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Why Evolution Doesn’t Eliminate God (Part 1)

Cy sits down with Karlo Broussard, author of Prepare the Way, for a conversation about God and evolution. Karlo lists six common ways people use Darwin’s insights as the basis for arguments against God.


Cy Kellett: Have Darwin’s theories done away with God? Next on Focus.

Cy Kellett: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host. I’ve got to say, I am very excited about this series of conversations we embark upon with this episode of Focus. We’re going to talk a bit about evolution and what does evolution do to God? Does it have any effect on him? Does it maybe even eliminate the need for God? To help us do that is apologist here at Catholic Answers and the author of Prepare the Way: Overcoming Obstacles to God, the Gospel and the Church, Karlo Broussard. Hello Karlo.

Karlo Broussard: Hey Cy.

Cy Kellett: I’m looking forward to this because as you may know, I don’t know if you know this, evolution is somewhat controversial. Had you heard this?

Karlo Broussard: I think I may have caught wind of that.

Cy Kellett: Okay. For years and decades and everything, Christians put a little fish on the back of their car and that little fish meant Jesus.

Karlo Broussard: Right.

Cy Kellett: And then about two decades ago, I started noticing people with the little fish had feet coming out of it or the little fish was eating the other fish and it had little feet coming out of it. All of which seemed very strongly to suggest this is a science-minded person who says, “I believe science, not the Gospel.” I would say that’s probably the basic meaning. So is God damaged, or should our faith in God at all be shaken, by evolution?

Karlo Broussard: Well, the short answer would be no.

Cy Kellett: Oh, that’s the one I was looking for. I’m so glad.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah, there are a variety … In conversation, somebody might bring this up and say, “Well I don’t need God because I have evolution.” Or, “I believe in evolution, not this whole Christian God thing.” Right?

Cy Kellett: Right.

Karlo Broussard: Well, that’s so vague, right? We have to respond with simply a question and that’s, “Well, how is it that evolution somehow proves that God doesn’t exist or at least eliminates the need for God in explaining things?” So in other words, why is it that you think you ought to believe evolution over and above God? What is it about evolution that you think excludes God to where you can’t have both, but must make a choice, either/or?

Cy Kellett: So you looked into it and there are actual arguments?

Karlo Broussard: Yes, there are.

Cy Kellett: Here’s why evolution eliminates that.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah. So once we ask that question, then there are a series of reasons that one could give why they think evolution and belief in God are incompatible. For example, a couple of reasons appeal to chance. Somebody might say, “Well the chance aspect of evolution, the genetic mutation, is random and blind over centuries, and over many, many years. It’s random and blind. It’s chaotic. So the chance or the randomness in the evolutionary process proves there’s no intelligent designer.” That’s one reason because if there’s genetic mutation by chance, but then there’s no design. If there’s no design, well then there’s no designer. Right?

Cy Kellett: Yes.

Karlo Broussard: And that’s the idea. Now the other reason that appeals to chance is saying, “Well the chance aspect of the evolutionary process proves that something escapes from divine providence.” Like if there are new beings emerging by chance occurrences within nature, well then something is escaping God’s providential plan. God’s not involved in that, so they think, right?

Cy Kellett: I see, yeah. Okay.

Karlo Broussard: And since evolution tells us that new beings emerge, through chance occurrences within nature over many years–

Cy Kellett: That looks bad for God.

Karlo Broussard: That looks bad for God. So those are two arguments or two reasons or two ways in which some people think evolution is incompatible with God. These appeal to the chance aspect of evolution. Now another reason is that they think the naturalistic explanation that evolution is, that the evolutionary theory is, is incompatible with God, or somehow eliminates the need for God as creator. So in other words, the argument can be put like this. Whenever there is a naturalistic explanation for things coming to be, well then there’s no need to appeal to God as the creator. And since evolution is a naturalistic explanation for things coming to be, well then-

Cy Kellett: See you, God.

Karlo Broussard: … see you, God. So it’s the naturalistic aspect of the evolutionary theory in explaining how things come to be that some think is incompatible or it eliminates the need for God.

Cy Kellett: They would say God is just an imposition then. Why would you impose God on any of this?

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: I can explain it to you perfectly naturally.

Karlo Broussard: And what’s operating there is this understanding, as we’ll see later when we get to this. What’s operating there is they think are arguments for God’s existence or a need for God as classical God of the gaps argument. So that we can’t find some sort of naturalistic explanation, so we plug in God in order to explain this. So from the atheist point of view, who’s coming at it from evolution and this naturalistic aspect of evolution, the more naturalistic explanations we can find for things, that’s one more nail in the divine coffin. The “we don’t need God” type of thing. But as we’ll see in a future segment, that’s not the case. We have ways of responding to that.

Karlo Broussard: Now another reason why people think evolution is incompatible with God is that some will claim that evolution violates a foundational principle for theistic arguments. That’s the principle of causality, but related to that principle is the principle of proportionate causality because evolution seems to suggest that more complex forms of life comes from simpler forms, so you have new being coming from non-being. I mean, these simpler life forms can’t give to the complex life forms what they don’t have. From nothing only nothing comes, right? So it would seem as if you have something coming from nothing, and if that’s the case, well then evolution seems to break off our path to reasoning to God’s existence, precisely because this principle of proportionate causality, whatever is in the effect must in some way have come from or be in the cause–and there are a variety of ways in which it can be in the cause, and we can parse that out philosophically, but the bottom line is that it has to come from the cause somehow–based on that principle, we reason from the effects to God’s existence. So if evolution undermines that principle, well then our pathway to God is null and void. So we don’t have a bridge to get to God. So this is another reason why people think evolution is incompatible with God.

Cy Kellett: These people are good, by the way. They’re coming up with good arguments, Karlo.

Karlo Broussard: Well yeah. I mean, on the surface.

Cy Kellett: I mean, good luck to you.

Karlo Broussard: On the surface, if you don’t have the philosophical chops to wade these waters, it seems as if these are persuasive arguments that eliminate the need for God, right?

Cy Kellett: Right.

Karlo Broussard: Now there are two more reasons. These two reasons claim that evolution contradicts God’s wisdom. So some will say that evolution makes for a wasteful universe because things come and go to no purpose. You would think that if God were all-wise, he would have just created the universe as it is, or created the universe as it is, or without this long history of things coming and going to no purpose. So it seems wasteful. And if it’s wasteful, that’s not characteristic of how an all-wise God would create things because they’re to no purpose, these things of the past that have come and gone. Like the dinosaurs, what purpose? We don’t have them anymore.

Cy Kellett: They’re awesome. That’s the purpose.

Karlo Broussard: Well that’s actually very philosophical of you, as we’ll see in a future segment. And then the next reason is evolution makes for a wasteful universe relative to the goal of bringing about the human race. So if the human race is the climax of the physical cosmos-

Cy Kellett: Could have got there without wandering around all these billions of years.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right. You’d think if God were all-wise he would have just created the universe as it needed to be for human beings to exist. Why go through this long history without that for which the universe exists, namely the human species? So it would seem, or some argue that this wastefulness of time and resources and going though this evolutionary process contradicts God’s wisdom. And of course, if the wastefulness of the evolutionary process contradicts God’s wisdom, God’s supposed to be all-wise, so apparently he ain’t. And if he ain’t all wise, well then guess what, he’s not the God of classical theism, which in our case we’d say he must not exist.

Karlo Broussard: So these are, if you tally them up, there’s basically six reasons here why some atheists think that evolution is incompatible with belief in God. And of course over this series of segments, we’ll try to address-

Cy Kellett: Each of the six.

Karlo Broussard: … each of those six and share how we can respond to these arguments and show that in light of these six reasons, evolution is not incompatible with God. In fact it is compatible with God.

