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Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution

4 reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

human skull evolution“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution. To read more about why this well-meaning attempt to reconcile science and religion makes no sense, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    If a god or gods are directing evolution then they’re barely competent. According to the propaganda the Christian god is omniscient and omnipotent. Surely he can do better than the kludgy, “it works more or less” life that we see on Earth. So either God isn’t directing evolution, he’s not various omnis, he doesn’t care, he has nothing to do with evolution, or he doesn’t exist. I know which choice I’m going with.

  2. says

    I have just found out about your blog and I absolutely love your content. I’ll be sharing this with my lesbian and bi sisters who are also atheists.
    As for this article, people who have this line of thought are still delusional, just more mildly so. It is still a damaging line of thought, imo. The two beliefs can coexist but they’re not harmonious and they make absolutely no sense scientifically. I frankly don’t understand how people can function on that basis of delusion but that’s just me.

  3. Ethan Myerson says

    Like a lot of theology, this notion of “theistic evolution” only works so long as you don’t scratch the surface too deeply. Great article, as always.

  4. stever says

    I can imagine Something (might as well call it God) that wrote the rules, dialed in the initial conditions, and pushed the Big-Bang Button. Everthing since then is a consequence of the rules. This is an undecidable proposition, but it is conceivable and accounts for observed reality, which is why I’m an agnostic atheist. OTOH, evolution and the Abrahamic cults are irreconcilable. Evolution says that there was no First Man. No Adam, no Original Sin, so no need for Savior. So Jesus, assuming that any such person actually existed, was a hustler, a lunatic or, more likely, some of both. I’m really hoping that the fundie fever now running through the United States represents an extinction burst. Think of that last, intense flash of an incandescent lamp as it burns out.

  5. aziraphale says

    Great post. Just one tiny quibble. You give “Eyes wired backwards and upside-down” as evidence against a designer. I’ll give you “wired backwards”, but the image on the retina is upside down because of the laws of optics. It’s upside down in all our cameras as well. The brain doesn’t care – it’s not as if there ‘s a little person somewhere inside, staring in puzzlement at an upside-down image.

  6. Randomfactor says

    And the upside-downism is fairly easily flipped on its head, at least temporarily.

  7. quentinlong says

    Theistic evolutionists are caught between a rock and a hard place. The ‘rock’ is their fundamental, axiomatic There really, really, really is a big invisible father figure in the sky, honest there is presupposition, and the hard place is the practical reality of (channeling XKCD) Science: It works, schmucks.

    As best I can tell, all Believers (with the possible exception of those guys in the Church of Reality?) are caught between that rock and that hard place, really. Any attempt to accept both horns of this dilemma must necessarily lead to a whole lot of cognitive dissonance, so it’s not surprising that some people may choose to reject one of the dilemma’s two horns. If you reject Science: It works, you’re prolly going to end up as some flavor of Creationist; if you reject big invisible father figure, that way lies atheism.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    The idea of a creator-God as a sadistic, blundering bully fits the Hebrew Testament version quite tidily.

  9. says

    “An asteroid hits the planet and wipes out the dinosaurs, and these weird rodent-like creatures start reproducing like gangbusters, and in a few hundred thousand years some of their great-great-thousands-of-times-over grandchildren wind up as human beings.”

    few hundred thousand -> few 10s of millions

    /pedant mode off

  10. says

    Since this is on Alternet, I predict the comments will be well-reasoned, well-informed, and made only by people who actually read the article for comprehension!

    Also, my nose is on fire, and I have fifteen wild badgers living in my trousers.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    “Evolution doesn’t need you to be perfect: it just needs you to be better than your competitors, your predators, and your prey.”

    Even ‘better,’ in this context, is verging towards a Direction Nudger/Quality Control. Having a ‘better’ tail than the next peacock may well get me killed. But if it gets me siring more of the next round of eggs the trait passes on.

    And the interaction of prey and predator isn’t really competition. Wildebeeste aren’t striving to replace lions and vice versa.

    Still. A good piece in general and covers plenty of ground pretty damn’ well.

    I’m sure the next one will be even better….

  12. doublereed says

    Your last point reminds me of Eliezer Yudowsky’s An Alien God:

    But instead Darwin discovered a strange alien God—not comfortably “ineffable”, but really genuinely different from us. Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn’t be Jehovah. It would be H. P. Lovecraft’s Azathoth, the blind idiot God burbling chaotically at the center of everything, surrounded by the thin monotonous piping of flutes.

  13. terrellk70 says

    “So it makes no sense to say that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — but that God is guiding it in the direction he wants. If evolution is exactly as the scientists describe it, there’s no direction for God to be guiding it in. God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.”

    Great article! Living in South Georgia I run into this “God done didit” crap all the time. I’ll be quoting Greta Christina when next I run into these idiots. Thanks again!!

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular.

    This is a simple argument to refute. It is possible; and even common, for a person to hold two ideas which are incompatible. Therefore, that a person holds two ideas cannot constitute evidence that those ideas are compatible.
    Examples:
    1) A poll of scientists in India revealed that a sizable fraction (~1/2) believe in astrology (Source: mentioned in an article in the most recent Skeptical Inquirer. Don’t have it with me at present and can’t find a good web link on short notice).
    2) Full Godwin: A Jew in hte SS

    A German journalist presents the extraordinary and disturbing story of a Nazi SS Officer who lied, deceived and conned, yet also saved the lives of up to a thousand Latvian Jews. A new Oscar Schindler? Sort of. The story has an added twist: the man was Jewish.

  15. mistertwo says

    This is one reason, perhaps the main one, that it took me only a month to go from believer to atheist. The first direction I considered when I (finally!) realized that the beginning of Genesis had to be mythology was to wonder whether there was anything to liberal Christianity. I simply couldn’t find a reason to think that if the book starts with mythology, winds its way through legends, and into embellished history, that when it reversed course to demon possession and a god coming to Earth to be born as a human to a virgin that I should believe any of it was the product of a god telling people what it wanted them to know.

    The liberal Christian position seems to rely on continuing revelation, and a god that is somehow helping people over a period of thousands of years to understand exactly what it is he expects from them. This god is horribly ineffective, as it took him until the 1800s to get it through to people that he didn’t really want slavery to exist. They had even written slavery into the laws that they thought the god gave to them!

    So, tell me again why I should believe this thing about a guy named Jesus who died so that this god wouldn’t send me to a place called Hell? Can they be sure the god isn’t trying to make us understand that that was wrong, too?

  16. says

    Back when I was a liberal Christian, I was Team Theistic Evolution. Then I realized a few things. For example: Why would God deliberately let countless species die off just to see what would survive? When in our evolutionary process did God reveal him/her/itself to us? If only humans have souls, when did that come about?

    I still have plenty of liberal Christian friends who believe in theistic evolution. It’s better than being a young-earth creationist, but still misses the mark.

  17. Matt G says

    There seems to be a paradox here. The more liberal theists don’t seem to get that you can’t have it both ways, while the conservative seem to understand that evolution is devastating to religious belief and so fight it at every turn.

  18. davehooke says

    Greta,
    You probably know, but in case you didn’t and wanted to reply, one of the lovelies at Uncommon Descent has written a response here.

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