How do we understand the sort of design that evolution supposedly does away with? Presumably, evolution means we can stop looking for some magical elf-and-Santa-workshop where God busily assembles new species.  Great. Call off the search. If evolution were to fail, what then? Would it leave the sort of hole that could be filled by the the magical mystery species shop? No. We would just look for another natural explanation, whatever it was. If evolution were to fail, it would not leave a God-shaped hole, and so it follows that it is not filling one now, nor has it ever done so.

Evolution kills of the sort of naive and imaginary understanding of design that is very difficult to banish, for it is only with great difficulty that we banish the idea that design means that if we just follow back natural causes far enough or solve the last equation, we’ll finally pull back the curtain and see the prime mover pulling levers, drawing blueprints, and horsing together that mindless, deterministic, blind “nature-matter” we all hear about.


  1. Joseph A. said,

    July 27, 2009 at 8:37 am

    I have to admit, growing up, I never understood why evolution was a problem for God’s existence, action, or design. I can understand related problem of evil arguments (evolution is just so cruel!), but not the idea that somehow, if something evolved, then God did not design it. It has always seemed obvious to me that creation can take place in a process, rather than an instance of blunt and sudden action. Or that all intervening action needs to be obvious and blunt.

    And you point out something else I’ve wondered. If all evidence pointed to all of existence just “popping into existence” as they generally are some recent number of years ago, would that point to a “God-shaped hole”? Or would there just be “natural explanations” or speculations about why things just plain pop into existence now and then? My experience is the latter is true. (I recall.. I think Eugene Koonin writing an article where the multiverse was cited as a reason the Origin of Life just “popped into existence” one day.)

  2. PFS said,

    July 27, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Joseph A.,

    It seems that perceived difficulty with evolution and Theism is not that the former is inconsistent with the latter but that on the principle of parsimony, the latter is not required for explanation. It is understood as having no explanatory power for why things are the way that they are and how they became the way that they did. This seems to be what I hear atheists like Dennett saying.

    In response, it seems to me that the existence of God does have explanatory power, but perhaps not the same kind of explanatory power that modern natural science has. It is of a higher order and more comprehensive (e.g., it brings together the truth of human values and the truth of ultimate explanations and origins). Certainly St. Thomas would agree with this too

    BTW, good post and great blog!

  3. Mike said,

    July 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    One doesn’t need the Frank Whittle hypothesis to understand how a jet engine words the way it does. And the physics of vibrating strings certainly explains everything about the sound of Fuer Elise emanating from that piano. At least, if you define “everything” to include only those things explicable by the physics of vibrating strings.

  4. July 27, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    one of my faves, sir

  5. Joseph A. said,

    July 28, 2009 at 1:31 am


    I agree with you that theism offers an explanation distinct from the “scientific”, and one of a higher order, as you say. But the way the “principle of parsimony” (As is commonly argued, though it seems distinct from what I understood Ockham to assert) is called upon here is something I view as either ignorant or duplicitous. If we’re arguing that, in a purely pragmatic sense, we don’t need to call on God to explain (for example) the origin of species, that’s fine – we never needed God in -that- pragmatic sense, even before evolution. The option to chalk such questions up to either “mystery” or “some process however mysterious, but not God” was always available that way. But we’re not concerned with the purely pragmatic here, so that claim gets use nowhere.

    On the flipside, we can argue that materialism has no “explanatory power” too – Berkeley’s idealism is entirely capable of accounting for each and every scientific finding, including what we see in neurology. So if the ultimate claim is that evolution doesn’t offer evidence against God, but merely makes God superfluous to a scientific explanation.. again, all I can say is, “So what’s the issue?” This really seems like, on the part of materialists of an atheist bend, more about misunderstanding or purposeful confusion than anything resembling novel discovery.

%d bloggers like this: