The Importance of the Warfare ThesisCalvin statement, BioLogos statement). That is not surprising since evolution derives, at least in modern times, from theologians and philosophers in the church. To be sure, evolutionary thinking is obvious in ancient Epicureanism, but its resurgence in the seventeenth century was almost exclusively the work of Christian thinkers. Descartes, Malebranche, Cudworth, Ray, Burnet, Leibniz and Wolfe are good examples of how widespread was the movement within Christian thought, and of how varied were the arguments for a strictly naturalistic origins narrative. These Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans agreed that the world must have arisen by natural causes. The common theme was that the arguments were theological and philosophical (i.e., metaphysical rather than scientific). These mandates for naturalism increased and by the nineteenth century were the received truths for progressives. This was the culture Charles Darwin was born into and his book applied these arguments for naturalism to the problem of the origins of the species. Darwin’s thought—from his early notebooks, to Origins, to his later works and autobiography—was thoroughly metaphysical. God must have created via law not miracle and, ever since Darwin, Christians have embraced this belief just as strongly as the pre Darwin Christians had promoted it. Deborah Haarsma is, therefore, a contemporary representative of a long and distinguished intellectual history. But there is one major difference between today’s evolutionists and their forerunners from centuries past.
In the eighteenth century, and even more so in the nineteenth century, evolutionary thought increasingly sought to enlist science to support its thesis of naturalism. In the eighteenth century Bernoulli, Buffon, Kant and Laplace constructed naturalistic theories to explain the origin of the solar system. In the nineteenth century Lamarck, Wallace and Darwin constructed naturalistic theories to explain the origin of the species. While these thinkers and their works rested on the metaphysical foundation that had been laid for them, this genre took on a patina of empiricism. Lengthy, meandering, passages describing scientific observations seemed to lend the authority of science, even if the brief conclusions that followed were steeped in metaphysics.
Thus began the claim that a naturalistic origins is the obvious and unavoidable result of objective scientific inquiry. In fact, from a strictly scientific perspective, a naturalistic origins fares no better than a perpetual motion machine. The clear message of science, then and now, is that the world did not likely arise spontaneously. But science, as has been said, is theology’s hand maiden and the empirical evidence is notoriously vulnerable to manipulation and clever presentation.
To aid in this presentation, evolutionary thinkers also constructed a false history known today as the Conflict or Warfare Thesis. It can be traced back to Voltaire and his mythological reconstruction of the Galileo Affair, but it gathered strength in the nineteenth century. The idea is that science and religion are in conflict as science churns out new, occasionally inconvenient, truths while religion retreats and resists where it can.
So according to the Warfare Thesis, there is a conflict for Christians who are unwilling to bend their interpretation of Scripture. Their religious faith is in conflict with science.
Historians have understood for the better part of a century now that this Warfare Thesis is a false history. It was constructed by evolutionists to frame the origins debate in their favor. In fact the conflict is the exactly the opposite—it is between the metaphysical foundation of evolutionary thought and science. That metaphysical foundation of naturalism is unyielding and unbending, and it makes no sense on the science. It is the evolutionists who have a conflict between their religious beliefs and science. The Warfare Thesis is an attempt to turn the tables and turn the attention away from the obvious problems with evolutionary thought.
Evolutionists say that their skeptics suffer from bad religion and bad science. In fact, the metaphysical foundation of naturalism is not biblical (in spite of the fact that it comes from Christians), and evolutionary theory is not scientific. Science does not indicate that the world spontaneously arose.
But the Warfare Thesis continues. In spite of its obvious failure and falsehood, it is too powerful to resist. A few years ago when Haarsma became President of BioLogos she called for respectful discourse. I took that opportunity to voice my concern that BioLogos was reliant on the Warfare Thesis. Not only was there no reply, but BioLogos has continued to promote the false Warfare Thesis. Haarsma’s article from two weeks ago, on the resignation of Bethel College professor Jim Stump, is an example:
Yet we are concerned that a decision like this effectively sets faith commitments in opposition to clear scientific evidence in God’s creation. We would like to see Christian colleges encouraging their scholars to engage the scientific evidence that humans evolved, and acknowledge that this can be done without letting go of biblical authority. … We are also concerned that Christian college students, especially those who feel called to scientific careers, will see policies like this as a sign of conflict between Christianity and science and feel forced to make an unnecessary choice between them. … We love the Bible and we make the case for evolutionary creation: that God used the natural process of evolution to create all of life’s diverse forms, including humans, as supported by abundant genetic and fossil evidence. This position is in harmony with the teachings of the Bible and Christian doctrine. For example, there are multiple ways that the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve can be understood in the context of this scientific evidence, including as real historical people. And even though God used the natural mechanisms of evolution to create humans, he also made us spiritual beings and established a unique relationship with us by endowing humans with his image.
Clear scientific evidence for evolution? Abundant genetic and fossil evidence for evolution? Yes, the scientific evidence is clear, and the genetic and fossil evidence is abundant, but it does not support evolution. Not even remotely.
Of course Scripture can have different interpretations. But the science leaves no such wiggle room. It does not prove, indicate or suggest that the species arose spontaneously, as a consequence of natural laws and processes. That is a metaphysical mandate that is in conflict with the science.
So whereas the seventeenth and eighteenth century evolutionists were clear about their metaphysical assumptions and how those assumptions mandated naturalism, today’s evolutionists obfuscate their message with the Warfare Thesis. They make the same non biblical, theological and philosophical arguments for evolution in their apologetic literature. But then argue that their proofs are scientific, not metaphysical, and claim their skeptics are the ones with the bad science and bad religion.
Too often evolutionists today present a contradictory message. Religion drives science, and it matters.