An overview-FAQ for the
"big picture" of

Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

This is a medium-sized FAQ:
It explains ideas more thoroughly than my Introductory FAQ but its 8 sections
are shorter versions (condensed to half their original length) of 8 longer FAQs:
2 for perspective, 2 about age, 3 about evolution-and-design, 1 for education.

      1. Views of Creation and "When we disagree..."
      2. Using Information from Nature and Scripture
      3. What does Bible-information say about age?
      4. What does nature-information say about age?
      5. What can a Christian believe about evolution?
      6. What is intelligent design?  Who proposes it?
      7. How should we evaluate evolution and design?
      8. Wise Education about Creation and Evolution

• At the end of each section you'll find links for the corresponding longer full-FAQ page (containing some ideas omitted in this page) and LINK-PAGES (where you can see what other authors say about the topics, and explore in more depth).
• In this page, italicized links move you to another part of the page;  non-italicized links open another page;  both keep everything inside this window, so your BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

disclaimer:  This FAQ is written by Craig Rusbult, who is editor for this part of ASA's website, but it expresses his own views, not the views of ASA.  Hopefully, in the near future there will also be links to FAQ-summaries written by other members of ASA, as explained in the FAQ Homepage.
 


 

 

1. Views of Creation and When we disagree,...

1A — Christian Views of Creation: Who, When, How
1B — Relationships between Worldviews and Science
1C — Understanding & Respect, Distortion & Conflict
        ( Why are so many so confident? )
1D — ASA's Views of Creation, Evolution, and Design
 

      1A. Christian views of creation — who, when, and how?
      Most members of ASA think that three creation views, plus variations, are compatible with Bible-based Christianity:
      In young-earth creation, everything was miraculously created in 144 hours, less than 10,000 years ago.  Later, most of the earth's geology and fossils were formed in a global flood.
      In old-earth progressive creation, during a long history of nature (billions of years) God created using natural process plus miracles, with independent creations of new species and/or creations by modification of existing genetic material.
      In old-earth evolutionary creation (theistic evolution), God designed the universe so everything in nature would evolve by natural process that could be guided by God.
      What about the origin of life?  With young-earth creation every species (from bacteria to dogs and humans) was instantly created.  Most progressive creationists think God miraculously created the first one-celled living organism, but most evolutionary creationists (or perhaps all, if when defining each type of creationist we "draw the line" as in the paragraph above) think the first life was formed by natural process.
      The when-and-how of these views are young-earth with miracles, old-earth with miracles, and old-earth without miracles, so there are differences when we examine the many meanings of evolution.  Theologically, all three are equally creationist, even though — due to the unfortunate abuse of a word — many people think "creationism" refers to only young-earth views.

      In addition, these monotheistic views are challenged by those (including atheists, deists, polytheists, and pantheists) who propose other views, and by agnostics who say "I don't know" or "we cannot know."

 
      1B. What are the relationships between science and worldviews?
      As individuals and in groups, we have a worldview — our view of the world, used for living in the world — that includes our views of nature and science.  We want all of our ideas to be consistent, and this leads to mutual influences between worldviews and science, and adjustments of ideas:
      • Science is influenced by worldviews and related factors (personal desires, group pressures, cultural thinking habits, ideologies,...) that operate in a complex social context in individuals and in groups.   { I think we should recognize these influences, and try to minimize their effects on the process and conclusions of science;  we should challenge the extreme skepticism of postmodern relativists when they claim that these influences diminish the overall credibility of science and the reliability of scientific conclusions, as in young-earth criticisms of historical science;  but we should carefully consider the potential influence of naturalistic assumptions. }
      • When we think about "the way the world is, and why" — as when we ask, "is God actively involved in the world by guiding natural process and in other ways?" — our views are influenced by science, which is a cultural authority because it has been very useful for understanding nature and developing technology.

      When we study origins, for example,
      An atheist or deist or rigid agnostic has no scientific freedom, since only one conclusion — a natural Total Evolution of Everything, without God — is acceptable.
      A Judeo-Christian theist has options that allow "following the evidence" to any conclusion about the when-and-how of creation.  But theology, interacting with other factors, leads some theists to demand a particular conclusion about age or evolution.

 
      1C. Understanding and Respect?  or Distortion and Conflict?
      Why are so many so confident?  Because eventually — due to adjustments among our ideas, along with some rationalizing — most of us become satisfied with the quality and consistency of our own ideas.  Thus, vigorous advocates for every view of origins confidently believe they have The Answer, and (as Del Ratzsch says) "each side can see the case as so utterly closed that the very existence of opponents generates near bafflement."  This widespread confidence — by advocates for all views — often indicates some "quantitative error" in situations where an appropriate humility would be more humility.
      In high school, our civics teacher often held debates in class about a wide range of controversial questions.  Monday he convinced us that "his side" was correct, but Tuesday he made the other side look just as good.  We soon learned that, to get accurate understanding, we should get the best information and arguments for all sides of an issue.  After we did this and we understood more accurately, we recognized that people with other views may also have good reasons (intellectual and/or ethical) for their views, so we learned respectful attitudes.
      But respect does not require agreement.  We can respect someone and their views, yet criticize their views.  Our teacher was not a postmodern relativist, and his goal was teaching us to rationally evaluate ideas.

      In this educational website — which has been developed with the goal of promoting Accurate Understanding and Respectful Attitudes — you'll find coherent overviews (for a wide range of views) and links (so you can explore in more depth).  Our goal is to help you rationally search for truth.  We want to help you avoid unintentional distortions, because you'll accurately understand your opponents' views.  And a respectful attitude — for other people and for our own intellectual honesty — should provide sufficient motivation so each of us will want to avoid building weak "strawmen" that are intentional distortions of opposing views.
      But even with understanding and respect, the mere fact of disagreement can lead to conflict.  This sometimes occurs, for example, in relationships between proponents of Evolutionary Creation and conventional Intelligent Design.  The intensity of conflict (and associated emotion) is often increased by the importance of the issues being debated, as in applications for education, both religious and secular, formal and informal.
      In situations where, despite our disagreements, interaction seems worthwhile, we can disagree with respect, in a way that is more enjoyable and is more likely to be productive.  And sometimes a better outcome can be achieved through a willingness to look for common ground, and cooperate in a search for mutually beneficial win-win solutions.

 
      1D. What are ASA's views about creation, evolution, and design?
      Are we creationists?  yes and no, since it depends on how creationism is defined.
      YES.  All members of the American Scientific Affiliation are Christians, so we all believe that God created everything, using natural process (which He designed, created, and sustains, and can guide) and/or miracles.  How did God create?  We agree about the essential doctrines of creation, but we "hold a diversity of views [about the details of creation] with varying degrees of intensity. (Jack Haas, former journal editor and a current website editor)"
      NO.  Most of us are not "creationists" if this means believing the earth is young, because — based on our studies of theology and science — most members of ASA think the earth and universe are billions of years old.  

      "As an organization, the ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue.  We are committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation.  Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth." (preface to ASA's Statement of Faith)
      ASA does not advocate a conclusion about the "when and how" of creation, but we endorse a process of respectful discussion, so we can learn from each other, so we can better understand the similarities and differences in our views of theology and science.  Since 1949, ASA — in its journal, websites, and in other ways — has provided an open forum for a variety of views about origins.  As explained in a disclaimer for this website, "you'll find links to resource-pages expressing a wide range of views, which don't necessarily represent the views of the American Scientific Affiliation."
      Our journal and websites are educational resources, not declarations of policy.  We in ASA won't tell you what to conclude, but we will provide information so you can make an informed evaluation and reach your own conclusions.
 



 

2. Using Information from Nature and Scripture

2A — Science and religion in conflict?  is it warfare?
2B — Is comparing the Bible with science impossible?
2C — How can we wisely use the two books of God?

 
      2A. Are science and religion in conflict?
      A common view of the relationship between science and Christian religion — inherent antagonism and warfare, in a conflict between the rationality of science (searching for truth) opposed by the ignorance of religion (trying to block progress) — is entertaining and dramatic, with heroes and villains clearly defined.  It is useful for anti-Christian rhetoric, and has exerted a powerful influence on popular views about science and religion.  But it's oversimplistic and inaccurate, and is rejected by modern historians.  For example, David Lindberg & Ron Numbers see "a complex and diverse interaction that defies reduction to simple ‘conflict’ or ‘harmony’... and varied with time, place, and person."  {examples: Flat Earth & Galileo}
      Here are five reasons to see conflict:  wanting to believe in "science-versus-religion conflict" to support a personal rejection of Christian faith;  a failure to distinguish between scientism, which occurs when science is extended into areas where it isn't justified, and science;  a perception that "natural" means "without God" (but this is wrong in a Judeo-Christian worldview);  thinking that biblical miracles and the methods of science cannot coexist (but reliable science doesn't require always natural, just usually natural);  a belief that conclusions in science cannot be reconciled with statements in the Bible (but this is due to overly rigid interpretations of the Bible, as discussed in 2B).

 
      2B. Can we compare science with the Bible?
      We can compare our interpretations of nature (in science) and our interpretations of scripture (in theology), but we cannot compare the "uninterpreted realities" of nature (created by God) and scripture (inspired by God).  We can compare science with theology (while recognizing that both are based on human interpretations) but we cannot directly compare science with scripture.
      Our science and theology are based mainly (but not totally) on interpretations of nature and scripture, respectively;  this is shown in the diagram, which is borrowed (with minor modifications) from Deborah Haarsma.  The Two Books of God and Our InterpretationsIn science the main goal is to understand physical reality.  In theology the main goal is to understand spiritual reality.  But the main goals aren't the only goals, and our theories about spiritual and physical realities are mutually interactive;  theology affects science and our views of physical reality, while science affects theology and our views of spiritual reality.   { Some influences — in scientism and natural theology, in scientific and theological views of nature, natural process, and miracles — are examined in the full-length FAQ. }

      In 1500, science and theology were in harmony, but were wrong, when both agreed that planets orbited a stationary earth.  For awhile, as in the time of Galileo, some interpretations of nature were in conflict with some interpretations of scripture.  In 1700, science and theology were again in harmony, but now both interpretations were true because they corresponded to the realities in nature and scripture.
      Can we learn a lesson from history?  In the 1600s, erroneous interpretations of the Bible were used to support earth-centered science that was wrong.  Currently, are erroneous interpretations of the Bible being used to support young-earth science that is wrong?
      In 1700 we did not compare the Bible (which says "the sun rises") with science (which claims "the earth rotates") and decide science was more important, because the Bible and science cannot be compared.  Instead, we compared different interpretations (of the Bible, and of nature) and wisely used all available information in our search for truth.
      When we ask, "Is this Bible passage intended to teach us specific facts about nature?", information from nature can be useful.  This principle of theological interpretation was recommended by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1982) when they affirmed that "in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations."  A prominent young-earth creationist, Ken Ham, adopts this principle when he uses evidence from nature (logically interpreted in science) as a motivation to reconsider his interpretation of scripture, so he can rationally conclude (in agreement with modern science) that the earth rotates and orbits.

 
      2C. How can we wisely combine information from nature and scripture?
      God has graciously provided us with two valuable sources of information.  Of course, for the most important things in life — for learning about God and how He wants us to live and love — the Bible is more important.  But for other questions we don't have to make an either-or choice, and by using both sources of information our understanding of total reality (physical plus spiritual) can be more complete and accurate.
      A good way to think is in Psalm 19, where an appreciation of God's dual revelations in nature ("the heavens declare the glory of God") and scripture ("the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul,... giving joy to the heart") inspires a personal dedication: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."

      The full-length page summarizes useful principles for comparing different views in science (by carefully evaluating the evidence and logic) and theology (in studies of language, context, and consistency) and explains why "credentials and character" are not useful for distinguishing between two views when "proponents of both views include intelligent scholars with scientific expertise who are devout Christians with high moral character, who sincerely want to find the truth."

The next two sets of FAQ-sections, 3A-3D and 4A-4C, look at what we can learn from theology and science when we ask "How old is the earth?"
 



  

3. What does Bible-information say about age?

3A — Is an old-earth view of Genesis 1 satisfactory?
3B — Does the gospel require "no death before sin"?
3C — Is young-earth belief necessary for a Christian?
3D — Is it wise to link the gospel with a young earth?
 

      3A. Is an old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1 satisfactory?
      In a young-earth 144-hour interpretation, each "yom" is a 24-hour day.  In a day-age view, "yom" has one of its other meanings: a period of time with unspecified length.  Or maybe creation occurred in six nonconsecutive days with long periods between the days;  or in six days of proclamation God described what would occur during creation.  A gap view proposes an initial creation (in Genesis 1:1), catastrophe (in 1:2), and re-creation on the earth (beginning in 1:3).
      In a framework view, the six days describe actual historical events, arranged topically instead of chronologically.  The framework is based on two problems in Genesis 1:2, with the earth being "formless and empty."  The two solutions are to produce form (by separations in Days 1-3) and fill these forms (in Days 4-6) to connect related aspects of creation history in Days 1-and-4, 2-and-5, 3-and-6.   { If you carefully study the text, you'll see the pattern;  then look at the visual summary in the full FAQ for 3A. }
      Or maybe the only purpose of Genesis 1 was teaching theology to its original readers, using their theories about physical reality (their ancient near-east cosmology) to more effectively challenge their theories about spiritual reality (their polytheistic "nature religions").

