A Call for Improvement in Science and Faith Discussions

by Melissa Cain Travis

The discipline of science and faith integration is deeply complex and, I would argue, the most frequently muddled area within the broader project of Christian apologetics. Compounding the issue is the attitude of staunch inflexibility many Christians exhibit in their perspective on matters of origins, despite any deficiencies in their knowledge of the relevant philosophy, theology, and science. Thus, misconceptions persist, which handicaps scientific apologetics.

This is a situation that is particularly frustrating to me as an apologist, because science and faith is my ministry and academic specialty. So in this post, I’d like to illuminate two of the more prominent problems that plague science and faith discussions, even among Christian apologists: ambiguous use of terms and certain misconceptions about intelligent design theory.

Problem #1: Ambiguous Use of Terms

A few days ago, someone in an apologetics forum I occasionally read said, “Evolution is a FACT! F.A.C.T!” (This statement was preceded by an appeal to authority: “I’m a biology student.” But this post isn’t about logical fallacies.) Unfortunately, the person did not explain what, exactly, he meant by

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“evolution.” That word has at least six different meanings, and we must be very clear about how we’re using the term. Presumably, by “evolution,” this person meant that a common descent of all animal life occurred over vast ages of biological history. (Many Christians would agree with this idea.) I also assume that this person would say that any evolutionary processes used in the creation of all life unfolded precisely according to a pre-conceived design, with every living creature (that now exists or ever has existed) having been fully intended by the Creator.

Now, it should be noted that this idea of  God-guided, or, “teleological evolution”–evolution according to a plan–is not at all what evolutionary biologists ascribe to. By their definition, the alleged evolutionary process is unguided, it is not in any way goal-directed. According to the majority of evolutionary biologists, mutations occur by accident, and natural selection’s winnowing process adds them up over time, thereby driving evolutionary change. There is no purpose, no predetermined plan. The common term for this idea is “neo-Darwinism.” The “neo” part of the term refers to the integration of Darwinian thought with modern genetics. The “Darwinian” part indicates the philosophy of Darwin: that natural selection–the blind creator–has no need of guidance…

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