Theistic evolution makes sense

Jerry Coyne recently posted an article which was supposed to contain slam-dunk arguments against theistic evolution. Let’s have a look.

And why did God use evolution instead of creationism to bring humans into being? It’s no good for theists to respond, “Because that’s the way God did it.” They have to give us a credible explanation. The usual one is that evolution is more “creative” that ex nihilo creation, but of course evolution involves immense amounts of suffering via natural selection, as well as the extinction, without descendants, of more than 99% of the species that ever lived. Why all that waste? If you say, “God’s nature and ways are inscrutable,” then you lay yourself open to the question, “Well, then how do you know that God is good, or all the other stuff you profess in your statement of belief?”

The big problem of theistic evolution is its clear odor of special pleading, and its failure to convincingly explain why God would go through a 14-billion-year rigamarole just to create a single species on a single planet to worship Him. It’s a lot of superfluous work, and the evolutionary explanation is just not convincing to those who aren’t already in the asylum. If only people like Vander Zee would use their considerable intellect for real work, rather than trying to reassure their fellow inmates that their delusions are real!

Theistic evolutionists belong in “the asylum?” We should expect nothing less from the militant atheists. But what is at the core of this smug posturing? Coyne’s “argument” is to insist evolution is too wasteful and involves too much suffering. God should have poofed us into existence. That is his argument.

The first thing to note about his argument is that it is deeply subjective. We have no way of scientifically determining whether a “poofed” reality would be, on balance, better than the reality we experience. If all the “immense amounts of suffering via natural selection, as well as the extinction” was removed from our history, what would the world look like? Why are we supposed to flippantly, and automatically, assume it would be better? If God is supposed to “poof” beings into existence such that there is no suffering, and has never been any suffering, it would seem what the atheists demand is a Teletubbie world. And it’s not clear to me that a Teletubbie world would be better than the world we inhabit.

But why God would go through a 14-billion-year rigamarole just to create a single species on a single planet to worship Him?


The age of our universe is tied to the immense size of our universe. What if we lived in a universe that was the size of our solar system? And what if it was 6000 years old? And what if there was no evidence of any evolutionary history? For me personally, this would not speak to the existence of God. It would create a haunting suspicion that our creator was some alien intelligence and we lived in some terrarium, perhaps as part of some experiment. But a universe as large and old as ours? Now that’s a different ballgame. An alien creator doesn’t strike me as reasonable there. Of course, that would be my own subjective impression. But given the subjective nature of Coyne’s argument, it is sufficient to cancel out his complaints.

But what of being seemingly insignificant given the sheer size of our universe?

If “There are more stars in our Universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth,” isn’t it silly and arrogant to think what happens on this pale blue dot is special and significant? I don’t think so. That’s like arguing there is nothing special and significant about your spouse, child, or best friend because 107 billion other people have lived on this planet. How can you dare think your spouse is of such great value when 107 billion other people have lived on this planet and you never knew 99.9999999995% of them? Because each of us is unique. We know this because if our spouse, child, or best friend dies, we mourn largely for one reason – we miss them. They are irreplaceable. We can have another child or marry someone else, but they never truly replace our lost ones.

Earth, and what is on it, regardless of the size of the universe, is likewise unique. We are irreplaceable. In fact, the sheer size of the universe actually works to underscore that point, not undermine it.

As for evolution itself, I do not see it as some wasteful process. I see an amazing process that unfolds the fantastic potential of our genetic code when coupled to the same set of twenty amino acids (itself a subset of all possible amino acids). Most people recognize the staggering diversity of life. We can see it with our eyes. Yet this massive diversity is only skin deep, as underlying it are universal themes. When I think of the same biochemical process (translation) using the same genetic code stitching together the same building blocks (amino acids) to create all the morphological and biochemical diversity of life, I stand in awe. What’s more, this also means we are all not only connected by an evolutionary history, we are bonded at a deeper level to all of creation. And tied to this historical and biochemical union is the ability to transform. Such transformation remains connected to its past, and the core of life, yet also brings about something new.

While Coyne sees a wasteful process where I see an amazing process, we can get beyond this subjectivity and consider objective reality. If it is true that we came into existence through evolution (as I think it is), then that simple fact answers Coyne’s challenge. For if we came into existence through evolution, and if God wanted us to exist, we had to come into existence through evolution. God might have been able to poof other “human beings” into existence, but they would not be us. To argue that I could come into existence without evolution is like arguing I could come into existence without my mother and father. My past is not superfluous. I exist as part of a particular historical continuum, connected to the reality that came into existence through evolution.

Let’s remember that a “human being” is an abstract conception – words our brains use to try to categorize our reality. Yet you, and I, and everyone else around us are not abstract creations. We are flesh and blood beings whose identity is shaped by our biology, experiences, and history. To bring us into existence means all that is around us (time and space) must also be brought into existence. It’s a package deal.

