Perils of Theistic Evolution1
Published: 6 December 2012 (GMT+10)
For many years, I have felt keenly both the privilege and the responsibility of speaking about the truth and authority of the Bible. Nowhere has the conflict of opinion been more intense than in discussion with theistic evolutionists (TEs)—those who insist that God used evolution2 to bring living things into being. According to Denis Alexander, we ‘creationists’ “bring the gospel into disrepute”, our teaching is “damaging to the spread of God’s kingdom”, we’re “divisive”, and “Christian campaigns against evolution represent a giant ‘red herring’ … ”3 On the last claim, we have found, quite to the contrary, that our ongoing Question Evolution campaign has gathered momentum and is certainly not being ignored.
Dangers of compromise
For a few years, until part way through university, I myself departed from the straightforward reading of Genesis and embraced theistic evolution (TE). I can testify that, humanly speaking, belief in evolution brought me to a crisis in my faith: I faced the stark choice that either the evolutionary view was wrong, or the Genesis record of Creation/Fall/Flood/Babel was wrong. If Genesis couldn’t be trusted as historically reliable, Christianity itself would fail to be a logically defensible faith in my eyes.
Thanks to God, my own story did not end in spiritual shipwreck—but I have never forgotten my wrestling about origins. I am now more convinced than ever of the real dangers in swallowing worldly philosophy. It is dangerous for Christians to allow the opinions of clever men and women to shape their understanding of the Word of God, if what they say contradicts its plain meaning. Allow me to share just some of the many reasons why I passionately believe that the Christian church must strongly resist the accommodation with evolution that is threatening more and more otherwise evangelical churches.
1. The Bible is made to bow the knee to secular thinking
Amongst TEs, evolution is declared to be an indisputable fact, even when this cuts across the ‘face-value’ reading of Scripture. As an example, Denis Alexander wrote “How do we understand the Fall in the light of evolution?”4 In other words, man’s thinking trumps Bible truth! TEs may protest against this charge of denying biblical authority, but I am convinced they are guilty of it in practice—as I once was. No, the Bible is perfect and unalterable (Psalm 119:89, Proverbs 30:5, 6). Truth is not negotiable, so biblical authority must not be made subservient to evolutionary interpretations. TE is far from being ideologically free,5 and whenever TE is embraced, the inevitable result is a tendency to deny central biblical teachings, even if this happens some time later (see here).
2. Scripture’s plain reading is forced into an evolutionary straitjacket
Theistic evolution denies what is known as ‘the perspicuity of Scripture’. It changes the way we read the Bible … In effect, the audacious claim is being made that nobody before Darwin could properly understand Genesis
TE denies what is known as ‘the perspicuity of Scripture’.6 It changes the way we read the Bible and, among other things, undermines the historical accounts of Genesis 1–11, reducing them to myth, allegory, poetry or parable. In effect, the audacious claim is being made that nobody before Darwin could properly understand Genesis, while those who advocate the centuries-old view of biblical creation are criticised for being behind the times and divisive! The perspicuity of Scripture is sidelined whenever the Bible’s plain meaning is forced into an evolutionary straitjacket. For example, in his book, God and the biologist,7 Prof R J (Sam) Berry wrote, “If God is truly omnipotent, clearly he could have made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, but that does not mean that he actually did so. Modern man has the same number of ribs as modern woman” (emphasis in original).
We can ignore the ridiculous insinuation that loss of a rib would somehow be passed on to Adam’s offspring, contrary to the basic reproductive biological knowledge.8 Moroever, the rib would have regrown! Berry’s rejoinder was a smokescreen, intended to hide from view his blatant disregard of Genesis 2:22: “Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman.” If this ‘does not mean that [God] actually did so,’ God is made out to be a liar and we have no hope of being certain of the meaning of any verse of Scripture.
3. The biblical Creator versus the ‘Evolver god’
Scripture is clear that God is perfect (Matthew 5:48), holy (Isaiah 6:3), omnipotent (Jeremiah 32:17), life (John 1:4), light (1 John 1:5), and love (1 John 4:16)—and that His attributes are “clearly seen” (Romans 1:20). But how are the power, knowledge and love of God clearly manifested in the TE scheme? For such a god would not appear to know how to create creatures quickly (and therefore has limited knowledge), or would appear unable to do so (and therefore has limited power). And, if his alleged creative process (evolution by natural selection) involved so much suffering and death over millions of years, his goodness (omnibenevolence) would be denied too (Genesis 1:31). In short, a consistent application of TE view robs Christ (the eternal Word of God, made flesh) of His rightful glory.
4. A disregard for the testimony of Christ and His Apostles
If TE is believed, Christ and the New Testament writers were in error (or deceitful) in their teaching about man’s antiquity from the dawn of time (Luke 1:70, 11:50, Mark 10:6, Acts 3:21, Romans 1:20); and wrong, too, about Earth’s creation from water (see 2 Peter 3:3–5), the Noahic Flood (consider 2 Peter 3:6), man’s distinction from animals (1 Corinthians 15:39), a literal Adam (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:47–49), Eve’s creation from Adam (1 Timothy 2:13), the literal temptation of Eve by Satan (2 Corinthians 11:3), and much more.
5. Evolution dehumanises people who are in God’s image
Human beings were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 27), albeit that this image is marred in fallen mankind. Acknowledging other mitigating factors, we see the dreadful legacy in societies that have suffered decades of evolutionary indoctrination (and the evils of the not-too-distant past too). Lust for power, greed, selfishness, indifference, dishonesty, the suppression of the defenceless and weak—all are a logical outworking of the application of a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. Human beings in the evolutionary scheme are reduced to the status of mere animals, at the mercy of their various lusts and appetites. Yet leading TEs downplay or altogether ignore these points in their teachings.
Human beings in the evolutionary scheme are reduced to the status of mere animals, at the mercy of their various lusts and appetites. Yet leading theistic evolutionists downplay or altogether ignore these points in their teachings.
Consider the following comment, made by Prof Sam Berry in an interview in 1996,9 “ … I am an ape. I am an ape made in the image of God, and I’ve got to bring these together. This doesn’t mean watering down either in any way. … So many Christians have a half-baked faith; for them it’s faith or science. But it isn’t that, it’s faith and science.” This runs directly counter to the teaching of the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15:39 and 15:45) and to much else in the Bible besides; see also Psalm 8:4, 5 for instance. As a consistent TE, Berry so elevates human reason that he seems oblivious that his words border on blasphemy. In truth, TE doctrine is neither orthodox scripturally nor consistent scientifically (hence the ire that TEs incur from atheists for their fence-sitting and half-belief in the Bible ).
Furthermore, we know that man’s sinful heart results from the real historical Fall of Adam and Eve, but deceit, envy, theft, lust and murder are consistent ‘fruits’ within an evolutionary word-view. TEs are forced to marginalise the relevance of such evil fruit for the very evolutionary process they’re forcing onto the Bible. Consider these astute observations by C. Leopold Clarke, writing in the early twentieth century:10 “Evolution, indeed, applied to the moral and social life of man represents the quintessence of selfishness and indifference, and these fruits it has brought forth wherever it has been adopted or applied … Is it Evolution that is at work in the arena of every-day life, in which the lust for power and possession … grinds down relentlessly the weak and defenceless? … If so, is anything more needed to account for man’s growing disbelief in God or the wrecking of Human faith in divine goodness?”
6. TE undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ
The doctrine of TE is an obstruction to those who are seeking God. Original perfection, the Fall, sin, death and suffering—all have to be redefined and twisted to mean something different from what a natural reading of the text requires. For instance, to accept human evolution is to reject sin in its truest biblical sense—the very opposite of what the Holy Spirit does, highlighting to people the utter sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:13, 7:18, 19). Such a restating of these key biblical doctrines, by professing evangelicals today, is occurring to the extent that Scripture no longer really means what it plainly says.
For example, Genesis 1:29–30 unambiguously teaches the absence of carnivory in the pre-fallen world:
“And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food’; and it was so.” Denis Alexander, however, writes,11 “It is unlikely that this text refers to vegetarianism, more likely that it is highlighting the theological point that animal sacrifice was necessary only for those who had sinned.” On the contrary, it is not only likely, but certain, that the intent of the author (who is ultimately the Holy Spirit) was to convey both human and animal vegetarianism, for that is what is explicitly stated (see also this article). There is not the slightest hint in Genesis 1 that atonement through the sacrifice of animals is here in view—the moral and physical perfection of this originally pristine world is underscored by God’s own pronouncement of “everything He had made [as] ‘very good’ ” (Genesis 1:31).
As with all theological novelties concerning Genesis in the minds of men, theistic evolution doctrine requires an acceptance of the fact that the greatest Christian minds for some 18 centuries somehow failed to properly grasp the meaning of this vital and most foundational book of Scripture!
Furthermore, with the denial of Adam as the first man by many TEs, they often go so far as to deny that our sinful nature and physical (not merely spiritual) death was inherited from “the first man Adam”. The Apostle Paul’s connection between Genesis 3 and the Gospel (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) is seriously weakened by TEs, to such an extent that the basis for God’s abundant grace and His gift of righteousness through Jesus is thoroughly undermined. Under the TE scheme, then, there is a very real danger that Jesus’ glorious redemptive work is liable to be mythologised.
In fact, if TE is followed to its logical conclusion, our eschatology12 must also alter. If the Edenic state actually included pain, suffering and death of animals and sub-humans, why is death described as an “enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26). And if carnivory, suffering and death were, in fact, an inherent part of life for millions of years before Adam, why do we not read that the restoration of this world will include more of the same; that is, when the Curse is removed, as Revelation 22:3 teaches? Rather, we read that the future eternal state will be characterised by the absence of death, sorrow, crying and pain (Revelation 21:4)? Indeed, the Christian’s confidence in “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4) would seem a vain one, if TE doctrine is consistently applied.
