Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sola Smorgasbord: Tim Keller And Theistic Evolution. Part III: Kicking The Atheists Off Their Own Turf

(Originally published on 5/16/10)

Tim Keller sees a problem. The problem is that there is an entrenched position among Evolutionists and Christians that Biblical faith and belief in Evolution are mutually exclusive. Those who hold this position conclude that if Man is the product of evolutionary biological processes, then every aspect of Man's soul is the product of genetic factors at work in natural selection. Most Evolutionists certainly believe this. Our capacity to love, act, our moral convictions, even our belief in God is rooted in our genetic makeup. These traits are present today because they helped our ancestors survive the process of Human Evolution. Keller quotes a prominent "New Atheist", Sam Harris. Harris says that humans have "no immortal soul, free will, [knowledge] of the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism..." (Keller, p. 5-6) Many Christians share the atheist view that if evolution is true, than Man's unique status as outlined in Scripture is an illusion, that Man is nothing more than a biological machine. The second question Keller addresses in his article "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People," on p. 5-7, concerns this view of Christianity's and Evolution's mutual exclusiveness. How does Keller think we can overcome this hostility to Evolution among Christians? By convincing Christians that "Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world view." (Keller, p. 5) Christians must abandon their conclusion that to believe in human evolutionary biological processes one must logically conclude that everything about Man is the result of natural selection. He quotes David Atkinson to make his point: "If evolution is...elevated to the status of a world-view of the way things are, then there is a direct conflict with biblical faith. But if 'evolution' remains at the level of a scientific biological hypothesis, it would seem that there is little reason for conflict between the implications of Christian belief in the Creator and the scientific explorations of the way which--at the level of biology--God has gone about his creating process." (Keller, p. 6) Keller warns Christians that if we fail to make the distinction between evolution as a world view and evolution as a scientific biological process, then Christians will never grant the importance of evolutionary biological processes. We will never change our view of the world and God to accomodate the view that man is the product of evolution. That is what upsets Keller and to affect this accomodation is the purpose of writing this paper which appears on Francis Collin's Biologos website.

To accept Evolution as part of God's creative process, Keller would have Christians ignore the implications of the evolutionary model. But Darwin himself could not have developed his theory of evolution without taking God out of the picture. Here is a quote from Ernst Mayr's book "One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought":

"Darwin was unable to build on this foundation but rather started from the fundamental question that Lyell bequeathed to him, namely, how do new species originate? Although Lyell appealed to "intermediate" causes as the source of the new species, THE PROCESS WAS NEVERTHELESS A FORM OF SPECIAL CREATION. [Capitalization mine] 'Species may have been created in succession at such times and at such places as to enable them to multiply and endure for an appointed period and occupy an appointed space on the globe' (Lyell 1835, 3:99-100). For Lyell, each creation was a carefully planned event. The reason why Lyell, like Henslow, Sedgwick, and all the others of Darwin's scientific friends and correspondents in the middle of the 1830s, accepted the unalterable constancy of species was ultimately a philosophical one. The constancy of species--that is the inability of a species, once created, to change--was the one piece of the old dogma of a created world that remained inviolate after the concepts of the recency and constancy of the physical world had been abandoned.

"No genuine and testable theory of evolution could develop until the possibility was recognized that species have the capacity to change, to become transformed into new species, and multiply into several species. FOR DARWIN TO ACCEPT THIS POSSIBILITY REQUIRED A FUNDAMENTAL BREAK WITH LYELL'S THINKING..." [Capitalization mine] (Mayr, One Long Arguement, Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 17-18)

In other words, for Darwin to formulate his theories, he had to reject the belief in the work of a creator in the creation of species. Can any one who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ explain to me how the truth of man's origins could not be discovered without the rejection of an Intelligent Designer and that now we can reconcile Biblical creation with a theory thats development depended upon a rejection of God as creator? Darwin himself worked out the implications of his theory:

"Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman...I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. This belief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete...The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career..." (From H. James Bix's introduction to Darwin's "Descent of Man.") If the development of Evolution required a rejection of God as creator, why does Keller think it strange that Christians should consider Biblical faith and evolution mutually exclusive?

New Atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are intolerant of Christian beliefs and would like to remove all religious discourse from the market place of ideas. Yet that in no way excludes the possibility that they have correctly worked out the implications of evolution for Man. Most evolutionists do not adhere to New Atheist rhetoric; in the case of Dawkins most evolutionists do not consider his views and rhetoric to be representative of the scientific community. Many consider his conduct to be harmful to their cause. Yet even most of these who believe Man's origins are in evolution take this belief a step forward to the position that genetics explains everything there is about Man, including Man's belief in God. For example, anthropologists view mankind and religious belief through the prism of evolution. In fact, this view of Man may be the next greatest challenge to faith in God and orthodox Christian belief. And Keller would have Christians who have worked out the same implications of evolution as the New Atheists ignore their own reasoning all for the sake of accepting the importance of evolutionary biological processes?

