Over the years I have been asked if I consider myself a “Creationist.” But I have also been asked if I believe in evolution. My response is the same every time. First, the word “Evolution” has many different meanings, not all compatible with each other, and only a few of which are theologically significant. As Jay Richards points out in the book God and Evolution,the meanings of evolution are the following:
1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.
2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.
3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.
4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.
5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.
6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.
7. A metaphor describing the rise, development, success, and collapse of sports careers, business enterprises, nations, and so forth, through a process of competition.
8. Progress or development through time of something that existed initially in a nascent form, such as a child emerging from an embryo or an oak tree from an acorn: This idea was common in pre-Darwinian views of biological evolution, which led to Darwin avoiding the word “evolution” in his Origin of Species. Contemporary Darwinists, following Darwin, generally reject this understanding of biological evolution, which suggests a purposeful or teleological process. Nevertheless, language that implies progress frequently appears even in the writings of those who officially reject it.
Meaning 6 (the blind watchmaker thesis) is the least compatible with theism. Meaning 8 is implicitly theistic or at least teleological.
Teleology: refers to a system, event, or process that is purposeful and goal oriented. There are teleological and non-teleological versions of cosmic and biological evolution. A central purpose of Darwinian Theory is to explain the apparent teleology of life as merely apparent rather than real.
Darwinism: the theory that every form of life on Earth is descended from one or a few common ancestors, and that the adaptive complexity of life is largely the result of natural selection acting on random variations. Darwin proposed his theory as an alternative to the idea that species had been specially created, and most modern Darwinists have followed Darwin’s lead. Strictly speaking, it is Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection and random variation, and not common ancestry, that contradicts the intelligent design of life.
Neo-Darwinism: the modern version of Darwinism, according to which random variations are identified with random genetic mutations.
William Lane Craig points out in the article called Why Is Evolution So Widely Believed?
It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the word “evolution” is an accordion-word that can be expanded or contracted to suit the occasion. The evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala points out that the word “evolution” can be used to mean at least three different things:
1. The process of change and diversification of living things over time. It is in this sense that biologists say that evolution is a fact. But obviously this fact, so stated, is innocuous and would not be disputed even by the most fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist.
2. Reconstruction of evolutionary history, showing how various lineages branched off from one another on the universal tree of life.
3. The mechanisms which account for evolutionary change. Darwin appealed to natural selection operating on random variations in living things in order to explain the adaptedness of organisms to their environment. With the development of modern genetics, genetic mutations came to supplement the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection by supplying an explanation for the variations on which natural selection works. Accordingly, we can call this hypothesis “neo-Darwinism.”
Now evolution in the senses of (2) and (3) is not an established fact, despite what is said and believed in popular culture.
According to Ayala, “The second and third issues—seeking to ascertain evolutionary history as well as to explain how and why evolution takes place—are matters of active scientific investigation. Some conclusions are well-established. Many matters are less certain, others are conjectural, and still others. . . remain largely unknown” (Darwin and Intelligent Design). With respect to (2) Ayala emphasizes, “Unfortunately, there is a lot, lot, lot to be discovered still. To reconstruct evolutionary history, we have to know how the mechanisms operate in detail, and we have only the vaguest idea of how they operate at the genetic level, how genetic change relates to development and to function. . . .
I am implying that what would be discovered would be not only details, but some major principles” (Where Darwin Meets the Bible). As for (3), he cautions, “The mechanisms accounting for these changes are still undergoing investigation. . . . The evolution of organisms is universally accepted by biological scientists, while the mechanisms of evolution are still actively investigated and are the subject of debate among scientists”(“The Evolution of Life: An Overview”).
In his book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It, author Bruce Sheiman gives a general outline of how atheists account for how we got here:
Human Life = Laws of physics X chance + randomness+ accidents+luck X 3.5 billion yrs. In other words, the laws of physics for our present universe arose by chance (from a multitude of possible universes); the first forms of life developed by chance (arising by primordial soup combinations that resulted from the laws of physics plus accidents); the first concept of life developed purely by chance (genetic mutations and environmental randomness); and humans evolved by more improbable occurrences.
Before one could even talk about biological evolution, we would need to explain how we got the right universe, the right planet, and how life could arise from inorganic matter. Another way i respond to this, is to say “Are you asking me if I think there is an efficient cause behind the universe, first life, and everything after that, the answer is yes! I guess to say there is no God in the process here is just plain silly to me. So call me a creationist. I don’t care!