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Theistic Evolution

 

TheNew Theistic Evolutionists: BioLogos and the Rush to Embrace the “Consensus”



SYNOPSIS

BioLogos is anonprofit foundation formed by Francis Collins in 2007 to promote the view thatan evolutionary scientific position is fully correct and compatible withChristianity. The Templeton Foundation has awarded BioLogos more than $8.7million—enough to bring campus ministry leaders to all-expenses-paidconferences in Manhattan, expanding BioLogos’s influence.

A key differencebetween BioLogos and intelligent design is BioLogos’s view that design cannot,in principle, be scientifically detected in nature, or that design could bescientifically detected, but isn’t. BioLogos believes the evolutionary “consensus”should not be questioned, and maintains nonexperts should defer to theconsensus. They fear that when Christians challenge the consensus, thisproduces “anti-science attitudes” that “hinder evangelism.” BioLogos defendsthe consensus, despite recent scientific discoveries affecting theoriesregarding the origin of life, neo-Darwinian evolution, common ancestry, andjunk DNA, which contradict the consensus. Fearing the “god of the gaps”fallacy, BioLogos eschews arguments for faith that defy the consensus andargues the consensus is consistent with Christianity. This might prevent someChristians from becoming atheists, but it gives atheists essentially nointellectual reasons to become Christians.

Collins hoped todevelop a new theology of creation, and BioLogos challenges the traditionaltheological consensus on core doctrines such as the historicity and importanceof Adam and Eve. Even Collins concedes to atheists the crucial neo-Darwinianclaim that life’s history appears “unguided” (even if itreally wasn’t). If BioLogos promotes viewpoints that are scientifically flawed,theologically hostile, and apologetically weak, why are many Christians rushingto embrace them? I believe the answer, in part, is cultural pressure.


The BioLogosFoundation is a nonprofit organization founded by Francis Collins and others in2007 for the purpose of promoting theistic evolution. Originally the groupformed to capitalize on the positive reception enjoyed by Collins’s 2006 book, TheLanguage of God, wherein he described his conversion from atheism toChristianity, his experiences heading the Human Genome Project, and his reasonsfor believing “evolution and natural selection permitted the development ofbiological diversity and complexity” where “no special supernaturalintervention was required.”1 Accordingly, BioLogos promotes the viewthat an evolutionary scientific viewpoint is fully correct and fully compatiblewith Christianity.

BioLogos unofficiallycommenced in 2007 after Collins submitted grant proposals to the John TempletonFoundation to create a website answering questions about The Languageof God,2but the group did not go public until thewebsite’s launch in 2009.3 Since then, BioLogos’s mission hasexpanded greatly, and it has been awarded grants totaling more than $8.7million from Templeton4 to advocate theistic evolution to thechurch and the larger culture. With enough funding to bring nationwide campusministry leaders to attend all- expenses-paid conferences at the Harvard Clubin Manhattan, BioLogos has become an influential voice in the debate overevolution, and it is vital to examine the group’s history, beliefs, goals, andmethodology.

LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONS

BioLogos has seenmultiple leadership changes during its relatively brief history. Collinsinitially served as the public leader of BioLogos, but Karl Giberson, then aphysicist at Eastern Nazarene College, and Darrel Falk, a biologist at PointLoma Nazarene University, served as co-presidents in 2008. According to thejournal Science, in 2008 Collins stepped down from his positionleading the National Human Genome Research Institute, ostensibly “to write abook about personalized medicine but soon thereafter penned an op-ed pieceendorsing Obama.”5 He then joined Obama’s transition teamand worked “to help religious groups come

to terms with Obama’sorder easing limits on the use of federal funds to study human embryonic stemcells.”6 (This advocacy is consistent withCollins’s refusal to say that human life begins at conception.7) For these efforts, President Obama rewarded Collins with anappointment to direct the National Institutes of Health in July 2009. Collinsthen officially resigned from BioLogos.

In 2009, Gibersonmoved to the role of executive vice president, and Falk took over as solepresident. Giberson eventually resigned in 2011, “to create more time forwriting.”8 In July of 2012, BioLogos announced thatFalk would step down at the end of the year. In early 2013, Calvin Collegephysics professor Deborah Haarsma succeeded Falk as president.9

WHAT DOES BIOLOGOS BELIEVE?10

In TheLanguage of God, Collins stated one “reason that theistic evolution is solittle appreciated is that it has a terrible name.”11 He embarked to find an acceptable term and proposed “torename theistic evolution as Bios through Logos, or simply BioLogos,” combiningthe Greek words for “life” (“bios”) and “word” (“logos”).12 According to Collins, “‘BioLogos’ expresses the beliefthat God is the source of all life and that all life expresses the will ofGod.”13 His vision was to promote “harmony”between “warring factions” in the debate over origins.14 Likewise, BioLogos calls itself “an all-out effort to showthat science and the Christian faith are harmonious.”15 Despite Collins’s efforts to find terminology thatdistinguished his viewpoint, few Christians would object to those statements.Thus, it’s useful to compare the beliefs of BioLogos theistic evolutionists(BTEs) and intelligent design proponents who are Christian (CIDs).16

Christianity and Science are Compatible

Both BTEs and CIDsagree there is no need for a war between “science” and “religion,” and thatChristianity has contributed positively to the development of modern science.Both would also agree that science (rightly understood) contributes positivelyto society, that scientific research is an important and dignified calling, andthat Christians should consider new scientific discoveries, no matter who makesthem.

