How Are Christianity and Evolution Compatible?

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Asking whether evolution is compatible with Christianity is a bit like asking whether playing baseball is compatible with being American or playing cricket compatible with being British.

The very first written response to Darwin’s famous book On the Origin of Species [1859] was from an Anglican priest and was so positive in tone that Darwin quoted from it in the second edition of the Origin.

The priest was the Rev. Charles Kingsley and on November 18th, 1859, six days before the publication of the Origin, he was thanking Darwin for his kind gift of an advance copy, writing that ‘All I have seen of it awes me’, commenting that it is ‘just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self-development…as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas [gaps] which He Himself had made’.

Since 1859 most Christians have been equally happy to incorporate evolution within their biblical understanding of creation. Yes there was some opposition at the beginning, as there is for any radically new theory, but the most influential church leaders soon realized that Kingsley was right. The idea that evolution was greeted with general horror by the Church is a myth.

The British historian James Moore comments that ‘with but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution’, and the American historian George Marsden reports that ‘…with the exception of Harvard’s Louis Agassiz, virtually every American Protestant zoologist and botanist accepted some form of evolution by the early 1870s’. One of those biologists was Asa Gray, professor of natural history at Harvard and a committed Christian, who was Darwin’s long-term correspondent and confidante, helping to organize the publication of the Origin of Species in America.

Some Christian theologians were particularly welcoming in their response to evolution. One such was the Rev. Aubrey Moore, a scientist-priest at the University of Oxford who was Curator of the Oxford Botanical Gardens. Moore claimed that there was a special affinity between Darwinism and Christian theology, remarking that ‘Darwinism appeared, and, under the guise of a foe, did the work of a friend’. The reason for this affinity, claimed Moore, was based on the intimate involvement of God in his creation as revealed in Christian theology, for

There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law… For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God.

In contrast to the robustly theistic views expressed by Kingsley and Moore,  Darwin himself was a deist when he wrote the Origin, meaning that he believed in a God who started life at the beginning, but who after that had no direct involvement with it. This is clear from the very last poetic sentence of the Origin, quoted here from its sixth and last edition (1872):

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Darwin eventually became an agnostic in later life, but was never an atheist, maintaining that indeed it was possible to be ‘an ardent Theist and an Evolutionist’.

Given that Darwin’s Christian contemporaries largely embraced evolution, how is it that today, 150 years later, many American Christians reject his theory? First it should be noted that evolution is still widely accepted by the Christian community in Europe. Second, it is an unfortunate fact that evolution since Darwin has become infested with different ideological agendas that have nothing to do with the biological theory itself.  For example, some have sought to invest evolution with an atheistic agenda, so Christians who naturally reject atheism are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Third, a sizable segment of the American Church has adopted a literalistic stance towards the interpretation of the Bible. Reacting against the inroads of liberal theology into its ranks in the earlier decades of the 20th century, many American Christians started reading Biblical texts, such as Genesis 1-3, in a highly literalistic manner, as if it were teaching science rather than theology. Such modernistic handling of ancient texts inevitably leads to a clash with science.

Once we return to a more traditional way of interpreting the Bible, assisted by the early Church Fathers, then any possible clash between science and Biblical texts simply vaporizes. Augustine, for example, wrote a commentary between AD 401 and AD 415 entitled The Literal Interpretation of Genesis. The twenty-first century reader coming to this volume expecting to find the term ‘literal’ interpreted in terms of strict creation chronology and days of 24 hours, is in for a surprise.  Instead Augustine read Genesis 1 as a theological literary text written in highly figurative language. Other Church Fathers (such as Origen, 3rd century) did likewise, as did Jewish commentators like Philo of Alexandria in the 1st century.

The biblical creation theology of the early Church Fathers, mediated to the European Church by great theological scholars such as Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, provides a framework within which evolution can comfortably be accommodated. The Christian understanding of God creating is very different from human types of creating.  God as creator in the Christian view is the ground and source of all existence. Anything that exists, be it the laws of physics, mathematics, quantum fluctuations, Higgs bosons or the processes of evolution are therefore,  ipso facto, aspects of this created order. When human beings make things they work with already existing material to produce something new.  The human act of creating is not the complete cause of what is produced; but God’s creative act is the complete cause of what is produced.

So speaking of God as the ‘creator’ of the evolutionary process is not some attempt to smuggle ‘God language’ into a scientific description, as if God were some ‘extra component’ without which the scientific theory would be incomplete. Far from it, for then such a concept of ‘God’ would no longer be the creator God of Christian theology. Rather the existence of the created order is more like the on-going drama on the TV screen – remove the production studio and the transmitter and the screen would go blank.

The biblical writers underline this point by employing the past, present and future tense when speaking of creation.  God is immanent in the created order, an insight with a Christological focus in the New Testament, where John insists in the prologue to his Gospel that “Through him [Jesus the Word] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” and the Apostle Paul makes the astounding claim that not only by Christ have all things been created, but also that in Christ “all things hold together”.

It was such reflections that led 19th century theologians like Aubrey Moore to celebrate Darwin’s theory because, in their view, it helped to move theology away from the deistic notion of God the distant law-giver to the idea central to Christian theism of the creator God actively involved in upholding and sustaining the complete created order in which the evolutionary process is a contingent feature.

This is the evolutionary process which, as a matter of fact, provides the best explanation for the origins of all the biological diversity on this planet. Taken overall it is a tightly constrained process. The late Stephen Jay Gould likened evolutionary history to a drunk lurching around on the side-walk, but the point about a side-walk is that it’s a very constrained space. In the phenomenon known as ‘convergence’ the evolutionary process keeps finding the same adaptive solutions again and again in independent evolutionary lineages. Replay the tape of life again and it’s very likely that the diversity of life-forms would end up looking rather similar. There are only so many ways of being alive on planet earth. A pattern of order and constraint is rather consistent with a God who has intentions and purposes for the evolutionary process.

Does the fact of evolution raise challenging theological questions for Christian faith? Of course. For example, when did humans first become responsible to God for their actions? How should Christians understand the doctrine of the Fall in the light of evolution? And what about the problem of pain and suffering? No-one pretends that such questions have simple answers, and I have written a book that tackles them in some detail (Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose? Oxford: Monarch, 2008). Understanding evolution is a help rather than a hindrance on that last question. There are necessary costs in the existence of carbon-based life and all living things, including us, play our part in sharing the burden of those costs. Biological existence, with all its rich diversity, is a costly existence.

“Nature is what God does” wrote Augustine in his commentary on Genesis.  We exist within God’s created order and the evolutionary process is a key feature of that order, essential for our existence. That means a lot more than mere ‘compatibility’. And the good news is the future tense of creation. The best is yet to come.

Discussion Summary

The discussion on this topic was wide-ranging and somewhat surprising for the author in a positive way in that the discussion at least in the early part of the week following the post was quite irenic and theologically thoughtful, and it was only later on in the week that the anti-evolution voice began to weigh in quite heavily. It is impossible to summarise such a complex discussion in a few words, so instead I will here focus on a few of the interesting themes that began to emerge as the discussion progressed.

One theme was the straightforward sociological question as to what proportion of the Christian community worldwide is in fact anti-evolution. Clearly the level of creationism in the Christian community of Western Europe is considerably less than in the USA, and only in recent years has creationism received any public comment. For example in Britain prior to the 1970s it was barely on the radar. But perhaps it is more important to note that the patterns of belief and disbelief are far more complex than the simple yes/no questions routinely used by polling organisations might suggest. For example, the sociologist Jonathan Hill has recently reported his initial findings on the beliefs of the American public concerning evolution; in his study the questions were nuanced much more to find how strongly people hold to a given position, and whether they think it really matters for their religious beliefs  Somewhat surprisingly, only 8% of the American population in this study were found to be convinced young earth creationists whose beliefs were really important for their faith, and only 4% were atheistic evolutionists who maintained that their beliefs were important to them personally, the vast majority of Americans holding to other kinds of positions in between. Once sociologists start to get into the real nitty-gritty of people’s belief systems, then what might have initially appeared like two large opposing camps begins to fragment into a jig-saw of multiple opinions held with varying degrees of conviction. The problem with the big polling organizations’ data is that their questions often force respondents into positions that they might tend towards, but in reality they hold to more nuanced positions than any of the options provided.

Another major theme that emerged during the course of the discussion was the question of natural theology: to what extent should we expect God’s character and purposes to be revealed through the created order? One respondent quoted from the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made”, claiming that God could not be “in evolution” if this verse were not very literally true. I’m not so sure about the interpretation here. Paul draws attention to the fact that the existence of an all-powerful divine being can be inferred by inspection of the natural world. That is surely correct: the existence of the Creator is an inference to the best explanation as we investigate the intelligibility, rationality and sheer mathematical elegance of the universe. But Paul is quite sparing on how much we can infer by such a process of thought. For example, Paul does not provide us with a list of the other aspects of God’s character that we might be able to infer in the same way, for example, his love, his grace and his forgiveness. These we only find out about through revelation, supremely through the revelation that we have in Christ. To use an analogy, imperfect as all analogies are, if God is the author of life, then human authors, at least, do not necessarily reveal their own character through their novels, though they may choose to do so at particular moments. In fact Paul himself in his other writings speaks of the “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages” which has now been revealed in Christ [Col: 1:26-27]. Certainly we can look at the created order, which of course includes the evolutionary process, through a Christological lens, thereby discerning trends, hints and fore-shadowings that are consistent with the purposes of God in creation, but without that lens we are in no position to simply ‘read off’ God’s character and purposes from the material properties of the created order. Those who attempt to build a religious belief solely on evolutionary theory, for example, do not end up with anything that looks like authentic Christian faith.

As far as the anti-evolution comments are concerned, I realize that most of the time these stem from a concern that holding to evolution might subvert some important aspect of Christian doctrine. I am sympathetic to that concern. If I really thought that evolution entailed such conclusions, then I might feel that concern likewise. But the fact of the matter is that I, together with hundreds of others, have provided the reading public with sufficient biblical, philosophical and scientific reasons to demonstrate that such concerns are unfounded. Given that the hostility towards evolution that continues to characterize certain segments of the Christian community is, without doubt, a source of the alienation that often exists between Christian faith and the scientific community, in the US at least, my plea to the nay-sayers is to take a fresh look at the real reasons for their opposition, and consider whether those reasons might need some kind of fresh assessment.  Remember these words from the 17th century Calvinist poet Johan de Brune: ‘Wheresoever Truth may be, were it in a Turk or Tatar, it must be cherished…let us seek the honeycomb even within the lion’s mouth’. Considering that these words were penned during a period when the Turks were at the gates of Vienna, threatening to conquer the whole of Europe, their publication must have taken some courage!

New Big Questions:

1. How could a God of love bring all living things, including ourselves, into being by an evolutionary process which involves so much suffering and death?’

2. When Christians talk about God being ‘immanent’ in creation, what do they mean?

40 Responses

  1. Meyer1953 says:


    I think that an important point in the Darwin vs God debate is, that the way in which Darwinian evolution is portrayed is that sexual reproduction is itself an end, to the Darwin camp, rather than a means to a defining end.  So, what ever creature gets to do the mating is defined as “fit” and thus the engine of evolution.  What faith in God portrays instead is that the crucifixion death of Jesus, given innocently for the sonship of mankind to God, is itself the definition of all advance.

    So evolution ala Darwin falls prey, time and again, to a caricature of itself that the monkey with the biggest dong gets the banana of reproduction fitness.  Such cartoonish abomination against the Cross is in direct conflict with faith in God.  Though the cartoon is not necessary, it is quite routinely and without challenge practiced by Darwin supporters.

    • Tam Hunt says:

      Meyer, you write that the “crucifixion death of Jesus” is the “definition of all advance.” With all due respect, this appears to make no sense even in a Christian context. Even if we accept the Christian theistic God as active intervenor in His creation, there is little evidence to suggest that it was his plan to sacrifice his son to assuage the sins of humanity. Why would this be the notion of progress? Moreover, and going a bit deeper, I’d love to hear your views on the logic of the crucifixion. If God is all powerful, why should we appreciate his sacrifice of his only son as any kind of magnanimous gesture? Surely God could have chosen a different path because he is all powerful. Surely God could create more sons if he is all powerful. The only logic I’ve ever found in the crucifixion stems from the common practice in various cultures of making an offering to a higher power in order to reap the good graces of that higher power through sacrificing something of value. But somehow the logic got all switched around re the crucifixion. God can’t make a sacrifice to a higher power because he is the higher power. So who is God making a sacrifice too?  

  2. Tam Hunt says:

    I’m sorry, but to suggest that “most Christians” accept evolution as compatible with Christianity is profoundly inaccurate. I wish it were true, but wishing it were true doesn’t make it so. Rather, arguing against even the fact of evolutionary change (let alone the accurate mechanisms of change) has become one of the key rallying cries of Christianity here in the US in recent decades. The concern is that if evolutionary theory can show how complex organisms came into being without the help of any divine agency, a key argument in favor of the existence of God goes out the window. 

  3. nodoubt1 says:

      It would appear that the essential presupposition underlying your thesis is that God or Spirit and matter are fundemntally compatible, that they combine and cooperate on some unexplained basis. But if there is any overlap between the two, if they share any commen element, then why is not God or spirit measureable, at least in part? From the standpoint of the 21st century, in view of the extraordinary advances in natural science, it is not all easy to dismiss so great a disconnect. I suggest Christians ( asa well as other religionists) need to consider that the material component of anything, it’s apparent place in time and space, is in us, not in God. Seen as God sees it, the universe must consist of perfect idea, not objective matter. The time componenet and finite component of things, whether organic or inorganic, must reside in us, not in God. So, God’s creation can not evolve for the same reason mathematics cannot evolve. Evolution involves a finite basis changing over a time continuum and neither of those elements are present in mathematics, or in the universe as devinely conceived. Thus, in religions terms evolution must be simply a phase of what in Bible terms is known as the “carnal mind”. and “…enmity against God”.

  4. Denis Alexander says:

    COMMENT ONE: 4th June

    Just to pick up Tam Hunt’s sociological point first about “most Christians accepting evolution”, clearly to demonstrate that claim would require detailed sociological data from the world population on this issue, which is not available. But the assertion was included deliberately as a reminder that the USA is rather unusual in its high level of creationists and my impression is that Americans sometimes forget that the situation is very different in other parts of the world. Here in the UK, for example, when a ComRes poll reported in 2009 that 10% of the population could be classified as ‘creationist’, everyone was a bit shocked, not realising that the figure would be that high. Of course a lot depends on how the polling question is asked. In the UK creationism is a rather recent phenomenon – when I was a student in Oxford in the 1960s studying biochemistry, and active at the time in the church community, the term ‘creationism’ was unknown – I didn’t (knowingly) meet my first creationist until my late 20s when I was working overseas – he was an American chaplain at a local US base.

    Concerning Meyer’s point that the evolutionary process, focusing, as it does, on the notion of fitness and reproductive success, is in sharp contrast to central Christian doctrines, such as the self-giving love of Christ in his crucifixion, well certainly this is correct up to a point. But there seems to be a hidden assumption in the comment, which I don’t think is correct, namely, that the evolutionary process must in same way reveal God’s character to us. I’m not sure why this should be the case. In fact some theologians have suggested the opposite – that the evolutionary process is given to us as the dark background against which the light of the Christian faith stands out more sharply (think of a ray of sunshine illuminating the scene in the foreground against dark and threatening storm-clouds in the background). For myself, I go for more of a ‘middle way’ in which the evolutionary process is not there to reveal God’s character to us, and certainly not to show us God’s way of salvation, but on the other hand there may well be ‘hints’ out there pointing forward (from the viewpoint of earlier evolution) to a greater fulfilment in the Christian revelation. For example, the centrality of biological cooperation is a striking feature of the evolutionary process, a feature that points forward, perhaps, to the important role of genuine altruism intrinsic to Christian faith. Those interested in this theme might be interested in the recently published book of essays by evolutionary biologists, philosophers and theologians entitled ‘Evolution, Games, and God – The Principle of Cooperation’ [Edited by Martin A. Nowak and Sarah Coakley, Harvard University Press, 2013]. Suffering is also a central theme of the evolutionary process and is inherent in all forms of carbon-based life, especially as nervous systems become more complex, maybe another ‘hint’, pointing forward to the important role that suffering plays within the Christian world-view.

     Nodoubt1 seems to have an ultra-platonic perspective on God’s being. But this is not a view shared by the biblical writers who are insistent that the created order is a dynamic system in which God is intimately involved [Psalm 104 provides a striking example].  If Christians were pantheists, this might be a problem, but we are not. Within Christian faith God is perceived as both transcendent – other than his creation (= all that exists) – and immanent, thoroughly involved in its on-going becoming. All metaphors are inadequate when speaking of God, but the idea is something like the musical composer immanently involved in the performance of her composition. God’s ultimate declaration of the goodness of changing materiality takes place in the incarnation as the Son of God himself becomes human, developing for nine months in the womb, and making all the usual developmental transitions through life as a human-being. God is no static platonic abstract entity, but a personal God who wishes to enter into dynamic relationship with those whom he has brought into being, and God himself, in the Christian world-view, knows what it’s like to exist within changing materiality.  


    • nodoubt1 says:

         Thanks for your challenging comments. I won’t attempt to prod you out of the well worn theological groove that God as Spirit, creates matter and uses it as a medium to express himself/herself in the form of the material universe and material Man – even though to me, from the standpoint of the 21st century that viewpoint will not withstand careful analysis. Or, in other words, it tends to bespeak a magical god as opposed to a God that is intelligent law.

      But, I hope you will at least consider that to suggest, as I do, that the “created order” is entirely spiritual, not material, though it appears as material to our finite mortal minds, in no way implies that God is merely a “static platonic abstract entity”. Without a sandbox full of material atoms to contend with God’s creativity should be limitless, I would think.

      Nor would my position necessarily imply that God is not “personal” to us as mortals. Your jumping to such conclusions suggests you are commencing your analysis with finite matter as perceived by our material senses and shoehorning God, or at least part of God, into it, rather than commencing with God. Yes, I believe we do experience God as “personal”, but that is because our false sense of God is collapsing. It must continually implode because it has no law of His/Her to support it.

      Further, for me to suggest that the material, finite appearance of the creation is a phase of our limited minds would not imply God is in all, including matter, i.e. pantheism. It simply implies that the creation looks entirely opposite from where God sees it than it does from where we see it. I would accept of course, that if the creation as God sees it, is like Him/Her, i.e. spiritual, there would be nothing for God to be immanent “in”, or transcendent over.

      Christ would be understood as Man and the universe as seen by God. Jesus would represent the mortal man as viewed from our perspective with Christ, the Son of God, or divine idea, shining over and though him. The incarnation would not have to mean that spirit literally became material, only that Spirit and matter became indistinguishable to suffering humanity, and their consequent salvation.

  5. siti says:

    Denis, I am struggling to understand what you mean by the idea (in your first comment) of creation being a dynamic system in which God is intimately involved being (perhaps) a problem for pantheists…

    However, overall I agree with the thrust of your essay. I am, like Tam Hunt, not really convinced that “most Christians” would agree though. Certainly I guess most Christian theologians have either welcomed or at least reconciled themselves to the reality of biological evolution and many have even embraced a deeper, more fundamental role for the evolutionary process that seems to underpin the whole dynamic reality of natural existence. I was wondering what you might think of taking an even bolder theological step and interpreting the incarnation (and crucifixion) of Christ as a symbolic representation of God’s immanent involvement in creation. Taking the last two stanzas of  W. H. Vanstones wonderful poem, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense in that context (not that I want to impute that intent to the poet) I think might suggest the idea that may be somewhat more obliquely implied in scripture, that God’s immanence in Nature costs him dearly and leaves Him depleted and suffering though never exhausted.

    Therefore he who shows us God

    helpless hangs upon the tree;

    and the nails and crown of thorns

    tell of what God’s love must be.


    Here is God: no monarch he,

    throned in easy state to reign;

    here is God, whose arms of love

    aching, spent, the world sustain

    Evolution with its inevitable “evil” and suffering are perhaps then just a necessary consequence of the dynamic and at best exceedingly imprecisely predictable process of God’s immanent becoming? Does any of that make sense?

  6. cnolan says:

    While the author’s central point, that a Christian does not have to give up his or her faith to believe in evolution, as well as his secondary point, that creationists do not speak for all Christians, are certainly both true, the real issue, and the impact of evolution on  human thought, is a little more complex. Evolution didn’t disprove the existence of God. It simply made the existence of God unnecessary, a radical change from all that had come before. Instead of justifying his/her belief in evolution to God, the post Darwinian is in the postion of having to justify his/her belief in God to evolution. This is where our author finds himself. 

  7. Meyer1953 says:

    Tam Hunt asks about God’s plans regarding his Son’s sacrifice. Rev 13:8 “… the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” So God always had the Cross in sight. Another question asks, Why would the Cross be the notion of all progress? John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” So, the walk that Jesus did among us is through which God did and does every thing that God did and does. Another question asks, If God is all powerful, why should … . But we have no abiding idea of who God is, until Jesus. So we neither know God by or for God’s power except for what we see in Jesus among us, according to the following quote. John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’”

    Regarding the logic of the Cross, we can look to 1 Cor 1:18 “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Again, the logic of the Cross is never known externally to it but rather, it is from within the walk of the Cross that we gain God.

