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Theistic Evolution:

Some Theological Implications

John W. Klotz

From the Baptist Challenge, August 2014

Is it possible that evolution was God’s way of creating, that He used natural means over a long period of time? Can we solve the evolution-Bible controversy by adapting Scripture to a theory of theistic evolution? Is Genesis literal history? What do you say?


Science is so influential today that Christians are tempted to adjust Christian doctrine to it by accepting theistic evolution as God’s method of creation. Men’s observations and interpretations are not infallible, and science has returned to once-rejected theories so the present popularity of evolution should not deceive us. Hermeneutical principles applied to the types of literature in the Bible, the interpretations of Genesis by the Protestant Reformers. New Testament light on the creation account, the theological importance of the doctrine of creation, and the logical and practical effects of accepting evolutionary theory — all combine to warn us of the spiritual dangers of theistic evolution.

 

Some men like to be different, but the average man is a notorious conformist. He likes to fit in with the general run of people. The way to win friends and influence people is to agree with them. Many believe that the best way to win people for Christ is to soft-pedal such controversies as evolution, or better yet, to adapt evangelical Christianity to the generally accepted theory.


There is no doubt that science has increased its impact and influence substantially. It cannot be ignored in our twentieth-century Western culture. We respect and even worship that which produces, and science has certainly produced in the society of which we are a part. Consequently the scientist has come to be regarded as an authority not only in science but in other areas as well, and this includes religion. And who would quarrel with a recognized authority? Rather than quarrel we ought to adjust and adapt.


There is another factor that cannot be ignored. The history of controversies between scientists and theologians has not been particularly flattering to churchmen. The evangelical Christian cannot but be haunted by the ghost of Bishop of Wilberforce at Oxford in 1860 and by the ghost of William Jennings Bryan at Dayton in 1925. We would do well to learn from experience and experience in this case certainly dictates caution.


Certainly we ought to try to get along with our contemporaries: the Bible urges this. Ought we then to adjust and adapt Christian doctrine by accepting theistic evolution? This has been a popular way of reconciling theology and science ever since Darwin suggested his theory and Huxley defended it. Dillenberger, among others, has an interesting section relating the history of theistic evolution; its proponents include eminent evangelical scholars. Is it possible, then, that evolution was God’s way of creating?

 

We would certainly all agree that God ordinarily works through means in dealing with us and all men today. He ordinarily uses natural laws, cause and effect relationships. Is it possible that in bringing this world into being He also used natural means, cause and effect relationships operating gradually over a long period of time? Evolution would certainly seem to agree with the way in which God ordinarily works today.


False Claims


Theistic evolutionists are also quick to point out that many facts and observations seem to point to evolution, and they argue that God would certainly not deceive us by creating a world that appears to have evolved when actually He finished it by fiat creation. Let us look at this claim. It implies that finding evidences which intelligent men interpret as indicating that evolution has occurred means either that it has occurred or that God created an earth that deceives. But there is a third possibility.


It may be that the limitations of man’s understanding and reason lead him to misinterpret the evidences which are present at this time level. Many people have interpreted the evidences of their sense organs as indicating that the earth is flat. For almost two thousand years intelligent men — among them some of the most capable scientists who ever lived — interpreted their observations of the solar system to indicate that the earth was its center. Would anyone today blame God for these faulty interpretations and accuse Him of creating an earth and a solar system that deceived?


Others who urge evangelical Christians to adapt their theology to modern science by adopting theistic evolution suggest that we are fighting a losing battle in opposing evolution because science never moves back to accept a theory or a hypothesis which it has rejected. They tell us that the evidences which have accumulated have led science to move from the idea of sudden origins implicit in fiat creation to the idea of the gradual development of living things. Science, we are told, never returns to an explanation which was found wanting.


Yet science does re-turn to rejected theories and hypotheses. Aristarchus of Samos developed a heliocentric theory which was studied, rejected in favor of Ptolemy’s geocentric theory, and then developed afresh some seventeen centuries later by Copernicus. The theory of epigenesis was proposed by Aristotle and accepted by Harvey.


Swammerdam and the early microscopists rejected it because of what they thought they saw with their newly developed microscopes and developed the theory of preformation only to have that theory rejected in favor of a return to the theory of epigenesis. Spontaneous generation was rejected in the light of evidences developed by Redi, Spallanzani, and Pasteur.


Today naturalistic evolutionists find spontaneous generation necessary to explain the origin of the first living matter from inorganic precursors.


Is it possible that evolution was God’s way of creating? Can we solve the evolution/Bible controversy by adapting Scripture to a theory of theistic evolution? First of all, we ought to point out that some evangelical Christians believe it is nonsense to speak of theistic and atheistic evolution. They believe the two adjectives have no business being used in connection with the noun evolution. They say that we do not talk about theistic and atheistic chemistry or theistic and atheistic physics, and we ought not to talk about theistic and atheistic evolution.


