I should start this post with a disclaimer: I believe that Texas is one of the three craziest states in the union, right up there with Alaska and California! Texas, however, is currently taking the first place prize (for the week, anyways) in its re-instantiation of debates concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. That is, Texas’ Board of Education is again taking up the question of whether evolutionary thought is allowed exclusive domain in public schools as a theory of how life emerges and whether there can be intellectual debate about evolutions’ factuality in a formal, statewide education.
I personally think, however, that the whole debate is smitten with a series of category mistakes, which I’d like to address. I’ll begin by briefly reconstructing two of the more audacious positions on the matter. First via atheistic evolutionary-biologists, evolution is taken not only to be a true account of human biology, but it is taken to absolutely negate the factual existence of God based on the fact that God is not necessary for evolution. Second, and via creationists, evolution is taken to be untrue precisely because it negates the factual existence of God, the Bibilical accounts of which must be given precedence as that are incommensurate with a evolutionary world. These debates, then, make two category mistakes.
First, God is not, I don’t think, an object among other objects or a “fact” among other “facts,” as I use the term above. That is, if one looks around the room, one has an experience of different objects in the room; one experiences the chairs, knowing in these experiences the functionality and usefulness of the chairs; one experiences the cushions under one’s bottoms, understanding that without them, one would sit on something far more hard. But one does not have an experience of God in this way precisely because God’s being is absolutely distinct from those empirical objects that give themselves over to our perceptions in their uses and qualities.
God, rather, is “invisible,” as the old term goes, which cannot be taken to mean, again, an object in the room that’s unseen, but something utterly different than objects that surround us. That is, when we talk of God, I don’t believe we talk about a direct experience but about what could be called a re-orientation of our experiences. That is, we are addressed by that which is completely other than ourselves in such a way that our previous ways of experiencing are brought into question and formed anew. Paul calls this new experience of the world given by God an experience of the world in terms of faith, hope, and love. I take this to mean that we can no longer experience the world solely in terms of its usefulness for us, especially other people, but in terms of what God intended and intends for it—that what is now the case need not always be so!
In this way, it is silly to try and attest to God’s being by way of factuality and as a fact among other facts. This is a categorically mistaken way of thinking about God’s being, which cannot be proved or disproved as such.
Second, what evolution has more precisely to do with God depends entirely on whether one already stands conscientiously re-oriented within the being of God and, thus, how one interprets the meaning of any worldly fact, including evolution. That is, both sides are wrong to think that evolution says anything necessary about God prior to a belief in God. Rather, one can only interpret the meaning of evolution based on one’s assumption that there is or is not a God. Thus, Christians, for instance, can and do not only affirm the factuality of evolution but can also very specifically interpret evolution as God’s working out of salvation history! Atheists, likewise, can see that, by means of evolution, we do not need to posit a God, which they are absolutely right about even in Christian terms; after all, God is always a gift and never a necessity, which is why the language of emanation has been dropped for the language of grace.
The truth of the matter, then, is that evolution can (and does) stand as a factually demonstrable way to interpret the so called natural history of humanity and the earth while, at the same time, saying absolutely nothing necessary about God, especially in terms of God being interpreted as a fact among other facts. Either way, one can rightly affirm the factuality of evolutionary processes, which really shouldn’t be up for debate.
The only matters that ought to be up for debate are evolution’s interpretive possibilities.