I Believe in Theistic Evolution

I recently realized I believe in/affirm theistic evolution.  Depending on your perspective, have I sold out or have I finally come to my senses?  Neither.  Let me explain.

It has long perturbed me that those who affirm or allow for Darwinian macroevolution to be compatible with a biblical worldview will sometimes call themselves “creationists” or will claim to believe in/affirm biblical creation.  They do this knowing that biblical creation is usually understood to refer to a view that holds to God having created in six ordinary days on a timescale of some thousands (rather than millions or billions) of years ago.  By claiming to believe in creation they lay concerns to rest, whereas all they have really done is disguise their true position.

Stephen C. Meyer has helped me to see I could do the same thing with theistic evolution.  Meyer wrote the “Scientific and Philosophical Introduction” to Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, a massive volume published in 2017 by Crossway.  He notes that theistic evolution can mean different things to different people, as can “evolution” without the modifier “theistic.”  For example, it can refer to common or universal common descent or to the creative power of the natural selection/random variation (or mutation) mechanism.  But evolution can also just simply mean “change over time.”  And if one believes that God causes “change over time,” then that can be understood as a form of theistic evolution.  With that, Meyer contends, no biblical theist could object (p.40).  He concludes, “Understanding theistic evolution this way seems unobjectionable, perhaps even trivial” (p.41).   So, in the sense of believing or affirming that there is change over time directed by God, I am a theistic evolutionist — and I suspect you are too!

But what’s the problem with this?  Let’s say I were to (miraculously) get myself invited to a BioLogos conference as a speaker who affirms theistic evolution.  It appears I’m on board with the BioLogos agenda.  The conference organizers are a little doubtful, but I insist that I affirm theistic evolution and they take me at my word and welcome me in their midst.  Then I give a talk where I evidence that I’m actually a six-day creationist who believes Darwinian macroevolution to be a fraud.  “But you said you hold to theistic evolution!”  “Oh, but you didn’t ask me what I meant by that.  I believe that God causes change over time — that’s how I’m a theistic evolutionist.”  Would anyone blame the conference organizers for thinking me to be lacking in some basic honesty?

Integrity is really the heart of the matter.  If I say, “I read a book and I realized I’m a theistic evolutionist,” most people will hear that and conclude that I still believe in God, but I also affirm Darwinian evolution.  And that is not an unreasonable conclusion.  Furthermore, what would be my purpose for making such a claim?  Would it be to tell something designed to mislead so as to advance my cause?  Does the end justify the means?

If you affirm Darwinian macroevolution as the best explanation for how life developed on earth and you believe God superintended it, then man up and say so.  Honestly say, “I am a theistic evolutionist.”   As for me, believing that God created everything in six ordinary days on the order of some thousands of years ago, I will say directly, “I am a biblical creationist” or “six-day creationist,” or “young earth creationist.”  But let’s all be honest with one another.

Biblical creationists also have to stop being naive.  Just because someone says they believe in biblical creation doesn’t mean they actually believe the biblical account as given in Genesis.  They can fill out those terms with their own meaning.  So we have to learn to ask good questions to ferret out impostors.  Questions like:

  • Do you believe God created everything in six ordinary days some thousands of years ago?
  • Was the individual designated as Adam in Genesis ever a baby creature nestled at his mother’s breast?
  • Was the individual designated in Genesis as Eve a toddler at some point in her life?
  • Do you believe it biblically permissible to say that, as creatures, the figures designated in Genesis as Adam and Eve at any point had biological forebears (like parents/grandparents)?
  • What does it mean that God created man from the dust of the earth?

These are the types of questions churches need to be asking at ecclesiastical examinations for prospective ministers.  These are the types of questions Christians schools need to be asking prospective teachers at interviews.  True, even with these sorts of questions, there are no guarantees of integrity, but at least we will have done our due diligence.

Video Review: Is Creation A Secondary Issue?

