Does God Create by Evolution?
by Jack Hoehn, September 1, 2014: Does Creation evolve? Yes.
Does Evolution create? No.
|A major problem in discussing origins both within the church and without the church is that we use words that have different meanings to different people. So when I say Canadian, you think bare frozen tundra with caribou kicking through the permafrost that you have seen on the Discovery Channel, and I might be thinking of the rich, warm, fertile soil of beautiful Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Same word but different emotional and conceptual concepts unless we clarify which “Canada” we are talking about.So when I say the word “evolution,” it has many different meanings and many different emotional responses unless we clarify which “evolution” we are talking about.||
1 Acorn by Doug NC
Adventists do believe in some kinds of Evolution
When an acorn planted in the ground sprouts, grows, and turns into a mighty oak tree, to say “it has evolved” from a small nut into a mighty oak tree is a quite proper use of the term.
- OK Evolution: Change over time. A sequence of events in nature involving growth, expansion, change.
|Then most people have little problem with knowing that one kind of dog had puppies, some of which had characteristics that were selected and bred for, so that we can say all present Wirehaired Pointing Griffons evolved from an ancestor dog whose offspring were selectively selected and bred until the present dog is quite unlike the ancestor dog (German Shorthaired Pointer? Spaniel? Otterhound? French Barbet? or from the first two dogs who jumped from the Ark?) It evolved from that ancestor dog over time with the assistance of breeders. (In this dog’s case, relatively recently!)1|
|2 Wirehaired Pointing Griffon|
- OK Evolution: Limited common descent. Particular groups of organisms have descended with modifications from a common ancestor, by selection, breeding, or chance.
|Many can also understand how plant or animals or humans were modified over generations by natural selection of certain characteristics. We can see that weak plants died out when climate changed, and how elephants with little insulating hair survive in India and Africa, but those Mammoth elephants whose carcasses we find frozen under Russian tundra had thick fur. Clearly animals and plants adapt to climate, drought, or heavy precipitation. Those that adapt survive; those that don’t adapt migrate away or die. This is an understandable kind of “evolution.” It doesn’t create completely new things, but adapts functions of created things.|
|3 Wolly Mammoth from Siberia|
- OK Evolution: A mechanism responsible for limited changes in organisms where circumstances act upon random variations or mutations, chiefly by natural selection.
4 Italian Postage Stamp 2009
|Taking the above examples another giant philosophical step, Darwin expanded the above mechanisms for evolving seen in growth, selective breeding, and adaptation to postulate that ALL the diversity we see started with one single cell, and that cell has evolved into everything that is alive today.This is the “Evolution” that many creationists, as well as some scientists, have a problem with.In fact, almost all modern scientists, while liking Darwin’s idea, have found those ideas inadequate based on the scientific evidence alone. So Darwinian evolutionists have themselves evolved to “Neo-Darwinian evolution,” and then to the “New Synthesis evolution,” and now recognizing the problems with all previous types of evolution some scientists are now seeking a “Third Way of Evolution.”2|
- Darwinian Evolution: A thesis or theory (although we all know that everyone believing this thesis claims it is “more than a theory”) that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through material processes such as natural selection, random variation, and mutations.
Because Darwinian Evolution and its offspring claim that the processes needed are “unguided,”“unintelligent,” “purposeless,” it has no need of a plan; it just happened.All these events are presumed to be due to natural laws (although why there are “natural laws” or where they came from is usually not discussed), so they conclude that no Creator or Intelligent Designer is needed.Many of this kind of Evolutionist are agnostics or atheists (94.5% by one survey of biologists).As one snippy evolutionist said, “God?I have no need of that hypothesis.”
Could God have used evolution in the 4th Darwinian sense?
Not all Evolutionists are atheists or agnostics, however. Some “Evolutionists” are God believers, who think that Evolution #4 did in fact happen, but that it was God proposed and intended, and that God started or nudged things to evolve along some sort of lines leading to his purposes. There are some Adventist scientists, and not a few theologians, who have come to accept Theistic Evolution (or put another way they might be called Evolutionary Creationists). They propose to Adventists that this might be a way to accept Darwin’s ideas without being an atheist. This person could say, “I believe that evolution is God’s way of creating.”
