Six years ago, my son did what many 4-year-olds do. He got very interested in dinosaurs. This curiosity led to books, questions, and for me, an excuse to finally pursue some questions I had wondered myself. I was fortunate indeed that one of the books I chose in pursuing my interest was Finding Darwin’s God.
This fascinating book is written by Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University. He is a well-respected advocate of evolution, the co-author of a popular biology textbook, and the go-to guy when biologists want someone who can defend evolution in debates and trials. He is also a Christian. Not a vague, “God is the sum of the universe,” kind of believer but a practicing Catholic who believes in a loving personal God; one who forgives sins and answers prayer. This book is Dr. Miller’s attempt to demonstrate why the acceptance of evolution and the belief in a Christian God need not be at odds.
There are really two parts to the book. The first six chapters are devoted to explaining the strengths of evolution and showing why young earth and/or seven-day creationism, along with intelligent design, are incompatible with science and its findings. This is Dr. Miller’s strength and he shines in his ability to explain data in clear, simple ways. His genuine excitement and love for science grab you and draw you in while his cheerful decimation of the anti-evolution crowd is thorough. He is every bit as quick to take on his anti-belief colleagues such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, and he quite persuasively points out the weakness of using science to insist there is no deity.
In the second part of the book, Dr. Miller turns to explaining how he can maintain a belief in a Christian God given the reality of evolution. And it is here that things start to get more fuzzy.
Dr. Miller identifies several challenges evolution presents to belief and he spends time addressing each. Some examples are the supposed incompatibility with Genesis and the idea that evolution insists on chance thus challenging our view that we are the intentional creations of a God who wanted us here. These beg for more in-depth analysis than I can give in a short review but perhaps they could be starting points for further discussion. I have chosen two other challenges to briefly explore here.
The cruelty of evolution is incompatible with a loving God. I personally find this a very compelling problem and was taken aback with Dr. Miller’s cavalier dismissal. In fact he starts out his discussion calling it “the strangest, the least logical, the most bizarre” of all the objections. He suggests that cruelty is relative. Is eating a lobster dinner cruel? Depends on whether you ask him or the lobster, he jokes. “Like beauty, the brutality of life is in the eye of the beholder.”
I don’t need to be an ethicist to find this argument appalling. A creature suffers whether the aggressor recognizes it or not. Just because he is the one putting the live lobster in the boiling water and not the other way around doesn’t absolve the act.
He goes on to point out that it is simply the truth that the world often lacks mercy. This is not the fault of evolution. Evolution explains what is happening, but does not say it should be this way. I agree, but this completely skips over the reality that, according to evolution, God created a world that is cruel and merciless as well as kind. Dr. Miller suggests that the world had to be the way it is in order for us to have free will, but I think this argument works better (though only somewhat) when one is talking about a perfect creation followed by a sinful choice. Sin and evil reduce our choices and cloud our ability to perceive God. I don’t understand the claim that our free will is better protected living in a world both sinful and good from the start. Dr. Miller is skimming lightly over the surface of the problem here and it is a problem that deserves more serious attention.
This is an important example of why I believe that it is not easy to get from evolution to the concept of a powerful and loving God. From evolution, one can imagine a curious God who is trying out experiments, seeing what happens if He does this or that; one who is perhaps somewhat bothered by the suffering but not enough to do much about it. What is difficult to see is a traditional God who hates evil and suffering so much He will someday soon destroy it. How can we assume He hates it when He made it like that to begin with? The ideas are not totally incompatible I suppose, but they wouldn’t lend themselves to each other without a strong need to make them fit.
Evolution doesn’t allow for evidence of God. Dr. Miller makes a good argument against those who insist that God must be the exception to science rather than the rule. However, he stumbles when he insists that God must remain hidden because to be too obvious would endanger our free will to choose Him. I can agree that evolution points to a hidden God, but the rationale for this is puzzling for those who also believe God is all-powerful and all-loving. Why make it so difficult to see the footsteps of God when our eternal life depends on belief?
In conclusion, I was left with the image of someone straining and sweating to force the proverbial square peg in the round hole. After managing to cram it in part way, he steps back and proudly says, “There, see how easy that was? See how easily those fit?” And my reaction is, “Hmmm.”
That is not to say that aspects of both can’t be harmonized; but taken as a whole, they are restless bedfellows. I think it is the desire of those (including myself) who want to accept evolution and still believe in a loving personal God that leads to the attempts at merging. It is not because one leads easily to the other. However, I would also never say that one cannot believe in both. Many people do and Dr. Miller is clearly one of them. It is good to know that some people find an easy fit, even though I do not share their ease.
Though I have been somewhat critical of Dr. Miller’s efforts, I don’t want to leave the impression that he has failed. To his credit, he is the only author that I know of on this topic who has the courage to actually address some of these issues in more depth. While I think he dismisses some a little too easily, he raises some very interesting and original points. Process theologians might be especially interested in his use of quantum physics to address determinism and what this might tell us about the mind of God. He refuses to apologize for his traditional Christian beliefs and also refuses to budge on the importance of evolution as the backbone of biology.
For those interested, along with this book I also recommend any lecture by Dr. Miller that one can find on YouTube. He is every bit as interesting a speaker as he is a writer.
“Beth” is an online identity chosen by a stay-at-home homeschooling mother of two. She has been married almost 15 years to her husband, who was a fellow classmate in Adventist elementary school. Before staying home, she worked as a therapist.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1150