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Sleeping with the enemy

Is teaching theistic evolution the solution?

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Published: 2 May 2013 (GMT+10)

CMI has long pointed to the connection between atheism and evolutionary teaching. By definition all thinking atheists must believe in evolution of some sort (and its co-joined concept of millions of years of earth history) to explain their existence without a creator. F. Sherwood Taylor (former Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford) summarized his belief about his country’s general apostasy this way; ‘ … I myself have little doubt that in England it was [uniformitarian, long-ages] geology and the theory of evolution that changed us from a Christian to a pagan nation.’1

And as street preacher/evangelist Mark Cahill stated; “I think the real issue is if people know that evolution is true, they then know that the Bible would not be true and that then leads to the conclusion of atheism.”2 From their universities’ inner halls to their wide open streets, evolution’s effect on the western nations has been the same. The obvious implication is that if the Bible cannot be accepted as plainly read then why trust it at all?

The blame game

… some Christians claim it is Bible believing creationists that are the cause of people rejecting the Christian faith. They declare that once youngsters get older and learn ‘real science’ then they reject all of Christianity, not just the Genesis account.

Of late, some Christians have added a new slant to this by claiming it is Bible believing creationists that are actually the cause of people rejecting the Christian faith. The twist is this. They say that when Christians affirm a plain reading of the Bible and teach it to young people they are setting them up for apostasy. Why? They declare that once youngsters get older and learn ‘real science’ (which is often stated as millions of years and evolution) then they reject all of Christianity, not just the Genesis account.

Typical of this type of attack is Karl Giberson’s article in the Huffington Post titled; “Creationists Drive Young People Out Of The Church”.3 In it he cites studies by Barna pointing out the alarming defection of young people from the church and points to a tension between Christianity and science as a major culprit.

In his online Christianity Today article “Young Earth Creationism Makes Life Difficult for Everyone” author Rob Moll bashes biblical creationists and then quotes Stephen Moshier (department chair of Wheaton Christian College) saying; “Many of us at Christian colleges really grieve at what a problem this young-earth creationism makes for the Christian witness.”4

And these views are making inroads. CMI Canada’s ministry dept recently received an email communication from a supporter attending one of the largest churches in Western Canada who confessed his Senior Pastor had declared from the pulpit that biblical creationists are “ … responsible for the spiritual demise of millions of discouraged Canadian church youth … ” and that the literal biblical creation account is outdated and that those who hold to it “ … show disgusting pride”. (An interesting note is that this supporter is a physician with extensive training in zoology, psychology, theology and ancient history with earned degrees in all of these areas.)

Points of agreement/disagreement

Biblical creationists agree that young people are abandoning the faith because of a perceived discrepancy between the plain reading of the Scripture and what they are being taught is the ‘fact’ of evolution. However, we disagree that attempting to perform highly specious theological gymnastics with the plain reading of the biblical text is the best approach. Teaching Christians to reinterpret biblical revelation based on (ultimately atheistic) evolutionary presuppositions is illogical and leads to a lack of biblical authority.

Rather, we believe showing them that the creation/evolution debate is not a science vs faith debate but rather a faith vs faith debate based on the same facts is the best way to defend their beliefs.

By showing them—

  1. The difference between operational and historical science,
  2. That the facts that evolutionists hold up to support evolution can be better interpreted as evidence in support of the Bible and,
  3. By compromising in one area you give up biblical authority in all areas,

—the faith of many has been fortified.

Who is right?

Various creation ministries worldwide have received hundreds of testimonies from people describing their shipwrecked faith being reignited, new boldness when witnessing and salvation moments occurring through their teaching that God’s Word can be trusted from the very first verse. But what about Theistic Evolution (TE)? (Not simply having someone come to Christ while still holding to evolutionary beliefs, but actively teaching theistic evolution to people in a Christian context?) How effective has that been?

Perhaps a good way to gauge the effectiveness of the theistic evolutionary approach is to examine the views and faith claims of those that espouse this approach most strongly.

From the horse’s mouth

Biologos is a Christian ministry that promotes the synthesis of evolutionary teaching with the Christian faith. Where did their leader Francis Collins get his ideas about such things to begin with?

“I couldn’t take Genesis literally because I had come to the scientific worldview before I came to the spiritual worldview … When I read Genesis, I had to say ‘I don’t know what this means here’ … ”5

So clearly it was not Scripture that shaped Collins’ view regarding Genesis. If asked why he believed in a virginal conception or a dead person coming back to life after three days when science clearly denies that, he would be forced to say, ‘Revelation from God’. But to believe the clear historical revelation from Scripture in one area and disregard other areas as unscientific is arbitrary and illogical. Atheists commenting on Biologos’ website have noticed …

The real issue is that BioLogos doesn’t have a bright line stance on science versus religion, saying that science and sound and tested evidence trump religion where the two conflict … it puts both biblical literalists and ‘moderates’ in the same basket, since it opposes impossible virgin births and impossible re-revivification of corpses as much as it opposes a 6,000 year-old earth. Thus BioLogos has no actual principle to stand on when they oppose a literal reading of Genesis but support a literal reading of a story of a virgin birth.6

And another;

… yeah, somehow not buying it. And I would have noted the blatant contradiction even in my bible-believing days as well … Do you ever get tired of tying yourself into a pretzel trying to ignore obvious logical implications, and to keep others from noting them?7

One of Biologos’s main contributors is Karl Giberson (mentioned above). A former professor at Eastern Nazarene College, he’s received numerous recognitions including three Master Teacher and several Professional Achievement awards.

In his book ‘Saving Darwin; How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution’ he expounds as to why he feels Christians should embrace evolution. As one of his main messages is that accepting evolution will prevent young people from losing their faith, it is revealing to hear what he has to say about his own faith.

[M]y belief in God is tinged with doubts … I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned.8

He describes how evolution changed his entire perspective on God’s word:

It etched holes in those parts of Christianity connected to these stories—the fall, ‘Christ as second Adam’, the origins of sin, and nearly everything else that I counted sacred.9

As to why he still believes in God even though he cannot take major parts of it as plainly written he states;

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.10

Of course CMI recognizes that one can believe in evolution and be born again due to blessed inconsistency. But if one were to receive that answer from a friend at church about why they call themselves a Christian, would you consider this person to be a saved believer?

And it’s not as if atheists are embracing the faith because of such compromise positions. Look at what atheist Jerry Coyne said in a review of Giberson and Kenneth Miller (another theistic evolutionist).

Like Giberson, Miller rejects a literal interpretation of the Bible. … But this leads to a conundrum. Why reject the story of creation and Noah’s Ark because we know that animals evolved, but nevertheless accept the reality of the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, which are equally at odds with science? After all, biological research suggests the impossibility of human females reproducing asexually, or of anyone reawakening three days after death.11
… Christians can discern for themselves if teaching TE is the best way to help Christians fortify their faith. But ultimately such things should be decided less pragmatically, because the real issue is whether Christians should teach God’s word as plainly written or not!’

Not only do atheists like Coyne reject such compromise views, they clearly understand how they can use them to their own advantage.

This disharmony [between science and religion] is a dirty little secret in scientific circles. It is in our personal and professional interest to proclaim that science and religion are perfectly harmonious. After all, we want our grants funded by the government, and our schoolchildren exposed to real science instead of creationism. Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel.

This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence—the existence of religious scientists—is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith. … we can expect more books like those by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson. Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.12

Is it helping?

So Christians can discern for themselves if teaching TE is the best way to help Christians fortify their faith in Scripture. But ultimately such things should be decided less pragmatically, because the real issue is whether Christians should teach God’s word as plainly written or not!

Far from fortifying a Christian’s faith, TE actually disconnects it from real history and weakens it immeasurably. A belief in an evolutionary history destroys the ability to answer even the simplest and most common objections to faith like; “If you have such a loving God, why is there so much death, pain and suffering in the world?” (If millions of years of earth history and/or evolution is true then He must be fine with pain, death and suffering as part of the creative process rather than a consequence of sin).

Once again the crux of the creation/evolution debate is highlighted, as both biblical creationists and evolutionist (in this case TEs) agree with the facts they are observing (an exodus of young people from Christian homes due to challenges with ‘science’ and faith). But because of different starting beliefs, they are coming to different conclusions as to ‘why’ this is happening.

References

  1. F. Sherwood Taylor, ‘Geology changes the outlook’, in Ideas and Beliefs of the Victorians, Sylvan Press Ltd, London, p. 195, 1949 (one of a series of talks broadcast on BBC radio). Return to text.
  2. Personal correspondence from Mark Cahill, evangelist and author of the book One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven. A special feature on Mark will appear in the next issue of Creation magazine: A watchman for the Lord—Gary Bates and Scott Gillis interview well-known US evangelist Mark Cahill, Creation 35(3):41–43, 2013. To subscribe, click here. Return to text.
  3. Karl Giberson, Ph.D, Posted: 11/19/2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-giberson-phd/creationists-and-young-christians_b_1096839.html. Return to text.
  4. Rob Moll, Young Earth Creationism Makes Life Difficult for Everyone, http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2007/12/young_earth_cre.html. Return to text.
  5. Biologos Forum, March 5 2011, Francis Collins and Karl Giberson Talk about Evolution and the Church, http://biologos.org/blog/francis-collins-and-karl-giberson-talk-about-evolution-and-the-church. Return to text.
  6. Atheists comment from blog “After Inerrancy, Evangelicals and the Bible in the Postmodern Age, part 4” Biologos Forum, 26 June 2010. Return to text.
  7. Ref 6. Return to text.
  8. Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl W. Giberson Harper One, New York, 2008. See review by Jerry Bergman, The tragic toll of toxic teaching, J. Creation 25(3):33–36, 2011. Return to text.
  9. Giberson, Ref 8 (p. 10). Return to text.
  10. Giberson, Ref 8 (pages155–156). Return to text.
  11. Web Article: Seeing and Believing (The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail) by Jerry A. Coyne—A review of the books Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution By Karl W. Giberson and Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul By Kenneth R. Miller, The New Republic—A Journal of Politics and the Arts (February 04, 2009), tnr.com/booksarts/story.html?id=1e3851a3-bdf7-438a-ac2a-a5e381a70472. See also CMI’s review of the Miller book, by John Woodmorappe, Miller’s meanderings: only the same bogus contentions, J. Creation 23(1):19–23, 2009. Return to text.
  12. Coyne, Ref 11. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Evolution
by Jonathan Sarfati
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Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
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