The Evolution Controversy:
A New Book in the Making
By Ted Peters and Marty Hewlett
Some of the faculty and students associated with CTNS have
begun an ambitious research projecttitled,
Theodicy, Evolution, and Genocide. During Spring semester
2003, Bob Russell and Ted Peters have been team teaching a
GTU doctoral seminar with this title. The long range goal
of this project is to reflect upon the implications for theology
of dispositions toward suffering and even the perpetration
of violence which may have been programmed into the human
race by the history of evolution and genetic influence.
During phase one of this proposed project, Ted Peters along
with Marty Hewlett [Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
at University of Arizona and co-author of Basic Virology
(Blackwell, rev. ed., 2003)] have been researching what
will become a new book, Evolution from Creation to New
Creation, with Abingdon Press, scheduled for publication
in November 2003.
Aimed at theologians, pastors, seminarians, as well as science
educators at all levels, this new book tells who's who in
the controversy: the biblical creationists, scientific creationists,
intelligent design (ID) advocates, Darwinists, neo-Darwinists,
sociobiologists, evolutionary psychologists, and theistic
evolutionists. Peters and Hewlett fit themselves into the
last group, the theistic evolutionists, who take the science
of evolution seriously as they formulate Christian commitments
to creation, human nature, and redemption. The authors argue
that what happens in the science of evolutionary theory regarding
the history of natural selection is of particular interest
to Christian faith; and this should be sharply distinguished
from the philosophical or ethical forms of Darwinism such
as we find in social Darwinism, eugenics, Nazism, sociobiology,
and evolutionary psychology. It is the science that is important
to faith, not the social philosophies.
At the eye of the storm is the conflict between evolution
and creationism. The conflict between evolutionary biology
and scientific creationism, to be more precise, appears on
the surface to be a conflict between science and religion.
To read the newspapers would lead one to interpret it this
way. But, to Peters and Hewlett, this is a false impression.
No conflict exists between science and religion, at least
between genuine scientific research and the Christian faith.
What appears to be a warfare between laboratory and altar
is actually a battle within the vision of what science should
be, and also within our understanding of what religion should
So, this team of a scientist and a theologian decided to approach
the issue together, stereoptically. In addition to going to
the library to read the same books everyone else does, they
visited and spoke with many of the principals in the controversy.
What became increasingly clear is that both the scientific
creationists and the intelligent design advocates see themselves
as pursuing science, as trying to purify science. Whether
their science meets the standards of establishment science
is another question, and one well worth asking. Nevertheless,
one cannot accurately understand the controversy unless one
recognizes and acknowledges their self-understanding..
Two elements in the controversy obscure this. First, in the
popular mind and in the mind of many scholars who write about
this subject, the controversy is described as one more tedious
battle in the ongoing warfare between science and religion.
Science becomes stereotyped as the modern martyr innocently
and valiantly pursuing truth while religion is stereotyped
as atavistic and authoritarian and willing to burn truth at
the stake. Science is modern; religion is pre-modern, so it
is assumed. Even though creationists claim to be pursuing
science, they are dismissed as allegedly advocating fundamentalism
and biblical authority against empirical evidence and open
scientific reasoning. Both the press and the scholarly community
engage in unwarranted simplicity here, as if to dismiss a
complex phenomenon without taking the time to understand it.
Second, the scholarly community stubbornly insists that scientific
creationism and intelligent design are the same thing. Why?
This is puzzling. Both the creationists and ID'ers disavow
this conflation. One difference is enormous: creationists
hold that evolution has never taken place, whereas ID grants
the history of evolution while providing an alternative explanation
for it. This is a decisive difference. Yet, ID opponents have
coined the term "Intelligent Design Creationism"
(IDC) over against the objections of both groups just to insist
that they be locked in the same category together. Other opponents
describe ID in terms of episodic creationism, again to force
them to marry in a shotgun wedding. Why? If these two groups
want to be seen as separate, and if the difference is so decisive,
why do their opponents insist that they are the same thing?
