The Lost Wor(l)d

William Van Doodewaard, author of The Quest for the Historical Adam (RHB, 2015), has written a critical review over at Reformation21 of another book published in 2015 by John Walton. We highly recommend that you read the review.

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Walton’s book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve explains his views on Genesis 2 and 3 whereas his earlier book, The Lost World of Genesis One, lays out his interpretation of Genesis 1. If you’re not familiar with Walton’s views, Van Doodewaard’s review will help as might this interview, but don’t be surprised if it feels a bit mind-bending, for Walton’s approach truly is unique.

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After reading J. Richard Middleton’s blog last September, I attended a conference on September 18–19, 2015 entitled “Genesis Recast: The War with Science is Over” where Walton gave two lengthy speeches, one representing each book. The event was hosted by an evangelical megachurch in New York State and sponsored by Biologos and other organizations. Walton opened the first evening and was first up to speak the next day. His role was to try and open the minds of the evangelical audience to the idea that perhaps we have been misunderstanding Genesis 1, 2, and 3 for centuries, if not millennia. He kept emphasizing that all he was doing was reading the text for what it is; he didn’t have an agenda to make room for evolution or some other theory. The audience could have been forgiven for doubting this, for one of the presentations that followed Walton’s was by Stephen Schaffner, a Christian physicist. He opened by asking what genetics tells us about where humans come from? His short answer: Through evolutionary biology. We were then shown branches of the evolutionary “tree of life” in which all living organisms have their place, beginning with the simplest life forms and evolving to homo sapiens over aeons of time. In Schaffner’s view the number of people on the earth has never been smaller than about 5000 and all people of European ancestry have at least 2% Neanderthal DNA.

So much for a historical, literal Adam and Eve as the one human pair from whom all humans descend.

I have neither the expertise nor the time to critique Schaffner’s presentation (you could look here, however). My point is just to make clear that Walton’s views fit into a context and are being used—whether designed for this purpose or not—to open the way for acceptance among Christians of most or all of the theory of evolution.

Schaffner ended with a quotation from the Russian Orthodox biologist Theodosius Dobzhandsky,

It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist . . . Creation is not an event that happened in 4003 BC; it is a process that began 10 billion years ago and is still underway.

Dobzhandsky is, of course, merely applying the definition of the word “evolution” to “creation.”

The conference included a special lunch reserved for persons in ministry which I attended and which allowed us to ask Walton some questions. The first question was, “How would you teach this to children in Sunday School?” Walton responded that he would emphasize the positive aspects of the account: general things like God is the Creator and the one who gives order. But children, of course, will want to know whether the things described in Genesis actually happened the way they are described. Telling them there really is a Santa Claus but adding that his handwritten note from the North Pole doesn’t mean what you think it does, will leave them puzzled, unsatisfied, and uninterested in Santa Claus.

The advertising for the conference highlighted the idea that the war with science is over; Scripture, the Christian faith, and science are all in agreement. The conference made clear that this meant a wholesale reinterpretation of Genesis with virtually no challenge asserted against modern scientific theories and interpretations. Christians are hearing this more often, and can rest assured that the message is going to be repeated frequently. Walton was on a circuit, giving his speeches at many different venues. Other organizations such as this one (as well as a few evangelical universities and seminaries) have also written successful grant proposals to the Templeton Foundation, Biologos, the Faraday Institute, etc. and will be hiring personnel, putting on local seminars, creating brochures, establishing student scholarships, etc. They are out to change the mind of the church regarding God’s miracle of creation in six days.

The work that Van Doodewaard has done in his 2015 book and in the review we’ve introduced here will truly help equip us to stand firm upon the Word of God.

Extraordinary days = support for theistic evolution?

Quote 1:

As I have pointed out some years ago, there is a striking difference on the interpretation of Genesis 1 between these North-American Reformed theologians and their Dutch colleagues – such as Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, Schilder . . . Are we in danger of forgetting our own Reformed tradition in favour of the American one – both in the interpretation of Genesis 1 and in the inerrancy issue?

Quote 2:

Theistic evolution is not outside the bounds of the Three Forms of Unity.

Comment on quotes 1 & 2: Anyone reading the first quotation on a website that includes the second quotation can be forgiven for thinking (incorrectly) that the theologians here named supported some version of theistic evolution. Arguing towards the thesis of quote two in fact provides the raison d’être for the Reformed Academic blog, from where these quotes are drawn.

