Does theistic evolution take away the need for God?
This short piece is written to my fellow Christians who hold to theistic evolution—in the sincere hope that it may provoke you to think again. I don’t write to condemn, but to appeal to you to look into the issue some more.
Many people think theistic evolution (aka evolutionary creation), a position held by many theologians and scientists today, represents the sensible middle ground, but is that really the case? American theologian Wayne Grudem argues that “theistic evolution completely nullifies the evidence for God’s existence in living things, and therefore significantly hinders evangelism.”1 How so? By reducing any confidence your hearers might have in the Bible. I myself once held to theistic evolution, but along with many other Christians, I now believe that it undercuts Christianity as a reliable source of truth.2 James P. Moreland, Professor of Philosophy at Biola University, observes that it “weaken[s] the rational authority of biblical teaching among Christians and non-Christians. As a result, the Bible is no longer regarded by many as a genuine source of knowledge, and fewer and fewer people take the Bible seriously.”3
Think about that for a moment. Many adherents of theistic evolution hold that there are human beings alive today who never descended from Adam, but doesn’t that undermine the logic of redemption? The Apostle Paul indicates that it is those bearing Adam’s image (his human descendants) who are eligible for salvation through Christ.4 In any case, why did Jesus need to die if there was no Adam or original sin, as most theistic evolutionists teach? The gravity of sin is inevitably downplayed, as Niamh Middleton observes. A lecturer at Dublin City University, and a theistic evolutionist of sorts, she claims:
“Much of what would have been considered ‘sin’ in the past can now be attributed to circumstances that are not the fault of any particular individual and can, in fact, be remedied through secular rather than religious means.”5
Moreover, many academics are not impressed with the cherry-picking approach to the Bible’s teaching that goes hand-in-glove with theistic evolution. And I’m not talking about strong atheists like Richard Dawkins. Steve Stewart-Williams is Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus. He has a long-standing interest in philosophical issues relating to the mind and evolutionary theory, having authored two books whose titles betray his position: Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life (2010) and The Ape that Understood the Universe (2018). In the former, he complains:
“The idea that the biblical stories are symbolic is charitable to the point of absurdity. What would we think of a university professor who, happening upon unambiguous errors in a favourite student’s work, concluded that the student was speaking symbolically and awarded her top marks? The whole notion that Genesis is metaphorical, and that evolution is a testament to the glory of God, smacks of the kind of spin doctoring that gives politicians a bad name. Liberal Christians alter their original religious beliefs to make them compatible with evolutionary theory, and then scoff at the idea that there was ever any threat. In doing so, they casually downplay just how radically they’ve rewritten their religion. Arguably it is not the same religion as the one it evolved from; it merely shares the same name.”6
Hmm, “arguably … not the same religion”, says Steve Stewart-Williams, in the context of a denial of the early part of Genesis as history. If that seems rather unfair, consider American theologian John H. Walton’s re-imagined version of the events of Genesis 3:
“He [the serpent] does not say ‘you will not die’. Instead the placement of the negation results in something more like “don’t think that death is such an immediate threat.”7
Walton argues that pain, suffering, and mortality were already present in the world in which Adam and Eve found themselves, making their disobedience more excusable:
“Instead, we can have a much more charitable attitude toward Adam and Eve when we realize that it is not that they initiated a situation that was not already there; it is that they failed to achieve a solution that was in their reach.”8
Re-read the statement by Niamh Middleton and we must acknowledge that this “charitable attitude” to sin carries over into people’s view of human wrong-doing today. And that, in the words of Wayne Grudem, certainly “hinders evangelism”. If sin is not so bad, why the need for atonement? Maybe there are other, less ugly, ways to cover human sin that don’t require the bloodshed of the incarnate Son of God? Perhaps, after all, the idea that Christ took the punishment for our sins9 is merely a ‘theory of substitutionary atonement’ that we may dispense with? Much more convenient, surely, simply to take Jesus as our example, rather than our sacrifice for sins? Except that we now have “a different gospel” and “another Jesus”, which “distort[s] the gospel of Christ”.10
References and notes
- Grudem, W., chapter 27 in: Moreland, J.P. et al (Eds.), Theistic Evolution: A scientific, philosophical, and theological critique, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, pp. 783–837, 2017 (pp. 829–830, emphasis his). Return to text.
- Bell, P., Evolution and the Christian Faith, Day One Publications, Leominster, 2018. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 633. Return to text.
- E.g. 1 Cor. 15:22, 45, 1 Tim. 2:13–14. Return to text.
- Middleton, N., Homo Lapsus: Sin, evolution, and the God who is Love, Deep River Books, Sisters, Oregon, 2018. Return to text.
- Stewart-Williams, S., Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How evolutionary theory undermined everything you thought you knew about life, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 63, 2010 (emphases added). Return to text.
- Walton, J.H., The Lost World of Adam and Eve, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Illinois, p. 134, 2015. Return to text.
- Ref. 7, p. 145 (emphasis added). Return to text.
- Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10. Return to text.
- Quoted from: 2 Cor. 11:4 and Gal. 1:7. Return to text.