Not only does Keller want Christians to ignore their conclusions, he would ignore the obvious implications of his own arguements for the acceptance of evolution. On p.1 of his paper, Keller promotes the idea that there may be a genetic explanation for our belief in God. This genetic factor, called by some the "God gene," somehow supported our acestors' ability to survive and reproduce. God's purpose was to make belief in God universal among the human race. This will be dealt with in Part IV. I bring it up now to demonstrate the utter lack of logic in Keller's position. Keller wants us to seriously consider that our belief in God may be genetic, originating in evolutionary biological processes. But then, he wants us to reject the conclusion that if we have the God gene, then our belief in God, our moral convictions, are not the result of natural selection! If belief in God was genetic in origin, wouldn't it logically flow from that our moral convictions (tied to our belief in the Triune God), are genetic in origin? If belief originates in genetics, then belief is predetermined and not a response to the revelation of a loving and sovereign creator. If belief is genetic in origin, then why should Christians not conclude that the truth claims of any religion are as valid as any other?

Keller's description of those Christians who will not accept evolution as God's method of creation and his strategy for getting Christians to change their minds reveals an unfortunate attitude toward those he would counsel. This is what Keller writes concerning Christians who refuse to accept evolution: "Many Christian lay people resist all this and seek to hold on to some sense of human dignity by subscribing to 'fiat-creationism.' This is not a sophisticated theological and philosophical move; it is intuitive." (Keller, p. 6) This statement reveals some condesention on the part of Keller toward his readers. He is saying that to reject evolution is to be led by one's feelings rather than be guided by one's own intellectual reflection as well as a careful study of the scriptures. This is a subtle way of trying to make you think,"I don't want to be seen as uneducated and ignorant." Keller also appeals to reader gullibility. To remove any doubts Christians may have in accepting evolution, Keller tells his readers to make common cause with theistic evolutionists against the New Atheists. The New Atheists are trying to delegitimize any religious belief, so why not join with theistic evolutionists to thwart them and rescue evolution from its own implications, to rescue evolution from the exclusive intellectual ownership of the atheists, to kick the atheists off their own turf? This reminds me of the American Civil War. When war was seen to be unavoidable, some in the North sought to provoke a war with England to unify North and South. It seemed that these northerners had a low view of the public's IQ if they thought both northerners and southerners would fall for that. Keller seems to have a similiar view of his readers gullibility. Just remove Christian doubts over evolution by creating a new enemy, the New Atheists. And Keller wants us to see this as "a sophisticated theological and philosophical move?" What is Keller's estimate of the intelligence of the average Christian? It doesn't sound too high.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I'm going to have to think about it a little more.


Mr. Guthrie said...

Thanks for your comment, Daniel. I look forward to any comments you might have.

Anonymous said...

I wandered over here after seeing a comment of yours on another blog and the fact that we share a surname. Maybe I can lend a different point of view.

You linked to your earlier reviews of Collins' book "The Language of God". There you wrote: "However, if the Church took his advice, young people would leave in droves because they will not place their faith in a God that cannot create a universe without corrective mechanisms to make up for "voids" in His physical laws. "

No. What will make us young people leave in droves is the continual denial of the scientific validity of evolution. Keller is on track here. The more evolution and other inconvenient truths are denied, the more we will question the evangelical church's dedication to truth. It comes across very relativistic.

You described yourself in another post as a "scientific ignoramus". I can understand why evolution would appear to be a threat and why without a strong science background you may think it can be dismissed. I just hope that you can take from my comment that it is not the threat to the faith of young Christians that you take it for. But your reaction to it is not helpful.

Another Mr. Guthrie

Mr. Guthrie said...

Mr. Guthrie, I just found your comment; Blogger had sent it to my spam file which I just checked. Studies have been done which seek to identify why young Christians are now leaving the Church. While there many who have left the Church and the faith because they correctly believe that evolution and Biblical faith are incompatible, the overwhelming reason seems to be that cultural pressures are the main reason. The pressure to be accepted causes many to reject Christ. Many who cite the Church's refusal to embrace evolution as the reason for why they have left use that as cover. They would rather be accepted than accept the Biblical account of creation. I am not saying that is true about you, but as you appear to claim to be speaking on behalf of young Christians, I am speaking about young Christians in general. Correct me if I am wrong, but I gather from your comments that you claim to be within the Church at the present time and that the refusal of the Church to embrace evolution would drive you out of it. If that is the case, where will you go? What does it say concerning your relationship with Christ that you could leave the Church over the question of whether or not the Church accepts evolution as truth? Were the Church to do so, people would leave the Church and their faith in droves because the very comfort they would derive from a God who promises to be with His children during crises and who promises to receive His disciples into His presence when they die would be compromised. If God could not create a perfect creation at the beginning, then no one can trust Him to deliver on any of His promises.