A few posts ago I jotted down some thoughts regarding Ken Keathley’s concerns over evolutionary thought. His was the first post in an ongoing series, dialogue between Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) scholars and the theistic evolutionists hosted at Biologos. The second SBC scholar post was by the esteemed and highly educated William Dembski, who has degrees from the University of Chicago and Princeton Theological Seminary, having completed some post-doctoral work at MIT. His post is called “Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?” (Part 1 and Part 2) It is obvious that Dembski is a bright guy, so I’m surprised that his paper really doesn’t seem to prove much of anything that people familiar with the evolution-theology conversation don’t already know! It is, instead, a confusing and misleading read.
His first statement is the following: “Is Darwinism theologically neutral? The short answer would seem to be No.” In his last paragraph which summarizes his overall argument, guess what he concludes: “To sum up, Darwinism and Christianity, even when generously construed, exhibit significant tensions. Are these tensions so serious that Darwinism may rightly be regarded as not theologically neutral? I would say the tensions are indeed that serious.” Are you surprised? I know this may seem cynical of me, but I really don’t understand the point of the article overall. At the beginning of his argument, it’s pretty clear to him that Darwinism isn’t theologically neutral. At the end of the paper, he concludes that Darwinism isn’t neutral. I don’t think the paper as a whole really takes us anywhere.
I’m also bothered that Dembski continually calls anything dealing with evolution “Darwinism” as if theistic evolutionists are really “theistic Darwinists”. I’ve said it before, I am not a scientist, but even I am aware that the evolution that Darwin described is a different animal (pardon the pun) than the evolution that most scientists and theologians discuss today. It’s also pretty common knowledge that Darwinism is a pejorative term creationists often use ad hominem to suggest that someone is a naturalist. Just because one believes that evolution is a fact, it does not mean that he also believes that God had no hand in it, or that God was not necessary in the process. The conversation about evolution-theology is much more dynamic than Dembski suggests.
Let me give you a very small taste of what I mean. The following is an excerpt from Philip Hefner’s entry “Evolution” in The Encyclopedia of Christianity (2:228-29):
“Just as evolution is itself a multifaceted idea, so it is expressed, both within the natural sciences and in other disciplines, in a variety of distinctive, compatible ways. It is not sufficient to relate the idea of evolution exclusively to biology and the work of Charles Darwin (1809–82). Evolutionary ideas are perennial, particularly the ideas of change and emergence, which go back to certain strands of ancient Greek philosophy and classical Christian theologians such as Gregory of Nazianzus and Augustine. They were certainly present in the 18th century in the geological writings of James Hutton (1726–97), who propounded uniformitarian processes of change, as well in certain theories of history, literature, and culture” (emphasis mine).
You see, equating Darwinism with all evolutionary thought is not at all fair because there are many more approaches to evolution, and they don’t all have to do with Darwin. That’s why I just can’t see the purpose behind Dembski’s paper. I don’t even think it’s relevant to the current evolution-theology discussion. In fact, I think it vilifies the theologians who prefer an evolutionary model of creation, one that God was ultimately driving (not even Falk, who responds to Dembski, considers himself a Darwinist!)
Here’s another example from Dembski’s paper that disturbs me: “Those who embrace Darwin and his ideas regard him and Christ as compatible.” Boy, that’s unclear. Does he mean evolution or Darwinism? And also, what exactly does he mean that they embrace Darwin and Christ? Does he mean religiously? It seems that what he’s getting at has to do with naturalism verses Christianity. I wish he’d just say that.
And then there’s this: Dembski’s first example of someone who reconciles Christianity and evolution is Michael Ruse, the writer of the book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? According to Dembski, “Ruse claims Darwinism compatible with Christianity, but by Christianity he means a liberalism gutted of miracles.” Well that’s terrible! Just what kind of Christian can Ruse be?
Ruse is an atheist. Funny isn’t it? I thought the writer of such a book would be a Christian. Didn’t you assume that too? Well, it’s not true. And for some mysterious reason, Dembski fails to mention Ruse’s lack of faith. That’s an important part of this conversation, don’t you think?
There are many other points to be made (like his strange list of non-essentials for Christians pitted against those of Darwinists, or that tired old argument that evolutionists can’t believe in the actual resurrection of Christ), but Darrel Falk’s response is a more than adequate response. Let me just say that, on the one hand, I’m glad that the SBC scholars are willing to have this dialogue in the first place. On the other hand, these first two articles are a disappointment. These guys are not playing ball, they are just throwing stones. If the SBC really wants to have a voice in this conversation, they must fairly deal with the basic talking points; but so far, all I see is that they either can’t or won’t. Both are unbecoming for Christian scholars.