God, Evolution, and Death
Any model of origins which incorporates the idea of macro-evolutionary history over billions of years is going to have to involve death. USTO discusses death in numerous places, oftentimes in a positive way. One of these discussions is early in the second chapter.
USTO aims to maintain the sovereignty of God over creation. However, it quickly turns out that, because of his love, God has actually relinquished control over his creation:
Parents practice freeing love toward their children when giving them relative freedom to develop and grow. Similarly, God in freeing love gives creation relative freedom to develop and grow into what it is called in the Son and enabled by the Spirit to be. God’s covenantal faithfulness to nature is what makes its relative freedom as a gift possible (20).
It ought to be noted that USTO provides no biblical support for these statements here. The case is made on the basis of an analogy to parents – as if creation is like a child of God.
This personalizing of creation continues when USTO attempts to account for the processes necessary for the evolutionary scientific narrative:
Similar to how in freedom humans stumble and struggle as we grow and develop, the creation’s freedom in development is marked by its incompleteness. Disease, earthquakes, pain, and death emerge in God’s good cosmos due to the relative freedom God gives an incomplete creation to become what it is called to be in the Son as finite, created, being (21).
In other words, creation was not finished at the beginning, but is an ongoing work. Moreover, it is something creation is working out from itself, using the relative freedom given to it by God.
In the midst of this ongoing creation over billions of years, disease, pain and death emerge:
Plants, animals, and insects all participate in their own becoming. In this relative freedom that God graciously gives to the creation to participate in its own becoming, disease, earthquakes, pain, and death emerge in an incomplete creation (21).
This is a thematic thread through all of USTO. Creation ministers to creation and so it participates in its own development. Crucially, death is part of this process. Life and death depend on one another in a sort of “ministerial dance,” troubling as that might be to us (340). Because of its commitment to scientific “evidence” as revelation, they cannot escape the troubling notion that death is necessary for ongoing creation – including for the evolutionary development of human beings.
Behind all this is a quasi-deist understanding of how God relates to creation. God created the raw material at the beginning, his child, and then let that child go and develop in relative freedom, on its own from out of its own resources – “creation ministering to creation.” As already indicated, no direct biblical support is given for this notion. An attempt is made to appeal to Psalm 104 as evidence of creation ministering to creation. However, that Psalm speaks at length of what God is actively doing to uphold the creation he has already made – not a creation undergoing evolutionary development. No, Scripture teaches that God, in his providence, is actively involved with every aspect of his creation. The hairs of our head are all numbered, and even sparrows do not fall to the ground apart from our Father (Matt. 10:29-30). He is directly in control.
Moreover, the idea of death becoming an intrinsic part of creation is reprehensible. Death is an enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Death has a sting (1 Cor. 15:55). Death came into the world through sin (Romans 5:12). Death is not a good thing. Of course, some will say that all these passages just referenced are speaking about human death. But if you take an evolutionary perspective, it makes no difference. Death is then part of human evolutionary history and there is nothing disagreeable about that. However, if death is (or has become) an intrinsic part of creation, then why not have it remain so? Revelation 21:4 says “death will be no more.” According to the Bible, death is not normal, not normal for humans, and not normal for the other creatures either.
Deep Time and the Future of Evolution
USTO says the scientific evidence points towards the existence of deep time – in other words, “the best contemporary value for the age of our universe is almost 13.8 billion years old” (158). Furthermore, the evidence supposedly says that the origins of human beings (Homo sapiens) are out there in deep time as well. The fossil evidence indicates that humans originated in Africa by 200,000 years ago, but with an evolutionary history going back millions of years and potentially involving Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo antecessor and others (594). Ultimately, evolutionary theory argues that, because of their evolutionary history, “humans appear to share the most common ancestor with chimpanzees/bonobos, and next-most recent with gorillas…” (586). So, according to the scientific evidence USTO presents as credible, human beings have a deep-time evolutionary history.
The theological implications of this are not insignificant. If deep time exists, we must allow for the possibility that it exists into the future. In other words, we have to allow for the possibility that this present creation could continue for millions or even billions of years. When it comes to human beings, if human beings have a deep-time evolutionary history, we have to allow for the possibility that they have a deep-time evolutionary future. In other words, if the evidence presented by USTO is correct, we must allow for the possibility that Homo sapiens will evolve further into other species. Perhaps just as with Homo erectus and the common primate ancestors, Homo sapiens will not exist as the species we know them today two million years from now. Human beings will have evolved into some other species.
For the non-Christian scientist who does not believe in the Bible in any way, this is not a problem. An unbeliever can easily rest with the idea that humanity is not done evolving. But, for a Bible-believing Christian, there is a major theological obstacle to continuing human evolution over deep time: the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The incarnation is foundational to biblical, Christian faith. The same nature which has sinned is required to pay for sin. Human beings have sinned and therefore the Son of God had to take on a human nature in order to pay for sin. Fast forward two million years from now and there are still sinful creatures, but they are no longer human beings, having evolved from their primitive ancestors. Must the Son of God re-do his redemptive work for these new beings? Hebrews 9:28 tells us his sacrifice was a once-off. The next time he appears it will not be to bear the curse of sinners.
Theologically, there is a knotty problem with USTO here. The only way out would be to argue that human beings will not have a deep-time evolutionary future — that Christ will return before the human race has the opportunity to evolve further. But how do we know that? The Bible certainly does not say that. The Bible says no one knows when the time of Christ’s return will be except God (Matt. 24:36). From my perspective, it could be two million years from now and I have no problem with that because I do not believe the human race will evolve into other species.
USTO ends up in these theological quagmires because it does not take God’s Word seriously. For example, they completely ignore Luke 3:38 which affirms Adam as “the son of God.” Adam did not have any biological ancestry. He came directly from God. Similarly, USTO ignores Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” Male and female human beings were made by God at the beginning of creation – not several billion years into a fabled deep-time history.