Thursday, March 1, 2018

A New Critique of Theistic Evolution

        Just recently a new book was published against theistic evolution: TheisticEvolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem. It is a massive volume (1008 pages) and, alas, quite pricey (currently Can $58.52 at
     Is it worth buying? I suggest you read the quite extensive summary, with abstracts of all the chapters, that can be found here. Then, for a detailed overview and critique, see the in-depth review by Daniel Chew. Even though Chew has a number of criticisms, he does conclude that this book is a great work dealing with the topic of origins, and will be a helpful guide for those beginning to explore this area.

Chew finds the scientific section--the bulk of the book--to be the strongest. The book show that macro-evolution has no plausible mechanism, and that there are major problems with the theory of common ancestry. Moreover, there is no proof that macro-evolution happened in history, especially concerning human evolution. It also defends a genetic model of human origins based on one initial couple, thus showing that the biblical teaching of human origins is scientifically plausible.

The theological chapters show that theistic evolution is contrary to Scripture, and that its acceptance leads to compromising many important Christian doctrines. This section stresses that Adam and Eve were the first human couple, but doesn't necessarily rule out all forms of macro-evolution, or push for Young-Earth creationism. 

Indeed, a major shortcoming of the book is that, although it critiques theistic evolution, it promotes no detailed alternative interpretation of Gen.1-11. In particular, it explicitly avoids taking a position on the age of the earth. Actually, most of its authors accept mainstream chronology, a halfway house toward theistic evolution (see my post Evolution, Christianity, and Gravedigging).

This leads to some contradictions among the authors. For example, Wayne Grudem, in his chapter, argues Adam's Fall greatly changed the natural world, introducing natural evil such as hurricanes, floods, venomous snakes, and disease. (Although Grudem is an Old-Earth creationist, his position  actually entails Young-earth creationism, as I discuss in my post Grudem's Old-Earth Inconsistency).

On the other hand, author Garrett DeWeese, who deals with theistic evolution and natural evil, agrees with evolutionists that natural evil existed millions of years before Adam, and thus was not due to human sin. His own solution (free-process indeterminism), however, contradicts the Reformed view of providence.

   In conclusion, it seems to me that the scientific chapters are certainly worthwhile reading, as they are based on largely up-to-date scientific evidence. Regarding theological critiques of theistic evolution, I would recommend instead the book by Reformed pastor John Otis, "Theistic Evolution: A sinful compromise" (2013).


JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
Isn't it interesting, a 972 page book just to say that
if evolution is ever proven true it will not be proven by evolutionary values but by the values still operational under creation belief: it will be proven true, a thing which evolution can have no knowledge of. For evolution, even truth evolves, and is therefore changeable.

In other words, evolution becomes true as it is accepted; it can never be that it is accepted because it is true. That is, if it is going to be consistent with itself. For evolution to be accepted because it is true, one has to jump over to the creationist side to have truth as a value precede evolution.

There, I think I just covered the scientific, philosophical, and theological arguments; and it took just one mere paragraph.


JohnV said...

I don't mean to minimize the effort put into the book. I would think that this volume would make a good reference book to help people sort through the issues, allowing for a more balanced insight.

My problem with such a book, going by Daniel Chew's review (because I haven't read the book) would be that the failures in the philosophical and theological critiques would call into question the scientific critique, even if it is scientifically sound.


JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
It is my understanding that abductive reasoning is still open for debate in philosophy of science. But evolutionary theory assumes an equality of abduction to deduction.

In "Epistemic Status" it was claimed that propositions could be assumed as "accepted", as if they had been deduced, simply from a high level of epistemic credibility. They said nothing about justification for abductive reasoning; its just accepted as valid.

That's a huge leap of faith, and leaves a very large gap in reasoning in that work.

If I go by Chew's critique of the book, "Theistic Evolution...Critique", neither he nor the authors say anything about this reasoning methodology either. I suppose that they think everyone just assumes its a proven and correct method of ascertaining true propositions about things which are actually beyond the reach of observation and testing. That would be the case only if you completely leave out those who do not give abductive reasoning that same power to draw true conclusions.

In the debates about Anselm's Ontological argument, abductive reasoning is the point on which his argumentation is rejected, that it is "begging the question", and is therefore invalid.

Change to point at issue to evolution, and it is opposite: it is quite acceptable, even unquestionably acceptable, to "accept" it as true. Obviously so, since even in critiques of evolutionary theory one does not find a question about it.

I think this is a huge failing on the part of Chew, not mentioning the philosophical and theological question of abduction. In theology Sola Scriptura is supposed to entirely rule it out; yet not a word about that.

Do you know of any other critique of this book, especially one that includes the question of abductive reasoning?


john byl said...

Hi John

Thanks for your comments. I agree that the basic question is one of epistemology: how can one prove propositions about the unobserved past. As to abductive reasoning, I am sure that it is recognized by all sides that abductive reasoning is not at the same level as deductive reasoning, and that various assumptions have to be made to draw conclusions about the distant past. In fact, the book argues extensively against the assumption of methodological naturalism. And Chew stresses further the distinction between empirical science and historical science. So I wouldn’t fault him on this matter.

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
Yes, Daniel Chew does lay an emphasis on the distinction between science as applied to history and the science used in the lab. Though it is the same science, the application of it to these different kinds of fields of study makes a huge difference in the proper scientific outcome.

And, yes, there is a relationship here to what I was pointing out.

It is still the case, however, that the notion of a dearth of philosophical underpinning in evolutionary theory, or as noted, even opposition to incursion by philosophical considerations, shows up along side the opposite notion of a scientific consensus, as if they are mutually supportive instead of mutually exclusive.

If it is the case that evolutionists commonly embrace a distaste for philosophy as "it is not science", as Moreland complains, then a claim to consensus among scientists is a void claim. And if there is an appeal to consensus, then it is an admission of a void science. You cannot have both in their appeal to "the most likely explanation". Evolutionary theory begins with the arbitrary idea of "nature only", or the equally arbitrary, "leave God out": both are outside of science's purview. Negate a philosophical grounding, and you have nothing to stand on; but an appeal to a consensus assumes a ground to stand on. The one denies it, the other assumes it.

I suppose I should call it "double abduction". It is not just an appeal to "the most likely explanation", but it is also a "most likely explanation" that the "most likely explanation" is the right explanation.