The following review is by Walter Walraven.  It originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Faith in Focus, the official magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.  It is published here with the author’s permission. 

Is Creation a Secondary Issue?

by Dr Martin Williams and Creation Ministries International

Is creation a secondary issue? That is the question that Dr Martin Williams presents to the viewer in this excellent video produced by Creation Ministries International. Dr Williams has served as a pastor and missionary and is currently Head of Theology and Lecturer in New Testament and Greek at the Reformed Theological College in Melbourne, Australia.

As a pastor, missionary and lecturer, Williams has often heard the comment that “the doctrine of creation is only of secondary importance, and that Christianity is really about salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ”. Because of such sentiments, creation is often de-emphasized in the creation/evolution debate and relegated to the status of secondary importance. Some say “it is an issue that does not relate to how one is made right through faith in Jesus Christ, so why get all hung up on it?”

In this video, Williams contends that the creation account is the TRUE story of history which is proclaimed in the Scriptures. He gives a clear, systematic, logical and easy to understand explanation of the implications of holding to theistic evolution or long age thinking, and explains quite clearly what effect it has on the gospel. He comments further that not many people have thought of creation from the perspective of the cross. He then answers the question of why people die, progressing through to the explanation of why Jesus died, moving through to a logical conclusion.

Williams also brings into play the views of prominent evolutionists such as Darwin, Sagan and Alexander, who promote the view that death is a permanent part of this earth’s history over millions of years. Denis Alexander, who seems to hold to theistic evolution, states, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is there the slightest suggestion that the physical death of either animals or humans, after a reasonable span of years, is anything other than the normal pattern ordained by God for this earth.” Williams correctly asserts that such an idea is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which teaches that death is actually the result of sin. (Gen 3:17-19)

Maintaining our confidence in the historical narrative of the creation account as presented in Genesis, and understanding why Jesus died according to the Scriptures, is of first importance. It means rejecting evolution or long age thinking, which destroys the gospel.

In closing, I would like to point out, that this is a theological defence of the creation account as it presents itself in the early chapters of Genesis. Williams does not deal with the so-called science of evolution, but with the false view that God as the creator allowed or caused the creation to evolve. I do believe it would be a useful tool for members in our churches in the defence of the gospel when it is attacked at the foundations. The section containing questions and answers is most edifying and worthwhile to view. I wholeheartedly recommend and endorse this video to our readers.

This video can be obtained from Creation Ministries International as a DVD or MP4.

Words Can Be Slippery Things

It’s happened many times in church history.  The theologian says that he believes in the resurrection.  But eventually it comes out that he believes that Jesus truly rose from the dead in the hearts of his disciples, but not actually in history.  Another theologian insists that he believes in election.  But eventually we discover that he believes that God chooses believers, not out of his sovereign good pleasure, but on the basis of foreseen faith.

In his book Revival and Revivalism Iain Murray discusses Charles Finney at length because of his role in the Second Great Awakening.  Murray notes on page 262 that Charles Finney spoke of a “vicarious atonement,” which is usually another way of speaking about penal substitutionary atonement, i.e. that Christ took our place on the cross, bearing the wrath of God in our place.  But Finney believed nothing of the sort.  His language was deceptive.  He used the right words, but he meant something completely different.

This strategy gets employed in the debates over origins too.  People will insist that they believe that Adam and Eve were real historical people, that they were the first human beings, created in the image of God.  It sounds orthodox on the surface.  But we need to dig deeper:  what do you mean by human being?  Was Adam ever a baby nestled at his mother’s breast?  Was Eve a toddler at some point in her life?  Did she have grandparents?  What do you mean “created in the image of God”?  What does “created” mean in that sentence?  You say that you believe God created man from the dust of the earth.  Great!  But what do you mean when you say that?  Asking these sorts of questions will usually reveal whether things really are what they seem.  In theology, we need to be precise — and transparent — with our definitions.  It’s not enough just to use the right words, you also have to be holding to the correct understanding of those words.  Without that, the true gospel itself is soon lost.