    The author, Denis Alexander, asserts that God’s character does not need to, in some way, be revealed to us through evolutionary progress. But then God is not in evolution. An avalanche tumbling down a hill does not equal life, surely, and if God is not in evolution then all of life is just a chemical avalanche tumbling down its hill. This view is quite common among Darwin supporters. So I am merely saying that, God is in life and known among us through life. Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

    • Tam Hunt says:

      Meyer, thanks for the responses. Regarding the logic of the crucifixion you offer a response that simply cites Scripture and relies on faith. I was asking about the logic. How does it make sense given the attributes of the Christian God and the events of the crucifixion? If you take it as simply a matter of faith, that’s fine. But it’s not logical. And any spirituality that hopes to flourish in today’s world must, in my view, be based in logic as much as or more than faith. 

  8. George Gantz says:

    Thanks for the excellent article and the effort to clarify a badly misinterpreted piece of history.  Over the last three decades the word “Darwinism” has also been expropriated by the new atheists (Dawkins – The God Delusion; even E.O.Wilson – Man’s Conquest of Earth) as they bludgeon religious belief, so it is no wonder that Christians have reacted – and the percentage that believe in evolution has declined as a result.

    What I am excited by is the fact that science at the edges of physics and biology is finding that evolutionary processes – innovation/mutation, selection by competition or testing in the fitness landscape, and procreation – appear to be fundamental to the workings of the universe.  New order emerges in complex systems (quantum physics; cosmology; immunology; genetics) in an evolutionary process – and the innovations that are most efficient and cooperative are those that thrive.  In humans, this reaches its highest point in the evolution of empathy and even religious impulses (Wright – The Evolution of God; Nowak – Supercooperators).  In short, there is a “moving force” or motivational imperative at work in nature – and the new discoveries in science are so amazing and profound an expression of order that theists can continue to take even greater delight in the beauty of God’s creation.  

    I offer a more extended discussion of this concept in an essay I submitted to the FQXi 2014 essay contest, The Tip of the Spear (  The question posed is “How Should Humanity Steer the Future”, and my thesis is that the Tip of the Spear should be armed with humanity’s finest empathic qualities – in a word, with love in its most universal form.

    Thanks – George

  9. Roncooper says:

    I think this is a very important post for American Christians. For me there is no conflict. Evolution is one of God’s tools. However I live in the South where evolution is painted as just about the most ungodly thing there is. There is no point to address people who just want to fight, but for the rest of us I would like to talk about the question of how we resolve the “War of world views,” between Christianity and science.

    Telling Christians that it is OK to believe in evolution is a good start, but in the best of all possible worlds, what do we really need to do?

    We need the Intellectuals to respect the nonintellectual dimensions of reality and we need people of faith to be reasonable. In my opinion demanding these requirements would create a middle ground for those who do not follow extreme views.

    The intellectual is taught to keep an open mind about everything that has not been emperically proven. It is a small step to request that these individuals not only keep an open mind but also respect experts in nonintellectual areas. If I remember the quote from Shakespeare,” To be wise and love is beyond man’s might.” The intellect needs to respect love.

    On the other hand the celrgy need to present a reasonable Christianity. Certainly, blind faith in dogma is necessary at times, but it is up to the church leaders to make this dogma reasonable. For example, when a priest says that birth control is against God’s will even though we are suffring from overpolulation, the message is really that God is stupid. This is unacceptable and unreasonable. It is easy to propose that God is reasonable therefore religion should be reasonable.

    There are reasonable religions and Christianity, which is unique and essential, needs to embrace reason.

  10. klmtl says:

    Hi everyone,

    A religion (devoted to God) can never be compatible with a theory base on irreligious ideology such as coincidence and chaos.. Evolutionary mechanisms of natural selection and mutation base on natural events happen by chance or coincidence.. Evolution never ever supports the effect of an intelligent or wise being on life.. That’s why real deffenders of evolution name themselves as atheists. So, that would be a ridiculous attempt to connect a religion to evolution. Btw I’m a scientist and I support science but not a theory base on falsehood. 🙂 

  11. Abed Peerally says:

    I am particularly delighted to see the instinctive support of Rev. Kingsley and of Rev. Moore for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, a view that was not restricted at the period only to them.  Of particular importance to me is this quotation:

    There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law… For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God.

    Similarly Darwin himself in a profoundly scientific mind also quoting from the article said:

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

    In spite of the tendency in more modern literature to use Darwin’s work as indicating an atheistic explanation of the origin of life in a universe which did not need a God for its creation, we find how incomprehensible the existence of the universe is to many people. This is not necessarily associated with atheism fortunately. It is clear to me that it is just as difficult to explain our own existence as to explain that of a God. Such a disbelief is due to an inability to appreciate and understand how impossible it practically is to create a universe like ours. The statistical or probabilistic explanation of the origin of the universe is deeply flawed so is the singularity theory of the origin of the universe. So in fact since Lemaitre first put forward his Primordial Cosmic Egg origin of the universe not much progress has been so far scientifically achieved to try to answer Einstein’s query: “I wish I could understand God’s mind when he created the universe”.

    The arguments on how the universe originated can be classified as religious, philosophical and scientific arguments. Unfortunately we have no scientific theory of our realities of existence, of our origin and of that of the universe which can so far credibly explain to the masses how it all could have happened. Not that it is impossible to do so. It is most probably no coincidence that most religions seem to agree there was a supernatural force behind it all. Philosophically many thinkers from ancient to more modern times have interpreted natural phenomena and religious texts to argue about the supernatural universe and with it the origin of life. Nevertheless it is true that scientifically it is a yet unanswered problem.

    However it is interesting how many ancient thinkers in the same vein as Rev. Kingsley and Rev. Moore could have found in evolution a process directly emanating from God creation of the universe. I am convinced that the scientific explanation when it comes will scientifically support the same conclusion as reached by Rev. Kingsley and Rev. Moore and by Darwin. I am working in that direction.

  12. Denis Alexander says:

    I have enjoyed reading today’s contributions. Cnolan, maybe I could just pick up on your comment first that “Evolution didn’t disprove the existence of God. It simply made the existence of God unnecessary”. If by ‘God’ in this sentence one were referring to some ‘god-of-the-gaps’ that was used to plug the scientific ignorance that existed in 1859, then one could surely agree.  This was the purpose of quoting Moore’s comment that “There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself” [likewise quoted approvingly in Peerally’s contribution]. The creator God of Christian theology is the source and ground of all existence, including the evolutionary narrative, not some ‘extra component’ inserted in the evolutionary narrative that supposedly ‘explains’ some aspect of the process that science cannot yet explain. So of course God is not ‘necessary’ to explain evolution in that sense, as if God were used to plug the gaps in our present knowledge. Either there is an author of all that exists or there isn’t. That is the real question. Christian theology is not really about explaining physical things anyway – we can happily leave that task to the scientists – but it is interested in the task of interpreting the meaning of things – like evolutionary history for example. 

     These reflections are relevant also to Peerally’s conviction that a far more complete scientific account of the coming-into-being of everything that exists still awaits us. Yes surely we should be pushing forward the boundaries of science as far as they can go. Christians believe that in our research we are exploring God’s universe and that exploration is part of our worship. So the more we understand, the greater our awe and wonder at the wisdom of God in creation. Again, it is the over-arching interpretation of the scientific story that is important.

     That leads on to a consideration of kimti’s comment that “A religion (devoted to God) can never be compatible with a theory base on irreligious ideology such as coincidence and chaos”. But I think that comment and the other suggestions in this contribution that evolution depends ultimately on ‘chance’ are inconsistent with our current understanding of the evolutionary process. As Richard Dawkins writes in the preface of his book The Blind Watchmaker, his main aim in writing the book is ‘to destroy this eagerly believed myth that Darwinism is a theory of “chance”’. No evolutionary biologist thinks that evolution taken overall is a theory of ‘chance’ for the simple reason that natural selection provides incredibly tight constraints on what evolves. Certainly the mutations in the DNA that provide the ‘raw creative material’ for natural selection occur by ‘chance’ in the sense that they occur without the well-being or otherwise of the organism in view, but the consequent variation in the phenotypes of the progeny are all tested out in the workshop of life, and this is where natural selection operates to bring an overall tight constraint. If evolution were really a chance process, taken overall, then it would be impossible to explain the many striking examples of convergence whereby the same organ or biochemical pathway evolve again and again in independent evolutionary lineages. For hundreds of such examples the web-site is a great resource. Evolution is like a search-engine seeking for design space, constantly converging on the same adaptive solutions to the challenge of flourishing in specific ecological niches.

     Thank-you, George Gantz, for your helpful comments on this theme. “Testing in the fitness landscape” is exactly what it’s about – hence my remarks that Stephen Jay Gould’s side-walk is indeed a very constrained space. It seems to me that the idea of a God who has intentions and purposes for the world is very consistent with an evolutionary history that is highly ordered and even directional if we view the process as a whole from 3.8 billion years ago to the present day.

     Thank-you also, Ron Cooper, for your reminder that “There are reasonable religions and Christianity, which is unique and essential, needs to embrace reason”. That is particularly apposite, as you point out, in the context of evolution. It really would be a great help to the Christian faith if church leaders in North America (and elsewhere of course) could simply follow in that great tradition of Christian leaders down the decades since 1859 who have been happy to baptize evolution into a Christian worldview and make clear to their congregations that this is their position. If they did that, and if the Christian community in general followed them, then at a stroke one of the key elements of the present conflict between science and faith in the USA would simply vaporize. Given that science, at least as Europe is concerned, was born in a Christian theological womb, in which many of the key assumptions and practices of science clearly have deep theological roots, it is sad indeed that some Christian leaders have come into a position of opposing scientific theories and, thereby, ipso facto opposing their own historic Christian tradition of nurturing and embracing science.


  13. Meyer1953 says:

    Tam Hunt remarks to me (Ken Meyer), “You offer a response that simply cites Scripture and relies on faith. I was asking about the logic.”

    The logic of the Cross is something that I have found to be both of, real in my own life, and the fierce power of all that is.  But it is not something that reasoning alone can ever enter, and live within.  Only personal experience of the person of Jesus – who he is, as he is, now and really – can possibly bring a person along in this power, the power of the Cross.

    It is not something that can be wielded by any reasoning, nor by any logic however perfected by mankind.  I must say so, from my own life.

    I wrote a piece on what, tangibly speaking, I find and post it on  But that is a side issue to the present discussion.

  14. David Roemer says:

    According to Evolution Revolution: Darwin was Wrong. Evolution is True. This Changes Everything by Alan Bennett, natural selection was invented 100 years before Darwin by Pierre Louis Maupertuis and Lamarkism is a better theory than natural selection according to recent research. Evolution was fully accepted by religious people before Darwin and understood to be evidence of God’s existence. Darwin’s book was directed towards laymen in order to promote atheism and eugenics. The author persuasively explains by quoting Stephen Jay Gould and others that Darwinism is an atheisitc cult. The author’s discussion of the Scopes Monkey trial is particulaly illuminating. Tennessee law did not oppose the teaching of evolution. It opposed the teaching of racism and eugenics. Darwin contributed nothing to the understanding of evolutionary biology. I forget who said it, but “Everything new in Darwin’s work was wrong, and anything not wrong was already known.” 

  15. Roncooper says:

    I would like to add that the interpretation of the meaning of the cross has changed throughout the ages. There was a time when the sacrfice of Jesus was considered bait to catch the devil. Clearly the significance of the cross has been intrepreted in many ways, some for the heart, some for the will, and some for the intellect.

    At the momment I like one I read from the philosopher Joseph Needleman. I can’t find the page and so this is from memory. He said something like, the cross is the intersection between the transient and the eternal and a person of the cross lives a dual existence in both worlds.

  16. Denis Alexander says:

    Just a brief comment on David Roemer’s mention of the book by Alan Bennett entitled Evolution Revolution: Darwin was Wrong. Evolution is True, This Changes Everything, I have to confess that this is not a publication that I have previously come across. But even to respond to the brief abstract of the points that Bennett makes in his book that Roemer mentions would take at least another book! But several points are mentioned in this summary which are clearly not the case. For example, Darwin’s Origin of Species [1859] was not “directed towards laymen in order to promote atheism and eugenics”. For a start the word “eugenics” did not even exist in 1859 – it was invented later by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton.  And Darwin was always quite insistent that he himself was not an atheist and neither did he think that evolution was incompatible with Christian faith. When Darwin in later life was replying to a letter asking whether theism and evolution were compatible, he replied saying that indeed it was possible to be “an ardent Theist and an Evolutionist”, emphasizing that “In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.”

     It is simply not the case that evolution is an “atheistic cult”. Some of the greatest figures in the history of evolutionary thought have been Christians. Two of the key architects of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, R.A. Fisher and Theodosius Dobzhansky, were Christians, the first an Anglican and the second Eastern Orthodox. I could name dozens of contemporary evolutionary biologists today, many of them leaders in their field, who are firm believers in God. Like other scientific theories, evolution is simply neutral when it comes to metaphysics. It can be viewed and interpreted through atheistic spectacles. Equally it can viewed and interpreted through theistic spectacles.


  17. harry says:

    Max Planck, Nobel Prize winner in physics and the founder of quantum theory, on science and religion:

    “No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find a contradiction between religion and natural science. On the contrary, we find a complete concordance in the very points of decisive importance. Religion and natural science do not exclude each other, as many contemporaries of ours would believe or fear. They mutually supplement and condition each other. …

    As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

    Roger Penrose, a famous British mathematician and friend of Stephen Hawking (they co-authored the book, The Nature of Space and Time), calculated the odds of the Big Bang producing by chance a universe so low in entropy (disorder) that the emergence and development of life was even a possibility to be 1 in 10^10^123. How big is that number? To write it out without using exponential notation would require writing so many zeros after the “1” that even if you wrote a zero for each proton, neutron and electron in the observable universe, and a zero for all the other elementary particles in it as well, you would still fall far short of writing down the figure needed.

    Modern science has revealed to us that life consists of digital-information-based nanotechnology the functional complexity of which is light years beyond anything modern science knows how to build from scratch. Philosopher of Science Karl Popper on the the digital information in DNA:

    “What makes the origin of life and of the genetic code a disturbing riddle is this: the genetic code is without any biological function unless it is translated; that is, unless it leads to the synthesis of the proteins whose structure is laid down by the code. But … the machinery by which the cell (at least the non-primitive cell, which is the only one we know) translates the code consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in the DNA. Thus the code cannot be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model or theory of the genesis of the genetic code. Thus we may be faced with the possibility that the origin of life (like the origin of physics) becomes an impenetrable barrier to science, and a residue to all attempts to reduce biology to chemistry and physics.

    There is a “disturbing riddle” only when an a priori assumption is made that intelligence cannot have been a causal factor in the emergence of the information in DNA. Without such an assumption it becomes obvious that a mind knew how to construct the machinery by which the cell translates the code outside the DNA molecule, and how to code the instructions for the construction that same machinery within the DNA. Intelligence is a known reality and it is therefore entirely legitimate for science to consider it among the possible causal factors in a given phenomenon coming about.

    In light of the above, it is entirely reasonable to assume that a transcendent, supernatural mind is the primary and ultimate reality. It is unreasonable to just assume that the Universe popped into existence out of nothingness, then we just “got lucky” in that it accidentally configured itself such that the ultra-sophisticated nanotechnology of life would become a possibility, then mindlessly arrived at massive quantities of digital instructions required to assemble that technology, then — again, mindlessly and accidentally — actually assembled that technology along with the environment it requires to function and to be sustained. Such is atheism’s creation myth. It is easier to believe computers could accidentally assemble themselves and then mindlessly write software that, through self-replication, could evolve into programs of ever increasing functionality and complexity.

    Neo-Darwinism has no explanation for the origin of that first, single-celled reproducing life form, nor for the emergence of the information it required, nor for the source of the new information required for the addition of new tissue types, body plans and so on which macro-evolution requires.

    The discoveries of modern science have brought us to a point where the debate among the intellectually honest ought to be about the nature and the intentions for humanity, if any, of the transcendent intellect that is the ultimate origin of all that exists, not about the assertion that such an intellect is not there at all, which is merely the fanatically held, unfounded by the facts, blind-faith-based belief of atheistic zealots. Was Christ the revelation to humanity of the nature, and of the intentions for humanity, of that transcendent intellect? That is an interesting question to minds capable of objectivity and neutrality.

    It is time to move the discussion to where the light shed on reality by modern science compels us to place it.

  18. Denis Alexander says:

    I agree with Harry that Darwinian evolution has no explanation for the origin of life, but that is partly a definitional issue. Evolution really begins its explanatory journey once DNA is present as a variant self-replicating molecule. Origin of life studies are carried out by a wide range of disciplines, including chemists, physicists and geophysicists, amongst others, and it is not really the domain of evolutionary biologists. Some remarkable progress has been made in this field over the past few decades, but it is certainly the case that we are nowhere near understanding how life came into being. Instead we have some pieces of the jig-saw with lots of gaps (more gaps than pieces it has to be said).

     I also agree with Harry that “it is entirely reasonable to assume that a transcendent, supernatural mind is the primary and ultimate reality”. Indeed it is the intelligibility of the universe that requires some kind of explanation and the reality of a rational mind behind the universe is certainly consistent with the highly organized and constrained processes involved in evolution. Having said that, however, I would be rather cautious in seeking to identify expressions of the mind of God at those particular places where science is as yet unable to provide a description of the process whereby certain things –  such as the first DNA molecule or the first replicating cell – came to be. This sounds a little bit like a designer-of-the-gaps, the first cousin of the god-of-the-gaps. Let us imagine that we did have in our hands a rather detailed and convincing mechanistic description of how life first began on Planet Earth, including detail of the various biophysical and biochemical steps involved, would that in any way subvert our understanding of the creative mind behind the universe who is immanent in the created order? I don’t think so. That would surely increase our awe at the wisdom of God in creation, not diminish it. It is the created order as a whole – the whole shebang – that reflects the Mind behind the universe.




  19. richard.randall.509511 says:

    I don’t think scientist really appreciate what a miracle this ‘blue marble’ is. I can’t count the number of factors that came together so precisely as to allow this planet and its creatures to exist, but this may serve as an example: take a deck of cards in any random order, shuffle them. What are the odds that the 52 cards then will be in perfect order like a new deck? The answer is 52 factorial which is an incredibly huge number, but that is comparable to the odds of planet Earth being amenable to life as it is. I am an armchair scientist myself and not at all theistically inclined. It would be wrong to say I am an atheist, that being only a Christian concept, but I am scientist enough to see where science as it stands today misses the point. I agree, there is nothing incompatible about evolution in theism, but Science! be ye not so proud.

  20. ttaerum says:

    The biological notion of compatibility, (can they produce viable offspring) is likely the most effective measure to determine if christianity and evolution are “compatible”. The effective question is, “what do they have to offer one another”. To see what this means, we can look at Newton’s theories and integral calculus or Einstein’s theories and Riemannian geometry. In these cases, we have physics providing motivation for mathematics and mathematics providing tools for physics. Their offspring is some of the most wonderful work imaginable.

    It is difficult to see such a happy relationship between evolution (a natural, observable, and explainable process) and any religion (a supernatural and unpredictable process). Included in the supernatural is the possibility that it can choose to hide its presence – making it unobservable.  These are, to use another analogy from physics, as compatible as dark energy and regular energy. Certainly they can coexist – but there is little evidence that they are compatible in the biological and most useful sense of the word.

  21. harry says:

    Hello, Denis Alexander,

    Thank you for your thoughtful remarks.

    You wrote:

    I agree with Harry that Darwinian evolution has no explanation for the origin of life, but that is partly a definitional issue. Evolution really begins its explanatory journey once DNA is present as a variant self-replicating molecule.”

    Evolution, if by that one means micro-evolution – the natural selection of various traits the genetic information for which is already present within the genome of a species – then yes, that doesn’t have a lot to do with the origin of life. The genetic information for a given species can allow for wild variation, as has been demonstrated by dog breeders, but at the same time it also places boundaries on that variation. Dogs remain dogs. The most extreme variations never extend so far that dogs are bred into cats, goats or anything else. This is because the information for something else just isn’t present in the canine genome.

    On the other hand, theories of the origin of life and of macro-evolution – one species evolving into another – require a plausible explanation of the origin of the information required. Information was required for life to begin and, in the case of macro-evolution, for the construction of new tissues, organs and body plans.

    Biology is information-driven. For example, the instructions for the construction of the cellular machinery required for metabolism and reproduction are stored digitally in the coding regions of the DNA molecule. The odds are infinitesimally small that such protein machines could come about without these instructions.

    For example, there are twenty amino acids in the biological, protein building “alphabet.” A small functional protein would be something like 150 amino acids in length. So there are 20^150 (or 10^195) different sequences possible in a 150 amino acid protein, most of which are non-functional. MIT biochemist Robert Sauer has estimated that the ratio of functional sequences of amino acids to non-functional sequences is 1 in 10^63. There is a roughly 1 in 2 chance of getting the necessary peptide bonding between two amino acids, which, for 150 amino acids, would be about 1 in 2^150 (or 1 in 10^45). We have the same odds of getting the necessary left handed amino acids. So there is a 1 in 10^45+45+63, or a 1 in 10^153 chance of just one small, potentially functional protein being assembled by chance. That being the case, one can see the necessity of the presence of the instructions for the construction of these protein machines, as well as the need for a storage medium for those instructions.

