Author Archives: Rossiter

Here we are at the end of another semester, and I have a mile-high stack of things I should be doing. Instead, I feel compelled to retread an issue that I (and others) have discussed many times before: is evolution compatible with Christianity? Just this week, I overheard a conversation among two biology faculty members, dealing with questions a Christian student had about evolution and her faith (particularly the evolutionary origins of our species). [remember, I work at a Christian university, where discussions like this can be a bit more transparent]. The short version of the conversation was that the student was assured that the two are compatible and that the secular evolutionary model of human evolution is a fact that is beyond debate (in any aspect).

If only the students would ask the simple question, how? This would stymie most faculty members. Sure, they’d have some sort of response, but I believe it wouldn't be satisfying. In fact, it would likely be deeply confusing for the student. [As an aside, I’ve also seen a rise in this sort of thing in social network platforms dealing with “science and Christianity”]

In honor of this festive season, I’m offering 12 reasons why theistic evolution stinks when it comes to human evolution and Christian theology. (I apologize for being so blunt)

  • On the first day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, Upside-down theology!

The overarching storyline in Christianity begins with God creating a world that “was very good,” the falling of that world into a state of decay and imperfection, and the redemption of that world as a new creation by God in the end. But adherence to a full evolutionary unfolding of creation requires precisely the opposite path: a beginning grounded in chaos, from which perfection slowly emerges, ending with a creation that is very good.

As Pierre Teilhard put it, “The world is still being created, and it is Christ who is reaching his fulfillment in it.” Or, if you like Georgetown theologian John Haught, "But if the universe is still unfinished, then we cannot demand that it should here and now possess the status of finished perfection.” Thus, there cannot have really been fall (for reasons other than the fact that most theistic evolutionists don’t believe in any “literal” Adam and Eve). If there is no fall, then there is no need for redemption through Christ. Denis Lamoureux has happily conceded this, saying,

“There is no sin-death problem. Adam never existed, and consequently, sin did not enter the world through him. Nor then did physical death arise as a divine judgment for his transgressions.” After all, the creation is still reaching for perfection. The fact that the universe is slowly heading for heat death, that stars fade, or that the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, seems not to penetrate the theistic evolutionist who sees all things culminating in a perfected state.

  • On the second day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, A God that’s uninvolved!

Now this statement always gets theistic evolutionists jumping out of their seats in objection. But the argument from incredulity has never been a good one. I’m not aware of a single theistic evolutionist who thinks that God had to directly intervene in the unfolding of cosmic, geologic or organic evolution. As Haught put it, “We look in vain for God in the history of nature or in human history if what we are looking for are special divine interventions.”

Sure, they’ll offer nebulous statements about God’s deep involvement in everything at all times as the Sustainer. And in the same breath, they’ll say that a God who intervenes directly is a flawed God, “who from time to time stirs the pond [He] has created, in order to overcome the inadequacies of [His] initial efforts.”

Or, to again quote Lamoureux, “God’s creative action in the origin of the world is like the stroke of a cue stick in a game of billiards. . . . [T]he breaking stroke is so incredibly precise and finely tuned that not only are all the balls sunk, but they drop in order.” This has been dubbed the “Rube Goldberg Universe,” in which every event functions like a falling domino in a chain extending from the first cause. God doesn’t have to do anything directly. He just sets it all in motion and watches it unfold (see Darwin’s third and tenth gifts below).

This is but one option within theistic evolution. The other path is that of open theism, as espoused by people like Kenneth Miller. He sees the evolutionary process as open in such a way that even God did not foreknow what might happen (i.e., we weren’t planned, see gift four). Miller writes, “Mankind’s appearance on this planet was not pre-ordained . . . [we are] an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.” I’m sure our college student would go home very happy indeed if she had been told that this is how we must marry evolution and Christianity.

  • On the third day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, A world of pain and suffering that God intended!

A common refrain among theistic evolutionists is that “God used evolution to create.” This always sounds so nice, but as we just observed, there are some thorny issues in actually applying it to our theology. A BioLogos video assures us that theistic evolutionists, “believe God created the Hawaiian Islands, but also think the scientific description of that process is pretty convincing,” and

“What about you and me? Did God create us? Yes! But our parents also had something to do with it, right? And we now understand the biology of how that works, and it doesn’t at all take away the miracle that God knits us together in our mother’s womb.”

What they don’t offer in their video is the statement, “What about cancer and developmental diseases? Did God create those? Yes! And we now understand the biology of how that works.” See, if God intended all of the unfoldings of this creation, then He is morally responsible for the evil and suffering that accompanies them. Traditionally, Christians have had wiggle room in which the fallenness of creation excused God from moral culpability. Things were not as He had originally intended. Such wiggle room cannot be granted to the BioLogos “God used evolution” brand of theistic evolution.

The real challenge for theistic evolution is to find meaning, purpose and divine goodness in the evolutionary mechanism in which Darwin himself could find none.  Writing in his journal on an earlier trip to the Brazilian rainforest, Darwin recounted, “It is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.”

But, after formalizing his views on organic evolution he confesses, “Now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind. It may be truly said that I am like a man who has become colour-blind, and the universal belief by men of the existence of redness makes my present loss of perception of not the least value as evidence… My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details… There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created.”

  • On the fourth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, Us as a happy accidents!

Of course, returning to the theological “open” view of evolution, God is not only freed from responsibility, but is not at the helm of creation’s unfolding. In describing “Darwin’s gift to science and religion,” Francisco Ayala argues,

“the design of the jaw. And everything else . . . every animal or plant is incompetently designed, and is a cruelty. . .  . I prefer to see this as natural selection, rather than [as] a consequence of design by an intelligent designer, the Creator. . . . I don’t want the God of benevolence and the omnipotent God to be given the credit for having made that creation.”

As part of that creation, we are not only incompetently designed, but we were utterly unintended. As Miller puts it,

“What evolution tells us is that life spreads out along endless branching pathways from any starting point. One of those tiny branches eventually led to us. . . . [A]ny fair assessment of the tree of life shows that our tiny branch is crowded into insignificance by those that bolted off in a thousand different directions. Our species, Homo sapiens, has not triumphed in the evolutionary struggle any more than a squirrel, a dandelion, or a mosquito. . . . We are all winners in the game of natural selection. Current winners, we should be careful to say.”

Like a Bob Ross painting, we are happy accidents. This, of course, is precisely what evolutionary theory teaches…and biblical Christianity does not.

  • On the fifth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, Fallenness by the mechanism God used to make us.

Already in this convoluted mishmash of evolutionary creationism, we see some contradictions. We are moving towards a more perfect creation, and yet we are incompetently formed by chance processes. There is no fall, and yet we are fallen. How is this possible? Well, the process God used to create us created us sinful. That is, God made us sinful.

As Karl Giberson has explained, “But what, exactly, does it mean to be sinful?” His answer is that, “sinfulness is mainly selfishness…[However], evolution says some interesting things about selfishness. Selfishness, in fact, drives the evolutionary process. . . . After many generations selfishness was so fully programmed in our genomes that it was a significant part of what we now call human nature.”

  • On the sixth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, Morally culpable apes?

One of the areas most resistant to reconciliation is that of the origins of our species; a species we are told is set apart as unique among the kinds of things created by God. The theistic evolutionist sees our species emerging as one little tip on the massive tree of life, having descended from primate ancestors. Where is our special status in this arrangement? Nowhere to be found within the science of biological evolution to be sure.

If Christianity is true, we are uniquely culpable for our sins. So how does a morally culpable being emerge from this long line of morally innocent species? How does the notion of objective morality arise in biological systems that are driven by natural selection (in the absence of free will) to be selfish? Lamoureux offers us “gradual polygenism,” in which, “the Image of God and human sinfulness were gradually and mysteriously manifested across many generations of evolving ancestors.” Again, what would our college student think of this? We’ll never know, because it hasn’t been admitted to her.

  • On the seventh day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, An incoherent origin of the soul.

While some theistic evolutionists (like Neil Spurway or Celia Deane-Drummond) will deny any difference in kind between primates and our species, the alternative requires us to invoke God’s direct intervention after all. God must step in to grant upon us diving attributes not seen in our ancestors and not producible by naturalistic mechanisms like evolution.

Francis Collins once held that, “Humans uniquely defy evolutionary explanation because 1) we are sensitive to moral law and 2) we have the curious desire to seek the eternal and ultimate meaning and cause of reality [God],” And that, “God intentionally chose [evolution] to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him.” While Collins feels even morality is evolvable, nobody can really argue that evolution can produce free will. The evidence simply isn’t there, and there is no clear mechanism for how it would emerge. As liberal as he is in his theology, Miller believes that, once we evolved self-awareness, we had “showed ourselves worthy of a soul” (which was implanted in us by God). Recent Thomistic workings of this event literally envision a set of soulless non-human primate parents giving rise to the first “human” young, which received the first souls from God. Oh, but the idea of Adam and Eve is ridiculous. Irony abounds.

  • On the eighth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, More fairy dust in your naturalism soup.

As just mentioned above, no matter how hard the theistic evolutionist tries to evaporate off the activity of the supernatural divine in all of this, they simply cannot erase it entirely. You still need a species (Homo sapiens) that possess free will and a soul, is morally culpable, and is visited by the Divine in the form of Jesus. You have a worldview that denies the direct activity of God for the entire history of the cosmos, the planet, and life on earth, up until you hit our species. Even then, most theistic evolutionists have no room for (or at least, they do not affirm) the variety of miracles seen throughout the Bible (and most won’t claim angels or demons either). But, they know they have to claim Jesus as a divine being, born as a human child to a virgin, working great supernatural miracles, rising from the dead and living still.

Of course, this flies in the face of the naturalism they swear allegiance to, and they know it. As we’ll see on the tenth day (below), they don’t even try to reconcile this with science.

But note, the theistic evolutionist holds “Intelligent Design and scientific creationism is inadequate because it reduces God to one agent among other agents in natural history,” but not that, “The supernatural Jesus is inadequate because it reduces God to one agent among other agents.” That’s called a contradiction.

  • On the ninth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, No formulation of “made in God’s image”

This one doesn’t require much explanation. If we are the product of a mechanism that cannot guarantee outcomes (as Miller put it, we could’ve been big-brained dinosaurs or hyper-intelligent mollusks), and we are just another form of primate, cursed with sinful nature and selfish genes, then it’s pretty difficult to make sense of God’s statement that we are made in His image. On this (and several other related issues), a fellow writing for BioLogos has declared, “It isn’t even clear to me that there are fully satisfying answers to these questions.” Again, it would be nice to tell the student that this is the case.

In heaping on more fairy dust, other BioLogos contributors (Peter Enns and Jeff Schloss) have argued, “At a certain point in history, it is possible that God bestowed special spiritual gifts on those who had developed the necessary characteristics. This historical event would endow the recipients with the Image of God. We can say that Homo divinus was therefore created from Homo sapiens.” Of course, these attributes are undetectable by science, as is the timing, and there is no species named Homo divinus.

  • On the tenth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, Circular reasoning!

What I’ve been building toward in the past few examples is the fact that 1) the theistic evolutionists still pilfer in TONS of god-of-the-gaps arguments that are scientifically absurd. Worse, they really don’t feel any need to justify their beliefs. Take for example Darrel Falk,

“Faith in the resurrection is thus the single most important belief that Christians hold. Is it scientifically credible? . . . It is not. Yet this is the position we hold. Furthermore, if we ever cease to hold it, then we have ceased to be Christians . . . I believe that there is good reason to accept that the Creator of all life visited this earth in the form of a human being. Given that belief, anything is possible, including the suspension of laws that he put in place to begin with. . . . Testing this claim is beyond the reach of the tools of science . . . to a scientist . . . the belief in a risen body is irrational.”