      All interpretations should emphasize the essential creation-theology in Genesis 1:  everything was created by God, and is subordinate to God;  nature is not divine, and there are no polytheistic "nature gods" so we should worship only the one true God.  Humans are special because God created us in His image, and our problem is not being physical (since God said his physical creation was "very good" for achieving His purposes), our problem is sin.

 
The two main arguments for young-earth theology are the claims (above) that Genesis 1 teaches a 144-hour creation, and (below) that "animal death before human sin" is theologically unacceptable.

 
      3B. Does the gospel (and salvation) require "no death before sin"?
      John Morris says, "In this view, death is not the penalty for sin, for it preceded man and his sin. ... If the earth is old, if fossils date from before man's sin, then Christianity is wrong!  These ideas destroy the foundation for the Gospel and negate the work of Christ on the cross. (source)"  Ken Ham agrees: "As soon as Christians allow for death, suffering, and disease before sin,... the whole message of the Gospel falls apart. ... If there were death, disease, and suffering before Adam rebelled — then what did sin do to the world?  (source)" 
      These claims appeal to our emotions — because we want a world where only good things happen, with no suffering or death — and offer a simple answer for a difficult theological question:  if God is all-good and all-powerful, why does God let bad things happen?   When you first see it, a young-earth theology of "no animal death before human sin" may seem strong, but this claim becomes much weaker when it's examined more carefully.  Morris and Ham ask a question — if the earth is old and "death is not the penalty for sin, for it preceded man and his sin... then what did sin do to the world?" — that is clearly answered in Genesis 3:22 when God establishes a death penalty for humans;  because Adam has sinned, "he must not be allowed... to live forever" so God prevents this by temporarily removing "the tree of life" that would have sustained him (and Eve, and us) with eternal life.

      A Brief History of Sin and Salvation
      The Bible says very little about animal death.  Instead, the focus is on our problem (human sin leading to human death) and God's solution — for converting sin and death into salvation and life — that works whether the earth is young or old.
      God offered the gift of full life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) to Adam but — following the lead of Eve, who was tempted by a creature that already had rebelled against God — he rejected it by his sinful disobedience when he chose to make moral decisions independent from God, instead of trusting and obeying God.  This fall into sin broke Adam's part of a conditional if-then covenant with God, and in Genesis 3:7-24 we see spiritual death (the intrinsic penalty in 3:7-13) plus physical death (a judicial penalty in 3:22,24).  The three results of sin were a decrease in relationship with God, decrease in quality of life, and loss of everlasting life: "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  When the full supernatural protection provided by God (symbolized by the "tree of life") was removed by God, Adam and Eve began to perish, with natural processes temporarily allowing life while gradually (during the "yom" of Genesis 2:17 that, as in Genesis 1, can indicate an indefinite period of time instead of a 24-hour day) leading to their death.
      We had sinned and thus earned death.  We needed a savior, and God is merciful, so the gift of life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) was won back for us by our savior.  Jesus Christ accepted the penalty of death that each of us earns (by our sinful disobedience) and He (by living in sinless obedience to the Father) earned the right to make His own Eternal Life available, as a gift of grace, to all humans who will accept: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)"  The gift of full life — both spiritual and physical — that in Genesis was temporarily taken from us (because of sin) will be permanently given back to us (because of Jesus) in Revelation. (Rev 2:7 & 22:1-2,14)  In heaven there will be no sin and no death, and God's goals for us will be permanently actualized.   Amen.

 
      3C. Is young-earth belief necessary for a Christian?
      Some Christians claim that belief in young-earth creation is necessary for correct Christian doctrine, although it isn't necessary for salvation.
      How can we decide if a doctrine is essential?  We can look at its certainty and importance by asking, "Is it taught with certainty in the Bible, and is it theologically important?"

      For example, consider the claim that after Jesus died he was brought back to life.
      Yes, this is taught with certainty, beyond any reasonable doubt, as in the first Christian sermon by Peter in Acts 2:14-36.
      Yes, this is important for Christian theology.  Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:14, that "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
      This claim is certain and important, so it is an essential doctrine, a core-belief of Christianity.

      Is a young earth essential?
      Is it certain?  After carefully studying Genesis 1 and the whole Bible, most evangelical Christian scholars have decided that an old-earth view is justifiable, maybe preferable, or that neither view is clearly taught, so believing the Bible is true does not require believing a young earth, and humility is appropriate.  For example, in 1982 the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy decided (by agreement of all members except Henry Morris) to not include 144-hour creation as an essential part of a belief in inerrancy.
      Is it important?  Section 3B examines a central young-earth claim — that if the earth is old, with animal death before human sin, this will "negate the work of Christ on the cross" — and explains God's plan for salvation that works whether the earth is young or old.  Other essential Christian doctrines are also age-independent, so the full gospel of Jesus — including His deity, virgin birth, teaching and miracles, sinless obedience to the Father in life, substitutionary atonement in death, victorious resurrection, ascension into heaven, and second coming — is fully compatible with a young earth or old earth.

      Let's look at three young-earth claims by Ken Ham:
      • He thinks it is wrong to "start outside the Bible to (re)interpret the Words of Scripture."  But he does "start outside the Bible" when he rejects a claim that the Bible teaches a stationary earth.  He accepts evidence from nature (logically interpreted in science) and uses it as a motivation to reconsider scripture, and when he looks carefully he finds valid reasons to accept a moving-earth interpretation of scripture.  In a similar way, many Christians find valid reasons to accept an old-earth interpretation of scripture.
      • He criticizes "man's fallible dating methods" and asks, "Can fallible, sinful man be in authority over the Word of God?"  Is Ham claiming that an old-earth interpretation of nature is hindered by sin, but his own young-earth interpretation of scripture is not hindered by sin, so his interpretation of the Bible (not just the Bible itself) is infallible?  And his claim about "authority" ignores the fact that we cannot compare the Bible with science, we can only compare interpretations of the Bible (in theology) with interpretations of nature (in science) while trying to search for truth. 
      • He thinks rejecting a young-earth will lead to rejecting essential doctrines, "even to Christ's Resurrection," in a "slippery slope to unbelief."   But do all claims that “the Bible teaches this” have equal support?  No.  We can rationally decide that a 144-hour creation is not true, but The Resurrection is true and is an essential doctrine because (compared with a young earth) it is much more certainly taught and is much more important.
      These claims are also made by geocentrists in the Association for Biblical Astronomy who think the earth is stationary and the sun (along with everything else in the universe) revolves around the earth.  Why do they believe this is true?  Because they "assume that whenever the two [Bible and conventional astronomy] are at variance, it is always astronomy — that is, our "reading" of the ‘Book of Nature,’ not our reading of the Holy Bible — that is wrong."  Does this sound familiar?
      So why does Ham think that he, as a fallible sinful man, can avoid a "slippery slope" by rationally deciding to interpret the Bible in a non-literal way for a stationary earth but not a young earth?   Why does Ken Ham reject geocentrism and instead he proposes that the earth moves and rotates?
      Actually, I'm confident that Ken can avoid a slippery slope slide, and so can other intelligent people.   Consider a physiological analogy:  there is no distinct dividing line between “cold” and “hot” because temperature varies continuously, so this is a "slippery slope" situation;  but we can make a rational decision that a bathtub full of ice water is too cold for a bath, and boiling water is too hot.   Similarly, instead of "slippery slope" logic, we can rationally decide that The Resurrection is essential (because it is very certainly taught, and is very important) but a young earth is not essential.

 
      3D. Is it wise to link The Gospel with a young earth?
      Most evangelical scholars think a young earth is not an essential doctrine.  And most scientists, including Christians, think a young earth is almost certainly false, based on their logical evaluations of evidence from nature.
      Despite these reasons for caution, John Morris boldly declares that "if the earth is old... then Christianity is wrong!" and Ken Ham agrees that "the whole message of the Gospel falls apart."  Is this wise?  What are some results of young-earth claims?
      A claim that "if the Bible is true, the earth is young" is logically equivalent to saying "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true."  What happens when a person who thinks "the Bible requires a young earth" examines the scientific evidence and concludes "the universe and earth are old"?  Another conclusion may be that "if the Bible is wrong about the earth's age, maybe it's also wrong about the rest," so the Bible's authority is weakened, and faith is weakened or abandoned.  This is a real dilemma for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so we should help them and pray that they emerge from the experience with renewed faith in the Bible and faith in God.  {my Open Letter for young-earth Christians}   A closely related problem is that non-Christians who are earnest seekers of spiritual truth — and who think a young earth and Jesus are a "package deal" that includes both or neither — may reject the whole package because, based on their knowledge of science, they think the earth is not young.
      Therefore, it seems wise for Christians to not encourage (and not accept) any implication — whether it comes from fellow Christians who want to strengthen the Gospel, or non-Christians who want to discredit the Gospel — that "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true."

      Appropriate Humility
      Proponents of a young earth should be admired for their desire to determine what The Word of God teaches, and believe it.  But I wish they would humbly consider the possibility that their interpretation of the Bible is wrong, and would adopt a more loving attitude toward their brothers and sisters in Christ who have other views of when-and-how God created so they don't include young-earth belief as part of their Christian faith.
      Instead, there is a "not in our church" attitude, as when John Morris says: "Old-earth thinking is incompatible with the work of Christ. ... [young-earth] creationism should be a requirement for Christian leadership!  No church should sanction a pastor, Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, or Bible-study leader who knowledgeably and purposefully errs on this crucial doctrine. (source)"
      I agree with Morris that, for essential doctrines, we should not be "tolerant" as defined in postmodern relativism.  We should say "this is what the Bible clearly teaches, and it is important."  But for nonessential doctrines, we should be more appropriately humble.  It seems wise, for personal faith and interpersonal evangelism, to focus on doctrines that are most clearly taught and most important, and when all things are considered (including information from nature) seem most likely to be true.
      Some words of wisdom, useful in all areas of life, come from St. Augustine:  "In essentials, unity.  In nonessentials, diversity.  And in all things, charity."  To follow this advice, we must wisely distinguish between what is essential and nonessential, and behave with charity, with respectful humility and a love that transcends our differences, so "everyone will recognize that you are my disciples, when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:35)"
 



 

4. What does information from nature say about age?

4A — Is there evidence for an old earth-and-universe?
4B — Can historical science be scientific and reliable?
4C — Did God create a young universe that looks old?
 

      4A. Do we have evidence for an old earth-and-universe?
      The explanations proposed in young-earth flood geology seem incorrect (because they don't match what we observe) for geology and for the spatial arrangement of fossils within this geology.  By contrast, old-earth theories of modern geology — which propose a combination of slow-acting uniformitarian processes and fast-acting catastrophic events (such as volcanoes and floods) — produce explanations that match observations.
      Evidence from a wide range of fields — including the study of sedimentary rocks, coral reefs, the fossil record in geological context, biogeographical patterns in fossils, seafloor spreading and continental drift, magnetic reversals, genetic molecular clocks, radioactive dating, the development of stars, starlight from faraway galaxies, and more — indicates that the earth and universe are billions of years old.  If the universe is young, all of these fields are wrong, and we must discard much of modern science.  This isn't likely to happen, nor does it seem desirable.
      The reasoning is not circular, because "a long time" is a necessary component of many theories that in most other ways (such as the domains they explain and the components they include) are independent.  This logical principle of multiple independent confirmations has convinced almost all scientists that the earth and universe are very old, and that evidence from nature provides strong logical support for this conclusion.

      Proponents of young-earth views can respond in four ways:  A) claim their own logical analysis of the evidence is better than the conventional analysis so the logic of science should lead to young-universe conclusions;  you can examine the evidence-and-logic in pages by me and other scientists (both old-earth and young-earth)B) acknowledge the weakness in current young-universe science, but hope it will improve in the future;  C) challenge the credibility of historical sciences;  D) claim the universe is young even though it looks old.   The last two responses, C and D, are examined in the next two sections.

 
      4B. Can historical science be "scientific" and reliable?
      We cannot observe events in ancient history.  But can we — by a logical analysis of historical evidence, in sciences like archaeology, geology, radiometric dating, and astronomy — reach reliable conclusions about what happened in the past?
      Proponents of a young earth are skeptical.  They ask "Were you there? Did you see it?", and imply that "no" means "then you can't know much about it."  They are trying to "discredit the old-earth witness" that (as summarized above in 4A) is testifying against their views.  Is the witness reliable?

      The logical methods are similar in two "modes of science," in operation science (to study the current operation of nature, what is happening now) and historical science (to study the history of nature, what happened in the past).  Usually, theories in historical science are based on, and are thus consistent with, theories in operations science.
      In either mode, scientists can logically infer an unobservable cause that produces observable effects.  For example, scientists propose electrons (in chemistry) and ideas (in psychology) because what we can observe is best explained by theories proposing the existence of electrons and ideas we cannot observe.  Similarly, we can infer the reality of historical events if these unobserved events produced evidence we can observe now.
      The main difference between modes is that historical sciences use data from uncontrolled field experiments, not controlled lab experiments.  Sometimes the limitations of historical data provide a reason for caution about conclusions.  But scientists have developed strategies to reduce the practical impact of data limitations.  For example, repeated observations of many Cepheid-stars from many parts of the universe have shown that all Cepheids have similar properties, which lets us measure the distance to faraway Cepheids, and calculate that it takes billions of years for their light to reach us.

      Extreme relativists — including postmodern skeptics who challenge all science, and creationists when they challenge historical science — claim that in science the evidence is inadequate, so conclusions are determined by nonscientific beliefs.  But most scholars, including myself and other members of ASA, think extreme relativists are exaggerating the logical difficulties, and historical sciences — which are based on a logical evaluation of empirical evidence — provide a reliable way to learn about the fascinating world created by God. 

 
      4C. Did God create a young universe that looks old?
      The evidence for an old universe is impressive, but can we believe what we see?
      It takes billions of years for light to travel from distant stars to the earth.  How can we see this light, if the universe is less than 10,000 years old?
      Most proponents of a young universe claim that God created the universe with appearance of age as a mature creation that would be immediately functional, with mature humans (not helpless infants), balanced ecosystems, our energy-giving sun, and starlight created "in transit to us" instead of coming from a shining star.  This beginning of history is analogous to a movie that begins in the middle of an action scene, without showing everything leading up to the action.  The universe appears to be older than it actually is, so it has a false apparent age (AA).
      Yes, if the earth is young, some AA would be essential for Adam and Eve in Eden.  But some AA doesn't seem necessary, so we can ask:  Would an honest God create a universe with detailed nonessential evidence for events that never occurred?  For example, in 1987 scientists observed starlight from 170,000 light-years away, with characteristics changing in a way that corresponds to the sequence of events during a supernova explosion.  Should scientists conclude that this supernova-event really did occur, or that it's part of an apparent history (created by God) about events that "would have happened in an old universe" but never really happened?
      Young-universe creationists can propose apparent histories that are minimal (with only essential-AA), or total (with all details about an old universe), or partial.  With minimal-AA, most evidence was produced by actual history, so most old-universe conclusions of science must be challenged.  By contrast, with total-AA and perfect "antiquing" it would be impossible to scientifically distinguish between a universe that actually is billions of years old and a universe created 6000 years ago (or 5 minutes ago) that just appears to be old.  But usually AA (proposing some false observed age) is combined with flood geology (proposing a true observed age for all features produced in a global flood);  a hybrid theory of "AA plus flood geology" can be tested, as discussed in 4A.
      In my opinion, theories proposing apparent age are worthy of careful, respectful consideration, but there are theological reasons to prefer a theory of actual age (proposing that the world actually is the age it appears to be) with God creating a universe that "began from the beginning" so what we see is the actual history of what really happened.   {a wide range of views, by me and others, are in APPEARANCE OF AGE: THEOLOGICAL QUESTIONS}
 



 

5. What can a Christian believe about evolution?

5A — Does "natural" mean "it happened without God"?
5B — A universe "just right for life" — was it designed?
5C — Can we prove the existence and activity of God?
5D — Is nature designed for 100% natural assembly?
5E — Is "theistic evolution" an impossible combination?
5F — Should we eliminate "God of the gaps" criticism?
                (and avoid two either-or choices)
5G — What is an appropriate humility about creation?
 

      5A. Does "natural" mean "it happened without God"?
      Do natural events occur without God?  It's easy for Christians to assume this because natural process (normal-appearing process) is what we expect, so we tend to think it's just "the way things happen" and they happen without God.  But this is a wrong way to think, because the Bible teaches us that God designed and created natural process, and continually sustains its operation;  and natural does not mean "without control" because God can guide natural process to produce a desired natural-appearing result instead of another natural-appearing result.*
      This theistic view of natural process helps us appreciate how God continually creates by using nature.*  More important, it's a better perspective for everyday life, in our view of the world that we use for living in the world Christians believe that God knows us, cares for us, and is lovingly involved in our lives, that He can change our situations, guide our thoughts and actions, and He responds to prayer.  Usually all of this happens in ways that appear natural, yet God is actively involved.  We should pray for these natural-appearing divine actions and praise God for them, as we "live by faith" when we trust God in daily living.

      * Theists believe that natural process involves a supernatural God.  Therefore, I will describe two types of events as "natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing" or simply "natural and miraculous" but I won't describe these events as "natural and supernatural" because this would imply that only miracles (not also natural events) involve the supernatural.  The word appearing is important because it humbly acknowledges that when we classify an event as being natural or miraculous, this inference is based on how the event appears to us, on what we observe-and-infer.  But our thinking about natural events and miracles is also influenced by our worldviews.   /   For more about divine actions, see Sections 5E (foundational vs active) and 6A (undetectable guiding vs detectable directing).
     * One useful part of Christian science education is to ask students, "Did God do this?"  Mark Witwer explains: "This question is rhetorical, reminding students to give God frequent credit for the science content being studied. ... The notion that a natural process happens ‘on its own’ — meaning it is not done by God — confuses God's use of secondary causes with His absence.  As students build a Christian view of science, they stop asking whether God did something in nature, and begin asking how God did it." (quoted from Teaching Students to Think Christianly)

 
      5B. Was our "just right" universe designed by God?
      An important part of divine design is creating a world that is "just right for life."  Consistent with the main theme of Sections 5A-5G, I think we should be appropriately humble whether we ask "did God create by using natural process and/or miracles?" in 5D, 5E, and 5F, or "did God create a universe or multiverse?" in 5B.
      Because 5B is different than the other parts of 5A-5G, and is longer, you may want to skip it now and read it later.  That is the first of your two options:
      • The end of 5B — concluding that "three explanations (designed universe, designed multiverse, non-designed multiverse) are plausible; each seems impossible to prove or disprove... so our views about a multiverse can be strongly influenced by our personal preference for a particular worldview... and its associated way of life" — makes a smooth transition into 5C, so you can continue onward to 5C (re: proof & faith) and then 5D-5E-5F (re: the usual questions about evolution).
      • Or if you're curious about 5B (which has unusual ideas that I think you'll find fascinating) and you want to read it now, just click this link.

 
      5C. Can we prove the existence and activity of God?
      Some debaters try to logically prove or disprove the existence of God.  But proof seems impossible, and this is frustrating for those who seek certainty.
      The Bible claims that God can do miracles.  So why doesn't God do persuasive miracles more often?  And why didn't the risen Jesus go to downtown Jerusalem and show everyone that He was alive?  And why doesn't God give everyone a compelling "Damascus Road experience" as with Paul in Acts 9?
      And if God wants us to recognize Him as Creator, why is there evidence — like a gradual increase of biocomplexity and biodiversity, the appearance of a full common descent, and long delays between biological innovations — that leads some rational people to propose "atheistic evolution" as an explanation?  And why, as discussed above, is the explanation for fine tuning also ambiguous?
      Perhaps the universe was cleverly designed so all creation would occur by natural process, as proposed in evolutionary creation.
      Or maybe "creation miracles" would be more widely accepted if scientists were free from the restriction of methodological naturalism.
      Or maybe there is intentional ambiguity — either because creation miracles were not needed, or did occur but were "veiled" so they're not easily detected by scientists — because, in this way and in other ways, God wants to preserve a state of uncertainty (about His existence and activities) with enough logical reasons to either believe or disbelieve, so each of us is free to make a personal heart-and-will decision without being overwhelmed by external evidence.

      Absolute truth does exist, even though we cannot know with absolute certainty what this truth is.  Each person can estimate the plausibility of various worldviews by using evidence that is historical (as in the Bible), personal (with God giving us individually customized experiences, and drawing us to himself through his Holy Spirit), interpersonal (by talking with others, or reading what they write, to share in their experiences and thinking), scriptural (by studying the Bible), and scientific (by studying nature).  But there is no logical proof for any worldview.
      We thus have freedom to choose what we want to believe, which is influenced by how we want to live, and the lack of certainty forces each of us — no matter what we believe in our unique personal worldview — to live by faith in what we believe.  Those placing their faith in Christ have an opportunity to develop the "living by faith" character that is highly valued by God, with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all thoughts and actions in daily living.

      Worldview Asymmetry:  At least one miracle in salvation history — in the resurrection of Jesus — is essential for Christian belief, but claiming "no miracles happened in formative history" is fine for a Christian.  By contrast, undeniable evidence for any divine miracle, during either formative history or salvation history, would be devastating for the worldview-faith of an atheist, deist, or rigid agnostic.

Questions about "evidence and uncertainty" are examined more thoroughly, along with ideas from C.S. Lewis and speculations about Life as Drama, in a page asking Why isn't God more obvious?

 
      5D. Did God design nature to be 100% naturally-assembling?
      Science tells us that many properties of nature are "just right" to let nature be at least partially natural-assembling.  But when we ask whether nature was totally natural-assembling, including a natural origin of life, the most logically justifiable answer from current science is that "we're not sure."  Thus, for an important question — During the formative history of nature, was the degree of natural assembly 100%, or was it 99.99...% with God “doing what was necessary” when natural process wasn't sufficient? — we don't have a certain answer.
      Is 100%-natural assembly possible?  Maybe not.  Maybe there is a tension between operation and assembly, so if God wants a universe with optimal operation it cannot also be totally assembling.  To illustrate, Walter Bradley asks if a car designed to change its own spark plugs would be a good design, or if this unnecessary feature would hinder the car in other ways that are more important.  Maybe it's possible for nature to have total natural assembly (which isn't required because God can “fill gaps in self-assembly” by doing miracles) and also optimal operation.  But maybe it isn't possible.  Since we don't know, this is a reason for humble caution.
      When we consider the current state of science and a possible tension between operation and assembly, it seems wise for evolutionary creationists to be humble.  They should not demand an unquestionable conclusion, by all Christians, that the history of nature was totally natural.  But this un-humble demand occurs when they scornfully say "that's just a God of the gaps claim" in response to any questioning of 100% natural assembly.
      If the universe was cleverly designed so it could totally assemble by natural process, this would be impressive.  But miracles are also impressive, and they eliminate the need for total natural assembly.  Either way, God can enjoy interacting with his creation — by only guiding natural process (if natural assembly is 100%) or (if natural assembly is less than 100%) by natural guiding plus miracles — like a gardener caring for his fruitful garden.  Either method of creation, with or without miracles, is worthy of God, and every Christian who is appropriately humble (who would not confront God and say "you did it wrong") should acknowledge this.
      In our search for truth, we are influenced by a variety of internal and external factors that produce a wide range of personal preferences.  Some people prefer a total natural assembly, while others want miracles during the creation process, and — even when the most scientifically justifiable conclusion is that "we're not sure" — these two personal preferences can lead to strong opinions about the methods of creation used by God.  Neither preference is clearly taught in the Bible, but both seem compatible with what is clearly taught.

 
Appropriate Humility (with a confidence that is not too little, not too much) is a central theme of Sections 5A-5G, and this important concept is explained in a perceptive observation by Bertrand Russell: "Error is not only the absolute error of believing what is false, but also the quantitative error of believing more or less strongly than is warranted by the degree of credibility properly attaching to the proposition believed, in relation to the believer’s knowledge."

 
      5E. Is "theistic evolution" an impossible combination?
      In this section, I defend theistic evolution — even though this is not my view (I think an old earth and full common descent are compatible with Bible-based theology and are supported by science, but I'm appropriately humble about 100% natural self-assembly) — against unjustified criticism based on misconceptions, overgeneralizations, or faulty logic.  As in all parts of this website, my goals are to promote careful thinking and accurate communicating, by explaining why I think theistic evolution (aka evolutionary creation, which is a more accurate term) is theologically acceptable, which is one reason (but not the only reason, of course) that Christians who are evolutionary creationists — who think natural evolution was the method of creation used by God — should be treated with respect as fellow Christians.

      Is evolution inherently atheistic, or can it be part of a Christian worldview?  Some atheists and Christians criticize theistic evolution in a two-step argument:  First, they accept the atheistic claim that natural process happens without God.  Second, this bad theology (see 5A) is used to claim that "natural evolution is atheistic (it "happens without God"), so theistic evolution is impossible."
      This argument is theologically flawed, since it accepts an atheistic premise.   It is also illogical:  Even though an atheist (or deist, or rigid agnostic) must accept evolution, this doesn't justify guilt by association with an implication that "atheists are evolutionists, so evolutionists are atheists," for the same logical reason that "all dogs are animals, so all animals are dogs" is false.
      A person who accepts scientific theories of evolution can have theology that is strong or weak, ranging from devout Christianity through minimal theism and deism to atheism.
      The Bible clearly states that God sometimes does miracles, so all Christians should be open to the possibility of miracles in any part of history.  But a devout Christian who believes "miracles occurred in the salvation history of humans (as recorded in the Bible and continuing to the present and future)" could, after carefully thinking about theology and science, conclude that "the formative history of nature was all-natural."   /   And we can think about a total history that includes formative history (from the first instant to the present, with the past & present studied in historical science & operation science) and human history (from the first humans to the present).

      But what if the main objection is about age rather than all-natural evolution?  Young-earth creationists claim that all old-earth views (including both evolutionary creation without miracles, and progressive creation with miracles) are "evolution" and are theologically unacceptable, mainly because they think Genesis 1 teaches a 144-hour creation, and animal death could not occur before human sin, as discussed in Section 3.

      A scientific/theological theory of evolutionary creation (also called theistic evolution *) proposes that God designed nature so complex physical structures (galaxies, stars, planets) and biological organisms (bacteria, fish, dinosaurs, humans) would naturally evolve, so He could create using natural process.  Is it wise and humble to claim that God could not, or would not, or did not do this?  In our current state of knowledge about science and theology, humility seems appropriate, with "maybe" as the most justifiable answers.
     * A linguistic reason to prefer evolutionary creation is because creation is the noun that is the main focus, and evolutionary just describes the type of creationist view.  By contrast, in theistic evolution the noun-focus is on evolution, and theistic is just an adjective describing the type of evolutionary view.

      If natural process was materially sufficient to produce physical and biological complexity, would it be theologically sufficient to achieve the goals of God?
      When thinking about this question, we should ask:   1) How precise were the goals of God?  Did he want to create exactly what occurred in nature's history, or would something slightly different, or very different, have been satisfactory?    2) How variable is unguided evolution?  What would happen if evolution "ran without guidance" a thousand times?
      Even if unguided evolutionary history would be less variable than most scientists think, some divine guiding of natural process seems necessary for God to achieve his goals in creating humans with the characteristics (physical, mental, emotional, ethical, spiritual) and environment (planetary, ecological,...) that he wanted for us.
      I.O.U. — Later, this paragraph will explain how a divine creation of humans by a process that includes pre-human hominids can be compatible with what the Bible teaches about humans and our relationship with God.  Now, HUMAN ORIGINS: SCIENCE & THEOLOGY includes four scenarios for Adam & Eve.

      A nontheistic interpretation of neo-Darwinian science will see the process of evolution as being not designed by God, using matter not created by God, driven by only chance and selection that were not guided by God.  {Was evolution unsupervised? The biology-theology of NABT}   But these claims are theological, not scientific, and a theistic interpretation of the same science can disagree by viewing the evolutionary process as being designed by God, using matter created by God, and (at least sometimes) guided by God.   If you want to dig more deeply, you can read Divine Action by Guiding Natural Process and CREATION QUESTIONS WITH EASY ANSWERS.
      In most fields of science — ranging from the physics of rain to the biochemistry of embryology and physiology — there are no theological criticisms of scientists who accept naturalistic theories proposing "only natural process."  A proposal for theistic evolution just extends this acceptance into other areas of science.
      A deistic (or minimally theistic) view of evolution proposes that God set nature in motion and "let it run" by using only the foundational divine action (with initial action determining the properties of nature and sustaining action letting nature continue) that allows history.  A more robust actively theistic view proposes that God also used active divine action (in natural-appearing guidance) that makes a difference in formative history, but not miraculous-appearing action because this was not necessary during formative history.   /   a hybrid view:  An evolutionary creationist can propose that during formative history God used only foundational divine action (in a functionally-deistic evolution), but (unlike deistic theology) during salvation history God also uses active divine action that is natural-appearing and/or miraculous-appearing.  In this way, views proposing deistic evolution (God created nature and "let it run") and theistic theology (God's actions "make a difference" for humans) can be combined.

      Of course, any non-deistic claim for active divine action that “makes a difference” — whether the action is natural-appearing or miraculous-appearing, in formative history or salvation history, as perceived in evolutionary creation or other views of creation — leads to important theological questions:  Can God (or does God) control everything? (i.e., do any unguided events occur?)   If God is active in nature (or if he could act but does not), is He therefore responsible for animal deaths and harmful evolved organisms (deadly viruses,...) and "bad designs" and various tragic events (genetic defects, hurricanes,...) that occur in the history of nature and in everyday life?    { I.O.U. – These questions are very important, and later they will be examined in more depth, in this page and elsewhere in pages devoted to a deeper exploration. }
      These are difficult questions, but one part of a satisfactory answer is the incarnation of Jesus, when God lived among us, shared our joys and sorrows, and (on the cross) suffered the consequences of moral and natural evil.  But death on the cross was followed by life in victorious resurrection, providing assurance from God that in the long run we can "know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." (Romans 8:28)

 
      5F. Should we eliminate "God of the gaps" criticism?
      When current naturalistic theories (about some aspect of formative history) seem implausible, is this science gap caused only by the inadequacy of current scientific knowledge, or does it indicate a nature gap (a break in the natural chain of cause-and-effect) that was bridged by miraculous-appearing divine action?
      Sometimes a claim for a nature gap is ridiculed by calling it a “God of the gaps” theory.  This is confusing because God of the gaps can have many meanings.  It might be:
      • criticizing a claim that "God acts only in gaps" (this would require that "natural" means "without God" which is bad theology so it should be harshly criticized and rejected) but almost always "only in the gaps" is NOT being claimed when a nature gap is proposed.
      • criticizing a theologically valid claim that "a nature-gap is possible so we should humbly consider this possibility."  But the criticism is making a bold counter-claim that "a nature-gap is impossible";  this claim seems to be based on a belief that certainly, without any doubt, the universe is 100% self-assembling (thus ignoring the reasons for humble caution outlined in Section 5D) so gap-actions were never needed in formative history;  it also makes an assumption, which seems reasonable, that God would not use gap-action during formative history unless this action was necessary, unless 100% natural self-assembly would not produce a result that God wanted to happen.
      • criticizing a specific claim that "in this situation (during the history of nature) a gap probably did occur" by instead claiming that "in this situation a gap probably did not occur" and we can have a respectful discussion about the scientific and theological merits of these two claims.  This discussion should include a process of logical evaluation (using scientific methods in an attempt to detect design-action) in which theists should avoid the two extremes of concluding automatically, independent of evidence, that either "a science-gap must always be a nature-gap" (thus ignoring some of the possibilities) or "a science-gap could never be a nature-gap."
      • criticizing a claim that the Bible says "nature-gaps are necessary" by asking "is this claim an essential doctrine that is theologically important and is taught with certainty" and — if personal faith depends on the existence of nature gaps — "is it spiritually wise?"   { These two questions are analogous to those, for young-earth claims, in Sections 3C and 3D. }
      • claiming that "proposing a nature-gap is unscientific," which probably is claiming that all scientists should always use methodological naturalism;  I think this claim is reasonable (both scientifically and theologically) but is questionable, as discussed in Sections 7C and 7D.
      Many meanings are possible when someone says "God of the gaps" so we should ask "What do you mean?"  But to improve the precision in our thinking and communicating, I think we should eliminate this term (which has many meanings) and replace it with a series of terms where each term has a precise-and-clear meaning.

      Here are some common arguments against a gap-claim:
      Critics often express a "boy who cried wolf" concern:  if a claim for God's action turns out to be wrong, this could make Christians look foolish and damage our credibility.  But even if some previous claims have been wrong, each current claim for a nature gap — such as the origin of life where almost all scientists agree that "the jury is still out" — should be evaluated based on its own merit.  Also, see the "heads and tails" arguments below.
      Sometimes a claim that "miraculous-appearing action bridged a nature-gap" is criticized as an argument from ignorance.  But if this principle is generalized to all of life, it would be impossible to recognize a miracle in any situation, which is unbiblical because people in the Bible did recognize a miracle when they observed an exception to the way God usually works in nature.   { And scientists do make restrictive statements about events that will not happen, as when they declare the practical impossibility of a perpetual motion machine, based on probabilistic principles. }
      And a claim for a nature-gap is not a science stopper.

      Christians should not demand an either-or choice between natural and miraculous, because God is able to work both ways;  in the Bible, during salvation history the actions of God are usually natural and occasionally miraculous.  Affirming either mode of divine action — in salvation history (where the Bible very clearly states that God used both modes) or in formative history (where the Bible is less clear) — does not require rejecting the other mode:
      • Christians who propose nature-gaps should not imply, or allow an implication, that "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it," that saying "it happened naturally" means "it happened without God" so anything accomplished by God using natural process should be counted against God in our worldview-thinking about divine action, because these implications are not theologically acceptable.  Instead, we should ask "Did God do this?"
      • Christians who reject nature-gaps should not imply, or allow an implication, that if someone claims God can (or did or does) work through miraculous-appearing actions, in formative history or salvation history, they are denying God's activities in natural-appearing situations;  this implication is incorrect because we should acknowledge that God can work in both ways, by natural process and by miracles.
      Both of these either-or dichotomies are useful for atheists in a clever "heads we win, tails you lose" argument — if there are no nature gaps then it all happens without God, but it's wrong to claim a nature gap — that uses the either-or claims made by some opponents and proponents of a totally natural evolutionary creation, respectively.  Christians should respond by rejecting both arguments, heads and tails.
      Instead of an either-or choice, we believe that God is able to work in more than one way in either formative history or salvation history, so we have our own "heads or tails" argument:  when something happens by natural process, it happens due to God's clever design of nature, and the natural process might be divinely guided;  but IF occasionally there is a divine bridging of a nature-gap in formative history, this happens because God is is able to do miracles, and is willing to use His power when this is necessary.  Both methods of creation would give us reasons to praise God.

Did you notice the symbolism of my color coding in Section 5F?  The darker colors are claims that I think are not justified so they should be avoided, but bright colors are claims that might be justifiable.

 
      5G. What is an appropriate humility about creation?
      In science and theology, our humility should be appropriate — not too little, not too much.  We can make some claims, but not others, with confidence.  We should try to avoid "the quantitative error of believing more or less strongly than is warranted."  Other parts of this page look at appropriate humility for age-questions and design-questions in science, and claims about not old-earth and not evolution in theology, and it's the main theme for science-and-theology in Sections 5A-5G.
      During the process of trying to decide what an appropriate humility is, we should aim for accurate understanding with respectful attitudes by "getting the best information and arguments for all sides of an issue" and then, after we understand more accurately and completely, "we may recognize that people with other views also have good reasons for their views."

      In my opinion:
      When we ask questions about age, theological arguments — claiming biblical support for either an old earth or young earth — are weak, but scientific evidence for an old earth (and old universe) is extremely strong.  Therefore, an old-earth conclusion seems justified.
      But when we ask "Can natural process lead to a total assembly of the universe?" and "Can theistic evolution be theologically acceptable?" in Sections 5D-5E the scientific and theological arguments — claiming support either for 100% natural evolution or against it — are not decisive, especially when we think carefully about divine design and evolution, as in 6A-6B and 7A-7D.  The Bible clearly states that God used miracles in salvation history, but is less clear about miracles in formative history, so each view — proposing a formative history either with or without miracles, with two modes of divine action or only one — is compatible with what the Bible clearly teaches.  Therefore, instead of criticizing either possibility as being a less worthy way for God to create, it seems wise to be humble by deciding that, either way, God's plan for design-and-creation was wonderful and is worthy of our praise.
      You and I should say in public — and believe in our hearts and minds — that "IF God created using another method (differing from the way I think He created, regarding either age or evolution), then God is worthy of our praise."  But this humility (if... then...) is compatible with humbly explaining, using arguments from theology and science, why we think a particular view is most likely to be true.

      Even when Christians disagree about the when-and-how details of creation, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can join together in our praise of the creator (and his intelligence, power, and wisdom) by joyously proclaiming that "you are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)"

 


If you don't already know why 5B follows 5G, read this explanation.  Or you can skip to Section 6A.

 
      5B. Was our "just right" universe intelligently designed by God?
      An amazing discovery of scientists, in recent decades, is that many properties of the universe are "just right" for life.  For example, we have sunshine due to a tug-of-war lasting billions of years, with some forces pulling the sun's fiery atmosphere inward, while other forces push it outward, but neither can "win" due to a fine-tuned balance of forces.  To understand the fine tuning that allows sunshine and many other wonderful features of our world, imagine that you are sitting in front of a control panel with dozens of dials.  To allow life, each dial — which controls one property of nature — must be tuned to a specific setting within a narrow range.  You are alive because all dials are properly tuned, and this leads to a wide variety of life-permitting natural phenomena that include stars (which produce the energy and atoms needed for life), the chemistry of DNA, water, and proteins.
      Most scientists are convinced that fine tuning is necessary for a life-allowing universe.  But when we think about why our universe is what it is, why it has the fine tuning we observe, there are two theories, three explanations, and a semi-explanation, plus a non-explanation and a new hope:

      TWO THEORIES — Universe or Multiverse
      Intelligent Design:  Maybe our universe was designed and created by an extremely intelligent and powerful designer/creator who wanted to make a world with sunshine, proteins, and people.  In Judeo-Christian theology, God is the designer/creator.
      Multiverse:  If there was no intelligent design, a life-supporting universe seems extremely improbable.  But a multiverse (containing an immense number of universes with nature-properties varying throughout a wide range) could "change the odds" so they would favor having at least one universe with intelligent life.
      Speculations:  Currently there is no direct evidence for a multiverse, although some scientists think there is indirect support.  Therefore, when you hear someone talking about a multiverse, you should use if-then thinking: "IF a multiverse exists (but it may not), then ..."

      THREE EXPLANATIONS — Intelligent Design and/or a Multiverse
      According to Robin Collins, "even if a ‘many-universes generator’ exists it seems to need to be well designed" in order to produce a multitude of universes with widely varying properties, especially if the universes include at least one with life.
      A combining of "designed or non-designed" with "universe or multiverse" produces 4 options.  A non-designed universe can be eliminated from serious consideration due to its extreme improbability, but the other 3 options are plausible, so...
the choice is not design or multiverse, it's design and/or multiverse:
designed universe or designed multiverse or non-designed multiverse.

      A SEMI-EXPLANATION — The Anthropic Principle
      But maybe we should just say "so what?" because humans do exist, so the universe we observe must be consistent with our existence.  This statement is the anthropic principle, which is a logically valid tautology that is compatible with either design or non-design, with the presence or absence of a designer.  This anthropic principle does not explain WHY our universe is fine tuned for life, but (in two selection effects) it does describe WHAT can be observed (only properties of nature that are fine tuned to allow life), and in a multiverse it would explain WHERE fine tuning is observed.

      A NON-EXPLANATION FOR NON-DESIGN — One Possibility for Nature
      Some scientists hope that, in the future, a unified theory-of-everything will show why it is necessary for the properties of nature (its qualitative characteristics, numerical constants, and initial conditions) to be what they are, so design is not required.  But if there is only one way to combine all properties of nature into one set, and if this one set produces a universe that allows life, the best explanation for this wonderful "one of a kind" nature (with properties that are elegantly unified, and fine tuned for life) would be intelligent design.
      A NEW HOPE FOR NON-DESIGN — Many Possibilities for Nature 
      Therefore, some scientists are now hoping a non-design explanation will arise from M-theory (which unifies 5 versions of string theory) with strings producing a string landscape of many different "ways for nature to be" instead of just one way, combined with a physical mechanism for generating many universes in a multiverse.  But intelligent design might be required to get a mechanism that is "just right" for producing a diverse string-based multiverse.

      BEATING THE ODDS — A Multiverse and/or Intelligent Design
      The most popular current multiverse theories propose an immense number of different universe-types (having different properties of nature) with each type occurring in an immense number of actualized-universes (all having the same properties of nature, but with different initial conditions and thus different histories of nature).
      There might be three kinds of divine design and two of these might, in principle, be detectable using scientific evidence.  For both of these designs, a multiverse provides a way to "beat the odds" against improbability.  In a 5-card hand of poker a highly improbable royal flush (XJQKA of same suit) becomes highly probable if you deal 10 million hands.  Similarly, in a multiverse that deals an immense number of universe-hands, events that seem highly improbable (in a single-universe) might become highly probable somewhere in a multiverse, in one or more of its many multiverse-universes.
      A multiverse with many universe-types (a common claim for a string landscape is 10500 types, with estimates ranging from 10100 to 101000) would weaken a claim for a design of nature by explaining why we observe fine tuning in our universe;  but it would not disprove a design of nature, because the multiverse might be designed.
      A multiverse with many actualized-universes of our universe-type would weaken claims for detectable design-directed action during the history of nature.  But, as intelligent design in a multiverse explains, it would do this only for design-action that was anthro-essential (that was necessary for our existence), and it would only weaken (not disprove) claims for detectable design-directed action, and it says nothing about the natural-appearing guidance (if this guidance was not anthro-essential) that is one possible type of design-action and is an essential principle of theology that is "a better perspective for everyday life."
      We are here, so nature must allow intelligent life.  If this basic anthropic principle is supplemented with a naturalistic assumption the naturalistic conclusion must be that nature also will produce intelligent life by 100%-natural evolution.  Either possibility, a universe that is only life-allowing or is also life-producing, can be theologically acceptable to theists who believe God could create life miraculously if this was necessary, if the universe was not 100% self-assembling.  But a claim that the formative history of nature was all-natural (as proposed by theistic evolutionary creationists plus deists, agnostics, atheists, and others) requires a universe that is naturally life-producing.

      Theology in a Multiverse
      If someone claims that in an infinite multiverse "everything would happen" and that would be strange, you should say "wait a minute" and put the strangeness into perspective by remembering that a multiverse is speculative (so you can think "IF a multiverse exists, then     , but it might not exist") and using these rational principles:
      Physically, 
      1a.  The mathematical results of infinity are strange, so the results can seem strange when people speculatively extrapolate from a large number of universes to an infinite number of universes.  But an infinite multiverse is physically impossible, and an immense multiverse (where many things happen) is not an infinite multiverse (where everything happens).
      1b.  In an immense multiverse you would observe things the same way you do now, as one creature living in one universe, not as an omnipresent super-observer who sees all of the many things that are happening in all universes.  And in any universe of our own type, observers would rarely see strange events (like perpetual motion machines) because in each universe, whatever is most likely to happen is what is most likely to be observed.*   The strangeness of a multiverse is only in your imagination;  in your actual experience nothing would be different.   {* But our probabilistic evaluations for some design-action — if it's essential for our existence — could be affected.}
      Theologically,  
      2a.  Judeo-Christian theists should believe that in a multiverse the many things happening would include only what God allows to happen.  Life occurs only where God miraculously creates it or (if life naturally evolves) permits its survival, so life might exist only on earth, or also in many other locations within our universe or in other universes.  And in every location with life, the quality of living (re: conditions, ethics, history, etc) would include only what is allowed by God.  Theists should not accept atheistic interpretations proposing that natural process occurs without God so there is no divine supervision or ability to control, or that divine miracles are impossible.  Instead, we should formulate our own theistic interpretations of a multiverse, analogous to our theistic interpretations of evolution.
      2b.  We should humbly acknowledge that if God understands the many things happening in a multiverse, and approves, that should be sufficient for us, whether or not we understand or approve.   /   Here is an example:  If a multiverse includes genetic "duplicates" of you in other worlds, would that be a cause for concern?  No, because you can think "this is not a problem" if you think that God approves of identical twins, and holds each accountable for their own thoughts and actions.  If actual twins (living together in the same family) are not a theological problem, potential duplicates (living independently in other worlds) are also not a problem;  if duplicates exist (and they may not) each is morally responsible in their own here-and-now situation.
      2c.  We should avoid unnecessary restrictions on creation theology — as in earlier battles against a sun-centered solar system, and (see 3C-3D) current fights against an old universe & earth — by making only claims that are necessary, that are theologically justifiable based on what the Bible clearly teaches.  And I don't think the Bible has any clear teaching, one way or the other, about the possibility of a multiverse.

      Proof and Faith
      How did our universe begin, and why does it have properties that allow life?  I think all three explanations (designed universe, designed multiverse, non-designed multiverse) are plausible.  Each seems impossible to prove or disprove, partly because our knowledge is hindered by an absence of evidence about what existed, and what then happened, before the Big Bang Beginning.  An atheist assumes the initial existence of a materialistic capability for creating our universe.  A theist assumes the existence of God, who has this capability.  Each asks the other, "Can you explain what caused the existence of what you assume as the starting point?"  Neither offers an answer that satisfies the other, and neither assumption can be proved.  Due to the absence of conclusive evidence, our views about a multiverse can be strongly influenced by our worldviews that include religious views plus philosophies of science and life. are shaped by a wide variety of factors.
      Should this lack of proof bother Christians?  No, because God wants us to "live by faith in what we believe."  We believe that God designed and created our world, even though we cannot prove it.  We praise God for the sunshine that warms our bodies, grows our food, and lets us see.  And when scientists learn how sunshine is produced by natural process, we should praise God for his wonderful design of nature, whether He designed nature by using a universe or multiverse.
 

Later in this page is a section looking at Intelligent Design in a Multiverse.

For a deeper exploration of the topics in this section, plus other ideas,
Anthropic Principle & Fine Tuning - A Multiverse and/or Intelligent Design
and for views from other authors, INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF THE UNIVERSE.

 

return to Section 5C (re: "proof" versus living by faith in what we believe)

 



 

6. Was nature designed?  What is design?  Who proposes it?

6A — What are the four types of intelligent design?
6B — Is ID creationism?  Who is in the Big Tent of ID?

 
      6A. What are the four types of intelligent design?
      Maybe a feature (a star, bacteria, whale, biochemical system, radio signal, house, car,...) was produced by intelligent design, by:
      1) natural process because nature was designed (presumably by a supernatural agent) so this would happen, or
      2) natural process that was undetectably guided in a natural-appearing way by a supernatural agent, for the purpose of creating a particular natural-appearing result that was wanted, or
      detectable design-directed action by a natural agent (3a) or by a supernatural agent (3b), which was necessary because undirected natural process would not produce the result that was wanted,
      or maybe there was no design, and the feature was produced by natural process that was not designed, not undetectably-guided, and not detectably-directed.

      When we're thinking about design and evolution, we should distinguish between these 4 types of intelligent design, and between the 8 types of evolution — astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological (••••), plus a nonscientific meaning — described in Section 7A.  To avoid confusion, to improve our thinking and communicating, we should try to specify the precise type of design or evolution that is being examined.

      Can we detect design by using the methods of science?  This question requires four answers, one for each type of design:  I think our current conclusions about the possibility of detecting design (but not necessarily proving design beyond a reasonable doubt) should be MAYBE for 1 (as explained in Section 5B), and NO for 2 (by definition, natural-appearing guidance is undetectable, but...*), YES for 3a (e.g. we can confidently infer, based on observations of a car, that it was designed-and-produced by natural agents, but...*) and (as explained in Section 7B) MAYBE for 3b.
      But these are in-principle answers that don't always work in-practice.  Why?  Based on "what we can know" I'm classifying events as being either undetectable or detectable;  but in reality this distinction can be fuzzy, with detectability varying along a continuum.   For example:  * when we look at collections of events, "undetectable guidance" might be detectable (e.g. if a roulette was guided to 20 consecutive "wins" this would arouse suspicion even if each spin was natural-appearing);  * in some situations (e.g. a skillful criminal or stage magician) "detectable direction" might be undetectable.  The variability of detectability is examined in my page about four intelligent designs which also defines random (it means only that "we cannot know," not that "God cannot know or cannot control") and describes truly random undirected natural selection (i.e. not directed by a natural agent, and also not supernaturally guided) that can cause directional changes in a population.
      An undirected natural process is not detectably directed by a natural agent or supernatural agent, but it might be undetectably guided by a supernatural agent.

      There are four types of design, which can cause confusion.  Later, in Sections 7A-7D, design always means detectable design-directed action, unless another meaning is specified.  This also is the usual definition for most other authors, but it's not the only definition, so you should try to understand each author's intended meaning(s) by looking at the context.  Unfortunately, confusion often occurs due to miscommunication between writers — when they don't clarify their intended meaning(s), or intentionally ignore differences in meaning, or don't even understand the differences — and readers.

 
      6B. Who is in the Big Tent of Intelligent Design, and why?
      An atheist rejects divine design and will affirm only design-action by a natural agent.
      All Judeo-Christian theists should accept the possibility of all four types of design.  But there is disagreement about the reality of detectable design-action;  evolutionary creationists think this was not necessary in the formative history of nature, and even though they propose two types of divine design — a design of nature, and natural-appearing guidance — the "big tent of Intelligent Design" isn't big enough for them.  Why?  Because in the mainstream community of Intelligent Design (ID), the usual meaning of intelligent design is detectable design-directed action, although IDists also propose a design of nature and usually, but with less emphasis, an undetectable guiding of natural process.  Similarly, when ID is criticized by its opponents, the ID they oppose is usually detectable design-directed action.

      Accurate Understanding and Respectful Attitudes
      Unfortunately, sometimes zealous advocates for both sides ignore a principle from Section 5F: "Christians should not demand an either-or choice between natural and miraculous, because God is able to work both ways."
      Some advocates of Intelligent Design sometimes seem to imply that "if it isn't a miracle, then God didn't do it."  This implication can be seen in much (but not all) of their theological criticisms of theistic evolution.   { But another theological question, which I think is more justifiable, asks Evolutionary Creationists to clarify their views about undetectable guiding, and divine actions (foundational and active) during formative history. }
      More commonly, though, when an IDist tries to carefully explain that a claim for detectable intelligent design-action cannot include undetectable design-action, their statement is misinterpreted as a claim that “if it isn't detectable, it isn't design,” which is scientifically correct (based on the common definition of design as "detectable design-directed action") but is a distorted "strawman" caricature of the theological position proposed by most IDists.  This erroneous criticism of ID is based on the illogical fallacy that "if someone claims God can (or did or does) work through [potentially detectable] miraculous-appearing action, in formative history or salvation history, they are denying God's [undetectable] activities in natural-appearing situations."  No, IDists are just claiming that undetectable activities are not detectable.
      And many criticisms of Evolutionary Creation are not justified, as explained in Section 5E.
      Instead of this petty bickering from both sides, based on expectations that God either must (or must not) create in a detectable way, the Christian community needs more understanding with respect and appropriate humility.  A useful approach is the simple Golden Rule:  if you want others to logically consider your own arguments (instead of ignoring them or converting them into strawmen) then you should logically consider their arguments.  I encourage you to learn the arguments for and against each view, in this FAQ (*) and elsewhere, so you can evaluate each position based on what it actually is, considering all of its strengths and weaknesses.
     * I argue for the theological acceptability of evolutionary creation in Sections 5A & 5E & 7D.  And I argue for the theological acceptability of ID in 5F and for the credibility/utility of asking ID-questions in 5D and 7A-7D.  There is nothing illogical in acknowledging both the strengths and weaknesses of each position.  But it is illogical to use illogical arguments, whether this is the result of unintentional ignorance (due to incomplete understanding or analysis) or intentional dishonesty (by knowing an argument is illogical, but using it anyway).