As a Christian, I do not believe God intended sentient beings to exist. Or human beings. I believe He intended us to exist. And our existence was inevitable not because God needed to tinker with evolution. It was inevitable simply because God, who is outside of time, chose, out of all possible realities, to create this reality precisely because it is our reality. It is the reality where we came into existence the only way we could ever possibly come into existence – the way that we came into existence, through evolution.

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19 Responses to Theistic evolution makes sense

  1. Kevin says:

    I likewise had my belief in God strengthened the more I learned about astrophysics, quantum mechanics, genetics and evolution. As the sheer beauty in the complexity of life and the universe is expanded through scientific study, I find it increasingly baffling that the atheistic “just because” explanation for why things are the way they are is still considered tenable.

  2. Ilion says:

    Coyne:And why did God use evolution instead of creationism to bring humans into being?

    One of my pet peeves is when people — no matter which “side” they are on — pair the terms ‘evolution‘ and ‘creationism‘ as being opposites. This pairing is intended by Darwinists as an empty rhetorical put-down of the very idea of a Creator; and when anti-Darwinists adopt the usage, they are letting their minds be controlled by “”the other side.

    To those willing to see the point, this is one sentence is a perfect illustration of the grammatical absurdity of the usage.

    Would Coyne have written: “And why did God use evolutionisminstead of creationismto bring humans into being?” Of course not; even aside from the rhetoric, that would be a stupid sentence. But the sentence he wrote isn’t “half-stupid”, it’s fully as stupid.

  3. tildeb says:

    So where’s your evidence linking us to this supposed creating god? Without that, you’ve got nothing but empty assumption, empty assertion, and empty attribution.

    And of course you know far more about evolution than an evolutionary biologist; that’s why you can arbitrarily decide without evidence that it’s reasonable to suggest evolution isn’t accurately described scientifically as a natural, unguided process but one that has some divine intervention at some unknown point in some unknown way… and you’re fine with this to the extent that you can pretend your beliefs are equivalent in merit and consideration to Coyne’s understanding.

  4. Bilbo says:

    Nice post, Mike.

  5. Michael says:

    tildeb: So where’s your evidence linking us to this supposed creating god? Without that, you’ve got nothing but empty assumption, empty assertion, and empty attribution.

    And of course you know far more about evolution than an evolutionary biologist; that’s why you can arbitrarily decide without evidence that it’s reasonable to suggest evolution isn’t accurately described scientifically as a natural, unguided process but one that has some divine intervention at some unknown point in some unknown way… and you’re fine with this to the extent that you can pretend your beliefs are equivalent in merit and consideration to Coyne’s understanding.

    Tildeb makes no effort to engage with any point in my essay. Not one. In fact, there is no evidence that tildeb actually read anything other than the title and first sentence. Apparently, tildeb thinks he/she is entitled to change the topic.
    Worse is that tildeb puts words in my mouth: “that’s why you can arbitrarily decide without evidence that it’s reasonable to suggest evolution isn’t accurately described scientifically as a natural, unguided process but one that has some divine intervention at some unknown point in some unknown way… and you’re fine with this”

    I challenge tildeb (or anyone) to quote from the essay where I “suggest evolution isn’t accurately described scientifically as a natural, unguided process but one that has some divine intervention at some unknown point in some unknown way”

  6. Talon says:

    Tildeb is probably projecting what he assumes a theist actually believes, that God must have handcrafted everything in the Universe. Or he thinks you’re promoting ID. Whatever..

    It’s in Coyne’s best interest to promote the false dichotomy of atheistic evolution/Theistic YEC, creating an either/or situation allows him to position science in opposition to God to shroud the rational weaknesses of arguments for Naturalism and atheism and offer the usefulness of science and engineering as bolstering evidence. That science, and by extension “sciencey” things like evolution, should be expected to work just as well in an orderly Theistic universe is an inconvenient conclusion which weakens the Heroic narrative New Atheists have created for themselves as the sole champions of both reason and a superior morality.

  7. Kevin says:

    So many typical New Atheist failings in one post. Empty demand for evidence that will result in rejection of anything presented; lack of understanding of the theist’s position; false accusations that ignore what was actually said; conflating scientific knowledge with philosophical competence; the gift that keeps on giving.

    No one can meet Michael’s challenge because he said the exact opposite, right there in the post that tildeb either didn’t read, didn’t understand, or purposefully ignored to attack a strawman.

    “And our existence was inevitable, not because God needed to tinker with evolution.”

    I mean, it was right there. Plainly written. Why are the representatives of Reason so woefully inept in its usage?

  8. Tim Lambert says:

    Tildeb,

    “Without that, you’ve got nothing but empty assumption, empty assertion, and empty attribution.”….

    The feeling is more than mutual toward your own empty assumption, empty assertion, and empty attribution of a metaphysical naturalist position. Your own position isn’t rooted with evidence… it’s rooted with a philosophical outlook, heavily adorned with an emotional pleading “Empty! Empty! Empty!!”.

    Funny you can see that, though.