Book Review: No Christian Silence on Science

No Christian Silence on Science: Science from a Christian Perspective, Margaret Helder.  Edmonton: Creation Science Association of Alberta, 2016.  Softcover, 110 pages.

Many people have heroes.  Also when it comes to science, there are names held in awe:  Galileo, Newton, and yes, for some, Darwin.  I have a scientific hero too, but she’s not as well-known as the other scientists I just mentioned.  For many years, my scientific hero has been Dr. Margaret Helder, a Canadian botanist and prolific writer.  I’ve always admired not only her faithfulness to biblical truth, but also her courage and passion for that truth.  I’m thankful for what God has done through her efforts.

No Christian Silence on Science is a collection of essays illustrating how Christians should think about science.  Dr. Helder helps readers recognize that Christians are up against a clash of worldviews.  She points out some of the pitfalls that inevitably threaten believers who venture into science.  She lays out lessons to be learned from history — for instance, a self-taught naturalist named Philip Henry Gosse.  In his opposition to Darwin, Gosse “showed more zeal than common sense” (page 108).  Dr. Helder also tackles the question of whether Christians who take the Bible seriously can make any accommodations for biological macro-evolution or geological old-earth positions.

This little book is especially going to be helpful for university students taking advanced science courses.  There are sections that are quite technical.  I don’t have any formal science education beyond high school and an intro physics course in university, so the discussion in chapter 2 about “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” (CRISPRS) was a bit beyond my ken.  For Christian post-secondary students, chapter 4 is explicitly directed towards equipping them for navigating the academic scientific environment.  Not only is there a helpful academic orientation, but also concrete advice.  For example, Dr. Helder reminds students that at first glance it may appear that creation-based resources are inadequate for answering the challenges encountered at a secular university.  But:  “What the student must remember is that there are conservative scholars who support a young earth position, and there are technical documents in this genre as well” (page 85).  Seek and ye shall find!

However, I don’t want to leave the impression that this book is going to be an impossible read for the non-scientists.  There’s plenty here that’s both accessible and fascinating.  Take two of the appendices to chapter 2.  One is about the echolocation abilities of bats.  The other is about a favourite food of some bats:  tiger moths.  Some species of bat use sound to locate their prey — and this echolocation system is quite sophisticated.  In fact, “some echolocating bats can control the width of the ultrasonic beam which they emit” (page 52).  The tiger moth, on the other hand, is able to evade bats 93% of the time.  One of the ways it does this is through its own generation of high-pitched sounds.  These sounds actually jam the bat’s echolocation system.  Dr. Helder’s conclusion:  “This is clearly a matter of programming in the insect brain as well.  This creature is clearly designed.  Without the hardware, the software would be irrelevant, and vice-versa” (page 56).

If you know a young Christian who’s studying science, this book would be a great gift.  After all, the author takes the Bible seriously as God’s Word and our ultimate authority in life.  She also has the scientific expertise to demonstrate how Darwinian explanations of origins are inadequate.  That one-two punch makes this book highly recommended.

 

My Father the Artist

It must have been 1979.  I was six years old and living in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory.  My mom and dad took my sister and me to the nearby Takhini Hot Springs.  After an afternoon’s swim we were in the cafeteria waiting for an order of French fries.  Dad grabbed a tray liner, flipped it over, and began doodling.  He showed me how you could quickly draw a little beach scene with sea gulls wheeling around.  His sea gulls were merely glorified versions of the letter “M,” but to a little kid this was enough to impress me with my father’s artistic ability.

As the years went on, I soon came to realize that my father wasn’t exactly Robert Bateman.  Dad has many other great abilities, but art doesn’t rank.  I’ve inherited his artistic talents, although I certainly do appreciate beautiful art.

I have the opportunity to do that almost every day.  One of the best things of living here in Australia is the freedom to walk year round.  Even in the winter, there’s no snow or ice with which to contend.  I enjoy a daily walk year round and, as I do so, I encounter artistry every single time.

As I walk along one of Launceston’s main thoroughfares, I see these beautiful flowers.  They’re present all year long — even in the Tasmanian winter.  These flowers come in two different varieties:  white and pink/mauve.

 

It turns out that these plants aren’t native to Tasmania.  They’re called Osteospermum and they originate from South Africa.  Though I don’t recall ever seeing them, I’m told that they can grow in Canada as well.

The thing that gets me when I see these flowers is not only the fact that they’re blooming in winter, but also the symmetry and the stunning combination of colours.  There is beauty with Osteospermum — there is artistry!  Every time I see these flowers, year round (!), I’m faced with the fact that my Father is an amazing artist.

In this world, there are exhibits of symmetry and beauty that defy explanation from a Darwinist perspective.  In Darwinism, every feature of the natural world requires an explanation related to natural selection.  There must be a clear advantage for a given plant or animal to be one way versus others.  But in reality there are many features that are just beautiful and have no clear natural selection advantage.  What evolutionary advantage accrues from combining white, blue and purple in the Osteospermum flower?  None.  It’s just simply beautiful.  It’s simply artistry.  It testifies to the fact that my Father has an eye for beauty.

If you’d like to see more examples of this, check out this 20 minute video:

My earthly father may not be much of an artist, but my heavenly Father leaves me in awe every day!

 

The Big Bang and Genesis

bigbangWhen I was a seminary student, we had the privilege of having Dr. Margaret Helder as a guest speaker.  Having grown up in Edmonton, Dr. Helder was not a stranger to me.  She had occasionally been a guest speaker at our Christian school in Alberta.  However, on this particular occasion at the Canadian Reformed Seminary in Hamilton, I heard her say something that I couldn’t recall having heard before.  I don’t remember if it was part of her original presentation or in reply to a question, but she pointed out that the so-called Big Bang and Genesis are incompatible.  I don’t remember the exact reasons she gave as to why that was, but it sounded quite reasonable to me at the time and, since then, I’ve kept it in the back of my mind.

I thought about this again recently as I encountered a book which suggested that the Big Bang and Genesis are compatible.  Gregory Koukl’s new book The Story of Reality is generally a recommended overview of the Christian worldview (a review will be appearing shortly on my blog Yinkahdinay).  In chapter 7, Koukl is answering two objections to the Christian view of God as Creator.  The second has to do with miracles.  After all, creation is a miracle.  He notes that all scientists “pretty much agree that the universe had a beginning.”  That beginning was the Big Bang where “all things exploded into existence in a fraction of an instant.”  Then he says this (page 51):

I know the Big Bang idea is controversial with some Christians, but I think that’s because they haven’t realized how well it fits the Story [the Christian worldview laid out in the Bible], which basically says the same thing.

So according to Koukl, the Big Bang fits with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Reading this gave me occasion to look a little more into this and refresh my memory as to why Dr. Helder had told a group of seminary students and professors otherwise.

I found this article on creation.com to be especially helpful:  The Big Bang is not a Reason to Believe.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole article, this chart about sums it up — each flash on this chart represents a conflict between the chronology of Genesis 1-2 and Big Bang cosmology:

russ-humphreys-idea

Does the Big Bang really fit the story that well?  Perhaps if you define “Big Bang” in some way that doesn’t reflect how it’s really being used in astrophysics.  Maybe that’s what Koukl has done.  Or perhaps if you insist that Genesis 1-2 don’t give us a chronologically accurate, historic account of the origins of the universe.  Of course, that second option could find you up against Jesus Christ, who clearly taught that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning (Matthew 19:4).  No, I still think that Dr. Helder was right.  There’s no reconciling the Big Bang and God’s Word.