      Two Types of Design Theories — Basic and Supplemented
      In everyday life we often see the results of human design.  Everyone accepts design-action by a natural agent (to explain faces on Mt Rushmore, or a house, car,...) when there is evidence, and design theories are common in science.  But it's more logically difficult to convincingly show design-action in biology, as discussed in Section 7B.  And concerns arise when the design-action might be supernatural, leading to a common claim that a design theory is a creation theory.  Is this justified?
      A basic design theory claims only that design-directed action did occur (this is the first stage in any design investigation, in archaeology, homicide, origins,...) but does not try to explain the details of how (and by whom, why,...) the design-idea was converted into a designed feature.  Although a basic design theory can be supplemented with details to form a variety of theories about supernatural creation (by God or...) or natural non-creation (with evolution of life on earth directed by space aliens who evolved before us, or...), basic "mere design" does not propose divine action, but does acknowledge this as a possibility;  it does not try to distinguish between creation and non-creation, it just claims "design did occur" and (as an implicit logical corollary) that the designer had the abilities necessary to conceptualize the feature, and produce it.
      Michael Behe, in a supplemented design theory, acknowledges that "most people (including myself) will attribute the design [of an irreducibly complex biological system] to God, based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made."  But as a scientist, in a basic design theory he thinks "the biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was."   /   This is similar to a theistic evolutionary creationist who says "although my personal view (in a supplemented evolution theory) is that God designed-and-supervised the process of evolution, the scientific evidence (in a basic evolution theory) says only ‘evolution’ but not ‘theistic evolution’ so it does not support my non-scientific claim for a designer."

      Intelligent Design and Creationism(s)
      What are the similarities and differences between design and creation?  Logically, a design theory is not a creation theory (as explained above) but there are similarities.  Sociologically, there are connections between design and creation.
      Most advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) are monotheists — mainly Christians, but also Jews and Moslems — who think the designer is God.  The "big tent of ID" includes mainly old-earth progressive creationists (OECs) and young-earth creationists (YECs), with evolutionary creationists excluded.  Most leaders of ID are OECs who think the earth and universe are billions of years old (*), but they welcome YECs into the "big tent" community of ID.  Why?  OECs and YECs both criticize neo-Darwinism and agree that "design-action did occur," and both (along with evolutionary creationists) oppose an atheistic worldview.  The leaders of YEC have formed an uneasy limited alliance with ID, despite ID's toleration of old-earth views and its lack of emphasis on Genesis.   /   What are the mutual benefits?  The anti-evolution aspect of YEC gets a "free ride" from design theories that (since they're not burdened by connections with weak young-earth science) are more scientifically credible, and are less constitutionally questionable in American public education.  And ID can use YEC support, sociologically (in the Christian community), financially (in contributions and book sales), and politically (in education and other areas).   /   What are the disadvantages for ID?  In the classroom and courtroom (as we saw in Dover) the potential acceptability of ID is decreased by its connection with YEC.  And among scholars, ID's strategic alliance with YEC (whose opposition to old-earth science is considered scientifically foolish) is a scientific disadvantage for ID.
      * Even though OEC accepts one current scientific consensus (re: age) but rejects another (re: design), old-earth creation is logically coherent because its acceptance-and-rejection are due to differences in scientific evidence (the support for an old earth is very strong, but questions about design seem justified) and theory structure (YEC proposes miracles to overcome weakness in its own young-earth theories, but OEC proposes miracles due to weakness in the non-design theories it rejects).

      In my opinion,
      • every scientific theory should be logically evaluated based on scientific merit, not motives;  evolution should not be rejected because some of its advocates are atheists, and design should not be rejected because most of its advocates are theists.   { In conventional scientific method, motivations can influence the proposing of a theory but should not affect its evaluation. }
      • sociological connections between ID and YEC are mostly irrelevant in scientific debates, because ID arguments assume a conventional old-earth history of nature;  there are many similarities in the scientific claims of ID and OEC, and in the evidence-and-logic that each claims as support.
      • sociological connections between ID and YEC are very relevant in education, because much of the political support for ID in public schools (for teaching about ID, or allowing criticism of neo-Darwinism) comes from YECs, and also because teaching about ID will stimulate questions (both friendly and hostile) about religion and creation (both YEC & OEC), which might promote a climate of controversy that most teachers want to avoid.  What should public schools teach about origins?   /   Ironically, when YECs "draw a line" at fossil evolution (see 7A below) the plausibility of evolution increases because all of the strong evidence for an old earth becomes evidence for evolution.
      • and sociology of another type is relevant for another question:  Proponents of ID rarely publish in science journals or get research funding, but is this because their work is worthless, or because the scientific community doesn't want to acknowledge anything worthy in their questions?
 



 

7. How should we evaluate evolution and design?

7A — Many meanings of evolution:  how to evaluate?
7B — Can we use scientific methods to detect design?
7C — Methodological Naturalism & Design in Science?
7D — Can a Christian use methodological naturalism?
 

Overview:  Sections 7A-7D ask questions about theories of natural evolution, but don't propose conclusions;  instead, the main goal is to examine the process of logical evaluation.
 

      7A. the many meanings of evolution — How can we evaluate?

      Logical Comparisons:  Is a theory proposing that "John is an Olympic Weightlifter" supported if we observe that John can lift a hat and place it on his head?  No.  But it would be supported, compared with a theory claiming "John has average strength," by seeing John lift a heavy weight that's close to the world record.  To distinguish between these competitive theories — Olympic Weightlifter, Average Strength — we must focus on their differences (they disagree about John's ability to lift a near-record weight), not their similarities (they both agree that John can lift the hat).
      This principle of logic can be used for evaluating evolutions:

      When we ask "What is the scientific support for evolution?", we can look at four types of evolutionary change: astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological.
      Most scientists think the support is very strong for astronomical evolution (in an old universe) and geological evolution (on an old earth) but is not strong for chemical evolution (of the first life).  And the support varies when we look at four related aspects of biological evolution (for the development of life):

      • micro-E (within a species) and minor macro-E (to produce a new-yet-similar species),  • fossil-E progressions (in the geological record),  • common descent (with all species related by shared ancestors), and  • Total Macro-E with all biocomplexity and biodiversity produced by cumulative effects of macro-E.
      also:  In biology, evolution is any micro-E change in the gene pool of a population;  and scientists propose neo-Darwinian subtheories for E-mechanisms (natural selection,...).
      In two non-technical definitions, non-scientists criticizing "evolution" sometimes define it as "everything required to form complex life" which includes both chemical E and biological E, even though scientists consider these to be two separate processes;  and young-earth creationists sometimes define evolution even more broadly as "old universe" in a confusing conflation of all evolutions: astronomical E, geological E, chemical E, and biological E.
      • Some people — including scientists and nonscientists, theists and atheists — think evolution = philosophical materialism which claims "only matter exists."  In this non-scientific interpretation, evolution is inherently atheistic because we should conclude that if natural evolution is sufficient, then God isn't necessary so God doesn't exist, and only matter exists.   Does God want to prove He exists?

This table shows whether five aspects of evolution (four scientific and one non-scientific) are accepted in four views of creation:

theories of creation:
For each E, does a creation
theory say yes or no?
creation
by natural
evolution
progressive
creations by
modification
progressive
independent
creations
young-earth
independent
creation
 • micro-E and minor macro-E  YES YES YES YES
• old earth with fossil-E YES
YES
YES
no
• full common descent YES YES no no
• natural Total Macro-E YES no no no
 • "only nature exists" atheism  no no no no

      Splitting "evolution" into components allows logical comparisons:

      In the row for "micro-E and minor macro-E" all theories agree (YES YES YES YES) so these "evolutions" are irrelevant for comparing neo-Darwinian evolution with the other three creation theories.
      Evidence for an old earth (with evolutionary fossil progressions) is not evidence against the two old-earth progressive creations, which say "YES YES".
      Similarly, evidence for common descent — such as homologous adaptations, "molecular clock" analyses, and a sharing of genetic code, Hox genes, and pseudogenes — counts against one old-earth theory (with independent creations) but not another (with genetic modifications) because it says YES.
      To distinguish between any two theories — whether the question is weightlifting or evolution — we should compare the competing theories and focus on evidence about disputed components (where they disagree, where one theory says YES and the other says NO), not agreements.  For example, most of the common "evidence for evolution" does not support creation by natural evolution over progressive creations by genetic modification, because they disagree only about the question of 100%-natural Total Macro-E.   /   And we should ask separate questions about descent and design.  For example, Michael Behe accepts common descent but he challenges Total Macro-E, and proposes Intelligent Design, with his claims about irreducible complexity. }
      And a common argument against the intelligence of design — as when Stephen Jay Gould claimed that "God surely would not have used a collection of parts generally fashioned for other purposes; ... odd arrangements and funny solutions [as in the “panda's thumb”] are the proof of evolution" — assumes the necessity of independent creations, thus ignoring the possibility of creations by modification, which is my own view.  Gould boldly asserts that God "surely would not..." as if he knew that God would want his creative actions to be obvious. (Why isn't God more obvious?)

      When using a word with many meanings, we should not mix the meanings.  We should not shift evidence for a strongly supported aspect of E (micro-E,...) onto a less strongly supported aspect (Total Macro-E) without carefully analyzing the relationships between different aspects.  And we should not imply that evidence against young-earth creation is evidence against old-earth progressive creation or Intelligent Design.
      Unfortunately, loose logic allows claims that are bold yet vague, as in declaring that "evolution is a fact" without defining the meaning of evolution, thus implying that all four types of E are a "fact" with the same high level of certainty.  But this is not true.

 
As explained in the FAQ-Homepage, "within ASA there is a wide range of strong opinions" about some questions, including those in 7B-7C (and 5D-5F) so this is "one ASA-FAQ rather than the ASA-FAQ."   { In ASA, all of us propose some types of divine design but some of us don't propose all types of divine design. }
 

      7B. Can we use scientific methods to detect design?
      In everyday life, when we wake up in a house, listen to a radio, read a newspaper, or drive a car, we conclude that "the origin of this feature required design."  Why?  Because we observe "signs of design" that we think could not be produced by the undirected natural process of non-design, that in all of our previous experience have been produced by design-directed action, which seems required to produce the sign-characteristics.  These inductive inferences to design use valid inductive logic (based on past experiences and present observations) and are common in everyday life and in science.
      William Dembski, a prominent design theorist, describes signs of design in a more technically sophisticated way, in terms of complex specified information.  A radio signal with a short string of prime numbers (like "2 3") is not complex, and it could easily occur by chance.  A long string of random numbers is complex, but is not specified because it has no pattern or function.  But a long string of prime numbers (2 3 5 7 11 13 17,...) is complex and (due to its conceptual functionality) is specified.
      Other types of specification due to functionality occur when you read a paragraph and understand the meaning, see a "painting" on the wall of a cave, or when a combination of parts is a "bicycle" you can ride to the store. 

      These common examples are uncontroversial, and we can infer "design" even if we didn't observe the designer or design-action.  But questions arise when the design-action seems unfamiliar (so it might be supernatural?) and we're looking at design in biology(where the capabilities and limitations of natural evolution are not fully known).  In these situations the main concerns are religious — Is a design theory a creation theory? — but critics also have methodological questions:
      Is an argument by analogy justifiable, in a claim that because scientists confidently infer design in a common context (for a house, radio signal, cave painting,...) they should accept the possibility of infering design in a biological context (when we ask if design-action was required to produce biological functionality in the first living cell, or in the DNA specifying a functional protein, biochemical system, or whole organism)?

      Those who think detectable Intelligent Design might have occurred in formative history usually ask questions about biological evolution and chemical evolution:
      For each step in an extrapolation from small-scale evolution to a large-scale natural production of all biological complexity (and for this macro-evolutionary scenario as a whole), how many mutations and how much selection would be required to produce the changes in DNA that we observe, how long would this take, and how probable is it?
      Are some systems irreducibly complex (because all parts are required for the system's function), and could such a system be produced by a process of step-by-step evolution if there would be no function to "select for" until all parts are present?
      Could a nonliving system naturally achieve the minimal complexity (with hundreds of biomolecular parts) required to replicate itself and thus become capable of changing, in successive generations, through natural selection in neo-Darwinian evolution?  Based on current science, I think the answer should be "probably not" because scientists are learning that what is required for life seems to be much greater than what is possible by natural process.  Then how did life begin? {some possibilities}

      Most scientists think neo-Darwinian evolution could produce all existing biological complexity.
      Loren Haarsma & Terry Gray explain why: "We know several evolutionary mechanisms that increase the size of a cell's genome (e.g., gene duplication, horizontal transfer, polyploidy, endosymbiont capture).  Combined with natural selection, this allows information transfer from the environment to the cell's genome.  In addition, the genomes of living organisms display redundancy and multitasking, allowing for the evolution of novelty and interlocking complexity. (source)"
      They also recognize the limits of current knowledge: "In order to know whether or not some complex piece of biological machinery could have evolved, we must know each species' genetic sequences [by genomic sequencing that has only begun recently], but also understand in great detail how gene products interact with each other in living cells."  They think that currently "the jury is still out" on design questions for biological evolution, but "it seems most promising — both scientifically and theologically — to study biological complexity expecting to find more evidence that God designed into it the ability to self-organize."
      Can scientists correctly evaluate and distinguish between similar theories such as natural evolution and creation by genetic modification?  Yes, if they had enough detailed historical data — such as lab reports for structure, physiology, and (especially) genome-DNA, for all organisms during a period of change — it would be easy.  But with the data we actually have, it is more difficult.

      Logic and Testing:  A particular feature was produced either by detectable design-directed action (design) or by what appears to be undirected natural process (non-design).  These two possibilities are mutually exclusive, so if non-design is highly improbable, design is highly probable.  The evaluative status of non-design (and thus design) can be decreased or increased by empirical observations, so a theory of design is empirically responsive and is testable;  in terms of probability, which is the usual goal in science, design is scientifically falsifiable because we can conclude that a design theory is probably true (if all non-design theories seem highly implausible) or is probably false (if any non-design theory seems highly plausible) by using the logic of mutual exclusion.
      Can design be proved?  No.  A design theory does not claim that non-design is impossible and design is certain, it only claims that design seems more probable so it is the best explanation.  But proof is always impossible in science.  Instead, scientists try to develop a high level of logically justified confidence in the truth or falsity of a theory.  Therefore, it seems unreasonable for critics of design to demand, by using the logic of postmodern skepticism, that if design proponents cannot claim the certainty of proof, they can claim nothing.
      Evaluation of scientific theories is based mainly on scientific evidence-and-logic, but this evaluation can be influenced by philosophical perspectives that include decisions about what to conclude when the evidence is not conclusive.  Should we give non-design the "benefit of doubt" and put the "burden of proof" on design?  But instead of declaring a winner, can we just say "we're not sure at this time" and continue searching with a humble open-minded attitude, in our efforts to learn more?

      We can logically infer design in two ways:  with positive design-logic we recognize "signs of design" as in a house, radio signal, newspaper, or cave painting;  with negative design-logic we ask whether a feature could be produced by non-design, and if we answer "probably not" then we conclude, by using the logic of mutual exclusion, that it probably was produced by design.  These two ways of thinking are related, and a "sign of design" is usually an intuitive recognition/conclusion, based on experience and logic, that production by non-design (by undirected natural process) is highly improbable.
      Scholars sometimes analyze the process of science in terms of invention and justification, with each having different "scientific method" expectations;  the initial invention of an idea can occur in any way (as when Kekule visualized the structure of benzene in a dream) but the process of justifying this idea requires scientific evidence and logic.  We can think of positive design-logic as a way to invent a claim for design, and negative design-logic as an attempt to justify this claim by using scientific evidence and logic.

      seven possibilities:  Perhaps a feature, such as the first life (more specifically, the first carbon-based life), was produced by undirected natural process (*) that seems very improbable but it  1v) did occur anyway, or  1w) is actually very probable because we live in a huge multiverse*;   or maybe it was reasonably probable and it can be (or could be) described in a naturalistic theory that  1x) is currently known, or  1y) will be known in the future, or  1z) will never be known;   or maybe the feature was produced by design-directed action, by  2a) natural design and construction (by a previously existing form of life that was not carbon-based), or  2b) supernatural design and creation.   /   * The intitial origin of earth's carbon-based life could have been on earth, or elsewhere with life then coming to earth by panspermia.
      All current theories for a natural evolution of chemicals from nonlife to life seem highly implausible, because what is necessary (for life) seems much greater than what is possible (by natural process).  Due to possibilities for a future theory (1y) or no theory (1v, 1w, or 1z), the implausibility of current non-design theories doesn't prove the truth of design.  But should scientists consider the possibility that design-action produced the first life?  Even though proof is impossible because we can never propose and test all possible mechanisms for non-design, could we develop a logically justified confidence that our search has been thorough yet futile, and no promising mechanisms remain unexplored?  And in current science, is the origin of life a test-case for scientific humility?   {more about the origin of life from the author of this FAQ and OTHER AUTHORS}
      And what about Darwin?  It also seems justifiable for scientists to consider the possibility of design-action during the process of biological evolution, when we ask questions about evolution rates and irreducible complexity.  I say (in Definitions of Irreducible Complexity) that "in 2009 [and 2010] I think 'the jury is still out' when we look for 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' on a verdict either for or against claims that irreducibly complex biological systems provide evidence for intelligent design."

* Intelligent Design in a Multiverse is discussed below in the appendix for Section 7B.

      Future Science
      One challenge in evaluating design is uncertainty about the adequacy of current science.  If our science becomes more adequate in the future, will non-design seem more plausible because we have discovered how natural process could produce a feature?  Or will non-design seem less plausible — as with chemical evolution in the 56 years since the Miller-Urey experiments inspired naturalistic optimism — because we have learned more about the limits of natural process?
      What will happen?  We can try to predict improvements in current theories and inventions of new theories, by using current knowledge (*) plus creative thinking (to imagine what could be) and critical thinking (to predict what is probable in reality, not just possible in our imaginations) so we can avoid the extremes of insisting that "nothing new will happen" or "anything could happen."   /   * For example, we can "critically imagine" how future knowledge might change our views about each obstacle to a natural origin of life: the unfavorable reactions for chemical synthesis, the biocomplexity required for life,...
      Imagine a "super science" developed by trillions of super-intelligent space aliens who have studied biochemistry for billions of years, have explored the universe searching for life and environments for producing it, but have not yet constructed a plausible theory for a natural origin of life, and instead have concluded that it seems impossible.  Even with this knowledge a denial of design would be possible, but would it be rational?
      Compared with this imaginary super-science, in the near future the actual state of human knowledge will remain much less advanced.  For awhile, scientists will continue to disagree about the plausibility of design, but this is healthy for science when it stimulates thinking and discussions between advocates for different points of view.  Proof is impossible in science, and it can be difficult to confidently answer the question, "Was design involved in producing this feature?"  Although it should be easier to decide, "Should we ask the question?", there are also vigorous debates about this, as you'll see in Sections 7C and 7D, which ask "Should we include design in science?" and "Can a Christian use methodological naturalism?"
 

comments about completeness:  In this condensed Overview-FAQ, Section 7B has omitted many details (in what you've read above) and some important questions — about intelligence (how much is necessary for design? is Hoover Dam designed? what about a beaver dam? or an ant hill?) and intention (is industrial water pollution a result of design-action if it was unintended? if it was predictable and was thus intentional?), competence (as in “panda's thumb” questions about "improvised problem solving" during evolution) and compassion (why does nature include mosquitoes and deadly viruses?), goals and abilities of the designer (must we know these before concluding "this feature was the result of design"? I say "no" because if a designed feature exists we can infer the goals and abilities), what are the probabilities of false negatives (by concluding "no design" when there was design) and false positives (concluding "design" when there was no design) — and you can explore these extra ideas from 7B (plus additional ideas from 7A, 7C, and 7D) in the full-length FAQ about Evaluating Evolution and Design.

APPENDIX for Section 7B — Intelligent Design in a Multiverse
      Even if a natural origin of life is highly improbable, a combination of selection effects (in the anthropic principle) plus a multiverse (with many universes) can be used to "beat the odds" and thus decrease the scientific support for a claim that undirected natural process could not produce life, or anything else in our history that is anthro-essential, that would be necessary for our existence as observers;  but for all other things, "whatever is most likely to happen is what is most likely to be observed."    How would a multiverse help to beat the odds?  It would increase the available probabilistic resources and thus increase the probability for a natural origin of life, as illustrated by examples from poker and evolution.
      But even if we assume a multiverse (and there is no direct observational evidence either for or against this assumption) a claim for detectable design-directed action could still be scientifically supported.  How?  We could logically conclude that "design-action is probable" if, in the future, scientists conclude that a natural origin of life is so highly improbable that it is basically impossible — analogous to the extreme improbability, with only undirected natural process, of a Boeing 747 arising from a garbage dump in Seattle, filling with passengers, and flying to Miami — so this would NEVER happen even in an immense multiverse, and therefore design-directed action is necessary to form a living organism.
      But it would be difficult, even if we had knowledge from a super-science, to prove this natural-impossibility in a way that would be accepted by dedicated skeptics — even in a universe (due to the seven possibilities and a worldview-based resistance to acknowledging design) but especially if an assumed multiverse with immense probabilistic resources (*) has increased the level of natural-improbability that skeptical scientists will accept as evidence for design — so there is a possibility of design-directed action that did occur but is not acknowledged by skeptics.   {more about A Multiverse and/or Intelligent Design}
      * Some proponents of a multiverse propose an infinitely large multiverse where "everything" happens due to infinite probabilistic resources.  But infinity is physically impossible, so it's more scientifically justifiable to claim a large multiverse where many things happen.  Therefore, if we assume a multiverse we should try to estimate its size and its increased probabilistic resources.
      Is it scientific?  My main page about the fine tuning of nature (is it due to intelligent design and/or a multiverse?) includes a section asking "Can a multiverse theory be scientific?", and my conclusion is that "we should be cautious about claiming ‘it isn't science’ if this claim is being used as a trump card to prematurely eliminate multiverse theories from serious consideration.  Instead we should be patient while learning what we can, and trying to infer what we can based on evidence-and-logic, even if these inferences cannot be proved."  Basically, this is what I also think about intelligent design (here in 7B-7C) and historical science (in 4B).

 
      7C. Is methodological naturalism always useful in science?
             Should intelligent design be allowed in science?

      Currently, most scientists use methodological naturalism (MN) by including only natural cause-and-effect in their scientific theories.  Is it necessary for a scientist to always conclude, for everything in the history of nature, that "it happened by natural process"?  This assumed conclusion produces an inflexible Closed Science that is constrained, in its search for truth, by rigid-MN.  In a rational alternative, a flexible Open Science uses testable-MN in which a scientific investigation begins by assuming "it happened by natural process" but considers this a flexible assumption that can be tested, not a rigid conclusion that must be accepted.

      If we define science as "whatever scientists do," and most scientists currently use methodological naturalism (MN), does this make it scientific?  If those with power to make decisions (about publishing, funding, and hiring) decide that MN is a "rule of science" that is unwritten yet is enforced, does this settle the issue?
      Is science a game with rules?  This is an interesting sociological perspective, useful for thinking about interpersonal dynamics and institutional structures.  But instead of viewing science as a game with rules, we should think of it as an activity with goals. *
      For most scientists the main goal of science (although not the only goal) is finding truth about nature.  But rigid-MN might lead to unavoidable false conclusions.  When some scientists recognize this and question the usefulness of rigid-MN, is it cheating or wisdom?
      * The full page compares "cheating" in two contexts — is it acceptable to move a refrigerator using a two-wheeler if the goal is recreational (as in a strong-man competition) or is pragmatic (in a business that delivers appliances) — and asks "which of these is closer to the main goal of science?"   More generally, scientists and their problem-solving methods — including logical reality checks and cultural-personal factors, and much more (but not rigid methodological naturalism) — are examined in a set of pages, condensed from my PhD dissertation, about scientific method.

      If "the main goal of science is finding truth about nature," perhaps with rigid-MN this search is occasionally futile, like trying to explain how the faces on Mount Rushmore were produced by natural processes of erosion.  If scientists are restricted by an assumption that is wrong — that does not match the historical reality — their finest creativity and logic will fail to find the true origin of the faces.   { The full page asks you to "think about a man who is looking for missing keys in the kitchen when the keys are on the front porch" and suggests that "when we're not sure where the keys are, instead of demanding an either-or choice (by restricting the search to either kitchen or porch) it seems more rational to search everywhere, in both kitchen and porch." }
      In science, is rigid-MN a useful strategy?  Probably it will be useful IF its assumption (that history included only natural events) matches reality, since rigid-MN will help scientists avoid being distracted by false theories about non-natural events.  But IF non-natural events really did occur in history, so the premise of MN is false, rigid-MN will force scientists to reach some false conclusions, and this doesn't seem useful.
      We don't know whether MN matches the reality of history, so should we search with a humble attitude by refusing to assume that we already know — with certainty, beyond any doubt — what happened?  Should we assume answers, or investigate questions?

      What are the criteria for defining science and non-science?
      Naturalistic:  The main theme of 7C is methodological naturalism, and the question of whether all scientific theories (about everything in history) must always propose only natural cause-and-effect.
      Falsifiable:  Sometimes a theory of design is criticized by claiming it is not scientific because it is not falsifiable.  But this claim seems wrong, for two reasons.  First, most philosophers of science think it is impossible to define science, and to separate science from non-science, on the basis of specific criteria such as falsifiability.  Second, a design theory can be empirically responsive, testable, and scientifically falsifiable, by using the logic of mutual exclusion.  Even though in science we cannot prove or disprove any theory, we might be able to develop a logically justified confidence that a specific design theory is probably true or is probably false.
      Predictive:  Should a design theory be labeled "unscientific" because it does not make predictions?  This demand is silly for any theory making a claim about history.  The goal of historical science is to describe what did happen in history (not to predict what will happen in the future) and it can describe one-time events.  To see how silly this demand for "prediction" is, imagine claiming that a meteor-extinction theory (proposing that dinosaurs became extinct due to a giant meteor impact 65 million years ago) is unscientific because it cannot predict this event.   /   In the hypothetico-deductive logic used in historical science and operation science, retroductions (theory-based deductions that are compared with already-known observations) have the same logical validity as predictions (theory-based deductions that are compared with not-yet-known observations), although with retroduction there is more concern about the possibility of using ad hoc theory adjustments to achieve a match between deductions and known observations.
      Mechanistic:  In some situations, a mechanistic explanatory theory can provide an adequate description and explanation.  But in other situations, "what happens" depends on the decisions and actions of an agent, so a historical theory that is accurate (because it correctly describes what actually happened) must be an agency explanatory theory — proposing that "agent action was involved" — instead of a mechanistic theory that ignores the agent.
      Published:  One criterion for scientific legitimacy is whether ideas have been published in a mainstream journal.  But getting papers published can be difficult for anyone who challenges current theories, since most journal editors (and those who advise them) are defenders of current theories.  {why doesn't intelligent design publish?}

      If miracles occur, as claimed in the Bible, is science still possible?  Yes.  Effective science requires a world that is usually natural (without frequent "Alice in Wonderland" surprises that affect science) but it doesn't have to be always natural.
      Can non-natural events be studied using the methods of science?  In some ways, no.  But in other ways, yes.  Scientists can infer an unobservable cause (such as electrons in chemistry, or ideas in psychology, or the actions of an unseen agent) if this unobservable cause produces observable effects.  As explained in Section 4B (for historical science), "we can infer... historical events if these unobserved events produced evidence we can observe now."
      Can we predict or explain the actions of a supernatural agent?  No.  In this area of reality, we have a limited understanding.  But these limitations are not reasons to think a basic design theory (which only claims "design-action did occur") is unscientific, because in historical science it's unreasonable to demand that a theory must be predictive or mechanistic, as explained above.
      Should we define science as a search for natural explanations, or a search for logical explanations?  If there is a conflict between natural and logical — if Methodological Naturalism says "for this question we must accept a natural conclusion even though evidence-based logic doesn't support it" — which criterion should have higher priority?
      But in natural science, don't we have to explain natural phenomena and natural history by natural causes?  No, this claim is just circular logic that's camouflaged with verbal ambiguity by using natural to mean both "pertaining to nature" (three times) and "normal appearing" (once).
      A principle of methodological naturalism cannot be derived from science (so it is non-scientific) but is compatible with science (so it is not un-scientific).

 
      Should intelligent design be allowed in science?
      This section builds on 7B which asks, "Can we use scientific methods to detect design?" and observes that "scientific theories are evaluated based on scientific evidence-and-logic combined with philosophical perspectives" that include the option of deciding that "instead of declaring a winner, we can just say ‘we're not sure at this time’ and continue searching, with a humble open-minded attitude, in our efforts to learn more."

      If some scientists think "a designer did it," will this stop scientific progress because there is nothing left to study?  No.  Design is not a science-stopper, because when most scientists hear a claim that "maybe a non-design explanation doesn't exist" they will continue their non-design research, probably with renewed vigor due to the additional motivation of responding to a challenge.
      Most biologists think non-design research, based on neo-Darwinian theories, is more productive for helping us understand the history of life.  I agree.  But design can also be scientifically useful when the perspectives of design and non-design are combined, with creative-and-critical thinking (about non-design) supplemented by additional critical thinking (about design);  and design can promote creative thinking by its proponents & opponents.
      We don't have to make an either-or choice between design and non-design.  Because responsible proponents of design agree with their critics that the main motivation for science is to search for truth about nature and its history, they want non-design research to continue and prosper so we can learn more, so in future science we can better evaluate the merits of non-design and design.  They want to supplement non-design research, not replace it.  They want to stimulate productive thinking and action (this has occurred due to Michael Behe's claims for irreducible complexity) with invigorating debates between critics of a theory and its loyal defenders, so why is intelligent design not published in science journals?
      Two goals of editors — their editorial responsibility and promotion of intellectual freedom — can be in tension, and sometimes responsibility indicates that a particular idea should be excluded from their journal.  In the history of science, many challenges to current theories have been wrong, and have been responsibly rejected because they were not based on solid science.  But should we be concerned when the ideas of Michael Behe are rejected because an editor decides (in one of Mike Behe's Adventures in non-Publishing) that publishing his ideas "cannot be appropriate" because "our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations... are possible and inevitable"?  Even if all of Behe's claims are found to be wrong after these claims have been thoroughly investigated in future science, journal editors can ask, "Will his current questions help to stimulate productive thinking and research?"
      Design will have little overall impact on science, because most areas are not affected by claims for design.  But for a few questions — about the fine-tuning and origin of our universe, and the origins of first life and complex life — maybe design deserves to be viewed as a potentially useful idea, worthy of serious consideration and further development.

      A basic design theory (which claims only that "design did occur") does not explicitly propose supernatural action, but — since design-action can be either natural (as in genetic engineering) or supernatural (as in miraculous biblical healings) — it implicitly acknowledges the possibility of divine action, so design isn't limited by the restriction of rigid methodological naturalism.
      Due to circular logic, The Assumption of MN — that no matter what the evidence indicates, "it happened by natural process" — automatically becomes The Conclusion of MN.  Of course, the irrelevance of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, or that MN is leading to the wrong conclusion.  But it does illustrate a logical weakness of MN, which bypasses the process of science and then (by ignoring MN-Humility) claims the authority of science for its naturalistic conclusions.
      Are scientists "unscientific" if they strongly criticize chemical evolution by describing the inadequacy of all current theories?  or if they claim that future theories will also be inadequate?  or propose a design theory that implies a non-natural cause?  or explicitly propose a non-natural cause?  But if a critic proposes a new naturalistic theory, does this make the criticism scientific?
      Can scientists admit that "we are far from finding the answer" but not that "maybe there is no natural answer"?  Should we use rigid-MN to restrict the freedom to propose that "maybe..."?   Or should we let scientists use the entire process of science, including a logical evaluation of all competitive theories, when they are determining the conclusions of science?

 
      7D. Should a Christian accept methodological naturalism?
      The Bible claims that God does miracles.  Can a Bible-believing Christian use methodological naturalism (MN) and assume "no miracles in the history of nature" while doing science?  Is methodological naturalism theologically satisfactory?  Yes, I think devout Christians can use MN in two ways:
      • Proponents of an open search accept rigid-MN in science, but view the resulting closed MN-science as one aspect of a broader "open search for truth" that considers all possibilities, including miracles.  MN-science is respected as an expert witness, but is not allowed to be the judge and jury when we're defining rationality and searching for truth.
      • Proponents of open science claim that historical science would be more effective, in a search for truth, if we replace rigid-MN with testable-MN in which a scientific investigation begins by assuming "it happened by natural process" but considers this an assumption that can be tested, not a conclusion that must be accepted.

      In both approaches, natural does not mean without God.
      Confusion is caused by the common use of "naturalism" with two meanings:   In a narrow meaning, naturalism is a specific claim — which is compatible with Christianity — of "only natural process" for a particular event, series of events, or period of history;  this type of narrow claim can be affirmed by a wide range of people, including Christians and non-Christians.   In a broad meaning, NATURALISM is a general claim — not compatible with Christianity — that "only nature exists" or "only matter/energy (and related forces) exists" with no God and thus no divine action;  this broad claim is affirmed by a narrow range of people that does not include Christians.
      When one word has two meanings, this often leads to sloppy thinking and communicating, so I think we should avoid using naturalism with the broad meaning, NATURALISM.  Instead, the atheistic claim that "only matter exists" or "only nature exists" should be called materialism or matterism or naturism.   {the frustration of multiple meanings & stolen words - sigh}
      Do you see the two differences between methodological naturalism and philosophical materialism?

      Is the result of MN different when it is applied to questions about a design of nature? 

      An open science is not theistic science.
      A theistic science is based on the principle that theists should use all they have reasons to believe (including their theology) when doing science, when constructing and evaluating theories.  But theistic science is not a single way of thinking, because our differences — when interpreting the Bible (in theology) and nature (in science) and combining these interpretations — can lead to different ideas about God, scripture, divine actions, nature, and science, which can produce dogmatic rigidity (ranging from extremes of young-earth geocentrism to evolutionary deism) or open-minded flexibility. 
      But everyone, whether they are a theist or nontheist, has a worldview that influences their science and their willingness to "follow the evidence" to a logical conclusion.  For example, an atheist can accept only one conclusion — a totally natural evolution without God — so their scientific freedom is limited.
      An open science welcomes all perspectives — including atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, and theistic sciences with differing views about MN and about questions of age and evolution — but is not restricted by the dogmatism of any perspective, so it can maintain an open mind about a wider range of scientific conclusions.

      With methodological naturalism the inevitable scientific conclusion for every question — no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence — must be that "it happened by natural process."
      Scientists who use MN, which places a limit on what can claim to be science, automatically place a limit on what science can claim to explain.  Why?  Because MN logically requires MN-Humility that acknowledges the possibility of unavoidable error:  If the origin of a feature involved a non-natural cause, then any explanation by MN-Science (in terms of only natural causes) will be incomplete or incorrect.
      In principle, an open search that combines MN-Science with MN-Humility is logically and theologically acceptable.  In practice, a weakness of this combination is the rarity and futility of humility.
      MN-Humility is rare.  Christian scholars who advocate an open search rarely ask their colleagues to consider the possibility that MN-Science can err (in general) or might have erred (in a specific situation) by reaching a wrong conclusion.  And non-Christian scholars are even less likely to be humble about MN-Science.   /   Consider this example:  Theories about a natural origin of life (NOOL) are an especially interesting "test case" when we ask questions about MN-Humility, because scientific support for NOOL-producing chemical evolution is much weaker than for biological evolution, and (unlike biological evolution) NOOL is not important for biological science;  but NOOL is necessary for a formative history of nature without miracles (which is assumed in MN-Science, and is proposed by evolutionary creationists) and, in a more extreme claim, for a world without God (as proposed in the philosophical naturism of atheists).  NOOL is an opportunity for MN-Humility.  But instead of a humble acknowledgment that maybe life did not begin by a natural process that is part of MN-Science, there are confident statements — by individuals and organizations, in textbooks, educational films, and websites — implying that chemical evolution did produce life, even though we don't yet know the details of how this happened.
      MN-Humility is futile in producing a "level playing field" for evaluations, even when it is acknowledged.  Why?  Think about what happens when a "scientific" theory and a "nonscientific" theory both claim to describe some feature in the history of nature.  Even if scientific evidence does not support the scientific theory (as with a natural origin of life) it is considered more plausible due to the cultural authority of science.  The nonscientific theory is not respected because in modern society most people assume that, for a theory about nature, "not scientific" means "not true."
      Usually, thinking that "scientific" means "probably true" is a good way to bet.  Our confidence in science is generally justifiable, because science based on evidence-and-logic has been very useful for understanding nature and developing technology.  But MN-Science is not constrained by evidence and logic, since the unavoidable conclusion (independent of evidence) is that "it happened by natural process."  Thus, MN-Science can bypass the process of science and then claim the authority of science for its naturalistic assumptions that, due to the rarity and futility of MN-Humility, appear to be scientific conclusions.
      Does methodological naturalism influence the way we think?  In principle, scientific methodology and philosophical worldviews can be independent.  But in practice they are mutually interactive and each tends to influence the other.  Methodological naturalism can influence our thinking because its naturalistic assumptions automatically become naturalistic conclusions about "the way the world is (regarding what can and cannot happen) according to science," and many people are influenced by science.
 


Full FAQ-7    EVALUATION OF EVOLUTIONS    DESIGN IN SCIENCE?
Some members of ASA agree with my views in 7B-7C, while others disagree,
and hopefully we'll soon give you FAQ-responses from those who disagree.

 

8. Wise Education about Creation and Origins
The title above is not a link because this is the only page in the FAQ that isn't written yet.  Maybe something more will be available by mid-2010.  Until then, in my Introductory FAQ you can see some questions it will address;  and many of the ideas that eventually will be in it are already in the homepage for ORIGINS EDUCATION.

8A. What should Christians teach about creation?
When this section is written, it will use the earlier FAQ-pages (1-7) as a foundation for understanding creation — who, why, what, when, and how — and what to teach about it.  And it will include many ideas that are now in CHRISTIAN EDUCATION.

8B. What should public schools teach about origins?
Until this section is written, you can read the links-page for ORIGINS EDUCATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS (written by me as editor) and my own page (written as author, not editor) for Critical Thinking (about Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design) in Public Schools.

 
 

This page is one part
of an FAQ (Frequently
Asked Questions) about
Creation, Evolution 
and Intelligent Design,

written by Craig Rusbult,
with an ASA-disclaimer.
 
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4, Age–of–Earth Science 
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6. Four Types of Design 
7. Evaluating Evolution 
8. Origins Education 

 

Homepage for Origins 

 

 


 
 
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