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Journal of Creation 34(1):21–23, April 2020

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New textbook teaches non-Christian religion of theistic evolutionism

A review of Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, geology, and biology in Christian perspective by Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Mosher, and John H. Walton
IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL, 2018

reviewed by

understanding-scientific-theories

It is common for Bible colleges and seminaries to have special science classes for religion majors with names like “Christianity and science”. They cover scientific topics (e.g. origins) that are of interest to students who plan on specializing in theological study or pastoral ministry. Five Wheaton College faculty have teamed up to produce their own textbook geared toward this type of class. Out of the five, readers are most likely to be familiar with John Walton, Professor of Old Testament, and the author of many books that Journal of Creation has reviewed previously.1

The back leaf of the textbook promotes “BioLogos books on science and Christianity”. Anyone familiar with our previous refutations of BioLogos, and the various authors associated with them, will be familiar with our claim that their particular brand of theistic evolutionism amounts to evolutionary syncretism.2 We’ve even made the blunt statement that “It’s not Christianity”.3

Expectedly, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins promotes billions of years and evolutionary views of the origin of the earth and universe, the ancestry of humans, and the origin of death and evil. It is nothing short of theistic evolutionary propaganda, and where it isn’t in error, it’s misleadingly simplistic. One might forgive an introductory survey textbook for being simplistic, but in this case, it’s all leaning in one direction—toward evolution and away from any view which respects a plain reading of the biblical text. They do not even acknowledge that such a reading is possible.

The problem of interpretation

The authors assert: “Even as we recognize the Bible as an authoritative document, the Bible’s claims can be understood only through interpretation” (p. 9). They present this as if it is a problem, but we can only understand any communication through interpretation. This is a central tenet of all scholarship. The authors presumably expect the reader of their textbook to interpret their writing, so clearly interpreting the Bible is not a shocking or difficult idea.

The authors also ignore the fact that nature does not speak in propositional statements. Instead, nature must also be interpreted. And scientific data are notoriously difficult to interpret. Across multiple areas of science, multiple studies are showing an inability to replicate scientific results.4 In some cases, flipping a coin would be a more reliable way to determine scientific ‘truth’.

Sadly, Walton et al. have no confidence in our ability to interpret Scripture without their ‘enlightened’ guidance. They say that ancient people had a very different way of thinking from modern people. For instance, regarding the differentiation between natural and miracle, they say:

“This distinction is found nowhere in Scripture. In the ANE no one thought in such categories. Moreover, the biblical authors think that God is involved in everything (e.g. Ps 104; Col 1:15–17). The natural/supernatural distinction developed much later, and people have imposed it on the Bible as they have tried to make sense of the events described in its pages and human experience” (p. 36).

Yet when one reads the Bible, we see that Mary and Joseph knew very well how children are conceived (Luke 1:34; Matthew 1:19), and Hezekiah knew the way a shadow normally proceeded across the steps (Isaiah 38:1–8), and even the widow in Elijah’s day knew that liquid normally has a constant volume while taking the shape of its container (1 Kings 17:7–16). The men of Malta knew that when a snake bites someone, he normally swells up and dies (Acts 28:1–6). Peter knew that men normally cannot walk on top of the water (Matthew 14:22–33). Moses knew that burning bushes are normally consumed (Exodus 3:3). Gideon knew that if there’s dew on the grass, there would normally be dew on the fleece as well (Judges 6:36–40). Yet these poor benighted souls allegedly had no distinction between natural and supernatural!

The authors make much of this alleged inability of ancient people to understand concepts that, on face value, seem very scientific. They even make the ridiculous claim that “Biological and genetic ancestry are not concepts that exist for the biblical authors, so OT and NT claims about ancestry cannot be claims about biological or genetic ancestry” (p. 597). One wonders why Abraham minded that Eleazar was going to inherit his riches (Genesis 15:1–6) if he had no concept of biological ancestry, or why Sarah minded whether Ishmael was going to inherit alongside Isaac (Genesis 21:10)? Why did David have Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11), if Uriah would have had no concept about biological ancestry to object that his wife was carrying David’s child? Why did specifically Saul’s descendants have to die for his sin against the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21)? The fact that five authors who are seeking to teach Bible interpretation to college students, and presumably editors and proofreaders, could not see the patent absurdity of this statement is downright concerning.

Exegetical sleight of hand

distorted-Noahs-ark
Figure 1. The textbook distorts the New Testament’s teaching about Noah’s Flood.

One very common tactic of theistic evolutionists is to explain an interpretation using some long-age assumptions, and then using those assumptions rule out biblical creation. This is nothing short of eisegesis (reading into text something that is not there). For instance, the authors present the idea that God created the universe to have continuity, and then argue based on this, the idea of discontinuity introduced by the Fall is “biblically implausible”, despite the fact that the discontinuity imposed by the Fall is one of the central themes of Scripture (p. 56)!

Their strategic understatement of anything that would be inconvenient for their reinterpretation of Scripture gives a misleading impression of what the Bible teaches. Their statement about “The New Testament and the Flood” is worth quoting at length as an example:

“Only a few passages in the NT refer to the Flood, but none make a statement about its geographical scope. Luke 17:27 talks about how people were living their lives day by day and were caught by surprise when judgment came (compare with Mt 24:38–39). He notes that future judgment will likewise catch people unaware. Second Peter 2:5 references God sparing Noah, and 2 Peter 3:5–6 indicates that the world (kosmos, in its broadest sense, rather than a specific claim about the extent of the Flood) was deluged and destroyed. In light of this small number of references, we find that the NT offers little information to help us answer the scientific questions about the extent of the Flood. Furthermore, it should be noted that what the NT authors do with the Flood story is not necessarily what Genesis does with the Flood story. Both interpretations are valid, but they need not take the same interpretive path. The account could have multiple significances” (p. 243).

This paragraph is an outrageous example of serpentine eisegesis. They omit important elements to cast the very point of these references into doubt. First, 1 Peter 3:20 clearly gives the anthropological scope of the Flood: “eight persons” were saved on the Ark. Peter thought the exact number of the survivors of the Flood was an important detail. If Peter accepted all the details he ever mentions, precisely which details do Walton and company think the apostle would have doubted? And in 2 Peter, when he uses the word kosmos, which suggests a worldwide extent, they intentionally obscure that. If Peter wanted to say that only the ‘inhabited world’ was wiped out, he could have used the perfectly good word oikoumenē, which Luke uses in 2:1 when he speaks of “all the world” being registered in the census.5 Instead, if Peter wanted to indicate a worldwide flood, kosmos is exactly the word he should be using.

Ignorant critique of creation

The authors also tend to describe young-earth creationists as one might expect an 18th century naturalist to describe the inhabitants of some far-off jungle. They certainly do not ever cite their works. The closest one ever gets to a fair treatment is when they describe a creationist belief from 40 years ago that every reputable biblical creationist ministry has since moved away from: they cite the second law of thermodynamics as ‘an effect of the Fall’ (p. 56), despite the fact that every mainstream biblical creationist ministry has rejected this nonsense and teaches that the second law operated before the Fall. They have a chart of the so-called conflicting details between Genesis 1 and 2 (p. 89), as if no one ever noticed this until the rise of uniformitarian geology. These can be easily answered.

Papering over scientific difficulties inherent in evolution and the big bang

From experience, the textbook is utterly predictable. It espouses the latest theistic evolutionary philosophical and scientific explanations while ignoring the significant problems regarding the origin of life, historical Adam, the big bang, and other issues theistic evolutionists have to grapple with.

This book is especially regrettable in light of the fact that there is less reason today for compromise on these subjects. We have better arguments for creation and intelligent design (by the God of the Bible) than we ever had before. We have candid admissions by evolutionists that they don’t know how the complex code of DNA arose, or how life could come from non-life. As mentioned above, there is a reproducibility problem in science serious enough to call most scientific findings into question, let alone the shakiest studies with the most questionable claims of being real science.

Scary consequences of compromise

There are places where the mask slips off, so to speak, and we are faced with the grim consequences of the compromise suggested by Walton et al. For instance:

“If there is no significant prefall/postfall rupture, then it is hard to escape the conclusion that death and disease are part of the normal functioning of the creation in Genesis 1, which, according to the doctrine of creation was incomplete, not yet the new creation it is intended to be. Of course, many Christians believe that the Bible teaches there was no biological death or disease in the prefall creation because prefall everything was ‘perfect.’ Here Greek philosophical notions of perfection are strongly at work” (p. 57).