When it comes to thebiblical texts (e.g., Genesis 1–3), both camps agree they reveal God as thecreator of all things, and should not be treated simplistically, but should beread in light of their intentions, genre, and original meaning. BioLogosofficially claims it is “committed to the authority of the Bible as theinspired word of God, and believes it is compatible with new scientificdiscoveries”;17 most CIDs would say the same. Though IDdoesn’t weigh in on questions of age, most leading CIDs accept the standardestimates of the age of the earth and the cosmos; BTEs would say the same.

Agreement on Evidence for Purpose

Many (though not all)BTEs also agree with CIDs that there is at least some positive evidence forpurpose in nature. Specifically, many BTEs agree with CIDs that cosmicfine-tuning, the Big Bang’s evidence for a cosmic beginning, and the fact thatnature is “amazingly rationally transparent,”18 suggest underlying purpose. Many BTEs would thereforeagree with CIDs that scientific discoveries sometimes have theologicalimplications.

Avoiding New Atheists

Finally, BTEs and CIDsagree that scientism is flawed,19 and that the newatheists must be answered.20 However, BioLogos exhibits much moreinterest in attacking Darwin-skeptics within the church than engaging newatheists. I surveyed BioLogos blog articles from 2013, and found that less than2 percent were devoted to critiquing the new atheists, whereas more than 34percent primarily promoted scientific evidence in favor of evolution, and 40percent promoted pro-evolution theological or historical views. Atheism wasrarely critiqued, and when it was, there was typically a mere passing assertionthat belief in evolution need not mandate atheism, which was often coupled withcritiques of those who challenge Darwinism.

One reason BTEs rarelycritique atheism may be because they feel the materialistic creation story ofthe new atheists ought not to be questioned. Indeed, theistic evolutionistsmake essentially the same scientific arguments as atheisticevolutionists—BTEs simply baptize materialistic theories of origins by adding,“By the way, God did it this way”—although they’d admit you can’t empiricallydetect God’s actions in any of it.

DISAGREEMENTS OVER INTELLIGENT DESIGN

A primary disagreementbetween BTEs and CIDs is the BTE conviction that design cannot in principle bescientifically detected, or that design could be scientifically detected, butisn’t. BioLogos frames these differences as follows:

  1. We are skeptical about the ability of biological science to prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer (whom we take to be the God of the Bible), while ID advocates are confident.
  2. We find unconvincing those attempts by ID theorists to scientifically confirm God’s activity in natural history, while ID theorists believe they have sufficiently demonstrated it.
  3. We see no biblical reason to view natural processes (including natural selection) as having removed God from the process of creation. It is all God’s and it is all intelligently designed. Those in the ID movement for the most part reject some or all of the major conclusions of evolutionary theory.21

Of course, whenBioLogos claims “it is all intelligently designed,” they mean that strictly asa faith-based theological doctrine for which they can provide no supportingscientific evidence. Indeed, it’s ironic that BioLogos accuses ID of “removingGod from the process of creation” when Collins writes that “science’s domain isto explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possibleto explore with the tools and language of science.”22Under Collins’s view, God’s “domain” is seemingly fenced offfrom “nature,” which belongs to “science.”

Since CIDs treatdesign as a scientific hypothesis, not a theological doctrine, they would replythat a failure scientifically to detect design doesn’t meanGod was somehow theologically absent, and would say that natural explanations don’t “remov[e]God.” BTEs thus fail to recognize that CIDs have no objection to God usingnatural, secondary causes. They also fail to appreciate that in some cases,CIDs argue that natural explanations can even provide evidence for design(e.g., cosmic fine-tuning). But CIDs disagree with BTEs that God must alwaysuse natural causes, and argue we should allow the possibility that God mightact in a scientifically detectable manner. Thus, one important dividing lineis:

  • BTEs accept materialistic evolutionary explanations (such as neo-Darwinism) where the history of life appears unguided, and deny we scientifically detect design.
  • CIDs hold we may scientifically detect design as the best scientific explanation for many aspects of biology.

For BioLogos, Not Enough Proof

Even within physicsand cosmology, BioLogos is timid in arguing that we can scientifically detectdesign, calling cosmic fine-tuning mere “pointers to God” that “go beyondscience into metaphysics,”23 and cannot be measured by “scientificexplanations.”24 BioLogos calls the “unreasonableeffectiveness of mathematics” in studying nature no more than “a hint of thepresence of the Creator” since “a logical demonstration” of God’s existence “isnot available.”25 CIDs make a stronger case, saying thebest scientific explanation for the fine-tuning and rationalcomprehensibility of the universe is intelligent design.

Methodologicalnaturalism (MN)—the view that we must pretend the supernatural doesn’t existwhen practicing science—is another disagreement. BTEs generally believe that MNis vital for science, especially within origins research. As BioLogos states,“the demonstration of such supernatural activity in the history of the naturalworld is, we think, unlikely to be scientifically testable.”26 In contrast,CIDs believe we should not assume scientific or theological answers to how Godworked, but should follow the evidence wherever it leads, unhindered bypresuppositions.

By: Casey Luskin

http://www.equip.org/article/new-theistic-evolutionists-biologos-rush-embrace-consensus/