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Why the Biologos Christian Darwinism project is either completely confused or a fifth column: Revealed!

In “BioLogos Blog Author Helps Darwin’s Universal Acid Burn God Right Out of Religion” (Evolution News & Views, November 3, 2011), Casey Luskin notes:

In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, new atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett famously describes Darwinism as a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept” — including religion. BioLogos has now approvingly posted an article by evolutionary psychologist Matt Rossano disclaiming the idea that “evolution” poses any threat to belief in God. The article concludes:

The more we understand evolution, the less it seems like neither the bogeyman creationists fear nor the universal God-dissolving acid some atheists crave.

That sure sounds nice, but is it true?

In Rossano’s recent book, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, he argues that religion itself exists because it evolved by unguided natural selection, as an adaptation, and was therefore not something created by God. In Dr. Rossano’s own words:

This book seeks to answer a very straightforward question: How did religion come to be? … [W]hile there may or may not have been a time before God, there most certainly was a time before the idea of God (or gods). This time cannot be found in documented human history, however, but only in human evolutionary history (or prehistory). Thus, religion came to be because religion evolved. Though not intending sacrilege, this book does aim to provide a clearly specified, step-by-step model of religion’s evolutionary history. … I strongly contend that religion is (or maybe was) an adaptation. … I’m well aware that for some folks, calling religion an adaptation amounts to nothing less than heresy.”

(Matt J. Rossano, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, pp. 1-2 (Oxford University Press, 2010).)

So there you have it: According to Rossano, religion exists not because God imparted the religious impulse to human beings, or because God revealed some special truth about Himself to us, as most religions claim. Rossano would have you believe religion is “an adaptation” and “religion came to be because religion evolved”.

(Note:  We said something similar here.)

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9 Responses to Why the Biologos Christian Darwinism project is either completely confused or a fifth column: Revealed!

  1. Casey Luskin has another article out in the same vain:

    Historian of Science Michael Keas Refutes the Argumentum ad Francis Collins – Casey Luskin – (with list of ENV’s responses to BioLogos ‘evidence’)
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....52561.html

  2. A Catholic Perspective:
    While affirming that Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings Imago Dei, the Catholic Church also insists that the soul is not the product of evolution, reproduction, or any physical act. The ensoulment of each and every person is directly attributed to God himself. Thus Adam and Eve may have had parents from the same genetic species, but lacking the divine spark, those parents would not have belonged to the human spiritual species. It’s what Pope John Paul II famously referred to as the “ontological leap“:

    Communion and Stewardship. Human Persons Created in the Image of God
    International Theological Commssion, 2004

    70. With respect to the immediate creation of the human soul, Catholic theology affirms that particular actions of God bring about effects that transcend the capacity of created causes acting according to their natures. The appeal to divine causality to account for genuinely causal as distinct from merely explanatory gaps does not insert divine agency to fill in the “gaps” in human scientific understanding (thus giving rise to the so-called “God of the gaps”). The structures of the world can be seen as open to non-disruptive divine action in directly causing events in the world. Catholic theology affirms that that the emergence of the first members of the human species (whether as individuals or in populations) represents an event that is not susceptible of a purely natural explanation and which can appropriately be attributed to divine intervention. Acting indirectly through causal chains operating from the beginning of cosmic history, God prepared the way for what Pope John Paul II has called “an ontological leap… the moment of transition to the spiritual.” While science can study these causal chains, it falls to theology to locate this account of the special creation of the human soul within the overarching plan of the triune God to share the communion of trinitarian life with human persons who are created out of nothing in the image and likeness of God, and who, in his name and according to his plan, exercise a creative stewardship and sovereignty over the physical universe.

    This is not to say that, for the Catholic Church, evolution is the unquestioned truth, but that it is broadly compatible with the Catechism (exclusive of any strictly materialist metaphysics). So for Catholics, it’s theologically conceivable that the religious impulse, like the human form, evolved. Adam’s ancestors may have had a vague sense of mystery and awe behind their experience of nature, but only Adam and his descendants would have been capable of knowing God.

    Then there is another way to understand the evolution of religion; from a base knowledge of God to the specifics of Revelation to an ever expansive theology influenced by science and philosophy — of this there is no question an evolution of Catholicism (and indeed of all Christianity):

    Fides Et Ratio
    Pope John Paul II, September 14, 1998

    34. This truth, which God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, is not opposed to the truths which philosophy perceives. On the contrary, the two modes of knowledge lead to truth in all its fullness. The unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear. Revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation history. It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend,(29) and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This unity of truth, natural and revealed, is embodied in a living and personal way in Christ, as the Apostle reminds us: “Truth is in Jesus” (cf. Eph 4:21; Col 1:15-20). He is the eternal Word in whom all things were created, and he is the incarnate Word who in his entire person (30) reveals the Father (cf. Jn 1:14, 18). What human reason seeks “without knowing it” (cf. Acts 17:23) can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in him is “the full truth” (cf. Jn 1:14-16) of everything which was created in him and through him and which therefore in him finds its fulfilment (cf. Col 1:17).