It became clear to the book's authors while studying scientific
creationism that the actual arguments put forth against evolutionary
theory are intended to be scientific refutations. Even though
creationism shares a history with fundamentalism, the method
employed is not an appeal to biblical authority. It is not
simply an appeal to the Genesis account over against a scientific
account. Rather, the central creationist argument is that
insufficient evidence exists to demonstrate speciation-that
is, macroevolution from one species to another is not confirmed
by either fossil or laboratory evidence. This opens the door,
then, to a theory of a single creation at the beginning when
God created all "kinds" or species nearly as we
have them today. It also opens the door to thinking of our
planet as being young, perhaps only ten thousand years old.
Key here is that creationists intend their arguments to be
considered scientific, not theological or biblical. An honest
public response should be to present counter evidence on behalf
of a Darwinian account, not to dismiss creationists because
of their religion. The authors of Evolution from Creation
to New Creation believe that an honest evaluation of the evidence
will show that the Darwinian theory provides greater explanatory
adequacy and a progressive research program that will yield
new knowledge in time. They hold that the physical evidence
is sufficient to support the fact of evolutionary history;
and they believe the Darwinian model is superior science.
Creationists ask for this kind of evaluation. They don't want
to be dismissed because of their theology.
Similarly with intelligent design. ID does not share a history
with fundamentalism; nor does it deny the history of speciation.
Yet, it claims that the standard Darwinian model for explaining
speciation through descent with modification in the natural
selection process is inadequate. The increase in complexity
that new life forms instantiate can not be explained by gradualism.
Interventions by an intelligent designer are required. Regardless
of their personal theological points of view, representatives
of intelligent design intend this to be a scientific argument
and not a theological argument.
Here the scientific community has been a bit better at attempting
to refute ID by mustering evidence on behalf of gradualism.
Even Harvard's colorful Stephen Jay Gould, who advocated punctuated
equilibrium, offers an argument that supports Darwinian gradualism
over against what ID proposes. This is how the debate should
proceed. It need not be spiced up by dismissing ID as just
one more disguised voice for creationism.
Both creationism and ID complain that evolutionary theory
is bad for society, that the ideological values that accompany
evolution are corrupting young people's minds and hence our
wider culture. Today's liberal community finds it easy to
dismiss such complaints as vituperations of cranky right wingers
who support bigotry and all other conservative prejudices.
Again, this rush to simplicity hides its own enormous intellectual
blindness if not dishonesty.
What this book makes clear is that never was there a time
when evolutionary theory could distinguish the pure research
science from social ideology. Even before Charles Darwin published
Origin of the Species in 1859, Adam Smith's version of capitalism
was providing a scheme for understanding economic competition
that Darwin used to frame his descriptions of competition
between species. Also, in 1851 Herbert Spencer promulgated
a vision of evolution that applied to both nature and society.
Once Darwin had entered the academic scene, Spencer coined
the phrase "survival of the fittest" and Darwin
adopted it as the equivalent of "natural selection."
For the social Darwinism that followed, it meant government
should encourage the rich and powerful to survive while letting
the weak and unfit fall by the wayside. Thomas Huxley, who
held a more egalitarian ethic than Spencer, still capitalized
on Darwinian biology in his campaign to support materialism
and to get the church out of the British university. It was
Huxley who declared war against religion in the name of Darwinian
science. Huxley, Darwin's contemporary, paved the way for
Richard Dawkins more than a century later to remark in The
Blind Watchmaker (p.6), "Darwin made it possible to be
an intellectually fulfilled atheist."
What this means is that the Western religious community has
never had access to evolution as simply science. Evolution
first came already shrink wrapped as a capitalist ideology
that supports the rich over against the poor and as a materialism
that assaults the beliefs of the traditional church. In addition,
late nineteenth century Darwinism was accompanied by a theory
of racial hierarchy-that is, white English society was said
to be more fully evolved than other races. So, when social
Darwinism went to Germany it offered justification for the
will-to-power, militarism leading to World War I, post-war
eugenics, Rassenhygiene, death camps, and World War II. In
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler directly lifts up Darwinian evolution
in his appeal to nature to justify what would become the Nazi
ideology backing Aryan racism. So, when creationists and others
trumpet that social values are at stake, they appeal to an
ominous history. If our society is to honor Christian inspired
values such as the responsibility of the rich toward the poor,
love and care for those deemed unfit, or racial equality-creationists
are not supporters of bigotry despite what is said of them-these
values are incommensurate with those deriving from social
Because of this checkered history, theologians should try
to distinguish between Darwinism [or Neo-Darwinism] as science
and as philosophy. Materialist ideology and social Darwinism
should be distinguished from the history of our planet's biology.
The science should be separated out from the larger Darwinian
complex. If religious thought in general and Christian faith
in particular is to take up a working relationship with science,
then it must discriminate between evolutionary biology with
its accompanying disciplines such as molecular biology from
its philosophical siblings such as social Darwinism and ontological
materialism. Theologians must also distinguish the research
science from Darwinism's contemporary progeny such as sociobiology
and evolutionary psychology. This book recommends that a healthy
dialogue between science and religion should focus first on
the biology and related laboratory research areas; and it
should avoid blessing or baptizing the various forms of social
Darwinism that are subject to such a values critique.
Peters and Hewlett side with the theistic evolutionists. What
distinguishes a theistic evolutionist? First, a commitment
to theism-that is, a commitment to belief in one God who is
active in the world. This contrasts with deism and panentheism,
two other admirable positions. It also contrasts with naturalism,
which is on the rise in popularity. Second, theistic evolutionists
make an attempt to incorporate the truths gained from evolutionary
biology into their worldview, into their doctrines of creation
and anthropologies. Who belongs to this club? Well, as we
look at the membership list we find colleagues such as Arthur
Peacocke, Kenneth Miller, John Haught, Robert John Russell,
Denis Edwards, Ian Barbour, Nancey Murphy, Wentzel van Huyssteen,
Niels Henrik Gregersen, Howard van Till, B.B. Warfield, Francisco
Ayala, and of course Teilhard de Chardin. Other respected
scholars could be placed on this list as well.
Like many of these scientists and theologians, Hewlett and
Peters hold science in high regard. Microscopes and telescopes
and all the lenses through which science views the world provide
a way of seeing nature that reveals intricacy, complexity,
immensity, grandeur, and beauty. The glory of God shines through
nature, and also through the human minds so constructed as
to comprehend nature.
Theologically, Evolution from Creation to New Creation
emphasizes that the God of the Bible is involved in the world;
and this means that God shares in the experience of suffering.
The natural world is replete with the competition between
predator and prey, the extinction of species, and everywhere
suffering and death. A social ethic based on the principle
of survival of the fittest-in sociobiological language, reproductive
fitness--is simply incompatible with the God of grace described
in Scripture. Hewlett and Peters believe a theology of evolution
must affirm that out of love God identifies with the victims
of natural selection, with the suffering of the prey, with
care for the unfit. They invoke the Theology of the Cross
to perceive divine presence in feeling the feelings of nature's
creatures. And, regardless of how nature behaves, divine empathy
is the source of ethics as we see it.
The second item they emphasize is that the doctrine of creation
is not big enough to include an adequate theological assessment
of nature as evolutionary theory describes it. This is an
important point pressed by Bob Russell in his essay in the
Vatican book on Evolutionary and Molecular Biology. Yes, the
concept of creatio continua or continuing creation should
be invoked to include natural selection over deep time. Yet,
theologians need more. Redemption needs to enter the picture.
The eschatological vision of the Bible is that the lion will
lie down with the lamb, which in God's kingdom there will
be no more crying nor pain nor death. What this means is that
for theological reasons we need to project a divine future
in which the laws of nature then will differ from what they
have been during evolutionary history. This is an audacious
claim, to be sure; but nothing less than this is the biblical
from Creation to New Creation: The Controversy in Laboratory,
Church, and Society. By Ted
Peters and Martinez Hewlett
Abingdon Press; (November 2003) ISBN: 0687023742
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