Book Review of Theistic Evolution

Theistic Evolution, A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. Edited by J.P. Moreland, S. C. Meyer, C. Shaw, A.K. Gauger, W. Grudem. Crossway, Wheaton, Il. 2017

Cover of book

A pastor friend of mine gave me this tome of 1007 page and 31 chapters because he knew my interest in the topic.  It was very generous and thoughtful of him.  I will admit that I did not read the whole thing but read substantial portions that fit my interest and expertise and gave me enough to form a clear opinion of the work.

First of all, this is an awesome work by an astounding number of accomplished authors and editors.  They are to be commended for the consistency of the work.  It is an intellectual tour de force.  It took me several months to get through what I did read, which was most of eight chapters.  It was engaging, mostly well-written, though occasional rather thick and incomprehensible.  I focused most on the two Introductions, some of the Science chapters, and some of the Philosophy chapters.  I avoided the Theology section.  As I was reading it, I reasoned that someone somewhere must have a written a scholarly review.  This might have come from the society of which I was a member, the American Scientific Affiliation, a group a Christians in the sciences.  With only a little searching in their journal Perspective on Science and Christian Faith, I found a 20-page article written by Denis Lamoureux, an ardent defender of theistic evolution, or as he prefers to call it, “evolutionary creation.”  As a scholar in this area who I greatly admire, he has done a far better job that I could of understanding and countering the arguments of the text, particularly on philosophical and theological grounds.  Herein, I can only add my modest insights as a working scientist and believing Christian.

What became very clear from the first few pages of the book was that this book was not really about theistic evolution.  It was about an alternative theory called Intelligent Design (ID).  ID posits that God specifically intervened in the creation or evolution process to direct or accelerate the development of life and species.  Theistic evolution (TE) by contrast says that God was sovereign over the whole process of creation and evolution but that it happened by entirely understandable means, i.e scientifically understandable means.  So, the overall purpose of the book was to criticize TE and thereby to validate ID.  From the outset, of course, this is a false premise and to say the least a false title to the book.  A better title might have been Countering Theistic Evolution in Support of Intelligent Design.  Putting down one theory does not prove another.

One of the greatest faults of the book was its failure to defend ID.  At no point in the eight chapters that I read, especially the philosophical chapters, was ID ever really clearly defended.  Much ink was spilt in trying to tear down TE arguments but not one shred of positive evidence was given to support the ID view.  In the scientific chapters, much time was spent on why current evolutionary theory was wrong.  But not a single positive verifiable testable case was given for ID.  I ended up taking a bookmark and writing this on it, “Where is any verifiable evidence for intelligent design?  An absence of support for other theories doesn’t count.”

The book spends 17 chapters tearing down the current scientific understanding of evolution as false, erroneous and inadequate.  I skimmed most of these chapters.  They entirely miss the point.  Scientists follow science.  If it is all completely wrong, then the scientists studying evolution will just keep looking for scientific and natural answers.  Scientist love gaps in their science.  This is what motivates us to write grants and return to the lab every day.  In my own field of Nutrition, I could easily point out a number of things we don’t know.  Does this mean that I now need to call in a God Hypothesis to explain these?  No, it just means I need to return to the lab and write more grants.  Or let’s take the field of astronomy and the current puzzle about what dark matter is.  Astronomers are puzzled and intrigued.  Do any of them say, “Well, I can’t explain it so it must be God?”  No, they don’t.  They just keep working on it.  At one point there were gaps in the fossil record that some folks loved to point to as places where God obviously must have been at work.  But in the last couple of decades there has been an explosion in new-found fossils that has closed many of these gaps.  Where did God go?  He was always there to be marveled at and worshiped for his creatively and manifold mercies.

Photo by Marcus Lange on

The biggest criticism of ID is that it is a God-of-the-gaps theory.  This was addressed directly and woefully inadequately in the philosophy chapters.  The authors said that what scientists view as gaps, ID folks view as an opportunity.  This is wordplay that has and will come back to haunt them many times over, especially in this genomics age.

The most interesting arguments in the book were why God is excluded from modern science.  If we want to search for all Truth, shouldn’t we be willing to open any door and willing to hear any theory.  I can admit to the attraction of this simple argument.  The actual fact is that for the past 700-800 years of modern science, we haven’t needed the God hypothesis.  In fact, the folks who gave us modern science in Europe, mostly monks from the Middle Ages, were the ones who stood firmly on the foundation that all natural observable event should be explained by observable repeatable science without recourse to divine explanations.  While they understood that a creative and active God was the first and primary cause of all natural phenomenon, the duty of us humans was to search out natural explanations.  Until the advent of ID, we have been actively and aggressively shedding the God hypothesis with good effect.  If the ID folks could show even one conclusive verifiable example of the God hypothesis closing a gap of science somewhere, then maybe they would have an audience.  But they have not.  

Quite to the contrary, in the philosophy chapters they made some astonishing claims.  At one point, in an attempt to show that ID or any creationism was indeed a scientifically sound perspective, the authors argued that since Darwin himself argued against creationism in his scientific text, Origins, then creationism itself and ID derivatives must be considered science.  The argument is that you cannot argue against the science of ID without first validating it as a true science.  I laughed out loud.  Later it is argued that TE folks are not allowed to use theology since their science allow no God.  Therefore, ID is unassailable from either the science or the theology.  I was rolling in the aisles.

Finally, I turned to the Lamoureux review, which I do recommend.  He reaffirmed several things that I saw.  He especially drilled down on the God-of-the-gaps problem.  He showed how unscientific and how unbiblical it was.  He reaffirms the strength of the fossil record and the shrinking nature of scientific gaps.  He showed how genomic data confirms common descent in evolution.  But his biggest criticism was the surprising and newly revealed biblical nature of ID.  Previously, especially in the courts, ID folks have tried to wave their hands and declare that they have no theological interest in what or who the Intelligent Designer might me.  Now in Theistic Evolution they are explicitly Evangelical Christians with 4 theological chapters and hundreds of biblical references.  He calls out their concordism.  This is the belief that there is modern scientific information in the Bible.  A more flexible understanding is that the authors of the Bible understood the world around them using the science of the times.  The Bible reflects this with no special revelation of modern science.  Lamoureux has some great and rather shocking quotes that the authors have made elsewhere supporting unscientific views from scripture such as a seven-day creation and that the curse of sin, including thorns and diseases and earthquakes came only after Adam.  Lamoureux’s point is that if these authors accept concordism, then they have bought the whole field including the entire cosmology of 1000 BC.  They cannot believe in a seven-day creation and yet think that the earth revolves around the sun.  One is from the science of biblical times, and one is from the science of our times that is contradicted by the biblical text.

In conclusion, I found the book in part misleading, in part thought disappointing, and in part comical.  I came away with a stronger faith in science and in a mighty God and a savior Jesus who meets us where we are and takes us where we need to be.  Rightly understood, a biblical faith and a scientific understanding of the world do not need to conflict.

One thought on “Book Review of Theistic Evolution

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: