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An Evangelical Dialogue on

Evolution

A collection of articles promoting a positive relationship between


Evangelical Christianity and evolutionary science

Author:
Steve Martin

Document Version: 1.0


Last Updated: April 11, 2009

This document is a compilation of weblog posts; the individual articles remain the property of the author. You are
free to share, copy, or distribute this document in full within the limitations of the Creative Commons Attribution-
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Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License. To view copies of these licenses, visit
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ and http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ca/.

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Table of Contents

A) INTRODUCTION...........................................................................................................................................3

B) THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN EVANGELICALISM AND EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE ..................4


I. Welcome to the Dialogue ....................................................................................................................................4
II. Evangelicalism and Evolution: Why the Discussion Matters .............................................................................5
III. Dialogue, Debate, Silence, or Confrontation: How should we approach the topic of evolution? ......................7
C) EVOLUTION AND EVANGELICALISM: DEFINITIONS AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT .............9
I. What Does Evolution Mean? A Framework for Evangelical Christians.............................................................9
II. Evangelicalism: Not simply "Toned down Fundamentalism" ..........................................................................11
III. What is an Evangelical? Am I one? Why do I choose to wear the Label? .......................................................13
IV. Two Myths about the Relationship between Evangelical Christianity and Science.........................................14
D) RECONCILING SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY AND EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE .........................17
I. Scripture or Science: Do we have to Choose?...................................................................................................17
II. Literal or Liberal: Our only choices for interpreting the Bible? .......................................................................19
III. Genesis 1 –11: Background, Context, and Theology .......................................................................................21
IV. An Incarnational Approach to Scripture...........................................................................................................23
E) EVOLUTION: THEOLOGICAL AND MORAL IMPLICATIONS .......................................................26
I. Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation: Five common Faithstoppers .............................................26
II. Made in God’s Image or Evolved from Apes? .................................................................................................28
III. Reconciling the Fall and Evolution ..................................................................................................................29
IV. Evolution: Necessary for the Continuation of Life...........................................................................................31
V. Does Evolution lead to Moral Relativism? Making the Bogeyman even Scarier.............................................32
VI. Et Tu Tony? A Critique of Campolo’s attack on "Darwinism"........................................................................34
F) EVOLUTION: PERSONAL CHOICES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR EVANGELICALS ..................37
I. Factors involved in the shift to Evolutionary Creationism: My Story and Yours .............................................37
II. When the Acceptance of Biological Evolution has Personal or Professional Repercussions ...........................38
III. Would your Church allow you to Publicly Support Evolution? .......................................................................39
G) THE STATE OF THE DIALOGUE AND A CALL TO ACTION ..........................................................42
I. Ten Books and what they mean for Evolutionary Creationism.........................................................................42
II. Reclaiming and Proclaiming Creation ..............................................................................................................43
III. Promoting a Positive Relationship Between Faith and Science in Evangelical Churches................................44

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A) Introduction

This Ebook is a collection of articles from An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution, the weblog I launched in May
2007. Growing up in a relatively secluded Evangelical culture, I had always assumed that evolution was an atheist
fairy tale incompatible with (and possibly lethal to) the Christian faith. However, over several years I gradually
came to accept the scientific validity of evolution, and more importantly, its compatibility with an Evangelical
expression of the Christian faith. This journey was both spiritually and intellectually difficult, a journey made more
arduous because of a dearth of resources and lack of support within the Evangelical community. The blog was
launched to 1) provide a forum to share my thoughts and conclusions with other Evangelicals, and 2) to invite
comments, criticism, and corrections from, as well as conversation with, other Evangelicals examining the science /
faith interface.

Why this Ebook?


By gathering the articles together, I’m hoping that this Ebook can be helpful in several ways:
1. As a “conversation starter” for my fellow Evangelical Evolutionary Creationists who wish to discuss
their viewpoints with other Evangelicals.
2. As a resource for Evangelicals wondering how they can integrate the findings of modern science with
their faith
3. For those convinced that evolution is antithetical to faith, the Ebook will provide details on why I
believe this conclusion is completely mistaken. I have two primary audiences in mind:
a. Evangelicals struggling with (or considering abandoning) their faith because of the perceived
conflict between that faith and the findings of modern science.
b. Those considering making a commitment to the Christ, but who mistakenly believe they must
ignore well supported scientific evidence to do so.
4. As a summary resource for readers who enjoyed the blog, but discovered it well after it was launched,
and don’t have the time to wade through all of the old material.

About the Articles included in the Ebook


The 23 articles included in the E-book are arranged thematically rather than chronologically; this provides, I
believe, a more-or-less cohesive account of my viewpoint as documented on the blog – “more-or-less” since, as
astute readers will note, some of my own ideas have evolved over the last couple of years. Note also that I use the
adjective “cohesive”, and not “complete”, when describing my viewpoint; I too am still learning and there are
several areas of this conversation that puzzle me as well. Since each article was written to stand on its own, it is not
necessary (nor even advisable in many cases) to read this Ebook in sequential order or in a single sitting. As with
most collections, there are probably as many right ways to digest the material as there are readers.

It is important to note that I made two assumptions in writing almost all of these articles. My first assumption was
that the scientific evidence for biological evolution is overwhelming; rarely do I discuss the evidence. If the
scientific evidence for biological evolution is of primary concern, you might want to start with one of these ten
books by other Evangelicals who accept the evidence for biological evolution. Second, I assume that the claims of
orthodox Christianity are credible, and that my readers agree with this claim. I was pleasantly surprised to discover
that many who did not share this assumption found the blog of interest, but Christian apologetics was not really in
scope. So if Christian apologetics (or debunking the claims of Christianity) is of primary concern, again, you may
want to start somewhere else.

A Note of Thanks
I want to thank the many thoughtful readers who provided comments and feedback to these and other articles on the
blog. This feedback helped me enormously. Secondly, I want to thank a host of other science-faith bloggers (too
many to name) with whom I interacted over the last couple of years. Some of the best conversations occurred on
their sites and this was very valuable for me as I worked through the issues for myself.

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B) The Dialogue between Evangelicalism and Evolutionary Science
I strongly believe that a positive dialogue between evangelicalism and evolutionary science is not only
possible, but is also of vital importance to our faith and our mission. Evangelicalism’s misguided war on
evolution has often damaged the faith of thoughtful Christians, and has created a stumbling block for
those who might otherwise consider the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The discussion is
difficult; how this dialogue is conducted is just as important as the content. To be successful we need
wisdom, patience, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. The following three articles provide my
perspective on this dialogue. The first introduces the dialogue and identifies why it is of some
importance to me personally. The second post provides four reasons why this discussion is important to
Evangelicalism while the third post offers some thoughts on how the dialogue should be conducted.

from talking or thinking about evolution. Theistic


I. Welcome to the Dialogue Evolutionism (TE) seems more like an oxymoron
rather than a legitimate position on origins. This was
Published: May 7, 2007 my own perspective growing up in a conservative
Evangelical culture. And although I became less
Dialogue rarely describes the relationship between dogmatic about my opposition to evolution as I
evangelicals and evolutionary science. Perhaps entered adulthood, it was not something I thought
debate, condemnation, or mocking, but rarely much about. That is, until a few years ago when it
dialogue. And the lack of dialogue and propensity to became obvious that my 9-year old son was starting
condemn and mock goes both ways. Evangelicals to have questions about science and faith, questions I
condemn evolutionary science as atheistic; myself had faced when I was younger but was maybe
evolutionists mock evangelicals as being little better too afraid to discuss, or to investigate too deeply.
than medieval religious nutcases. Prominent Thus started a quest to investigate "the truth" of
evangelicals will debate evolution, but as in most evolution and its implication for my faith. Sometimes
debates, there is little real listening. It’s all about courage to face our fears comes not because we are
scoring points and winning the argument. courageous, but because the alternative is deemed
even worse.
Evolution and Faith: Is Dialogue Possible?
So it can be a bewildering experience for thoughtful Now, several years into this quest, one thing is
evangelicals trying to determine the credibility of the eminently clear: I was immensely naïve to think that I
theory of evolution. On the one hand, the scientific could answer all my questions one way or another
community, almost unanimously, considers it to be regarding the interaction of evolution and the
an undeniable fact. The evidence is deemed as Christian Faith – at least in this lifetime. Indeed, as
compelling as other obvious scientific facts like soon as one question is answered, two more seem to
gravity and heliocentricism. On the other hand, pop out of the woodwork. As well, this type of
Young Earth Creationist (YEC) organizations investigation requires specialization in biology,
(largely Evangelical in outlook) boldly claim that geology, genetics, biochemistry, paleontology,
there is absolutely no evidence to support evolution, anthropology, theology, history, history of science,
or that the evidence is either fabricated or grossly philosophy, philosophy of science, and biblical
misinterpreted. Even more disconcerting is the fact studies to name but a few of the disciplines. Even
that the shrillest voices on both sides of the debate brilliant academics with doctorates in 2 or 3 of the
agree that evolution has huge religious implications. disciplines need to “trust the experts” in fields in
“Evolution is true, and its clear implication is that which they are unfamiliar. I am, at the very best, a
there is no God”, says one atheistic evolutionist. rank amateur in only of few of these disciplines; in
“The acceptance of evolution means denying the most I am virtually illiterate. It’s clear that I will
Word of God” counters YEC. never be able to completely close the book on this
quest.
A Personal Quest
Since the choice is framed as either "Evolution or However, I have come to some broad conclusions.
God", its no wonder that most Evangelicals shy away The first is that biological evolution, including

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common descent of humans from pre-existing requirement to connect all the ideas into a coherent
animals, is the framework that best matches current story. 2) A blog invites comments, criticism,
scientific evidence for describing how life developed corrections, and conversation. Not only will this
on earth. Second, and more importantly, I believe enhance my own understanding, but also it will make
that the idea of God creating through evolution is the spiritual and intellectual journey much more
compatible with the Christian faith, an Evangelical satisfying.
expression of this faith, a faith that does not
compromise the divine inspiration and authority of I welcome you to join the conversation.
the scriptures, and is in fact theologically more
satisfying than creation without evolution. PS: Note on comments. You are free to provide
comments and/or questions on the posts online (see
The Beginning of Dialogue comments link at bottom of each post), but be aware
For many Evangelicals these are heady, if not that right now this is open to the public (ie. anyone
heretical, conclusions. I disagree. Neither do I can read and comment on any posts). To limit this I
believe my Evangelical card should be confiscated think I'd need all readers of the blog to signup for a
because of them. (Although frankly, at times, I feel gmail account - I'd prefer not to do this. However, I
like voluntarily turning it in. That’s a different story). realize that some of you may be involved in Christian
I am certainly not alone. There is a growing chorus of organizations that would not appreciate one of its
evangelicals who accept the science of evolution, and leaders or members being involved in this type of
feel that this in no way compromises their biblical discussion. If this is the case, you can email your
faith, nor is it the first step on the slippery slope to comments to me privately and I promise to respect
liberalism. Although YEC and Intelligent Design your confidentiality. Alternatively, you can post
(ID) proponents tend to drown these voices out, it is giving only your first name or even a pseudonym.
likely that this discussion will become more
prominent in the near future; and more heated. It’s
still unclear whether mainstream evangelicalism will II. Evangelicalism and Evolution:
ever accept the possibility that TE proponents can
even legitimately use the label Evangelical. Why the Discussion Matters
Published June 13, 2007
Dialogue: The Reason for this Blog
And that brings us to the reason for this blog – a Is it important for Evangelicals to soften their anti-
dialogue. The current relationship between evolution science stance and discuss the topic of evolution?
and evangelicalism can best be characterized as Does it really matter? In one way, it’s not really that
warfare. I believe that ending this warfare will be important at all. Understanding and agreeing to
good for science, and much more importantly, good biological evolution is no more important than
for the gospel. Our Christian commission is to tell the understanding and agreeing to other scientific
good news of Christ’s resurrection, his present and theories that are supported by significant evidence.
coming kingdom, his new creation. The evangel in One can get along quite nicely without understanding
evangelicalism should remind us of this everyday. gravity, stellar evolution, or quantum mechanics.
And I strongly believe that our misguided war on (Everyone prior to Newton did). One can be a
science in general and evolution in particular is humble follower of Christ, participate in his kingdom
hurting the gospel; it is preventing many from work, and attract others to the Way without agreeing
hearing and responding to the good news. And it is with any of the these scientific theories. So why do I
causing some who have heard and believed to now even think that discussing biological evolution is
doubt whether it is good news at all. Dialogue is the important let alone relevant? Why not just ignore this
first step towards a ceasefire. controversial topic, and concentrate on primary
concerns like spreading the gospel, making disciples,
As many of you know, I have been writing an essay serving the poor, and creation care?
on evolution and its implications for my faith. This is
now on hold. I believe that this blog is a more The Awful Consequences of the Evangelical War
appropriate communication vehicle than an essay. on Evolution
There are two reasons for this. 1) Since I am still in From my perspective, it is not actually the theory of
mid-journey, a blog allows me to share thoughts, biological evolution that is significant, but
ideas, and conclusions even if those ideas and Evangelicalism’s misguided response to it. Not
conclusions are not fully formed. There is also no understanding how God created life is one thing;

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insisting that God could not have achieved his horrible travesty. Unfortunately, many Christians
purpose through biological evolution is quite another. have swallowed this YEC version of the gospel, and
Adding anti-evolution beliefs and an anti-science their faith is shaken when they encounter the
attitude to the gospel is no addition at all, but a evidence for real science.
corruption at least on par with the early Jerusalem
church’s insistence on continuing the observance of The testimony of Glenn Morton is instructive. He
Jewish law. I believe there are four specific dangers became a follower of Christ during his college years
to this antagonism to evolution: First, it discourages through the witness of a Christian campus ministry
Evangelicals from participating in science and and was told his new faith mandated that he believe
celebrating the wonders of God’s creation. Second, it in YEC science. To Morton Christ’s life transforming
is instrumental in causing many to abandon faith in power was authentic, and if YEC beliefs were part of
Christ. Third, it promotes and “end-justifies-the- the package, it too must be authentic. As a geo-
means” attitude to science and encourages Christians physicist, he became active in ICR and published
to compromise their integrity. Fourth, it prevents many articles that attempted to reconcile the
many from coming to faith in Christ. scientific evidence with a YEC interpretation of the
bible. Over the years however, he found it increasing
Problem #1: Anti-evolutionism discourages difficult to ignore the evidence for a very old earth.
Evangelicals from studying science Eventually, he was forced to abandon the YEC
scientific view. Because his faith was so tightly
As I mentioned in my welcome note, I avoided coupled with the YEC scientific view, he nearly
certain academic disciplines when I was in school abandoned his faith as well.
(particularly biology) because I dreaded what they
would do to my faith. That evolution leads to a loss Problem #3: “Creation Science” compromises our
of faith is an adage repeated constantly YEC integrity as Christians
organizations, and this repetition enhances the
intimidation factor of the evolution bogeyman. From The scientific evidence points overwhelmingly
anecdotical evidence, it appears that the fear towards an old earth. Even YEC scientist Kurt Wise
generated by this claim is a key reason why many admits this. He states that:
other Evangelicals avoid academic disciplines that
deal with human origins. (For example, see this "I am a young-age creationist because the Bible
article lamenting the fact that there are so few indicates the universe is young. Given what we
Christian anthropologists). This propagates a vicious currently think we understand about the world, the
cycle. A dearth of Christians in these scientific majority of the scientific evidence favors an old earth
disciplines make it all the more likely that non- and universe, not a young one. I would therefore say
Christian philosophical interpretations of the that anyone who claims that the earth is young from
evidence will abound. scientific evidence alone is scientifically ignorant”.

Problem #2: Anti-evolutionism causes many to Unfortunately, from my reading, most creationist
abandon faith in Christ scientists do not have this kind of integrity and
honesty when dealing with the scientific evidence. In
YEC organizations often claim that the theory of an effort to bolster the faith of their followers, they
evolution is causing youth to abandon faith in Christ. will insist that the scientific data actually points to a
I believe that this is an incorrect assessment and that young earth. When someone identifies the flaw in a
the responsibility lies not with the scientific theory, specific scientific interpretation, they tend to move
but with YEC organizations like Answers in Genesis, on to new claims and new evidence. Rarely, it seems
The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and to me, will YEC promoters admit to their followers
Creation Ministries International (CMI) which that their former claims were invalid, even when the
shackle the gospel with an outdated theory of claims have been irrefutably contradicted. (For a
science. Far from “defending the bible from the very growing list of answers to creationist claims, see:
first verse” as AIG claims, the YEC version of the http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/)
gospel causes many to reject the biblical message
because it is poisoned with YEC nonsense. The For Creation Scientists, science is not about
insistence that abandoning a YEC interpretation of examining the evidence to reach a conclusion.
Genesis is equivalent to abandoning the authority of Rather, their science is about choosing data that can
the bible, and ultimately the authority of God, is a be interpreted to meet a pre-existing conclusion. This

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is Morton’s view as well. As he grappled with the attempt to understand, we diminish faith, not enhance
geological evidence, and tried to discuss this it. And unfortunately, our “faith seeking
evidence with his fellow creationists at ICR, he found understanding” turns to “faith without
out that: understanding”. This can be easily distorted into
“… my fellow young earth creationists were not “faith because there is no understanding” by those
willing to listen to the problems. In general they were opposed to the Christian gospel and finally to “faith
not interested in discussing the difficulties and they because of ignorance” by militant atheists like
did not want to read any material that contradicted Richard Dawkins.
their cherished position”

God is the creator of all things, the creator of nature, III. Dialogue, Debate, Silence, or
the creator of science. God is not afraid of the data
and we should not be either. A dishonest portrayal of Confrontation: How should we
the evidence neither honours nor defends God. approach the topic of evolution?
Problem #4: Anti-evolutionism prevents many
from even examining the claims of Christ Published September 10, 2007

Not only does marrying Creation Science with the I started my blog a few months ago with the
gospel cause some to abandon their faith, it can also following statement:
prevent spiritual seekers from even considering the
claims of Christ. For those who are scientifically Dialogue rarely describes the relationship
literate in particular, the patently ridiculous claims of between evangelicals and evolutionary science.
“creation science” are a definite obstacle to Perhaps debate, condemnation, or mocking, but
acceptance of the gospel. rarely dialogue.
From my perspective, I believe the dialogue on
Preston Jones, a history professor at a Christian biological evolution within Evangelicalism is both
university, had an interesting email discussion with possible and desirable. First, it is possible because
Greg Graffin, an atheist and member of the punk there is no inherent conflict between the science of
rock band “Bad Religion”. In a Christianity Today evolutionary biology and an Evangelical expression
article, he comments: of the Christian faith. Second it is desirable, because
the other options (debate, mocking, and
In those months of dialogue I also saw the condemnation) are injuring our Christian witness and
devastation wrought by the passion for pseudo- causing division within the Christian community.
scientific theories on natural history among some
Christians. Many of my students believe that six-day Dialogue is the Ideal
creationism is an essential Christian belief—that if Roman Miller, the Editor of Perspectives on Science
the first chapters of Genesis can't be taken literally, and the Christian Faith (PSCF) captures my view on
then the whole Bible is a fraud. What tragic the desirability of dialogue over debate in his March
nonsense! 2007 editorial called “Do we Debate or Dialogue
Issues of Science and Faith?”. Miller proposes that
Before Greg and I corresponded, I didn't care. "You Christians with different viewpoints abandon the
wanna believe the earth was created six thousand debate mode and dialogue instead. He muses:
years ago? Whatever." But Greg helped me see that
this kind of gaping ignorance promotes the I wonder about the value of debate as a tool to
perception that theologically conservative Christians create understanding. In my experience,
are the enemies of learning. debates have created more heat than light and
have served to further entrench combatants in
It is this (often true) assumption that evangelicals are defending their position while attacking their
“enemies of learning” that can conceal the truth of opponent’s position. More and more, I am
the gospel. I like 11th century theologian Anselm’s convinced that within the circles of the
motto “faith seeking understanding”, meaning an Christian community, we should avoid the
active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of “debate mode.” Rather, we should deliberately
God. We seek to understand because we have faith, advocate a “dialogue mode.”
not in order to have faith. When we abandon an

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Miller states that dialogue works to enhance mutual Evolutionists can be Saved".
understanding while debaters focus on winning the
argument. Ironically it is dialogue, not debate, that is Silence: Sometimes it is the Best Option
much more likely to “change minds”. And an attitude There are other times when silence is the best option.
of humility, a topic Miller addresses in his September In situations where origins science or the biblical
2007 Editorial (not yet online), is a prerequisite for a interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts are
successful dialogue. As a preview to this editorial, he clearly peripheral to the discussion, starting a
states in the earlier column that: dialogue on science / faith would be distracting at
best, and probably even destructive. I would hazard
Especially in these issues in which we “dimly to say that even in many situations where these issues
peer through our varied perspective glasses,” it are primary, starting a dialogue on evolution could
behooves us to admit that we do not know or still be damaging. As Gordon’s anecdote regarding
understand with entirety and to hold our missionary Anna Leonowens shows, even the truth
positions with humility and grace. can sometimes be a stumbling block.
Dialogue is not always Possible
I agree that dialogue, conducted in humility and
Participating in respectful dialogue, with an attitude
grace, should be the primary mode of engagement in
of humility and grace, is the ideal for which we
our discussions on the integration of faith and
should all strive. This is especially true for a topic as
evolutionary science. However, I do not think
contentious and complicated as the origin of life,
dialogue is the best option in all cases. To promote
biological diversity, and humanity, a topic that no
Christian unity, there are times when we must simply
one can claim they grasp completely. Unfortunately
remain silent. And there are other times, when the
in the real world the ideal is not always possible.
gospel is being damaged for instance, that we must
What if one group of Christians considers another
choose confrontation, confrontation with humility
group’s origins view not only wrong, but also
and as much grace as possible, but still confrontation.
diametrically opposed to the gospel? What if our
origins view is condemned as heretical, and our
Choosing an Approach
accusers refuse to acknowledge that we belong to the
The question of course is this: When should we
body of Christ? How can there be any mutual
dialogue, when should we remain silent, and when
understanding in this situation?
should we confront? Each individual situation will
require its own wisdom, and the guidance of the Holy
Dialogue is not always Preferable
Spirit. But are there principles that can help us make
Maybe more importantly, I think dialogue is not
these choices, principles that will minimize the times
always preferable even when it is possible. As I’ve
we confront when we should be dialoguing, or
indicated before here, and as Vance McAlister has
dialogue when we should remain silent? How do we
written in “Creationism vs. Evolutionism: The
balance church unity against the need to correct
Danger of Misplaced Dogmatism”, a dogmatic
potentially damaging ideas about science & biblical
interpretation of scripture can damage the gospel.
interpretation? How do we seek self-correction (for
When Christian youth are abandoning their faith
none of us have all the answers), when the correction
because they cannot reconcile modern science with
being offered is an abandonment of the integrity of
the brittle scriptural interpretation mandated by their
science or the scriptures or even of the gospel itself?
church community, and when seekers choose not to
How do we achieve dialogue when others are not
follow Christ because the gospel presented to them
interested in pursuing dialogue?
includes a version of science that is unsupported by
the evidence, then I think we need to respond with
I’m still struggling with these questions.
urgency and vigor. We need to communicate that
“The Gospel of a Young Earth” is no gospel at all,
and is as erroneous as stating that "Only

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C) Evolution and Evangelicalism: Definitions and Historical Context
Definitions are important. If there is no agreement on the definitions, there is unlikely to be agreement
on the ideas based on those definitions. So, for contentious issues like faith and science, it is important
that we first come to a mutual understanding of the definitions. For the purposes of the current dialogue,
the most salient definitions are evolution and evangelicalism.

Historical context is also important. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it and
the history of the faith / science dialogue is littered with casualties..

The following four articles provide definitions for evolution and evangelicalism that lay a foundation for
the dialogue. These articles also provide a brief historical overview of the interaction between
Evangelicalism and science.

the Christian faith for each definition. These six


I. What Does Evolution Mean? A meanings are:
Framework for Evangelical E1. Change over time
Christians E2. Common ancestry
E3. Evolutionary mechanisms (genetic variation,
Published October 27, 2007 natural selection).
Much of the confusion in the evolution debate lies in E4. The ability for these Evolutionary mechanisms to
the meaning of the word “evolution”. Since it can account (physically) for common descent.
have several different meanings, and even the E5. Origin of life (chemical evolution)
scientific definition of evolution can include several E6. Evolutionism
distinct components, it is not surprising that many
confusing and confused arguments are articulated. I have grouped these meanings into three categories:
Certainly the conversation is very difficult when those meanings for which the scientific evidence is
conversation partners discussing evolution do not overwhelming and thus enjoy an extremely high
share the same definition, conflate several of the degree of certainty (E1, E2, and E3), those
definitions, or elevate one component of evolution to definitions that are less certain based on the scientific
be descriptive of the whole. evidence (E4 and E5), and those definitions whose
conclusions are based on metaphysical assumptions
Dr. Allan Harvey has provided a simple overview of rather than the scientific evidence(E6).
the various meanings of evolution. Harvey, a fellow
ASA member, recently taught a 6-part course on
“Science and Nature in Christian perspective” at his Evolution Meanings Group#1: Extremely
conservative Presbyterian church in Boulder high degree of scientific certainty
Colorado, and the 5th essay in the series is on
evolution. (Note: The entire course looks Harvey’s first three meanings for evolution (E1 – E3)
outstanding. It is presented in clear non-technical are all extremely well supported by the scientific
terms, and Harvey includes wise counsel on how evidence. There is also, in Harvey’s view, no
Christians who accept the integrity of scripture incompatibility between these meanings and the
should approach science. For anyone beginning this Christian Faith.
journey, I highly recommend reading through the
entire series) E-1) Change over time. This is the most basic
meaning of the English word “evolution,”
Evolution: Six Different Meanings simply meaning that something changes with
Harvey provides a framework that includes 6 the passage of time. For example, we might talk
meanings for the word evolution, and remarks on about the evolution of popular music, or the
both the scientific certainty and compatibility with evolution of stars. With regard to living things,
this simply says that things are different than
they were in the past (there used to be

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dinosaurs; now there aren’t). Almost nobody Evolution Meanings Group#2: Less
denies this meaning. Scientific Certainty
The only opposition to E1 is in the time available for
changes to occur. Young Earth Creationists (YEC) Harvey’s 4th and 5th meanings of evolution enjoy
would disagree with the scientific consensus of less scientific certainty (in fact, there is very little
cosmological evolution (formation of the cosmos eg. current evidence for E5). These definitions have
stars) because of the billions of years required for historically experienced aggressive opposition from
this process. Christians (certainly more than E1-E3), but Harvey
does not believe this needs to be the case.
E-2) Common ancestry. This is central to what
scientists usually mean by “evolution.” E-4) Mechanisms (E-3) account (physically) for
Common ancestry (or common descent) means common descent. This is typically what
that life has branched out, so dogs and wolves scientists mean by “the theory of evolution.”
are distant cousins, dogs and cats are more We know these mechanisms produce changes in
distant cousins, and if you go back far enough species, but do they account for all the
dogs and fish, or dogs and trees, had a common evolution (in the E-2 sense) that has happened
ancestor. You can put humans in the family tree through the history of life on Earth? Most
as well – related to chimpanzees, more distant biologists, including most Christians working in
from other mammals, and so forth. these areas, would say “yes,” but it is certainly
not as 100% established as the previous
As I’ve commented earlier here, a shared ancestry meanings.
with non-human life does not contradict the biblical
claim of humanity’s creation in the image of God. As I believe E4 is the meaning that sharply divides
well, as Harvey points out in his 3rd essay, and as Christians who identify themselves as Theistic
I’ve commented here, common descent does not Evolutionists (TE) or Evolutionary Creationists (EC)
compromise the integrity of scripture. In fact, many from those who are anti-evolutionists, particularly
of the leaders in the Intelligent Design (ID) those that are supporters of ID. Harvey’s 4th essay
movement (eg. Michael Behe, author of The Edge of called “Natural Theology or a Theology of Nature”
Evolution) also support common descent, even explains briefly why E4 should not really cause any
though ID is often described as anti-evolution. conflict for Christians.

E-3) Evolutionary mechanisms (genetic E-5) Origin of life (chemical evolution). The
variation, natural selection). This refers to theory of evolution is only an explanation for
specific natural mechanisms (first proposed by the development of life from other life. How life
Darwin, although in a primitive way because began in the first place is a different question,
genetics was not yet understood) that cause but people have proposed somewhat similar
species to change. Genetic variation is the fact theories (the technical term is ambiogenesis) of
that (due to mixing of parental genes and to how that happened. That is an area where there
mutations) children have different genes and is much room for doubt; some people see it as
different traits. Natural selection refers to the an insurmountable problem, while others think
fact that the traits will make some children science is coming closer to good explanations.
more likely to survive and pass their genes on to E5 is the meaning that really sparks derision among
future generations. anti-evolutionists. And the lack of evidence for E5 is
Note that in recent years even YEC organizations often used to discount the validity of E2 through E4.
have started backing away from their opposition to It is still an open question whether a “natural” origin
the mechanism of natural selection (see here and of life theory that is supported by the scientific
here). They have also admitted that natural selection evidence is 3 years away, 30 years away, 300 years
can lead to new species, and that “in fact, rapid away, or is practically impossible. The important
speciation is an important part of the creation point is that Christians need not oppose E5 for the
model”. same reasons that E4 need not be opposed.

10
Evolution Meanings Group#3: Definitions A Mistaken view of Evangelical History
based on metaphysical assumptions Those with just enough understanding of Evangelical
history to be dangerous would describe it this way:
Harvey’s final meaning for evolution (E6) is
unrelated to science.  Fundamentalism is a reactionary Protestant
movement born in the early 20th century in the
E-6) Evolutionism. I use that term to refer to a southern US. Its two defining characteristics
meaning that is not science at all, but rather an were anti-evolutionism (with the Scopes Monkey
ideology that sometimes masquerades as trial in 1925 being the critical event) and anti-
science. This starts with the philosophical communism.
position that natural explanations exclude God  After WWII, the Fundamentalists redefined
(the “God of the Gaps” error discussed in themselves as Evangelicals, toned down their
Chapter 4). Since science has produced these rhetoric, and shifted their message to “being
natural explanations for life, those with this born-again”. However, this “kinder, gentler”
ideology claim to have pushed God out of the Fundamentalism is still right wing and anti-
picture. Of course these metaphysical science (and anti-evolution) at heart.
conclusions are not science in any way – those
This characterization is wrong at so many levels that
who advocate this meaning are simply pushing
it’s difficult to know where to start. I certainly can’t
atheistic philosophy, and it is wrong to try to
untangle all these knots in a few blog entries. What I
claim it is a result of science.
would like to address are the incorrect assumptions
This meaning for evolution is obviously not that 1) Evangelicalism is simply an outgrowth of
something that can ever be accepted by a Christian. Fundamentalism, 2) anti-evolutionism is inherent in
But this is the meaning that both Christian anti- Evangelicalism because of its characteristics, and 3)
evolutionists and “evangelistic anti-theist” atheists from the beginning Evangelicals were uniformly
push to the forefront. They conflate evolution hostile to evolution. This post will deal with the first
meanings E2 through E5 with E6, and thus state that assumption.
TEs and ECs are supporting atheism, materialism, or
moral relativism (anti-evolutionist claims) or are The Beginnings of Evangelicalism
deluded and cowardly for not following the scientific The roots of Anglo-American Evangelicalism lie in
evidence to its logical conclusion (anti-theist claim). the 18th century “Great Awakening”. Starting around
1730 great revivals swept through British and
Conclusion American churches led by evangelists like John
I really like how Harvey categorizes the various Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards.
definitions of evolution. They are helpful both for The emphasis of these revivals was personal
Christians trying to understand evolution, and for repentance, Christ’s forgiveness, and conversion to a
those of us that are frequently engaged in the new life. What Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards
evolution / faith dialogue. I am planning to use these preached against was “dead religion”, an outward
definitions in my own conversations. Hopefully this appearance of religion without true inner repentance.
will allow all of us to hone in on the salient issues
more quickly, and avoid talking past each other. Ok, Although new denominations were formed because
maybe that's overly optimist, but it can't hurt to try. of the Great Awakening (eg. Methodists), the revival
also affected most protestant churches. People were
encouraged to repent and commit their lives to
II. Evangelicalism: Not simply Christ, but were not necessarily encouraged to
"Toned down Fundamentalism" abandon their denominational allegiance. Thus,
unlike many other revolutions in the church and in
Published: May 21, 2007 Christian theology, the key result was not the
Being an Evangelical can be embarrassing. After all, formation of a new breakaway group of Christians
the popular impression, fueled somewhat by the that forged a new path on their own. Rather, these
media, is that Evangelicals are simply those new ideas permeated virtually all protestant
Christians that are a) political right-wingers and b) denominations. Even today, more than 250 years
anti-intellectual and anti-science. And the media can after the Great Awakening, most protestant
uncover and recount enough stories and sound bites denominations have an Evangelical component.
to reinforce this impression.

11
The Beginnings of Fundamentalism  Whereas Evangelicalism was primarily a
Fundamentalism on the other hand, was born in the positive movement (promoting the gospel),
early 20th century in the US. Between 1910 and Fundamentalism was primarily a negative
1915, a prominent group of Evangelicals published movement (against modern biblical
“The Fundamentals”, a series of books that outlined interpretation and scientific theories that
foundational doctrines for Christianity. This was contradicted the bible). While Evangelicalism
meant to be a defense of the Christian faith, and wanted to engage the wider culture,
especially of the scriptures, against modern theology Fundamentalism wanted to withdraw from the
and biblical criticism. Although the books themselves wider culture.
were measured in tone, they served as a rallying cry
after WWI when conservative Evangelicals voiced  The Evangelical reemergence in the mid-20th
militant opposition to modern theology, the cultural century was not simply a maturing or
changes that modernism endorsed, and modern modification of Fundamentalism. Rather, it was
scientific ideas, particularly evolution. This resulted a rediscovery of its character prior to the onset of
in schisms in several denominations between poles Fundamentalism.
that were now termed “Liberal” and So what can we conclude about the relationship
“Fundamentalist”. between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism and
why does it matter? The popular impression that
The defining moment of Fundamentalism’s birth was Fundamentalism is either equivalent to, or the root
the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. In 1924, a public school of, Evangelicalism is wrong. However, it is clear that
teacher named John Scopes was charged in the early 20th century Fundamentalist phase still
Tennessee with teaching evolution, something that influences Evangelicalism. In “The Scandal of the
was forbidden by state law. Although the Evangelical Mind”, historian Mark Noll refers to this
Fundamentalists won the legal war, they were widely phase as “The Intellectual Disaster of
ridiculed in the press and wider society, and thus lost Fundamentalism”. I would agree that the influence
the public relations war. This event was influential in has been primarily negative. At best,
the Fundamentalists sharp withdrawal from society. Fundamentalism was an extreme phase from which
Whereas Evangelicals had always participated in Evangelicals eventually emerged. At worst,
wider culture and had been part of the American fundamentalism is a cancer from which we are still
establishment, Fundamentalists now separated trying to recover. The recent interest in “Creation
themselves from what they saw as “an ungodly Science” by Evangelicals leads me to believe that we
society”. have not completely rid ourselves of this disorder.
The Reemergence of Evangelicalism Recommended Further Reading:
Around 1950 the moderate evangelical voice
reemerged under the leadership of the likes of Billy  “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain”, D.W.
Graham. Rather than separating themselves from the Bebbington. An excellent overview of
wider culture, with a focus only on a defense of the Evangelicalism from its birth in the early 18th
bible, these Evangelicals again emphasized telling century to the end of the 20th century. Although
the good news of Christ’s kingdom. No longer were focusing on Britain, it does touch briefly on
they content to sit on the sidelines. If they needed to American Evangelicalism as well.
work with “Liberal churches” to promote the gospel,
so be it.  “A History of Christianity in the United States
and Canada”, Mark Noll. Covers all of
Conclusions Christianity and not just Evangelicalism and
The above is obviously an extremely short summary Fundamentalism, but provides a complete
of Evangelical and Fundamentalist history; many overview of these movements in North America.
important themes have not even been touched, and
some of my statements should probably be more  “Fundamentalism and American Culture”,
nuanced. However, the key points are these. George Marsden. Simply the best book on the
rise of fundamentalism in the early 20th century.
 The birth of Evangelicalism preceded the birth
of Fundamentalism by almost 200 years. Thus it
is not correct to call it the progeny of
Fundamentalism.

12
successful, definition. His definition shares some
III. What is an Evangelical? Am I similarities to my own overview of evangelical
one? Why do I choose to wear the distinctives where I proposed that acceptance of
biological evolution does not contradict an
Label? evangelical expression of the Christian faith. This
Published November 11, 2007 similarity is not surprising since we both utilize
David Bebbington’s framework proposed in
My objective for this site is to promote and foster a Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. However, I
specifically evangelical dialogue on the subject of believe Stackhouse provides a more practical and
evolution. Others are certainly invited to participate, comprehensive definition. He also includes some
but the invitation is primarily directed to astute observations on how the definition should be
evangelicals. What are the implications of biological used.
evolution for our specifically evangelical theology?
What are the implications for our faith? Are there Six Criteria in the Definition
areas of evolutionary science that have been tainted Stackhouse’s definition of evangelical includes the
with philosophical assumptions that contradict core following six criteria:
evangelical beliefs? How do we distinguish between 1. Orthodox and Orthoprax: Evangelicals
the physical evidence of God’s creation and the subscribe to the main tenets—doctrinal, ethical,
metaphysical assumptions so often tied to the and liturgical—of the churches to which they
explanations of the evidence? These are some of the belong.
questions I believe evangelicals should be discussing. 2. Crucicentric: Evangelicals are Christocentric
in their piety and preaching, and emphasize
Several weeks ago I provided a brief overview of the particularly the necessity of Christ’s salvific work
meaning of evolution. Thus I have provided a partial on the Cross.
definition of how I believe this dialogue should be 3. Biblicist: Evangelicals affirm the Bible as
framed. However, to understand what a specifically God’s Word written, true in what it says and
evangelical dialogue would look like, I should also functioning as their supreme written guide for
define what evangelical means. life.
4. Conversionist: Evangelicals believe that
Defining Evangelicalism everyone must trust Jesus as Saviour and follow
What is the definition of an evangelical? What is the him as Lord; and everyone must co-operate with
difference between an evangelical Christian and God in a life of growing spiritual maturity.
Christians who are not evangelicals? Where and how 5. Missional: Evangelicals actively co-operate
do we draw the line? Maybe more pertinent to the with God in his mission of redeeming the world,
discussion in this particular dialogue, what reason do and particularly in the proclamation of the gospel.
I have for considering myself within the evangelical 6. Transdenominational: Evangelicals gladly
fold? And why do I even want to hold onto the label? partner with other Christians who hold these
As I’ve confessed previously, being an evangelical concerns, regardless of denominational stripe, in
can be downright embarrassing given the perception work to advance the Kingdom of God.
of the movement in western society, perceptions
often completely supported by the attitudes and The middle four criteria are slightly modified
actions of very broad swaths of evangelicalism that versions of Bebbington’s. The 6th criterion is
are still tainted by fundamentalism. I’ll deal with my adopted from George Marsden (Fundamentalism and
own personal reasons for self-identifying as an American Culture and Evangelicalism and Modern
evangelical later. For the definition, I’ll turn to America), while the 1st is added by Stackhouse
another of my favourite authors, John Stackhouse. himself, a criterion almost certainly assumed by both
Bebbington and Marsden.
Stackhouse is an evangelical historian, philosopher,
and theologian. His is also the senior advisor for the Broad Criteria …
Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism There are a couple of significant points to notice in
(CRCE), an initiative of the Evangelical Fellowship this definition. First, each of the criteria is relatively
of Canada (EFC). In this capacity he has provided an broad. Doctrinal hair-splitting, so often the bane of
updated definition of evangelicalism. Given how evangelical unity, is completely absent. So, for
notoriously difficult it is to define evangelicalism, I example, in #3 there is no mention of inerrancy or
applaud Stackhouse for his succinct, and I believe even infallibility. Many evangelicals do indeed

13
affirm the inerrancy of scripture, and most affirm its
infallibility. However, since there is significant No I am not a hard-line political right-winger, anti-
disagreement on what those terms mean, I agree that science, anti-intellectual, against all forms of biblical
it is helpful to avoid these adjectives in the definition criticism, or a participant in the culture wars. But I
itself. (Interestingly the EFC’s own Statement of fail to see how any of these latter characteristics, so
Faith does include infallibility, although not often descriptive of evangelicals, conform to the six
inerrancy. The American equivalent to the EFC, the criteria in Stackhouse’s definition of evangelical. In
NAE, does the same in its statement of faith). many ways, I believe these characteristics conflict
with our self-identifying criteria of being orthodox,
… but all Criteria are Mandatory crucicentric, biblical, conversionist, missional, and
Second, Stackhouse insists that none of these criteria transdenomination Christians.
are unique to evangelicals, but that evangelicals
uniquely affirm all six criteria as a cohesive set. In short, I want to be called evangelical because,
despite the disrepute brought on the movement by
“[This] set of criteria functions properly only many evangelicals, its core characteristics are true
as a set. There is nothing peculiarly evangelical and right. I do not wish to be referred to as post-
about any of them singly, of course. It is only evangelical because of this disrepute, just as I do not
this set that helps scholars, pollsters, leaders wish to be called post-Christian because Christians
and interested others “pick out” evangelicals acting in a un-Christ like manner have sullied
from Christians in general or observant Christ’s name. Just as we should not let anti-
Christians in general or observant Protestants evolutionary creationists prevent us from proclaiming
in general, and so on. Thus it must be employed creation, neither should we let fundamentalist
as a set, without compromise, as in the common evangelicals prevent us from proclaiming the
polling practice of counting as evangelicals evangel.
those who score “highly” on some scale
derived from such criteria. No, evangelicals do So maybe the next time I introduce myself, I’ll say,
not compromise on any of these values: They “Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m an evangelical creationist”.
don’t think it’s okay to fudge on the atonement
or the Bible, or to neglect churchgoing, or Then again, maybe not.
avoid evangelism."
Why I Self-Identify as an Evangelical
So these six broad in scope but mandatory criteria IV. Two Myths about the
define evangelicalism. But why do I personally Relationship between
identify with the movement? Why, if I do not agree
with many of the political, intellectual, and cultural
Evangelical Christianity and
beliefs associated with evangelicalism, do I wish to Science
label myself an evangelical?
Published: June 5, 2007.
I strongly identify with evangelicals, and affirm that I
am an evangelical, precisely because the six criteria When I started this blog about a month ago, I stated
defined above closely match my own view. I agree that the current relationship between evolution and
with the doctrinal consensus affirmed by the apostles, evangelicalism can best be characterized as warfare.
the church fathers, the reformers, and the leaders of While this particular statement is true, I would like to
the Great Awakenings that birthed modern address two popular myths that are extrapolations on
evangelicalism. The cross of the incarnate, suffering the statement above. The first is that the relationship
God is central to redemption. God has revealed between modern science and religion can be
himself through scripture, and we must take seriously described as one of continuous conflict. The second
its claim for authority. Being a follower of Christ is that Evangelicals have, from the beginning,
includes more than intellectual assent; it includes unanimously opposed both the scientific views of an
radical trust in God’s guidance. We are all called to old earth and of biological evolution.
proclaim and participate in the Kingdom of God. And
we must not let denominational differences hinder The Inherent War between Christianity and
this proclamation or participation. I believe all six Science: Mostly an Militant Atheist Myth
criteria are important. Militant atheists claim that the warfare between
Evangelicals and evolution is just one new battle

14
theater in the ongoing war between religion and The Myth of Historical Evangelicalism’s
science that started during the Enlightenment. This is Unanimous Rejection of Evolution
a myth in the sense that it is a story, created in the Christians that support a YEC stance will sometimes
late 19th century, to support an agenda, in this promote a second myth, that Evangelicals have
instance an anti-religious (primarily anti-Christian) historically been unanimous in their condemnation of
agenda. It is also a myth in the sense that the both evolution and an old earth. The objective is to
historical evidence does not support the claim. portray Evangelicals that support either scientific
Modern science was born, grew, and flourished in a theory as abandoning core Evangelical beliefs. The
thoroughly Christian Western Europe. Although it historical facts also contradict this claim.
would be an exaggeration to say that the Christian
worldview was a pre-requisite to the discovery and 19th Century Evangelicals Accepted an Old Earth
success of modern science, or that the relationship As the science of geology developed in the late 18th
has always been harmonious, the worldviews have and early 19th centuries, estimates for the age of the
much more in common than the myth above would earth increased rapidly from about 75,000 years old
have us believe. to many millions of years old. Although Evangelicals
at first grappled with the implications of a very old
It is true that modern western Christians often regard earth, they rapidly came to accept the fact that the
claims of new scientific discoveries with skepticism. earth was more than 6000 years old, the age of the
However, this is also true of the broader scientific earth calculated from a “literal” reading of Genesis.
community. That is the way science functions. Even Charles Hodge and Benjamin Warfield, the two
“Show me the evidence” is that mantra that must be conservative Princeton Theologians who were
followed, particularly when the discovery radically primarily responsible for formulating the modern
shifts our understanding of how the world works. doctrine of biblical inerrancy, accepted the fact of an
Wacky theories are constantly being postulated, old earth. The two most popular methods that
theories that rarely jive with common sense, and are Evangelicals used to reconcile Genesis 1 with an old
often simply nonsense. Occasionally, significant earth were the day-age theory (each day was not a
supporting evidence for these “wacky theories” is literal 24 hour day but rather a very long period of
found and we start referring to them as “brilliant time) and the gap theory (the insertion of a very long
theories” instead. Being skeptical of the wacky, and gap between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2). As the dawn of
supportive of the brilliant, (even when they describe the Fundamentalist revolution approached in the
the same theory) is simply good science. early 20th century, very few Evangelical leaders still
clung to the idea of a young earth.
It is also true that modern Christians have been
troubled, not only by the fact that many scientific Some Early Evangelicals Accepted Evolution
discoveries contradict “common sense”, but also how
some seem, at least initially, to contradict the bible. Evangelical acceptance of the theory of evolution
Common sense confirmed that the earth was was much less prevalent. Charles Darwin published
immovable, and the bible supported it (1Chr 16:30, “The Origin of the Species” in 1859 and both
Psalm 93:1). It was not only immovable, but also flat positive and negative reactions were almost
(Psalm 104). The Sun moved around this stable earth, instantaneous. Those wishing to damage the
and not visa-versa (19:4-6 and Eccl 1:5). The sky Christian faith saw it as an opportunity to prove that
was a solid dome (Gen 1:6-8) and the physical the bible was composed of myths and fables;
location of heaven was just beyond the sky for that is conservative Christians saw it as a threat to God’s
where Jesus ascended. In each case, it was role in creation. As such, even from the beginning,
discovered through science that these ideas were there were those on both sides of the debate that
incorrect. However, Christians generally assimilated positioned evolution as inherently atheistic. By the
the new scientific theories relatively quickly without early 20th century most Evangelicals may have
abandoning a trust in scripture. Although the old accepted the fact of an old earth, but the majority of
“biblical” concepts of nature still have some recent them were dead set against the theory of biological
adherents (check out notes on flat earth believers and evolution.
geocentricists), the vast majority of Christians
(including those who are strict literalists) now reject What is interesting to note however, is that this
these ideas. opposition within the Evangelical community was
not nearly unanimous. Some Evangelical leaders
were able to reconcile the theory of evolution with a

15
high view of scripture. The noted botanist Asa Gray, defenders of the faith. Neither have any interest is
an Evangelical from Harvard University, was the seeing these myths exposed. And the objectives these
most influential initial supporter of Darwin’s theory myths prop up can be dangerous, dangerous to our
in America. Benjamin Warfield mentioned above, as faith, and dangerous to our mission. That will be
well as other Evangelical theologians and clergy, also discussed in my next post.
supported the theory of evolution. Even several of
the authors of the Fundamentals, the series of books Recommended Further Reading:
from which the name “Fundamentalist” derives,
either supported a form of evolution or were willing “Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders”, byDavid
to accept it “if it could be proved on scientific Livingstone: Livingstone provides an overview of
grounds”. Before fundamentalism, the acceptance of the Evangelical response to biological evolution,
evolution certainly did not mean banishment from the from the publishing of “On the Origin of the
Evangelical club. Species” up until the fundamentalist controversy in
the early 20th century. As noted in my post, the
The Two Myths Today response was occasionally positive, and the negative
The obvious question is this: Why today, with the response was often understated.
availability of significantly more scientific evidence
to support an old earth, have many Evangelicals “The Creationists”, by Ronald Numbers: If you
rejected this claim? Why are they abandoning the are captivated by in-depth, heavily footnoted
theological positions of past Evangelicals that came historical research (136 of 624 pages are footnotes),
to accept the evidence for an old earth, just as earlier and fascinated by creationism, then this is the book
Christians had accepted the evidence for a round for you. Ronald Numbers has written the definitive
earth and a heliocentric view of the solar system? study on the movement. Although rejecting the
The rise of “Creation Science” and “Scientific conclusions of Creationism (it was the claims of
Creationism” is a story in itself, so it will have to Creation Science that caused him to abandon his
wait for a future post. However, I do find it ironic faith), he writes an honest and thorough account that
that in the 1960’s while America was pouring is at the same time respectful to the Creationist cause.
resources into science so they could launch a rocket
to the moon, Evangelicals began poring resources “When Science and Christianity Meet”, by David
into creation science so they could launch a counter- Lindberg & Ronald Numbers. A series of essays on
attack on the theories of an old-earth and evolution. the interaction between science and Christianity. The
central theme of the book is that the relationship is
These two myths, the myth of constant conflict complex, and that the characterization of the
between science and religion, and the myth of relationship as one of “constant conflict” is not
unanimous Evangelical rejection of an old earth and accurate. An academic book, but an excellent
evolution, are being used today to promote opposing volume. I particularly found the essay on Galileo
agendas. Militant atheists see it as a tool to help them interesting, as it showed the conflict was primarily
meet their objective of eradicating religion. Militant political rather than religious.
creationists use it to prop up their credibility as

16
D) Reconciling Scriptural Authority and Evolutionary Science

Evangelicals take a very high view of scripture. The perception that evolution is incompatible with God’s
revelation in scripture is at the heart of Evangelicalism’s antagonism towards the scientific theory. Here
are four posts that outline why I believe the scientific theory for evolution & a high view of scripture are
compatible. The first argues that the choice between science and scripture is a false dichotomy; indeed
mainstream scientific conclusions need not contradict the divinely inspired word of God if both scripture
and the scientific evidence are interpreted with integrity. The second post demonstrates that Evangelicals
need not choose between literal and liberal interpretations; in fact, both dogmatically literal and liberal
lenses obscure the truth of scripture. The third post provides a background on the theology and context of
the early chapters of Genesis while the fourth post provides a brief overview of the incarnational
approach to scripture, an approach I believe is very helpful for Evangelical Christians struggling with
issues of science and faith.

Evangelical attitude is to treat it with suspicion.


I. Scripture or Science: Do we
However, we live in a world where the results of
have to Choose? science are obvious and widespread. In the past few
Published May 16, 2007 centuries western civilization has been revolutionized
by breakthroughs in physics, chemistry, medicine,
What an awful choice. Do we actually have to choose industrial engineering, and electronics to the point
between believing scientific claims and trusting in that day-to-day life would be virtually
the bible? Can we trust the evidence readily apparent unrecognizable by even our great-grandparents.
from our collective five senses? Or should we instead Although the benefits of the technology based on
believe the knowledge provided by God through the these scientific breakthroughs are sometimes
divinely inspired authors of the scriptures? Is it really debatable, there is no question that science “gets a lot
God’s word or the credibility of Science? of things right”. This causes tension for Evangelicals
who have been told to “trust the bible over science”.
Scripture or Science: The Perceived Conflict If science “gets it right” so often (eg. we can put a
For many Evangelicals, “Scripture or Science” is not man on the moon, perform heart transplants, clone
only a legitimate question, it is THE critical question sheep, and build nuclear power plants), why do entire
with respect to science, and not actually a tough call fields of academia like anthropology and biology get
to make. “No apparent, perceived or claimed it so wrong? What if they aren’t wrong? What if it is
evidence in any field, including history and bible that is wrong?
chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the
Scriptural record,” affirms the statement of faith of Scripture or Science: A Personal Conflict
the most prominent YEC organization “Answers in This tension was very real for me growing up in a
Genesis (AIG)”. They state unequivocally that our conservative Evangelical culture. I certainly felt
confidence must be placed in the knowledge apprehension as I approached high school courses in
provided by scripture, not that given by science. history and biology that taught ancient hominid
History, it is claimed, has spanned less than 10,000 development and evolutionary theory. What I learned
years from the time of Adam to the present, and if was that science and early human history were
atheistic scientists have different answers, they are something to be feared, something dangerous to faith,
severely mistaken or probably lying. The dating and something to be avoided. After those initial
mechanisms used by scientists are fallible; the bible courses, I registered for no more classes in history or
is not. Evolution is a wild theory built on biology.
extrapolations from only a few fossilized bones, and
is synonymous with the term “missing link” because My intellectual and spiritual journey out of this fear
of its inability to demonstrate even a single change has been circuitous and complicated. Maybe all
from one species to another over time. Science journeys are. Now, more than 25 years after my first
indeed may have some answers, but the typical introduction to evolution, I no longer fear either

17
history or science. In fact, I relish opportunities to sacrifice revealed in Jesus Christ with the Hebrew
immerse myself in both. And I do not believe I’ve God who, for example, ordered the genocide of the
had to abandon scripture to accept the scientific Canaanites in the days of Joshua. Later, during the
consensus. reformation, Luther considered excluding the book of
James from his New Testament since he felt it
Scripture or Science: A Choice that God Hates contradicted the theology of justification by grace
What I have concluded is that the choice between alone. Christians resisted both of these urges and
science and scripture is not only a false choice, it is a today our canon includes an eclectic group of
heretical choice, a choice that God hates. Far from writings, writings that sometimes seem to contradict
defending the integrity of creation, I believe this each other, but all of which we maintain is God’s
“science or scripture” choice diminishes and demeans word. Why then do we insist that the evidence of
creation. God has revealed himself to us in both the God’s creation must be immediately discounted
book of his works (creation) and the book of his whenever it seems to contradict a possibly fallible
word (scripture). He wants us to understand both. We interpretation of Genesis?
do not defend God by placing one book in opposition
to the other. By doing this we are challenging his Interpreting God’s Two Books: Scripture &
trustworthiness. Creation
For Evangelicals, it is not a question about which of
Evangelicals that compare fallible human scientific the two books we should read, but how we read them
conclusions with the infallible word of God miss a and in which order. Even though God’s revelation
significant point. Not only do fallible humans through his creation was initiated prior to his
interpret scientific facts, they also interpret the bible. revelation through the scriptures, it is the bible that
Just as fallible humans can misinterpret the evidence precedes creation from a theological point of view:
of creation, so too fallible humans can misinterpret that is, it provides a more direct revelation of God,
the scriptures. God is the ultimate author of both his character and his plan. Nature should be read as a
creation and scripture and so the two books will be sequel to scripture. What we discover there should be
consistent and will not provide contradictory put in the context of the theological framework we
guidance. However, since humans interpret both of build from a careful reading of the scriptures.
God’s books, using the tools of science and Sometimes we may need to wrestle with our
philosophy to interpret creation, and using the tools interpretation of specific scriptures based on our
of theology and hermeneutics to understand scripture, findings in God’s creation. However, a theology built
there is the potential for conflict between a human on nature must be dependent on a theology built from
understanding of the two books. It is the filters we scripture, and not the other way around.
use to perceive the truth that results in discord, and
not an inherent disharmony between the two truths. For example, we hear interpreters of science claim
that creation has no purpose, that humanity’s
Putting the Bible in a Box existence is but an accident, and that nature
Part of our problem, I believe, is the Evangelical demonstrates that the creator is cruel. If we only read
tendency to insist that everything must be simple, the book of nature, this could be a reasonable
clear, and understandable. Unfortunately the bible is conclusion. However, by first reading the scriptures,
sometimes complex, ambiguous, and very difficult to we understand that God is good, his creation is good,
understand. It was set in a culture that as foreign to he has a purpose for creation, and humanity was
us as ours would be to the ancient Hebrews. Thus, we created to be a steward of creation. We can thus
have to deal with many seemingly contradictory conclude that although the data behind the scientific
concepts even when dealing only with the book of claims may be correct, the philosophical
scripture. In the past, Christians have been able to interpretations and extrapolations are not.
resist the urge to ignore or abandon difficult
scriptures that seem to contradict others. We may not There are times however, when evidence from God’s
completely understand God’s revelation in scripture, creation can help highlight poor biblical
but that does not diminish its stature as God’s word. interpretation. For example, the scientific evidence
for an extremely old universe and earth is
For example, in the 2nd century, Marcion insisted overwhelming. What then should we do with
that the Christian canon should not include the interpretations of scripture that claim the universe
Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament). He and earth were created less than 10,000 years ago?
could not reconcile the God of love, compassion, and Some creationists have argued that the universe only

18
appears to be old. Thus its “apparent age” is much
older than its real age. The problem with this strategy II. Literal or Liberal: Our only
is that it is difficult to determine where choices for interpreting the
“apparentness” begins and ends. What is real, and
what is only apparent? Is it only astronomical
Bible?
findings (age of the universe) and geological findings Published: June 27, 2007
(age of the earth) that are “apparent”? What about
human history? Can we trust anything that history Beware. That first step on the slippery slope to
tells us of past human cultures? Did God somehow Liberalism can be very dangerous. So goes the
mess with time at some point in the past? How do we warning to Evangelicals trying to broaden their
know anything that science tells us is true? For intellectual horizons. And compromising on a literal
example, maybe the Earth only appears to be round view of scripture is seen as the most dangerous step
but is actually flat. of all. So how can Evangelicals accept modern
scientific theories of origins that seem to directly
The logical inference of “apparent age” completely contradict the literal scriptural account of creation in
contradicts what we know of God and his creation. Genesis? If we compromise on the literal
Creation is real, not some “Matrix-like” illusion. He interpretation of scripture, isn’t this a sell-out? Aren’t
is a loving God that has made a good, orderly, and we left with relativistic hermeneutic rules that allow
understandable creation; he is not a deceiver that has us to make the bible say anything we want? If it’s not
created some type of prank on humanity. His a literal interpretation, isn’t it a liberal one? I believe
revelation, whether by creation or his word, is not this choice between a liberal and literal interpretation
something that is secret, available to only the chosen of scripture, like the choice between creation and
few who understand what is real, “Gnostics” with a evolution, is a false dichotomy. In the latter case we
monopoly on true knowledge. His revelation is for can accept both; in the former case we need choose
all, whether that be the message of redemption in neither.
scripture, or the message of creation. Thus, in this
instance, the book of God’s works should guide us to Evangelicalism, Liberalism, and Scripture: Brief
look more closely at his word in Genesis. Just as Historical Context
creation provides the possibility for unbelievers to
acquire some knowledge of God (Rom 1:20), we Evangelicals have been at odds with liberal
need in humility to accept that God, through his Protestantism since the 19th century when the
creation, can also guide Christians to rethink Liberals, claim Evangelicals, “sold out” to biblical
erroneous assumptions about scripture. criticism. Liberals for the most part accepted modern
biblical scholarship, including radical new
Science and Scripture: The Right Choice understandings of the bible’s source, formation, and
So this choice, science or scripture, is completely interpretation. Evangelicals strongly rejected both the
unnecessary. In fact, we need to honour both conclusions and the evidence of this modern
scripture and science since they both come from God. scholarship. In the 19th century this defense included
If we study science with discernment & integrity, and the definition of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.
study the scriptures with the same level of More recently the focus has been on the “literal”
discernment and integrity, I believe we can find interpretation of scripture. Even though I disagree
harmony. Unfortunately, the interpretation of both is with the Evangelical tendency to reject the evidence
often done without the required level of discernment of biblical criticism and modern biblical scholarship,
or integrity, and perceived contradictions result. and the movement's outright hostility to liberalism, I
Sometimes agreement is found only because the am unquestionably in the Evangelical camp on the
interpretation of both is abused. But that is a post for place of the scriptures. I take a very high view of the
another day. bible and wholeheartedly acknowledge its divine
inspiration. My concern is that in reacting to a
Liberal interpretation of scripture Evangelicals have
chosen a method (ie. Literal interpretation only) that
may be just as theologically damaging (heretical?) as
the Liberal method.

19
Not so Literally Literal through the scriptures. That is, the bible is the
revelation of an unlimited God accommodating
Though many Evangelicals claim that they hold a himself to limited humanity using humanity’s limited
“literal” view of scripture, very few are language and ideas. The bible uses some of these
uncompromising literalists. Very few still believe scientific ideas to communicate God’s message, but it
that the earth is a flat, immovable disk floating on the never tries to teach science.
ocean, even though this is what the ancient Hebrews
biblical writers believed and implied in scripture (See Science and history may be contained in the
Psalm 93:1, Psalm 104, and 1Chr 16:30). Neither do scripture, but these are not the point of scripture. The
we believe that the sky is a solid dome like structure, purpose of the written Word is to reveal God’s
which is the logical conclusion based on a literal message to humanity, and not to provide a complete
interpretation of the Old Testament. Almost everyone history of the world. Its purpose is to reveal how God
agrees that the earth revolves around the Sun, even works in the lives of his people, and not how God’s
though the ancient Hebrews thought the Sun moved creation works. I believe that by insisting that all
across the sky and then raced back to east to start scriptural narratives be interpreted “literally” we not
another day. (See Psalm 19:6 and Eccl 1:5). Very few only depart from the traditional view of the church
Christians maintain that a literal interpretation of fathers and protestant reformers, but we make the
these passages is required. Young Earth Creationists bible say things it was never intended to say. By
do claim to interpret the bible literally, but they do so focusing on the literal interpretation of scripture, we
in a very liberal way. (One commentator described may be missing the meaning of God’s message, even
flat-earthers, geocentrists, and young-earthers as the as the Pharisees focus on the letter of the Law,
conservative, moderate, and liberal factions within missed its spirit by a very wide margin.
the biblical literalist camp).

Focus on Science and History What’s really important?

When someone declares that they interpret the Bible The important difference between an Evangelical and
literally, they are generally referring to the science Liberal understanding of scripture is not a literal
and the history in the bible. I think this betrays a versus non-literal interpretation, but rather in the area
modern bias, where historical and scientific facts are of revelation. While Evangelicals view scripture as
the highest form of truth. Modern western culture has God’s self-disclosure to man, Liberals view scripture
elevated historical and scientific knowledge to the as man’s search for God. Therefore, in a Liberal
point where other forms of knowledge are deemed view, the bible is certainly a holy book. However, its
less important, and less reliable. But this is not the source is not divine revelation, but man’s yearning
perspective of the bible. To the wise man or woman, for the divine. The focus then is on human
it is the knowledge of God that is important. experience throughout history, and the meaning
achieved from human interaction with the divine or
The bible does contain history. It provides narrative divine ideals. For an Evangelical, the focus of the
accounts of real historical events that were part of bible is on God’s plan of redemption. Jesus death is
God’s ongoing work with his people. In fact, recent the culmination of this plan, and his resurrection is
biblical scholarship demonstrates that the bible the final victory over death. These historical events
faithfully represents ancient history as defined by the are the source of meaning for man; it is not man’s
people of that time, and is not, as claimed by some experience that gives meaning to the events. The
biblical scholars, a much more recent historical Liberal focus on the human aspect of the bible to the
fabrication. But we should be careful not to judge an exclusion of the divine, not only misses the point, but
ancient view of history by modern historiographical by removing the source of life, sucks the life out of
standards. The bible also contains a type of science the Living Word.
since scripture describes how God’s creation worked.
However, these scientific ideas are ancient, not Scripture: Both Human and Divine
modern. We may call these ideas outdated, or even
wrong, but that does not compromise the authority of On the other hand, the Evangelical focus on the
the scripture to speak in matters of faith or practice. divine source of scripture can lead us to minimize or
The historic view of the church fathers (eg. Clement ignore the fact that the bible is also a very human
and Augustine) and reformers (eg. Calvin, Luther) book. It is God-breathed, not God dictated.
was that God accommodates his message to humanity Evangelicals have spent an enormous amount of

20
energy trying to understand what divine authorship, symbolic, or mythic!) interpretations of any text,
inspiration, and guidance really mean, and the including our interpretations of the creation accounts.
implications of this divine source. The simple fact
remains that many different human authors wrote the Some recommended Reading:
bible, authors with human limitations and human
 “Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An
ideas, all living within cultural contexts and using
Historical Approach” by Donald McKim and
literary conventions very different than our own. God
Jack Rogers: This book was very influential in
accommodated his message to specific ancient
my own re-evaluation on how scripture should
cultures; he met them where they were and revealed
be interpreted. It showed that the “conservative”
himself in a manner that was understandable to them.
view of scripture held by most Evangelicals was
Just because God accommodated his message to
not really “conserving” the authority of scripture
specific human cultures at specific times in history,
at all. Instead, this conservative view was a
using scientific and cultural ideas specific to that
damaging, modern innovation.
time, does not reduce the power of this message or
the truth of his revelation.  “Biblical Literalism: Constricting the Cosmic
Dance” by Conrad Hyers: A more forceful and
Thus the bible needs to be recognized as having both impassioned criticism of literalism. A romp of a
a divine and human source, not as liberals would read.
claim, a human-only source with a divine message, or
as Evangelicals often imply, a divine-only source to a  “Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How
human audience. The early church grappled with the Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the
divinity and humanity of Christ, and concluded that Theological Agenda” by Nancey Murphy: A
neither a divine-only description nor human-only personal top-10 of mine. Excellent historical
description was adequate. We agree that the “Word overview of the formation of liberal and
made flesh” is both fully human, and fully God, even fundamentalist theology, what separates the two
though this seems to defy logical understanding. camps, and in what ways they are very similar.
Why then does an acknowledgement of the humanity
of the textual Word threaten or lessen the divine  “The Heresies of American Evangelicalism, Part
origin of the scriptures? God condescended to take V: Holy Scripture” at The Fire and Rose Blog.
on human form, experienced all the limitations of a So you think Liberals are Heretics? Wait until
human mind and body, spoke in ways standard for a you look closely at an Evangelical view of
specific local culture, and used the science of his day scripture.
to communicate his message of love, forgiveness,
and redemption. In the same manner, God also
accommodated his message in the written word.

Conclusion

I believe that remaining faithful to the scriptures does


III. Genesis 1 –11: Background,
not require us to interpret it literally in all cases. A Context, and Theology
non-literal interpretation does not minimize the truth
Published October 4, 2007
and authority of the word. In some cases, it is surely
the more faithful method of remaining true to the Let’s face it. Scripture is often very difficult to
biblical message. This is definitely not always the understand & interpret. Anyone who states otherwise
case and we need to be careful in jumping to probably hasn’t read it very thoroughly or is glossing
figurative conclusions, especially when they fit more over the difficult passages. As Christians we may
nicely with what we want the bible to say. What the agree that the bible is divinely inspired, and agree
bible shows very clearly is that God will not limit his that it is God’s revelation, but we will often disagree
revelation to a single culture. Every culture has had on what the inspired author actually meant, and what
its assumptions challenged as God gently, and specifically God’s revelation reveals. So it is no
sometimes not so gently, leads his people to the truth. surprise that Christians can on the one hand share a
We need to ensure that our theology does not lead us commitment to the integrity and divine inspiration of
to interpretations of the text, but that the text leads us the Genesis creation stories, but on the other hand
to the formation of our theology. Our theology arrive at radically different conclusions on how these
should not limit us to literal (or figurative, or stories should be interpreted.

21
even the murder of the primary god by his progeny.
Interpreting Genesis 1 to 11: Introduction These events showed that the Mesopotamian gods
were far from perfect or even good; they displayed
To faithfully and fruitfully interpret scripture, characteristics of selfishness, vengefulness, and
particularly puzzling sections of the bible, it is capriciousness. Man was created as somewhat of an
helpful to understand the background of the biblical afterthought, and his primary purpose seems to have
author, the culture of day, and the context in which been to feed the gods.
the message of scripture would have been received.
This is particularly true of the early chapters of A global flood account was also part of the
Genesis since the worldview of these authors, and the Mesopotamian mythology. The gods had become
cultures they describe, are so vastly different from tired of the noisiness of humanity, were concerned
our own. As Gordon Glover’s post indicates, modern about human overpopulation, and thus brought about
ANE scholarship has shed new light on the a flood to destroy their own creation. However, once
worldview of the biblical authors and their audience. the flood started, it soon raged beyond the control of
the gods and they became terrified for their own
Although most Evangelicals (including many safety. When the flood finally subsided, a lone
Evolutionary Creationists) have traditionally human survivor was found, saved not because of his
interpreted Genesis 1-11 as an historical narrative, righteousness, but because he was the favourite of
most would also agree that the divine message goes one of the lesser gods. The primary god was in fact
beyond, and is much more important than, simply quite surprised to find him alive. The theme of the
teaching history and science. So leaving aside the story of man following the flood was one of progress.
question of historicity, what message is being Even though he started out quite humbly, he
conveyed by the early chapters of Genesis? What advanced beyond these modest beginnings. There
important and eternal truths should we take from was great optimism for humanity improving itself
these narratives? Does the context of ANE culture even further.
help clarify the message the inspired authors intended
to convey?
The Hebrew view of Creation
A Radical Prologue
The theology of the early chapters of Genesis stands
in stark contrast to that implied by other Near Eastern
The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a natural sub-
primeval history. Rather than many gods, there was
unit of the book. It can be viewed as a prologue to
but one God. The Hebrew God was not one of the
the rest of the Genesis, and indeed the Pentateuch; it
pantheon, but Lord of the universe. This was no local
is an introduction to the accounts of the Patriarchs,
deity concerned with the internal politics and
the Exodus, and the giving of the Law. The stories
religious rites of a single nation. Rather than being
recorded in these early chapters show strong
part of nature, this God was the primary cause of
similarities to ancient Mesopotamian myths, accounts
nature. Rather than ordering pre-existing matter, he
that were almost certainly recorded prior to the
created it. Everything, including objects the
writing of Genesis. Although the narratives and
Babylonians viewed as gods (eg. sun, moon, stars,
scientific worldviews portrayed in Genesis are
sea monsters), was created by him and was
similar to these Mesopotamian myths, the theology it
subservient to him. There were no stories about God.
contains is radically different. In fact, Genesis is a
The Genesis record contains no theo-biography; God
complete repudiation of Mesopotamian pagan
simply was. God was both omniscient and
assumptions about God, humanity, and the world.
omnipotent; there was no need for him to be afraid of
his creation, or even surprised by anything. He was
The Mesopotamian view of Creation
in complete control. Finally, God was good, and
loved his creation. Rather than treating it as a useful
The ancient Mesopotamian accounts include stories
object, he genuinely cared for it. Rather than being
about the creation of the gods, gods that included the
capricious and unpredictable, God was an orderly
sun, the moon, the stars, and sea monsters. Creation
divinity that could be trusted.
was not an account of the forming of matter, but of
the ordering of eternal matter. According to the
The Genesis view of humanity was also quite
Mesopotamians, matter pre-dated the formation of
different from the view held by the Hebrews’
the gods. The myths recount events in the lives of the
neighbours. Rather than an afterthought, man was the
gods, including their internal bickering, wars, and

22
apex of creation. Rather than a functional slave, he Conclusion
was created in God’s image, held a place of honour,
and was given the responsibility of caring for the rest Creation is a doctrine shared by all Christians. As
of creation. God went out of his way to provide for part of the good news, we need to proclaim the
man (food, a wife, clothing) rather the other way message of creation to a fallen world. Our creation
around. Unfortunately, man was disobedient to God. story in Genesis communicates truths about God and
Man’s problems are and were a result of this humanity, truths revealed by God through the writer
disobedience. Rather than being optimistic like the of Genesis to all of humanity, in all cultures, in all
Mesopotamians about man’s progress, Genesis was places, and throughout all of history. Although the
very pessimistic about his ability to progress on his message is contained in literature that is
own. The story of the Tower of Babel is a scathing accommodated for an Ancient Near East mindset, it
satire on Babylonian claims that their ziggurats were is not truth relevant for this culture only.
reaching upwards to the gods. In fact, God needed to
descend to reach their towers. Rather than Genesis speaks to a world consumed by violence,
demonstrating a powerful and growing civilization, selfishness, and greed. It speaks to a world that is
these towers symbolized confusion. On his own, man convinced there is no purpose. It speaks to a world
could not reach God or solve any of his problems. It that thinks human reason can overcome any problem,
was only through God’s faithfulness that man had and that humanity can “rise above our evolutionary
any hope at all. impulses”. In short, it speaks to our world too.
Though the truth in Genesis is contained in a vessel
A God of Love, not Violence that is foreign to a modern, science-oriented culture,
it is a truth that modern man desperately needs to
Finally, one needs to appreciate that for the ancient hear. Let’s make sure the world hears this message,
Hebrews, the violence evident all around them was and not the one that is garbled, tainted, and damaged
not an inherent feature of Creation. As Lesslie by a dogmatic insistence and focus on specific
Newbigin states in “A Walk Through the Bible” (Hat scientific claims.
Tip to Fire and Rose):

The first chapter of Genesis was almost IV. An Incarnational Approach to


certainly written during the time when Israel
was in exile in Babylon. And we must picture Scripture
these writers as slaves under the shadow of this Published March 16, 2008
mighty empire with its palaces, fortresses and
temples. Babylon had its own account of For many Christians the approach adopted in the
creation, as we know from the work of modern science / faith relationship often hinges on their
scholarship. It was a story of conflict, battle approach to the interpretation of scripture. This is
and bloodshed. Violence was the theme certainly true for many modern Evangelicals; the
underlying the whole creation story as the conflict they see between science and faith is a direct
Babylonians understood it. result of their literal “face-value” approach to
scriptural interpretation. But this method of
The writers of Genesis had a quite different interpretation has not fared well in the light of
picture of God. They were the descendants of modern scholarship, and doctrines of scripture have
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. They knew tended to be expressed negatively rather than
God as the redeemer God, the God who had positively. Unfortunately, the negative qualifiers used
saved his people from bondage. And they had a to describe the bible often raise even more
totally different picture of God’s creation—not troublesome questions.
as the result of violence but as the action of a
God of love and wisdom who, out of sheer love, Where oh where did we go wrong? Why must we
desired to create a world to reflect his glory always be so defensive? Is it even possible to have a
and a human family to enjoy his world and give high view of the scriptures, one that acknowledges
back his love. their divine source, without closing our eyes to the
evidence from modern science, history, and biblical
criticism? Is there a model that works?

23
I believe Peter Enns provides an excellent answer to specific culture to which it was written.
this question. And, unlike many modern biblical
scholars, he proposes a model that maintains Second, the incarnational analogy helps us to see the
Christian orthodoxy. In fact, it seems to me, Enns’ Bible for what it is, rather than what we expect it to
model for interpreting scripture is more orthodox, be.
more in tune with the doctrines formulated by the What is so helpful about the incarnational
early church, and more coherent with scripture itself. analogy is that it reorients us to see that the
As Enns takes pains to point out, his ideas are not Bible’s “situatedness” is not a lamentable or
really that new. embarrassing situation, but a positive one.

The Incarnational Analogy That the bible, at every turn, shows how
“connected” it is to its own world is a
In his book Inspiration and Incarnation Enns lays out
necessary consequence of God incarnating
what he calls “The Incarnational Analogy”.
himself. (page20)
The starting point for our discussion is the
An incarnational approach to scripture allows us to
following: as Christ is both God and human, so
be surprised, to have our expectations jolted without
is the Bible. In other words, we are to think of
necessarily jolting our faith.
the Bible in the same way that Christians think
about Jesus. Christians confess that Jesus is
A Return to an Orthodox view of Scripture
both God and human at the same time. He is
The early church grappled with articulating a
not half-God and half-human. He is not
doctrine of Christ. Although there were those who
sometimes one and other times the other. He is
minimized Christ’s divinity (eg. Arianism) and those
not essentially one and only apparently the
that minimized Christ’s humanity (eg. Docestism),
other. (Page 17)
the Church firmly and unequiviocally declared that
Jesus was “very God of very God, begotten, not
Just as Jesus, the Word made flesh, is 100% human
made, being of one substance with the Father”
and 100% God, so too the written Word. The Bible is
(Nicene Creed) and “Perfect in Godhead and also
not simply a dictation of divine thoughts, nor is it
perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man”.
simply human ideas about the divine. The source of
(Chalcedonian_Creed).
scripture is 100% divine, from God, revealing God’s
message to humanity. At the same time it is 100%
In the 19th century “Battle for the Bible”, many
human, displaying the idiosyncrasies, cultural
liberal Christians abandoned orthodoxy and declared
assumptions and even biases of its human authors. It
the bible to be simply a human book. Evangelicals
declares God’s timeless message, albeit from a very
rightly reacted to this, defending its divine source.
specific human cultural and temporal perspective.
However, I believe we may have become so zealous
in our declaration of the scriptures’ divine source,
Although the incarnational analogy Enns proposes
that we may have minimized its humanness. In short,
has its limitations, I believe that a) it is helpful for
this “Docetic” view of scripture may be heretical.
Evangelicals grappling with faith & science /
Enns has this to say:
historical / biblical criticism issues and b) it offers to
correct an Evangelical understanding of scripture that
It is somewhat ironic, it seems to me, that both
may have strayed somewhere beyond the bounds of
liberals and conservatives make the same error:
orthodoxy.
they both assume that something worthy of the
Helpfulness of the Incarnational Analogy title “Word of God” would look different from
what we actually have. The one accents the
I believe the incarnational analogy is very helpful.
human marks and makes them absolute. The
First, it is a positive statement about what scripture is
other wishes the human marks were not as
(both divine and human) rather than a negative
pronounced as they were. They share a similar
statement (eg. inerrant) about what it is not. It affirms
opinion that nothing worthy of being called
that scripture is God’s special revelation and thus can
God’s word would look so common, so human,
be trusted. The analogy also affirms that scripture is
so recognizable. But when God speaks, he
very human. God has a keen interest in ensuring that
speaks in ways we would understand. (page 21)
his message of love and redemption is communicated
clearly. To accomplish this, he accommodated his As I indicated in an earlier post on scriptural
message in a way that was understandable to the interpretation, we need not box ourselves into a

24
literal hermeneutic (with an over emphasis on the myself, his thesis is both simple and fruitful since it
divine source) or a liberal hermeneutic (with an over helps makes sense of some difficult theological
emphasis on the human source). We can choose an problems. More importantly, it lays out a positive
incarnational approach, one that celebrates both the view of scripture, one that is more appropriate for
divine and human sources of scripture. sharing the gospel.

Responding to the Incarnational Analogy So when someone asks incredulously “Do you really
believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that
Enns views have not been received favourably by all following him will make any difference?” and “Do
Evangelicals. (For example, see this discussion you really trust a book that utilizes a cosmology
between Paul Helm and Enns: Helm's review of I&I, refuted almost 2500 years ago?”, we can answer both
Enns' Response to the review, and Helm’s response questions in the same way. “Yes I do believe that.
to Enns). Another writer has called I&I “The Most Want a coffee? This explanation might take a few
Controversial Book of the Year”. However, for minutes.”

25
E) Evolution: Theological and Moral Implications

Most Evangelicals reject biological evolution, not because they have examined the scientific evidence, but
because they believe the implications of evolution are incompatible with orthodox Christian theology and
Christian morality. The six following posts address these concerns. The first post provides a brief
review of five common theological objections to evolution, and reasons why these objections are not
valid. The next two posts provide a more detailed look at two common theological objections: 1) How
can humanity be created in the image of God if we evolved from pre-existing animals, and 2) How can the
Fall be reconciled with evolution. The fourth post explains that there are positive theological aspects to
evolution, while the last two posts deal with objections to evolution based on moral grounds.

Liberal: Our only Choices for Interpreting the Bible,


I. Theological Implications of an and Genesis 1-11: Background, Context, and
Theology, as well as Gordon Glover’s post
Evolving Creation: Five common Interpreting the Genesis creation accounts in the light
Faithstoppers of ANE history.
Published December 9, 2007 2) The theory of evolution implies that a) there was
no historical Adam and Eve, b) there is no single
Evangelicals generally reject biological evolution pair of recent ancestors from which all humanity is
because the theological implications are perceived to exclusively descended, c) therefore there was no
be incompatible with the Christian faith. And it is not historic instantaneous Fall or specific moment in
simply one or two tough theological nuts to crack – time that corresponds to the origin of sin, d)
at times the list of irreconcilable differences seems therefore sin does not exist, and e) therefore
endless. So it is understandable when Evangelicals Christ’s death is meaningless. This is incompatible
struggle to reconcile the scientific evidence with their with the Christian faith.
theology. In this post, I will briefly survey five of the
most common theological challenges to evolution. First, statement a) is clearly false and many (perhaps
Anti-evolutionists repeat all five of these challenges most) evolutionary creationists believe in a historical
frequently; all five are considered “Faithstoppers” ie. Adam and Eve. (See Is Genesis 1-11 Historical?
Christians can (and have) used these to categorically Many Evolutionary Creationists say Yes.) I agree
state that “Choose this day whom you will serve” that statements b) and c) are very difficult to
applies to the evolution / Christian faith dialogue. reconcile with traditional Christian theology.
However, I believe that none of these five challenges Statement c) is in fact the most difficult implication
demonstrate an incompatibility between evolution of biological evolution for me personally. However, I
and Christian theology. do not agree with the logical connection between
statement c) and statements d) or e). The existence of
1) The theory of biological evolution contradicts the sin has been called the “most empirically supported
Genesis creation accounts. Therefore anyone who doctrine”. That you and I are sinners is without
takes seriously the integrity of scripture must reject question. That Christ died to redeem us, and through
evolution. his resurrection conquered death, is the foundation of
our faith.
Although this challenge is the one most frequently
raised, it is also the one that is most easily reconciled. But Christ died because I sinned. His death was
The theory of biological evolution does contradict retroactively necessary because almost two millennia
one specific (fallible human) interpretation of the later I would turn away from God. This is true
Genesis creation accounts (ie. that the days of whether or not there ever was a historical Adam, or
Genesis are 7 literal 24 hour days). But this for that matter a historic fall. The good news is that
interpretation is becoming increasingly discredited. “God will forgive you”, not that “God forgave Adam
For a background on why I believe biological and Eve for eating the apple”. I am not making light
evolution can be completely compatible with the of the problem of identifying a historic instantaneous
Genesis creation accounts, see my posts Literal or

26
Fall, nor of the New Testament references to Adam’s (Note: I can very much understand the allure of YEC
sin. I personally find this very challenging and will for Christians that struggle with the issue of theodicy.
discuss this in future posts. I am merely saying that It seems to provide such a simple answer. Leaving
the good news of redemption does not necessarily aside the scientific evidence against YEC, and the
hinge on positively identifying a historical poor scriptural interpretations used to support it, I
instantaneous fall. That our entire faith rests on the think a closer examination of YEC’s version of
notion of a historic instantaneous Fall is, for me theodicy provides no better solution. That too is a
anyways, categorically false. post for another day.)

3) The theory of evolution implies that a human is 5) Accepting the scientific evidence for evolution
no more special than a chimp, a lizard, an ant, or leads to moral relativism. It is thus a belief that is
bacteria. Therefore it is incompatible with humanity incompatible with a Christian worldview based on
being created in the image of God. scriptural principles.

I disagree with this implication. How we were It is absolutely unnecessary to connect evolutionary
created is irrelevant to the final product. That explanations for the development of life on earth
evolution implies a close connection to our animal with human moral choices. Biological evolution
forebears does not minimize our role in God’s eyes. through the process of natural selection is an
We are his representatives on earth because he explanation of how things have changed over time
declared it to be the case, not because of who we are. but provides no guidance on how humanity should
Biological evolution does not challenge Christian act in the future. It is descriptive, not prescriptive.
views of human identity, our relationship to God, or We can certainly gain an understanding of how God
our mandate within God’s creation. Evolution may created through scientific discovery. However, for
have implications on how and when God bestowed guidance on how we should relate to both our
his image on humanity so, for example, "How did neighbour and to our God, we look to God’s
humanity’s special relationship with God come revelation in the written Word and in the Word made
about?", "How was this relationship damaged?", and flesh.
"How do the spiritual & physical aspects of humanity
interact, particularly in the light of modern For more details on this, see Does Evolution lead to
neuroscience?" are all excellent (and difficult) Moral relativism?
questions. But our perplexity with respect to the
historical narrative of the “ensoulment” of humanity Summary
should not in anyway minimize how we view In summary, none of these 5 implications of
ourselves in the eyes of God. biological evolution significantly add to the
challenge of defending Evangelical theology. Each
For more background on this topic, see my post: does seem somewhat problematic at first glance, but
Created in God’s Image or Evolved from Apes? on closer examination provides no real reason to
reject evolution.
4) Evolution is a process that includes an
unfathomable amount of pain, death, and Other Challenges
extinction. It is incompatible with a Loving Creator.
Ok, In some ways I cheated. This post dealt not with
Theodicy is a very difficult problem for Christians. “The 5 most common challenges” but with “The 5
How can an all powerful, all loving God allow so most common challenges that are easily addressed”.
much evil to exist? Why did he even allow the There are other implications of evolution that are not
possibility of evil in his creation? Couldn’t an so easily addressed. These include the following:
omniscient designer have done a better job? These
are excellent questions but ones that, I believe, are 1. Divine Action: Describing how God acts in the
unrelated to the process of evolution. Whether one world in the light of an evolutionary process that
explains the fossil record by many progressive provides a full physical explanation for the
creative acts, or the gradual creative process of development of life on earth.
evolution, the fact remains that much pain and death 2. The relationship between Sin and Death.
have occurred. Theodicy is a challenge for 3. The incompatibility of evolution with the New
Christianity and theism in general, not just for Testament references to a historical Adam, and
evolutionary creationists. specifically his actions related to the Fall.

27
4. The origin of the “Image of God” or the recorded in Gen 1:26 & 28. Third, it could mean
“ensoulment” of humanity, particularly in the light of man’s ability to relate to God. For myself, any of
modern neuroscience. these interpretations (or maybe all of them) could be
5. The origin of Sin correct.

These "5 common challenges not easily addressed" The Real Implications of the Image of God
are listed in ascending order of difficulty for me If the exact meaning of the word image in Gen 1:27
personally. Number 1 is simply a difficulty in is unclear, what “the image” describes is not. The
articulation; with #5 I have trouble even imagining a image describes what we as humans are; it does not
solution. describe how we were created. It says absolutely
nothing about the process of God bestowing man
II. Made in God’s Image or with unique qualities and a unique position on earth.
The entire process is described in a single word:
Evolved from Apes? created. Thus the writer of Genesis is clear on “who”
Published July 17, 2007 brought the process about, and for what purpose, but
is unconcerned with the materials (if any) that were
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, used to create.
in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of
the sea and the birds of the air, over the The second account of the creation of man (Gen 2:7)
livestock, over all the earth, and over all the does provide some additional details to this creation.
creatures that move along the ground." So God Man is shaped from dust. Just as God knits or shapes
created man in his own image, in the image of us in our mother’s wombs (Ps 139), so God shaped
God he created him; male and female he the first man. Man is not created out of thin air, in a
created them. Genesis 1: 26, 27 puff of magic, but is lovingly moulded from
common, useless dirt. So since the bible describes
For many Evangelicals, human evolution simply our original material as being dust, why should a
cannot be reconciled with our creation in the image creation process that includes intermediary animal
of God. Evolution seems theologically dangerous states be theologically dangerous? Original material
because it implies a close biological connection is not a problem with God whether for a physical
between humans and animals. An acceptance of creation or for a spiritual one.
evolution, it is feared, leads inevitably to the
acceptance of a shared spiritual nature between Opposition to Evolution: Human Pride?
humans and animals. Thus it logically follows that I believe that evangelical opposition to evolution
we must grant a spiritual nature to animals, or we from pre-existing animals has just as much to do with
must conclude that humans do not have a spiritual pride as with a desire to defend traditional
dimension. Neither of these positions is compatible interpretations of scripture. We focus more on our
with orthodox Christianity. However, I do not spiritual characteristics than our creaturely
believe that this dichotomy is warranted by the characteristics. In other words, we view ourselves as
biblical account of man’s creation in the image of closer to God (because we share a spiritual
God. dimension) than to animals (with whom we share the
characteristic of being creatures of God). This is the
The Image of God: What does it Mean? same type of pride that Moses warned the Israelites
In facing this potential dilemma, it would be helpful about:
if we had a clear understanding of what exactly “The
Image” means in Genesis 1:27. Unfortunately, its “It was not because you were more numerous
meaning is somewhat ambiguous. That it is a unique than any other people that the LORD set his
quality given by God to man is clear; what that heart on you and chose you--for you were the
quality entails is unclear as biblical interpreters do fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD
not agree on its meaning. There are three loved you and kept the oath that he swore to
interpretations that are most common. First, it could your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you
mean the mental and spiritual faculties that humans out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from
share with God, for example, reason, free will, and the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh,
self-consciousness. Second, it could mean God’s king of Egypt (Deut. 7:7-8).
divine representative on earth. This interpretation is
supported by the mandate to care for God’s creation

28
The Israelites were “The Chosen” because God chose mandate. We are, as Graeme Finlay asserts, Homo
them, not for any inherent quality they possessed. divinus, the Ape that bears God’s image.
And this bundle of molecules, genes, cells, and
organs we call ourselves is the image of God because Recommended Reading:
he bestowed it upon us, not because it is a
 Genesis 1 – 15 (Word Commentary), by Gordon
particularly noteworthy bunch of molecules, genes,
Wenham: An excellent commentary on the initial
cells, or organs. As Jesus indicated, God could easily
chapters of Genesis from an well respected
have called on other parts of creation to serve and
Evangelical scholar including a particularly
worship him. (Luke 3:8, Luke 19:40).
useful overview of the interpretation of “The
Image” in Genesis 1
Difficulties Need to be Acknowledged
Although biological evolution does not, in my
opinion, challenge traditional interpretations of who III. Reconciling the Fall and
we are as humans, our relationship to God, and our
mandate within God’s creation, it certainly does
Evolution
challenge traditional notions of how this relationship Published February 25, 2008
with God came about, how the relationship was
damaged, and possibly, how the spiritual & physical The origin of sin in a universe created by an
interact. omnipotent, omniscient, and all loving God is a
 If modern Homo sapiens gradually developed perplexing theological challenge. Traditionally, the
from earlier hominids over hundreds of disobedience of Adam and Eve is seen as the event
thousands of years, at what point was God’s that inaugurated the Fall. The rest of humanity is
Image bestowed on humanity? And does this thought to have inherited Original Sin either
imply that the “first human” had non-human biologically (if the couple is seen as the ancestor to
parents who did not share the image of God? all of humanity) or through some mysterious process
of representation (the federal view). However, this
 At what point does “sin” enter the world? At story of sin’s origin is becoming increasingly
what point does violence change from basic difficult to defend. Genetic evidence indicates that
animal survival instincts to breaking God’s humanity cannot trace its ancestry to a single pair of
moral law? recent humans, so our shared biological parentage to
a couple of Neolithic farmers is impossible to
 With new evidence from the world of reconcile with the scientific record. On the other
neuroscience, should we even speak of the hand, the federal view runs into difficult theological
human “soul” or is this concept simply a vestige issues (eg. were humans that pre-existed or coexisted
of ancient Greek philosophy that so clearly with Adam and Eve only sinful after the curious
influenced western traditions including the early incident with the forbidden fruit?)
Church fathers? Are there better ways of
describing and explaining our unique spiritual As I indicated earlier in my post on the Theological
nature? Implications of an Evolving Creation, the origin of
sin, and the related issue of reconciling the scientific
These are still somewhat uncomfortable & perplexing record with the theology of the Fall, particularly as
questions for me. Although I now have a greater articulated by the apostle Paul (eg. Romans 5), are
appreciation for how some Evangelical Christians two of the most difficult theological issues for me
come to terms with these questions, my own answers personally. Although I can’t say I’ve come to any
are still very much early in the conceptual stage. The definitive conclusions, I’d like to point to two helpful
answers fit into what I believe is a self-consistent resources for others that are thinking through these
theological framework that is supported by the same issues. The first is a lecture given by Denis
biblical record. However, there are enough gaps in Alexander at the joint CIS / ASA / CSCA annual
this framework right now that I’m not able to clearly meeting last year. The second is a series of posts by
articulate it even to my own satisfaction. Stephen Douglas on his blog Undeception.
But these questions on the origins of humanity, sin,
Darwinian Evolution: The Really Hard Questions
and the image of God do not change the fact of who
we are right now. Nor do they change how we should Denis Alexander is not as well known as other
relate to God or how we should carry out our Evangelical scientists that support an evolutionary

29
creation (eg. McGrath, Polkinghorne, Collins), but he 2. Model B is the “Gradualist Protohistorical View”.
has made some significant contributions to the This view defines the Fall as a process happening
science-faith dialogue. (My selected bibliography has over a long period of time.
4 entries for Alexander). I suspect his lecture entitled
“Darwinian Evolution: The Really Hard Questions” 3. Model C sees the Fall as a specific event at a
was one of the conference’s more thought provoking specific time in history whereby a covenant couple
presentations (You can download the audio, his (or perhaps a covenant community) is called by God,
powerpoint, and his accompanying handout from the but then through disobedience brings spiritual death
ASA website). on humanity.

Reconciling the Fall is one of the “Really Hard Each model has unique strengths, but also unique
Questions” that Alexander discusses in his flaws. Alexander indicates that he personally leans
presentation. Before dealing with this question, he toward Model C, but admits to some vacillation
makes some pertinent introductory remarks: between all 3 and quips that he holds to “Model A on
Mondays, Model B on Tuesdays and Model C the
Some Christians have a habit of making up the rest of the week”. It is a good discussion that I
science to fit their apologetics. That’s not good recommend to others grappling with this issue.
enough. Integrity demands an equally robust
stance towards both the science and the Interacting with Paul’s Theology of The Fall
theology. Second, in practice that means that
we have to get used to not knowing the final Stephen Douglas has just finished an excellent 8-part
answers to some issues, which is clearly the series on biblical inspiration, inerrancy, and
case here, and yet at the same time doing the hermeneutics. Some of the themes he develops will
best we can in building sensible models that be familiar to those who have followed my own blog,
integrate both the science and the theology. And but he goes into much more depth. You aren’t going
we need to discuss those models tentatively, to be able work through his whole series in a brief
because there simply aren’t enough data to be 20-minute browse (I suggest he consider writing a
too sure. book :-) ) but it is definitely worth the time invested.
He provides a quick scientific, biblical, and
Of particular interest for me were the final two posts:
theological background to the problem, and then asks
Case Study: The Fall and The Fallout. In these two
the key question:
posts he applies the principles of biblical
interpretation discussed earlier in the series to the
So how, then, do we understand the Fall and
issue of The Fall. What is noteworthy is that he
the Adam & Eve narratives in conversation with
focuses particularly on the New Testament (NT)
our current understanding of human evolution?
discussion of the Fall, rather than concentrating on
Of course some would say that the conversation
the creation narratives in Genesis.
shouldn’t even be attempted – it’s like
comparing anthropological apples with
This focus on the NT discussion is noteworthy for
theological oranges. But the fact remains that
two reasons: First, Evangelical Old Testament (OT)
at some stage over the past few hundred
scholars with a high view of the scriptures (eg. Enns,
thousand years anatomically modern humans
Walton, Wenham) have already laid the groundwork
gradually emerged, and it’s also a fact that
for the science / theology discussion with respect to
personal knowledge of God must have started
the Genesis creation accounts, including the Fall
sometime when it wasn’t there before.
narrative (eg. highlighting their place in ANE
Alexander then provides three models for defining literature even while acknowledging their divine
the relationship between the biblical and the source). From a NT perspective, I don’t believe the
scientific accounts. (Actually, there were 5 models – groundwork for this discussion has been as prevalent.
but I’m going to ignore the 2 models that discount Secondly, it is unclear whether the ancient Hebrews
the scientific evidence for biological evolution). believed the early part of Genesis was historical (it
most likely was not an important question for them),
1. Model A is the “Ahistorical View”. The Fall in but it is clear that the Apostle Paul, like his 1st
this model is a theological narrative that is not related century Jewish contemporaries, believed that Adam
to historical events. was a historical figure, and that the Fall corresponded
to a single event in the Garden of Eden. Thus it is the

30
relavent NT passages, and not the Genesis creation theological teeth gnashing seems somewhat
accounts, that provide the most significant challenge inappropriate. (Why worry about losing the shutout,
to the reconciliation of the Fall and modern science. we won the game!).

Douglas addresses this issue head on. He shows how C) Our hope that sin and death will not only be
Paul, following the traditions of his time, used vanquished, but will also be destroyed, is assured.
typology and parallelisms as part of his interpretive The Fall happened but we need no longer worry
framework. On the pertinent discussion in Romans 5 about "falling". We can say with Jude:
Douglas states:
To him who is able to keep you from falling
Here (as well as in 1 Corinthians 15) Paul and to present you before his glorious presence
draws the parallel between the first Adam and without fault and with great joy—
the last Adam, Jesus, because he saw symmetry to the only God our Savior
between the two. Notice, though, that the be glory, majesty, power and authority,
validity of Christ’s work for all is not stated to through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be dependent on sin coming through one man, before all ages, now and forevermore!
as is often construed. Paul’s intention was to
relate this brand new theological doctrine to
something that was familiar to them: if they IV. Evolution: Necessary for the
could see sin coming into the world through one Continuation of Life
man, they should be able to accept that one man
could bring life to all. The symmetry he saw Published July 27, 2008
between the two was no less valid for one of the
characters being non-historical. One of the common objections to evolution put
forward by Christians is that:
Later Douglas sums it up with this:
A) The evolutionary process is dependent on death
In short, it doesn’t matter whether Paul and
believed an historical figure named Adam B) God would never use a process dependent on evil
literally fell and passed death down to all his to accomplish his purposes
descendants in some genetic or federal fashion
through resultant “original sin”. Christ’s work Now B) is a theological statement that can be
was not dependent on the sin of one man alone: disputed on many levels (eg. equating death with
every man’s sin necessitates Christ’s work. evil, or implying that God can not utilize bad
I can’t possibly do justice to Douglas’s arguments in situations for his purposes – one of the major themes
this post. If you want a more detailed account, I of the bible clearly contradicts this implication eg.
encourage you to visit his blog. I can’t say I’m enslavement of Joseph, death of Christ). However, it
completely convinced by his argument, but it has is statement A) that I’d like to address here.
given me much food for thought.
The Problem is Limited Resources
Concluding Thoughts Paradigms on Pilgrimage is a book written by
paleontologist Stephen Godfrey and Baptist minister
Understanding the Fall is difficult, and it is likely that Christopher Smith. Both are former YEC advocates
there will be much disagreement within the who now advocate an evolutionary creationist
Evangelical community on how the theology can be position. In his chapter on dealing with the
reconciled with modern science. What we can agree theological implications of evolution, Smith directly
on is the following: addresses claim A) above. It is not primarily
evolutionary mechanisms like genetic mutations, or
A) The Fall, whatever it is, and whenever it even natural selection, which is the problem. It is in
happened, occurred in the distant past. No amount of fact, the limited amount of resources available to
theological teeth gnashing will change what has God’s creatures.
happened.
It is true that new characteristics take root in a
B) the "sting of death" that resulted from the Fall has population, under circumstances where they
been vanquished by Christ's death on the cross. So confer some survival advantage, as organisms

31
with those characteristics displace those
without them. But the effective cause of the V. Does Evolution lead to Moral
demise of the organisms without the new Relativism? Making the
characteristics is not the emergence of these
characteristics themselves, through genetic
Bogeyman even Scarier.
variation, but rather the availability of only Published October 17, 2007
limited resources for the population as a whole.
When resources are abundant, a greater range Most bogeymen are dispatched well before childhood
of organisms will survive, even those with less ends. However, for many evangelicals, the Evolution
of a survival advantage. And finite resources Bogeyman lasts much longer. Much like children
pose just as great a theological problem for the nervously peaking under the bed each morning, many
[old or young earth] creationist. (page 167) evangelical students (and their parents!) scan
nervously through the course outline prior to
Evolutionary Mechanisms: A Creative Tool stepping tentatively into that first high school or
university biology classroom. Many, like I did
With respect to the Fall and death in God’s good myself, use various avoidance strategies. However,
creation, I am not going to deal with the many these strategies only help to solidify and strengthen
(theological & scientific) arguments against young the perceived threat.
earth creationism (A very interesting paper somewhat
related is Randy Isaac’s The Chronology of the Fall). When I stumbled across David Hill’s article “Who’s
What should be noted is that an OEC position has the afraid of Biology 101?” I was optimistic that he
exact same theological challenges as an EC position would directly address the evangelical tendency to be
with regards to physical death before the fall, and the intimidated by evolution. However, my optimism
fact that pain, death, and extinction have been going evaporated when I read the opening paragraph:
on for a very, very long time. In many ways an EC
position is much easier to defend; the evolutionary Students from Christian homes are often
mechanism of genetic variation is an excellent warned about the dangers of secular lifestyles
strategy for the continuation of life in a changing in college, especially those relativistic
environment. worldviews rooted in humanism and
evolutionary theory. Many parents sending
Far from being dependent on death, the their kids off to school are not only concerned
evolutionary process as seen in the fossil record with the temptations of the social atmosphere,
is actually the antidote to death. If new species but they also fear the potentially more
were not formed by the process of genetic damaging outcome from an intellectual culture
variation, there would be no survivors when hostile to Biblically-based perspectives.
environmental conditions did change and
existing species proved so poorly adapted to the Alarm bells start ringing any time I see “relativistic
new conditions that they became extinct. So worldview” and “evolutionary theory” lumped
death is not necessary for evolution, but together. On very rare occasions an author can
evolution has been necessary for the astutely work through the various meanings of each
continuation of life. (pages 167 and 168 – of these phrases, show how they are related (or not
emphasis mine) related), and provide some wise guidance on how
these systems or ideas should be approached by a
Evolution is not dependent on death and extinction; Christian. Most of the time however, an author
rather, given the world we have, it is the antidote to simply conflates the terms, pontificates on their
death and extinction. In the world God has created, evilness, and moves on to strategies for combating
evolutionary mechanisms enable the continuation of them. Although Hill’s tone is respectful and
life. They are one of the tools God uses to pontification is minimal, his approach is much closer
accomplish his purposes. to the latter.

A) Do not Avoid Science


First the positive. Hill does not say Christians should
avoid learning about evolution. He acknowledges
that Christians should examine modern scientific

32
explanations, including biological evolution. Taking 1. Populations, not Individuals
biology 101 will allow Christian students to Natural selection is a mechanism that operates on
“… walk away four months later appreciating populations, not on individual organisms. (See here).
modern scientific theories about the universe Individual orchids, sheep, and hominids do not
and have their faith strengthened because they evolve – populations of orchids, sheep and hominids
understand this conflict more deeply”. evolve over time (generally very long periods of
time). Natural selection is unrelated to individuals or
Although I strongly disagree with the implication that
their choices. In fact, maybe a better term for natural
evolution and faith are inherently in conflict, or that
selection is environmental sorting of heredity as
the majority of those teaching it are attacking a
indicated here.
biblical worldview, I commend his advice to
Christians that they seek to understand modern ideas
2. Descriptive, not Prescriptive
and theories, even ideas and theories that are in
Natural selection is an explanation for how things
conflict with a biblical worldview or are taught by
have changed over time. It is thus descriptive and is
those biased against a biblical worldview. As both
not meant to be prescriptive. The theory explains the
Jesus and the apostle Paul demonstrated, we need to
paleontological, genetic, and morphological data, but
directly engage our culture, not run from it. And to
does not in any way provide guidance on how
properly engage, we need to first listen & understand.
humanity should act in the future. As Kyle Maxwell
states:
B) Natural Selection and its Relationship
to Moral Relativism The theory of evolution is merely an account of
the mechanisms God has used to create us. It
However, Hill’s second conclusion that we need to can no more be a guide to our moral choices
be wary of an evolutionary paradigm because “it than Newton's laws of motion, the laws of
results in a morally relativistic worldview” is thermodynamics, or Boyle's law. Bear in mind,
completely unsupported in the essay (and I believe by the way, that scientific laws (of which
unsupportable). He states: evolution is one) are descriptive, not
prescriptive or normative. That means that
An evolutionary paradigm describing the result scientific laws describe what DOES happen in
of competition and environmental stress within the universe; they do not tell you what moral
nature can be stated very simply: the fit survive, choices to make. Many persons make a mistake
mutations arise and new species arrive. here by confusing the different meanings of the
According to this mode of thought, humans are word law. For example, they'll think that the
no exception to this rule, being an ordinary law of gravity "punishes" a person for stepping
product of the machinery of natural selection, off a cliff. That is not so. The law of gravity
as much as daffodils, flounders, or pigeons. describes how an object moves in a
This indifference and utter accidentalness in the gravitational field. The choice of how and
origination of living things is unnerving. It where you place yourself in such a field is up to
proposes that everything is relative, that you. (Quoted from here - scroll to the 3rd post
nothing under the sun — least of all the human at the bottom).
race — is special in any way.
C) A Christian Paradigm
I have commented before that humanity’s
connectedness to all other life on planet earth does Hill might include more than just the scientific
not contradict the fact that we are created in the evidence for natural selection in his “simple”
image of God. What needs to be addressed is the definition of “an evolutionary paradigm” ; it is not
contention that the mechanism of natural selection clear from his essay. But based on his definition, the
somehow leads to moral relativism. Briefly, the conclusion he reaches is not warranted. It is true that
acceptance of natural selection should not lead us to some paradigms might lead to moral relativism, even
accept moral relativism since first, it acts on paradigms near and dear to the hearts of many
populations not individuals, and second, it is evangelicals. One could try to make the argument
descriptive not prescriptive. that the economic theory of capitalism leads to moral
relativism (“survival of the fittest” is certainly more
applicable here than in biological evolution) or that
the political theory of democracy leads to moral

33
relativism, but both of those statements are obviously the quackery of Pat Robertson or the wacky
simplistic and can be debated. However, the “prophecies” of Oral Roberts. And like the Hebrew
contention that capitalism and/or democracy leads to prophets, Campolo’s voice is often unwelcome in
moral relativism is easier to defend than the claim large parts of the religious community in which he
that natural selection leads to moral relativism. Both participates. I don’t always agree with what Campolo
capitalism and democracy are at least partly says (for example his “red-letter Christians” initiative
prescriptive; natural selection (and the science of - see a good critique here on John Stackhouse’s blog)
biological evolution) is purely descriptive. but he is inspiring and a man of integrity.

In one sense Hill is right. Making an Evolutionary So it is sad to see Campolo miss the mark so badly in
Paradigm (however it is defined) foundational for his recent op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In an
defining truth, making choices, and finding purpose article entitled The Real Danger in Darwin is not
is unacceptable for Christians. Our primary paradigm Evolution, but Racism (HT: Ed Darrell) he lashes out
must be Christ-centered and biblically guided. If this at … well, possibly the science of biological
approach is trumped by any other paradigm, whether evolution, possibly an ill-defined metaphysic of
a Democratic Paradigm, a Capitalist Paradigm, or an “Darwinism”, or maybe even Charles Darwin himself
Evolutionary Paradigm, we have committed idolatry. – the focus of his attack is unclear. I suspect that
Christians can of course hold democratic political Campolo wanted to highlight that all of humanity
ideas, capitalistic economic ideas, and evolutionary enjoys a special place in God’s creation, and that
scientific ideas, but these ideas need to be secondary ideas that deny this can be dangerous. It is
to, informed by, and measured against our primary commendable that Campolo strongly defends this
paradigm, which is faith in Jesus Christ. important truth about human dignity. However, in my
opinion, his argument is presented so badly that it
D) Still Promoting Fear of the Bogeyman probably does more damage than good.

A) Positive Aspects of the Argument


Although the title of Hill’s article seems to suggest
that evangelicals should not fear evolution, I believe
First the positive: In the past (for example here) (HT:
his argument will only make things worse. The
Stephen Matheson), Campolo has parroted standard
impression one is given is that accepting the evidence
anti-evolutionist claims that “Evolution is just a
for biological evolution inevitability leads to an
theory”. However, in the current op-ed he does not
evolutionary paradigm that is itself equivalent to
question the scientific evidence for biological
moral relativism. Since moral relativism is
evolution, and even states that “in terms of science,
incompatible with the Christian faith, the message is
Darwin’s account may be solid indeed”. Secondly, he
really “learn about the scientific ‘theory’ of evolution
states, in opposition to YEC claims, that “the
but hold your breath so that you don’t inhale its toxic
development of biological organisms over eons of
ramifications”. This is equivalent to giving your
time really does not pose the great threat to the
fearful 6-year old a loaded gun when going to bed.
dignity of our humanity”. Thus he is not insisting on
Someone might get hurt, but it sure won’t be the
a rigorously literal interpretation of scripture, an
bogeyman.
interpretation that itself can be damaging to the
Christian faith. Finally, he concludes that there is an
“infinite qualitative difference” between humans and
VI. Et Tu Tony? A Critique of that rest of creation. These are all great points, and
Campolo’s attack on could have been constructed into a useful argument
against some of the unwarranted philosophical
"Darwinism" extrapolations to evolutionary theory being passed
Published February 10, 2008 off as science (for example, the insistence that the
biological connectness of humanity to other forms of
Tony Campolo is a prophetic voice in the life implies that we are nothing more than “gene
Evangelical community, prophetic in the sense of the machines”).
ancient Hebrew prophets who challenged the
Israelites to care for the poor and to "act justly, to
love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God" –
not prophetic in the modern sense like, for example,

34
B) An Argument Gone Astray by Darwinism – a word that can convey such a broad
range of ideas that it has become almost useless
Campolo, however, does not build a useful argument. except as a pejorative. Does Campolo mean Darwin’s
Instead he repeats some of the most ill-informed and writings? Does he mean the main scientific theories
inaccurate anti-evolutionist claims. These include: Darwin proposed (descent with modification through
natural selection), or possibly the modern
1. Darwin was a racist: Campolo claims that evolutionary synthesis that includes Mendelian
Darwin’s ideas are dangerous because they promote genetics as well as other modifications to Darwin’s
and support racism. This is simply not true. Campolo theories? Does he mean the extrapolations, and
shows he grossly misunderstands Darwin by sometimes dramatic distortions, of Darwin’s theories
claiming that they do. At a minimum, Darwin was no outside of the field of biology (eg. Social Darwinism,
more racist than most Christian Victorians, and as Eugenics, and Evolutionary Psychology)? Or is he
several commentators have shown, (see here, here, focusing his criticism on the (often atheistic)
here, and here) he personally opposed racism and ideologies that claim all knowledge should be viewed
slavery. through an evolutionary paradigm?
2. Let only the strong survive: Campolo claims that If by Darwinism Campolo means the latter of these
Darwin wanted to abandon society’s weak. He states: options, then I would agree with his assertion that
Darwin even argued that advanced societies Darwinism can be dangerous. However, I’m sure that
should not waste time and money on caring for many (probably most) of his readers will interpret his
the mentally ill, or those with birth defects. To use of Darwinism to be the scientific theory of
him, these unfit members of our species ought biological evolution. And for this definition,
not to survive. Campolo’s claim is wrong. As I’ve discussed
previously, there are no ethical implications to the
This is also false. These are the ideas of Herbert scientific theory of biological evolution. It is a very
Spencer, not Darwin. Spencer took Darwin’s good model for explaining the development of life on
descriptive biological theory and created a earth, but it provides no moral guidance (good or
prescriptive theory for human societies called Social bad) for future human decisions.
Darwinism. (For a good overview from a Christian
perspective on Social Darwinism and other It is important for Christians, as Ted Davis notes, to
extrapolations of Darwin’s ideas, see Evolution: “Do one's best to separate science as science from
From Creation to New Creation pages 51-64) science as grand metaphysical program”. (Allan
Harvey’s proposal, that includes six different
3. Darwin’s theories were complicit in the rise of definitions for evolution and which I discussed here,
Nazism: As Ted Davis has noted (HT: David), the makes the same point). We do not need to fear
relationship between Darwinism and Nazism is science. We should however, be leery when scientific
complex, and there is indeed some connection. theories are woven into grand meta-narratives that
However, the responsibility for this connection claim to explain the really big questions. These are
should not be laid on Darwin, nor should biological questions that science is just not able to answer.
evolution be rejected because of Hitler’s madness. To
paint Darwin and biological evolution with this brush D) Conclusion
is ludicrous. In fact, it may be just as accurate to say
that Christian ideas were complicit in the rise of
I have the utmost respect for Tony Campolo. His
slavery and racism in the American south. Depending
challenge to Evangelicals to take seriously our
on your definition of Christian, and what facts you
responsibility to the poor is sorely needed. We
cherry-pick from history, this could well be true.
should all emulate his passion for defending the
However, slavery and racism should never be blamed
dignity of humanity, whether from racism or a denial
on Christ or the Christian gospel. This too is
of human spiritual uniqueness. But I believe his
ludicrous.
attack on Darwinism will be counterproductive. The
easily refutable pieces of his argument may allow
C) A Failure to Define this “Darwinism” many to feel justified in also rejecting his implied
that is so dangerous conclusion: That humanity is created in the Image of
God. More importantly, choosing between the “how”
I believe the central flaw in Campolo’s article is that of human creation (biological evolution) and the
he attempts to define “the real dangers of “why” of human creation (to be the Image of God) is
Darwinism” without in fact defining what he means a false dichotomy. We are the Image because God

35
declared it to be so, not because of how we were to put my thoughts together. Actually, that probably
created. That is why each and every human being is turned out for the better. Stephen Matheson provided
important. his own reaction, and a very interesting discussion
ensued between him and David Opderbeck. Reading
Addendum this (unfortunately after the discussion was over)
Another addendum. I guess I have a defective helped clarify my own thinking. So thanks guys for
blogging gene. I had seen Campolo’s original piece a the provocative (and spirited) discussion.
couple days after it came out but didn’t find the time

36
F) Evolution: Personal Choices and Implications for Evangelicals
Given the antagonism towards evolution within the Evangelical community, the personal choices
regarding the acceptance of evolution can be difficult and the personal implications significant. The
following three posts discuss these choices. The first examines reasons why many Evangelicals have
come to accept biological evolution as not only scientific truth, but a truth compatible with orthodox
Christianity. The second post recounts the challenges biologist Richard Colling faced at his Evangelical
institution, and comments on the implications for other scientists in similar situations. The third post
discusses the implications of publicly supporting evolution in an Evangelical church setting.

community, #1 and #2 are certainly important. Most


I. Factors involved in the shift to evangelicals (outside of the fundamentalist fringe)
grapple with #1 at some time, usually during or prior
Evolutionary Creationism: My to young adulthood. Many also rethink earlier
Story and Yours assumptions because of #2. For example, hearing
YEC leadership claims that the earth is only 6000
Published May 4, 2008 years old in the face of massive & elementary
evidence to the contrary. If these leaders are so
A small but growing number of Evangelicals have wrong about the age of the earth (and emphatically
embraced an Evolutionary Creationist (EC) view of dogmatic in their wrongness), could they be just as
origins. This is a significant paradigm shift for an wrong about evolution?
Evangelical and can be a difficult and extended
process. Since support for EC within the Evangelical #3 is the most obvious factor, and certainly important
community is rare, and direct opposition to EC is for those in pursuing science in higher education. But
prevalent, why do Evangelicals launch into this I doubt it is the most significant factor in many other
journey in the first place? And why do they end up cases. #4 is an important factor for those pursuing
holding onto their faith? degrees in theology or biblical studies, and while
rethinking some of the rigid traditional hermeneutic
Important Factors in the Paradigm Shift methods is necessary for an EC viewpoint, it is
hardly sufficient. Anyone who states that the bible
I think there are 6 factors involved in the paradigm provides positive support for evolutionary science is
shift. The factors in this list do not necessarily occur almost certainly twisting scripture.
sequentially, not all are relevant for all Evangelicals
making this journey, and the importance of each will Key Factors: The Testimony and of other
vary from one person to the next. However, I believe Evolutionary Creationists
each is an important part of the process in a majority
of cases. These factors include: I suspect, however, that #5 and #6 are the most
significant factors for the majority of Evangelicals
1. A realization that some of the “simple” traditional that end up in the EC camp. #1 and #2 may be
claims aren’t so simple important first steps, but these do not necessarily lead
2. A loss of trust in Evangelical leadership that to an EC position on origins. A comprehensive study
dogmatically defend untenable ideas. of #3 and #4 may be sufficient but I suspect very few
3. An evaluation of the scientific evidence for Evangelicals have the time, energy, and focus to 1)
evolution thoroughly investigate the evidence from biology,
4. A broad examination of biblical hermeneutics and geology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology and
Christian theology related scientific disciplines and 2) navigate the maze
5. The testimony of thoughtful Evangelical Christians of ANE cultural history, ancient Hebrew linguistics,
who accept the theory of evolution. Christian Theology, Biblical Studies, and OT
6. An explanation of #3 and/or #4 from an EC exegesis. For most of us raised in a black-and-white
viewpoint (someone in #5). evolution-is-evil environment, it is only after healthy
doses of #5 and #6 that we make that final step into
For those of us that grew up in an Evangelical the EC camp with our Evangelical faith unscathed.

37
My Own Story may be the easy part. Much more difficult is dealing
with the aftermath when these personal
How did these factors play out for me personally? #1 understandings become public. Richard Colling, a
and #2 brought me to a certain point, and a long time biology professor at Olivet Nazarene
smattering of #4 during my university years brought University (ONU), discovered this the hard way.
me further along this path. However, I was still stuck
in an ignore-the-issue anti-evolutionist position for Richard Colling’s Story
many years. Interestingly, I did get a healthy dose of A couple of years ago Colling was one of several
#5 working at a Christian camp as a teenager, but I Evangelical biologists that published books
wrote the friend off as both nuts and immature-in- supportive of the integration of evolutionary science
the-faith. and the Christian faith. His book Random Designer
addressed the common misconception that the chance
Only recently (as I explained in my introductory and randomness inherent in evolution are somehow
post), did I revisit the issue of the interaction of competitors to God. The Book:
evolutionary science and faith. And when I did
revisit it, #6 was the critical factor, particularly “… explains that the randomness and chaos
Darrel Falk’s book Coming to Peace with Science. It which play such central roles in our physical
was Falk’s personal story of faith, a story he existence are actually creative. The Creator
provided prior to his summary of the evidence for simply taps these random physical processes to
biological evolution, which clinched it for me. I accomplish His higher goal – the creation of
started the book conflicted about evolutionary human beings capable of consciously
claims; I finished the book comfortable with an perceiving Him”
acceptance of evolution. Even though #3 and #4 were
Almost from the launch of his book, Colling faced
still only beginning (and are, even now, works in
hostility from those within the Church of the
progress), my paradigm had already shifted – not
Nazarene community with a YEC perspective. Last
away from creationism, but towards a much different
year, it appears that several members of the
creationism.
university board attempted to orchestrate his firing.
Although unsuccessful, they were able to convince
Your Stories
the university President that some action was needed.
So this fall, as reported in the Sept 17 issue of
I’m interested in hearing the stories of others who
Newsweek, Colling was told he could no longer
have travelled this journey. In particular, I am
teach the introductory biology course at ONU. As
interested to know which factors were most
well, his book was removed from the reading lists of
important for you. Which ones were key to the shift
all ONU courses.
in your own paradigm? Was it a relatively simple
progression, or more disjointed like my own? Were
there other factors involved that are not covered in What does this mean for ONU?
the list above? From the outside, it is easy to conclude that ONU, in
the face of an angry “fundamentalist” contingent
within the Church of the Nazarene, is abandoning
Colling. Some close to the situation do not see it this
II. When the Acceptance of way, and view it as a short term compromise to
Biological Evolution has Personal “make peace” between the various factions. (For
or Professional Repercussions example, see ONU faculty member Charles
Carrigan’s comments here and here). I think we
Published September 21, 2007 should be careful not to judge the ONU president
given that he had to make a very, very difficult
Grappling with the implications of biological decision. As well, (as indicated by Carrigan's
evolution can be a difficult theological challenge. comments above) there are probably other factors
However, for most of us, it doesn’t directly affect our and complexities to the situation that are not being
personal or professional lives. For others though, the revealed publicly. Whatever the case, Colling is
impact is much more direct. For pastors in deeply disappointed and hurt by what has happened.
Evangelical churches, or for faculty in Christian He has commented publically in several blogs, for
academic institutions, coming to a personal example here and here. He is also wary of additional
understanding of the coherence of evolution and faith repercussions (see his comments at the end of this

38
very LONG thread). These are tough, gut wrenching personal decisions.
But these are not only personal decisions. I strongly
What I find most fascinating about this incident is believe these are decisions that are important for the
that neither the Church of the Nazarene, nor ONU, collective Evangelical church. As Colling comments
takes an official stand against evolution. Colling is in this post:
not being disciplined for teaching something contrary
to institution policy or church doctrine. In essence, he I believe that it is a matter of when, not if, the
is being moved “out of the public eye” to placate evolutionary paradigm WILL be integrated into
some very powerful constituents within ONU and the the evangelical Christian theology. If not, the
Church of the Nazarene. The course curriculum at Christian faith will be relegated to cultural
ONU has not changed and still includes content on obsolescence. With the genetic data derived
biological evolution. Other ONU faculty that teach from the human genome project and other
and strongly support evolution are not affected (at sources, the evolutionary connectedness of life
least for now). So this looks like a strategic retreat for on earth can no longer be denied. Therefore to
ONU, and not a hard right turn to antievolutionism. build the foundation of the Christian faith on
opposition to evolution is not only silly, it is
Implications for other Scientists in Evangelical suicide for the long-term viability and
Institutions credibility of the faith.
The pertinent question for me is this: If Richard
Well said Richard, well said.
Colling faces these challenges in a Christian
environment where his colleagues and administration
I too believe that, in time, this integration will
largely agree with his views and are predisposed to
happen. It is unfortunate that in the meantime
support him, should scientists in other Evangelical
Colling, and others that promote the integrity of
institutions less friendly to biological evolution be
science along with the integrity of scripture, need to
nervous of the increasingly militant antievolutionist
suffer personal and/or professional damage because
lobby within Evangelicalism? If ONU faces this
of their commitment to that integrity.
difficulty, isn’t the risk even higher for individuals
and institutions that belong to denominations that
take explicit stands against evolution? What about
theologians and biblical studies faculty that discuss III. Would your Church allow
the interaction between modern evolutionary theory you to Publicly Support
and theology or biblical interpretation? What if they
do not believe this interaction is in inherent conflict?
Evolution?
Will they also face repercussions? Published March 2, 2008

In non-academic environments, the problem may be Last September I commented on biologist Richard
even more difficult for Evangelicals that have come Colling’s plight at ONU instigated by his public
to peace with evolution. I suspect that many pastors support for biological evolution. I suspect this type of
and other local church leaders who are comfortable story will become more prevalent in the next several
with the integration of biological evolution and the years since although Evangelical biologists largely
Christian faith have chosen to remain silent on the support evolution, it is still very rare for Evangelical
topic. I’m sure this silence can be justified as a way church or ministry leaders to publicly pronounce
of promoting church unity since, for the vast majority their acceptance of the scientific theory. These
of Christians, an understanding of biological or scientists represent the vanguard in attempting to
human origins is not necessarily relevant to their persuade the broader Evangelical church that peace
daily participation in the kingdom of Christ. with evolution is possible and preferable, but, as in
However, how long should they remain silent? As I most theaters of war, being a peacemaker can be a
posted previously, antievolutionism can be very dangerous assignment.
dangerous, and there are times when silence is not
the best option. What should these leaders do in this Visiting a Baptist Monk
situation when they know that saying anything can
have huge personal implications? I really enjoy Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk blog.
His “dispatches from the Post-Evangelical
Tough Decisions. Choices that are Vital for the Wilderness” are always direct, engaging, thought
Future of Evangelicalism provoking, and spiritually challenging. I have said in

