Theistic evolution: what difference does it make?
Like fire and ice, the Bible and evolution don’t mix
Pope John Paul II, in a statement,1 supported ‘theistic evolution’, the idea that God, over immense periods of time, used evolutionary processes to create all physical life-forms from a single organism.
Theistic evolution is a serious departure from the historic Christian faith; it represents a grave threat to the spiritual well-being of God’s people and the effectiveness of their mission in the world.
Many would ask, ‘What difference does it make how God created?’
We need to understand that human beings are ‘wired for a worldview’—God has implanted within us a deep yearning to find satisfying answers to the fundamental questions of human existence. ‘Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Why is there evil and suffering? Where is history going? What will happen when I die?’
Historic Christianity passionately argues that in the Bible we have a revelation from God that supplies not just a worldview, but the worldview: the truth about the ultimate questions of life. I would submit that second to the Lord Himself, this worldview is the Church’s greatest treasure. In attempting to adjust it to modern theories of cosmic and biological evolution, we are in danger of destroying it altogether.
The Bible’s message may be likened to a life-line which God throws out to a spiritually drowning humanity. This life-line is comprised of three strands of truth, indissolubly braided together: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. Theistic evolution undermines all three.
Strand one: Creation
The Bible proclaims that God supernaturally created ‘out of nothing’ a beautiful, harmonious world in six days. The brief Creation Week perfectly suited His purpose, which was to provide a home and a stage for the chief actor in the forthcoming drama of history—man, the creature uniquely made in His own image and likeness. Indeed, so special was man that God gave him prince-like authority over all nature, commissioning him lovingly to ‘subdue’ it responsibly for his own enjoyment and the greater glory of the Creator (Genesis 1:24–28).
Here we first see the wisdom, goodness, and power of God, as well as the dignity and uniqueness of man in the Creation. But theistic evolution (and so-called ‘progressive creationism’ as well) undermines all this. It denies the plain biblical chronology and sequence of God’s creative acts (Genesis 1–2, Exodus 20:8–11). Even more seriously, it attacks the very character of God, identifying His creative activity with the violent, painful, deadly, and purposeless course of evolution. Theistic evolution also subtly undermines the dignity and sanctity of human life, by transforming the prince of Creation into a virtual afterthought of the creation process.
Strand two: Fall
According to Scripture, when the first man, Adam, (the father and representative of the human family) failed God’s simple test of love and obedience, the entire race fell with him into guilt, indwelling sin, sickness, suffering, and death (Romans 5:12 ff).
Not only this, but nature itself was also brought down. The ground was cursed, the elements disturbed, and the animal kingdom wounded (Genesis 3:17). In the words of the apostle Paul, through man’s sin the whole creation was ‘subjected to futility’ and ‘enslaved to corruption’. As a result, the whole creation waits and groans for ‘the revealing of the sons of God’ in resurrection glory at the return of Christ—for as in sin, so in final redemption: the destiny of the creation is inextricably bound to the destiny of man, (Romans 8:20–22).
This biblical teaching supplies a reasonable and spiritually satisfying explanation for the presence of evil and suffering in the world—an absolutely crucial component of any satisfactory worldview. Furthermore, because it pictures sinful passions as alien to original human nature, it motivates us to resist them with help from Him who is opposed to them.
Theistic evolution, however, again throws all into confusion. It portrays God as using suffering and death to create, even though the Bible calls death ‘the last enemy’ (1 Corinthians 15:26). It thereby diminishes our sense of His holiness and goodness.4
Strand three: redemption
God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to become ‘the last Adam’, (Romans 5:12 ff, 1 Corinthians 15:45–49). The former Adam ‘sold’ mankind into sin and the peril of eternal judgment. The ‘last Adam’, on behalf of all who trust in Him, paid the debt to God’s justice, thus ‘buying them back’ into God’s family through His own life, death, and resurrection. The rich inheritance of these believing sons and daughters includes forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God, spiritual transformation, and eternal, resurrection life in a glorious new world that Christ will create.
Thus, the backbone of the message of redemption is the stupendous revelation of the two Adams. But again, theistic evolution strikes at its very heart. This is because the compromise with evolution almost inevitably leads to a denial both of the historicity of Adam and his ruinous fall. Evolutionism clearly undermines the first Adam. But what is the effect of this on the Last Adam (Jesus Christ), whose very mission, according to Scripture, was to undo what the first Adam had so disastrously done?!
Insightful critics of theistic evolution have often commented on its inherent anti-supernaturalism. An aversion to the supernatural in Creation and Fall will sooner or later infect our understanding of redemption as well. The tendency, of course, will be to direct the eye of faith away from the Cross and second coming of Christ towards an ongoing evolutionary process.
We already have an example of this in the theology of Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, who rejected the orthodox doctrines of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Heaven, and Hell, in favour of the view that all humanity is gradually evolving towards a mystical, pantheistic union with God.5 Similarly, New Age theorist John White affirms, ‘The final appearance of the Christ will not be a man in the air before whom all must kneel. The final appearance of Christ will be an evolutionary event.’6
Theistic evolution, which at first glance seems a reasonable compromise with ‘science’, undermines the entire biblical worldview.
Let us not, then, distort or discard any part of this great treasure in favour of the ever-changing opinions of science or philosophy. Evolutionism is the foundation from which the modern world system launches nearly every ideological attack against the faith of Christ. Here, then, where the battle is raging in our time, is where we are called to stand and fight.
Dean Davis is a graduate of Melodyland School of Theology. At the time of writing, he served on the pastoral staff of Good Shepherd Fellowship, and was Director of Come Let Us Reason, a Bible teaching ministry specializing in biblical Theology and Apologetics. He lived in Santa Rosa, California, USA. Return to top.
References and notes
- Pope’s message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 22 October 1996. English translation from the French original provided by the Catholic News Service, cited in Watchmaker 3(6):3–6, 1996. Return to text.
- Neff, D., Christianity Today, 1 June 1997. Return to text.
- Interested readers need only consult such works as Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Michael Denton), Darwin on Trial (Phillip Johnson), Darwin’s Black Box (Michael Behe), Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO! (Duane Gish), to realize that much has changed since the heyday of Neo-Darwinism back in the 1950s. Return to text.
- Long-age ‘creationism’, because it accepts the assumed vast age of most fossils, must have God superintending (if not using) a world of death, disease and bloodshed, eons before any possible human sin. See Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, Van Bebber and Taylor, Eden Productions, 1995. Return to text.
- See Lane, D.H., The Phenomenon of Teilhard; Prophet for a New Age, Mercer University Press, 1996. Return to text.
- Noebel, D., Understanding the Times, p. 146. Return to text.