Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Creationism

There’s a lot of debate within the Christian sphere on how life actually came to be.  Within this debate, there are three main camps people fall into.  There is theistic evolution, Intelligent Design, and Creationism.  I personally haven’t invested a large amount of research into this area and so don’t have a very strong position for any of them.  However, I do think the Intelligent Design theory I will propose has the best opportunity of actually being true.  All of them have their strengths and their weaknesses.  I want to take this post to give a brief explanation of what all of these ideas are, and what I think is their areas of weakness and difficulty.  All of these titles have probably been used interchangeably but I do want to note there are important distinctions between them that separate them.  I do want to state that as Christians, none of these theories are a hill we must die on.  The validity of the Gospel and God’s existence is not found in the age of the earth or the mechanism by which we came into existence.  These are extremely important and profound questions to answer, but whatever the result, it’s important to remember our faith and salvation don’t hinge on which one of them is true.

Theistic evolution is pretty straight forward about the belief.  The belief is that God orchestrated or supervised or guided the evolutionary process.  I feel this belief has come about primarily because of two reasons.  I think the first reason is because of the scientific consensus on the validity of evolution as a theory, and a way that Christians wanted to be sincere to the findings of science but also uphold that God made man.  The next reason is probably because of the difficulties of chemical evolution.  The fact that there is little progress or evidence showing the possibility of inorganic material evolving into organic material, it seems that people have posited God to overcome that opposition.  Now, in fear of misrepresenting the actual views, I can’t say conclusively that this sort of “God of the gaps” suggestion actually plays a role in their belief of theistic evolution; however, it seems highly likely.

There are two grievances I have with theistic evolution though.  The first is, by definition, Darwinian evolution is to be unguided or undirected.  How then, could God be the agent behind the veil, guiding evolution, if it’s meant to be understood as unguided?  This seems to challenge the fundamental tenants of Darwinian evolution, therefore making it not Darwinian evolution in the end if God is involved.  The reason why this is an issue is because the exact thing that is trying to be affirmed, an idea of evolution that is undistinguishable from Darwinian evolution, is the exact thing they want to deny as well.  When accepting the Darwinian picture of evolution, God’s work in the process all but vanishes.  His personal touch begins to drop away the more you honor the repercussions of siding with Darwin’s picture of evolution.  If you don’t side with Darwin’s picture, then you need to point to where he has got it wrong and how the science needs to be changed.  Was he wrong about evolution by natural selection? If so how and why?  Where do we see God touch creation to guide it?  Is it at the lowest level in the quantum world as some have suggested?  The issue I have with that suggestion is that it seems like every time science made a discovery about how natural selection, time, and chance could carry the weight of evolution, Christians then just went to the next lower level in the physical realm and claimed this is where God works.  What if we come to find the quantum world isn’t as random as we thought, and can be predicted and follows laws and not probabilities, therefore taking God’s agency again out of evolution?  Where is God in evolution then?

The next issue is, if people want to claim God used evolution to make man, then it seems like man was not necessarily intended to come about.  If evolution is unguided, then God was just letting nature run its course and we just happened to appear.  It doesn’t feel like there is much intentionality in this sort of creation of man.  Also, we start running into questions of when God gave humans a soul and how he did that.  The theory of evolution will show that distinguishing between species is a messy business and it’s not as straight forward as we would like to hope.  Even if we can draw a line about when the soul was breathed into man, we are now left with the devastating questions of what is a soul, what is its function, and how can we verify these things?  This is a problem that all Christians need to answer regardless of their opinion on evolution.  The reason I bring it up now is many have suggested that our soul is our sense of consciousness and ability to reason.  Unfortunately, the Darwinian evolutionist can show now how consciousness should be thought of more as being on a spectrum and not an all or nothing deal.  This matters because the Darwinian picture of evolution will show the gradual increase of consciousness.  It will show us a picture that suggests that consciousness and the “mind” are reducible to the brain and neuron interactions in the brain.  Again, I will admit that this is an issue for all Christians but is specifically difficult for theistic evolutionists because the theory they want to accept is the exact theory that is saying there is no need for God and that there’s no evidence that God has been involved.

Lastly, theistic evolutionist need to be able to point to where God intervened in the process.  If they want to suppose that it could not have all happened by nature, but that God was guiding the process, then they should be able to point to the moments where God’s fingerprints can be seen in his work in evolution.  They should be able to point to the things in the theory that must have come about by God’s guidance.  Unfortunately, as it stands, the theory of evolution has been designed to explain things without the existence of God, and there seems to be no point where you can place God into the equation without it looking like a “God of the gaps” argument.

Next on the list is creationism.  Creationism, in these terms, is essentially referring to young earth creationist.  They pretty much believe that earth is around 6,000 years old.  They would obviously deny the narrative of evolutionary biology.  They most likely adhere to some sort of change over time, but nothing like evolutionist, and most likely to a lesser degree than intelligent design proponents.  The main issue with the young earth creationist, is the strong opposition their position takes against modern science and archaeology.  If young earth creationists want to convince people of their side, they not only need to prove people of the design factor in life like the ID people, but to also explain away all the scientific data, archaeology, and fossil record.  This is to say, they need to come up with explanations about all the layering of the sediment and fossils, the dating of fossils and other items found in excavations relating to human civilization like cave paintings and artifacts.  Even after doing this, they will need to come up with an explanation on way the earth seems to look so old, why all the scientific evidence seems to point so decisively towards an old earth.  Now many will claim they can explain away these things, but the current persecution of this theory in the scientific community might mean they have more work left to do.

Last on the list is intelligent design.  ID is in a lot of ways a combination of evolution and creationism.  In very simple terms, ID theorists deny the idea of common descent.  They have no qualms or quarrels with cosmic evolution, or even the basic idea of evolution, that is the idea of change over time.  However, they are not convinced that all life on earth began from one common ancestor and don’t think chance, and natural selection, have the power to produce the entirety of the fossil record and all the animals in existence now. They have many reasons for this, but I won’t get into that here.  Essentially what they believe is that at some time God had to intervene in life and make living organisms.  They don’t think species can evolve into different species, but that all the changes are contained within a species.  This point about species may become a futile suggestion because of the difficulties of even adequately classifying what a species is in the first place.

This idea of finding the “essence” of a species, the thing that makes a certain species a certain species, is much more of a crooked grey area than a straight black and white deal the more you dig into what the “essence” of something would be. The thing that intelligent design proponents need to substantiate, is the claim that God made all living organisms in the species that they are in now and there is no evidence of one species changing into another.  Moreover, like the Creationist, they need to be able to show that this sort of thing is fundamentally impossible, no matter how much time is given.  They also need to show exactly what is in each species that shows the “fingerprint of God”.  They need to be able to show what it is exactly that God did, that couldn’t have come about by natural means.  They need to be able to show more than just the fact that evolution is inadequate to explain life, but that they can point to the exact things that infer a designer.  Then, begin working out the functional way we were created and how the designer went about creating us.  This explanation must be in a more robust way than what the biblical story provides in terms of scientific explanations.

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