39
the past that I prefer to keep the moniker Evangelical I’d be fired from my job as Bible teacher,
rather than abandon it for “Post-Evangelical” as chapel preacher and campus minister.
Spencer does. However, after reading his blog for a Immediately.
while, I believe his vision and hope for the Post-
Not really good incentive to investigate evolution
Evangelical church appears similar to my own for the
further – particularly since it is clearly not a central
Evangelical church, so maybe our disagreement is
issue to his ministry. Frankly, I don’t blame him for
simply semantic.
not pursuing this matter any further.
Spencer certainly does not fit the stereotypical image
A PCA Minister on Evolution: Risky Comments
of a Southern Baptist Bible teacher. I highly doubt
his views on inerrancy are supported by many SBC
The Keller situation that Spencer mentions above is
members, and it seems to get him into trouble
also interesting in this context. In his new book “The
occasionally. And although even moderate SBC
Reason for God” Keller does provide qualified
churches like Saddleback officially support Young
support for a Theistic Evolution position (at least
Earth Creationism, Spencer emphatically states that
asserting that it is within the bounds of orthodoxy).
he does not. He defends a high view of scripture, but
(See: Tim Challies book review here, this article in
also understands what the Bible is, and what it is not.
First Things, and this interview in Newsweek for
He comments that:
details). Keller is a very influential pastor in the
Ever since I read Conrad Hyers’ The Meaning
Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), a
of Creation and realized that the Bible wasn’t a
conservative Presbyterian denomination whose
science book and its inspiration wasn’t involved
Creation statement (HT: BTF) includes this
in the views of science in ancient cultures, I’ve
paragraph on the initial chapters of Genesis:
not lost much sleep over the relationship of
religion and science.
“In these chapters we find the record of God’s
An SBC Minister on Evolution: No Comment? creation of the heavens and the earth* ex
nihilo*; of the special creation of Adam and
Although Spencer is comfortable with an old earth, it Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all
appears he does not take a strong public position on humanity (hence they are not the products of
evolution (either for or against). Undoubtedly, one evolution from lower forms of life).”
reason for this is that the science / faith dialogue is
Now, as Rich Blinne notes, the above report was
not a priority for him. However, it is unlikely that he
submitted by a non-binding advisory group within
will ever publicly support evolution – at least if he
the PCA, and so it cannot necessarily be used to
wants to continue with his current employment. In a
censure Tim Keller. Still it is clear that Keller, with
post about Tim Keller’s support of Theistic Evolution
his qualified support of evolution, is offside with the
(TE), Spencer comments on how significant Keller’s
majority within his own denomination and is likely
support of TE would be within the Evangelical
taking some personal risk by doing so.
community. (Note: the post was eventually pulled
because of ambiguity over whether Keller actually
It is heartening to see Evangelical church leaders like
supports TE). Spencer then asks some great questions
Keller reject the Evangelical / Evolution conflict
(primarily to Christian leaders like himself):
thesis. We need more leaders with his integrity and
stature speaking out. It requires courage and wisdom,
For those of you who are theistic evolutionists
courage for reasons obvious to anyone familiar with
(or might possibly be if you knew what you
Evangelical culture, wisdom since speaking out can
believed), could you openly announce your
potentially cause more damage than good. Not every
belief in theistic evolution in your setting?
church leader is in a situation where this type of
Especially in your church? your sermon? your
public announcement is possible or advisable.
college or seminary class (as student or
teacher)? your ordination council? your session
Evangelical Grass-roots and Evolution
or church board? your ministry employment?
He then provides, with typical directness, what would The situation is similar for many grass-roots
happen if one day he announced his belief in TE: Evangelicals. Personally, I’m fortunate that our
family is involved with an Evangelical Anglican
Church (with a heavy emphasis on the Evangelical)
in which God’s method of creation is a non-issue –

40
you won’t see us participating in Evolution Sunday your church if you stated your support for evolution?
but neither will you hear a sermon condemning Are these ramifications clearly spelled out in your
modern scientific theories of the development of life. church charter or membership requirements? Or is
So for me there is little personal risk in discussing my opposition to evolution an unwritten rule
views in the church. However, most Evangelicals unanimously accepted by all? How would support for
grappling with the implications of an evolving evolution impact your relationship with your family
creation are not so fortunate. I suspect many would or other Christian friends? How would it affect your
lose whatever position they held in their church, participation in parachurch Christian ministries or
maybe even their membership, if they publicly stated services? Could you continue working in these
their acceptance of evolution. Charges of heresy and organizations?
abandonment of the gospel would inevitably strain
friendships and family relationships. For many, the An even more significant question: For those of you
price would be very high. that have revealed your acceptance of evolution, was
it really worth it? Would you do it again, or would
What Personal Ramifications? you choose to remain silent if given the choice to
start over?
I’m interested in hearing other personal perspectives
on this problem. What would the ramifications be in

41
G) The State of the Dialogue and a Call to Action

The state of the dialogue on evolution within Evangelicalism has changed radically in the last decade. As
the first post in the section below notes, there are now a plethora of resources that promote the
compatibility of evolution and an evangelical expression of the Christian faith. Those of us that accept
this compatibility should be promoting these resources within our communities. More importantly
however, as stated in the second post, we need to reclaim the concept of “creation” (a term sullied by
certain creationists), and proclaim the relevance of our Creator God to our modern and post-modern
world. The third post suggests that we need to promote a positive relationship between science and faith
in our Evangelical communities, and introduces the topic of “An Evangelical Statement on Evolution”, a
manifesto I believe could be very positive step to healing the wounds in our community.

Why did Evangelicals have to wait so long to receive


I. Ten Books and what they mean this type of book? Why did this mini-explosion of
books occur now? Why is the author profile for all
for Evolutionary Creationism these books nearly identical (they are almost all
Published July 8th, 2008 scientists)? Allow me to provide my own
speculations.
Quick Quiz. How many books do you think possess
all of the following characteristics? What this Tells Me
1. Evolutionary Creationism (EC) is no longer a
 Promotes the compatibility between radical fringe position within the Evangelical
biological evolution and an Evangelical community. We have a dozen well-educated
expression of the Christian faith Evangelicals who defend both Christian and
 Is a non-academic work targeted at a scientific orthodoxy, and who have invested the time
popular reading level and energy to communicate science/faith
compatibility to the typical Evangelical in the pew.
 Was published in North America prior to
The scholarly dialogue phase regarding the scientific
2003
merits of biological evolution within the mainstream
To the best of my knowledge, the right answer is
evangelical scientific community may be practically
none. A big fat zero. Zilch. As of 5 years ago, you
complete; we are now in a phase where this
could not find a single popular-level work by an
community is communicating their (majority?)
North American Evangelical Christian which
consensus to their Christian brothers and sisters who
dissented from the evolution / Christian faith conflict
are less comfortable with scientific discussions.
thesis. (Note: There were some published in Europe).
Fast-forward 5 years. As of June 2008, North
2. This communication to the masses is however,
American Evangelicals have at least 10 books that
very, very recent. Even 10 years ago, North
meet the above characteristics. They are as follows:
American Evangelicals would have had a tough time
finding any popular level discussion that was even
The Ten Books
sympathetic to an EC view, let alone one that actively
1. Richard Colling, Random Designer (2004)
promoted it. Now Evangelicals can pick and choose
2. Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace with Science (2004)
among several options. So, to those EC’s that are
3. David Wilcox, God and Evolution (2004)
frustrated with the pace of the acceptance of EC ideas
4. Stephen Godfrey and Christopher Smith,
I say: “Please be patient, we have only started to get
Paradigms on Pilgrimage (2005)
this message out.”
5. Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe (2006)
6. Francis Collins, The Language of God (2007)
3. Notwithstanding this consensus among
7. Gordon Glover, Beyond the Firmament (2007)
Evangelical scientists, there is a huge gap within the
8. Deborah and Loren Haarsma, Origins (2007)
Evangelical academic community. (See also the
9. Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin (2008)
historical perspective & future directions post by Ted
10. Denis Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation (2008)
Davis). Whereas the discussion among evangelical

42
scientists is relatively mature, the discussion among I’m sure that many of these Egyptian Christians tried
biblical scholars is just beginning. As to Evangelical desperately to convince their Muslim neighbors that
theologians, do they even realize that there is a the title “Christian” should not be associated with the
discussion? viscous, un-Christian acts of the crusaders. And I’m
sure they had just as much trouble defending Christ
What we need to do because of Christians as we have in defending
1. The time is past for lamenting the lack of sound creation because of creationists.
scientific resources on the topic of biological
evolution from a distinctly Evangelical perspective. Reclaiming Creation
We probably have all that we really need. What we Reclaiming creation will be difficult. But it is an
should be doing is promoting the resources that are essential part of the gospel. Even as Christians should
already available. never abandon Christ when other Christians bring the
name of Christ into disrepute, neither should we be
2. Given that this reconciliation within the ashamed of creation simply because certain forms of
Evangelical community is so recent, and that the past creationism make untenable claims based on flawed
conflict was so harsh, those of us that are interpretations of scripture. As I posted earlier,
comfortable with an EC perspective need to exhibit a combating this type of creationism is important
spirit of understanding, patience and love when because it is dangerous. A more urgent task,
discussing these issues with other Evangelicals (see however, is communicating God’s positive message
also particularly Richard Colling’s recent post on this of creation to a world that desperately needs to hear
topic). it. For there is purpose in creation, there is ultimate
meaning.
3. Finally, we need to do something to wake up the
Evangelical theological community. As I have said in Creation is the Central Idea …
the past, it is not sufficient for theologians to explain For many of us, biological evolution is fascinating,
historic theological approaches that may have been but it is not the most important aspect of the origins
appropriate for Christians in ages past. For the good discussion. Creation is the central truth. Genesis is
of our faith we also need approaches that make sense very clear about who was responsible for bringing
of our modern and post-modern world. And the forth life on earth – it was God. Out of nothingness, a
relationship between science and faith (and evolution good creation was brought into being. The pinnacle
& faith in particular) is one of the most salient issues of this good work was humanity, which was created
causing angst among modern & post-modern in the image of God. And humanity was entrusted
Evangelicals. with the stewardship and care of creation.

Genesis also states that a central problem is human


II. Reclaiming and Proclaiming sin. Because of this sin, a gulf developed in
humanity’s relationship with God. God could no
Creation longer enjoy communion with those he created in his
Published August 2, 2007 own image, since the image was severely marred.
The story of the destructiveness of this sin and the
All Christians believe in creation – including those pain caused by this sin is developed throughout the
like myself who accept biological evolution as a rest of scripture. Genesis also states that the solution
mechanism employed by the creator. Thus you could for this problem is God’s faithfulness, and this story
argue that all Christians are creationists. too is developed throughout scripture. Out of loss
Unfortunately, “creationist” has taken on and separation, through redemption, a new good
connotations that make it an embarrassing label. In creation is brought into being, redemption possible
modern parlance it means not only “belief in a caring only because God entered into his creation, suffered
creator” as the historic creeds confirm, but also with and for his creation.
assent to specific methods and timings on how God
realized his purposes, methods and timings that are … Evolution is Peripheral
little more than nonsense when viewed in the light of The story of evolution may be interesting, even
modern scientific evidence. I think I can appreciate wondrous. I believe it provides even more reason to
the turmoil Egyptian Christians must have endured be awed by God’s handiwork. However, it is should
during the crusades when European “Christians” not take center stage. Because evolution answers the
raped and pillaged their way through the Holy Land. “how” of the origin of life, it is therefore a dependent

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concept, dependent for purpose on creation which between the scientific theory and the Christian faith.
answers the “who”, “what” and “why”; it is The coordinated messages on evolution will be
peripheral to the questions of ultimate meaning in delivered on Feb. 10, 2008 to coincide with the 3rd
life. God could have brought life forth in many annual Evolution Sunday event (renamed to
different ways, but it appears that biological Evolution Weekend for 2008). It is a event
evolution was the mechanism he chose. Through this spearheaded by The Clergy letter project, a group of
process we obtain a better appreciation for the power more than 11,000 clergy that have signed a formal
and scope of his creativeness, for his patience, and letter calling for an end to the conflict between
for his insistence on cooperation rather than coercion. religion and science.
However, an understanding of this process is not
essential to what we already know from the At first blush this project may be encouraging for
scriptures about his love, selfless sacrifice, those of us who wish to promote a peaceful
forgiveness, and final redemptive plan. coexistence between science and the Christian faith.
After all, removing the evolution “stumbling block”
Conclusion should allow many seekers to reconsider the gospel,
Since creation is an essential part of the good news, and stop many Christians from doubting or
maybe I shouldn’t be so hesitant to wear the label abandoning their faith. However, I suspect this
creationist. Maybe, like Denis Lamoureux, I should initiative will be unhelpful in promoting peace
call myself an Evolutionary Creationist. It certainly is between science and a specifically Evangelical
a more appropriate term than Theistic Evolutionist expression of the Christian faith since there is very
since it highlights the centrality of creation. But I’m little Evangelical representation in the group and the
hesitant to wear the creationist label since it would character of statement itself is not one that will attract
require constant qualification. I’d rather stick with many Evangelicals.
the positive and simply answer “Creation? Yes!”
a) Very Little Evangelical Presence
Note added April 3, 2009: Since this post was
originally published (as can be seen by other posts From my quick perusal of the thousands of clergy
included in this Ebook), I have become very that have signed the letter, I suspect that very, very
comfortable with the Evolutionary Creationist (EC) few of them are Evangelicals. In fact, denominations
label. lying outside of orthodox Christianity (eg. Unitarian
Universalists) are grossly overrepresented in the
group while thoroughly Evangelical denominations
III. Promoting a Positive seem entirely absent. Now denominations with
historic roots that include at least a minority of
Relationship Between Faith and Evangelicals (eg. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist,
Science in Evangelical Churches Episcopal, and Baptist) are well represented, but I
doubt that many of the congregations or pastors on
Published January 20th, 2008 the list come from the Evangelical end of the
spectrum in their respective denominations. This may
It is not often you hear a positive message on the be a broad coalition of Christian clergy that promotes
relationship between science and faith in an a positive view of evolution, but it clearly does not
Evangelical church , or at least a positive message on represent broader Evangelicalism.
evolutionary science and faith. If evolution is
mentioned at all, it is usually cast in a very negative b) Not an Evangelical Statement
light. Is there hope that this could change in the near
future? Parts of the statement are indeed quite good. Saying
that “the timeless truths of the Bible and the
discoveries of modern science may comfortably
The Clergy Letter Project coexist” is a great place to start. And I would more-
or-less agree with the assertion that “To argue that
Three weeks from now hundreds of Christian pastors God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity
will be preaching about evolution during their precludes the full employment of the God-given
Sunday morning sermon. But rather than delivering a faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God”. I realize
warning against the evils of evolution, these that shared statements like these must be broad in
ministers will be promoting peaceful coexistence order to enable broad participation, but a statement

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that does not include a single mention of Christ is dismissed as an initiative from the radical
clearly not written with the input of Evangelicals or Evangelical fringe? What do you think is the best
with an Evangelical audience in mind. A careful approach for this type of initiative? Is it something
reading of the statement shows more of an influence that should originate in Evangelical academia? In
from NOMA originator Stephen Jay Gould than from Evangelical denominational structures? Should
prominent Evangelical Faith / Science commentators Evangelical umbrella organizations like the NAE and
like Allister McGrath or Francis Collins. (For a more the EFC be consulted and/or involved? Or would this
positive Evangelical assessment of The Clergy Letter work better if it originated outside of these types of
Project, see Vance’s post at The Submerging organizations? After all, one positive aspect of the
Influence). Evangelical movement is that grass roots initiatives
can be very, very successful. Maybe the most
Building an Evangelical Statement important question of all is whether this type of
initiative is constructive? Ie. will the benefits
Personally I would welcome a specifically outweigh the obvious risks?
Evangelical statement regarding a positive
relationship between evolutionary science and faith. A Positive Evangelical Sermon on the Faith /
A statement like this could have the same positive Science relationship
effect in the Evangelical community that The
Evangelical Climate Initiative has had in the climate For those that believe that a proposal like this is
change discussion. The ASA’s statement on Creation doomed to fail or fizzle, and for those whose
includes a section entitled “The Theistic Evolution experience in the Evangelical church is very painful
(Continuous Creation, Evolutionary Creation) when it comes to the topic of evolution, I invite you
View”, and this probably comes closest to fitting the to listen to this sermon entitled “How can I reconcile
bill right now. However, I don't believe this Science and Faith” by Tom VanAntwerp of Grace
statement will have a dramatic effect since the Chapel in Lexington, MA (HT: David Opderbeck). It
positive view of evolution is included in a document is an incredibly good sermon that provides an honest
that also includes anti-evolutionary statements (there overview of the historical context, the modern
is a YEC view as well), there is very little awareness conflict, and a way for Evangelicals to approach
of this document within the Evangelical community, issues of science and faith. For those of us that have
and it seems unlikely that the statement will be studied the science / faith dialogue closely, there is
widely promoted. Darrel Falk in his lecture Bridging probably nothing new in the sermon. However, I
the Worlds of Faith and Biology (a very interesting doubt that many of us have heard anything this
lecture that I recommend) hints that he and other astute, wise, and pastorally helpful on the topic of
Evangelicals may be working on an initiative like this science coming from the pulpit of an Evangelical
in the near future, but I'm not aware of any details. I church, nor could many of us do any better. I sure
will definitely be watching this closely. couldn’t.

I am interested in hearing what others think about If this sermon is any indication, there is hope that we
creating an Evangelical statement on evolution and Evangelicals can and will overcome our self-
faith. Do you think there is enough momentum in the defeating battle against evolution. At least I am
Evangelical community for this type of proposal to hopeful.
garner a significant level of support? Or would it be

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