Quote 3:

This [the global flood] is a major argument in supporting its [creation science’s] belief that the earth is quite young — some 6,000 to 10,000 years in age, rather than the billions of years acknowledged by most scientists. According to creation-science most of the geological features of the entire earth have been shaped by a global Noahic flood which took place some 5,000 years ago.

Quote 4:

With respect to the results of modern science regarding so-called “origins” questions, we do acknowledge that there are multiple converging lines of evidence in favour of an ancient cosmos and even for the common ancestry of all living things. Now, especially in the latter case we do not consider this evidence to be incontrovertible proof, and we certainly believe God did something special in creating humankind.

Quote 5:

This includes especially the field of paleontology (studying the fossil record, including the use of radioactivity and geology) as well as astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology (these deal with stars and galaxies whose light often takes many years to reach us). These are the disciplines, after all, which have been marshalling the evidence that life has been around for about ¾ of the earth’s 4.54-billion-year history, and that the universe itself is about 13.75 billion years old. And these ages are supposed to contradict a “plain sense” or “traditional” reading of Scripture.

Comment on quotes 3, 4, and 5: Two choices are placed before the reader: either 6,000 to 10,000 years of age for the earth [and universe, I might add], or 13.75 billion years for the universe, 4.54 billion for the earth, and about 3 point something billion years for life on earth. Note: to make the contrast clear, I added the italics to these quotations from the Reformed Academic website.

My concern: For several years, as part of their argument that Reformed Christians need to make room for theistic evolution, Reformed Academic has been appealing to some key continental Reformed theologians—as listed above, Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, and Schilder—and their views on the length of the creation days in Genesis 1. Of course none of the authors at Reformed Academic have argued that these theologians supported theistic evolution as such. In one place, they even correctly state the opposite. Nevertheless, my concern is that by way of repeated rhetorical appeal to the latitude of these men regarding “Genesis 1”—and by using “Genesis 1” as shorthand for their views on the length of the days in Genesis 1—Reformed Academic leaves the impression that they can claim the support of these earlier theologians. I assert that these men neither supported theistic evolution, nor tolerated the deep time required for the supposed evolutionary process—the millions, let alone billions of years of the universe and the earth. Nor should we.

We can all point to a number of theologians who argued that some or all of the days of Genesis 1 were “extraordinary” in length, or that they were “God’s working days,” and “creation days.” Both Max Rogland (2001) and Frederika Oosterhoff (2003) have proved the case for this, and shown that Bavinck, Schilder, and others used primarily exegetical points from Genesis 1 to argue against being bound to the 24-hour view. But the fuller picture requires a more robust affirmation of their adherence to the literal, historical, common-sense reading of Genesis 1. I will explore only two of these figures, Bavinck and Schilder, and I shall follow them up with a quotation from one of the former professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary on the same point.

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Bavinck dealt at some length with evolution in his Reformed Dogmatics, in an essay on Evolution, and in another essay on Creation or Development and in his Our Reasonable Faith.[1] All of these are available in English. In none of them does he endorse theistic evolution, though he certainly appreciates the way in which God made creatures with the ability to adapt. On the idea that humans have biological ancestry with animals, Bavinck writes,

The descendance theory of Darwin may be an indispensable link in the doctrine of development; it finds no support in facts. Man always has and still does form a distinct species in the world of creatures. For this reason there is still room in science for the wondrously beautiful narrative which the opening chapters of the Bible contain concerning the origin of things . . .

And thus the Scripture states it. In an ascending series, covering a period of six days, by the word of his power the Almighty brings all things to appear from the unseen world of thought . . . What an insight into the origin of things! What an exalted simplicity! Here is poetry and truth and religion all in one. This is both natural science and philosophy (859–60).

After offering extensive critique of evolution for usurping the term development, Bavinck points out that the evolutionary worldview has no purpose of the individual person, for humanity as a whole, or for the earth. In this context he adds a point about the “millions of years,” calling it “child’s play,”

Endless duration together with an endless progress is inconceivable for the earth as well as for man. An end must come. To reckon with millions of years, in the past or in the present, is child’s play and unworthy of mature minds, and is at best of no greater value than the gigantic numbers of Indian mythology. All physicists teach that after some millions of years the earth shall come to an end. However rich in provisions, the earth is not inexhaustible.[2]

James Visscher, in a study on Bavinck on creation, includes part of this quote also, and adds in a note, “[Bavinck] considered the figures coming from geologists to be far-fetched. He had little use for Darwin’s ‘incalculable number of years.’ He stated, ‘As a matter of fact, there are other reasons as well why the human race cannot have existed many thousands of years before Christ.”[3]