The answer, of course, is Yes, God could have…
God could have created using evolution. He might have created the laws that govern life, the chemicals that support life, placed a planet in just the right place for life, placed the magnetic field to protect life from the powerful but dangerous emissions from the sun, placed the moon as our defender from other solar debris, and by slow chance or gently nudged chances let us climb out of the slime starting with one magic cell he implanted in a primordial ocean.
To see how that might have worked, just watch the award-winning NOVA series called COSMOS—a very nicely produced propaganda piece for Darwinian Evolution, but a Theistic Evolutionist would just use God as the reason the unknown, or difficult to explain, events of Evolution happened. (Theistic Evolution, or TE, in some ways is really a “God of the gaps” view of life, just supposedly with few acknowledged gaps.)3 Everything mostly happened by itself, but where it didn’t or couldn’t, just have God give it a secret nudge! Otherwise, God just sits back and watches things evolve, until it finally reaches his standards, and then he gets back into the picture to encourage us to be good and kind.
But He Didn’t!
Obviously, this is only a caricature of Theistic Evolution. But I do not accept Theistic Evolution or Evolutionary Creationism as adequate, either as theology or as science, and to explain why, I want to list what I can agree with, and what I cannot agree with.
I can agree with TE:
- That not only the universe, but its laws are the Creation of God, who established and maintains these “laws” so obviously fine-tuned that even agnostics recognize how remarkable this is. Stephen Hawking: “Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us, and if we are to exist leaves little room for alteration…the extreme-fine-tuning of so many of the laws of nature could lead at least some of us back to the old idea…”4 which “old but true” idea he does not want us to go to, of course! But at least he recognizes the fact of the fine-tuned “natural” laws that TE acknowledges as God’s laws.
- That God could and would use his laws to design and propagate life.
- That many wonderful things that happen are natural, due to those laws in an orderly universe.
I must disagree with TE:
- That God would not or could not act independently of those laws (miracles are permitted to the law giver).
- That Evolution without special creations (at least 6 days’ worth, and perhaps many more!) does not work. So called self-organizing, self-replicating abilities of matter are hopeful fictions, not science. The ability of random mutations to create useful complex novelty has never been demonstrated.
- There is no adequate materialistic explanation for the origin of information (DNA and its supporting cast) necessary for life.
- There is no adequate materialistic explanation for major innovations in body plans in biologic life (the Cambrian Explosion).
- For me, the main theological objection to TE besides the scientific ones is that in its reluctance to see the active hand of God in the creation and maintenance of life, it completely dismisses the Great Controversy and accepts the diseases, plagues, and catastrophes of life as “part of God’s great plan through Evolution” instead of the work of God’s great enemy! TE trivializes natural evil with a shrug and reduces morality from a truth to a mere adaptation.
I do understand why some Adventist scientists, who have been raised in a rigid Young Earth Creationism (YEC), would accept the present church-promoted bipolar proposition that it is either YEC or Evolution.
Sadly, I don’t find Theistic Evolution to be a satisfactory solution. There are many more reasons than those stated above, but to put it short, to suggest that God would use a mechanism of creation (random, undirected or barely directed chance selected only by fitness) that hasn’t been shown to really work to create anything, doesn’t work for me as a mechanism of Creation suitable for the God of the Bible. Created things surely evolve, but evolving things are adapting, not creating.
Faith seeking Reason should explore other avenues. Progressive Creationism, Old-earth Creationism or, more broadly, Intelligent Design may be a more fruitful avenue for Adventist inquiry than Theistic Evolution. More to come on this later.
1My son owns one of these clever dogs. This breed was developed by a Dutchman in Germany after 1873.
3 Intelligent Design on the other hand is often quickly dismissed by opponents as a “God of the gaps” argument, but in fact it is precisely the opposite. ID doesn’t find the need for or evidence of God in the gaps in our knowledge, it finds the fingerprints of God all over the scientific knowledge we do understand and can all see, in the design and huge amounts of information visible in the known, not in the bits we still don’t understand or gaps in our knowledge at all.
4 Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design. (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 162, 164.
5 This bog is informed by several authors in a book evaluating Theistic Evolution by believing Christian and Jewish scientists and theologians. Jay W. Richards, editor. God and Evolution—Protestants, Catholics, and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith. Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2010), 302.
6 Photo 1: Doug NC—with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dougalug2005/1349783309/
Photo 2: American Kennel Association–https://www.akc.org/breeds/wirehaired_pointing_griffon/index.cfm
Photo 3: Wikipedia—free use.
Photo 4: Italian Postage Stamp, 2009—public domain