Believing In Both God And Evolution

You believe in evolution
In this modern Christian day
Though your God was the Creator
Evolution was His way
So you see no contradiction
And you tell me I am wrong
When I say that God and science
Really cannot get along

You believe in evolution
As a Christian, so you say,
And that blind, uncaring Nature
May be altered, if you pray
And the products of selection
Are selected by His hand
You believe in evolution
But you do not understand.

You believe in evolution
And that Eden was a myth
You could see a world without a God,
But still prefer one with
And you think that, maybe, sometimes,
There’s a chance God intervenes
You believe in evolution
But you don’t know what that means.

You believe in evolution
You believe it deep inside
But a sort of evolution
That depends upon a Guide
Are your two beliefs compatible?
You say they are, although,
Since that isn’t evolution
You’re describing… I’d say no.

Over on the HuffPo, MIT physicist Max Tegmark presents some data he and colleagues collected on the compatibility of religion and science, and some comments on the reaction to these data. Today’s article (the latter) focuses on Tegmark’s surprise at getting so much blowback from the atheist community. That’s not the point of my verse, though, and not what I want to talk about.

The problem is not that religious people believe their faith is compatible with their view of evolution (which is what Tegmark’s data clearly show). The problem is that the view of evolution that their faith is compatible with is not evolution by natural selection, but evolution by some sort of guided selection. Evolution that has God pulling the strings, or nudging variables toward a particular goal (oddly human in appearance and behavior), or intervening miraculously to save a life (does praying to get pregnant count as a reproductive strategy?) is not evolution by natural selection.

Change over time is not the defining feature of evolution; the blind and indifferent mechanism is. Tegmark’s data, interpreted as “there is no conflict”, are perhaps more accurately described as “not being aware of the conflict.” Because to the extent that their beliefs include a God that can (and occasionally does) act in the world, their beliefs are incompatible with science. I’ve said it before, it cannot be science when God intervenes.

I can believe my toaster and my bathtub are compatible, and behave accordingly. That doesn’t make it true.


  1. coragyps says

    “does praying to get pregnant count as a reproductive strategy?”

    Must……resist……..obvious………alternative suggestion…..

    Whew! I couldn’t have done that at the age of 19.

  2. Yoyo says

    This is a beautiful way of expressing what I’ve often thought about the accommodationists I’m always surprised when they argue that evolution is divinely guided, expressed or just instigated, that they don’t wonder why we still have cholera, or nasty parasites etc. since its all human focused wouldn’t god have weeded out the ickies?

  3. thebookofdave says

    I can’t take it anymore!

    Prayer as contraception is a highly successful reproductive strategy.

    Your willpower is commendable, coragyps.

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    In a few weeks from now, the evolution accepting Christians will be wisely nodding their heads in agreement as the preacher tells them about the events of 2,000 years ago:

    Jesus died; the sky went dark in the middle of the day; an earthquake released bodies from the grave and dead people walked around Jerusalem. On top of all that, Jesus came back to life and then took off into space in front of witnesses.

  5. Cuttlefish says

    At least some of them, though, even think this is all metaphor. Depending on which sect, and on individuals within each sect, there are a good many who don’t personally believe even the bedrock fundamentals of their own system… and others who don’t even know them. My sis-in-law, who became Catholic after searching a great many faiths and deciding this one matched her own personal belief system to get a husband, staunchly supports what she believes to be the Catholic faith, but (for instance) thinks transusbstantiation is a metaphor (and hasn’t remotely considered the argument that it is real, where real means so much more than being literally physically evidenced).

    Who believes what is more than a bit of a mystery; it seems it is in everyone’s best interest to maintain a studied ignorance, so that numbers can be called out in support of this idea or that, regardless of whether those numbers represent individuals who actually believe those ideas. The important one for me (and the numbers are fuzzy here, too) is the percentage who will vote with their tribal identity, whether or not they personally line up better with this candidate or that. Candidates can take an extreme stance, one held by a fairly small percentage of individuals, and have this serve as a showy sign of identification with “my people”.

    I don’t care as much about what they believe, as how they act.

  6. says

    Good morning.
    We are all are on earth to have gladness and intelligence. For the non believers i pray: “Forgive them for they know not what they do”. In the Name of Jesus. Amen!

  7. Cioran says

    It simply is not true that “it can’t be science when God intervenes.” It CAN be science if God were to intervene; science could detect, study and measure that. I suggest the writings of the (atheist) philosopher Brad Monton on this point, though for his logically correct efforts he has received a torrent of venomous abuse from other atheists, the P.Z. Myers types and the ilk of his sorts of sycophants.

    The problem is simply that there is no evidence that God intervenes in evolution or anything else. If he did, then he could be studied. He doesn’t, so he can’t.

    Insofar as any Christian believes that God is compatible with evolution, but then also believes that God guides evolution, then you are right: the Christian has a mistaken conception of evolution, and cannot therefore actually believe in the compatibility of God with evolution, which involves random mutation mediated by natural selection (and other factors) that do not admit of interference or teleology, unless such manipulations are wholly undetectable even in principle. If they are, then they are outside the domain of science.

    But there is a more fundamental sense in which Christian thought and evolution are logically compatible. It is that God is held to be omnipotent and omniscient. This means that at the creation, God would have known every possible the way the world could go, including all the worlds counterfactual to the world that he created. He would know the endless numbers of worlds in which evolution yielded no humans. On the assumption that God preferred humans to evolve, he could then have “picked” from the vast array of possible worlds an actual world in which evolution, via a process of undirected trial and error, eventually spawned humans. On this scenario, humans are wholly contingent on a narrow-scope reading of undirected evolutionary pathways; but they are inevitable product of descent with modification on a wide-scope reading of the entire state of affairs; God chose to instantiate a history that would produce, contingently, humans, via a long process of undirected descent with modification.

    Of course, this does not explain the presence of pain or evil in the world, which is incompatible with God’s supposed moral perfection. But you can’t have everything!

  8. Cuttlefish says

    Thanks for your response, Cloran–maybe you can clear something up for me. As I ask in the “When God Intervenes” post, how could we possible know if God did choose (or in your scenario, had chosen) to intervene? How can we know that an entire line of research isn’t His handiwork, and another line may have been suppressed at His will? For science to detect it, we must be able to manipulate it, or at least measure its presence as opposed to its absence (with an allegedly omnipresent entity?). In your scenario, of course, nothing but parsimony removes God from the universe (as it is indistinguishable from a universe without God, which requires fewer assumptions); but, of course, that is the case for any given experimental outcome, let alone a deistic scenario like yours.

    If God “works in mysterious ways” and cannot be summoned at our will, experimentally He looks like error.

    (Let’s not get into the claims–which are testable, and have been found wanting–that intercessory prayer works medical miracles.)

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