Further considerations of TE
As with all theological novelties concerning Genesis in the minds of men, TE doctrine requires an acceptance of the fact that the greatest Christian minds for some 18 centuries somehow failed to properly grasp the meaning of this vital and most foundational book of Scripture! Supposedly it waited for a deist who had increasingly moved away from God and belief in His Word, to show us how God really created the world! And all this, in spite of the fact that Darwin (the main architect of evolution) took great pains to explicitly remove God from any involvement in the evolutionary process.
A denial of Darwin
No honest reader of Darwin’s published books—and especially his private correspondence and autobiography—could be in any doubt whatsoever on this point: he was manifestly opposed to theistic evolution. By way of just one example, in a letter to his American friend, Asa Gray, Darwin wrote: “I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I should wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars … I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed” (my emphasis).13 He not merely denied design, but also any role for God in the evolutionary process he was advocating—a position that is logically sound.
Some of today’s theistic evolutionists loudly profess their evangelical orthodoxy, while simultaneously subverting or denying plain biblical teachings. It is therefore incumbent on Christians to test their claims against Scripture—to ‘test everything; [and] hold fast what is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
A subversion of evangelical orthodoxy
Some of today’s TEs loudly profess their evangelical orthodoxy, while simultaneously subverting or denying plain biblical teachings. It is therefore incumbent on Christians to test their claims against Scripture—to “test everything; [and] hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)—for, as C. Leopold Clarke observed, “Divine authority suffers always less at the hands of those who stand apart from it [e.g. atheists], than of those who profess to revere, and yet belittle it [theistic evolutionists]. No greater despite can be done to anything, than that which purports to be done by its friends.”14 Admittedly, this is a strong charge but I believe it is warranted. Even as true Christians, we may actually damage the very Gospel we profess to hold dear—hence the sobering warning about God’s stricter judgment for Christians who teach in the Church (James 3:1). I would encourage you to re-read the damning accusations against creationists cited in the first paragraph of this article, and consider these in the light of the problems of TE we have highlighted; the words of Isaiah 5:20 seem tragically appropriate: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness … ”
Conclusion: There’s safety in faithful obedience
Of course, there are also strong scientific reasons for rejecting evolution, whether of the atheistic or theistic variety—CMI’s website, books, DVDs and Creation magazine deal comprehensively with these. The onus on all those who really care about Truth and scientific integrity is to continue applying 1 Thessalonians 5:21—to do so will mean to continue to ‘Question Evolution’, and to promote those pertinent and telling aspects of the debate which evolutionists (both secularists and TEs) seem to studiously ignore or set aside.
The mental gymnastics required by those who entertain theistic evolution can be avoided. To embrace TE is to tolerate and condone both bad science and bad theology, for TE is ultimately an oxymoron15—being inimical to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have pulled no punches in this essay but my sincere prayer is that some of my fellow Christians, who are reading this as TEs, will be given serious pause for thought. Let us remember, “Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).
References and notes
- This is an expanded version of an article that first appeared in the CMI-UK/Europe Prayer News, July 2012. Return to text.
- Evolution used here and in this article means: descent with modification, of all organisms (including humans) from a common ancestor, over millions of years. Return to text.
- Creation or Evolution? Do we have to choose? Monarch Books, 2008, pp. 353–354. Return to text.
- See creation.com/viva-la-evolution. Return to text.
- See chapters 9–11 of Statham, D., Evolution: Good Science? Exposing the Ideological Nature of Darwin’s Theory, Day One, 2009. Return to text.
- The principle that God’s Word is clear and lucid and plainly understood. Return to text.
- Berry, R. J., God and the biologist, Apollos, Leicester, 1996, p. 50. Return to text.
- Such a basic error is inexcusable considering that Berry is a leading geneticist. Return to text.
- This appeared on BBC Radio and subsequently in the book, Stannard, R., Science and wonders: Conversations about science and belief, Faber & Faber, London, 1996, p. 46. Return to text.
- Clarke, C. L., Evolution and the Breakup of Christendom, Marshall, Morgan & Scott Ltd, London, 1930, p. 130. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 270. Return to text.
- The branch of theology dealing with the doctrines of the ‘last things’ regarding mankind’s ultimate destiny; including death, judgement, heaven and hell. Return to text.
- Letter to Asa Gray, 22 May, 1860. In: Burkhardt, F., Evans, S. & Pearn, A. (eds), Evolution: Selected letters of Charles Darwin, 1860–1870, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 11. Return to text.
- Ref. 10, p. 250. Return to text.
- An oxymoron is a contradiction in terms; for example, a ‘deafening silence’ or a ‘married bachelor’. Return to text.