Phil Johnson and evolution

David Campbell (
Tue, 2 Sep 1997 15:14:06 -0400

>I'm grateful to Terry for paying so much careful attention to the book,
>and pleased that he agrees with "95%" of it. However, the part he
>doesn't agree with is fundamental; it's the part where intelligent design
>actually has scientific content. For example, the failure to comprehend
>that intelligent selection is altogether different from natural
>(unintelligent) selection is a variant of what I describe in DD as
>"Berra's Blunder."
This distinction between intelligent and unintelligent selection
may be useless. Obviously, any experiment or model we devise has an
intelligent designer; thus, every simulation of natural selection can be
dismissed as "intelligent selection." Conversely, if one believes that God
created most if not all of life through the secondary means of natural
selection, natural selection itself is not "unintelligent" but merely
veiled intelligence. Thus, it's true that, looking at fossils of a given
age, we don't have any way to predict which will have similar descendants,
which will have greatly changed descendants, and which lineages will go
extinct before another sample. In this sense, it's "random" or
"unpredictable". An omniscient God, however, could be working out a plan
that is evident to us only in hindsight.
Unfortunately, this 5% is where intelligent design claims are
sometimes demonstrably wrong, i.e., when they closely resemble standard
disproven "young earth evidence". "Creation Hypothesis" (Moreland, ed.),
for example, includes a discussion of "Macrobiogeography" [e.g., marsupials
in Australia versus placental mammals elsewhere] that overlooks plate
tectonics and is fooled by common names [Australian "possums" are no closer
to American "possums" than humans to lemurs]. Darwin on Trial contained a
bit on gaps in the fossil record of whales. Since then, the gaps were
filled in; obviously the first edition is not at fault for omitting these,
but has there been any mention of this in his more recent books? [I don't
know-this is not a rhetorical condemnation but an actual question.]
The presence of an intelligent designer is a fundamental difference
between theistic and atheistic explanations of the universe; however,
depending upon one's views of the mode of action of the designer, it is
perfectly possible for both atheistic and theistic approaches to predict
physically similar results in a given situation. No one disputes that
theists and atheists can both use the same periodic table, for example;
chemical reactions are generally thought by theists to be one aspect of the
universe which God usually runs via secondary causes. No aspect of God's
nature precludes his using secondary causes in creating organisms, too.
Thus, a theist who believes that God has generally acted in accord with
natural laws (which He made and is free to "disobey" if necessary to His
overall plan) and an atheist who thinks natural laws just exist (without
bothering much about why, else he'd be more inclined to theism) can both
see evolution from a common ancestor as a reasonable explanation for many
aspects of the present diversity of life.
There seems to be two distinct but related errors in rejecting
large-scale biological evolution and common descent. The first is the
assumption that, because atheists try to use evolution as an excuse for
their beliefs, it must be wrong. Christians ought to be suspicious of
atheistic theological arguements. "I don't believe in God because I don't
think God would do ____" should hold no weight for a Christian; if ____
actually happened, then God did it, in some sense [e.g., allowed evil-He
does not do evil] and the real question is "Why?". Secondly, there is
reactionism retaining ideas traditionally associated with Christianity but
not integral to it. Interestingly, "canonification" of Greek philosophy
seems partly to blame in many instances of the latter: because circles are
the most perfect shape, a perfect God must have made circular planetary
orbits, the moon must be a perfect sphere (no mountains or craters), etc.;
because organisms are based on some divinely fixed "kinds", they cannot
evolve from one kind to another [Plato-no Biblical references to kinds say
anything about whether or not change is possible, just that they're
different!]. Evolution by natural selection is a pretty smart way to
design organisms to survive in a changing environment!
It's interesting to note that Behe, in Darwin's Black Box, accepts
the possibility of common descent via biological evolution by natural
selection or other means; it's just in "chemical evolution" of life that he
sees unfillable gaps.

David Campbell