Benjamin Warfield, in a review of Bavinck’s essay, spoke with great admiration,

[Bavinck] uncovers with great skill the inconsistencies of the evolutionary philosophy and exposes its vast assumptions; and sets over against it the creationism or supernaturalism of the Biblical world-conception. The address divides itself into three parts, in which are contrasted the two views of the world successively with reference to the questions of the origin, nature, and end of things, the result being to show that the evolutionary scheme stands helplessly before each of the three problems. It is a very thorough and very telling exposure of the essential atheism of evolutionism, considered as a philosophy of being.[4]

Perhaps Warfield was more open to the millions of years hypothesis than was Bavinck, for he doesn’t mention that as part of Bavinck’s critique of evolution as a philosophy of being, he also called its appeal to millions—let alone billions!—of years, “child’s play.”

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We needn’t comment extensively on Schilder’s views, as Frederika Oosterhoff has already done this work and I haven’t time to pursue this research deeply. However, the comments of Jacob Kamphuis are helpful, in his study on Schilder on heaven. He writes,

Without compromise Schilder makes his starting point the faith in Scripture, specifically in the historical trustworthiness of the history related in Genesis 2 and 3, dealing with the original state of righteousness and the fall into sin. In this book Schilder does not refer even once to the decisions of the Synod of Assen of 1926 [though he had earlier written much about it] regarding the historical trustworthiness of the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3. Nevertheless, Berkhouwer’s words are strikingly applicable to What is Heaven? “I know of no theologian within the circle of Refomred theology for whom the decision of Assen was of more material significance than it was for Schilder.” Schilder reminds us repeatedly of his position, “With resepect to the beginning of the world we must accept the historicity of the narrative of Genesis 1–3.” This is the starting point.[5]

Jack DeJong (1949–)

One of the professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, now retired and sadly incapable of entering this debate, commented in Clarion some years ago on the length of the creation days. Like Schilder, whom he studied for his dissertation, DeJong argued that we should not be bound to an exact length of 24 hours for our view of the creation days. Not everyone appreciated his position. However, that he in no way intended to make room for millions of years or for theistic evolution is clear from a brief comment he made in a published work for instruction in pre-confession classes, where he wrote,

The world was created in six days, according to the following pattern . . . [he lists the six days]. The theory of evolution says that all present things evolved from original cells through a process spanning millions of years. Although we cannot deny the process of limited change and micro-evolution, we must rule out the possibility of a change from one species to another (macro-evolution). While we cannot accurately determine the age of the earth, an evolutionary process of billions of years does not accord with the testimony of Genesis 1–3 and its relation to the rest of Scripture.[6]


Let’s not be misled to think that the Reformed theologians here mentioned intended to make room within the Reformed faith for millions or even billions of years of prior existence of the universe, earth, and life. All of them did argue that the days of Genesis 1 (the first three days, or even all six of them) should be called “extraordinary days,” “God’s working days,” and “creation days,” because they thought that these days were not necessarily identical in time with our 24-hour days. But they never suggested that their views allowed room for the deep time advocated by evolutionists.[7]

[1] All of these are easily found, but one: Herman Bavinck, “Creation or Development,” The Methodist Review (1901), transl. Hendrik De Vries, 849–74. See Accessed November 9, 2015.

[2] I thank Anthon Souman for drawing this quotation to my attention. I have since noticed that Herman Van Barneveld has also raised it in dialogue with Reformed Academic.

[3] James Visscher, “Bavinck on Creation,” Living Waters from Ancient Springs , ed. Jason Van Vliet (Wipf&Stock, 2011), 145, n. 44.

[4] From the Presbyterian and Reformed Review 12 (1901), 507, as quoted in Eric D. Bristley, Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck (RHB, 2008), 75. Checking the original source, I note that Warfield was reviewing the Dutch original, not the translation.

[5] Jacob Kamphuis, “Schilder on Heaven,” Always Obedient, ed. J. Geertsema (P&R, 1995), 102.

[6] Jack DeJong, Credo (Premier Publishing, 1997, etc.), 28–29.

[7] Finally, as a bit of an aside, readers of Reformed Academic’s blogs also repeatedly encounter one or two quotations from John Calvin to the effect that we are to learn astronomy and other disciplines from the scientific experts and not from the Bible. Creation Ministries International replied to this trope some time ago, with a much more wholesome account of Calvin’s views.

Book Review: The Quest for the Historical Adam

HistoricalAdam5__70127.1421354609.1280.1280The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins, William VanDoodewaard. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. Hardcover, 400 pages, $37.85.

Once in a very rare while I come across a book which brings me to think, “If I had the means, I would get a copy of this into every single Canadian Reformed home.” This is one of those books. If I couldn’t get it into every single CanRC home, I would settle for getting it into the hands of every single minister, elder, and deacon. The Quest for the Historical Adam is not only relevant, but crucially important for these days in which a biblical view of origins is under pressure. This volume could do a world of good if it would only receive the careful attention it deserves.

The author, William VanDoodewaard, is a church history professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). For those unfamiliar with this church, the ARP is a long-time member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Alongside his seminary teaching, Dr. VanDoodewaard is also an ARP church planter in Grand Rapids. Apart from his doctoral dissertation, this is his first published book.

The title of this volume plays off a much earlier book by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In that book, Schweitzer examined how historical conceptions of Jesus led to a variety of Jesuses. While his book had some value, unfortunately, Schweitzer did not honour the authority of Scripture, so his conclusions were necessarily flawed. However, VanDoodewaard has the highest view of Scripture as he traces out how people have variously conceived of Adam. The author points that contemporary debates over origins are often afflicted with what he calls “historical amnesia.” This volume seeks to recover our collective memory of how ages past have written about, preached about, and thought about our first parents and their origins.

The first chapter provides a general overview of what Scripture says about Adam. From this overview, the author reaches this conclusion, “…there is no inherent ground to posit anything aside from a special, temporally immediate creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans on the sixth day of creation” (18). The following five chapters trace out the post-biblical history of how Christians have looked at the early chapters of Genesis. If anything is clear from these chapters, it is that there has been a consensus view for millennia. The consensus is that the first chapters of Genesis must be taken seriously as a historical record. When it comes to human origins, the vast majority of Christian interpreters have understood Scripture to teach a special or immediate creation of Adam and Eve, a creation which allows for no prior biological ancestry of any sort. The Quest for the Historical Adam concludes with a chapter entitled, “What Difference Does It Make?” In this chapter, the author lays out ten areas of doctrine that are affected by how one views the origin of Adam. What are those ten areas?

  1. Scripture and hermeneutics
  2. Man and the ethics of human life
  3. Marriage and unity of race
  4. Human language
  5. God, the Creator
  6. The goodness of creation
  7. In Adam’s fall sinned we all?
  8. Christ as Creator and Redeemer
  9. Adam, Christ, and the Covenants
  10. Adam and accountability: the last things

Dr. VanDoodewaard convincingly makes the case that no one can soundly argue that one’s view of origins can be hermetically sealed off from the rest of one’s theology. Even taking an agnostic view or allowing for latitude in the matter will invariably have some impact.

The heart of the book is the historical overview. Let me mention five highlights that are worth sharing. There are many more highlights that I could mention, but I hope these five will whet your appetite and motivate you to buy the book.

Today we sometimes encounter the idea of pre-Adamites – human beings or human-like creatures (hominids) who lived before and beside Adam. One of the first to promote a form of this idea was a Frenchman named Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676). While he worked with the text of Genesis in his book Men Before Adam, he did so in a rather revisionist way. He argued that only the Jews were descended from Adam and Genesis 2 only described where the Jews came from. Everyone else came from other groups of human beings who had existed long before Adam. What motivated La Peyrère to develop this theory? He wanted to make Genesis more reasonable so that unbelievers would be more receptive to the Christian faith (143). Does this sound familiar?

La Peyrère developed a small following in Europe. His ideas were widely discussed, but uniformly rejected by Reformed theologians. His ideas were also rejected by Roman Catholic figures such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Following what Scripture taught on this matter, Pascal held to a young earth of about 6000 years age and “was also explicitly critical of pre-Adamite thought” (122).

Another valuable contribution of VanDoodewaard is his critique of historian Ronald Numbers. Numbers wrote an influential 1992 book entitled The Creationists in which he argued that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis only exists in our modern day because of the influence of American creation scientists, and particularly through the writing of a Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price. “However,” writes VanDoodewaard, “more thorough scholarship reveals significant evidence of a strong stream of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that remained firmly in the millennia old tradition of a literal hermeneutic” (157). What Numbers and others have failed to see is that, entirely apart from twentieth-century creation science, theologians and clergymen have for centuries maintained a literal reading of Genesis, reaching their conclusions based on the text alone. Our author gives several good examples with Dutch-American Reformed theologians like Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Louis Berkhof.

