Why evolution cannot be used to rationalize atheism.
“There is grandeur in this view of life, 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 circling 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.”
“There is no real conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution. What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, unorchestrated by God (or anyone else).”
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, as quoted in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.
Because of all of the talk in the media about Darwinism and creationism, it can be easy to get lost in the rhetoric. But beneath the layers of rhetoric lies the simple fact that Darwinian evolution is actually a NON ISSUE when it comes to the question of the existence of God. What do I mean by this? Darwin’s proposed “blind mechanism” of random mutation and natural selection is cited as an alternative to creation of life by God. But, as Oxford University mathematician John Lennox writes in his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?:
“For, from one point of view, there is nothing controversial in describing forces or mechanisms as ‘blind’. Quite obviously, most are. The strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and gravity have no eyes to see with, either physical or mental. And most mechanisms are blind — think of a watch, a car, a CD player, a computer hard-disc. Moreover, they are not only blind but also unconscious; indeed, to be even more precise, they are incapable of conscious thought since they have no mind to think with. But those mechanisms, though blind in themselves, are all the products of minds that are far from being blind; such mechanisms are intelligently designed. What is more, this holds even for mechanisms that involve an element of randomness in their operation.”
Lennox provides a simple thought experiment as an illustration, which I shall paraphrase: Imagine an automobile factory in which all of the manufacturing is done by robots. Can we declare that, because all of the work is accomplished by robots, no intelligence is involved in the manufacturing process? To make such a declaration, we would need to also declare that the robots, the software that guides the robots, and the factory itself were not the products of intelligence. But any reasonable person can see that this is not the case…human intelligence was clearly involved.
Not a scientific question
The key point is that the question of whether or not life is the result of an intelligent or unintelligent source is not a scientific question. Rather, it is a meta-scientific or ontological* question.
The key point is that the question of whether or not life is the result of an intelligent or unintelligent source is not a scientific question. Rather, it is a meta-scientific or ontological* question. This is because biology is concerned with issues of intermediate causation with regard to the phenomenon of life, rather than ultimate causation. It would be impossible, put another way, to demonstrate through the scientific method how the natural laws and processes (that purportedly guide evolution) came into existence. Where these laws and processes came from would be a question of ultimate causation, and such ultimate questions are meta-scientific or ontological rather than scientific. Put more simply, the view that Darwinian evolution does not involve intelligent input (even in the formulation of natural laws that guide evolution) is a philosophical add-on and not science.
Theists who accept Darwinian evolution adopt the meta-scientific view that (akin to the human agents responsible for creating the robots, the software, and the factory itself), a higher intelligence is responsible. Atheists must assume that such sophisticated natural laws and processes just are.
Indeed, Christian theists who endorse Darwinian evolution are plentiful. Lennox cites several:
“In, Britain, for example, Sir Ghillean Prance, Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), former director of the world-famous Kew Gardens in London, Sir Brian Heap, FRS, former Vice President of the Royal Society, Bob White, FRS, Professor of Geology at Cambridge University, Simon Conway Morris, FRS, Professor of Paleobiology, Cambridge University, Sam Berry, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, London University, and Denis Alexander, Director of the Faraday Institute, Cambridge, are all distinguished contemporary evolutionary biologists who are theists, indeed Christians. In the USA there is Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, who prefers the term Biologos to that of theistic evolution. They would all vigorously reject as invalid any attempt to deduce atheism from evolutionary theory.”
Perhaps most poignantly, Charles Darwin himself expressed his views on this subject matter. In his autobiography, he wrote:
“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.”
Physicist Stephen Barr makes the same point as Lennox in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith in the context of responding to Richard Dawkins’ book about evolution and atheism titled The Blind Watchmaker:
“When examined carefully, scientific accounts of natural processes are never really about order emerging from mere chaos, or form emerging from mere formlessness. On the contrary, they are always about the unfolding of an order that was already implicit in the nature of things, although often in a secret or hidden way…”
“When examined carefully, scientific accounts of natural processes are never really about order emerging from mere chaos, or form emerging from mere formlessness. On the contrary, they are always about the unfolding of an order that was already implicit in the nature of things, although often in a secret or hidden way. When we see situations that appear haphazard, or things that appear amorphous, automatically or spontaneously “arranging themselves” into orderly patterns, what we find in every case is that what appeared to be haphazard actually had a great deal of order built into it…. What [famous atheist biologist Richard] Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker is something even more remarkable than Paley’s watches. Paley finds a ‘watch’ and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by chance. Dawkins finds an immense automated factory that blindly constructs watches, and feels that he has completely answered Paley’s point. But that is absurd. How can a factory that makes watches be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?”
Those wishing to explore this subject matter in more depth are referred to Evolution: The Disguised Friend of Faith? by the distinguished British molecular biologist (turned Anglican priest) Arthur Peacocke. Also, my essay titled Why Trying to Explain Away God With Science is an ERROR further elaborates on why it is an utter fallacy to cite natural mechanisms as an alternative explanation to God.
*For those not familiar, ontology is the branch metaphysics (which is in turn a major branch of philosophy) dealing with the nature of existence. Meta-scientific is a term which refers to a principle which is fundamental to science but cannot be scientifically tested.