    The question then becomes, for theories of the origin of life and of macro-evolution, how did the required information get assembled? For that matter, since it is essential, why should a storage medium for the necessary information, like the DNA molecule, have come about to begin with? According to strictly materialistic science, it wasn’t because the need for it was foreseen. If there was no intellect to foresee the need for it, then chance in combination with the laws of physics – amazingly – just happened to bring about a digital information storage medium. If that truly happened accidentally it was very fortunate for us, since the existence of such a phenomenon is necessary for life to begin. Yet why and how did a digital information storage device come about? Consider the definition of life according to Stephen Hawking in his essay, Life in the Universe:

    It is a matter of common experience that things get more disordered and chaotic with time. This observation can be elevated to the status of a law, the so-called Second Law of Thermodynamics. This says that the total amount of disorder, or entropy, in the universe, always increases with time. However, the Law refers only to the total amount of disorder. The order in one body can increase, provided that the amount of disorder in its surroundings increases by a greater amount. This is what happens in a living being. One can define Life to be an ordered system that can sustain itself against the tendency to disorder, and can reproduce itself.”

    Ultimately, chance in combination with the laws of physics brings everything to disorder and chaos, as “the total amount of disorder, or entropy, in the universe, always increases with time.” This makes it exceedingly unlikely that a digital information storage device would mindlessly and accidentally emerge. Yet one was needed for life to get started, but it was only life that could “sustain itself against the tendency to disorder.” Everything else steadily increases in entropy; even if it is interrupted, the process of deterioration quickly resumes, even though that deterioration may take place quite slowly. Under such circumstances, how could a storage device for digital information, or a computer, or any other kind of technology come about? Such functional complexity is only known to come about via an intelligent agent, enabling it to resist the 2nd Law.

    Life was the one thing that brought forth functional complexity – *increasing* functional complexity – against the inexorable pressure of the 2nd Law. But you can’t have life without metabolism and reproduction; you can’t have metabolism and reproduction without the appropriate protein machines; you can’t have those protein machines without access to the instructions to build them; the instructions to build them can’t be accessible without a storage device for the required digital information. How and why did the prerequisite digital information storage device come about? (Not to mention the question of how did it came to contain the correct information.)

    Based on the current state of scientific knowledge it seems the only resolution to this dilemma is that an intellect – an intellect is always found to be responsible for technology – arranged for the instantiation of a storage device for digital information. (Precisely in order to launch the nanotechnology of life?)

    Referring to the kind of thing I have just done, you wrote:

    I would be rather cautious in seeking to identify expressions of the mind of God at those particular places where science is as yet unable to provide a description of the process whereby certain things – such as the first DNA molecule or the first replicating cell – came to be.”

    Cautious, yes, but not to the point of absurdity. It is exceedingly unlikely that science will ever be able to explain how functionally complex technology could have mindlessly and accidentally emerged against the relentless pressure of the 2nd Law.

    Suppose there was a group of scientists whose deepest convictions included the belief that humanity is the only instance of intelligence in the Universe. We’ll call them the NSBU (Nobody’s Smart But Us). Suppose further that a mysterious object lands on planet Earth. It is obvious to everyone but the NSBU that it is a drone of extraterrestrial origin created by intelligent alien beings. This notion is a threat to the convictions of NSBU members. They insist that everybody else has been fooled by the *appearance* of design. They are certain there is an entirely natural explanation for this so called drone. One can easily imagine their argument:

    “You creationists argue that it is inconceivable that that so called drone could have originated naturally. ‘Therefore, it must have been created by intelligent agents’, you say. This is arguing from incredulity, also known as the argument from ignorance or resorting to the ‘god of the gaps.’”

    Science must be rational and objective, following the evidence wherever it leads regardless of the religious/philosophical implications of its discoveries, if it is to remain true science. The relentless objectivity required by true science has been destroyed by contemporary science’s commitment to philosophical naturalism, which causes it to remain in denial regarding the fact that functionally complex technology never comes about mindlessly, and to resort to “naturalism of the gaps” arguments (“Somehow, even *this* happened mindlessly and accidentally.”) based on nothing but an irrational blind-faith-based belief that there must be a natural explanation for every non-man-made phenomenon, even in the case of the astounding functional complexity of the nanotechnology of life.

  22. macroevolution says:

    I was somewhat disappointed by this article as most of the arguments had already been made by Denis in his book (which he promotes in the article). However, after reading his book I then read a response to it called ‘should Christians embrace evolution’ published by IVP.  In short, that response illuminated countless errors in Denis’ argument, both scientific and theological.  If Denis really wants to take the deabte forward his time would be better spent engaging with those criticisms of his science and theology instead of just repeating old material. 

  23. ianful says:

    Wow what a lively debate! The engine of physical evolution is life itself, or more correctly The Holy Spirit – the power of God. Or to the American Indian, The Great Spirit.

    Darwin developed his theory in response to evidence as he saw it. It is a rationalisation and that is all. Others climbed on board and became archaeologists to explain what they saw. Before we knew it, we were descended from apes.

    We are evolved physically as much as we can be, except if we do some reverse engineering. In fact, we are going backwards as we have accumulated many mistakes in the human genome. Climate change will probably result in our near extinction. Anyway the way forward for us is in spiritual evolution, and that is where Jesus came in.

    Jesus was the pathfinder for the resurrection, as only the cycle of reincarnation was available until he was killed, returned to God and was resurrected. The resurrection is our way to continuation of life in the next world.

    Some followers of Jesus and 2000 years of theologians have managed to turn something simple into mumbo jumbo. Those following after Darwin have turned his hypothesis into mumbo jumbo as well. So unfortunately, Christianity and Darwinism are somewhat compatible.

  24. James Laird says:


    I’m enjoying reading your ideas – they make lots of sense to me.

    I agree with you that the root source of intelligence is a huge mystery. What entity has the intelligence needed to create life on Earth (i.e., the intelligence needed to create the first digital information storage devices)?

    Okay, I know this is going to sound a little crazy, but I’m wondering if the sun has intelligence that humans aren’t aware of, and through mechanisms that we don’t understand, it was able to exert forces that caused life to initially form on Earth, and since that time, the sun has continued exerting a wide range of forces to help life grow in a relatively balanced manner. Yes, that’s just a hypothesis, and it still doesn’t address the question regarding the root source of intelligence throughout the rest of the universe.

    Perhaps intelligence has always been an emergent property of systems existing in 3-space. In other words, it’s probably fair to say that something has always existed, and whatever that something has been, it’s always had associated intelligence. What I’m trying to say, is that intelligence has always existed across the 3-D spectrum of God, regardless of what form that spectrum has been in over time.

    The viewpoint/hypothesis that intelligence is an emergent property of many systems existing across the 3-D spectrum of scale fits with our own local/narrow experience of reality, since we know that humans possess new emergent intelligence.

  25. Denis Alexander says:

    I am sorry to disappoint you, ‘Macroevolution’, that there was insufficient new material in the article, but my intent was not really to try and respond to books like the one you mention: Should Christians Embrace Evolution? In an article of around 1600 words one can only do so much. However, as it happens, I have mounted a fairly detailed response elsewhere to that particular book in a free down-load article that has been available on the Christian in Science web-site in the UK for several years now [it can be found at:].  As you may note from that response, it is an unfortunate fact that Should Christians Embrace Evolution? is rather full of scientific errors and doubtful readings of the biblical text. ‘Macroevolution’ might also be interested to know that a second edition of ‘Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?’ is due out this September. 32,000 words longer than the first edition, it up-dates the science, which has moved on quite a bit since the book was written in 2007, and also gives more space to addressing some of the issues raised in response to the first edition, so hopefully you might find some more relevant points to address your concerns in that edition.  

     I have struggled a bit to understand the point that ttaerum is seeking to make. Physics apparently results in “some of the most wonderful work imaginable” but evolutionary biology apparently does not. Really? Evolutionary biology provides the matrix – the paradigm if you will – within which all biomedical research is carried out. There would be no point in carrying out toxicology studies on new medicines using rats if evolution were not the case (otherwise how would you know that rat physiology is relevant to humans?). There would be no point in using the mouse as a research model for hundreds of different human-disease relevant investigations unless evolution were the case, for the same reason. The rest of biological research would be incoherent unless embedded within an evolutionary paradigm that renders genomic, protein, cellular, physiological, anatomical and metabolic data coherent, for starters. This is surely very compatible with a faith, like the Christian faith, whose founder made healing a central part of his ministry and whose followers have been active in medical work throughout the world since the beginning (not forgetting Luke the good physician!). This is more than ‘coexistence’. This is a faith that rejoices in the hugely greater ability that we have to understand the created order now that evolution has come along to help make sense of its properties and to help us utilize those properties in the healing of others.

     Thank you Richard Randall for your espousal of the anthropic principle with its emphasis on the incredibly finely-tuned set of physical constants that render life in this particular universe feasible. It is indeed of interest that the anthropic principle was first mooted by atheists, the very first one being Brendan Carter here in Cambridge. It was the atheist Fred Hoyle (again in Cambridge) who was so impressed by the precise resonance in the carbon nucleus which matched that of the fusing beryllium and helium nuclei and thereby rendered the synthesis of carbon feasible.   “Nothing”, remarked Hoyle later,  “has shaken my atheism as much as this discovery”. In fact for carbon to survive there has to be a further requirement – that it does not capture a fourth helium nucleus too quickly and be turned into oxygen. This particular step is not that efficient, but if the oxygen nucleus was only 1% different, all the carbon would disappear rapidly into oxygen, and then on into other elements as soon as it was made.  So it is the very finely tuned properties of atomic nuclei that have led to the ratios between carbon and oxygen which we observe and that have rendered life possible. A third atheist, Martin Rees, again here in Cambridge, has also done much to highlight the fine-tuning of the physical constants without which this universe would not exist, as in his well-known book Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe. Along with the atheists there have been plenty of Christians also who have promoted the anthropic principle. Indeed it was the Christian cosmologist John Barrow (then at Sussex University, now in Cambridge) who really launched the anthropic principle idea, together with Frank Tipler, in their ground-breaking book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle [1988]. Although these comments might seem to take the discussion out of the orbit of the immediate discussion on evolution and Christian faith, in fact I think the points made in the anthropic discussion are quite relevant. Anthropic arguments do not seem to provide knock-down arguments for God’s existence, but I think they are an embarrassment to atheism, and push cosmologists more in the direction of multiverse explanations for the ‘apparent design’ of our own universe, even though the multiverse idea hovers somewhere on the fuzzy boundary between science and metaphysics. But of even greater relevance for our immediate topic, they do point most powerfully to an inherent structure in the universe, one which renders life possible and which is highly consistent with the idea of a creator God who has intentions and purposes for the universe.