An important part of the work of a historian is discerning patterns. The Quest for the Historical Adam reveals an important pattern in thinking about origins. It starts with sources outside of Scripture and Christian theology pressuring an alternative explanation – these sources could be philosophical, scientific, literary, or archaeological. Under that pressure, interpreters begin to make allowances for alternative explanations. Other generations eventually arise which take things a step further and assert these alternative explanations more stridently, also following through on their logical consequences. This pattern is evident throughout the book.

As mentioned earlier, Dr. VanDoodewaard is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister. It is not surprising then to find his church and its struggles with this question mentioned. He notes that the ARP adopted a synodical teaching statement in 2012 that affirmed the clear biblical teaching on origins. He contrasts that with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He notes that efforts were made to have the PCA clearly rule out aberrant teachings on origins. A 2012 effort to have the PCA General Assembly issue a teaching statement on this matter floundered. Why? There was a convergence of two broad camps. VanDoodewaard writes:

Some argued that the confessional standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms provided sufficient clarity on the topic – positing that if there were concerns, they ought to be pursued through the means of church discipline. Other delegates held that belief in evolutionary biological processes in human origins, as circumscribed by Collins, Keller, or others, was harmonious with Scripture and represented a legitimate latitude of ecclesiastical theology (248).

These two lines of argument paralyzed the PCA and prevented it from taking a stand. The result is that various forms of theistic evolution continue to have a comfortable home in the PCA and very little, if anything, can be done about it. Will we in the Canadian Reformed Churches learn from this history while the opportunity is still there?

Obviously, I have a great deal of appreciation for this book. However, there are a couple of oversights that I noticed. Chapter 3 deals with “Adam in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras.” While the author does spend some time with the Westminster Standards (especially the issue of “in the space of six days”), he disregards the Three Forms of Unity or other Reformed confessions. This is important in our day when we hear it asserted by some that theistic evolution falls within the bounds of our confessions. Nevertheless, VanDoodewaard’s research certainly does support the position that in the era in which these confessions were originally written, it would have been unthinkable for forms of theistic evolution to be tolerated in Reformed churches. Chapter 6 deals with the 1950s to the present. The author has some discussion about developments in the Christian Reformed Church, but there could have been more said. For instance, it would be helpful for readers to see how the tolerance of theistic evolution in the CRC grew out of a weakened view of biblical authority starting in the 1950s, especially under the influence of the Free University of Amsterdam.

The Quest for the Historical Adam is a unique contribution to a vitally important topic. It might be a bit technical at times for some readers, but those who persevere will be rewarded. As intimated in my introduction, this is especially an important book for office bearers. As those who have promised to “oppose, refute, and help prevent” errors conflicting with God’s Word, we need to educate ourselves about those errors and the patterns that lead to them being accepted. This is all the more case when an error is right before us, threatening to undo us. I heartily commend Dr. VanDoodewaard for writing this valuable book and Reformation Heritage Books for publishing it. May the day hasten when historians look back and say that the publication of this book was a turning point for the maintenance of orthodoxy on origins!

This review was originally published in Reformed Perspective magazine and reappears here with their gracious permission.

It’s all in the definition

Reblogged from Keep Ablaze, the website of Pastor Rob Schouten

A person mentioned in an overture recently adopted by Classis Ontario West feels that he has been grossly misrepresented in this decision. I am genuinely open to that possibility but so far have not been convinced. Central to this feeling of being misrepresented is the question of the meaning of “theistic evolution.” One of the persons mentioned in this overture states forcefully that he is not a “theistic evolutionist.” While there is no universally accepted definition of theistic evolution, here are a couple from credible Christian proponents of this idea:

  • “Theistic evolution is the proposition that God is in charge of the biological process called evolution. God directs and guides the unfolding of life forms over millions of years. Theistic evolution contends that there is no conflict between science and the Biblical book of Genesis.”
  • “The dictionaries I checked don’t define the term, “theistic evolution,” so I offer my own definition: the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans.”

I think the above definitions capture what most people mean by “theistic evolution.” The main idea is that evolution is God’s way of creating new life forms in the history of the world. Typically, theistic evolution advocates acknowledge that God directly created some original form of life and also that at some point in history, God created human beings by placing his image upon some pre-existing creature.

