Optimal According to Whom: The Flawed Theology of Darwin and His Disciples


Elliot Miller

Article ID:



Mar 8, 2023


Feb 18, 2019

This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 40, number 03 (2017). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.

Paul A. Nelson has been writing for the Christian Research Journal for many years, and I’m delighted that recently he has been able to write for us more frequently. Both a Fellow at the Discovery Institute and an adjunct professor at Biola University, Nelson is a perceptive critic of Darwinism and a persuasive spokesperson for Intelligent Design (ID). I am especially enthused about Nelson’s contribution to this issue. He argues that there is a historic and arguably inescapable entanglement of Darwinism with theology. This is a subject he has written on briefly for us before,1 and it has been percolating in my mind ever since. His present article gives a full treatment to the subject, and I am confident many of you will find it enlightening.

There are many ways it can be argued that naturalistic evolution is on the same footing as Intelligent Design or even creationism. Like ID pioneer Phillip Johnson,2 I have long argued that Darwinian dogmatism is squarely and demonstrably based not in physical science but in metaphysical philosophy or theology.3 Since neither undirected evolution nor intelligent design can be adduced directly from scientific data, but both can provide frameworks for interpreting such data, neither should be suppressed; rather, in the spirit of open scientific inquiry, let the advocates for both models pursue their independent lines of research, and the model most coherent with reality will inevitably prevail.

What is different about Nelson’s approach (and that of others whom he cites in his article) is that he hammers harder on the idea that evolution is not just a metaphysical view but a theological one. He does this “by analyzing the logic of evolutionary arguments, demonstrating that the premises of those arguments include theological assertions. ‘Any Creator worthy of the name would have done…’ or ‘Why would God have made…’ and indeed all similar phrases diagnose an appeal to theology. Once alerted to their existence, a perceptive observer will see such appeals everywhere in evolutionary writings, at the popular and technical levels.”

Why would evolutionists from Charles Darwin to Stephen Jay Gould and beyond find it so necessary to invoke their own theological views in order to justify evolutionary theory? It is because naturalistic evolution cannot be justified on its own merits; it becomes necessary to demonstrate that the primary alternative view, Intelligent Design, is even more problematic.

The problem with this is that we find evidence for intelligent design in the universe on every level, including some that preceded the emergence of natural selection (the big “creative” force in Darwinism) in organic life and therefore cannot be explained by it. These include the fine-tuning of the universe for life as well as the fact that life occurred at all, which naturalistic science has proven completely incapable of explaining. Add to this the question-begging that invariably occurs when naturalists attempt to explain how a single-celled organism could have given rise to the immeasurable complexity and diversity of life on this planet. The one area that potentially could have substantiated their claims — the fossil record — has failed to produce the critical transitional forms. If we do not deny the antiquity of the universe or that evolution takes place at a micro level, and most Intelligent Design theorists would not dispute these points, the warrant for Darwinian dogmatism seems close to exhausted.

All this considered, to opt for a nonintelligent explanation over an intelligent explanation simply because some examples of this design are not what you consider optimal is truly to strain out a gnat while swallowing a camel. Something is very off here. Something is at work other than fidelity to the scientific method.

We are quite accustomed to dealing with theological deviations here at the Christian Research Institute, but few have been more consequential than the heresy of Charles Darwin and his disciples. Clearly on some level they absorbed the biblical truth that God created man in His own image. Understood properly, this means that man can think God’s thoughts after Him, an understanding that allowed modern science to flourish. But it does not logically follow from this that God will think man’s thoughts after him! Only arrogance and ingratitude would lead us from the blessed truth that we were created in God’s image to the abominable delusion that we can recreate God in our image.

It is incredibly naive to expect creation to be formulated in a way that makes perfect sense to us. We may be like God, but there remains an infinite difference between Creator and creation. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8–9 NASB). There are innumerable things about the way God works that we cannot possibly hope to understand — many that will leave us puzzled until the day we die; but He has revealed enough to us to command both our worship and our gratitude.

The problem, therefore, is not with understanding science through the lens of theology but rather with understanding it through the lens of bad theology!

Elliot Miller


  1. See Paul A. Nelson, “A Summary Critique: Counting the Spoons in Evolutionary Biology” (a review of Michael Ruse’s Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?), Christian Research Journal 27, 2 (2004): 44–46; and Paul A. Nelson, “Charles Darwin — Theologian” (a review of Cornelius G. Hunter’s Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion over Science), Christian Research Journal 26, 2 (2003): 53–54.
  2.  See, e.g., Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990).
  3. See, e.g., Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), esp. chaps. 2–4; and my introduction to “Science and Religion 2002: A Response to Skeptical Inquirer,” Christian Research Journal 25, 1 (2002): 27–29.


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