Evolution, they say, is a scientific theory. They argue that it has nothing to do with Christianity, and therefore it cannot be either theistic or atheistic. It is essentially this position that Van der Ziel takes when he says that science and theology are plausible approach. It does away with the problem by denying that one exists. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t talk about theistic and atheistic physics or chemistry or sociology or anthropology. What the proponents of this point of view are suggesting is existence of a sharp dichotomy between science and Christianity. Science they say, is concerned with the material, the here, the now; Christianity is concerned with a message of redemption, the spiritual, and the life that is to come.


Yet this sharp division is really too neat. It isn’t possible to compartmentalize in this way. Christianity is very much interested in the material, the here, the now. It has been least effective when it has concentrated exclusively on the spiritual and on the life that is to come. Too many Christians today are compartmentalizing, worshiping God on Sunday and mammon during the week. Any division of man into body, soul, and spirit is arbitrary and is done for the sake of convenience. A human being is one. He must be one in his life and in his thinking.


It is true that we do not speak of theistic and atheistic chemistry or physics. But it also is true that we have Christian chemists and physicists. Chemistry and physics do not play a direct role in the body of Christian beliefs.


The origin and development of all things, the story which evolution purports to tell, does enter into the body of Christian beliefs. Theistic evolutionists recognize that a literal interpretation of Genesis cannot be accommodated to theistic evolution. For that reason they suggest that Genesis must be interpreted in some other way.


Some tell us that it is poetry, others that it is saga, still others that it is myth. In any theological discussion of theistic evolution one of the first topics that must be dealt with is the interpretations of the first chapters of Genesis.


Genesis 1-11


Traditionally evangelical Christians have interpreted the Bible literally. This does not mean that it has been interpreted literalistically. Many criticisms that are raised against the Bible are due to the attempt to make it speak literalistically. Many ridicule the Bible phrases “the four corners of the earth” and “the ends of the earth” and insist that this shows clearly that the Bible teaches a flat earth. Yet we have no problem with these phrases if we recognize that they are poetic imagery. Many of the criticized phrases occur in the Psalms or in one of the prophets.


A literal interpretation of Scripture recognizes that criticized phrases occur in the Psalms or in one of the prophets. There may be different literary genres and that in any type of literature there may be figures of speech. The Bible is made up of historical books, poetic books, and prophetic books. These have their different styles. Prophecy, for instance, is made up chiefly of pictures and ought to be interpreted in this way. There are different ways of expressing things. New Testament quotations of the Old Testament are an example of this. In many instances we do not have direct quotation but rather indirect. For this reason the words are often not quoted exactly and they need not be.


We must recognize, too, that within a historical book there may well be similes, metaphors, poetic expressions, allegories, and hyperboles. But even these are meant to communicate a literal historical truth.


Let us look at some of the possibilities for Genesis 1 to 3. Could these chapters be poetry? Smethurst suggests that this is the case. Yet there is no evidence that this section is intended as poetry, because it does not have the characteristics of Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry was characterized, not by rhyme or rhythm, but rather by parallelisms. A verse of Hebrew poetry is always double and sometimes triple. Look at one of the Psalms as an example. There you will find a phrase followed by a second phrase. The second phrase either repeats the same thought as the first phrase in a different way, or it adds to the original thought or it gives the antithesis of the original thought.


Poetry is not confined to the poetic books. Genesis 25:23 is in the form of Hebrew poetry as is also Genesis 27:29. The poetic sections within the historical books generally are brief. When we examine Genesis 1 to 3, we find it does not show the characteristic parallelisms of Hebrew poetry. Genesis 1 to 3 strongly appears to be a historical account.


Is it possible that this is saga or myth? The former is used to designate a historical occurrence but one which did not occur in the manner recorded. The latter is to describe an account totally without historical foundation. And he laughs at who suggest these interpretations usually apply the scheme to the entire section from Genesis 1 through Genesis 11. Thus they suggest that the stories of the Noachian deluge and the Tower of Babel as well as the story of the creation and fall are myth or saga rather than history. They are generally agreed, though, that Abraham is a historical character and that the rest of the Genesis account is history.


When we examine the end of Genesis 11 and the beginning of Genesis 12, we look in vain for any indication of a change of literary style or genre. It all seems to follow in the same style or pattern. There is no sharp shift like the one at the beginning of the poetic section of Job (Job 3:2). When we read through Genesis 11 and into Genesis 12, verse seems to follow verse and paragraph paragraph.


But there is an even more striking reason for interpreting Genesis 1 to 3 literally. A general principle of biblical interpretation is to let scripture interpret scripture. Particularly Christians like to let the New Testament throw light on the Old Testament. What has the New Testament to say about Adam and Eve? Theistic evolutionists usually argue that they are not persons but that rather they represent an evolutionary population, mankind in general.


This they must argue for if man developed from anthropoid ancestors, it is inconceivable that a single male and a single female developed the status of Homo Sapiens. Rather we would expect to find a group, an evolutionary population, achieving that status. It is true that the Hebrew word Adam is sometimes used not for a single individual but for mankind in general, and theistic evolutionists argue that this is the case in Genesis.


While Jesus does not refer to Adam and Eve by name, He does refer to the creation story. In one of His encounters with the Pharisees, He confounded them when they challenged Him on the subject of divorce by referring to the creation account. He refers to it in such a way as to indicate that He accepts it as a historical account, because He quotes both Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 (See Mt. 10:3ff).


The Apostle Paul refers to Adam by name (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13f). Moreover, the whole argument in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 rests on the historicity of Adam, for Paul speaks of one Adam and one Christ. If Adam represents an evolutionary population, it is hard to see how the analogy fits. Paul refers elsewhere to the creation account and treats it historically, not allegorically. In 1 Timothy 2:13 he tells us that Adam was first formed, then Eve. This makes sense only if the Genesis account is interpreted literally. It is biological nonsense to suggest that for a time there was a race of males and that only later did females evolved. Paul’s reference to the creation in 1 Corinthians 11:12 is also interesting. Here we have a very clear reference to the account of Eve’s creation, because Paul says that woman is “of” [out of] the man.


Some Implications


Actually the doctrine of creation is an important one. Carl Henry has an excellent discussion in the Darwin Centennial Volume of the ASA. Man’s whole relation to God depends on the fact that God is the Creator and man the creature. It is for this reason that Scripture goes into detail about the creation. We owe God honor, worship, and obedience because He created us. Christianity is in a very real sense an authoritarian religion. When God speaks, man is to obey. The Ten Commandments are binding on all men, not because they are the socially accepted way of living but because they are the commandments of the Creator.


The story of creation is a part of the super-naturalism of the Bible. Most dyed-in-the wool evolutionists, such as Simpson, object to any sort of super-naturalism and find the approach of a man such as Telhard de Char-din, the Roman Catholic atheistic evolutionist, unacceptable. Theistic evolution, while not denying God, removes Him at least one step. It suggests that He works exclusively through natural laws and that He is more or less out of touch with the world in which we live. The God of the evolutionist is very similar to Newton’s watchmaker God.


Indeed the watchmaker God is the prototype of the theistic evolutionist’s God. New-ton accepted miracles, but he believed that the age of miracles was past. While he himself was pious, devout, and deeply religious, his suggestion that the universe is a machine and his implicit denial of God’s role in preservation laid the foundation for much of the mechanism and materialism which characterizes modern science. In a very real sense evolution represents the application of Newton’s mechanism to the biological world. Theistic evolutionists still proclaim God. So did Newton and his followers. But it was not long until other men came along, applied Occam’s razor, and eliminated God entirely, since He was no longer philosophically necessary. This has happened also in biology; the result has been the evolutionary humanism of Huxley and Simpson.


The whole thrust of evolution, with its emphasis on fitness and selection, runs counter to the basic Christian ethic of love with its emphasis on brotherly love and responsibility for the care of the unfortunate and the unfit. In a Darwinian sense these ought not survive. If selection is to accomplish its purpose of improving the species, we ought to permit it to eliminate those who are less fit. It may be that we are weakening the race by permitting the unfit to survive. But who are we to judge fitness? Isn’t it possible that those who are unfit in one respect are superior in another? And if we cannot judge fitness, how is an impersonal natural selection to make that judgment?


Christianity emphasizes the importance of the individual. You and I are important in God’s eyes. He sent His Son to suffer and die for us, and He has written our names on the palms of His hands He knows us by name: yes, He has even numbered the hairs of our heads. To the modern evolutionist the individual is unimportant; it is the group, society, that counts. If a choice must be made, it is the welfare of the group that must prevail. The rights of the individual must yield to those of the group. Christianity emphasizes the rights of both, and so does American democracy.


Theistic evolution cannot be fitted with a literal interpretation of Scripture. It can be accepted only by those who are willing to regard the Genesis account as allegorical in some way or another. But if Genesis is not literal history, what real evidence have we that the Gospels are literal history? The men who wrote the Gospels were a part of the same Hebrew culture as the writers of the Old Testament. Moreover, the whole thrust and philosophy of evolution go counter to the historical Christianity. There is reason for rejecting evolution for consistency may well lead to the evolutionary humanism which is the religion of so many scientists today. Not all the theistic evolutionists have gone that far; many of them will accept the Christ of the Gospels. But evolution is more than a scientific theory. It has implication not only for the material and physical realm, but also for the spiritual realm.