Back in late 2009, some ministerial colleagues and I were discussing with concern the apparently growing influence of evolutionary thinking in the Canadian Reformed Churches. What could we do about it? Five of us decided to collaborate on an article, “Ten Reasons Why Evolution is Dangerous and Evil.” Authored by Walter Geurts, George van Popta, John van Popta, Jim Witteveen and yours truly, this was published in the January 1, 2010 issue of Clarion. You can find it online here.
At the beginning of March 2010, an 11-part series of responses began to be published on the Reformed Academic blog. It’s not my intent to interact with those responses as such. Rather, I want to point out one particular point of response. It relates to something I’ve read more recently.
One of the “ten reasons” was that “Evolution must regard Genesis 2:8 as mythical.” Rev. John van Popta argued that the creation of Adam was a special act of God. Adam was created from literal dust as the first human being. Genesis 2:8 gives us history, not myth or allegory.
In their response, Reformed Academic (RA) insisted they agree: “We fully affirm the main point of this paragraph, namely that man is a special creation.” They pointed that there are those who “lend credence” to the theory of common ancestry who also affirm “the clear Biblical teaching of the soul, and that the human person is made uniquely and specially in the image of God.” RA maintained that they do not join with those who regard Adam as a-historical. At first glace, all of this may seem quite palatable and encouraging.
What was sometimes not recognized in the early stages of this debate was that some words were being used equivocally. What we meant by “Adam as the first human being created specially by God from the dust in history,” did not necessarily mean the same thing as what they meant by that. People can say that and yet lend credence to the theory of common ancestry. One way is by positing the existence of pre-Adamite hominids. These are human-like creatures supposed to have existed before and with Adam. There could have been hundreds of generations of these hominids which had evolved over millions of years. But no human beings! No, Adam is still the first human being. God selects a pair of hominids, pulls them out of their lowly origins (“dust”), and bestows on them his image. At that point, they become human beings with souls. It’s important to realize: in this view, this really happens at some point in history. So everything is preserved intact: the possibility of biological macro-evolution (common ancestry), Adam as the first human being specially created by God in his image, and Genesis as an actual historical record.
In the thick tome Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique, Wayne Grudem has a 54-page essay entitled, “Theistic Evolution Undermines Twelve Creation Events and Several Crucial Christian Doctrines.” Grudem makes many valid points. However, I can imagine some theistic evolutionists reading it and offering a similar critique to what RA offered on some of our ten reasons. Let me mention a few examples.
Grudem states that, according to theistic evolution, “Adam and Eve were not the first human beings (and perhaps they never even existed).” But a theistic evolutionist could put his hand up and say, “Wait a moment, Dr. Grudem. With you, I do believe that Adam and Eve were the first human beings. There were no human beings before this historical couple. Your critique doesn’t apply to me, even though it’s true that I lend credence to the theory of common ancestry.”
For another example, Grudem writes that proponents of theistic evolution state that “Adam and Eve were born from human parents.” Again, we could imagine an evolutionist protesting: “No, I don’t believe Adam and Eve came from human parents.” Hominid parents, perhaps, but definitely not humans. After all, Adam and Eve are the first human beings. We all agree on that!
One more example: “Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Eve and they were always subject to death.” “No, Dr. Grudem, with you I believe that human death came from the fall into sin in Genesis 3. There was no human death before Adam and Eve, because there were no human beings before them.” If we talk about hominid death, that’s a different topic, but not relevant in the theistic evolutionist’s mind. With us they can insist there was no human death before Adam and Eve.
This is a significant weak spot in Grudem’s essay. Perhaps he hasn’t encountered these kinds of counter-arguments. It’s but one more demonstration that we need to be carefully dissecting these matters and not always taking everything at face value. Just because someone says they believe Adam and Eve to be real historical figures doesn’t mean they mean what you mean. You have to ask; you have to dig deeper. Just because someone says they believe Adam and Eve to be the first human beings doesn’t mean common ancestry/evolution is out of the question. You have to ask probing questions like: as a biological creature, was the individual later called Adam brought into physical existence by the meeting of a sperm with an egg? Or: as a biological creature, was the individual later called Eve ever nourished at the breasts of a creature which had given birth to her? Then you might find out what you’re really up against and be able to formulate arguments which will better get to the heart of the matter.
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.
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.
