In his recent book God & the Biologist (Apollos, 1996), Professor R.J. Berry argues that the theory of evolution is complementary (rather than contradictory) to creation and states his belief that there are no barriers between real science (evolution) and real faith. He writes:
"As a scientist, I have no doubt whatsoever that evolutionary change has
occurred and that its mechanism is along the lines described by neo-Darwinian
theory; as a Christian, I am equally confident that God created the world
and everything in it, and that all holds together in him". (p.6).
In what follows, I have drawn extensively on a paper by Paul Nelson, presented to the Conference on Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise, held at the University of Texas at Austin, February 20-23, 1997. Most of the papers from this conference have been published electronically on the World Wide Web; to access Nelson's paper, click here
In the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin drew attention to features that would not be apparent, in his opinion, in a world constructed by an omnipotent and wise Creator.
"He who believes in separate and innumerable acts of creation may say, that
in these cases it has pleased the Creator to cause a being of one type to
take the place of one belonging to another type; but this seems to me only
re-stating the fact in dignified language. He who believes in the struggle
for existence and in the principle of natural selection, will acknowledge
that every organic being is constantly endeavouring to increase in numbers;
and that if any one being varies ever so little, either in habits or structure,
and thus gains an advantage over some other inhabitant of the same country,
it will seize on the place of that inhabitant, however different that may
be from its own place. Hence it will cause him no surprise that there should
be geese and frigate-birds with webbed feet, living on the dry ground and
rarely alighting on the water; that there should be long-toed corncrakes,
living in meadows instead of in swamps; that there should be woodpeckers
where hardly a tree grows; that there should be diving thrushes and diving
Hymenoptera, and petrels with the habits of auks." (from Chapter 6 of the
6th edition, The Origin of Species, 1872, John Murray, London).
Stephen Jay Gould has made much of Darwin's argument:
"Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution - paths
that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained
by history, follows perforce". (1980, The Panda's Thumb, W.W Norton,
New York, pp.20-21).
1. It is said that an organic design must be produced either by a wise Creator or by descent with modification, but these are not the only alternatives. If creation is `static' (with no variation since creation, as suggested in the Darwin quote above) then there would be some rationale for the logic. However, the concept of `fixity of created species', from Darwin's day to the present, has only been held by opponents of creationism, not by its advocates! Contemporary creationists work with a model of original created design subsequently modified by secondary causes (linked to natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, etc). Thus, many of the cases of imperfect design (blind cave fish, for example) are rightly interpreted as degenerative descent with modification.
2. The Darwinian argument utilises the concept of a "wise Creator", although discussion of the character of this Being is remarkably superficial. God is introduced only to eliminate Him from the discussion: yet the argument is presented as a serious and significant part of developing the science of origins. The ability of human beings to be so authoritative regarding optimum design suggests that the evolutionary scientists who indulge in this kind of argument are completely out of their depth.
Whatever the demerits of this style of argument, Darwin employed `imperfection' as a tool for demolishing special creation and promoting descent with modification. Many Darwinians today do exactly the same thing. This has an important bearing on the philosophy of the science of origins. According to Nelson:
"That the phenomena do not fit the creation theory implies of course that
they might have fit. As it happens, they did not, and thus the theory of
creation in question is false. It is, I think, impossible to understand
"the long argument" of the Origins except in this light. Darwin was
testing a theory of creation ...." (Section 5).
At this point, we need to recall the harmonising approach of theistic evolutionists like R.J. Berry. Darwin, and all who follow in his footsteps, cannot allow a consistent complementarity to exist - otherwise the logic of the `imperfection' argument falls apart. `Evolution' can only be presented as an alternative to `Creation' if both concepts have validity when developing a scientific account of origins. Clearly, the theistic evolution approach requires modifications to the philosophy of science held by Darwin and many of his successors. Failure to recognise this challenge has resulted in some serious weaknesses emerging in the theistic evolution position.
(a) Darwinism's `acid' is just as corrosive of the Theistic Evolutionist's approach as it is said to be of the Special Creation position. This is because the means of creation reflects on the character of the Creator. Instead of creating in wisdom, God's intelligent design input is replaced by blind, directionless forces which mould and form organic life in ways that are governed by contingency, not intent.
(b) Theistic Evolutionists consistently underestimate the problem presented by Darwinism. It is not a `purely scientific' theory of origins. There is a theological agenda. The roots of Darwinism are not traced (by theistic evolutionists) to metaphysical presuppositions which are alien to the Christian world view, but to a positivistic `objective science', which leaves theistic evolutionists wide open to deception about real philosophical trends in the academic world.
The quality of debate between Christians who differ over origins will only be lifted when these fundamental issues of world-views and the philosophy of science are addressed more rigorously than they have been in the past.
David J. Tyler (April 1997)