Again, are we to tell our student that we really have no idea how this works out and then ask her to “learn to live with the unanswered questions we have” (as BioLogos suggests)? As it stands, the theistic evolutionist is completely closed to refutation. That is, their minds are closed. They begin with the assumption that God exists and then conclude that, no matter what science discloses, God did it.

  • On the eleventh day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, No end in sight!

Here, I simply want to reiterate what Miller warned: we are “current winners” of the game of evolution. If the theistic evolutionist wants to explain all things in the past naturalistically, then they must allow the processes to proceed into the future. God may well have reached out to us two thousand years ago, only to watch (plan?) a meteorite, supervolcano or other cataclysmic event to snuff us out forever. Alternatively, it would be the height of hubris do suggest that evolution has somehow stopped its tireless march, or that we are somehow its pinnacle.

  • On the twelfth day of Christmas, Darwin gave to me, Academic respectability at a price.

Why are we doing this? It is obvious that the theistic evolutionist is treating “evolution” as a scientific fact, but this is spurious. It depends on what we mean by evolution, and the scientific community is not exactly in agreement on this at the moment.  Even so, if them’s the facts, then them’s the facts. But, I see no way in which we can happily marry the Darwinian rendering of human origins (without denying or overriding science in some way) and keep our Christian conceptions of the god-man relationship. And, if the student I’ve been talking about had been made aware of the facts I’ve just laid out, she wouldn’t either.

As I sign off, let me mention that many theistic evolutionists have conceded these things in private conversation, and they were recently admitted on a public forum.

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Following his talk at this year’s Christian Scientific Society meeting, Dr. Rossiter sits down with Rev. Glen Bayly to discuss his conversion and new co-authored book, Mind Over Matter. Wayne talks about why he became an atheist, and why he came back to rational belief in God.  Some items on the New Atheism and ‘evangelical atheism’ come up. Along the way, Wayne also talks about the ironies and contradictions of atheism. Interview time: 14 minutes, 31 seconds.

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51TLO49t94L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_There’s no “I” in “Me” (and no sense in Sam Harris)

In offering my first blog on the new website (though I may link it to shadowofoz.wordpress.com as well), I had planned to take on some other topic or issue (say, Peter Boghossian’s book). Instead, it is Sam Harris’s book, Waking up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, that I will address first.

As with nearly all of Harris’s work, the book can safely be discarded before exiting the first chapter. In Saganesque fashion (remember Cosmos, “the universe is all that is or was or ever will be”?), Harris gives us, “Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had.”(p 2) His main thesis is that the mystics of antiquity were right in denying even this. There is no self, and so there is no mind (quotes to this affect forthcoming). How does Harris know this? Well, it all started when he took drugs as a young boy (namely, MDMA, psychoactive drug). For most sane individuals, this would be a bad start to the story. If one need take a chemical that alters brain behavior in order to see the truth of reality, it would immediately mean that all of those truths you’re seeing while not high are in fact fictions. I suppose it’s well established that the folks using MDMA at rave parties are seeing reality quite clearly. Isn’t that where the last Nobel Prize-winning idea emerged? No? Well, perhaps the breeding grounds for numerous studies in the psychologically self-destructive tendencies of America’s youth.

Anyway, following Harris’s “I love you man” moment, he realized that boundless love is the base level of reality. Somewhere in his exit from that drug-induced state, he seems to have confused loving for loathing: a feeling he expresses towards many groups (Christians in particular). I’ll let pass his conflation of “spiritual” with “religious,” because it’s a moot point. What does “spiritual” mean if not feeling something transcendent to material reality?

So, now we get to the mysticism. Beginning on page eight, we see “Our conventional sense of self is an illusion” and “The feeling that we call ‘I’ is an illusion.” Harris continues, “There is no discrete self or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain.” (p 9) Unfortunately, it takes him less than a page to undercut this central thesis. On page ten, he references himself in first person eleven times, writing,

“I have not set out to describe…my goal is to pluck…I have devoted a fair amount of my life…Where I do discuss…it isn’t my purpose…may view my approach…I consider it…I will focus…that my personal experience….people I meet.”