Is it true that “no one in the Bible believed that construct of the historical Adam” but that the idea originates with the church father Augustine (354–430)? Such is the assertion of Scot McKnight, a leading NT scholar, in this video from the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation.
Last time we laid out the Scripture texts that consistently identify Adam and Eve as the original couple, from whom the whole human race descended. These texts expose McKnight’s pronouncement to be false, and no Scripture text can be advanced that supports his position. I realize that McKnight is depending not only upon Dennis Venema’s biological study in their co-authored book, but also upon the OT scholar John Walton’s claim that Genesis 1–2 is an account of origins that speaks only of the function and purpose of the parts of creation, not their material or temporal origins. Walton relativizes the message of Genesis 1 & 2 by claiming that he is reading it within its Ancient Near Eastern context. I’ve attended an entire conference listening to Walton and have read some of his books as well as critiques of them. Maybe his views can be explained and critiqued in a future blog, but aside from Walton’s treatment of Genesis 1 & 2, all the other Scripture texts I advanced last time clearly treat Adam as a real historical person who was the first man, and origin of the human race. Therefore it would not in the least surprise readers of the Bible to find writers from the early church saying the same thing. But recall McKnight’s second assertion, “I think we can blame this one on Augustine and those who followed after him, that they created this construct, that we need salvation because of the sin nature that has been passed on from Adam to everybody else.” If McKnight is correct, we would not find writers prior to Augustine holding out Adam as a real historical person who passed on sin to us.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies (c. A. D. 180)
Let me highlight one early church apologist who does the very thing McKnight says didn’t happen. Irenaeus was a student of the apostolic father Polycarp, who himself had sat at the feet of the apostle John (all three are connected to Smyrna in Asia Minor). Irenaeus particularly opposes the Gnostic heresies in his book Against Heresies. One of their teachings was that material reality came about by a mistake or defect by some lesser divine being, and was not intended by the uppermost First Principle or highest “God.” Salvation therefore now involves the escape of “us,” who are like little sparks of the divine currently trapped in material bodies, and such escape is achieved by learning the higher mysterious system of the Gnostics. Gnostics therefore tended to say that Christ only “seemed” to have a human nature. They then took disciples like Thomas and wrote “gospels” in his name, praising his doubt. In their Gospel of Judas, Judas’s greatest deed, praised by Jesus himself, is to secure Jesus’ death, so that Jesus could escape from his material body. In that context Irenaeus found it necessary to affirm Adam, Jesus, and us all as historical persons with material bodies. He also strongly affirmed the resurrection of the body, a very counter-cultural teaching in his day.
Let’s see what Irenaeus writes in Against Heresies, Book 3, chapter 23. In this first quotation he is arguing against some false teachers who asserted that the rest of humanity could be saved, but not Adam.
But this is Adam . . . the first formed man . . . and we are all from him: and as we are from him, therefore have we all inherited his title. But inasmuch as man is saved, it is fitting that he who was created the original man should be saved (3.23.2).
Irenaeus then affirms that Adam’s captivity to sin and death was inherited by all humanity, when he writes,
For it is too absurd to maintain, that he who was so deeply injured by the enemy, and was the first to suffer captivity, was not rescued by Him who conquered the enemy, but that his children were—those whom he had begotten in the same captivity (3.2.32).
He illustrates this by speaking of how unjust it would be to rescue children from their captors while leaving the parents under the power of those same captors, to do as they please. What Irenaeus means by this captivity is something he explains in the preceding section, where he writes that Satan made Adam captive by “bringing sin on him iniquitously, and under colour of immortality entailing death upon him,” and, further, that when God rescued the captive Adam, he was “loosed from the bonds of condemnation” (3.23.1). Though Irenaeus doesn’t use the language of original sin and doesn’t distinguish mediate and immediate imputation, he certainly understands that Adam’s sin had brought him and all humanity under God’s condemnation.
A bit further on, he states that God put enmity between Satan and the woman, and that it was to be continuous until the promised Seed of the women came, born of Mary. To that Seed would apply the promise of Psalm 91, that, “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra; you shall trample the great lion and the serpent” (Ps 91:13). In Irenaeus’s version, the translation of “serpent” was “dragon,” and either term is taken in Scripture to refer to Satan (see Rev 12:9). Irenaeus then interprets the text as follows:
indicating that sin, which was set up and spread out against man, and which rendered him subject to death, should be deprived of its power, along with death, which rules [over men]; and that the lion, that is, the antichrist, rampant against mankind in the latter days, should be trampled down by him . . . wherefore, when the foe was conquered in his turn, Adam received new life; and the last enemy, death, is destroyed 1 Corinthians 15:26, which at the first had taken possession of man (3.23.7).
He adds, finally, that if Adam, as the lost sheep, had not been found and saved, “the whole human race [would] still [be] held in a state of perdition” (3.23.8).
Later, in Book 5 of Against Heresies, Irenaeus again affirms Adam as the first created man, “For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten” (5.19.1). The historical reality of Adam is further affirmed by Irenaeus’s teaching that just as the Lord Jesus Christ died on the sixth day of the week (Friday) as the Passover Lamb, so Adam sinned on the sixth day of the week of creation (5.23.2).
I suspect that one could read more widely in the apostolic fathers and early church apologists to find more about their teaching regarding Adam, but our perusal of one treatise of Irenaeus shows that McKnight’s assertion about Augustine is incorrect. Irenaeus wrote this more than 200 years before Augustine. Again, we should not be surprised, for, like us, these men were reading and explaining the Word of God. The clear message of Scripture itself is that Adam and Eve were real, historical people, that the entire human race descended from them, that Adam and Eve sinned and thereby dragged all humanity into condemnation, that our Lord Jesus Christ himself inherited the same human nature, though without sin, and that in that body he paid for sin. Therefore those who believe in him shall rise again to new life in body and soul, to live with God in a new material creation, forever.
Here’s the first part of our response to the assertion that “no one in the Bible believed that construct of the historical Adam” and that the church father Augustine (A. D. 354–430) is really to blame for this construct.
The assertion is made in this short video clip from the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, wherein Scot McKnight explains seven assumptions people have when they ask him whether he believes in an historical Adam. He states that their question operates on seven principles or ideas, namely that:
Adam and Eve were two actual, real, solitary human beings created out of nothing or of dirt;
That a biological or procreational connection exists between Adam and Eve and all humans that follow;
That there is an implied DNA genetic connection between Adam and Eve and the procreation of all humans;
That Adam and Eve sinned and thus died;
That Adam and Eve transmitted their sinfulness to all humans that followed;
That therefore all humans need salvation from this sin;
That the church must therefore preach the gospel of salvation and this gospel is at risk if we deny historical Adam.
Exactly right! He summarized our position at Creation without Compromise rather well.
It’s immediately after listing these seven principles that McKnight asserts, “No one in the Bible believed that construct of the historical Adam.” He specifies that no one between Moses and Paul believed it. Then he tells us that the church father Augustine is really to blame. McKnight has been making this pronouncement lately in support of a book he co-authored with Trinity Western University’s Dennis Venema. In a Biologos interview last February he wrote about, “the so-called ‘historical Adam,’ which is a theological construct in the history of the church but which was not believed by any single author in the entire Bible.”
In response, I will simply supply the biblical data. In my next post I will show that long before Augustine (354–430) the early apologist Irenaeus (c. 130–202) clearly and uneqivocally argued for the very historical Adam that McKnight denies.
No one in the Bible believed in an historical Adam? Really?
Besides the obvious account in Genesis 1 and 2, Scripture also says:
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’ When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image, and he named him Seth . . . When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh . . .” etc. (Gen 5).
This is the first of many genealogies, all of which refer to real people. No genealogy in Scripture that goes all the way back to the beginning ever begins with any human but Adam (Compare 1 Chron 1:1; Luke 3:38).
When men began to increase in number on the earth . . . (Gen 6:1).
This verse clearly assumes that it took all the generations of Genesis 5 before the number of humans began to increase, for the human race began with one human pair and only multiplied through the generations. We are never told of a believer in the rest of the OT who challenged or doubted these genealogies, least of all the beginning with Adam and Eve.
But God destroyed the rebellious human race entirely, to start over with Noah. Thus we read,
These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth . . . From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood (Gen 9:19, 32).
What happens after Noah parallels what had already happened after Adam, as recorded in Genesis 5 and 6. Many more texts speak of Adam as the source of the human race, our first father, and of Adam and Eve as those who were from the beginning.
Your first father sinned; your spokesman rebelled against me (Isa 43:27).
Like Adam, they have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there (Hos 6:7).
“Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ?So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt 19:4–7)
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth (Acts 17:26).
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them (Jude 1:14).
Besides these texts one encounters the famous teachings of the Apostle Paul about Christ and Adam. In Romans 5, Paul wrote about death reigning “from Adam to Moses” and that Adam sinned by “breaking a command” (Rom 5:14). Adam was as real to Paul as Moses; further, the Genesis account of the fall into sin was treated by him as historical truth (the same occurs in 1 Tim 2:13–14 when Paul speaks of Adam being formed first, then Eve, and of Eve sinning first, then Adam). Paul then argues from the universal effects of Adam’s sin—the many died, and death reigned through the one man Adam (Rom 5:15, 17)—to the abundant grace and righteousness that came by the other “one man,” Jesus Christ (Rom 5:18). In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul called Christ the “Second Adam” inasmuch as “in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22), and, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:49).
McKnight’s assertion cannot stand against the clear evidence of Scripture. He makes his rather odd pronouncement only after accepting his co-author Venema’s arguments for the validity of biological evolution. McKnight even admits that anyone who doesn’t accept Venema’s arguments in their co-authored book (wherein, incidentally, the scientific arguments precede), need not bother with his own arguments. How odd, that a New Testament scholar would let a scientist’s conclusions form the starting point of his own positions, rather than the very Bible that he has been trained to interpret!
A recent discovery in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa appears to support the idea that there were many versions of early humans once walking the earth. At least, that’s the claim that has been made here by Professor Chris Stringer, curator of a new exhibit at London’s Natural History Museum.
The discovery of the bones of at least fifteen individuals was made in 2013 by Rick Hunter of the South African Speleological Exploration Club, and it has been called “one of the most exciting finds in the last one hundred years.” The fossils are believed to be a new species of human – Homo Naledi by name – described as being human, but also having many “primitive” characteristics: small brains, mixtures of “primitive” and “derived” features, including hands that appear to be specially adapted to life lived in the trees.
Dr. Stringer admits that the age of the fossils has not been determined. “We’ve put it in our evolutionary diagram at the beginning,” he states. “But,” he adds, “we don’t know how old it is.” However, it is believed that these bones are from “a very primitive kind of human,” who “probably lies close to the origins of the human genus.”
Researchers have drawn a number of conclusions on the basis of this find. Stringer himself states that “we have to get away from this idea that there is a simple march of progress from an ‘ape-person’ to what we are today.” Homo naledi may be part of one of a number of “streams” in the evolutionary process, and one of Dr. Stringer’s stated goals is to debunk the notion that the evolution of the human species is “the pinnacle of a predestined evolutionary sequence.” He adds, “We want to show that diversity, and the fact that there was nothing pre-ordained about our own evolution and our eventual success.”
There are two interesting points to ponder when it comes to both this find, and the way it is being presented to the public. First of all, the agenda of those who have created this display has been made clear; Dr. Stringer himself declares that he is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to change people’s thinking about the manner in which humans have evolved.
His choice of language in describing the viewpoint he is seeking to challenge is revealing, to say the least. He doesn’t like the idea that we humans are “the pinnacle of a predestined evolutionary sequence,” and he argues that “there was nothing pre-ordained about our own evolution and eventual success.” It appears that, for Dr. Stringer, it is not just the idea of an evolutionary process that must be defended. It is also the belief that there is a design or purpose to that process, or an end-goal to that process, that must be abandoned.
The second point we must consider is the impact that discoveries like this, and particularly the conclusions drawn from them, must have on the thinking of those who hold to evolutionary creation and theistic evolution. We’ve noted in previous articles that there are a number of scholars who consider the Biblical Adam and Eve to be the representatives of an early population of hominids, not literally the first humans, directly created by God. Rather, the representative “first couple” of Scripture were the product of a long process of biological development. They were the first hominids endowed with a “human soul,” so to speak.
Should recent finds lead to the conclusion that there are indeed multiple lines in the human family tree? And does this mean that there are some human beings who are not descended from “Adam and Eve”? Or are the theistic evolutionary conclusions in need of correction and revision once again? Were Adam and Eve the representatives of one particular line, or all of them? And if Adam was the covenantal head of only one branch of the human family tree, what does that say about the Lord Jesus Christ?
The foundational issue here is methodological in nature. In the end, your answers to these questions will flow from your starting point. Our starting point is the Triune God, and his perfect word. His word tells us:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17:24-27).
This word must be our starting point, and it must shape our thinking – about how to interpret the evidence of “Homo Naledi,” and every other fossil discovery – and everything else in the world. Dr. Stringer’s own words prove that there is no such thing as neutrality, even within the sciences that like to claim the neutral ground as their own. Contradictory presuppositions inevitably lead to contradictory conclusions.
