When it comes to resolving issues between science and Christianity, there are more than two views. This true about evolution. I recently read Evolution from Creation to New Creation by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett. They identify four major positions and place them on a continuum. Here is a very brief summary.
Scientific Creationism – Advocates believe the world to be only a few thousand years old. A worldwide flood occurred that altered the face of the planet. Divine creation brought new species into existence, not macro-evolution.
Intelligent Design – Accepts most of what scientists say about the age of the universe, the operations of physics, and so on, but believes that only an intelligent being could have brought about life and new species. Macro-evolution by natural selection is, mathematically improbable, if not impossible.
Theistic Evolution – Believes that God was the creator of all that is and has superintended the development of creation. Believes that macro-evolution has occurred and is the process by which God brought life to where it is today. God is present and at work in the world today.
Ontological Materialism – Rejects the idea that anything other than natural forces are at work in the universe. Evolution has been a product of natural selection and there is no super intelligence impinging on the natural world.
While there is considerable overlap between Scientific Creationist advocates and Christian Fundamentalism, they are not one in the same. Furthermore, proponents like Henry Morris and Duane Gish want to be engaged on the basis of their science and not their faith. Morris has noted in the past that his main works challenging evolution do not even mention the Bible. Nevertheless, critics frequently dismiss Scientific Creationists because they have underlying religious perspectives. To which Gish, Morris, and company, rightly respond by asking, “And other scientists don’t have religious perspectives?” Peters and Hewlett point out that these folks are offering scientific models. In scientific circles, it ought to be enough to critique their science without disparaging their religious convictions. Of course, this cuts the other way. Scientific Creationists are not free to dismiss other scientist because of their religious beliefs.
The Intelligent Design camp is little more amorphous. There are some Scientific Creationist who represent themselves as Intelligent Design advocates, probably to gain a wider hearing. But the leading minds of the Intelligent Design advocates affirm most widely accepted scientific knowledge. Keeping in mind a continuum, we could place people like Philip Johnson closer to the Scientific Creationist part of the continuum. He seems often to imply that the scientists are intentionally engaging in fraud. Then, there is Michael Behe who fully respects the scientific community but questions macro-evolution based on irreducible complexity. He is closer to the Theistic Evolutionist Perspective. So there are differences within the group.
The Theistic Evolutionist perspective also includes a wide range of adherents. Toward the Intelligent Design side of the continuum would be none other than Fundamentalist icon B. B. Warfield and scientist Kenneth Miller. Toward the Ontological side of the perspective would be the more mystical Tielhard de Chardin. Some Theistic Evolutionists have speculative theories about how the teaching of scripture and the knowledge of scientists interrelate. Others tend to see the interaction as a divine mystery that may be beyond our human ability to understand. They embrace science and faith as a paradox.
The Ontological Materialist allows for no involvement by supernatural forces in the natural world. Thomas Huxley and Richard Dawkins would be of this perspective. Stephen Jay Gould suggested that science and religion occupy two separate non-overlapping domains, which on the surface sounds accommodating. However, in practical terms, Gould maintained that God may not interfere in any historical event that might otherwise be accessible to science and only communicates by revelation. Thus, he effectively reduces the scope of religion to fantasy.
The Creation Scientists see the Ontological Materialists as their mortal enemies. They usually see old earth Intelligent Design folks and especially Theistic Evolutionist as either naïve or wolves in sheep clothing. They worry that these last two groups are on a slippery slope toward Ontological Materialism. Similarly, the Ontological Materialists have their harshest words for the Creation Scientists. They see the Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolutionist as grossly misguided and possibly wolves in sheep clothing. In debates you will frequently see the Creation Scientists pin the pejorative of "evolutionist" on anyone who does not embrace their position. The Ontological Materialist label anyone who expresses an honest conviction about God as a Bible thumping, young-earth, Creation Scientist.
From where I sit, and I am not a physical scientist, the case for evolutionary development looks very convincing. I see nothing in the Bible that precludes macro-evolution from happening. In fact, as I have laid out in the past few posts, there is an uncanny correspondence between the Bible and an evolutionary model. Yet, I have read Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and his argument against macroevolution based on irreducible complexity. He makes a very persuasive case. So what to do with the dilemma? Darrel R. Falk has this wonderful quote from St. Augustine in his book Coming to Peace with Science:
“It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, while presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense. We should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn… If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well, and hear him maintain his foolish opinions about the Scriptures, how then are they going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?” (34)
I suspect you may have discerned that I reject the Ontological Materialism position. You are right. I also reject Scientific Creationism. In my view, fewer things in our culture are doing more to undermine the intellectual credibility of the gospel than the linkage of Christian discipleship with the absurdity of young earth creationism.
I have sympathy for the Intelligent Design perspective. It is hard to see how natural selection could over come the issue of irreducible complexity. However, to simply declare “God did it” is not a falsifiable claim that can be tested and therefore not a scientific theory.
This would not be the first time that something that seems unfathomable was later explained through scientific inquiry. To dogmatically insist that evolution is wrong when scripture offers no evidence against it risks leaving the Church in Augustine's “ embarrassing situation,” that brings scorn on the gospel. About 400 years ago there was a similar problem with an earth centered universe and remember how that came out. For these reasons, I find myself to be a Theistic Evolutionist but toward the Intelligent design side of the continuum.
That still leaves at least two important questions for me. How do science and faith interrelate? How do we think about sin an suffering in the world?