“Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution” — An Interaction, Part 3

Evolutionary Creation — Chapter 3 — The Creator in a Designed and Evolving Creation

In the third chapter of Evolutionary Creation, Lamoureux offers “an integrated approach to understanding divine activity and intelligent design.” Notice that Lamoureux doesn’t capitalize the phrase intelligent design. This is very purposeful: He does not want evolutionary creationism to be misunderstood as just another sect of the Intelligent Design movement, the leading “institution” of which is Seattle’s Discovery Institute. Admittedly, this chapter might be a little tough to wade through for those not familiar with the philosophy of science, but it is a very important chapter in that it makes an extremely important distinction between evolutionary creationism and deistic evolution.

In the section titled “Divine Action,” Lamoureux provides the reader with a number of categories of divine action: personal interventionism (direct and dramatic), personal providentialism (indirect and subtle), cosmological interventionism
(direct and dramatic), and cosmological providentialism (indirect and subtle). In order to differentiate evolutionary creationism from deistic evolution, Lamoureux is quick to give personal and biblical support to both forms of divine action in the individual lives of human beings, but how God acts outside of the realm of humanity is a completely different matter. While cosmological interventionism is the trademark of young-earth creationism (i.e., the cosmos was created by God over the course of six 24-hour days), evolutionary creationism denies that God worked in this fashion, preferring to look at God’s creative activity as “working through routine and uninterrupted natural processes that He ordains and sustains,” much like the embryological development of a child in the womb.

Next, Lamoureux proceeds to discuss the concept of “intelligent design” (cf. Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:18-23) and takes great pain to differentiate the ancient idea that the cosmos’ “beauty, complexity, and functionality” points to a Creator from the more recent “God-of-the-gaps” argumentation of the Intelligent Design community, which depicts God as a “meddler who tinkers about at irregular times in the making and functioning of the world,” resulting in gaps that “purportedly exist at different points in the continuum of natural processes, and these discontinuities are indicative of where God intervened directly in the cosmos.” While he admits the God-of-the-gaps argument as “logical and reasonable,” Lamoureux notes that “if gaps really exist in nature, then science will identify them, and they will ‘widen’ with further research.” Unfortunately, this paradigm ultimately falls short, as scientific advances in the last several decades have closed or are filling in these gaps with purely natural and rational explanations. Moreover, a God-of-the-gaps approach to science is actually counter-productive to scientific progress and, in some cases, can even destroy science. “Imagine,” Lamoureux asks the reader, “the implications for medical research. If one asserts that direct divine intervention causes AIDS . . . then there is no reason in trying to understand the natural processes through which [this disease] arose. The [AIDS virus] would run rampant through society and health authorities would not have any justification to do research on monkeys from Africa . . . .”

After differentiating “intelligent design” from the anti-science “God-of-the-gaps” paradigm, Lamoureux offers up his own intelligent design model, the Metaphysics-Physics Principle:

In the [physics] compartment, science offers vast and wonderful knowledge about the physical world. But it is dead silent with regard to the ultimate meaning of nature. For example, there is no scientific instrument that can detect whether the cosmos is teleological [i.e., infused with purpose and meaning] or dysteleological. Such a topic is metaphysical and dealt with only in religion and philosophy [i.e., the metaphysics compartment] . . . . However, theologians and philosophers depend on science in coming to their beliefs. They need facts about the world before they can decide on its utmost meaning. Stated concisely, metaphysics requires physics.

To arrive at an ultimate understanding of the world involves a metaphysical jump [toward] the scientific data. This is not a strict logical process like mathematics. In fact, there is no mathematical formula to move from physics to metaphysics. Of course, the jump does involve reason, a logically thought-out process that is objective in character. But it also includes intuition, an immediate impression that is more subjective.

Together, reason and intuition contribute to faith, and together these intellectual-spiritual processes lead to an ultimate belief regarding the findings of science. Indeed, this jump may legitimately be called a leap of faith because that is exactly what it is.Not too controversial so far. At least until Lamoureux asks why, if the cosmos’ attributes point to a Creator, some refuse to recognize this metaphysical reality. The answer, he says, lies in the traditional Christian explanation that sin impedes our ability to make this “leap of faith” (cf. Romans 1:28 and 2 Timothy 3:8-9). Religious skeptics, Lamoureux argues, must “concoct ‘reasons’ to explain away the powerful impact of intelligent design in order to maintain their own psychological stability and comfort.” Ouch. I’m not entirely sure about the whole “psychological stability and comfort” thing. I know plenty of well-adjusted atheists and agnostics who are, on the whole, very “moral” individuals and, in many cases, exhibit more Christian character than some professing Christians I know. Of course, as a theist sympathetic to most of Lamoureux’s views, I wouldn’t want to speak for my atheist and agnostic acquaintances on this matter. They will probably answer Lamoureux much better than I can.

The last major section of Chapter 3 deals with the “anthropic principle,” that is, the “assertion that evolutionary processes seem to be fashioned in such a way that inevitably led to the origin of humanity (Greek anthrōpos means ‘man, human being’). Physicists studying the Big Bang in the 1950s first coined the term. They discovered that the fundamental laws of nature are so delicately balanced that any minor changes would not have allowed the universe and life to evolve. For some scientists, this evidence of a finely tuned cosmos points to the existence of an Intelligent Designer.” From here, Lamoureux discusses some of the scientific data that supports the principle, invoking the views of physicist Stephen Hawking, scientist-theologian Alister McGrath, and others. Of course, Lamoureux is careful to assert that the anthropic principle does not constitute proof of God’s existence. Indeed.

Nevertheless, I hesitate to jump on the anthropic principle bandwagon, and I’m not entirely sure why. There is something about it that gets under my skin. What’s not to say that God couldn’t have designed an entirely different set of physical laws to create the cosmos? And how is it that we can assert that physical complexity and the existence of life couldn’t have come about by these other means? Because we exist in this particular universe with its accompanying physical laws, there is absolutely no method by which we can scientifically test how robust the anthropic principle really is. At this juncture, some may accuse me of sympathizing with the multiple-universe hypothesis, which posits that there could be an infinite number of universes in existence, all of which possess a unique set of physical laws; but this isn’t the case. I am absolutely agnostic on this point because my puny brain cannot conceive of any method by which we can test the multiple-universe hypothesis. To me, the idea that we could defies all logic.

Lamoureux does provide some responses to skeptics of the anthropic principle, but my doubts don’t appear to be included among those to which Lamoureux responds. Alas, my support for the anthropic principle continues to remain non-existent, if not extremely weak.

Bogged down with my language studies, I’m not sure when I’ll get around to posting my review/interaction with Chapter 4 (“The Ancient Science in the Bible”), but I know I’ll enjoy writing it. It was this chapter that really blew me away. Until next month (?) . . .

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One Response to “Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution” — An Interaction, Part 3

  1. Thanks, Mike.

    As so commonly the case, our thoughts on this are quite similar. Although there was plenty in it I had no problem with, this was not my favorite chapter.

    On the one hand, I don’t deny that I (for what I know) do see gaps in our understanding of how the odds worked in favor of the universe and life as we know them. But on the whole, like missing transitional forms, I have no real use for the anthropic principle. Nor do I belief that science need provide evidence for God. The fact is, if God had wanted to do that, He surely chose an infinitely more obvious method to do so.

    And yes, chapter 4’s certainly a good one. A must-read for every Christian.

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