  9. Tim Lambert says:

    If anyone wants a good chuckle…. go take a peek at Tildeb’s blog. A gnu-bot could have spit out that brunt of that.
    “And this is why I hold Sam Harris in high esteem”…. LOL!

  10. Ilion says:

    You all shouldn’t spend too much concern on ’tildeb’ — he’s just a “highly conserved” (*) standard-issue DarTroll ™

    I’m going to quote from a notification that came to my email inbox from a different blog (the post which spawned the notification seems to have been deleted, so I can’t link to it)

    ’tildeb’ quotes someone to justify his DarLogic based rant: “Personally, I think it (a paradigm shift regarding junk DNA) might even put a stake into the heart of Darwinism.

    ’tildeb’ rants: “You give your game away, [person], and it’s not about some interest in science: “[insert the above quote snippet]”

    And there it is: the term ‘Darwinism’ being a creationist code word for ‘evolutionary biology’ that is also known as ‘science’… you know, the method that produced the field of genetics itself (a field that just so happens to align perfectly with the model of evolutionary biology… I mean ‘Darwinism’… the very field revealing significant sections of what are called ‘junk DNA’ (I mean, seriously, a Japanese cabbage has the longest genome, for crying out loud, and you and I share DNA damage from an ancient simian virus… fact that your creationist beliefs just can’t explain but is easily comported to a shared simian ancestor) and – oh, by the way, the very field used to introduce non-coding RNA that you then think will drive a steak through the heart of evolutionary biology.

    Good grief.

    It’s this kind of belief statement that reveals the depth and breadth of astounding scientific illiteracy in this day and age and willful ignorance (you managed to use the interwebs but somehow avoided it for gaining scientific literacy… well done), and ignorance cloaked as a legitimate if passing reasonable scientific consideration. It’s not. And you’re certainly not fooling anyone with a rudimentary understanding of why evolution is true. You comment here is pure nonsense, a deeply anti-scientific eruption of faith-based hubris, motivated almost entirely by some incompatible and contrary religious belief.

    The sooner you understand why evolution is true, the sooner you will stop making such ludicrous comments as this and fix the faith-based problem of espousing that which is not the case, that which does not comport with reality

    This is the spewing of a Darbot stuck in ‘troll’ mode, and one can no more *reason* with a one of those than with a normal robot. His only purpose is to troll.

    (*) that went over his head, betcha.

  11. TFBW says:

    Jerry Coyne said:

    The big problem of theistic evolution is its clear odor of special pleading, and its failure to convincingly explain why God would go through a 14-billion-year rigamarole just to create a single species on a single planet to worship Him.

    I’m trying to figure out what Coyne means by “special pleading” in this context. The “and its failure to explain” which follows seems to be a different point, rather than an elaboration of “special pleading”, and I don’t see anything in the previous paragraph which raises a point about an unjustified exception being made. All I see is a lot of huffy dissatisfaction with the kinds of answers that he would anticipate receiving.

    Perhaps it’s not safe to assume that Coyne knows what the logical fallacy of “special pleading” actually is.

  12. John says:

    ”As for evolution itself, I do not see it as some wasteful process. I see an amazing process that unfolds the fantastic potential of our genetic code when coupled to the same set of twenty amino acids (itself a subset of all possible amino acids). ”

    ”When I think of the same biochemical process (translation) using the same genetic code stitching together the same building blocks (amino acids) to create all the morphological and biochemical diversity of life, I stand in awe.”

    I’ve been wondering about this before,but let me finally ask you this Michael:

    Do you have a degree in biology?Or have you at least studied biology very well?

    Because when you start describing evolution and how amazing it is you go into more detail than I,or a lot of other people for that matter,would expect.

  13. Michael says:

    John,

    I don’t think anonymous blog authors should be claiming any form of expertise.

  14. Ilion says:

    Unless a person is super famous, blogging under their real/full name does not make them non-anonymous.

  15. Michael says:

    Good point, Ilion.

  16. FZM says:

    The big problem of theistic evolution is its clear odor of special pleading, and its failure to convincingly explain why God would go through a 14-billion-year rigamarole just to create a single species on a single planet to worship Him. It’s a lot of superfluous work, and the evolutionary explanation is just not convincing to those who aren’t already in the asylum. If only people like Vander Zee would use their considerable intellect for real work, rather than trying to reassure their fellow inmates that their delusions are real!

    I notice a big claim here about what those who accept theistic evolution are supposed to believe; that in creating the universe God’s only goal was to create a single species on a single planet for the purposes of worshipping him, and I guess that the universe has no other value to God besides this. If this claim isn’t true the general argument Coyne is making looks like it can’t get off the ground.

  17. Doug says:

    …and if a person is even semi-famous, blogging under a “cover” does not make them anonymous 😉

  18. Ilíon says:

    I take that to be a reference to the practice of “doxxing”

  19. Ilíon says:

    My initial point about anonymity is that on the internet almost everyone is “anonymous” — even if they use their full name as their handle. So – pet peeve, here — faulting someone for not blogging under their full name is, at best, pointless.

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