Cy Kellett: All right. I think for this particular episode, we’ve only got time to get to one. So we’ll start with the arguments from chance.

Karlo Broussard: Yeah, one of the arguments that appeals to chance.

Cy Kellett: And chance in evolution proves there is no intelligent designer.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right. So just recall as I had mentioned earlier, if there is genetic mutation in the evolutionary process by chance, then there’s no design because notice the underlying assumption here is that chance and design are mutually exclusive. You see? And if there’s no design, well then no designer. So evolution shows there’s genetic mutation by chance, and therefore no designer. Okay.

Karlo Broussard: How do we respond to this? Well here’s the key. Chance and design are not mutually exclusive. See, we can challenge that underlying assumption and show that chance and design are not mutually exclusive because chance, so it’s argued, and I think very persuasively, presupposes or assumes the reality of design, or we might say directed activity. You see, Cy, chance is not some existing thing that acts in such a way to bring about some effect. Chance occurs when there’s a convergence of causes that results in some effect beyond what the causes directly intend. So it’s not some thing existing out there. It’s an effect that goes beyond what two causes are going to converge, lines of causality. One thing acting and another thing acting and they’re going to intersect. And the effect of that intersection of these causes goes beyond the directed activity of these causes, so it’s chance, but nevertheless that chance occurrence presupposes or assumes the causes acting in such a way that they’re going to intersect.

Karlo Broussard: Let’s flesh this out with a couple of stock examples. Okay. Let’s say I go to the grocery store to get some milk for my kids for breakfast tomorrow. Tim Staples, colleague and friend here at Catholic Answers, he goes to the grocery store to get some bread for toast for his kids’ breakfast tomorrow.

Cy Kellett: He needs a lot of bread and you need a lot of milk.

Karlo Broussard: And we happen to meet at the grocery store. And of course, we start geeking out into mystic philosophy, right?

Cy Kellett: Yes, that would happen. I’ve seen that happen.

Karlo Broussard: All right. Now notice, the meeting is a chance occurrence, but that chance occurrence assumes, or presupposes, my directed activity. I had a goal in mind, go to the store, get milk. Tim’s directed activity, go to the store, get bread. And the intersection or the convergence of those activities results in this chance occurrence because our meeting was beyond our intentions, and the directed activities of myself and Tim.

Karlo Broussard: Here’s another stock example of a gravedigger digging the hole in the ground for a grave, and he stumbles upon a treasure. Now that’s a chance occurrence. The gravedigger did not intend to find the treasure, nor did, on this scenario, the person who stashed his loot-

Cy Kellett: Intend for it to be found.

Karlo Broussard: … intend to be found by the gravedigger. So it’s a chance occurrence, but you still have the directed activity of the gravedigger and the directed activity of the person stashing the loot. Now this same line of reasoning can be applied to evolution. Chance is no different when we’re talking about evolution. The genetic mutations that give rise to new species via natural selection may be random, but that random occurrence presupposes a host of ordered activity or design. So for example, there’s got to be living things that are acting, right?

Cy Kellett: Okay, so for any evolution to happen at all, you’ve got to start with living things.

Karlo Broussard: You’ve got to start with something existing. Well not necessarily living things. You can even have inanimate things that are acting and interacting with things in such a way.

Cy Kellett: Oh, I see.

Karlo Broussard: Here we’re talking about, for example, in biological evolution. You’re going to have to have some existing living organism that’s going to act in such a way to strive to survive and produce offspring. That’s directed activity. We can call that design. Certain things have tendencies to change into one thing rather than another, and evolve into one thing. So you might have a fish. The fish hypothetically may have had this tendency or this potency or potential to evolve into a bird over many, many years under certain circumstances, under the right conditions–but not evolve into a flower. So that directed action, that tendency, that direction to evolve into one thing rather than some other thing, from a philosophical perspective, that’s direction. That’s design because there’s an order there toward a certain specific effect rather than some other effect.

