Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Incoherency of Theistic Evolution

Mikey, at Shadow To Light, has defended the concept of theistic evolution against charges made by Jerry Coyne that theistic evolution smacks of special pleading.  Coyne argues that nature is wasteful in terms of the creation of billions of planets where creatures might evolve, and millions of species on this planet that only end up becoming extinct, and it involves the unnecessary suffering of countless billions of creatures.  All this, in the view of Christian evolutionists, has the goal of producing one special species on one special planet that is said to be made in the image of God, and can worship him.  Why would God go to all this trouble, instead of just taking a more direct path to creating the end product that he wants? 

Mikey, of course, takes issue with the notion that any of this is unnecessary. 
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.

It is strange that Mikey calls Coyne's argument "subjective", while offering his own alternative reality that couldn't honestly be called anything but a subjective rationalization for observed reality that makes little or no sense in the context of theism.  His notion of the "Teletubbie world" is both bizarre and unsupported by any objective facts or process of reasoning.  The inhabitants of Teletubbie world, in the absence of the 14 billion years of natural history that produced humankind, would supposedly be devoid of the human traits of intelligence, courage, empathy, etc. that make us worthy becoming God's worshipers.  One might admit that such a world is a logical possibility, but there are certainly other logical possibilities that make much more sense than that.  Mikey has created a false dichotomy.  In his view, it's either our world with no shortcuts, or it's Teletubbie world.

But why should we suppose that to be the case?  If one takes a naturalistic view of evolution, it is chance events that produced humans, and it's only chance that it took the amount of time and the exact evolutionary path that it did.  It might have been the case that natural events would have led to the evolution of humans a million years sooner, for example.  And there's no reason to suppose that we would have been any less noble, but the other creatures in the world would have been spared a million years of needless suffering.  If God was in control of the course of events, it's hard to see why he couldn't have made something like that happen.  That would at least be more consistent with the idea that he is good.

It's also hard to see why God couldn't have taken some other path to creating humankind with all his noble traits of intelligence, courage, empathy, etc.  According to Christians, our consciousness, along with our ability to reason and our morality, are all special gifts from God that don't have natural explanations in the first place.  They are attributes of the soul, which is a supernatural entity and not a product of physical evolution.  So God supposedly caused our human bodies and brains to evolve over billions of years, but our intellect, which is the only thing that really matters, comes direct from a supernatural source.  Alternatively, God could have just created our world "as is", and then endowed us with the very same supernatural souls.  What reason is there to suppose that the result, in terms of our worthiness to worship him, would be any different? 

In fact, what reason do we have to suppose that God couldn't have endowed our souls with the capacity for even more nobility than he has sparingly meted out to us?  If he wants us to be tested to prove our worthiness, he can still do that.  He could do it before we're even born.  He could put the soul through some kind of spiritual proving ground, and weed out the bad ones before we ever become human beings, and that would eliminate the need for any suffering in the physical world. 

Better yet, why not eliminate the physical world altogether?  God could make spiritual souls, test them in the spiritual proving ground of his choice, and not bother with a physical world at all.  Or he could just make those souls better and more worthy in the first place.  It stands to reason that an all-powerful God would have that within his power.  If he is the maker of our souls, why would he make some of them defective?

The idea that the full history of the world had to be exactly as it is in order for us to be what we are is indeed special pleading on the part of Christians.  God is supposed to be all-powerful.  He can do what he wants.  He makes the rules.  He is the inventor of nature and everything that exists, including natural laws, so why should he be constrained to follow natural laws over which he apparently has no control?  It is special pleading to say that an all-powerful God makes all the laws except when it comes to the laws that govern how humans develop into worthy beings, in which case he has no choice but to comply.  Not only is it special pleading, but it's also a contradiction with the essentially all-powerful Christian concept of God.

Even if we grant that a full evolutionary process is necessary to make humans worthy to spend eternity with God, it can't be the scientific evolutionary process.  The scientific theory of evolution says that mutations are random.  But Christianity claims that humans were made for a purpose, whether through evolution or some other means.  Any form of Christian evolution asserts that the human outcome of the process was intentional and not random.  That is in direct conflict with the very core of scientific evolution theory.  Either evolution is natural and random, or it is controlled by God and has a specific goal.  The natural process is governed by the laws of nature alone.  The theistic process must use supernatural means to control the outcome and assure the goal is achieved, and that implies that it violates the laws of nature to "guide" the path of evolution in a way that nature alone wouldn't.  The only other alternative is that the whole history of the world is fixed from the outset.  Christians must reject full determinism because it denies free will.  They must instead accept that evolution is guided by God, in violation of pure physical laws.  And that isn't consistent with science.

Many Christians don't want to be seen as science deniers.  They think their theistic beliefs are fully compatible with science, but that is a delusion.  It is incoherent for a Christian to say that he accepts the science of evolution.  You can accept science, or you can accept Christianity, with all its supernatural implications.  But it is self-contradictory to say that you accept both.  And that describes Mikey perfectly.

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