This destroys the entire Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative of Scripture. If the God of Genesis 1 considered death and disease ‘very good’, then what was Jesus coming to redeem us from, and what exactly were the effects of Adam’s sin?

The Bible is true, but says nothing about the real world

Walton et al. appeal to the fallacious ‘two books’ argument, that natural revelation (i.e. science) and special revelation (i.e. the Bible) tell us about fundamentally different elements of reality. For instance, they say that science focuses on physical questions like the mass and temperature of the sun. They say theology addresses questions of value, such as “what is the meaning of the Sun?” (p. 92). However, this is just another version of the failed ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ argument. When we realize that Scripture addresses historical questions, such as the formative history of the sun (Genesis 1:14–19), it is clear that the ‘two books’ argument does not resolve the problems with theistic evolution.

Theistic evolutionism is a non-Christian religion

Both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to believe in a Christ, claim to believe in a God or gods, and use the Christian Scriptures. Yet we reject their claim to Christianity because they deny doctrines such as the Trinity and the deity of Christ which are central to Christianity. Non-trinitarian Christianity ceases to be Christianity at all. Yet from the first verse of the Bible, God’s most consistent self-identification, that which differentiates Himself from every other being, is that He alone is the uncreated Creator of all that exists. Theistic evolutionism pretends to retain this belief while interpreting this creative act so differently as to deny what God explicitly claims for Himself in His word.

Wheaton is a respected Christian seminary, and among the five authors Walton is a well-known and respected professor. Yet, this textbook is simply dangerous. It will likely be used in many ‘Christianity and science’ college courses specifically tailored for future pastors, to their detriment. Parents of students at Wheaton, as well as alumni from a time when Wheaton may have actually been Christian, should note this with interest and concern.

References and notes

  1. For instance, Halley, K., John Walton reimagines Adam and Eve, J. Creation 29(2):47–51, 2015. Return to text.
  2. Cosner, L., Evolutionary syncretism: a critique of BioLogos, 7 September 2010. Return to text.
  3. Bates, G. and Cosner, L., It’s not Christianity! 2 October 2012. Return to text.
  4. Baker, M., 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility, Nature 533:452–454, 26 May 2016. Return to text.
  5. See Cosner, L., The global Flood according to the New Testament, 24 May 2012. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Steven D.
June 9, 2021

You wrote, " . . . . . . even the widow in Elijah’s day knew that liquid normally has a constant volume while taking the shape of its container (1 Kings 17:7–16)."

I have read this passage four times and can not see where it says a liquid has a constant volume and that it takes the shape of its container. How specifically do you get your interpretation out of this passage in I Kings?

Thank you for your assistance.
Lita Cosner
The widow in Elijah's day knew it was unusual (miraculous) for the tiny amount of oil she had to last for the duration of the famine.
Richard L.
1, Those authors need to read, again and desperately, the first words of 2 Peter 3. Their insistence on "continuity" and "no significant prefall/postfall rupture" is scarily in accordance with the warned-against Greek-philosophy perception of "all things are continuing as they were since the beginning", biblically assigned to the "mockers". The rest of the chapter gives multiple reminders, past and future, of God indeed doing "rupture" and "discontinuity". Have they gone into collective academic and personal amnesia re the Eschaton? So sad!
2. What does God expect of us re discipleship load? A contribution towards the answer comes from the December 1992 issue of "Isis" (a U of Chicago journal, as then titled). It surveyed science done in ancient civilizations, with at least 2 articles giving details about Pharaonic Egypt. The 'scientific' answer in those days included a belief in Pharaonic deities. In Moses' day, the biblical creation account would have been scandalous and "unscientific". Yet.... aren't we glad that God did not accommodate the fallen and mistaken "science" of the day! God expected Moses and his generation to fear God more than man, and to trust the corrective-truth word of God... even at the expense of mocking and scorn. We face the same discipleship load. Yet, wrongly informed consciences--due to lack of due diligence testing of truth claims (Romans 12:2; 1 Thess. 5:21; Col. 2:8; 2 Cor. 10:5)--have led these authors to fear man, to insist on a non-rupture, and to generate further pseudo-tensions such as a resistance to the natural/supernatural distinction. That distinction was certainly in ANE Jericho, where Rahab reports that "hearts "melted" when they heard of the Red Sea crossing (Josh. 2:8-11). They knew that that wasn't natural.
David G.
When people attempt to marry the description of God's creation activity in Genesis 1 (and its object in Genesis 3:8) with explanations of reality that attempt to exclude the creator, they have to absorb the creator into the natural world. This is a merger that instantly turns into a takeover with 'nature' being the senior partner, and 'creator' being contained within creation. This is the operating model of pagan monism and will ultimately deflate any Christian content.
Bill P.
I am not the same Bill P. that went to the U. of Calif. I do agree w/his comment.
My thoughts are, these people have written their own version of The Bible. I also read a few yrs. ago that the U.N. has their version of The Ark that The Lord had Mosses build. The U.N.'s ark is dedicated to nature. If I'm wrong about this please forgive me.
These "Last Days" are just as The Lord said they would be. He has brought Israel back into "The Land" He gave their fathers, & many nations (believing in the strength of their own will) are becoming allies w/the goal of destroying Israel so that The Name of Israel will be remembered no more, (they have no idea that it is The Lord who controls their moves). Many mock & scoff (willingly suppressing "The Truth") & refuse to give God glory & thanks. Judges say good is evil & evil is good, even teaching little children these things, & sadly the lies of this world have made there way into churches, deceiving many. Deception is everywhere !
Yet even now, so near the time when Jesus Christ will rule all nations of this world, He still showers His grace & mercy upon those individuals who will repent, confess that He is Lord & believe that God raised Him from the dead.
For 25 yrs. I was raised in a religion that twisted the Word of God & forced their traditions on those who were & are members of this religion. Forty yrs. ago God had mercy on me & saved me & over time through His Holy Spirit little by little, He has taught me that His Word is true & is the "only truth" in this world. His Word is a treasure I store in my heart.
He has given freely everything needed to "Live" w/Him in eternity future. What He gave us in His Word & through His Son Jesus Christ is just the beginning. It will take eternity to learn His Ways.
TY CMI for sharing.
Aaron D.
“Even as we recognize the Bible as an authoritative document, the Bible’s claims can be understood only through interpretation”

It's really outrageous for any academic to suggest that the need to interpret the Bible is something that distinguishes it from science. This perpetuates the myth that scientists are just objective, neutral collectors of facts and they simply go where ever the facts lead them. This is of course totally false. CMI writers are familiar with Steven Jay Gould's quote about how facts don't speak for themselves but are interpreted in light of theory, but I recently came across an even more significant statement by another top historian of science. In David C. Lindberg's book The Beginnings of Western Science, while discussing the ancient Greek's insistence that the planets move in perfect circles, he writes:

"Greek astronomers have been criticized for their 'dogmatic' commitment to uniform circular motion, on the grounds that a priori assumptions (of this or any other sort) are unjustified, or unbecoming, in a scientist. Is such criticism justified? The truth is that scientists, ancient or modern, begin EVERY investigation with strong commitments regarding the nature of the universe and very clear ideas about which models may legitimately be employed to represent it."
(2nd ed., pages 101-102, emphasis his)

It's not just theory that influences scientific claims, as Gould points out, but scientists' fundamental philosophical views. This must be understood in order to properly reconcile Christianity and science, but those pushing theistic evolution refuse to acknowledge this.

*Lindberg was the Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and president of the History of Science Society
Mark G.
Here we are with one more assault on Genesis, because previous assaults fail on one point or another. This assault also fails.

I think that the heart of the problem is that writers like this believe that evolution is a fact, which will be born out by evidence some day in the future. As Lita pointed out, there are problems with the science. Of course, it you "really believe", the problems with evolution are not a problem, the Bible is.

As many readers of science well know, there are serious problems with the big bang, star formation, planet formation, formation of the first life, origin of major body plans, etc, etc. These problems are of little interest to true believers in evolution.

