Book Review: Theistic Evolution, a Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique

The discussion of origins is perhaps the strongest argument against Christianity, and religion in general, to ever arise in human dialogue. The apologetic concerns are many and the challenges have become the academic orthodoxy of the Western world. The questions have no simple answers. There are many individuals who are easy to deal with (such as the “new atheist” movement) but others are not so simple. The paradigm itself deserves a full treatment from the inside.

Theistic evolution represents an attempted compromise. The movement accepts the Darwinian or neo-Darwinian explanation and adds to it a theistic framework. It does nothing to absolve Darwinism (used here as a generalization for the movement) of its materialistic errors. Instead it accepts the conclusions of the Darwinist. Rather than being an apologetic for Christianity it acts as an apologetic for Darwinism.

In Theistic Evolution, a Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, the authors provide a thorough analysis of the theistic evolution paradigm. In doing so they add to the discussion some additional arguments against Darwinism along with arguments which forward a Christian framework regarding creation. This is not another YEC package of simple answers. Neither is it an apologetic for ID. The argument is more straightforward: Theistic evolution (TE) represents an unacceptable compromise, and even a surrender.

The group of authors is a respected group of philosophers, scientists, and theologians. One may not agree with all of their individual positions. That’s a given in most any effort of this type. But none-the-less these people know their fields and they write their positions and TE critiques with clarity and without compromise.

This book is about 1,000 pages for good reason. If it were less then too much would have been lost for the sake of publishing costs. Some works require physical substance and this is one of them. The publisher is to be commended for accepting this publication challenge.

In Summary …

The work begins with the fundamentals. Stephen Meyer provides a definition of TE and Wayne Grudem gives us the framework for the endeavor, that TE is theological incompatible with orthodox Christian theology especially with respect to creation. These provide the reader with the understanding needed to see where the rest of the work is headed.

In “Section I: The Scientific Critique of Theistic Evolution,” several problems of the neo-Darwinist paradigm are noted.  These include its inability to answer the question of origins (abiogenesis) and the dysfunctional nature of the extended synthesis. One might be tempted to see this as a mere defense apologetic. Sort a “you’re wrong because I found a hole in your system” approach. Many criticisms of Darwinsim end up doing that. But this is different. In this case the argument is wrapped in a greater narrative, that these positions represent defeaters for neo-Darwinsim as a model. A model which cannot accommodate the data is thus falsified. One need not have a replacement model at hand as an alternative. That’s what scientists and philosophers need to work out.

Section I has a second part which deals with the question of common descent. Some of the points are subjective (the pressure to conform) while others deal with combinations of genetic and paleontological concerns. Again this discussion provides a falsifier to the model. It is not a falsifier to the evolution simpliciter (change & even speciation) but to the neo_Darwinian model.

Section II is entitled “The Philosophical Critique of Theistic Evolution” and gives the reader a picture of some paradigmatic concerns regarding Darwinism + TE.  The loss of both doctrine and science, when theology inserts itself unnecessarily into discussion of naturalism. Either theology has to win the discussion or naturalism has to win. With TE the winner in the end is methodological naturalism with God just added on. This affects our view of morals and ethics. It also dissuades us from forwarding critiques of methodological naturalism + Darwinism, and that’s the core issue.

Section III might be read as the reverse of Section II.  Section II spoke to the problems introduced by methodological naturalism. Section III speaks to the problems introduced by inserting TE into theological discussions. There is some overlap between them and a certain amount of semantic similarity between the arguments. Even so the point remains that the influences are present and are accounted for very well.

Sections II and III accomplish much the same thing though from alternative reference points: Falsifying the model may also include the model’s foundations. Here the matter to falsify is theistic evolution itself. Because TE cannot find a proper place, and in fact a place where it is necessary, it ends up being an affectation. Metaphysical naturalism has no more a valid relationship with a sound theology than does a sound theology with metaphysical naturalism.


I’ve not gone into great deal on the various sections. It is after all a 1000 or so page book. I wanted to avoid writing a 10-page review. That said, this is a strong work. It is useful for both scientist and Christian teacher in the presentation of a better case for creation and critique of the failings of TE. It is, to me, a must to have in one’s Christian library.

There are three specific items that stand out to me. First, the idea of separating naturalism, both metaphysical and philosophical, from scientific inquiry is long overdue. Naturalism is in both sense a metaphysical issue, The contrary demand of so many empiricists is the rejection of metaphysical questions. In the end the most ardent empiricist must answer the metaphysical claims being made. The apologetic demand for this is clear as any apologetic for naturalism and any form of Darwinism requires a substantive answer at least equal to the Christian apologetic if it is to be of value.

There is a second strength and again it seems almost a subtext. Theories of origins are by their nature explanatory models. They seek to provide an explanation of history that sufficiently accounts for data both past and present. Neither the Darwinian nor neo-Darwinian are able to do that. The concept of randomness, even when seen as more an contingency question than a question of serendipity, sits in functional opposition to the need for directionality. The two concepts are kept separate in evolutionary literature. They are, in fact, conflicting ideas.There can be no survival for a purpose (even survival itself) while at the same time maintaining random mutation.

Four Things About Christian Apologetics:

This section is not so much about the book as it is my response to the book and some things that we apologists might give further attention to as we engage this arena. So take this as the things I want rather than as weakness in the book. The goal here is to help us advance our apologetic. The book can stand on its own with all of its strengths.

The second strength noted earlier, the model problems of neo-Darwinsim) brings up another issue. Christian apologists are now in need of a new model. We tear down but what have we built up? There are alternative models such as intelligent design. But ID depends upon Behe’s irreducible complexity (IC) which itself is quasi-Darwinian. So we seem stuck. We are suggesting the rejection of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism while suggesting as a substitute something that has its roots in Darwinism. Perhaps over time this will be answered fully. But this is not a shortcoming of the book. It is a shortcoming of today’s Christian apologetic regarding origins. In my opinion we are being inconsistent in our dealings regarding origins.

An additional question needs to be asked regarding thee philosophical needs of today’s scientists. Do scientists need philosophy? Or more specifically, do they need metaphysics? It’s the same question that Trigg asked in Beyond Matter: Why Science Needs Metaphysics. The answer to me is that they don’t need philosophy but rather that they need to do philosophy overtly and explicitly.  We are all doing philosophy. We are always doing metaphysics. What is missing is that we do not consciously recognize what we are doing and why we are doing it. That’s the problem. It’s the reason many are ardent followers of Hawking and Sagan: They did their philosophy explicitly.

To be fair, Dr. Moreland does challenge the reader, even the scientist, with the idea that very often philosophy carries weight over apparent scientific (read “materialistic”) questions. That’s because there are no brute facts. Everything is interpreted. We are always doing philosophy. We are always doing metaphysics. We are simply not always aware of what and why we do what we do. He went half-way. I wish he would have gone further.

There is another option here. One of Dr. Moreland’s better points is displaying Hawking’s lack of philosophical prowess (552) where “nothing” takes on new meaning. His example might force the renaming of the chapter to “Why Scientists Need A Course in Philosophy.” So many of the new atheists and others who share their opinions represent low-hanging-fruit for the Christian apologist. It’s easy pickings. The apologetic for both metaphysical and philosophical naturalism would have collapses long ago if it were dependent on this type of reasoning.

There is another matter which the authors may have foreseen but it’s not part of the book, at least not explicitly. Little attention is given to the “third wave” even though the work of Shapiro is cited as a post-Darwinist influence. What happens if TE gravitates away from neo-Darwinism to one of the post- or quasi-Darwinist systems? After all, many in the third wave recognize, as does ID, that genetic information is real information rather than random, apparently complex, recursively complex (Wolfram). It is not at all inconceivable that TE would migrate to another paradigm. While the authors have made it difficult for TE on the theological side they’ve opened the door to “TE 2.0.” At that point half of this argument is not as strong as it might be. We would do well to challenge TE not only on what it is but also on what it might become.

Conclusion …

Get the book. It is clear enough that a good teacher can summarize a good quantity of points use it effectively with high school students. It has great apologetic value and will serve you well for years to come. But one must keep in mind that the collection of information should not be used stand-alone. It is a whole work that accomplishes something significant — identifying and analyzing TE as something to be rejected.