Do we have reason to think that the persons mentioned in the overture of Classis Ontario West embrace or want to make room for theistic evolution as a way of understanding the origin of species, including homo sapiens?

First of all, should it be difficult to ascertain a person’s belief in this regard? I have read a lot over the years in relation to this topic and it’s usually not hard to figure out an author’s orientation.

Secondly, have the persons in question sufficiently profiled themselves for readers to formulate an opinion about their orientation and direction in regard to the issue of evolution? I think they have. In their writings at Reformed Academic and elsewhere, these men have indicated that evolution is, at the very least, a highly credible theory that deserves the utmost respect from all serious-minded people. It’s just as credible as the prevailing theory of gravity, one of them writes.

A reader would therefore be within his rights to consider that these brothers accept  that life probably began about 4 billion years ago and from that point developed through mutations and natural selection into the millions of species we see on planet earth today. At the same time, they are members of Christian churches which confess “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

In short, evolution happened and yet God created. Putting those two ideas together in the same mind and on the same page understandably leads readers to the term “theistic evolution.” This is a term with a considerable history and has been freely used by Christian scholars who seem to have the same view of creation as do the brothers mentioned in this overture. Is it slander to use this term in regard to these men? I don’t think that would be a fair ethical assessment of the overture adopted in Classis Ontario West.

Naturally, the next big question is: what about human beings? Are we also the result of a process of evolution? Are we biologically related to prehistoric hominoids and presently-living primates? Do Adam and Eve have a pre-history? Like many other proponents of theistic evolution, the brothers mentioned in the overture adopted by Classis Ontario West clearly and repeatedly affirm that human beings are the result of a special act of creation by God.

I’m very happy for that affirmation. However, the questions remain: did God create Adam as Genesis records that he did? Did God make Adam from the “dust of the ground,” that is, from inanimate matter?  To ask the same question differently, was Adam biologically related to pre-existing creatures? Was he made directly or was he born from pre-existing hominoids only to be subsequently and supernaturally endowed with the image of God? Was Eve made directly form his side? Are Adam and Eve the ancestors of all presently living human beings?

If those who are named in the overture of Classis Ontario West seek to dissociate themselves from the label “theistic evolution” and thus quell the sort of concerns evident in this overture, they could do so quite readily by answering questions such as these, as they have been invited to do in another blog by a concerned and well-informed author.

Symposium on Adam and Eve

Reposted from, with thanks to Dr. John Byl. We at Creation Without Compromise have with great interest been following the symposium he reviews here.

Books & Culture has recently published a symposium on Adam and Eve. John Wilson, the B&C editor, interviews Karl Giberson about his new book Saving the Original Sinner (2015) Then follows two rounds of contributions from eight scholars. Here is the outline of the symposium, with links to all the papers.

Saving the Original Sinner [interview with Karl Giberson]

Round 1:
Round 2:
John Wilson, Adam’s Ancestors [brief wrap-up]

This symposium gives a useful overview of the current debate. The brief summaries of the views of the various participants saves one the tedious work of reading lengthy books and essays.

Unhappily, only two of the participants (VanDoodewaard and Madueme) affirm the Biblical position on Adam and Eve. The rest have all accepted evolution. Consequently, Enns, Giberson, Lamoureux, and Schneider all view Adam and Eve as purely symbolic. Walton and Poe do leave room for a modified view of Adam and Eve, but heavily adapted so as to fit within the evolutionary framework.

For those defending the plain meaning of Genesis, the contributions of Madueme and VanDoodewaard are thus particularly worth reading.

Dr Hans Madueme is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Here are a few pertinent quotes, one from each paper:

Obviously, if you agree with scientists that a historical Adam is impossible, then devising fresh hermeneutical strategies to resolve the tension with Scripture is a logical move. In fact, however, the Bible does very clearly depict a historical Adam; such revisionist exegesis goes against the grain of the text, driven by scientific pre-judgments that set epistemic limits on what the Bible can say. That’s a mistake; Scripture unshackled—not science—is the self-authenticating authority.

Turning to the scientific “facts,” let me call into question any commitment to methodological naturalism, the notion that we can only appeal to natural phenomena when doing genuine science. Methodological naturalism is the status quo among scientists and enshrined in the scientific perspectives that conflict with the Adamic events of Scripture. Theologically speaking, methodological naturalism strikes me as deeply problematic. To use Alvin Plantinga’s language, it yields a truncated science; it does not appeal to the full evidence base—an evidence base that, I would argue, includes divine revelation and all the glorious realities to which it attests. Once we reject methodological naturalism, we will have a truer and richer appraisal of the biblical witness and the world it signifies. An appropriately expanded understanding of biblical reality includes Adam’s historicity and its vital theological implications; for those of us who find those implications compelling, any scientific opinion that rules out Adam will fail to convince. (Death of God by Poison)

Scientific plausibility is the key; can we still believe doctrines that are implausible by the lights of current science? We can invert the question: If scientific plausibility should guide the expectations we bring to Scripture, then why would we be Christians? Why would we believe that the Son of God became a man? That he died and rose again after three days? That he ascended into heaven? These fundamental Christian beliefs contradict everything we know from mainstream science. If we can no longer believe Adam was historical, then why should we believe in the resurrection? In The Evolution of Adam, Peter Enns answers this way: “For Paul, the resurrection of Christ is the central and climactic present-day event in the Jewish drama—and of the world. One could say that Paul was wrong, deluded, stupid, creative, whatever; nevertheless, the resurrection is something that Paul believed to have happened in his time, not primordial time.” That misses the point. We’re told that we can’t affirm a historical Adam because it’s scientifically unbelievable, but why trust Paul on the resurrection when that, too, is scientifically unbelievable? Or, to flip the script, if we believe the resurrection, then a historical Adam is no biggie. (Demythologizing Adam)

Dr William VanDoodewaard is Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the author of The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins (2015). Here is a sampling from his symposium contributions:

I stand with the mainstream of historic Christian orthodoxy believing the literal tradition, including the creation of Adam and Eve, from dirt and a rib on the sixth day, a day of ordinary duration. There are numerous reasons for the endurance of this view, despite varied efforts to the contrary of a minority stream of individuals from the patristic era to the present. First, the literal understanding of creation, including human origins, is remarkably viable exegetically. It is also hermeneutically consistent with the whole Genesis text. Second, it coheres seamlessly with the rest of Scripture’s teaching on creation, man, and redemption. The literal tradition on origins is cohesive with a full-orbed exegetically derived Christian theology.

The most substantive challenge to the literal tradition is posed by mainstream dating methods, particularly in relation to fossils. Even here, an understanding of a mature creation, the fall, curse, and ensuing natural processes interspersed with episodes of catastrophism along the way, gives cogent answers to satisfy issues of geological age and subsequent biological adaptation. The literal tradition has exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological coherence with Scripture, historical endurance beyond all other interpretive models, as well as extensive ecclesial and confessional support. There is good reason to believe that it stands as an example of the Holy Spirit’s fulfillment of Christ’s promise to guide of the church in the truth of the Word. (The First Man and Woman)

There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, “non-literal” approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adam’s rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam.

I believe that the “middle ground” of an evolutionary Adam is just as untenable and ad hoc as Giberson and Enns note it is. But instead of creating agreement, this logic is ample reason to go back to what the mainstream of the Christian church has held to for millennia. The exegetically, hermeneutically, and theologically compelling position is that God created Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first woman, without progenitors, disorder, or sin. It was this Adam and Eve, the only existing humans, who fell into sin in the Garden, bringing the curse on themselves and all creation. (No Adam, No Original Sin, No Christ)

Note that both authors make a strong case for consistency. Granting an ancient earth, and therefore adopting a non-literal approach to Gen.1-2, undermines the exegetical case for an historical Adam. Likewise, if we can’t believe in the Biblical Adam because it is scientifically implausible, why should we believe in an equally scientifically implausible resurrection from the dead?

Theistic Evolution

By Mark JonesScreen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.13.33 PM

After discussing the tensions among evolutionists concerning the precise mechanism of evolution, I thought it might be good to address the underlying metaphysical assumptions of words that are used in the academy, such as “evolution.”

The explanatory power of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis has given a number of scientists reason to abandon belief in the Christian God. However, Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), provides an exception to the general trend of Darwinists. Fully committed to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, Collins also claims to be a Christian. His book aims to show that belief in Darwinian evolution and Christianity are compatible, provided that Christianity is explained in such a way that does not contradict modern science. For that reason, he derides Young Earth Creationism (YEC) as “intellectually bankrupt,” one of the “great tragedies of our time” (p. 177).

He manifests a strong antipathy not only for YEC, but also for the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, because ID is not consistent with Darwinian evolution: “ID’s proposal of the intervention of supernatural forces to account for complex multicomponent biological entities is a scientific dead end” (Language of God, 187).

