Sean McDowell | September 13, 2016

Are Christianity and Darwinism Compatible? One Biologist Says No.

Did God Use Evolution?

Years ago I was sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, minding my own business as I watched the PBS show Evolution. As soon as I closed my laptop, the lady next to me perked with interest and asked what I was watching. It turns out she was a practicing geologist and a staunch Darwinist. She didn’t just believe in neo-Darwinian evolution, she described it as a beautiful theory that ties all of science and humanity together.

Since she was both trained in geology, and a committed Darwinist, I simply asked her what evidence she considered most compelling for her views. As best as I can remember, she said, “Have you been to a museum? There are tons of fossils that clearly reveal that we descend from a common ancestor. The fossils tell us that evolution is true.”

Her answer struck me as both interesting and confused. First, while there are certainly many preserved fossils, there is genuine debate about whether they support Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution. But second, even if the fossil record were complete, it could not in principle establish Darwinian evolution as true. Why not? Waynesburg University Biologist Wayne Rossiter explains:

Even if we grant the pattern of common ancestry (which has recently been cast into doubt), proponents of evolution cannot stand back, post hoc, and simply declare that this is the product of natural selection…it is possible that all of life could share a common ancestor, and yet the splitting of species (and their evolving) could be the consequence of things other than natural selection.[i]

In other words, while the fossil record could be consistent with Darwinism, it could never independently establish it. A complete fossil record could also be consistent with another naturalistic mechanism and some versions of intelligent design. To establish Darwinism, proponents need to show that the mechanism—natural selection acting upon random mutation—is sufficient to explain the diversity and complexity of life. Despite the enthusiasm of my geologist friend on the plane, the fossil record simply can’t establish Darwinism alone.

This is just one example of an important insight that Dr. Rossiter makes in his recent book Shadow of Oz. His goal is to raise some difficult questions—both scientific and theological—for common attempts to wed Darwinism and Christianity. While there is considerable variety of perspectives and approaches within the theistic evolution camp, Rossiter raises some apparent “inconsistencies” in the views held by prominent spokespersons such as Ken Miller, Karl Giberson, and Francis Collins. Consider ten quick examples that he cites in the book:

  1. “The fatal flaw of all attempts to hold both Darwin and Christianity in their full potency is that one cannot be unintended and intended at the same time.”[ii]
  2. “Theistic evolutionists are persuaded to make room in their theology for Darwin, but not room in their Darwin for theology. They perceive this as a discussion between demonstrable facts (for Darwinian evolution) and claims of blind faith (in God’s activity). Naturally, whenever the two disagree, the facts will necessarily carry the day, or the faith claims are simply compartmentalized, and the conflict is not acknowledged.”[iii]
  3. “For all their contempt for ID, they seem utterly unaware that they are also offering a brand of ID. If they believe God exists and is intelligent, and they believe he created anything at all, then he is an intelligent designer!”[iv]
  4. “We understand large-scale (and small-scale) physics better than biological evolution, and yet the theistic evolutionist is happy to argue against the consensus views of physicists and cosmologists, but not those of evolutionary biologists.”[v]
  5. “Why are [some theistic evolutionists] so willing to accept fine-tuning in the physical constants that govern the universe, but not in biological instances of the coding of specified information in DNA?”[vi]
  6. “[Theistic evolutionists] seem to be arguing that he [God] is content to simply let his machine run, rather than tinker with its inner workings. It is hard to reconcile this position with the constant interactions between God and his creation described throughout the books of the Bible.”[vii]
  7. “Theistic evolution puts the God-man project on its head, holding that creation emerges from chaos toward perfection, rather than it being in a continual state of decay.”[viii]
  8. “In theistic evolution, God’s creative process is destructive. His method for creation leads to the death of stars, the annihilation of habitable planets, disproportionate ratios of negative mutations—many of which lead to inhuman deformities, sufferings, diseases, and loss of life—and the evolutionary mechanism of fitness at all costs in the biological realm.”[ix]
  9. “It is ironic that theistic evolutionists argue that all creation appears random and meaningless, while staunch atheists like Richard Dawkins attempt to explain away the ‘apparent design’ of creation using blind and purposeless mechanisms.”[x]
  10. “It’s funny how evolutionists like to reference ‘poor design’ as evidence against the hand of a creator, and then use words like ‘near-perfect’ when they are describing what Darwin’s theory is capable of.”

Rossiter is not necessarily aiming to disprove Darwinian evolution, but to draw out some particular implications (often ignored) that follow from attempts to blend Christianity and Darwinism. According to Rossiter, the devil is in the details.

Since co-writing the book Understanding Intelligent Design with William Dembski, I have been eagerly following the discussion over the intersection of science and religion. While I have read many books on all sides of this issue, Shadow of Oz is one of my new favorites. It is accessible, insightful, and not overly technical or wordy. If you enjoy the science and faith dialogue, this book is a must-read. You can also listen to Dr. Rossiter discuss the book in an interview with Greg Koukl.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[i] Wayne D. Rossiter, Shadow of Oz (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 108, 111.

[ii] Ibid., 9.

[iii] Ibid., 6.

[iv] Ibid., 16.

[v] Ibid., 18.

[vi] Ibid., 49.

[vii] Ibid., 53.

[viii] Ibid., 70.

[ix] Ibid., 77.

[x] Ibid., 83.

[xi] Ibid., 146.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: