Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
'Theistic Evolution'-A Confusion of Terms?
Norman Hughes, Ph.D.
Division of Natural Science
Pepperdine University Malibu, CA 90265
From: JASA 38 (December 1986): 282.
Because of some rather unhappy experiences in the past, the title of Fred Van Dyke's article, "Theological Problems of Theistic Evolution," in the March 1986 issue of JASA, was of interest to me. As a believer who makes use of evolutionary explanations for biological phenomena, I have been asked (accused?) on more than one occasion whether or not I was a theistic evolutionist. I dislike that label very much and rind theistic evolution to have a number of serious flaws. My objections are, however, somewhat different from those presented by Dr. Van Dyke.
The problem may be partially semantic, but the term "theistic evolution" connotes much more than the mere combination of one's theology (a belief in God) and one's science (acceptance of evolution as a valid theory). Van Dyke dwells on the implications which he believes such a combination has for one's view of God and scripture. I have some additional concerns about theistic evolution which I would like to share with the readers of JASA.
First of all, there is the view expressed in LeComte du Nouy's
Human Destiny. In
this book, du Nouy makes an
elaborate argument which may be summarized very briefly as
1. Evolution by chance alone is so improbable as to be impossible.
2. Evolution has, in fact, occurred.
3. Since evolution has occurred, in spite of its improbability, some
supernatural power has been responsible for it.
Du Nouy argues, therefore, that evolution, rather than being at variance with belief in God, actually becomes evidence in support of belief in God. Since I associate this rather disingenuous logic with theistic evolution, I dislike being labelled as a theistic evolutionist.
There is a second line of thought I associate with theistic evolution which makes it unpalatable. The Roman Catholic theologian/ paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin championed the idea that evolution was God's method for achieving a specific purpose-the formation of mankind. As a theological statement, I have no quarrel with de Chardin's thesis. Scripture is clear in its view that humans are the crowning achievement of God's creative work. What bothers me about de Chardin's view of man's place in nature is that it is presented as a scientific conclusion. There is no basis whatever, in terms of objective scientific arguments, for concluding that Homo sapiens is the goal toward which evolution has been striving. A somewhat absurd view, but possibly having equal scientific validity, would be the allegation that man evolved in order to provide a host for tapeworms!
As an advocate of complementarity, a point of view frequently expressed in the pages of JASA, I find the attempt to fuse a theological conviction with a scientific theory creates more problems than it solves. I am a theist, but if evolution is valid as an objective, scientific conclusion, then mv understanding of its features (gene equilibria in populations, fossils. natural selection, comparative anatomy and biocbemistn, etc.) should be no different from that of some other biologist who is not a theist.
I am a theist-I believe in God and in Jesus Christ as His revelation to humankind. I am an evolutionist-I find many biological phenomena which are not explainable except by the theory of evolution. But please, don't call me a "theistic evolutionist!"