. The first kind of evidence includes, but is not limited to, the fossil record. The second kind of evidence would include, for example, instances of natural selection at work creating changes in a species.

But therein lies the problem. A theistic evolutionist can believe that God, not natural processes alone, is responsible for the emergence of life on earth as we know it today. In other words, the entire second category of evidence for evolution has not convinced him. (Or else his doctrine of creation has an odd deistic region, since he thinks natural causes acted without guidance from God to create the species on earth today.)

But this leaves him with just the one category of evidence, which on its own is much less powerful than would be the evidence taken as a whole. His confidence in evolution is (or should be) proportionate to the evidence that it happened, not proportionate to the entire cumulative case for the theory of evolution.

These matters should really be discussed over tea.


To sum up: Theistic evolution is thought to be rational. But this means it is rational to reject one category of evidence for evolution, and this means that rejecting evolution itself is rational–or at least it is somewhat less irrational than is commonly thought.

To put it differently: If it really is rational to accept theistic evolution, then, since the evidence for evolution includes a category of evidence which does not convince a theistic evolution, it is rational to reject the overall conclusion that this evidence is supposed to support–or at least is less irrational than is commonly thought.

To put it still differently: If some people can rationally reject the second category of evidence for evolution, I don't see why other people should automatically be considered irrational just because they aren't convinced by the evidence that remains.

And if people who reject the theory of evolution altogether are irrational, then so are all the theistic evolutionists who reject one of the categories of evidence for evolution–or at least they are less rational than is commonly thought.



To sum up this post and my last post:

There are three big questions that keep people away from Christianity.

Question 1 is:

Can I be a Christian and still believe in evolution?

And the answer is:

Yes. (But you don't have to.)

Questions 2 and 3 to be addressed in future posts.

10 comments:

Adam Jones said...

I have no problem with evolution. I haven't found a reason to fight it.

Adam Jones said...

Fine article, by the way. I liked it.

Bix said...

Mark and Adam,
What would you do with the scriptures that contrast the first Adam and the second Adam (Christ)?
Here are the ones I am thinking of. Romans 5, beginning in v 12: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned ... For if by the one man's trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ." And I Cor 15:21 "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man."
So where would you put any time for evolution before Adam with all of its requirements for millions, if not billions of years of life and death?
I have heard a response to this as something like, "Well, Adam's curse refers to spiritual death, or a death to a relationship with God."
To which I would respond with the other events of Genesis, like God keeping A and E from the Tree of Life so that they could not live forever, and the subsequent series of bad events that ensued. And I would also refer you to Romans 8 which talks of the whole creation groaning in futility and corruption awaiting its redemption as well. So it is not just Man's spiritual death but real physical death of both Man and the creation which started with the Sin of Adam and Eve.
So the love of God and the huge work of God the Son through the cross is greatly diminished if you disconnect Death from Sin which even the theistic evolutionist must do.

Mark B said...

Good stuff Bix. My posts so far have been too narrowly focused on two other very specific issues, saying things I thought needed to be said. But what you said is very good. I am with you. This is one very big challenge for theistic evolution.

It is especially important that you mentioned death coming through Adam. I had forgotten that. I know Alvin
Plantiga says death prior to sin is due to angelic sin, not sin of Adam. There are far less pious and thoughtful views out there. But how is this view to be reconciled with Romans?

Bix said...

Mark,
I know that A. Plantiga is "a good guy," but where does he know of death before Adam's sin? I assume that the fallen angel Lucifer, Satan, the Serpent, sinned before Adam did as it was Satan who urged Eve to join him in rebellion against God. But where do we hear of angelic deaths? Unlike our movie superheroes who kill villains, Jesus only casts them out, perhaps into a herd of pigs. Even in Revelation, they are only bound, or thrown into an eternal lake of fire. And where do we hear of death at all before the Fall? Unless Plantiga first wants to believe in Evolution and a four billion year-old earth and needs a way to make that happen, and then add in Adam and Eve later, maybe six to ten thousand years ago?
Evolution, theistic or otherwise, makes for an interesting story, but it cannot be fit into a plain reading of either the Old or the New Testament.

reneamac said...

