The Language of God, Chapter 10
By B.J. Marshall
After formally laying out his premisses and his conclusions, Collins muses why Theistic Evolution (TE) hasn’t caught on. He surmises that it simply isn’t widely known that one can mix science and religion harmoniously, that the position is in effect invisible in the harmony it creates by blending the two harmoniously, and that “theistic evolution” is just a terrible name. He introduces BioLogos as a humble alternative.
There simply aren’t very many advocates out there trying to blend science with religion, Collins says, on either side of the fence. He states there are “many scientists [that] ascribe to TE, [but] they are generally reluctant to speak out for fear of negative reaction” (p.202). We’re left to wonder how many “many” is and what whether any of these scientists are in fields relevant to biology. On the other side, there are few theologians who have enough knowledge of evolutionary theory to try blending of the two. Collins cites Pope John Paul II as one of these rare birds: “new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis” (p.202). That certainly is a lukewarm endorsement of evolutionary theory at best.
But then he muggles it all up by being sensitive to religion: “If the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God” (p.202). The premiss itself is on shaky ground because it sounds vague enough to be obscured into nonsense; one could read it as saying that new human bodies come from previously alive human beings, like I just sprung up out of my dead grandmother or something. The conclusion simply does not follow, although I will admit that spiritual souls and God are related in the sense that neither exists. However, I doubt that’s what JP2 meant.
I find it interesting how few theologians actually do try to meld evolutionary theory to faith in God. Almost without exception, every apologist I’ve heard debate, like William Lane Craig or Dinesh D’Souza, use reason and evidence whenever possible. Craig’s debates involving the Kalaam Cosmological Argument rely heavily on our current understanding of science, as in when he mentions virtual particles. Even Craig’s debates about the empty tomb, as in his debate with Bart Ehrman, involve Bayesian probabilities. So the question remains why apologists haven’t incorporated evolutionary theory into their debate arsenal. It’s all a moot point anyway, as apologists use reason and evidence capriciously; they are quick to use reason and evidence where it suits them but discard it when it doesn’t support the conclusion they want to reach about God’s existence.
A second reason Collins provides is that TE creates such harmony between warring factions. He muses how, as a society, we gravitate toward conflict; an example he gives is all the bad stories one hears on the evening news. “We love conflict and discord, and the harsher the better…. Harmony is boring” (p.204). This reason is just plain naïve. Perhaps a better explanation for why TE is invisible is that the “harmony” TE creates is baseless illogical drivel. It’s probably for the best that TE is as invisible as Collins claims it is.
I would say that science does a far better job of creating harmony than religion. Yes, science is a messy process, and there are egos and strongarming that might get in the way, but it’s a process that self-corrects over time to converge on one idea. We have one theory of evolution by natural selection, and one version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Religions make up different versions of what they want the truth to look like, so one ends up with over 30,000 denominations of Christianity. Imagine having 30,000 competing views of heliocentrism.
Collins’ last idea on this is that TE just has a bad name. After all, “most non-theologians are not quite sure what a theist is” (p.203). Unfortunately, many of the terms used to bring science and evolutionary theory together have become full of baggage: one dare not use “creation,” “intelligent,” or “design.” Collins thinks we need to start afresh by dusting off our old Greek-to-English dictionaries: BioLogos. Collins points out that scholars will recognize bios as the Greek word for life and logos as Greek for “word.” To many believers (read: only Christians, naturally), the Word is synonymous with God.
So, given that the average non-theologian doesn’t even know what a theist is, what part of catering to the scholars and well-read Christians sounded like a good idea to Collins? And why Greek? Collins doesn’t understand his target audience; if I were trying to popularize his view of meshing God and evolutionary theory to the general populace, I would want to use words that my target audience understood.
In the next post, we see Collins defending Biologos against atheistic scientists who see this position as just another “God of the gaps” view.
Other posts in this series: