February 22, 2010

Is Your Bod Flawed by God?

Are your body’s imperfections reasons for you to reject intelligent design and embrace evolution? Professor John Avise (UC Irvine) thinks so. His new book Inside the Human Genome was given good press by PhysOrg: “Distinguished Professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine, Avise also makes the case that overwhelming scientific evidence of genomic defects provides a compelling counterargument to intelligent design,” the article said. “Here, Avise discusses human imperfection, the importance of understanding our flaws, and why he believes theologians should embrace evolutionary science.” This article was well timed. It appeared just before “Evolution Sunday” when some evolutionists encourage churches to embrace Darwinism in their sermons. No ID proponent or theologian was allowed to respond to Avise’s claims.

The article said that evolutionary theory provides religious people a way out of theodicy – the need to explain natural evil. Avise said that while both theology and natural selection can explain the appearance of design, theology has trouble explaining design flaws. “Serious biological imperfections, on the other hand, can only logically be expected of nonsentient evolutionary processes that are inherently sloppy and error-prone,” Avise claimed. “They’re more troublesome to rationalize as overt mistakes by a fallible God.” Presumably, shuffling off the mistakes to a natural process exonerates the Designer. Asked why theologians should welcome evolutionary theory, Avise took off his white lab coat and put on a backward collar:

"Theodicy is the age-old conundrum of how to reconcile a just God with a world containing evils and flaws. With respect to biological imperfections, evolution can emancipate religion from the shackles of theodicy. No longer need we feel tempted to blaspheme an omnipotent deity by making him directly responsible for human frailties and physical shortcomings, including those we now know to be commonplace at the molecular and biochemical levels. No longer need we be apologists for God in regard to the details of biology. Instead, we can put the blame for biological flaws squarely on the shoulders of evolutionary processes. In this way, evolutionary science can help return religion to its rightful realm – not as a secular interpreter of the biological minutiae of our physical existence, but rather as a respectable counselor on grander philosophical issues that have always been of ultimate concern to theologians."

He hoped that readers of his book would see evolutionary theory as a helpful philosophical partner of theology, rather than a nemesis. He extended Dobzhansky’s oft-quoted proverb that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” to suggest that nothing in religion, medicine or environmental issues makes sense except in evolution’s light either.

Is it because there is no theologian worth his salt within calling distance that PhysOrg printed one side of the story? Do they really think a modestly equipped seminary student would be tongue-tied with a theodicy question? This illustrates common practice for the scientific journals and secular science reporters: like Pravda before them, they deliver one predigested view, and tell the populace how to think. At least this article took the daring step of mentioning that a dissident belief system (intelligent design) exists. Most mention evolutionary theory as the only answer to everything.

Theodicy might be a problem for 19th-century deism and simplistic natural theology, but not for Biblical theology. It was not a problem for Jesus Christ, who was certainly not oblivious to the blind, the deaf, the lepers and the lame around him. It was not a problem for Paul, who spoke of the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain till the coming redemption of all things (Romans 8). It is not even a problem for intelligent design – why? Because I.D. does not delve into matters of theology, like Avise does. Intelligent design restricts its explanatory domain to design detection. Avise is taking off on a tangent (red herring) by claiming that if one argues intelligent design, one is duty bound to explain natural evil. That is a non-sequitur.

We see here a pattern that was noticed decades ago in the creation-evolution debates: it is the evolutionists who argue theology, and the creationists who argue scientific evidence. Notice how counter-intuitive that pattern is. If Darwinism is the great scientific theory, and creationism the religiously-motivated pseudoscience, one would predict the opposite. But this pattern holds up all the time. Hunter speaks at length about theodicy, Darwin, Dobzhansky, Ken Miller, and theistic evolution to establish his argument that evolution relies on religious premises rather than scientific evidence.

Understanding this explains why evolutionists are quick to talk theology in debate but bankrupt at explaining the origin of complex specified information observed everywhere in biology. “We are told that complexity and even consciousness just bubbled up out of an inorganic world,” Hunter wrote. “These are extraordinary claims and therefore they require extraordinary evidence. Instead we have a series of unsubstantiated speculations. These speculations are made compelling, however, by evolution’s negative theology” (Hunter, Darwin’s God, p. 174). By negative theology, Hunter is speaking of the argument presented often by Darwin and his disciples: “God wouldn’t have done it that way.” (Notice that is a theological argument, not a scientific argument.)