Bix, I'm not a TE; however, might one not suggest that the death of the curse of sin only applies to humankind? The idea that in a prelapsarian state no thing would ever die is a bit out there to me--no plant? no bacteria? no bugs? In other words, couldn't the position be made that things died before humans and would continue to die after humans, but humans themselves were to be eternal creatures? Sin and death entered through Adam and in this way death spread to all men, humans.

Mark B said...

I think Plantinga's view is that all animal deaths prior to sin are evils/bad things, but that they are caused by angelic sin. E.g., Satan killed them, or Satan messed up creation in some other way that resulted in animal death--including all the billions of dead animals that evolution requires.

So, to reconcile this view with Romans, Plantinga could say that "death" in Paul's writings refers to the death of humans, but not to the death of animals--not even to those highly evolved ape-guys who weren't quite human yet.

I share some views with Plantinga, and he is a good guy. But this isn't my view. As views I don't share go, I tend to like it; it's pious because it doesn't blame God for any evil; it's orthodox because it's not heretical; and it's thoughtful.

One other nice thing about this view is that it's a nice extension of Augustine's idea that some evils (often called "natural evils" by philosophers, such as malaria and dengue and tsunamis and the deaths of woodland creatures in forest fires), are caused by angelic evil. Augustine is cool, and kudos to Plantinga for reading him.

But if we're dealing with Romans 8, it is very difficult to make this view work. In Romans 8 Paul mentions death in context of the whole of creation. The implication seems to be that it was human sin that is primarily, or exclusively, responsible for deaths of animals by disease and forest fires.

Bix said...

Renea,
Let me first assume that the Scripture as plainly read is true. So let us take Romans 8 as true, and the whole Creation is under a curse, and the whole Creation will be redeemed in the future. And then there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. (Personally, in the new Earth, I would like to have the job as director of Texas Parks and Wildlife. Or the Serengeti.) Will it be a real physical earth? Will we have real physical bodies? In I Cor 15, Paul says yes, they will be real bodies, though different. Jesus showed us yes, and ate a fish. Ah, you ask, but we will still have billions of E.coli in our colons, most of them dying sooner or later? That, I do not know, but I sort of hope not! Okay, now then, what about before the Fall? One clue is in the account of the Flood where it says that all living things died, everthing that had the breath of life. The implication is that all the usual land creatures died, but not all of the fish, the sea urchins, the coral, or even perhaps the earthworms. Another clue is that God gave A and E all the plants to eat (and only the plants). Was it only the fruit of the plants, like a plum? Or could it have the been the whole actual plant, like a carrot? Frankly, I think they might have eaten carrots and potatos, and that was not considered killing, and their E.coli died and that was not considered a curse of Sin.
But, again, I believe that the Scripture is true as plainly read, and that the Earth is not very old, and that Adam and Eve were only in the Garden a year or two before Sin came and changed things, and I don't see the need for Plantinga or Augustine to tell me otherwise.
By the way, there is a good current article on World magazine online by Vern Poythress (ThD from somewhere and a Harvard PhD in math) which seems to express confidence in the Adam and Eve as portrayed in Genesis 2. Again, not that we need anybody with one more degree or one more credential or pedigree to one-up any of us ....

Mark B said...

By the way, speaking of Augustine, it's well known that he interpreted Genesis 1 allegorically. But he also interpreted it literally. He's a six-day creationist. So don't believe any fashionable hype to the contrary.

reneamac said...

I'd love to see the scriptures that plainly say how old the Earth is and how long Adam and Eve lived in the Garden. I've seen some commentaries discuss these things, but I've never seen where the Bible presents these truths plainly.