Cy Kellett: Right. A fish can’t just evolve into anything.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: It can’t evolve into a rock. It can’t evolve into a planet. It can only evolve into a certain number of things.

Karlo Broussard: Correct. And that very order itself, from a philosophical perspective, we see as design, and which we would argue ultimately will require not only a intelligence, but the supreme intelligence, namely God. So another example is the genetic mutation itself always involves some existing thing that acts on another. So, you may have effects brought about by radiation. The effect that radiation brings about is a specific ordered activity and design, bringing about certain effect rather than some other effects. Or just even the sun. The sun giving off heat rather than cold and chill, or even frozen water giving off cold and chill rather than heat. Even those very activities of inanimate things bringing about specific effects rather than other effects, we say is directed activity. The fancy word for that is teleology, coming from the Greek telos, end or goal, the study of ends or goals.

Karlo Broussard: Whether we’re talking about inanimate things that act and interact with each other in certain ways or even animate things, such as plants and animals, and of course us as human beings, although we as human beings do so with intelligence, with knowledge and we know what we’re acting for in these ends, etc. So the bottom line is that when you analyze it, chance really is not something primary, but it’s secondary. That is to say-

Cy Kellett: There’s got to be already a whole bunch of stuff there for chance to even happen.

Karlo Broussard: Amen.

Cy Kellett: I got you. Okay.

Karlo Broussard: And everything that’s there is not only existing, which we’ll get to later, but actually acting in certain ways to produce certain effects rather than other effects, and that’s directed activity. That’s design from the philosophical perspective. Not just complexity, although that’s an aspect of design, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely complex. Just the ordered activity of certain things to produce a certain effect rather than some other effect. The acorn producing an oak tree rather than a banana tree. All of these sorts of patterns, orders within the physical cosmos is presupposed by evolution. So the chance occurrences is just all of these things interacting with each other, and the convergence of these causes bringing about certain effects that of course do go beyond what the directed activities of these things are for, or ordered to. But nevertheless you still have directed activity.

Karlo Broussard: So if chance presupposes design, you can’t have chance unless you-

Cy Kellett: Unless something’s already designed.

Karlo Broussard: … unless you have the design. You can’t have chance unless you have the ordered patterns of things behaving in certain ways and acting in certain ways for certain goals and ends etc. Well if that’s the case, well then surely chance can’t be a reason to reject God because those ordered activities that chance presupposes, well that’s the very starting point for reasoning to God’s existence such as in Aquinas’ Fifth Way.

Cy Kellett: So that kind of got turned around. I mean, we started with you can’t have chance and design, but you ended with, and quite convincingly, chance only can happen in a system-

Karlo Broussard: With design.

Cy Kellett: … where design has already happened.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: Yeah, all right. Okay so next time, we do have another one on chance to cover in the next episode.

Karlo Broussard: There is another argument that appeals to chance, yes.

Cy Kellett: Chance means that there’s God’s providence isn’t involved in it.

Karlo Broussard: That’s right.

Cy Kellett: So, he’s out of it. Then we’ll move to the naturalistic explanation, evolution eliminates the need for God. Why do I need God if I’ve got a perfectly natural explanation?

Karlo Broussard: Amen to that.

Cy Kellett: Karlo Broussard, thank you.

Karlo Broussard: Thank you, Cy.

Cy Kellett: I’m looking forward to that next one.

Karlo Broussard: Okay, brother.

Cy Kellett: Thanks to everybody who has joined us here for Catholic Answers Focus. Make sure you share it with your friends. Well one way you can share it is wherever you get this podcast, if you would give us a like or maybe a comment, that is the way that this program grows. Also invite people to join Radio Club, and then they can get it in their inbox each week for free. Just go to CatholicAnswersLive.com and put in an email address, and each week you’ll be alerted when a new episode of Focus is out.

Cy Kellett: It’s starting to seem like God might not be in as bad of trouble as I thought he was at the beginning. In our next episode, we’ll try to continue extracting God from all the danger that evolution has put him in. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. See you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.

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