     Which brings me then to Harry’s further contribution, which I appreciate. I very much doubt that our differences are to be found (mainly) in the realm of science, but rather in the realms of philosophy and theology. The evidence for this supposition is found in phrases/comments such as “According to strictly materialistic science”, “It is exceedingly unlikely that science will ever be able to explain how functionally complex technology could have mindlessly and accidentally emerged against the relentless pressure of the 2nd Law”, and “The relentless objectivity required by true science has been destroyed by contemporary science’s commitment to philosophical naturalism….” But scientists who are Christians (of whom I am one) do not recognize such descriptions as an accurate description of the scientific enterprise. For starters, modern science is an enterprise, at least as far as its European history is concerned, that was started by Christians who contributed much to its methods and ways of doing things. For the Christian there is no such entity as “materialistic science” for everything that exists is created and sustained by God the creator and so every scientist, ipso facto, is seeking to understand more of God’s created order. Yes there are some scientists who are philosophical naturalists, just as there are some lawyers, politicians, accountants and bus-drivers who fall into this category. But there is nothing intrinsically ‘naturalistic’ about being a lawyer, politician, accountant or bus-driver. Equally so for the scientist, for the word ‘naturalism’ in philosophy has a very clear meaning. It is defined as the ‘view of the world that excludes the supernatural or spiritual’ (Oxford Dictionary). But a Christian who is a scientist does not believe that, but instead believes in a creator God who is immanent in the whole created order, continually upholding and sustaining all that exists,  guaranteeing in his faithfulness the consistent, reproducible properties of matter without which science would be impossible, and indeed without which we wouldn’t be here. So, yes, individual scientists can be naturalists, and some are, but others are Christians, or other believers in a supernatural God, and therefore are not naturalists. It is not science qua science that is ‘naturalistic’, for it cannot be so, but the philosophy inside the heads of those who do science can indeed be naturalistic, or not.

     With a Christian view of science in mind, we can now consider Harry’s arguments more closely. Unfortunately they have every appearance of a research-blocker. Yet surely the Christian who is a scientist, of all people, remembering the way in which God’s wonderful mind behind the universe renders it both intelligible and anthropic, will be open to the possibility that God brings life about through a lengthy process that eventually we might be able to understand and even describe in some detail. Why not? The argument used from the improbability of a protein forming “by chance” from the random assortment of amino acids is a bit of a red herring. If something is highly improbable, then, the scientist will think, it most likely didn’t happen that way and so s/he better think up another way.  As it happens, no-one working in the origin of life research field thinks that proteins spring into being by the random assembly of amino acids – that’s why I say it’s a red herring. The entropy argument is another red herring. Of course life in its complexity would run counter to the second law of thermodynamics if it were operating in a closed system. But it’s not, it’s in an open system in which the sun’s energy runs down as life’s complexity runs ‘up-hill’. Photosynthesis provides a classic example, in which energy from the sun is translated into cellular energy using the chemical chlorophyll inside plant cells. In a further example, the molten interior of our planet is constantly releasing heat through the earth’s crust, but also from vents at the bottom of oceans where complete ecosystems thrive on the energy so provided. So the important point to grasp here is that indeed the entropy of the system taken as a whole is increasing, but as one system (the sun) ‘runs down’ so another system (life) ‘runs up’. There is therefore no violation of the second law of thermodynamics.

     There is no reason why the same argument cannot be applied to the roots of biological information, providing that no-one is naïve enough to think that the principles of information in IT systems and the like can be applied to biological systems, at least in any kind of straight-forward way. As it happens there are some rather sophisticated theories seeking to understand the origins of the genetic code, such as the ‘Escaped Triplet Theory’ (also dubbed the ‘Direct RNA Template’ model)  in which it was amino acids, particularly the ones found in the meteorites bombarding the early earth, which ‘chose’ the RNA molecules to which now, as a matter of fact, they can now be shown to bind most strongly and which ‘happen’ to contain the triplet codons that do as a matter of fact now encode those particular amino acids. The theory might be wrong, but it demonstrates a serious effort, supported by some empirical data, to get to grips with this challenging problem.  

     The Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) that we all now use to get money out of cash machines, or open secure doors at work, all start life as randomised 4-digit numbers. They don’t mean anything. But once they get chosen to do a specific task (be our PIN), then they become really important, not to be forgotten. This is analogous to the way information creeps into biological systems – by chemicals having properties, by those properties then leading to larger ensembles of components, which in turn become dependent on each other and are selected for their success in some functional output. Biological complexity emerges by small degrees, until wonderful new properties become apparent in the fullness of time.

     The RNA World hypothesis (the idea that RNA was the first information-containing self-replicating molecule) has also scored some remarkable successes over the past year, some relevant breakthroughs having been reported from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology here in Cambridge, a few minutes walk from where I write these words.

     As far as speciation is concerned, well it’s happening all the time and can readily be observed during the life-time of a single naturalist. And of course the polyploidy that is often responsible for plant speciation, both in the wild and in the hands of horticulturalists, is a sudden event that happens during the course of a day or so. New information is constantly pouring both into and out of genomics. For examples please do take a look at Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose? I won’t try and reproduce that book here!

     Christians of all people should surely be pressing back the boundaries of science as far as they will go for, after all, this is God’s world, not ours, and we worship God by understanding more of his wisdom in creation. So often in the past theoretical arguments as to why something ‘could never be explained by science’ have been proven to be wrong again and again by those who actually went ahead and did the experiments anyway. Surely this brings more glory to God than simply insisting that “it’s impossible ever to know”. I find that argument feeble.  

  26. siti says:

    There was quite a bit in your last two days comments I wanted to comment on – your contention that evolution “begins its explanatory journey once DNA is present” and your later comments about the connection between amino acids, RNA and codons…your comparing this with the random process of selecting PIN numbers…your comments about the “anthropic principle” – incidentally, you must be aware that John Barrow more recently (than the AP papers) published work on “changing constants”…all of which suggest to me that it is possible that the explanatory power of evolution may run very much deeper than the level of DNA…

    But the really stand out claim (for me) in your latest comment was this:

    Denis Alexander wrote: It is not science qua science that is ‘naturalistic’, for it cannot be so…

    Why can it not be so? Surely “science qua science” has to be naturalistic – as your appeals to naturalism that I have highlighted as indicating that evolution may have far more fundamental explanatory power than simply explaining the origin of biological species also suggest – none of these ideas depend on the existence of a supernatural creator (not saying that there isn’t one) but “science qua science” never takes account of possible supernatural explanations – although scientists are perfectly at liberty to do so.

  27. Phil says:

    I am amazed by the assertion at the beginning of this article that Darwin’s theory was largely accepted by the church at that time. If that is the case why did the Anglican church publish an official apology for its response on the 150th Anniversary of “On the Origin..”

    Making absolute assertions does not make something accurate. Tam Hunt has already challenged the assertion that since 1859 most Christians have been happy to incorporate evolution within their Biblical understanding. What is more amazing is Denis Alexander’s response to that in the comments.

    Dr Alexander was involved in a project called “Resucing Darwin” that published in 2009. The title tells a great deal. The surveys they commissioned concluded that only 37% of people in the UK believe that Darwin’s theory is beyond reasonable doubt. Please note the survey was not of Christians but the UK population in general.  A book entitled Rescuing Darwin was authored by Nick Spencer and Denis Alexander and sent to tens of thousands of church leaders in the UK because the authors had a conviction that the reason Darwin is not firmly established in the UK’s population is that people believe there is an incompatability between the way science and religion see the world.

    Isn’t that also the reason for the book “Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?” Targetting Christians who hold to biblical supremacy, Dr Alexander offered a way of reconciling the two. The 2008 version has not sufficiently convinced Christians of the compatibility so Dr Alexander draws our attention in the comments to the fact that a revised version, 32,000 words, longer is being published. I think those facts in themselves give the lie to the opening sentence of this article, unless that is, I have missed the revisions to the books with the 32,000 additional words that persude me it is not incompatible for Americans to play baseball.  Rhetoric is not enough to rescue Darwin and at the moment the general population are not persuaded let alone most Christians! As someone who has travelled on every continent to work with the Christian church I am at least aware that most Christians don’t live in either the UK or the USA and I think it is a little bit insensitive to assume they have nothing to say on this matter.

  28. Darwin.Dissenter says:

    It would be helpful if articles such as this were more accurate and endeavoured to engage with the other side by seeking common ground. Elsewhere Denis notes that even Henry Morris accepted the possibility of fairly rapid evolution within a short period of time and within the context of special creation. The disagreement is over whether natural selection is limited to taking place within created kinds or not. I guess nuance gets in the way of supporting one’s paradigm and agenda. 

    If Alexander had used other surveys he would have noted a greater number of YECs within the UK evangelical movement (36.3%). There were also UK old earth creationists in the 1930s, even Alexander Fleming who formed the Evolution Protest Movement. The 19THCentury founders of the Victoria Institute were YECs – so not all fell into line with Darwinism. 

    Secondly, it is a shame that Denis misuses the Church Fathers. We should read their views in the first century context, and not try and fit them into our agenda. In Genesi ad litteram Augustine warns as a greater danger Christians who esteem the pagan writings more highly than the text of Genesis, even as he says ignorant Christians should be careful not to speak out of place in science. In the City of God he also calls those pagan documents mendacious that claim many thousands of years of history instead of the biblical timescale of less than 6000 years. 

    Thirdly, if you read David Hume and Erasmus Darwin it is clear that the rediscovery of evolution was very much linked to pagan mythology, i.e. Aphrodite riding the sea on a scallop shell. Charles Darwin was more Epicurean, but the gods of chaos, eros and the powers of generation are there nonetheless. 

    From letters it is clear that Charles Darwin was engaged in a 20-30 year plan with Charles Lyell to undermine Christianity. The methodology they got from Voltaire. I have written about this in my recent book Cracking the Darwin Code. 

    So there is a lot to discuss, but this piece glosses over so much interesting evidence.

    • siti says:

      Darwin.Dissenter you almost had me there until you advocated taking the Church Fathers, namely, in your comment, Augustine, “in the first century context”. Augustine in the first century? As to your fear of pagan mythology, don’t worry too much about it – it was certainly an immediate concern for the recently nationalised religion of Augustine’s time but I am pretty sure that David Hume and Erasmus Darwin didn’t take the ancient mythologies they invoked as literary devices too literally – perhaps YECs could take a leaf out of that book to their advantage. But I certainly agree that accuracy (at least to within a century or four for easily datable historical resources) is important!

  29. Darwin.Dissenter says:

    Denis – it is not easy so dismissing the probability challenge to neo-Darwinism by appealing to some sort of fallacy of big numbers. As if you are inroducing a new concept into maths that has not yet been formalised.  Given unimaginably large numbers of the order of 10^150 or 10^65 as indicators of the complexity of amino acid sequences, you offer a 4 digit pin which may have 9999 permutations. Consider Hexosaminidase A – it requires 529 amino acids in sequence and correctly folded. 20 types gives permutations of = 20^529 = 10^688. But a four base mutation (insertion of TATC 1&1/3 amino acids) leads to the in genetic Tay Sachs disease that is usually fatal childhood. An additional problem for you with such sequences is that in order to find by chance one amino sequence we would need to increase the time and space massively. But to bring two such very rare chance sequences we would need to narrow down time and space to a point. The same with Haldane’s dilemma, in order to find very rare beneficial mutations we need very big populations. To get beneficial mutations to migrate through a population we need very small populations. This problems are real and are why many of us are sceptical of neo-Darwinian claims, and no amount of wishful thinking will make them go away.

  30. antonylatham says:

    Denis Alexander writes: “...the existence of the created order is more like the on-going drama on the TV screen – remove the production studio and the transmitter and the screen would go blank.” I would agree with this analogy as far as it goes. The problem for him though is that it is incompatible with Darwinism or current evolutionary theory. A production team in a studio is active in designing the drama. Darwinism is all about purely random variations being naturally selected and has no place whatsoever for anything other than physical/material cause and effect. There is no production team in the background controlling anything.

    Denis tries to have it both ways – the current evolutionary paradigm (which absolutely outrules design or teleology) plus theism (where God is active in the process). Notice that he refuses to use the word design however, as he is implacably opposed to the Intelligent Design movement because it threatens the evolutionary paradigm. Instead he uses theistic language such as “upholding and sustaining” – all of which Christians would agree upon; but he will not contemplate any active role for God in fashioning us or any evidence for such suprenatural design that the ID movement might give as evidence. It is very hard to see how such an impossible tension can be logically maintained.

    It is of interest that he uses convergence as evidence  for God’s active role, citing Gould’s drunk on the sidewalk and the constraint on possible forms evolution might throw up. But this is another form of deism; God setting up the parameters in the beginning or the available ‘morphospace’ and letting the clock unwind.

    We will not, in this world get all the answers, but as Christians we can and should be consistent. God is active in his world sustaining, upholding and (yes!) workng out his design of his creatures over time – and that time can be billions of years. Biblical literalism is not needed to have this view. We are only just beginning now to see how much actual evidence for this design is staring us in the face.

    A production team in a studio actively designs 

  31. harry says:

    Hello again, Denis Alexander,

    This has been an enjoyable discussion.

    Suppose an archaeologist digs up a clay pot. It has an etching on it of a man sitting under a tree. Someone claims that the discovered object is not a clay pot at all, but just a mindless and accidental, albeit curious, natural formation of earth. The archaeologist scoffs at that suggestion, of course, and calmly and confidently assures his critic that he has discovered a man-made clay pot, and the etching of the man sitting under the tree is certain proof of that.

    Most people would agree with the archaeologist that the etching was powerful evidence. Yet, for some reason, many of the same people who think it extremely unlikely that a mere caricature of a man could come about accidentally, insist that an actual instance of a man was ultimately a mindless accident. Why is that?

    Atheistic indoctrination disguised as education causes that kind of thinking. Our archaeologist discovers a mere instance of neatly arranged, rectangular shaped stones and these people rightly conclude that that is obviously the result of intelligent agency. Ultra-sophisticated, digital information-based nanotechnology the functional complexity of which is light years beyond our own is discovered, and they insist *that* is a mindless accident – even though every other instance of significant functional complexity known to us is the result of intelligent agency. Would this be the reaction if this super-technology was something besides life itself? You don’t suppose the implications for atheism of this discovery has anything to do with that reaction, do you?

  32. trueapologetics says:

    Denis – as always your article is well written from your perspective showing a good awareness of the , different persepctives of different Christian groups today. But where it lacks, is focusing on the strong arguments from those who oppose your view. Your article gives a fair historical assessment as to how the debate has evolved (forgive the pun!) to the point we have reached today. But there are serious and very detailed arguments which have been advanced from both the theological and science community which cannot be dismissed lightly. Indeed many would say that the position you hold and advanced in your book ‘Creation or Evolution – do we have to choose’ is just not possible if one is going to be true to the theology of the New Testament. Romans 5 teaches that human death comes from Adam’s sin and not before it. It also teaches that Adam is the physical federal head of the whole of the human race. Your ‘model C’ does not deny this of course but suggests that some of the human race at the time when God made Adam the federal head were not necessarily descended physically form Adam. You suggest that possibly some of the pre-existing human-like creatures were existing alongside Adam and then were added under the federal headship of Adam. That is not correct Biblically as Romans 5 and indeed 1 Corinthians 15 are arguments built on the firm basis that Adam is the progenitor of all the human race. What is more Eve is from Adam and not born – this is again a vital NT doctrine which is taught in 1 Timothy 2. These are cardinal truths which are directly connected with the the atonement of Christ on the Cross. He spiritually endured separation from his Father as he was under God’s wrath for our sin (‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me’) – that was spiritual death. But then he dismissed his own spirit (literally the phrase ‘he bowed his head and gave up the ghost’ in John 19 means ‘he bowed his head and dismissed his spirit’) – in other words he controlled his own physical death (separation of soul and body). Both spiritual and physical death are part of the penalty for sin, exactly as recorded in Genesis 3. If physical death was already being experienced by man before the Fall, then Christ’s physical death is not the penalty for my sin either. 

    Though it is true you have engaged to a certain extent with these objections in your book ‘Creation or Evolution – do we have to choose?’ you do not engage with the heavy weight theologians who have advanced the opposing argument as summarised here. It is this NT argument (no death before the Fall and Adam being the physical federal head of the whole of the human race) which is dealt with thoroughly in ‘Creation and Change’ by Douglas Kelly  (Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte NC) and ‘Battle for the Beginnings’ by John MacArthur. Wayne Grudem has also made it plain in his foreword to “Should Christians Embrace Evolution?’ that he has great concerns as to the position you and others adopt. He states in the foreword “I was previously aware that theistic evolution had serious difficulties, but I am now more firmly convinced than ever that it is impossible to believe consistently in both the truthfulness of the Bible and Darwinian evolution. We have to choose one or the other’.

    Yes, you have engaged with some of thes theological issues in the document but your model C as you call it for the origin of the human race suffers exactly the same valid criticism as does John Walton’s confusion in ‘The Lost World of Genesis One’. All attempts at getting round the straightforward creation of Adam from dust all hit the difficulty that the NT states clearly that Adam’s sin brought physical (and spiritual) death into the world, and that this was not there before. So if one has a pre-existing creature which becomes Homo Divinus then that pre existing creature in these theories already is experiencing physical death (part and parcel of evolutionary thinking…) and this immediately puts one on a collision course with the mainstream Biblical New Testament theology of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.

    As scientific advances are always progressing, we need to also hold some of the conclusions made somewhat tenuously. Up to recently there was the claim that much of the human genome was ‘junk’. In recent years the ‘Encode’ project has at the very least brought this claim into question, as control switches and other functionality has been found in the non-coding part of the genome. This has great bearing on the genetic arguments put forward for the supposed connection of apes and men in a common ancestory, so I would question your use in the last but one paragraph of your article of the phrase ‘….the fact of evolution…’ Your scientific colleagues are questioning that and need at the least to be listened to. Your view is that evolutionary change (i.e. apes and man having a common ancestor) has taken place, but many of no mean scientific ability disagree. Consequently if you are going to promote a serious dialogue, I would suggest it unwise to assume this conclusion with such dogmatism. 

  33. macroevolution says:

    Siti, my guess is that he didn’t nearly get you at all. I think you are trying to use sarcasm as a means of ridiculing an argument. In doing so you have, I suspect inadvertently, demonstrated the weakness in your position, which I assume to be supportive of Denis Alexander. You are unable to identify, weigh and evaluate evidence.

    yes, Darwin.dissenter made a mistake over his dating of an early church father. But what is your logical evidential basis for dismissing the rest of his arguments on the basis of that one factual mistake? The wrong date doesn’t mean the reference to what the church father said was wrong. If his argument ‘nearly had you’ how is the argument any different by changing the date from first century to fourth? Either those three hundred years change the context and thus the strength of the argument or what you are actually saying is because he got the date wrong you think he got other things wrong as well. The former is unlikely (although I’m happy to be convinced otherwise), the latter is just intellectually lazy. If his other arguments ‘nearly got you’ then deal with them on their merit, don’t take the lazy and uncritical option of dismissing all arguments because one was wrong. The arguments are self evidently not dependent on placing the early church fathers in their correct century.

    Denis seeks to dismiss a literal reading of Genesis and he is perfectly entitled to do so. What he is not entitled to do, however, is make the jump from dismissing Genesis to asserting Darwinian evolution to be true, as if they are the only two alternatives in town. It does not follow that because Gensis is not literal Darwinian evolution is true. The latter has to be demonstrated,  not asserted or assumed, just like any errors in darwin.dissenter’s argument have to be demonstrated not simply dismissed because he got a date wrong. 

    All of which explains why Denis has never come close to ‘nearly having me’. His theology is nonsense and his science is just philosophocal natiralism masquerading as data. 

    • siti says:

      Thankyou macroevolution. Apologies to Darwin.Dissenter for what might appear to be gratuitous sarcasm – no offence was intended and none is intended in the following which macroevolution has specifically requested.

      To the points in question – first, although I wasn’t aware that this was a debate as such, my other comments should show that whilst I am generally in support of Denis Alexander’s position, I actually don’t think he goes quite far enough (see my previous comments).

      As to my singling out of Darwin.Dissenter’s post – s/he (?) had chosen to highlight “inaccuracy” in Denis’ original essay as reasons for rejecting the general thrust – “what’s sauce for the goose…”

      First up, he cites a higher percentage of people in the “UK evangelical movement” identifying as “YECs”. No great surprise there – a greater percentage of Biblical literalists take the Bible literally. But popular support doesn’t make an argument any more true (or false).

      Next was the somewhat different take on evolution from 19th century theologians who tried to make room for advancing scientific knowledge in their interpretations. Why should it be surprising – or weaken Denis Alexander’s argument, to acknowledge that their understanding was different to how the implications of Darwinian evolution was seen by others then or us now?

      Then, the real case in point here, he linked Augustine’s fear of paganisation – perfectly understandable in the context of the 4th century Church (recently nationalized by the Roman Emperor as I hinted in my post). Not quite so convincing in the 1st century context when (by most available accounts – i.e. the Bible itself) backsliding Judaizer’s were apparently the most significant theological threat to the embryonic Church. And certainly entirely irrelevant to the situation in the 18th and 19th century world of Hume and Darwin.

      The fact is that during the course of 300 years, it had become clearly apparent to the Chruch Fathers that refinement of understanding (rather than blind literalism) was required in order to interpret the scriptural tradition in a manner that would fit their time. That observation will be overlooked if we place their writings out of context. But imagining that somehow Augustine’s (perfectly reasonable for his time) fear of paganism’s impact on the Church is an expression of first century Christianity that is somehow relevant to the questions of how old the earth might be and whether or not evolution happens (not there is any genuine question about that) is patently misguided in my opinion.

      I hope that clarifies my intent and that no offence is taken. You don’t have to agree of course.

