Saving Giberson: How to Be an Intellectually Honest Atheist

Upon reading Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin, I too became a disillusioned fundamentalist—disillusioned with Giberson’s naive assumption that philosophical naturalism is somehow compatible with the Christian worldview.

Never mind Giberson’s nonchalant dismissal of sophisticated arguments in support of Intelligent Design with “devastating” quips like, “I don’t think . . . [ID theorists] . . . have a good feel for how the historical practice of science has gradually . . . [led] . . . practicing scientists away from such explanations.” (159)  Forget the various theological blunders littered throughout the book—such as the stunning assertion that the Christian concept of hell is a, “secondary doctrine.” (38)  All such problems, while noteworthy, pale in comparison with Giberson’s patent refusal, throughout the book, to acknowledge the inherent incompatibility of philosophical naturalism with Christianity.

By philosophical naturalism, I mean the prevalent doctrine that the universe, as we know it, is a closed system of material causes and effects.  The idea that nothing exists beyond matter and energy; that the physical world is all there is.  This nihilistic doctrine constitutes the metaphysical foundation upon which Darwin’s theory of biological origins is predicated upon; and any attempt to detach Darwin’s brand of evolutionary theory from its naturalistic base inevitably leads one to adopt a non-Darwinian form of evolution.

Consider, as Giberson does in his book, that Darwin’s theory is touted by its proponents as being the conclusive argument against design.  They reason, that since Darwin was able to explain the origin of the species by means of an undirected, non-teleological naturalistic process, there is no longer a need to infer design in nature.  All such appearances, say the Darwinists, are merely an illusion.  Accordingly, those who posit any form of intelligent guidance or input within nature (Such as theistic evolutionists or deists) are essentially rejecting Darwin’s formulation of evolution.

If God exists, and if he played an active role in the advent of biological life—either by guiding the evolutionary process or setting the initial conditions or laws of the universe—Darwin’s theory of unguided, naturalistic, evolution is necessarily wrong.  Under Darwin’s framework, we are merely the result of chance and necessity—random variation (genetic mutation) and natural selection.  Any worldview which claims God intended life to arise or inserted the information necessary for life to arise, or guided the evolution of life, challenges this basic claim.

Therefore, I find it hard to understand how Giberson believes one can claim to be a Christian and fully accept Darwin’s theory of evolution without being a complete hypocrite.  Affirming the truth of two incompatible worldviews is simply oxymoronic.  Yet, this is precisely what Giberson’s insipid book advocates.

The dissonance in Giberson’s argument comes out clearly in chapter three, where he address’s Darwin’s “dark companions.”  In this chapter he attempts to disassociate the biological theory of evolution from its overarching metaphysical implications.  At the beginning of the chapter he states: “The connection between biological and social Darwinism is complex and troubling, and perhaps even suspicious, but there is no denying that it has always been there, even before evolutionary theory became known as “Darwinism.” (79 Emphasis mine)  After explaining social Darwinism’s role in the development of such atrocious social projects as Eugenics and even admitting its influence on the Nazi’s, he concludes:

Thoughtful evolutionists hasten to point out that no necessary connection exists between biological evolution, which provides descriptive explanations of how nature works, and social Darwinism, which suggests prescriptive guidelines for how society should behave.  It is far from obvious that eugenics, unbridled capitalism, relaxed attitudes about infanticide, or rampant militarism is implied by the theory that species originate through natural selection.” (80)

Thoughtful evolutionists seem to have forgotten that descriptions of how nature work are not done in a vacuum.  Perhaps the reason social Darwinism has always been attached to evolutionary theory is because it is predicated upon and bolsters a view of reality which does imply eugenics, unbridled capitalism, relaxed attitudes about infanticide, and rampant militarism; namely, philosophical naturalism.  One simply cannot separate Darwinism from it’s undergirding worldview.

If there is no overarching purpose or design in the universe, if God played no role in the development of human life, if nature is a closed system of causes and effects, then there are no objective moral values.  Furthermore, there is no sensible reason to believe that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It seems to me, then, that the social Darwinists are simply following the logic of philosophical naturalism to its ultimate conclusion.  They, unlike Giberson, are not being hypocrites; but advocating exactly what their metaphysics entail.  Sadly, Giberson appears to be willfully blind to these facts.

For example, he argues in chapter six that he wishes Intelligent Design were true; in fact, he goes as far as to say that, “all Christians . . . should wish it were true.” (155)  Why, because Intelligent Design coheres nicely with the Judeo-Christian worldview–a worldview that he admits becomes extremely questionable if Darwin’s theory of evolution is true:

I have a great appreciation for the counterarguments for God’s existence.  I understand how honest thinkers and seekers of truth like Daniel Dennett and Michael Ruse [both prominent Darwinists] can end up rejecting God.  Like that of most thinking Christians, my belief in God is tinged with doubts and, in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned. (155)

In spite of the troubling fact that Darwinian evolution poses a serious threat to his faith, Giberson stubbornly refuses to acknowledge its tacit metaphysical implications.  He refuses to consider the possibility that Darwinism is built upon a worldview which is wholly incompatible with his Judeo-Christian proclivities—he is willfully blind.

In a later chapter he laments the fact that, “virtually all the leading spokespersons for science—the ones on bookstands and public television—are strongly antireligious,” and argues against the idea that evolutionary theory has rendered religion superfluous mythology. (174)  His argument is that the silent majority of evolutionary biologists don’t think this way; that many, in fact, do believe in God.  What he fails to realize is that the silent majority of evolutionary biologists are either metaphysically confused or blatantly adhering to two contradictory views of reality.

I submit that the only Darwinian evolutionists being consistent to their worldview are the exceedingly antireligious spokesmen like Richard Dawkins and Carol Sagan.  Darwinism is predicated upon philosophical naturalism and the views they advocate so passionately are the logical outgrowth of such a view of reality.  As such, I can see no way in which Darwin can be saved.  Contra Giberson, there is no coherent way in which one can be a Christian and fully accept Darwinian evolution.

At the end of the day, the strongest rational Giberson has for maintaining his Christian faith, in light of Darwinian evolution, is one of pure practicality.  As he explains:

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God.  My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith.  My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly.  Most of my friends are believers.  I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith . . . Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails. (155-156)

Basically, the only reason he doesn’t reject the existence of God is because it would make a lot of people upset with him and he might lose his job.

While I sympathize with Giberson’s need for a job and his desire to remain in friendly fellowship with family and friends,  I think it’s time that he stop living a double life.   The idea that Christianity is compatible with a scientific theory predicated upon philosophical naturalism is nothing but rehtorical nonsense.    For this reason, I implore him to be consistent: either, Christianity is true, and Darwinian evolution is false or Darwinian evolution is true and Christianity is false.  There is no middle ground; for the truth of one means the negation of the other.