IN WHOSE IMAGE? Evolution and Spirituality

Friday, December 7, 2001

Did life on earth unfold by chance or by design? According to the natural sciences and Darwin's theory of evolution, it was by chance. According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was by divine design. On this crucial question, science and religion appear to be irreconcilable. But are they? Does Darwinism encourage atheism? Must Christians be anti-Darwin?

Recorded on Friday, December 7, 2001

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, Charles Darwin and God.

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Starr Foundation.

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: Darwin and God--the interplay of natural science and religion. Did life on earth just happen by accident or did somebody, somebody with a capital "S" make it happen? According to Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution, the former. According to the Judeo-Christian view of the world, the latter. Science and religion at odds. Or are they?

Joining us today, three guests. Eugenie Scott is Director of the National Center for Science Education. Robert Russell is Director of the Center for Theology and Natural Science. William Dembski is a Fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author of, Mere Creation; Science, Faith and Intelligent Design.

Title: In Whose Image?

Peter Robinson: George Gaylord Simpson, author of The Meaning of Evolution: "Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind." True or false? Bill?

William Dembski: There's no way he could know that.

Peter Robinson: There's no way he could know that? Bob?

Robert Russell: From the point of view of science, true. From the point of view of theology, false.

Peter Robinson: Oh, you're engaging us in contradictory truths.

Robert Russell: No.

Peter Robinson: True and false?

Robert Russell: No. There's a truth that can include a truth. My bathroom scales can't tell me what I'm thinking. That doesn't say I'm not thinking.

Peter Robinson: Ah, okay. Genie, true or false?

Eugenie Scott: I don't think you can make that statement from wearing your scientist hat.

Peter Robinson: The scientist has no way of apprehending that--whether that's true or not?

Eugenie Scott: Well, as a scientist, I mean, it happens to be my personal philosophical point of view but I can't say that it's a research finding.

Peter Robinson: Okay.

Robert Russell: That's my point.

Peter Robinson: Okay. So we have all batted away George Gaylord Simpson. Now we'll go onto Charles Darwin, a harder case altogether. So what does Darwin's theory of evolution imply about our understanding of the world we live in, in particular about religious belief? Let me give you another quotation to respond to. Journalist Tom Bethel: "If evolution is true and all creatures great and small are here on earth as the result of a long chain of improbable accidents, then we have little reason to believe that God exists or that life has any meaning whatsoever. I would put it as starkly as that." A belief in evolution almost --not almost--he says necessarily militates toward agnosticism, atheism. Bob?

Robert Russell: It's patently false. For 110 years we've had profound Christian theologians, scholars, pastors who've appropriated evolution and said this is how God creates, what a gift.

Peter Robinson: Genie?

Eugenie Scott: It's empirically false. There are too many people who--scientists and others who accept evolution who find meaning in life and don't feel like Tom Bethel does that you have to throw everything out just because there's contingency in the history of life.

Peter Robinson: So you wouldn't say that there's been a long erosion - Matthew Arnold's great poem about the sound of the tide rushing out, the tide of faith rushing out and the--in the modern world, skepticism toward the existence of God has achieved a standing that it never had before Darwin?

Robert Russell: No, first of all, you could attack Copernicus as much as Darwin if you want to. Second of all, skepticism…

Peter Robinson: Ooh, you better make that point a little more fully.

Robert Russell: Well, Copernicus dethroned humanity, in a certain sense, of being the center of the universe, to being peripheral. So you could say that's a round for atheism right there. It's as serious as Darwinism. But the real issue is that--the concern that I would have for this quote is that we shouldn't place the basis for our foundations for our faith in science but, in fact, in religious tradition.

Peter Robinson: Okay Bill, is there a necessary connection between evolution and a kind of…

William Dembski: No, I mean, when you say necessary that sort of logical…

Peter Robinson: That's the wrong way to put it.

William Dembski: Let me play a little bit of the devil's advocate. Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker says that Darwin made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist. And I think there's a sense in which sociologically, I mean, there's been a drive from Darwinism to atheism but is there a necessary connection? Can you somehow bring them into consonance, Darwinian view and a Christian view? Ken Miller on the recent PBS evolution program describes himself as an orthodox Darwinian and an orthodox Christian. And I think it's possible to make that sort of rapprochement.

Robert Russell: It's much more than possible. Look at John Paul II, who says evolution is the way God creates.

[Talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: Oh, excuse me. Excuse me. He certainly has not said 'evolution is the way God creates'.

Robert Russell: Well, it's close to it.

Peter Robinson: The line is that--the quotation from his 1996 statement to which we'll get, by the way, is that 'evolution is more than a hypothesis…'

Robert Russell: That's right.

Peter Robinson: That's a pretty weak statement. He didn't say that's the way God creates.

Robert Russell: He goes on to say that we can appropriate this for Christian revelation.

Peter Robinson: Our guests agree that God and Charles Darwin could get along just fine but what kind of God?

Title: God Has Left the Building

Peter Robinson: Let me quote journalist Frederick Cruz: "What kind of God is consistent with evolutionary theory? Theistic evolutionism would seem to demote the shaper of the universe to a deus absconditus," lovely phrase, "who long ago set some processes in motion and then withdrew from the scene." A God who absconded?

Robert Russell: No.

Peter Robinson: No.

Robert Russell: God is eminent through the process of nature. Everything in nature is God acting. So God is highly eminent as well as transcendent to evolution. The problem for a design argument is it makes God into a sort of onerous God because God creates suffering and pain in evolution.

Peter Robinson: Now wait a minute. So how does evolution solve that problem?

Robert Russell: From a theistic point of view, God allows the world to create itself. So there's freedom built into the process of the world and that ultimately gives us our freedom to be who we are and to come into community of love.

Peter Robinson: Now Aquinas teaches that God actually holds everything in being from moment to moment to moment.

Robert Russell: Exactly.

Peter Robinson: He affirms the existence of each one of us and indeed every living object from moment to moment to moment. Now how is it that he can be so intimately involved with each of us and yet be perfectly happy to let me evolve a second head or something like that? Square those two for me, the sense of distance and intimacy at the same time.

Robert Russell: Well you need distance and intimacy to come into a free communion, otherwise we would be puppets of God. God would force us into a relationship and that's never what we want. You want enough distance so we're free, genuine agents to achieve our own life, at the same time to choose to come into relation with a source of being. Yes, Aquinas did say what you said. Aquinas said that God is the creator, ex nihilo, all that is exists because of God at all times. God also creates the laws of nature including evolutionary laws, natural selection and variation. God created the laws of physics. So all those are God's creation and God acts through them because God is eminent to the processes of the world.

Peter Robinson: Okay and you, although you're a skeptic, I assume from what you said earlier, but that sounds fine to you? That sounds coherent? It's consistent with what you understand of evolution? Go ahead.

Eugenie Scott: Your original question was: what kind of God? Reading Tom Bethel's quote, there are some views of God that absolutely are incompatible with evolution. That's certainly the case. The view of your basic Sistine Chapel God who's pointing down and creating everything in its present form which is what a literalist view of the Bible would say, that God is incompatible with evolution. But the important thing to remember in this controversy is that that's not the only conception of God. Evolution is as it is and it has ramifications for theological and philosophical views, both humanist as well as theist.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Eugenie Scott: But we can't change the science because we don't like the theological implications, which is the problem that we've had with the creation science movement and what I worry a little bit with some of the intelligent design manifestations.

William Dembski: And I agree with that.

Peter Robinson: Now we return here to Dr. Dembski who has written a book entitled, I'll fumble over the title, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between, finish the title for me.

William Dembski: ...Science and Theology

Peter Robinson: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. He just provided a bridge. Why do we need intelligent design?

William Dembski: I'm not sure that what I'm saying there is really inconsistent with what Bob was saying. I think we might quibble over the nature of divine action but certainly I'd want to assign an autonomy to the creation so that natural processes do operate and I would say not everything is designed and there's room for design acting in conjunction with natural processes. There's a sense often that design commits you to determinism. It's like the architect. You've got the blueprint and you're going to just build that thing according to spec and if it's off at all then, and since God's a perfect builder, he's going to get it down to spec. And that's not the sort of conception that I'm wedded to.