However, they they look at the bible and every gnat is strained on while they hope no one notices what Jesus had to say about Genesis. Jesus talked about the spilled blood of Abel and quoted Genesis verbatim when stating that God made them male and female. I think that Jesus knew what He was talking about "before Abraham was, I AM".

They would also ignore the internal cohesion of scripture where a historical Genesis is supported by both the Old and New Covenants, Prophets and Messianic Psalms. Then there is the Apostle Paul.

No, scripture is an integrated whole that hangs on the words and person of Jesus Christ.
It is the science that is as faulty and loaded with problems, so loaded that you can't even get the first living cell crawling out of ooze or an ocean vent.
Like magicians who wave a hand, they hide what is in the other.
They can wave their hands all they like but none of it will make evolution a scientific fact and no wave of the hand will make Jesus' words go away "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,' Mat 19:4 
God MADE us!
Bill P.
I remember at the University of California where I took Comparative Anatomy, no one ever questioned the why of homologous structures; we were just suppose to accept the common ancestor blind indifference of evolution as "the what" and that was all that mattered

It's sad a theological seminary and known authors with credentials would act no different than the likes of Richard Dawkins who wants to end the discussion by declaring "Why is a silly question"...To me, these authors have just gone down the same slippery slope thinking they are going to be able satisfy the evolutionists who use the "what only" as a means to eliminate the "why" cutting off any design and purpose by the Creator for the very purpose for denying a Creator...Certainly NOT the blind indifference of evolution at work

Ken Miller at Brown Univ in his book, "Finding Darwin's God" tries to do the same when he says,

"But I do claim that to a believer, even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be. In many respects, evolution is the key to understanding our relationship with God." but more or less ends up trying to do the same thing when he concludes...

" I find a way to make clear that I do not regard evolution, properly understood, as either antireligious or antispiritual. Most students seem to appreciate those sentiments. They probably figure that Professor Miller, trying to be a nice guy and doubtlessly an agnostic, is trying to find a way to be unequivocal about evolution without offending the University chaplain."
C Z.
I am deeply saddened by the compromise in the Church knowing I have friends that follow these teachings as well. I am not sure what to do.
Lita Cosner
We should not be discouraged by compromise. We have the truth of Scripture on our side, and it is compelling once people see it. We should be bold in sharing and trust God to open eyes and hearts!
Norman P.
Thank you for this robust critique. Honest enquiry in interpretation of biblical narratives is entirely understandable and forgivable. But there be some who should know better, who will fall into the ditch of the emerging all-embracing One-World Religion, which is very Antichrist. I do not believe God is passive in all this - there's a giving-over, which is part of the coming just judgement. We know what Jesus said about them: 'Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch' (Matthew 5:14).
(PS: I did not know that the second law of thermodynamics as ‘an effect of the Fall’ was now regarded as 'nonsense' but mainstream Creationist ministries. Why is it nonsense?)
Lita Cosner
The Second Law of Thermodynamics would have been operational before the Fall. See the articles, video, and resources linked at Thermodynamics and Order Questions and Answers for more.
Marcia M.
Dear God, we praise Your holy Name, freely admitting Your thoughts are so much higher than ours. We are left to struggle with the practicalities of Your allowing satan's little helpers to promulgate his poison. What heavenly use are they? How on earth do they advance Your kingdom? LORD, they force us to pray You rain down the fires of hell on their heretical heads.
Or open their blind leading the blind eyes. We pray either one LORD. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Geoff C. W.
"The natural/supernatural distinction developed much later, and people have imposed it on the Bible as they have tried to make sense of the events described in its pages and human experience."
I seem to recall that the disciples remarked on Jesus' ability to control the wind and the waves. Clearly, they didn't think that that was a natural act. Jesus' friends thought that both Jesus and Lazarus were gone for good after they died. That was natural thinking. Surely they saw something supernatural occurring when they came back. Etc, etc, etc.
Why would the Biblical authors even bother to comment on many of the 'miracles' recorded in the Bible, if they weren't indeed miracles?
Incredible how these authors can switch their brains off when they start trying to support the unsupportable.

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