Evolution and other stories

Probably the most important point Tim Keller makes in his essay Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople (PDF) (see previous post) is in his answer to question 2:

Question #2: If biological evolution is true, does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a worldview.

Yes, yes, and a thousand times YES!

However, as Dr Keller points out:

Today every effort is being made to insist that belief in the process of biological evolution leads necessarily to belief in “perennial naturalism” (to use Alvin Plantinga’s term)

– an effort in which New Atheists and creationists find common cause.

Against this, Dr Keller distinguishes between “EBP” (the belief that “human life was formed through evolutionary processes”) and “GTE” (“the Grand Theory of Evolution … as the explanation for every aspect of human nature”). He describes Sam Harris’ attack on the (Christian and evolutionist) Francis Collins’s nomination to be head of NIH as an example of the view that “if you believe in EBP, you must believe in GTE”, and continues:

GTE is fast becoming what Peter Berger calls a “plausibility structure”. It is a set of beliefs considered so basic, and with so much support from authoritative figures and institutions, that it is becoming impossible for individuals to publicly question them.

This then explains the venom with which some New Atheists attack their opponents:

[The new atheists’] disdain and refusal to show any respect to opponents is not actually an effort to refute them logically, but to ostracize them socially and turn their own views into a plausibility structure. They are well on their way.

One side-effect of this is that, when Christians hear a pastor (or fellow-believer) express support for EBP as the means by which God created human beings and other life forms, this troubles them because they assume this means their pastor is also advocating the anti-Christian ideology of GTE.

Hence, Dr Keller argues:

Christian pastors, theologians, and scientists who want to argue for an EBP account of origins must put a great deal of emphasis at the same time on arguing against GTE.

Examples he gives of where we can do this include Alvin Plantinga’s critique of self-defeating theories (that deny the capacity for human rationality on which they themselves rely) and pushing back against GTE’s “efforts to explain away moral intuitions”.

Personally, rather than looking for incompleteness within EBP (which can turn into a “God of the gaps” exercise), I’d prefer to emphasis the incompleteness of EBP as an explanation for reality. It’s not necessarily that there are aspects of human existence that EBP can’t describe on its own level. For example, as Dr Keller argues earlier in his essay, there is no reason why God couldn’t have used evolution to create our belief in the supernatural – and much the same could be said for our sense of morality. However, once EBP has said everything it can say, there is still more to be said about reality – other stories to be told, even at those points where the scientific account is at its strongest.

(This, incidentally, is why I don’t like to talk about “scientific explanations”, but instead “scientific descriptions” or similar: because “explanation” carries connotations of being an exhaustive, complete account.)

Dr Keller concludes this section with a call for Christians to unite against the ideology of GTE rather than fighting amongst ourselves over the scientific validity of EBP:

Many orthodox Christians who believe in EBP often find themselves attacked by those Christians who do not. But it might reduce the tensions between believers over evolution if they could make common cause against GTE. Most importantly, it is the only way to help Christian laypeople make the distinction in their minds between evolution as biological mechanism and as Theory of Life.

In my next post, I plan to look at Dr Keller’s answer to the third question he posed, on the historicity of Adam and Eve.

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2 Responses to Evolution and other stories

  1. Michael K. Rose says:

    Sorry. This is off topic. I just got in from a long weekend out of state and was reading the Boar’s Head Tavern from this past weekend. As a Texas lawyer, I can affirmatively state that the libel laws of the US of A provide that truth is an absolute defense to a charge of slander or libel. mkr

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