The following is a response to an article posted on Crossway, with the relevant sections quoted here for easier reference.
Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique is a book from Crossway publishing. Recently there has been a marketing campaign to promote the book including a video that has received relative viral success among Creationists. It’s important to note that the entire premise of the book is to rebuke the rising acceptance of what is known as “Theistic Evolution”. It is directed at other Christians who are increasingly coming to trust science and reject a literal interpretation of Genesis. We have addressed the disagreements among Christians and all other faiths in our question post titled “How were humans created?”. Here we will inspect the information presented in the promotional video called "The Problem with Theistic Evolution". The full book is now available for purchase.
Argument #1: There is an appearance of design.
“No one could pick up an iPhone or a smartphone of any kind and think that it was an accident.” -Dr. Douglas Axe
Dr. Axe goes on to explain that biological organisms such as worms and fireflies, despite being relatively simple organisms, are actually vastly more complex than a device like an iPhone. The inferred conclusion is that since creatures like worms, fireflies, and humans are more complex than things that humans have designed, then those creatures must also have been designed.
The difficulty with this argument is that it relies almost entirely on intuition rather than evidence. It makes intuitive sense that something more complex than an iPhone must have been designed, but reality is not always intuitive. How do we know that biological organisms must be designed? The premise must be demonstrated before the conclusion can be accepted.
The argument also suggests that we can determine an iPhone was designed just by looking at it. But how do we do that? We actually don’t know that just by looking at it. We know that an iPhone was designed because we have direct evidence that it has been. We can go to the factory to see it being made. We can ask the engineers how it works. We don’t determine that an iPhone was designed using pure logic. We determine it was designed by appealing to evidence. Even if we found an iPhone in a cave we would know it was designed and not naturally occuring because we have personally witnessed other iPhones before that we know have been designed. Experiential evidence is still evidence.
Suppose we came across an object in a cave that we had never seen before. We have no experiential evidence to appeal to in order to determine if it had been designed. Now we must appeal to logic to make an assumption about whether or not it had been designed. Similar to the firefly example, we could compare this new object to another object that we know is designed, like an iPhone, to determine its relative complexity. We should also compare this new object to other things that we know have not been designed. However, Creationists commonly believe that not only are all organisms designed, but the entire universe itself is designed. How can we use comparative complexity if we acknowledge that literally everything is designed? We can only make inferences about whether an object is designed by acknowledging that there are indeed some objects that are entirely naturalistic for comparison. Dr. Axe suggests that any object or organism more complex than an iPhone can be reasonably assumed to have been designed, but according to Creationists, so can every object or organism that is less complex than an iPhone.
As a final note concerning the appearance of design, we must recognize that any individual organism does indeed come into existence through the naturalistic processes of reproduction. A single firefly is not created, it is hatched from an egg. Even if we assumed that organisms could be designed, we would have to admit that it would only be the process that has been designed since individual organisms can obviously be “created” without a designer’s hand. And this actually lends more credence to the Theistic Evolution proponents who would freely admit that it was the process of reproduction, being an integral function of evolution, that was designed and resulted in the proliferation of organisms like fireflies.
Argument #2: Evolution is scientifically controversial.
“Evolutionary theorists are acknowledging that the main, standard, textbook theory of evolution known as Neo-Darwinism is in serious trouble.” -Dr. Stephen C. Meyer
This is a common accusation levied against the scientific community. Creationists will often cite examples of studies from mainstream scientists that they claim throw doubt onto the entirety of Darwin’s theory. But exactly which studies and authors are they appealing to with these claims? This is where it’s very important to do some deep digging. Since this video does not cite any specific examples we have to go to another article that makes very similar claims. In September of 2017 an article titled “Evolutionary scientist admits theory’s major flaws” was posted to the site World.Wng.Org. The article goes on to make some very specific claims.
“Gerd Müller, a highly regarded Austrian evolutionary theorist, recently gave a presentation, published in Interface Focus, in which he admitted Charlies [sic] Darwin’s theory largely avoids explaining how life originated and how complexity developed.”
That is a very bold accusation and one that we can easily inspect by going straight to the source. By reading Gerd Müller’s original article we can see what he says in his own words. This is from the last paragraph of the "Consequences" section:
"This is an exciting period in evolutionary biology. The principal Darwinian research tradition is upheld, but the specifics of evolutionary theory structure are undergoing ferment, including the revision of some of its traditional elements and the incorporation of new elements. Instead of privileging selected mechanisms such as random variation, genetic control and natural selection, the multitude of factors that dynamically interact in the evolutionary process will be better expounded by a pluralistic theory framework."