But when we start with the unchanging Word of God, our conclusions are firm, and trustworthy. God doesn’t change, and his word doesn’t change. In the end, when we begin to base our conclusions on interpretations of the evidence made by people with a decidedly un- and even anti-Christian agenda, we are building our house on shifting sands.
Keller’s white paper asks a second “layperson” question, one that really gets at a problem: “If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?” Keller’s provides this short answer, “No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.”
Two senses of “evolution”: EBP & GTE
In explaining this question and his response, Keller distinguishes evolution in two senses. The first is the teaching that “human life was formed through evolutionary biological processes” (he gives the acronym EBP for this), and the second is evolution “as the explanation for every aspect of human nature,” which he calls the “Grand Theory of Everything” and refers to as “GTE” (6). We might call this evolution as a worldview. Similarly, some Canadian Reformed authors have argued for the distinction between “evolution” and “evolutionism.”
The problem Keller is addressing is that self-described “evolutionary creationists”—such as those at Biologos tend to be—end up hearing the same critique from both creationists and evolutionists: both argue that you can’t hold the theory of biological evolution without at the same time endorsing atheistic evolution as a whole. Essentially both critics assert that evolution is a package, a worldview, a big-picture perspective, and you can’t just isolate one part of it.
Keller suggests to his fellow Biologos members that most Christian laypeople have a difficult time distinguishing EBP from GTE. They have a hard time understanding that it is possible to limit one’s commitment to evolution to “the scientific explorations of the way which—at the level of biology—God has gone about his creating processes” (6, Keller quoting David Atkinson). “How can we help them?” Keller asks, for “this is exactly the distinction they must make, or they will never grant the importance of EBP.” He simply states that Christian pastors, theologians and scientists need to keep emphasizing that they are not endorsing evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything.
Keller’s helpful critique of evolution as the GTE
To support this, Keller provides a brief but helpful analysis, showing that evolution as the GTE is self-refuting. I’ll explain his point with the help of an online video where he elaborates a bit more. Basically, according to those who hold to evolution as the GTE, religion came about only because it somehow must have helped our ancestors survive (survival of the fittest). In fact, they say, we all know there’s no God, no heaven, no divine revelation. Such things are false beliefs. But if that is the case, argues Keller, then natural selection has led our minds to believe false things for the sake of survival. Further, if human minds have almost universally had some kind of belief in God, performed religious practices, and held moral absolutes, and if it’s all actually false, then we can’t be sure about anything our minds tell us, including evolution as the grand theory of everything. Thus, with reference to itself, evolution as the GTE is absurd.
In the online video that I used to supplement the explanation here, Keller is dealing with the problem that opponents of Christianity and of religion generally try to “explain it away.” He states, “C. S. Lewis put it this way some years ago, “You can’t go on explaining everything away forever or you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.”
Keller, following Lewis, illustrates “explaining away” with “seeing through” things: A window lets you see through it to something else that is opaque. But if all we had were windows—a wholly transparent world—all would be invisible and in the end you wouldn’t see anything at all. “To see through everything is not to see at all.”
How does that apply? Keller asks. He then shows that many universal claims are self-refuting.
If, as Nietzsche says, all truth claims are really just power grabs, then so is his, so why listen to him? If, as Freud says, all views of God are really just psychological projections to deal with our guilt and insecurity, then so is his view of God, so why listen to him? If, as the evolutionary scientists say, that what my brain tells me about morality and God is not real—it’s just chemical reactions designed to pass on my genetic code—then so is what their brains tell them about the world, so why listen to them? In the end to see through everything is not to see.
As usual, Keller is an insightful apologist for the Christian faith. He helps us oppose evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything. Just the same, I heard another prominent evolutionary creationist, Denis Alexander, answering questions at a recent conference (2016) and musing about our lack of knowledge as to when “religiosity” first evolved among our ancestors. So, Keller’s helpful critique notwithstanding, at least one of his co-members at Biologos appears to think that religiosity is an evolved trait (or at least allows for this view).