    • siti says:

      macroevolution – “It does not follow that because Genesis is not literal Darwinian evolution is true” – correct – I don’t recall anyone saying that it did – such a claim is certainly not in the original essay. What a non-literal interpretation of Genesis does is allow one to follow the evidence of the natural world to the logical conclusion that species do indeed seem to evolve over very long periods of time. I don’t really think that “has to be demonstrated” – it is evident from even a cursory glance at the real world – no daughter is exactly like her mother, whether the parent is a human, a fruit bat or a banana tree (all of which I can see through my window right now – lucky me). As to whether this (fact of evolution) is the ultimate reason for the proliferation of species on earth and whether or not there is genuine evidence for purposeful design – well that is the meaningful locus for discussion I think.

      I refrain from using your termniology to categorize the kind of theology you are recommending, but to suggest that the evidence of our own eyes must be wrong because an ancient text, which may, for all we know, have always intended to be read as figurative, mentions a specific and ludicrously unrealistic time scale for creation is, I believe, mistakenly short-sighted and ultimately to the detriment of Christianity and Christians. It makes no difference to me whether Darwin or anyone else had/has an atheist or anti-Christian agenda (as Darwin.Dissenter suggested). The evidence speaks for itself – and, if you believe there is a God behind it all – gives glory to its author in all its natural, evolutionary splendor.

  34. Denis Alexander says:

    The final day of contributing to this discussion has seen quite a flurry of comments and I don’t think I’m going to be able to do justice to them all. Instead I will just pick a few points as perhaps being most relevant for the topic in hand.

     Maybe I could start with Harry’s analogy of finding a clay pot during an archaeological dig with a man etched on it. I couldn’t agree more with Harry that this is highly consistent with a mind behind the event – a clear inference to the best explanation. But it rather depends on how the analogy is applied. If the pot plus etching is taken as the properties of the universe taken as a whole, including of course the whole evolutionary history of life on earth, then I would certainly agree with that. It is the profound intelligibility of the universe, including its mathematically  elegant structure and properties, that is so consistent with the existence of the Author’s mind behind the universe.  And, to pick up one of Anthony Latham’s points, I have no problem in using the word ‘design’ to describe that overall intelligibility. But the problem with the word ‘design’ is that it has at least five different meanings and so does not always bring clarity into these kinds of discussion, at least not without prior definition. One of the problems that I have with Intelligent Design arguments is that they tend to locate ‘design’ in the origins of discrete aspects of biological systems that science isn’t yet very good at describing in detailed evolutionary mechanisms – which comes back to our current ignorance about the origin of life [see Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell for some classic examples of this genre]. But placing one’s ‘designer’ in those gaps in our present knowledge is a hostage to fortune, for eventually science will fill up those gaps, and then what happens to the ‘designer-of-the-gaps’? So for both philosophical and theological reasons I would prefer to see God’s ‘grand design’ as applying to the whole of the created order in all its wonderful intelligibility, not just to those aspects of it that science isn’t yet very good at explaining. God is immanent in the whole created order, not just in bits of it.

    Whilst on the topic of philosophy and theology, I would also like to comment  about Siti’s concerns about ‘naturalism’ and his/her comment that “Surely “science qua science” has to be naturalistic”…. The usual move made at this point is to distinguish between two forms of naturalism: methodological and ontological.  Siti is defending methodological naturalism, the idea that we do not invoke supernatural agency when we do our science as if the supernatural agent was just another explanatory device alongside scientific explanations. There are certainly good theological reasons for adopting such a strategy (if we believe a book has an author then we don’t turn to Chapter 9 and the second paragraph and say “aha, in this paragraph I’ve now found evidence for authorship”. Either the whole book has an author or it doesn’t). Ontological naturalism aligns more with the dictionary definition of  ‘naturalism’ already provided above: the ‘view of the world that excludes the supernatural or spiritual’ (Oxford Dictionary). These kinds of distinction I find are used much more in the American literature than in the UK literature and to be honest, as a Christian who is a scientist, I don’t find the distinctions that helpful, given that Christian creation theology surely subverts the distinction anyway. As a Christian I believe that God the supernatural creator, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is intimately involved in the materiality of the Universe.  The New Testament underlines the fact that all things exist by the creative and sustaining power of the Lord Jesus, the Word of God. ‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made’ (John 1:3, my italic). In Colossians 1 Paul speaks of the Son as being ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation’ (verse 15), and then immediately goes on to say: ‘For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (verses 16–17, my italics). In other words, the complete created order, in all its breadth and diversity, goes on consisting by the same divine Word, the Lord Jesus, who brought everything into being in the first place. The point is further underlined by the writer to the Hebrews when he writes that ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:3, my italics). God is the one ‘for whom and through whom everything exists’ (Hebrews 2:10). If God did not keep on willing the created order to exist by his powerful Word, then it would stop existing. As Jesus said of his heavenly Father: ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matthew 5:45). The impression here is not of a God who has set up the laws of the universe and then retreated into the shadows, occasionally returning to intervene in his creation, but rather of a God who causes things to happen as they do happen, who actively sends rain and is completely immanent in his created order. So when I go into my lab to carry out my research, I am exploring God’s world and God’s living things, a Christological creation. All my publications are but descriptions, using scientific language, of the properties of God’s world. That’s why I don’t find the distinction between ‘methodological’ and ‘ontological’ naturalism helpful. As a Christian I don’t believe in any kind of naturalism of whatever flavour – there is nothing ‘naturalistic’ about the scientific enterprise which aims to uncover the wisdom of the supernatural God in the created order. I am therefore somewhat nonplussed to find myself being described by ‘Macroevolution’ as believing in “philosophical naturalism…”  – I think there may be something of a wrong interpretation here somewhere!

    Questions on the history and sociology of religion have popped up through the week’s contributions and Phil raises some further points on this issue. Of course by starting my article with the claim that “Asking whether evolution is compatible with Christianity is a bit like asking whether playing baseball is compatible with being American or playing cricket compatible with being British”, I was being deliberately provocative with the aim of stirring up discussion. The comment seems to have succeeded in that respect! Of course in my comments I was taking a long view, stretching back to 1859. You are absolutely right, Phil, to note that a spokesperson for the Anglican Church made a public apology for the Church’s treatment of Darwin during Darwin’s ‘double anniversary’ year of 2009 – and I understand that they were sternly wrapped on the knuckles for getting their facts wrong! [we Brits are notorious for apologising for things, and not always for the most appropriate things either. I have played tennis in many parts of the world and with many different nationalities and it’s only the Brits who apologise during the warm-up period every time the ball goes in the net]. The main leaders in the Anglican Church were of course highly supportive of ‘Mr Darwin’s theory’ from the beginning. Questions assuming the truth of Mr Darwin’s theory were appearing in the science papers of Cambridge University by the mid 1860s [with thanks to Michael Ruse for that observation]. In that context one has to remember that all teaching at the University of Cambridge at that period, including all the sciences, was carried out by clerics of the Anglican Church. Frederick Temple, the future archbishop of Canterbury, presented a specifically Darwinian view of evolution in his Bampton lectures of 1884. I have mentioned some other examples in my article and you can find a much fuller account in my earlier book Rebuilding the Matrix [Oxford: Lion, 2001, still available on Amazon]. Yes there were some Anglican voices raised against evolution, but in the case of Sam Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, the critique was for scientific reasons, whereas Darwin’s old Professor of Geology at Cambridge, the Revd Adam Sedgwick, was clearly disturbed by the perceived threat to the moral order if it turned out that humans had common ancestry with the apes.

    There are plenty of other good books on the reception of Darwinism and on the 20th century growth in creationism. As far as the latter goes, Ronald Numbers’ book entitled The Creationists  [Harvard University Press, 2nd edition, 2006] is excellent. On the widespread positive reception of Darwinism by evangelicals in the 19th century, David Livingstone’s book Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders [Regent College Publishing, 2001] is an eye-opener to many. And the definitive broader history on the reception of Darwinism still remains Jim Moore’s   The Post-Darwinian Controversies – a Study of the Protestant struggle to come to terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 [Cambridge University Press, 1979]. Phil you are right that there has been a growth in creationism in the UK over the past few decades. I have to say that when I was a student in Oxford in the mid-1960s and active in the Christian Union there at the time, creationism was simply invisible – it was not even on the radar. I myself did not (knowingly) meet my first creationist until my late 20s. So, yes, the Rescuing Darwin project that you mention was an attempt to track the growth of creationism in the UK and I think people were a bit shocked to find that around 10% of the UK population self-identify as creationists. Of course one has to be a bit careful about polling data – a lot depends on how the questions are asked. That 10% includes quite a cohort of Muslims who tend to identify with the creationist position, although in my experience Muslims aren’t too worried about animal and plant evolution, but do draw the line at human evolution.  The fact that a big slice of the UK population doubts the theory of evolution comes as no surprise – the level of scientific knowledge in the general public is alarmingly low. Without doubt the increase in creationism in the UK over the past few decades has been due to a vigorous export programme from the USA backed by well-funded creationist organisations with full-time staff who go around churches and elsewhere spreading the creationist message.

    One historical claim that does need challenging is that made by Darwin.Dissenter who asserts that “From letters it is clear that Charles Darwin was engaged in a 20-30 year plan with Charles Lyell to undermine Christianity”. No citations are provided to support this extraordinary claim which is without foundation. As it happens, Lyell remained a chapel-going Unitarian until the end of his days. But in any event his letters to Darwin may be viewed at if anyone wants to follow-up on the Lyell-Darwin communications. As far as the founders of The Victoria Institute being YECs, I doubt it – I think they were old earth creationists, but I’d need to do more research on that point to be sure.

    True Apologetics, your exposition of the creationist understanding of the Biblical literature on these topics is a familiar one. Certainly I fervently believe that passages such as Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are crucial, indeed so much so that a good chunk of the expansion that I have mentioned previously in the forthcoming 2nd edition of Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose? Is dedicated to their further exposition. So many questions are raised in your comments that a book-length commentary is called for, and so all I can do to refer you to the 2nd edition as mentioned – I am not going to paste my book here! However, let me also say that simply lining up a list of evangelical commentators who believe the same way you do isn’t really going to help that much. Equally I could line up a list of equally sound evangelical scholars who think differently about the passages that you mention. I suspect that you may not change your mind after taking a look at the 2nd edition (if you do). That’s fine because there’s something even more important to highlight as I complete my comments, and that is that it’s perfectly possible to live in unity as Christians in the same church community and yet have quite different views on this particular topic, for it is not a topic that you have to get right in order to enjoy salvation – thank God! You mention Wayne Grudem in your list – I enjoyed having fellowship with Wayne a couple of days ago on our annual church picnic, as Wayne is attending our church for a couple of months whilst he writes a book here in Cambridge. The key point to keep in mind is that Christians can unite around the central points of the Gospel and discuss the secondary issues without rancour.

    I’ll sign off by quoting the good words that came from Siti: “and, if you believe there is a God behind it all – give glory to its author in all its natural, evolutionary splendor”. Certainly I say “Amen” to that!