The bolded line is most important here. Müller is essentially saying that everything we have ever studied about biology continues to confirm that evolution explains the diversity of life on Earth, but it is much more complicated than even Darwin likely ever imagined. We still have much to learn about how evolution happens, but we still know that it does happen. The author is arguing that we should be working harder to improve our education and help explain new discoveries about evolutionary mechanisms that we didn't understand 80 years ago. It is clear when reading Müller’s original article that he is trying to convince the biology community to update their models of evolution to include new factors which he contends have been sufficiently proven in addition to the already known factors. This is a much different picture than the one painted by the World article and it’s easy to assume that these are the exact same kinds of misrepresented positions that Stephen Meyer references when he says in the video that “Neo-Darwinism is in serious trouble.”
The fact is that there is virtually no controversy among scientists as to the acceptance of the theory of evolution. A poll conducted in 2009 showed that 97% of scientists (including those outside the field of biology) accept that “humans and other living things have evolved over time”. The same poll showed that only 2% of scientists believed that humans have existed in their current form since the beginning of time.
Argument #3: Evolution requires circular reasoning.
“To get the first cell you need DNA and you also need RNA and you need protein. You need DNA to make RNA to make protein, but you also need protein to make DNA. Coming up with that out of a process of random mutation and natural selection is just not possible.” -Dr. Ann K. Gauger
It’s important to remember that the entire point of this video is to promote a book that is supposed to present challenges to Theistic Evolution. However, Dr. Gauger is here arguing against something called abiogenesis. Abiogenesis is the term for how inorganic material may have transitioned to result in the first forms of organic life. This is a separate field of study from evolution. Evolution only explains the diversity of life on Earth and it is not concerned with how life began. The irony here is that some Theistic Evolution believers would actually agree with Gauger. Many Theistic Evolution supporters say that the first forms of life were indeed impossible without the divine intervention of God. God kickstarted life and then evolution took over from there, though perhaps he provided some guidance upon the way. So Guager’s point here doesn’t seem to be much of a direct argument against Theistic Evolution, but rather an argument against Naturalistic Abiogenesis.
Though, we must go a step further and actually investigate her original claim. Is Naturalistic Abiogenesis truly impossible? That does not seem to be the consensus of scientists. As it turns out, there have been numerous laboratory experiments that have confirmed the early proteins and amino acids necessary for the origins of life could have formed naturally in the conditions of the early Earth.
The poll referenced earlier concerning the acceptance of evolution among scientists also had a question pertaining to naturalistic abiogenesis and evolution. When asked if humans and other living things evolved over time due to natural processes, 87% of scientists agreed. Those scientists must either accept that naturalistic abiogenesis is possible or that God may have kickstarted life which was then followed by naturalistic evolution. Apparently Dr. Gauger’s argument has not dissuaded them of their position, probably because the evidence they’ve seen related to observable laboratory experiments does not support her conclusions.
Argument #4: Science assumes naturalistic explanations.
“Methodological Naturalism is a convention that says that we must formulate theories about the world as if it were true that nature acting on its own can produce everything that we see.” - Dr. Stephen C. Meyer
Dr. Meyer is fairly accurate in his definition of Methodological Naturalism; however, all the various contributors to this video are making a mistake by conflating the philosophical concept of Methodological Naturalism with the objectives of science. We use science as a process to understand the universe we live in and learn how it functions. Science attempts to make conclusions based on observational evidence and testable experiments. Meyer and others are making an argument that science should include theistic explanations in their conclusions about reality (specifically in concern to our origins), but they do not provide any suggestions for how science could actually test or observe these theistic explanations. They want science to do something it is literally incapable of doing. If God’s hand in creation is undetectable through scientific observation and testing then it is impossible for science to conclude that God was responsible for creation. That does not mean that God was not responsible, only that science cannot explore that possibility. Science can only interact with the natural world, and any supernatural or philosophical explanations are outside its bounds. Science does not assume naturalistic explanations, but naturalistic explanations are the only ones it is capable of finding.
Theistic Evolution believers accept the limitations of science, but they also accept the conclusions of scientists with respect to the evidence for evolution. This does not impact their philosophical position that undetectable, supernatural causes can still exist outside the realm of scientific inquiry. Theistic Evolution supporters are not Methodological Naturalists.
It is difficult to see how the book from Crossway will continue to critique the concept of Theistic Evolution when the four main arguments in their promotional materials are either unfounded or misleading. In fact, we’ve seen here how some of their arguments could actually be used to support the idea of Theistic Evolution. In the future we may do a more in depth review of the book itself.