How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

by Karl W. Giberson

Professor Giberson gives an historical, scientific, and philosophical account of the evolution-vs-creationism-vs-ID cultural war in the United States. Giberson is evidently a Protestant, not a Catholic, because he thinks the whole human being, body and soul, evolved from primates:

Scientists who have spent enough time with primates, especially in natural settings, are continually struck by their sophistication. In his remarkable books on primates, Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal describes primate behaviors, that were they associated with humans, would suggest a well-defined sense of right and wrong, cruelty and kindness, loyalty and manipulation. (p. 13)

No primate has ever claimed it had free will or admitted its sense knowledge made them inferior to humans with their conscious knowledge. No animal has ever intelligently designed a machine with more than one part because animals can’t create the concepts of the different parts in their minds and make decisions about the parts and the purpose of the machine. Giberson is weak in the branch of religion called fundamental theology or apologetics:

I understand how honest thinkers and seekers after truth like Daniel Dennett and Michael Ruse can end up rejecting God. Like that of most thinking Christians, my belief in God is tinged with doubts and, in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned. (p. 155)
Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett describes evolution as a “universal acid.” With undisguised glee he outlines how evolution, which he calls “Darwin’s dangerous idea,” eats through and dissolves the foundations of religion. (p. 9)

The “foundations of religion” are the historical Jesus and the metaphysical proof of God’s existence. Jesus was a Jewish prophet and healer, who preached the coming of the kingdom of God, rose from the dead, and gave meaning to the life of human beings. The logical proof of God’s existence is not based on the Big Bang or the complexity of organs in multicellular life. The logical proof is based on the finitude and existential unity of human beings. The metaphysical principles called essence and existence make our finitude intelligible and we can define, if not fully comprehend, God as a pure act of existence without a limiting essence. This existential/metaphysical analysis helps us understand Exodus 3.14, where God tells Moses his name is Yahweh. We know God is a person by analogy with the existence and personhood (self-knowledge, self-expression, and self-control) of ourselves.

The concept of the spiritual human soul is based on the membership of human beings in a category of being. That humans are different from one another and yet equal is made intelligible by the metaphysical principles called matter and form, also called body and soul. Knowing that human beings have spiritual souls is part of the science of evolution because the subject matter of evolution is limited to the bodies of human beings. This limitation is acknowledged by a famous authority on evolution in an article that quotes popes John Paul II and Pius XII:

Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement, for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue. (Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History, March 1997, 13th paragraph)

Like a cheeky child, Gould mentions his “private beliefs about souls.” But he knows in the court of conscience and reason there are arguments for the existence of free will, the human spiritual soul, and God. Another authority on evolution has a different approach:

And how, out of this diversity of experiences, does a unitary reality emerge, the mind or self? The soul created by God, you might say, accounts for both transformations: ape to human and brain to mind. This religious answer may be satisfactory for believers, but it is not scientifically satisfactory. (Francisco J. Ayala, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, John Henry Press, p. 10)

Gould and Ayala are confusing religion and theology with metaphysics which is a method of inquiry that has as good a claim to truth as science. An example of a metaphysical or existential truth is that human beings have free will. It is not a scientific truth because it comes from our ability to transcend ourselves and make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. Another reason free will is not a scientific concept is that it does not have an operational definition. We can comprehend the concept of free will only because we have it. Other existential truths: The universe is intelligible and human beings are embodied spirits.

The phenomena of free will and conscious knowledge cause anxiety in some people because of the unanswerable question: What is the relationship between myself and my body? In response to this feeling some say free will is an illusion and self-consciousness is an epiphenomenon. Ayala’s tack is that he will not be satisfied by any explanation of human rationality that is not based on the scientific method. This is just posturing and is not supported at all by the science of evolution. This is why Gould, an outspoken secular humanist, says the existence of God and the human soul is compatible with the science of evolution.

If the human spiritual soul is the upper limit to evolution, the origin of life is the lower limit. The first quote is from Gould and the second quote is from the author:

Evolution is not the study of life’s ultimate origin as a path toward discerning its deepest meaning. Evolution, in fact, is not the study of origins at all. Even the more restricted (and scientifically permissible) question of life’s origin on our earth lies outside its domain. (This interesting problem, I suspect, falls primarily within the purview of chemistry and the physics of self-organizing systems.) (Stephen Jay Gould, “Justice Scalia’s Misunderstanding,” Natural History, October 1987, p. 139)
There is presently no generally accepted theory of how the first life-form arose, but several options have been proposed. The raw materials, of course, were not alive, but were capable of assembling into a complex structure with the capacity to reproduce itself. And once reproduction was initiated, evolution began. (p. 191)

In the United States, the public face of the science of intelligent design (ID) is an advocacy movement to change the way evolution is taught. Throughout the book, Giberson tars ID with the pitch of creationism, which is based on the form of Protestant Christianity called fundamentalism. He says of one ID advocate, Michael Behe, that “he makes a deliberate effort to distance himself from traditional creationists” (p. 205). What is truly pertinent is that Behe distances himself to a certain extent from ID, which he considers to be an inference or a conclusion:

…I spend the bulk of the chapters drawing on molecular evidence, genomic research, and—above all—crucial long-term studies of evolutionary changes in single-celled organisms to test Darwinism without regard to conclusions of design. … As I will argue, mathematical probabilities and biochemical structures cannot support Darwinism's randomness, except at the margins of evolution. Still, as we seek to find the line marking the edge of randomness, there is no need to infer design. (Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, Free Press, 2007, p. 8)

The organisms are malaria and the HIV virus, which have evolved defenses against man-made drugs. Despite the huge numbers of organisms and cell divisions observed, there has been no build-up of molecular machinery. Behe likens these observations to the famous experiment in 1887 proving that light propagated in a vacuum, not a luminiferous ether. The ether had to behave like a solid for electric fields and behave like a gas for planets, but it was a good theory at the time.

The best chapter in the book gets its title (“How to Be Stupid, Wicked, and Insane”) from a statement made by Richard Dawkins about people who question evolution:

The creation-evolution controversy is only, in the most trivial sense, a scientific dispute. It is, instead, a culture war fought with culture-war weapons by culture warriors…The conflict resides at the much deeper and far more important level of worldview. It centers on one simple question: Can there be any role at all for God in our own creation story? (p.166)

Evolution, gay marriages, and abortion are controversial because they involve religion and theology. For creationists, evolution challenges the way they think the Bible should be interpreted. But for others, evolution challenges the reasons to believe in revelation, that is, the reasons to believe that God has communicated himself to mankind.

People who believe in religion are making a positive decision about revelation. At the same time, they are receiving the gift of faith from God. It is a mistake to think that before deciding whether God has intervened in history a person has to decide whether or not God exists and whether or not God created the universe. There is no need to make decisions about science and existentialism in order to have rational grounds for believing in God.

The ID movement is based on the assumption that scientists have made an atheistic decision about science which should be reversed. A scientist who admits God created the human soul and admits there is no scientific explanation for the origin of life is not guided in his science by atheistic presuppositions. The only persons who have to make decisions about science are scientists.

Nor does anyone have to make a decision about God’s existence. Atheistic existentialists are not willing to assume or hope that the universe is intelligible. This sheds light on the metaphysical proof of God and means that the proof is only hypothetical. What we have to decide is whether the hypothetical God of existentialism cares about the needs of human beings. We should ask atheists why they don’t believe the Biblical and the Koranic account of our salvation history.