Peter Robinson: We have now achieved a state that a television host hates, which is complete agreement.

Eugenie Scott: Oh no…

[Talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: I'm now going to attempt in this show to force it to evolve.

Robert Russell: Let me help you out.

Peter Robinson: Oh, will you?

Robert Russell: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: Go ahead.

Robert Russell: I want to press Bill on this point. The agent that's designing, either it's natural or divine. If it's natural, why his interest in the theology? If it's divine what a terrible result that God inflicts pain, suffering, disease, death, wasps that put the eggs in…

Peter Robinson: Why you ingrate. He's putting up with your view and now you're turning to attack him.

Robert Russell: I'm raising a critical question of him, Peter.

William Dembski: This is where the question of divine action and the nature of nature, the nature of creation comes in. Because I think what Bob is going to be committed to is not a classical theism but what's called a panentheism, where God is in some ways constrained by the natural forces. And that gives God a distance and so God does not have to take responsibility for the wasps or all these nasty little things that are out there. I think you're going to have problems one way or the other. A God who is constrained by natural forces, I think doesn't give you really a classical doctrine of creation.

Peter Robinson: Onto a subject that's traditionally considered in the realm of religion: morality. How does Darwinism account for it?

Title: The Moral Animal

Peter Robinson: What is morality? What is our sense of right and wrong? That is one more adaptive mechanism?

Eugenie Scott: You asked the right person because my background is in anthropology and as we look at human societies across the planet in time and through time, we find that there are a lot of different conceptions of morality. So it does not look as if morality is something that is divinely inspired, either that or the divine is inspiring different human societies in different ways.

Peter Robinson: But that's precisely the traditional Judeo-Christian belief, the tradition. God hands Moses the tablets. The Ten Commandments are something new in history. That's why they're so distinctive. That's why the Jews are the chosen people. Nobody would deny for a moment…

Eugenie Scott: And He tells the Munduruku in the Brazilian Rainforest that they should really go out and cut off each other's heads.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so give me a definition or way of understanding morality from an evolutionary point of view.

Eugenie Scott: From an evolutionary point of view, you can look at morality as having adaptive function. The major reason would be us-them, so to speak. You behave morally to people who are us, your family, your kin group. Remember we're not talking about urban 20th century industrialist populations, we're talking about tribal groups.

Peter Robinson: Systems of belief that arose when we were all tribes.

Robert Russell: Trans-kin altruism.

Peter Robinson: Speak up my man.

Robert Russell: How do you explain trans-kin altruism?

Peter Robinson: Being nice to people, altruistic toward people who are not part of your kin group.

Eugenie Scott: I hadn't finished with my us's. The us's would first of all include your family, then your kin group, then the tribe that you live in which generally would tend to share more genes with you than other people in general. And you have decreasing responsibility to people who are more and more distant from you. And we tend to find this even in industrial…

Peter Robinson: You have created an opening. Do you mind if I move in on it?

Robert Russell: That's the purpose for the commandment that all people are created equal because that allows you to identify trans-kin, the all of humanity.

Peter Robinson: Hang on just a moment now.

Robert Russell: The function of religion.

Peter Robinson: Does the theory of evolution chip away at traditional morality?

William Dembski: When you read Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson, their take on Eugenie Scott's story is that morality is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes. So I think that is a natural reading of that…

[Talking at same time]

Robert Russell: But Francisco Ayala is one where he says against Ruse...

Peter Robinson: Who's he?

Robert Russell: Professor of genetics at UC Irvine. Ayala, world-class scientist, will say evolution bequeaths us the capacity for morality but not the contents. The contents is a free variable chosen by people in some social groups.

[Talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: You just described an entire process that leaves out God, leaves out an objective right and wrong.

Robert Russell: No, not at all.

Peter Robinson: No?

Robert Russell: No, because science can't see God in the first place. Science describes the capacity to receive God's revelation of a content and morality for which evolution gives us the capacity.

Peter Robinson: You feel comfortable with that?

William Dembski: This is sort of form/content distinction. It's sometimes hard to draw that distinction.

Robert Russell: It's Ayala's point.

William Dembski: Yeah well, but being nice to people, doing things that are going to help or hurt them, it seems to me that these will be universals. I just don't see how you can draw these distinctions.

Eugenie Scott: They're universals but they're differential. We're much more likely to send money to people in Florida who have had a hurricane than we are to send people in Bangladesh who have had a hurricane. Because we're more similar to people in Florida, even in modern industrial societies.

Robert Russell: The crucial point emerged around the classical theism, by the way I'm a classical theist too, but the crucial question emerged around the question of design. Is a designer a natural agent like the Martians, in which case, how do you make intelligible their acting everywhere throughout evolution or is the designer God, in which case, how could God get it so wrong?

William Dembski: What you're going to have to factor in within a traditional framework is some sort of doctrine of the fall that there is--that this creation is not what it was intended to be.

Robert Russell: But how do you do that?

William Dembski: And that natural causes also have operated and that their effect often is to degenerate designs. So I've got a lot of explaining to do there. You know, I agree. But I think I can turn the problem on you. There are also problems. I think all of us have holes in our…

Robert Russell: We all have holes, absolutely. I'm trying to press you on--I'm going to make a strong challenge. I'm going to say that the notion of intelligent science is incoherent because it's either a natural cause, in which case you don't go anywhere or it's divine cause in which case you don't have the biblical God.

William Dembski: But then…

Robert Russell: So it's incoherent in itself.

William Dembski: But I'm not arguing for is a design theory scientific and I'm not arguing for the biblical God. I'm arguing for design as such, not moral design, not optimal design…

[Talking at same time]

Robert Russell: I'm saying the concept is incoherent as such. Incoherent, unintelligible. It can't be natural, it can't be divine. It's vacuous.

William Dembski: There are traditions within philosophy, historic philosophy where you have a world soul, an eminent teleology working…

Robert Russell: Yeah, but you're a Christian.

Peter Robinson: Next question, don't the very existence of logic and reason say something about the nature of the universe?

Title: The Wind in the Willows

Peter Robinson: Now listen to C. S. Lewis: "Granted that reason is prior to matter as it is in the traditional Judeo-Christian conception of the world, I can understand--"

Robert Russell: That's not true.

Peter Robinson: Oh certainly it's true. "I can understand how men should come--" That's a separate show. "--by observation and inference…"

Robert Russell: They're created together.

Peter Robinson: "I can understand how men should come by--" Then let's rewrite Lewis to say it this way: granted that reason is separate from, that it stands apart from matter, it is not an artifact arising from that.

[Talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: "I can understand how men should come by observation and inference to know a lot about the universe they live in. If, on the other hand, minds are wholly dependent on brains," sheer physical artifact, "and brains on biochemistry and biochemistry in the long run on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees." That is to say, if there's nothing in the world but matter, shaped as Darwin would have us believe by the meaningless flux of the atoms, how can reason itself exist?

Eugenie Scott: I find that the capacity for reason is part of a continuum. In my humanist tradition, we do not see reason as something that has been divinely bestowed. Reason is something that evolved like other human capacities such as love and affection and fear and hatred and so forth and so on. It's a central nervous system product.

Peter Robinson: Reasoning, the ability to reason evolved. But you have to grant that there are certain objective standards of logic and the ability to intuit those or to operate on them may be what has evolved, but you have to grant that there's something pretty impressive that says that two plus two equals four always and everywhere, that exists outside the world of matter. It's not an artifact of matter.

Robert Russell: It's a platonic view.

William Dembski: It's not just reasoning. Even our knowledge of the world, whether we have any sort of grasp on reality because if--that that's called into question if the Darwinian view is true because Darwinism--if that holds, what is selected for is survival and reproduction, not knowing the truth. So if you can build up an illusion in your mind, which will allow you to survive and reproduce, so much the better. Now when I use that argument though with stricter Darwinists, I find that it seems to have…

Peter Robinson: You're a stricter Darwinist?

William Dembski: …seems to have very little attraction. I mean, Willard Quine has recently passed away, a philosopher would say that, you know, if natural selection doesn't select for truth then we'll probably get wiped out. So okay, we're not going to be able to survive and reproduce. So there are counter arguments that are made--I find that, you know, for me, it's persuasive. I think it is a problem. I think you feel the force of it but it seems that when you work within a world-view, you know, Darwinian world-view, I think you jury-rig things and you make it all come out in the wash.

Robert Russell: I think that's an unfair statement. Ever since the 60s, philosophy of science has debunked these kind of arguments. This is a reductionist argument. Right? It's saying you're going to reduce mental capacities, neurophysical capacities, to physics. And there are massive arguments, which we all I think would agree with actually. I think we all agree with the anti-reductionists arguments that are out there that would say of course you have genuine epistemic claims at the level of psychology and rationality, which can't be reduced to the claims of physics. It doesn't…

Eugenie Scott: They're emergent.

Robert Russell: Right, they're emergent--these are emergent properties and processes which emerge with more complexity.

William Dembski: But that still doesn't get you at whether what emerges has any hold on reality.

[Talking at same time]

Robert Russell: You're right but as a Christian since I believe God through the logos creates the world with rationality and, in particular, evolves it through these processes.

William Dembski: But the strict Darwinist who's not a Christian doesn't have that.

Robert Russell: I agree with you…

[Talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: What I'm trying to do is pose a problem for you really rather than for Bob.

Eugenie Scott: To me this is not a problem because we are living in a universe in which these qualities exist. Maybe in another universe, these qualities wouldn't but that's not what we--we only have one universe to experiment with.

Peter Robinson: So but you grant then that the universe contains things that are outside matter but nevertheless have reality? That is to say the laws of nature, the laws of logic, reason itself in some sense.

Eugenie Scott: Phenomena like you're describing, like reasoning…

Peter Robinson: So Darwin, however, if those natural laws exist, I'm trying--one more try and then I'll drop it--if I can't interest you this time I'll let it go. The primordial soup starts bubbling and evolution starts taking place within a world in which things already exist. There's already a reality that includes natural law, logic and so forth. Right? There's a framework within which evolution occurs. So the question is, where did that stuff come from?

Eugenie Scott: We know that we live in a world of matter, energy and their interaction. The material world. We know that.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Eugenie Scott: There are many things that we don't know.

Peter Robinson: I told you, hold on…

Robert Russell: The laws of nature don't exist. They're reflections of the regularity of nature. The laws I write down don't have prescriptive power; they're describing the efficacy of nature itself, which is God's gift…

Peter Robinson: So logic is a mere phenomenon of matter?

Robert Russell: Well it's a way of quickly describing…

Peter Robinson: Okay, well that's interesting.

Robert Russell: Because I'm not a Platonist.

Peter Robinson: Let me try to bring this debate to a close with some summary questions.

Title: Mind Over Matter

Peter Robinson: Stephen Jay Gould has suggested that science and religion can coexist beautifully if each is viewed as a separate magesterium or domain of authority. That's something about like what you were saying if we just wear appropriate hats at the appropriate moment, scientists can know certain things as scientists, religious people can believe certain things.

Eugenie Scott: But his is a stronger position.

Peter Robinson: His is a stronger position. Gould himself notes that Pope Pius XII ruled physical evolution, in 1950, compatible with orthodox faith and that in 1996, John Paul II did not say God created through evolution but he said that physical evidence had rendered evolution "more than a hypothesis." Now let me give you another statement by the Pope and see if you can all buy this as a coherent and logically acceptable statement. All right? "Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake. If the human body takes its origin from preexistent living matter, then the spiritual soul is immediately created by God. There is an aspect of humanity--of each human being, which is directly created by God. Theories of evolution which consider the mind as emerging from forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter are incompatible with the truth about man." Can you accept that statement?

Robert Russell: I don't think the theory of evolution is incompatible with the notion of human dignity or us being special in God's mind because I don't anthologize the soul into being something created.