    Because ID theory makes no claims nor predictions about the origins of religion, it’s an open question for science. If Homo Erectus is understood to be “human,” then it’s quite possible that Man, at first, knew not of God(s) or Religion (burial traditions and burial sites first appear with the Neanderthal). Furthermore, polytheistic traditions like those of ancient Egypt predate all of Judeo-Christianity and monotheism in general. So there is a point to be made about Humanity’s historical progression in spiritual knowledge.

  3. So there you have it: According to Rossano, religion exists not because God imparted the religious impulse to human beings, or because God revealed some special truth about Himself to us, as most religions claim.

    Considering the thousands of mutually exclusive religions that exist or have existed in the past the hypothesis that religion comes from God is the shakiest of all possible theories.

    Or is it the author’s contention that, yes God is the author of my religion (as most religions claim) and those other ersatz faiths must have had a human origin?

  4. rhampton7,

    Thank you for your post. Like you, I believe that each human soul is created by God. (Scoffers might like to have a look at this article here and here .) However, I respectfully disagree with your suggestion that the religious impulse could have evolved.

    Evolution means gradual change. You write:

    Adam’s ancestors may have had a vague sense of mystery and awe behind their experience of nature, but only Adam and his descendants would have been capable of knowing God.

    For all I know, some non-rational animals may well have an experience of Nature suffused with a “vague sense of mystery and awe”. But the ability to have an abstract concept is something you either have or you don’t. Likewise, the ability to entertain a concept of God is something you either have or you don’t. Concepts don’t come in halves; what we’re talking about here is a sharp discontinuity in our history at some point in the past. That’s not evolution.

    It’s quite possible that after the Fall of Adam, human beings forgot about God for hundreds of thousands of years. Nevertheless, they still retained their capacity, as spiritual beings, to entertain a concept of God. I agree with you that Homo erectus / ergaster was a human being with a spiritual soul. According to Wikipedia , this hominid was probably capable of articulate language, and it was also the first hominid known to hunt in coordinated groups, use complex tools, and care for infirm or weak companions. A creature with a theory of mind (as shown by its empathy for suffering individuals) and a capacity for language would ipso facto be capable of having a concept of God, as Someone who made the world and all its creatures, great and small.

    You appear to share the widely held belief that polytheism pre-dated monotheism in human history. I’m afraid this is a common myth, which bears no relation to reality. May I suggest that you have a look at this series of Powerpoint slides, for a different perspective: here . (Alternatively, Google “World Religions and the Memory of Monotheism” by Jill Graham.)

    The Scottish anthropologist Andrew Lang was the first to put forward the idea of original monotheism. Anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954) carried his ideas further, and performed valuable research on traditional religions around the world, including in cultures thought to be the most “primitive”. Surprisingly, he found that monotheism actually came first in the history of religion. He also found that as cultures developed, some managed to preserve the memory of monotheism, but many other societies degenerated into magic, ritual, and polytheism.

    Schmidt published his findings in a 12-volume work, The Origin of the Concept of God, containing over 4,000 pages of carefully documented evidence from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia, and Europe.

    It is of course true to say that we can speak of a progression in religious knowledge during the past 3,000 years. However, if you want to call that “evolution”, however, then you may as well refer to your 20-odd years of formal education as “evolution”, too. In common parlance, the word “evolution” refers to a natural process. A gradual progression in supernatural revelation cannot be legitimately described as evolution.

    Finally, I would have to disagree with your suggestion that Adam’s ancestors would have been the same genetic species as himself. This suggestion presupposes that it makes sense to speak of beings which are biologically human, but not “theologically human” (i.e. endowed with a spiritual soul).

    The problem with that view is that it partitions our humanity into two bits. I assert, in accordance with over 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition, that to be a human animal is to be a rational animal – i.e. an animal with a capacity for reason (and consequently, language and knowledge of God). That’s a necessary truth about human nature. Consequently there can be no such thing as a race of biologically human beings lacking reason.

    You might object that if each human soul is spiritual and is freely created by God, then it would be possible for a race of creatures to exist which looked just like us, but lacked a spiritual soul. That does not follow. The objection assumes that a race of creatures with a human body could survive without the use of reason. Empirically, I think that’s false. If human beings, as a race, didn’t possess reason, they wouldn’t be viable. The evolutionary cost of a brain that uses 20% of the body’s oxygen would be too high without a compensatory survival-enhancing ability like abstract reason. If (as I’m sure you would accept) the emergence of the human body is part of God’s plan, then He must have also planned to endow us with spiritual souls capable of abstract reasoning at the point when the unique human body type (which we share with Homo erectus) emerged, or else our large brains would have been counter-productive to survival, and God would have been effectively condemning the human race to extinction. (Readers of this post who have trouble understanding why it makes no sense to attribute abstract thought to the human brain, might like to check out the link I provided above, as well as this link and this one .)

    I conclude that to be biologically human is to be “theologically human”, and that since the first spiritual human soul must have appeared at a specific point in history, the emergence of distinctively human biological traits must also have been very very sudden. Exactly what these “human” traits consist of remains somewhat uncertain, but the possession of brains exceeding a certain critical threshold of size and complexity, as well as human sweat glands, smooth hairless skin, and a pelvis suitable for both upright walking and giving birth to large-brained babies, are obviously among them.

  5. vjtorley,

    This is an ongoing issue between the Bible and higher learning and philosophy.

    I conclude that to be biologically human is to be “theologically human”, and that since the first spiritual human soul must have appeared at a specific point in history, the emergence of distinctively human biological traits must also have been very very sudden.

    The Bible indicates exactly when this happened. It happened when God breathed life into Adam and he became a living soul, just as the animals were also living souls. This event is anchored chronologically by a genealogy leading from Adam to Jesus which is followed by a rough history of corresponding events. This was evidently the understanding of the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus.

    Here is the disconnect: If we reject the Bible as an accurate source of knowledge and assume that everyone who wrote it or was written of in it was misinformed, then what is the basis for such concepts as the fall of Adam, Judaism, Christianity, or any scriptural understanding of God?

    I understand if someone embraces higher learning and philosophy and chooses to reject the Bible. But when we partially accept it on the condition that it must be conformed to the wisdom and reasoning of men, we evidently place such wisdom and knowledge above the Bible.

    The superiority of the Bible is that it is the product of God’s wisdom and thoughts, which he states are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth. We can neither search him nor trace his thinking. That makes it extraordinary and unique among writings.

    The moment we place it below the latest philosophy of even the wisest men, it becomes ordinary, fit for the self-help section at the bookstore where we read what other wise men write, and which gets overturned year after year. In that light the Bible is not only ordinary, but it is very old. Why concern ourselves with it at all?

    Let those who feel qualified to measure God’s wisdom by their own write their own book and put their own names on it, and then see how distinguished it is in a thousand years if it is even remembered.

  6. ScottAndrews2

    Thank you very much for your post. I am a philosopher, not a Scripture scholar, and I don’t claim to possess any competence in exegesis. The point of my post was simply to demonstrate philosophically that the notion of a being which is biologically human but lacks a spiritual soul is an incoherent one. It is true that I made mention of Adam (whose reality rhampton7 accepts, as I do) in the course of my argument, but I could have made the same point without mentioning Adam at all.

    My argument was therefore directed against a bizarre kind of dualism which claims that there could be a race of beings looking just like us, but without rationality.

    Re Scripture: not for a moment would I assume that its author(s) were misinformed. Nor would I measure its pronouncements against the yardstick of human wisdom. But when the combined weight of human scholarship makes it impossible to sustain a particular reading of Scripture without invoking a vast number of additional miracles which are nowhere mentioned in Scripture, then I believe it is prudent to ask myself if I am reading Scripture properly, and look for a more common-sensical alternative interpretation.

  7. Do I understand you correctly that you believe Adam and Eve (who were created apx. 1.8 million years ago) were members of the Homo Erectus species and had no previous biological ancestors?

  8. But the ability to have an abstract concept is something you either have or you don’t.

    I don’t think this claim is justified. For a start, there is good evidence that during human development, the capacity for abstraction is acquired, and gradually, and that language acquisition plays an important role.

    For a second, there is evidence that some non-human animals are capable of at least the level of abstraction that small children are capable of.

    I would agree that there was probably a sharp-ish non-linearity but why would we think it was a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t thing (or the other way round rather?) Isn’t it possible to have a “hunch”?

    I don’t see any reason to think of it as a binary thing.

  9. In the beginning Man created God;
    and in the image of Man
    created he him.

    2 And Man gave unto God a multitude of
    names,that he might be Lord of all
    the earth when it was suited to Man

    3 And on the seven millionth
    day Man rested and did lean
    heavily on his God and saw that
    it was good.

    4 And Man formed Aqualung of
    the dust of the ground, and a
    host of others likened unto his kind.

    5 And these lesser men were cast into the
    void; And some were burned, and some were
    put apart from their kind.

    6 And Man became the God that he had
    created and with his miracles did
    rule over all the earth.

    7 But as all these things
    came to pass, the Spirit that did
    cause man to create his God
    lived on within all men: even
    within Aqualung.

    8 And man saw it not.

    9 But for Christ’s sake he’d
    better start looking.

    From the cover of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung

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