Of course, if he (or the molecules formerly identifying themselves as Sam Harris) is right, then all of these statements are false. Sam, there is no “I consider,” or “that my personal experience.” There is no you! Which leads us back to the first quote I offered. When Same Harris write, “Our minds are all we have,” who exactly has a mind? He speaks as if someone possesses a mind. But this if false for two reasons. First, the mind is the self, so no self “has” the mind. Second, Harris doesn’t believe either of those are real. Most people with a working definition of self-contradiction and a 4th grade education can see the problem. (By the way, when Harris has dissolved his self in meditation, who decided to do that, who experiences that state, and who decides to come out of it?)

Trying to go back through the book has already given me (or the particles that think themselves to be me) a headache, but let’s take the next step into the abyss. Harris argues that happiness is ultimately what we seek, and this dissolving of the self in meditation can get us there. Here we get the next step of his thesis:

“If there exists a source of psychological well-being that does not depend upon merely gratifying one’s desires, then it should be present even when all the usual sources of pleasure have been removed. Such happiness should be available to a person who has declined to marry her high school sweetheart, renounced her career and material possessions, and gone off to a cave or some other spot that is inhospitable to ordinary aspirations.” (p 13).

To this, I say “three cheers!” and “once more unto the breach!” If only Harris would practice what he preaches and do so! But, it turns out that he’s only partly right. It is true that happiness and/or contentment cannot be met by material or worldly gain. In fact, Martin Seligman has offered one of the best TED talks I’ve ever watched, and it deals with this topic. But, happiness doesn’t come from dissolving the self (after all, there is a self that would have abandoned all worldly things to go live in a cave…which strikes me as fairly self-centered actually). No. As Seligman points out, the highest (and most sustaining) level of happiness (scientifically speaking) is achieved when one pursues a purpose larger than himself. Ironically enough, it is in forgetting about your own desires, and considering larger collective or communal goals (family, country, god, etc.) that such happiness is achieved.

Sounding like a pious monk, rather than a rational materialist (which he claims to be), Harris goes further down the wormhole, writing, “A true practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason.” (p 17) Belief without reason is supposed to be anathema to Harris. Apparently he’s practicing the “dissolve yourself as I say, not as I do” line of logic. To his credit (and at the expense of his entire thesis…which is typical form for Harris), he writes,

“The question of how consciousness relates to the physical world remains famously unresolved. . . the birth of consciousness must be the result of organization: Arranging atoms in certain ways appears to bring about an experience of being that very collection of atoms. This is undoubtedly one of the deepest mysteries given to us to contemplate.” (52-53)

So, why not go on to treat that birth of consciousness as real in form of some emergent property? Even as a materialist, it would be possible to believe that the self is real, and it would make much better sense of both the data and our experience. A rock is not a self. The brain seems to be. Why does the fact that the brain (for the materialist) is resolvable to material components lead Harris to believe that there no Sam Harris to contemplate these things? Who exactly is it that believes this illusion? Doesn’t that implicitly affirm a self to deceive?

It’s worth noting that the molecules formerly known as Sam Harris offer that the self is an illusion, in spite of the fact that he/they have recently argued for the autonomy and moral standing of any computer that claims to be human. It’s also worth mentioning that Harris (in that same dialogue) argued that the adult fruit fly has more moral standing than a human embryo. So, to say he’s confused is to wildly understate his condition. (Additionally, given that Sam Harris also accepts complete determinism and denies any kind of free will, it’s funny to think that he’s upset with those who don’t agree with him. After all, they could not do otherwise. It’s not their fault). So,

The remainder of the book is not entirely wrong (his methods for mediation are pretty solid), but offer nothing that couldn’t be found in a more authentic book on prayer or meditation. If you can find such things from a less zany collection of matter, I would strongly encourage you to do so.