Designed by Chance? Why the Pope Is Wrong about Theistic Evolution


There's no reason to marry evolution to creation because evolution is false.  Here's how I know.

    Many were stunned to read the opening sentence of an article on the front page of San Diego's Union-Tribune:  "In his most comprehensive statement yet on evolution," it said, "Pope John Paul II insisted that faith and science can coexist, telling scientists that Charles Darwin's theories are sound as long as they take into account that creation was the work of God."[i]

      In his message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said that faith and science can co-exist.  I agree with this wholeheartedly, but not for the reason Pope John Paul gives. 

      I think the facts of science and the teaching of Genesis are not at odds, but that scientists have let their philosophy distort their conclusions.  The Pope disagrees.  He thinks the biblical literalists have erred, not the scientists, and that Darwin's theories are "sound as long as they take into account that creation was the work of God." 

      Think about this statement for a moment.  Isn't it odd to say that a scientific theory is sound only if we acknowledge God's involvement?  A bad scientific theory can't be transformed into a good one by baptizing it with God words.  And a good scientific theory--one that adequately explains the facts--stands on its own merits and doesn't need the baptism. 

      Charles Darwin's theory either does the job or it doesn't.  Invoking God works no magic one way or the other.  He's superfluous, which is exactly the point of evolution.


Designed by Chance

      The Pope's unlikely amalgam of evolution and the Bible is called theistic evolution--the view that God used evolution to "create" all the life-forms of the world.  At some point during the evolution of the human animal, God infused it with a rational soul.

      Theistic evolution was birthed by two impulses.  The first was a desire to cling to the Bible as a source of truth about the world.  The second was intimidation by the ruling paradigm in modern biological science:  evolution. 

      Christians, cowed by what they were told was growing scientific evidence for evolution, yet unwilling to sacrifice their commitment to the Scriptures, naively declared that both must be true.

      Those, like John Paul II, who are tempted to marry Darwinian evolution with some form of biblical creationism would do well to consider the words of Richard Dawkins, Oxford zoologist, and author of The Blind Watchmaker.  He said, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

      These are no idle words.  Dawkins is one of the world's foremost apologists for evolution.  His point is the same as mine.  If Darwin's theories are sound (as the Pope said) and explain the full development of life without any need for a divine creator, then any further appeal to God is a fiction--wishful thinking.

      Dawkins understands this, and so does the rest of the scientific world.  Stephen Jay Gould, the famous Harvard paleontologist, and popular writer on evolution put it this way:


Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us.  But now that view is intellectually untenable.  No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature, although Newton's clock-winding God might have set up this machinery at the beginning of time and then let it run.  No 'vital forces' propel evolutionary change, and whatever we think of God, His existence is not manifest in the products of nature.


      Douglas Futuyma, author of Science on Trial:  The Case for Evolution, the most widely used college evolutionary biology textbook, writes,  "If the world and its creatures developed purely by material, physical forces, it could not have been designed and has no purpose or goal....Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere mechanical mechanisms--but this seems to be the message of evolution."[ii]

      George Gaylord Simpson, author of The Meaning of Evolution, and one of the leading founding figures in the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis wrote, "Although many details remain to be worked out, it is already evident that all the objective phenomena of the history of life can be explained by purely naturalistic or materialistic factors....Therefore, mankind is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind."[iii]

      If Darwinism can easily be baptized, why do these men speak this way?  If evolution can co-exist with creation by God, then how has the world become safe for atheism?

      Darwin's theory seized the day for one reason and one reason only.  It wasn't because of scientific data.  The fossil record was virtually untouched at the time, and little was known about the complexity of life.  Indeed, the science of genetics was completely unknown in 1859 when Darwin published The Origin of Species.  Instead, Darwin shook the world because he offered a plausible, atheistic explanation for the existence and development of life.  Evolution was appealing precisely because the need for God was eliminated.

      Evolutionists like Gould are very willing to concede that many scientists believe in God.  Believe whatever you want behind the closed doors of your churches.  Practice your religious alchemy in the privacy of your own homes if you want.  Just don't suggest your God has anything to do with the real world.  When it comes to the real world, the fact of the matter is life evolved without God.