Peter Robinson: You don't?

Robert Russell: No, I think it would be the total person which, is George Cohen's rendition of Pope John Paul II's version anyway.

Peter Robinson: And Genie?

Eugenie Scott: If human beings are special to God, he waited a long time before human beings showed up. He waited several billion years.

Peter Robinson: True enough but I waited a long time before getting married and having children but I assure you my children are the most important thing in my life.

Eugenie Scott: Absolutely. This is a theological argument that I let religious people argue about.

Peter Robinson: So you disagree that man has special standing in God's view?

Robert Russell: No.

Peter Robinson: Bill, what do you make of the Pope?

William Dembski: I'm largely with it, with the statement. I think he's describing the classic dualist position that I think's been associated with the Christian position that's coming under fire not only certainly from the Darwinist camp but also from a lot of contemporary theological moves.

Peter Robinson: Do you contend that it's easier to take what the Pope said if you believe in intelligent design than if you believe in evolution?

William Dembski: Well I think it is at least in the way I'm trying to develop intelligent design because I see it as--the way I develop it scientifically is the theory of information and there information achieves a status comparable to energy, matter, space and time. So it is something that's not reducible to just some sort of emergent property of matter and energy. And in that sense, there is a natural dualism. It's sort of the hardware-software distinction. You've got the information, how the matter is arranged versus the matter itself.

Robert Russell: What's important is the whole wealth of New Testament scholars and Biblical theologians and systematic theologians reject dualism and say the original teaching in Paul is a psychosomatic unity, is a psychosomatic unity of the person. We're not a Greek soul in a body that's eternal. We're a human being, created and dies.

Peter Robinson: You don't believe in life after death?

Robert Russell: Of course I do because of Jesus Christ. I believe in resurrection. Absolutely. But not in a mortal soul per se. I'm not saying you can't as a Christian. I'm just saying that isn't the essential message of the Christian tradition.

William Dembski: The way theology is going, it's as Bob is describing it but I would say it's not consistent with where the tradition has been generally.

Peter Robinson: I plead the exigencies not of evolution but we lack geologic time here. It's television, this is the last question. You will be immensely relieved to hear me quote someone other than the Pope. In fact, two scientists for you, Genie. All right? Richard Dawkins, somebody's already quoted him. Richard Dawkins: "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Albert Einstein: "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." Will the practice of science in the 21st century lead us toward or away from a religious understanding of life? Robert?

Robert Russell: Towards.

Peter Robinson: Bill?

William Dembski: Toward.

Eugenie Scott: I think religion is as human as bipedalism. I don't think science is going to replace that.

Peter Robinson: Isn't that a compliment to you as a theologian? You're right up there with a podiatrist.

Eugenie Scott: No, I think that's a--that is not a deprecatory statement. I mean, it's part of humanity. We are two-legged creatures. It has been part of our evolution. It's very adaptive, etc., etc. We are a species to which religion is very important. All human groups that have ever been studied have had a concept of something other than the material world. And the various ways these ideas play themselves out are often what composes religion.

[Talking at same time]

Eugenie Scott: And it's very basic.

William Dembski: Science gets us at reality, at least that's the popular conception.

Robert Russell: That's not true. Religion can also…

[Talking about time]

Peter Robinson: I'll tell you now what you are about to say, Bob, is the last word on this show.

Robert Russell: Okay, religion can also lead us to a better understanding of science.

Peter Robinson: Oh that can't be the last word. Give me another sentence or two on how you mean that.

Robert Russell: Einstein was inspired, as was Hoyle, to construct theories around views they had about the universe. And, in both cases, they had testable views, Big Bang, cosmology. It shows that you can have your own personal views influence the way you do science as long as what you do…

Peter Robinson: …religious views?

Robert Russell: Yes. As long as once you have them in the context of discovery, you give them to the community fairly for them to test it in the context of justification.

Peter Robinson: Genie, Bob and Bill, thank you very much.

Eugenie Scott: You're welcome.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge. Thank you for joining us.