Could God Have Used Evolution? Michael Ruse says no

Christianity has had a long and occasionally troubled relationship with science. Historical episodes involving Galileo and Darwin showcase Christians--many of them-- walking back dismissals when overwhelming evidence shows that the theologically preferable way of understanding our world (that earth is at the center of all creation, for instance) is no longer viable.

The most contentious current example is the doctrine of original sin, which is being debated by Christians around the world. Many, especially evangelicals, still cling to the notion that two proto-humans eating an apple is the source of all death and suffering in the world. In this traditional view, even animal suffering originated with human sin.

But as evolutionists point out, we now know a lot about the first humans and one thing we can say definitively is that there was no original Adam and Eve. The human population never dropped below the thousands and even if you pick out a pair from the group as the sinners, they would have had parents who would have been no less inclined to behave in ways we would judge wrong--and there would have been widespread death and suffering before they existed. In short, modern science shows here that, at the very least, traditional interpretation of scripture needs revision, and theologically difficult conversations need to take place.

Christians need to consider how they might productively respond to the contradictions between doctrinal beliefs and consensus science when they arise. Persistent rejection of evolutionary science, as we find at Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute, for example, has led nowhere and done nothing but marginalize the Christian conversation they promote.

But evolution is a tough one--always has been. Fundamental commitments of Christian theology are put under pressure by the non-directional, "random" attributes of evolution by natural selection, a key tenet in our modern understanding of biological processes.

How can the arrival of humans on earth be both the product of fundamentally random processes and also the intentional work of a divine creator God?

In a new book just out exploring the theological significance of chance, philosopher Michael Ruse pulls no punches in arguing that Darwin's theory is so devoid of purpose that it rules out the possibility that God has anything to do with the evolutionary process, pushing back against the perennial intuition that humans were purposefully created. Ruse ranges over the options that Christians have presented and rejects them all as theological implausible ways for God to behave.

This is of course is just one stream in the endless questions about whether or not God exists and, if so, is it in the way Christians typically conceive of God? Does--or can--God act to change the course of earthly events? And if divine intercessions are indeed occurring, can we be aware of them? When people say their prayers have been answered, how can they be sure? Are these people just recognizing, retrospectively, patterns that don't really exist? Are people who see evolution as "God's method of creating" reading that idea into a history where it does not fit? This is the difficult and enduring problem.

The idea of God's action in the world has long invited speculation about the existence of evil and suffering, considered to be the primary objection to belief in the Christian God. Consider the plight of poor Job, told in the Hebrew Scriptures. A good man whose children were killed, who lost his wealth and vocation, whose body was racked with oozing boils and whose physical and emotional pain became unbearable within a matter of days--and God is said to have simply watched it happen. Although the Bible affirms that God blesses the righteous in an orderly way, the story of Job is a powerful counterexample to this scheme. Granted, Job's wealth was restored to him in the end but other good people in the world today are not so lucky; their lives begin and end in poverty and desolation. And, as anyone with children knows, having more children does not erase the pain of having lost children.

Our growing knowledge of evolution has amplified this problem beyond comprehension. The history of life on this planet is one in which 99% of all species have gone extinct. Think about this number in light of species with which you are familiar. Imagine the suffering associated with the disappearance of every elephant from the plains of Africa; every dolphin from the ocean; every squirrel from the forests. An unimaginably large number of species, each with uncountable members, has simply disappeared forever. Does this not suggest that the process of extinction is somehow central to evolution? Ruse has issued a challenge to Christians who see evolution as "God's method of creating."

Evolution, like the larger reality of which it is a part, is a tangled mix of order and disorder, pattern and randomness. The volume of essays, Abraham's Dice, (which I edited) explores these concerns, with important thinkers writing from many perspectives.