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.