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Theistic evolutionist answers CMI’s questions

13 June 2005

Dear Sirs,

I am what would be described as a theistic evolutionist. I am a conservative Christian who believes that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old and that life developed through the evolutionary process. While I have held this view since childhood, a recent inquiry required me to update my reading in order to best answer some questions. Naturally, in trying to research the opposing perspective, I eventually came to your website.

In so doing, I came across what is by now an older article aimed specifically at those who hold my views. As the article posed particular questions to us, I felt it merited an honest response. Im sure others have responded to this long before I did. I know I will not persuade you, and I know you will not persuade me, but I also believe that fellow Christians should be able to disagree on this issue without causing disharmony within the church.

>The following questions may help those who adhere to some form of theistic evolution (God used evolution to create everything) or progressive creation (God intervened at various points in the process of evolution) to realize that their position violates clear concepts revealed in the Bible indeed much that is foundational to the very Gospel itself.

Concept violated: the goodness of God
The Bible says ‘God is good’ and in Genesis 1:31 God described his just-finished creation as ‘very good’. How do you understand the goodness of God if He used evolution, ‘nature red in tooth and claw’, to ‘create’ everything?

-The same way that I believe God is good when he commanded the Israelites to invade Canaan and wipe out the earlier inhabitants of the Promised Land. The same way I believe God is good when He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The same way I believe God is good when He allowed Jobs family to be killed. The same way I believe God is good when He allowed His son to be nailed to a cross and take on our sins. As God told Job, we cant fathom Gods total design, and I have no problem believing that the suffering and pain creation endures is (not always) ordained by God for some good we cant see.

>Concept violated: Adam’s sin brought death and decay, the basis of the Gospel
According to the evolutionist’s (and progressive creationist’s) understanding, fossils (which show death, disease and bloodshed) were formed before people appeared on earth. Doesn’t that mean that you can’t believe the Bible when it says that everything is in ‘bondage to decay’ because of Adam’s sin (Romans 8)? In the evolutionary view, hasn’t the ‘bondage to decay’ always been there? And if death and suffering did not arise with Adam’s sin and the resulting curse, how can Jesus’ suffering and physical death pay the penalty for sin and give us eternal life, as the Bible clearly says (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive)?

-Not if the death promised in the curse is of a spiritual nature as opposed to physical. When interpreted that way, there isnt a conflict. I think that interpretation is valid both because I believe the long fossil record, and because our sinful condition has been defined as spiritual death in Pauls epistles.

>Concept violated: the divine inspiration of the whole Bible If the Genesis accounts of Creation, the Fall, the origin of nations, the Flood and the Tower of Babel the first 11 chapters are not historical, although they are written as historical narrative and understood by Jesus to be so, what other unfashionable parts of the Bible do you discard? The biblical account of creation in Genesis seems very specific with six days of creative activity, each having an evening and a morning. According to the evolutionary sequence, the biblical order of creation is all wrong. Do you think God should have inspired an account more in keeping with the evolutionary order, the truth as you see it, if indeed He did use evolution or followed the evolutionary pattern in creating everything?

-The question here is stacked. You define these chapters as being historical narrative. Clearly, I dont see them that way. I have no problem believing there was a literal Adam and Eve. I have no problem believing that humanity was nearly wiped out in a flood with the exception of Noah and family in their ark. I dont expect the Bible to write out a scientific description of events. The people God used to write down these parts of scripture wouldnt have thought that way, and those are not the points of the scripture God left us.

>Concept violated: the straightforward understanding of the Word of God
If the Genesis account does not mean what it plainly says, but must be ‘interpreted’ to fit an evolutionary world, how are we to understand the rest of the Bible? How are we to know that the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection should not also be ‘reinterpreted’? Indeed, can we know anything for sure if the Bible can be so flexible?

-Ideally through a combination of Gods guidance and common sense. We bring all sorts of outside knowledge and assumptions when we read scripture. Some of these assumptions are wrong, such as when many people used to assume that scripture supported a view that some races were inferior to others. Other assumptions are right, such as when the Bible tells us God stopped the sun from moving in the sky over Joshuas battle and we use what we know of the world to reject the idea that the sun is traveling around a fixed earth. Our observations of physical evidence indicate an earth of approximately 4.6 billion years of age (Yes, I know, you disagree with this conclusion, but I assume you will agree that most researchers have come to that conclusion). Since the evidence indicates Gods creation has these properties, and since we know God doesnt lie, we are forced to conclude that the Bible cant be interpreted as you interpret it.

>Concept violated: the creation is supposed to clearly show the hand of God
Dr Niles Eldredge, well-known evolutionist, said: ‘Darwin … taught us that we can understand life’s history in purely naturalistic terms, without recourse to the supernatural or divine.’1 Is it not philosophically inconsistent to marry God (theism) with evolution (naturalism)?If God ‘created’ using evolution which makes Him unnecessary, how can God’s ‘eternal power and divine nature’ be ‘clearly seen’ in creation, as Romans 1:20 says? Evolution has no purpose, no direction, no goal. The God of the Bible is all about purpose. How do you reconcile the purposelessness of evolution with the purposes of God? What does God have to do in an evolutionary world? Is not God an ‘unnecessary hypothesis’?

-This whole point is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of evolution. Evolution is an attempt to define what has happened, and what mechanisms or properties have made that happen. It can not make any claims to a purpose or goal associated with that process. Individuals can take those facts and then try to use them as support for an ideological theory. Atheists, believing there is no overall purpose to anything anyway, conclude that evolution has no purpose. We theists, believing all things are created by God, and proceed only by His will, believe there is as much purpose to evolution as there is to every other scientific phenomenon in creation. Its the same way that we can define all sorts of other properties of the world scientifically. Gravity, the water cycle, the motion of waves through a medium, etc. We can define them, calculate them with mathematical equations, and predict how they will work in other circumstances. But that doesnt mean we think God is not in control of them. It means He created the universe to work in a certain way for reasons we probably cant guess at.

>Concept violated: the need of restoration for the creation
If God created over millions of years involving death, the existing earth is not ruined by sin, but is as it always has beenas God supposedly intended it to be. So why then should He want to destroy it and create a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3 and other places)? Reference Niles Eldredge, Time Frames the Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium, 1986, Heinemann, London, p. 13.

-Again, because we do not believe the curse inflicted physical death on us, but spiritual. Because you dont believe this, you have a conflict with history as science has observed it. We do not have this conflict, and hence have no problem to explain.

D.D
USA


Dear Sirs,

I am what would be described as a theistic evolutionist. I am a conservative Christian who believes that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old and that life developed through the evolutionary process.

I am curious as to your reasoning for the self-description of ‘conservative Christian’, when the very meaning of the word conservative is to hold to traditional values and beliefs. The conservative understanding of the Genesis creation of nearly all Christian forefathers, maintained even today as a fundamental in the conservative Christian community, is the plain reading that God created in 6 literal days, approximately 6,000 years ago.

While I have held this view since childhood, a recent inquiry required me to update my reading in order to best answer some questions.

It would be really interesting to know just what part of the Bible influenced you to have such a view, since children normally have no difficulty understanding the plain meaning of Genesis. Children acquire evolutionary notions from adults, not the Bible.

Naturally, in trying to research the opposing perspective, I eventually came to your website.

A positive step ;) However, in reviewing your responses, I would kindly offer the suggestion that you spend a bit more time on our website, as many of the points you raise have been fully answered there.

In so doing, I came across what is by now an older article [Some questions for theistic evolutionists and ‘progressive creationists’] aimed specifically at those who hold my views. As the article posed particular questions to us, I felt it merited an honest response. Im sure others have responded to this long before I did. I know I will not persuade you, and I know you will not persuade me,

This last comment seems to be contrary to your obvious placement of science in the magisterial position over Scripture. I should think that this sort of thinking would often require ‘persuasion’, as science findings chronically change, determining a need for constant redefining of your belief system. This is precisely why we warn that marrying one’s theology to today’s science means that one is likely to be widowed tomorrow.

but I also believe that fellow Christians should be able to disagree on this issue without causing disharmony within the church.

Claims of trying to avoid ‘disharmony within the church’ seem to be synonymous with the modern twist of the definition of tolerance. All viewpoints are to be tolerated, save that God’s Word is the final authority. There should be more emphasis put on learning what God said, holding that He meant what He said, and that He should know, as He is the One who was there at the beginning of creation.

Also, the Apostle Paul made it clear that the ones responsible for disharmony were those who brought in teachings contrary to those of the Apostles (Romans 16:17). See also ‘But it’s divisive!’

The following questions may help those who adhere to some form of theistic evolution (God used evolution to create everything) or progressive creation (God intervened at various points in the process of evolution) to realize that their position violates clear concepts revealed in the Bible — indeed much that is foundational to the very Gospel itself.

Concept violated: the goodness of God
The Bible says ‘God is good’ and in Genesis 1:31 God described his just-finished creation as ‘very good’. How do you understand the goodness of God if He used evolution, ‘nature red in tooth and claw’, to ‘create’ everything?

-The same way that I believe God is good when he commanded the Israelites to invade Canaan and wipe out the earlier inhabitants of the Promised Land. The same way I believe God is good when He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The same way I believe God is good when He allowed Jobs family to be killed.

Except that you, for some reason, have ignored the second portion of the sentence, that God described His just-finished creation as ‘very good’. This means that we not only know that God is good and cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), but also that we can trust Him when He told us that creation was very good upon its completion. A ‘very good’ creation cannot logically have been built on the back of millions of years of death and suffering, not to mention that this is not what God tells us in His Word. Therefore, to merely delineate God’s goodness does not address the point at hand.

The same way I believe God is good when He allowed His son to be nailed to a cross and take on our sins.

As we pointed out, the death of Jesus on the cross was to be the ‘last Adam’, to pay for sin. It is a twist of Scripture in an attempt to align it with man’s fallible views by adding death and suffering to the pre-Fall creation. In fact, all your examples came from after Adam’s sin, which resulted in the introduction of death and suffering to both humans and animals, as shown in Cosmic scope of the Fall. So it is fallacious for you to use examples of God’s actions in this post-Fall world that is cursed, to justify your belief that the pre-Fall world was no different.

As God told Job, we cant fathom Gods total design,

But we should be able to believe what He has told us, even when it disagrees with the theories of secular scientists (or Christian scientists that think like secular ones for all practical purposes when it comes to origins).

and I have no problem believing that the suffering and pain creation endures is (not always) ordained by God for some good we cant see.

It is reasonable to recognize that God uses some of the suffering and pain that creation endures for good. However, again, this is a part of the post-Fall world, not part of the original state of not knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5).

Concept violated: Adam’s sin brought death and decay, the basis of the Gospel
According to the evolutionist’s (and progressive creationist’s) understanding, fossils (which show death, disease and bloodshed) were formed before people appeared on earth. Doesn’t that mean that you can’t believe the Bible when it says that everything is in ‘bondage to decay’ because of Adam’s sin (Romans 8) ? In the evolutionary view, hasn’t the ‘bondage to decay’ always been there? And if death and suffering did not arise with Adam’s sin and the resulting curse, how can Jesus’ suffering and physical death pay the penalty for sin and give us eternal life, as the Bible clearly says (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive)?

-Not if the death promised in the curse is of a spiritual nature as opposed to physical. When interpreted that way, there isnt a conflict. I think that interpretation is valid both because I believe the long fossil record, and because our sinful condition has been defined as spiritual death in Pauls epistles.

It is interesting that you put the ‘long fossil record’ (or rather, the uniformitarian interpretation as a sequence of ages rather than a sequence of burial) as your first defence ahead of scripture. Scripture unambiguously tells us that Adam’s death was both physical death and the separation from God, which is sometimes called ‘spiritual death’. Adam's sin affected all mankind (Romans 5:12–19) apart from the God-man Jesus. Adam and Eve experienced this separation from God as the immediate consequence of their sins, and they also began the process of decay that would eventually lead to physical death. After all, God told Adam that because of his sin, he would return to the dust whence he was made (Genesis 3:19). This is clearly physical death.

The last Adam paralleled the first Adam. While the first Adam sinned, the Last Adam, Christ, who was sinless, paid the penalty for our sin. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). And as sin separated Adam from God, during the preternatural darkness, Jesus, God the Son, was separated from God the Father — the only time that Jesus was in a judicial relationship with the Father rather than a filial one. That's why Jesus said ‘My God, my God …’ whereas elsewhere He said ‘My Father …’ (Matt 27:46 & Mark 15:34). This is when God the Father ‘laid upon Him the iniquity of us all’ and ‘crushed Him’ (Isaiah 53). This is one reason why our Sinbearer had to be God — a mere creature could not withstand God's wrath. And the sinbearer had to be sinless, because otherwise He would have to atone for his own sins Hebrews 7:27.

On the Cross, our sins were imputed to Jesus, and in turn His righteousness is imputed (credited to the account) of those who believe (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6).

Also, as the first Adam experienced physical death, so did the Last Adam on the cross (Matt 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46, & John 19:30). Also see Million-Year Man from Dust?

And to link clearly with the Gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:45, the death of the first Adam was contrasted with the resurrection from the dead of the Last Adam. Since this resurrection was clearly physical (it emptied the tomb, and He ate fish and had wounds He invited Thomas to feel), it follows that the death He conquered must also have a physical component.

Concept violated: the divine inspiration of the whole Bible
If the Genesis accounts of Creation, the Fall, the origin of nations, the Flood and the Tower of Babel — the first 11 chapters — are not historical, although they are written as historical narrative and understood by Jesus to be so, what other unfashionable parts of the Bible do you discard?

The biblical account of creation in Genesis seems very specific with six days of creative activity, each having an evening and a morning. According to the evolutionary sequence, the biblical order of creation is all wrong. Do you think God should have inspired an account more in keeping with the evolutionary order, the truth as you see it, if indeed He did use evolution or followed the evolutionary pattern in creating everything?

-The question here is stacked. You define these chapters as being historical narrative. Clearly, I dont see them that way.

It matters not what you see (or wish to see). The Hebrew grammar unambiguously shows that Genesis 1–11 is historical narrative, in exactly the same genre as Genesis 12–50 which no one doubts is intended as historical. For example, in typical Hebrew narratives, the first verb is a qatal (historic perfect), and the verbs that move the narrative forward are wayyiqtols (waw consecutives). Genesis 1 starts with first verb: בָּרָא bārā’ (create)—qatal, then a series of waw consecutives: וַיּאמֶר wāyyō’mer (‘and … said’), וַיְהִי wāyehi (‘and there was’), וַיַּרְא wāyyāre (‘and … saw’). Also, Genesis 1 contains many ‘accusative particles’ that mark the objects of verbs; and terms are often carefully defined, just as we would expect from other historical portions of the Bible.

I have no problem believing there was a literal Adam and Eve.

Yet to be logically consistent with your evolutionary viewpoint, you cannot believe in ‘a literal Adam and Eve’ because evolution presupposes that populations evolve, not all mankind from one set of parents. Furthermore, evolution does not allow for the Creator to have created them both in the order and manner He told us He did (Adam from dust, Eve from his rib). It is a placement of science in authority over Scripture.

I have no problem believing that humanity was nearly wiped out in a flood with the exception of Noah and family in their ark.

Yet again, you are not consistent with the evolutionary viewpoint. The global Deluge, clear in Scripture, is not accepted as history in the eyes of evolutionists, who are closed to the many scientific evidences for a global Flood (see this admission from Hutton, the ‘father of uniformitarianism’).

Also, a global Flood entails no need for billions of years to form the fossil record, because these were first proposed to explain away the fossils by rejecting the Flood a priori.

If by ‘flood’ you mean a local one, then why did birds need to be saved on the Ark? Why would they not simply fly away to perch in a safe area? For that matter, why an Ark at all, when Noah and his family, or in fact any others, could simply move to higher, safer ground? (See Was the Flood global?)

I dont expect the Bible to write out a scientific description of events. The people God used to write down these parts of scripture wouldnt have thought that way, and those are not the points of the scripture God left us.

It is interpretations based on secular presuppositions that are faulty. No one expects the Bible to be a science textbook, which becomes outdated every few years and is full of errors—look at the website of any textbook publisher for examples of textbook errata. However, one cannot deny that the Scripture is precisely accurate wherever it speaks of scientific things. (See also ‘But the Bible’s not a science textbook, is it?’ and ‘But Genesis is not a science textbook’ which cover this from different angles.)

Furthermore, as C.S. Lewis coined the phrase in Surprised by Joy, it would be ‘chronological snobbery’ to assume that the ancients ‘wouldn’t have thought that way’. God used simple language so that all man can understand, yet complicated enough to allow for constant scholarship. The point really is that if God wanted to communicate evolution as the manner in which He created, there are many ways He could have done so. See Genesis according to evolution: If evolution over millions of years was the way God created, He could easily have said so in simple words.

Concept violated: the straightforward understanding of the Word of God
If the Genesis account does not mean what it plainly says, but must be ‘interpreted’ to fit an evolutionary world, how are we to understand the rest of the Bible? How are we to know that the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection should not also be ‘reinterpreted’? Indeed, can we know anything for sure if the Bible can be so flexible?

-Ideally through a combination of Gods guidance and common sense.

Interesting that you responded to the rhetorical question, rather than the overall point that was addressed.

We bring all sorts of outside knowledge and assumptions when we read scripture.

This is precisely why a priori assumptions should always be measured against Scripture for accuracy, rather than the trying to fit Scripture into the preconceived notions of fallible men.

Some of these assumptions are wrong, such as when many people used to assume that scripture supported a view that some races were inferior to others.

This, like the theological evolutionary view, is inconsistent with Scripture as we are plainly told that not only is one race not superior to another, but that there is only one race: the human race (see One race).

Other assumptions are right, such as when the Bible tells us God stopped the sun from moving in the sky over Joshuas battle and we use what we know of the world to reject the idea that the sun is traveling around a fixed earth.

Again, this was an inconsistent assumption. Joshua asking God to stop the sun and moon is from the reference point of the Earth. Just as today, we do not find fault with meteorologists (and others) who refer to ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’, understanding exactly what they mean. Nor do we fault the person who waxes poetical about the beautiful ‘moonlight’, and complain that the moon shines only by reflected sunlight. Therefore, we must give the same allowances to Joshua and other biblical persons.

Our observations of physical evidence indicate an earth of approximately 4.6 billion years of age (Yes, I know, you disagree with this conclusion, but I assume you will agree that most researchers have come to that conclusion). Since the evidence indicates Gods creation has these properties, and since we know God doesnt lie, we are forced to conclude that the Bible cant be interpreted as you interpret it.

Once more, you deny that God revealed anything in the Bible that can be understood by the normal linguistic rules of historical and grammatical context. Instead, you subjugate it to the ever-changing theories of fallible humans. Note that the age of the earth is an interpretation of isotope ratios based on uniformitarian (anti-biblical) assumptions (as per Hutton above). These ages are not ‘facts’. See Radiometric Dating.

Concept violated: the creation is supposed to clearly show the hand of God
Dr Niles Eldredge, well-known evolutionist, said: ‘Darwin … taught us that we can understand life’s history in purely naturalistic terms, without recourse to the supernatural or divine.’1 Is it not philosophically inconsistent to marry God (theism) with evolution (naturalism)?If God ‘created’ using evolution which makes Him unnecessary, how can God’s ‘eternal power and divine nature’ be ‘clearly seen’ in creation, as Romans 1:20 says?

Evolution has no purpose, no direction, no goal. The God of the Bible is all about purpose. How do you reconcile the purposelessness of evolution with the purposes of God? What does God have to do in an evolutionary world? Is not God an ‘unnecessary hypothesis’?

-This whole point is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of evolution. Evolution is an attempt to define what has happened, and what mechanisms or properties have made that happen. It can not make any claims to a purpose or goal associated with that process. Individuals can take those facts and then try to use them as support for an ideological theory. Atheists, believing there is no overall purpose to anything anyway, conclude that evolution has no purpose. We theists, believing all things are created by God, and proceed only by His will, believe there is as much purpose to evolution as there is to every other scientific phenomenon in creation. Its the same way that we can define all sorts of other properties of the world scientifically. Gravity, the water cycle, the motion of waves through a medium, etc. We can define them, calculate them with mathematical equations, and predict how they will work in other circumstances. But that doesnt mean we think God is not in control of them. It means He created the universe to work in a certain way for reasons we probably cant guess at.

You have missed the point that evolution, by definition, is naturalistic; it was invented to get rid of purpose. It sets out to explain design without a Designer. That’s the whole point of Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker (which is recommended reading in many introductory biology courses at university level). Indeed, theistic evolution is an oxymoron. Dobzhansky, the famous evolutionary biologist, when asked about ‘God’, said he had not need of that hypothesis (for evolution to work). Evolution is supposed to explain everything without God. See The horse and the tractor.

Concept violated: the need of restoration for the creation
If God created over millions of years involving death, the existing earth is not ruined by sin, but is as it always has been—as God supposedly intended it to be. So why then should He want to destroy it and create a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3 and other places)?

-Again, because we do not believe the curse inflicted physical death on us, but spiritual.

And that has to ignore the plain statements of the Curse as well as having baneful consequences for one’s view of the Resurrection of the Last Adam.

Because you dont believe this, you have a conflict with history as science has observed it.

That’s the whole point! Science hasn’t observed the alleged millions of years. Rather, these are interpretations of present data under a naturalistic framework that ignores the eyewitness record of history. See also this response to a professing Christian who demanded that we leave the Bible out of it.

We do not have this conflict, and hence have no problem to explain.

D.D.
USA

It is easy to avoid conflict by conceding all ground to the enemy, or so it seems. However, as Winston Churchill said about the then-popular strategy of appeasing Hitler, ‘An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.’ Similarly, far too many Christians hope to appease the misotheists by feeding them concessions about the ‘real’ world of science, hoping that they will leave Christians some crumbs of faith and morality. But in reality, the misotheists have also encroached on faith and morality, e.g. banning school prayer, promoting abortion on demand and gay marriage, and even in some places imprisoning Christians who preach against homosexual behavior.

The following quote, often falsely attributed to Martin Luther, still reflects his view that avoiding doctrines that are ridiculed by the world was gross dereliction of Christian duty:

‘If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.’

Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.

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