      Gould is very comfortable with any of his colleagues believing in God, but when they suggest that God used evolution he is the first to say, Wait a minute.  You don't understand evolution.  Evolution is by chance, not design. 

      Theistic evolution means design by chance.  That's like a square circle--there is no such thing.  Blending evolution with creation is like putting a square peg in a round hole.  It just doesn't fit. 

      And there's no reason to make it fit, because the general theory of evolution is false.  With all due respect, the Pope is wrong.  Here's how I know.


Chance or Design?

      If the scientific evidence doesn't support Darwinism, if the ruling paradigm is seriously flawed, then there's no reason to flirt with theistic evolution.  Here are two lines of thinking--captured in two questions--that destroy the "scientific" case for evolution.

      Richard Dawkins begins The Blind Watchmaker by making a stunning concession.  "Biology," he writes, "is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."  Dawkins admits that living things appear to be designed.  In his most recent work, Climbing Mount Improbable, he even calls living organisms "designoids."

      Dawkins then warns us not to be deceived by appearances.  Design is an illusion, he says.  Living things were actually crafted by the "blind watchmaker"--mutation and natural selection.

      Here's my first question.  If living things look designed--if the empirical evidence suggests purpose--then how do you know they weren't designed?  Nothing in the evidence itself demands an unintelligent, evolutionary explanation.  Philosophy demands that conclusion, not science. 

      The philosophy of naturalism is the view that all phenomena must have an explanation based on natural law.  In this view, one doesn't conclude God is not a factor; he assumes it prior to the evidence--a priori.  However, the proper sequence is to prove the adequacy of evolution first.  Here's how to do that.

      In order to show that Darwinism is fact, one must prove at least two things.  There may be more, but two things are absolutely foundational.  If either is unproved, then evolution cannot be asserted as fact. 

      First, one must show that life developed spontaneously from non-life (abiogenesis).  The game can't get rolling without the kick-off.  There was a time when life did not exist, after which life did exist.  Somewhere in between, life came into existence, and it did so spontaneously--that is, without the help of creative intelligence.

      Second, life must change from simple forms to more complex forms over time--transition.  This is the well-known "tree of evolution," branching out with increasing variety and increasing complexity.

      My second objection to evolution focuses on the first issue, abiogenesis.  How exactly did life come from non-life?  What was the specific process that accounts for the complex arrangement of inanimate matter into a life form that grows, metabolizes, reacts to stimuli and reproduces (the four criteria for biological life)?

      The answer:  Nobody knows.  Nobody knows how life can come from non-life.  This fact is acknowledged by all hands.  Alternative views have been suggested, but each is faced with insurmountable problems.  Further research and discovery has only served to complicate things.  The more we know about biochemistry, genetics, information theory and the incredible complexity of even the simplest living thing, the more intractable the problem of abiogenesis has become.

      Evolution is called a "fact," but you can't have the fact of evolution unless you have the fact of abiogenesis.  However, no one has even come close to showing that life can come from non-life.  Now, here is my second question:  If you don't know how it happened, how do you know that it happened? 

      The answer I get is always the same:  Because we're here.  If we're here, then we must have evolved. 

      Once again, this isn't about facts; it's about philosophy.  Evolution is assumed by science, not proved by science.


Catching the Gingerbread Man 

      The fabled Gingerbread Man thought he was safe crossing the river riding on the back of the fox.  As the water rose, he sought a more secure perch straddling its snout.  The next instant, the fox was licking its lips.

      Though evolution is inherently hostile to creation, some--like the Pope--have been tricked into thinking it's a friend.  Every concession brings us closer to the mouth of the fox.  Once we concede that evolution is true and then try to patch up our theism by saying God used it, the fox is already licking his lips.

      Friends, there is no need for any of us to flirt with evolution.  Darwinism is false.  It can't even get out of the starting blocks.  The world looks designed because it is designed, just like the Bible says.  It's that simple.


P.S.   When someone as influential as the Pope gives the nod to evolution, the temptation is strong to follow suit.  Don't  do it.  The reasons I've given above show what a devastating step this is.  And it's not necessary.  The arguments I've given you prove that Darwinism is an assumption of science, not a fact of science.





There's no reason to marry evolution to creation, because evolution is false. With all due respect, the Pope is wrong. Here's how I know.

Greg Koukl