Did a God Use Evolution to Design the Species?

I read a recent article which critiqued the idea that classical theism and evolution are compatible. The author provides 4 reasons why “god made evolution” arguments make no sense. Here is a brief summary of each.

1) According to theistic evolution god uses genetic mutations and natural selection to direct evolution into forms like humanity. The problem is that a central idea of evolution is that it has no direction, no teleology.  There is no direction for god to be guiding it to. If there were a divine tinkerer, the theory of biological evolution would have to change radically.

2) There is no evidence for a divine tinkerer–no evidence whatsoever for outside intervention in the process. Perhaps then god is not a tinkerer, but one who sets the process in motion and then leaves it alone. But there is no evidence for this either. And if a god doesn’t intervene, what evidence could there be for him/her/it?

3) Moreover, there is so much evidence against a divine tinkerer/intelligent designer. The human and non-human animal bodies are a hodgepodge of seemingly ill-designed and non-designed parts. Such bad designs are easily reconciled with evolution, but they are seemingly impossible to reconcile with the design of an omnipotent god.  If a god could bring about existence easily, why did he/she/it do it so clumsily?

4) God must therefore be either incompetent or malicious. Incompetent because the process was extraordinarily slow, messy and inefficient; malicious because the process was brutal, painful, and sadistic. What reason could there be for an omnipotent being to create in this way? (Makes more sense to create an imaginary garden and talking snake.)

Reflections – As a professional philosopher I understand there is a lot more to be said here. Still allow me to make a few brief comments.

The article conflates at least 2 different issues: 1) theistic-directed evolution; 2) the design/intelligent design arguments.

Regarding the first, we can say that reconciling evolution with classical theism is extraordinarily difficult. (The French Catholic philosopher Teilhard de Chardin made a noteworthy attempt to do this, but his philosophy is so unorthodox that it was condemned by the Catholic Church at the time. One might effect such a reconciliation, but it strikes me as a desperate attempt to hold on to previous beliefs with ad hoc arguments. Why not just give up belief in gods? Still it is tempting, once one realizes that evolution is true beyond any reasonable doubt, to want to reconcile that truth with the beliefs of an indoctrinated childhood. But it really makes little sense to think a god would create like this. Instead intellectual honesty demands that we either: 1)accept a creation myth, even though it not literally true; 2) create an esoteric, unorthodox theology to account for why a god would take 13.8 billion years to create a poor design that was “red in tooth and claw;” or 3) accept that there are no gods.

As for the second issue, we can’t discuss all the nuances of the design argument–the idea that the design of the universe provides evidence for a god–although philosophers almost unanimously reject it. Usually the design argument is offered as an alternative to biological evolution, but evolution dealt the death blow to the traditional design argument. (Paley’s watchmaker.) We can now explain our bodies and their features without positing gods. The idea called intelligent design (ID) is the design argument in fancy language. But it is not science as courts have unanimously ruled. Many IDers accept evolution–they are typically not young-earth creationists–but they believe that evolution needs a little “god juice” to keep it going. The four points above outline some simple ways of seeing the futility of this view.

Of course one can’t prove a negative. I can’t show that gods, gremlins or ghosts don’t intervene in the process. But then there is absolutely no reason to think this is the case, there is no evidence for it. And there are lots of reasons to think this is not the case–supernatural explanations have never been valuable in explaining anything. In fact they have always impeded knowledge. Biological evolution has revealed in extraordinary detail  how the species was created through eons of time with the algorithm of natural selection. Thus it dispensed with one reason for believing in gods.


John G. Messerly, Ph.D taught for many years in both the philosophy and computer science departments at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of futurism and the meaning of life at reasonandmeaning.com

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