But Keller doesn’t prove that EBP doesn’t lead to GTE
Although I’ve highlighted something helpful in Keller’s white paper, the main point he needed to do was to prove that one’s commitment to the theory of evolutionary biological ancestry for humans (and all other living things) does not entail holding to evolution as the grand theory of everything. He didn’t do this because the setting in which he spoke was Biologos, an organization which is committed to EBP but wants to avoid GTE because the members are Christians. They’ve already crossed that first bridge. Nevertheless, this is the real point at issue.
Can and will Christians be able to hold to EBP without moving to GTE?
I seriously doubt that Christians can or will be successful in adopting evolution as EBP while avoiding the trajectory that moves toward evolution as GTE. Here’s why, in short.
It seems to me that as soon as one adopts EBP, the following positions come to be accepted (whether as hypotheses, theories, or firm positions):
Adam and Eve had biological ancestors, from whom they evolved (some sort of chimp-like creatures).
These “chimps” in turn had other biological ancestors and relatives, as do all creatures.
In fact, there is an entire phylogenetic tree or chain of evolutionary development that begins with the Big Bang. All living things have common ancestry in the simplest living things, such as plants. At some point before that the transition was made from non-living things to the first living cell (some evolutionary creationists assert that God did something supernatural to make the transition from non-living things to living).
Evolving requires deep time. “Multiple lines of converging evidence” apparently tell us the universe is 14.7 billion years old; the earth is about 4.7 billion, life is about 3 billion, and human life is probably about 400,000 years old (these numbers may vary; I happen to think 6-10 thousand is rather ancient as it is!).
Humans do not have souls; they are simply material beings. This is being promoted by Biologos and other theologians and philosophers. Not all evolutionary creationists would agree; some say God gave a soul when he “made” man in his image, others that the soul “emerged” from higher-order brain processes at some point in the evolutionary history.
The world is on a continual trajectory from chaos to increasing order, or from bad to good to better to best. This creates great difficulties for one’s doctrine of the fall, redemption in Christ, and the radical transition into the new creation.
The earth, as long as it has had animal life, has been filled with violence. Keller admits in his paper how critical this is: “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops” (2). This presents enormous difficulty for one’s doctrines of the good initial creation, and the fall into sin.
The universe’s order arises mainly due to the unfolding of the inherent powers and structures God must have embedded in that initial singularity called the Big Bang. There is a movement toward Deism inherent in the theory.
Much of what the Bible ascribes to God’s creating power and wisdom actually belongs to his providential guidance, which itself was probably a rather hands-off thing.
God’s nature—particularly his goodness—needs to be understood differently if creation was “red in tooth and claw” from the beginning.
The authority of God’s Word falls under the axe due to the exegetical gymnastics required to accommodate EBP. Scripture apparently no longer means what it appears to mean. This opens up the reinterpretation of everything in the Bible.
In sum, Keller provides a helpful critique of evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything, but fails to demonstrate that holding to evolutionary biological processes does not in itself, very much open one up to evolution as the GTE, and may in fact ultimately make it impossible to avoid more and more of evolution as the GTE. This is surely because for the most part evolution as such depends upon atheistic presuppositions. And in fact, it’s actually quite hard to determine just where the line is between evolution as EBP and GTE. I’m afraid that’s a sliding scale, depending upon which scientist or theologian presents his views. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent . . . you know the rest.
The academic and religious trajectories of scholars who were once orthodox and Reformed show how hard it is to maintain evolution as EBP only. I’m thinking of such men as Howard Van Till (who is now more of a “free thinker”), Peter Enns (who now only holds to the Apostles’ Creed and treats the Bible as arising from the Israelites, not from God), and Edwin Walhout (who advocated rewriting the doctrines of creation, sin, salvation, and providence). There are whole swaths of theologians and scientists associated with Biologos, the Faraday Institute, and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation who are trying valiantly to hold together their Christian faith with evolutionary science, and the money of the Templeton Foundation will ensure that pamphlets, presentations, conferences, and books, will bring these views to the Christian public. Holding to Dooyeweerdian philosophy’s sphere sovereignty may help some of these Christians compartmentalize their biology, geology, and their faith, but that philosophical school has been subject to severe criticism in our tradition, and on precisely this point. I fear that the dissonance of EBP itself with the historic, creedal Christian faith will prove to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Christians to keep their faith and EBP together. I also doubt that one can very easily maintain evolution as EBP only.
 See my essay entitled, “In Between and Intermediate: My Soul in Heaven’s Glory,” in As You See the Day Approaching: Reformed Perspectives on the Last Things, ed. Theodore G. Van Raalte (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 70–111.