J. Warner Wallace recently posted an article titled “Why I’m Not a Theistic Evolutionist.” He begins by assuming that Moses wrote Genesis. (I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised: Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is to biblical studies as young earth creationism is to biology.)
Right after that, Wallace really gets our attention by asserting that ” theistic evolution appears to be a contradiction in terms.” A “contradiction in terms”? That’s an extraordinarily strong claim. Do say more, Mr. Wallace.
Wallace’s Contradiction Claim
And he does. Mr. Wallace claims the problem is that the generative sources of biological novelty are all “unguided (or random)” processes, namely “mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.” He then explains the contradiction:
“The unguided nature of these mutations (and the environmental circumstances that come to bear on them) is foundational to the definition of evolution. This quality of randomness is incompatible with a theistic view of the universe. Theists believe an all-powerful Creator is engaged in the process that brought everything into existence. This creative Being actually creates stuff and the act of “creating” is not an unguided process.”
In other words, evolution says that the diversity of biological forms is due to random processes while theism claims that this diversity is due to non-random — specifically, designed — processes. Thus, theistic evolution is a contradiction in terms: i.e. an unguided guided process.
Levels of Explanation
This is not a good argument. Mr. Wallace appears to be unaware of the concept of levels of explanation. To illustrate, if you want to explain water boiling you can offer descriptions which are equally true but operative at distinct levels:
- the physical level: the water is boiling because it has achieved the boiling point, i.e. the point at which the pressure of the liquid is equivalent to the pressure of the surrounding atmosphere;
- the personal level: the water is boiling because I want to make tea.
Now imagine if somebody reasoned that since the physical level explanation references only natural laws and makes no reference to personal intention, that there can be no personal-level explanation of the water’s boiling. That would be an absurd supposition.
And yet, that is what we have here. The biologist offers an account of the genesis of biological novelty at the level of physical/biological explanation. And at that level of explanation, the operative causal explanations are non-directed contingency or randomness (i.e. mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift) interacting with necessity. But that does not exclude a personal (theological) level of explanation. In other words, just as the water boils because I’m making tea so creatures randomly evolve because God is generating biological novelty.
To put it another way, Wallace assumes that the biologist’s invocation of randomness is an absolute claim that cuts through all metaphysical/theological levels of explanation like the acid blood of Ripley’s aliens cuts through every deck of the Nostromo. It isn’t: it’s a physical, biological claim which is operative at that level of explanation.
A Look at Some Theologies
As I conclude, I’ll give a couple of quick examples of how one might flesh out a theological explanation. The first approach would be to invoke a double causal explanatory framework in which every event within creation has both a secondary causal framework of explanation (i.e. the physical or natural) as well as a primary causal framework (i.e. the theological or divine) and the relationship between the two is commonly called concurrence.
If that sounds a bit too hands-on for you (i.e. dancing close to the abyss of determinism) then consider a second account: God providentially establishes a random process to generate novel biological forms while foreknowing (due to omniscience) every meticulous detail that will be produced by that random process and thus initiating that random process to produce just those forms (down to every meticulous detail).
In other words, from the perspective of theology, one can appeal to a double causal framework or to a providential foreknowledge framework. In each case, there is full congruity between the theological level of explanation and the physical level of random biological generative processes.
Theistic evolution is not a contradiction in terms. But bad arguments like this one from J. Warner Wallace do an enormous disservice to the Christian church by perpetuating a false and harmful warfare model between Christianity and contemporary science.