In The Language of God, Collins coins the term “BioLogos” (God speaking life into being) to describe his synthesis. He provides six points that explain how Darwinian evolution explains everything, except the uniqueness of human beings:

1. The Universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.
2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.
3. While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time.
4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.
5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.
6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history (p. 200).

According to Collins, accepting these premises enables individuals to adhere to an “entirely plausible, intellectually satisfying, and logically consistent synthesis,” namely, that God created the universe (13.7 billion years ago), and established natural laws to govern the universe. The mechanism that gave rise to living creatures is the same mechanism that gave rise to human beings (pp. 200-201). Such a view, according to Collins, satisfies both science and the great monotheistic religions of the world.

Collins argues for a type of theistic evolution. He understands that “evolution” has a certain meaning in his scientific context, and he is not simply talking about “microevolution,” which nobody disputes. But he is also a “theist.” In fact, he must be given credit for being so clear about what evolution actually means in the scientific community.

Collins is not a theologian. Yet, because of his wholehearted commitment to Darwinian evolution, his theology becomes rather anemic – a sort of “God of the gaps,” which has certain corollaries with Stephen Jay Gould’s view, called “NOMA” (non-overlapping magisteria).

Underlying Metaphysical Assumptions

An inherent philosophical presupposition guides evolutionary thinking. Though disagreement exists among a number of leading evolutionists concerning the mechanisms of evolution, many of them are in agreement that a supernatural being (i.e. God) must not be invoked to help out with the difficulties. For this reason, Darwinian evolution is fundamentally atheistic.

Professor of biology at Cornell University, William Provine, candidly admits that embracing evolution makes atheists of people: “One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.” The famous Harvard geneticist, Richard Lewontin, admits, because of his prior commitment to materialism, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

According to the Darwinian model, human beings are an accident. If this “finely tuned” universe “banged” again, who knows what types of creatures would result? Douglas Futuyma recognizes that many find the idea that the human species was not designed somewhat hard to fathom; “but this seems to be the message of evolution” (Science on Trial, 13).

Evolution presupposes naturalism. Indeed, as Philip Johnson notes:

Naturalism is not something about which Darwinists can afford to be tentative, because their science is based upon it […]. Darwinists know that the mutation-selection mechanism can produce wings, eyes, and brains not because the mechanism can be observed to do anything of the kind, but because their guiding philosophy assures them that no other power is available to do the job. The absence from the cosmos of any Creator is therefore the essential starting point for Darwinism (Darwin on Trial, 117).

No problem is insurmountable for the theory of evolution. How the inorganic became organic still perplexes Darwinists. They simply have no answer. However, Darwinists believe in the mutation-selection mechanism, and its ability to achieve creative wonders, not because these wonders can be empirically demonstrated, but because no other explanation exists that does not involve God.

Philosophical naturalism remains so deeply ingrained in the thinking of evolutionists that they cannot possibly imagine another way of explaining the diversity of life on Earth.

In Collins’s own synthesis, he admits that the “precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown” (Language of God, 200). Nonetheless, he states, “this is not the place for a thoughtful person to wager his faith” (p. 93).

This is a candid admission, which shows just how relentless the pursuit of naturalism is among scientists. He admits the precise mechanism of the origin of life is unknown; but his commitment to Darwinian evolution (i.e., naturalism) keeps him from affirming that God directly, not indirectly, was responsible for the origin of life.

Interestingly, Collins argues for God’s existence based on moral life (i.e., altruistic behavior among humans), but he urges extreme caution for God having anything to do with creating biological life. Moreover, Collins finds the Darwinian explanation for the moral law unsatisfying and therefore bases his belief in God in part on the argument for the existence of the moral law. Nonetheless, his reasoning about the origin of life problem should be equally applied to his reasoning for the moral law. Darwinists do in fact have explanations for altruistic behavior, and Collins has been pressed on this by his colleagues. Perhaps the evidence for a “moral law” is not the place for a thoughtful evolutionist to place his faith?

Francis Collins admits the entire story of evolution, even if he does not know how life originated. But he believes in a “god” who finely tunes the universe to allow for the possibility of evolution. Collins’s “god” is a “First Cause” who begins the process, without necessarily having anything to do with producing organic life, and “retreats” for roughly fourteen billion years only to “interfere” again by sending Jesus to die and be raised again.

Those who refer to themselves as theistic evolutionists, need to be pressed on “the blind watchmaker thesis” that is so crucial to Darwinism. Richard Dawkins has explained the idea of the “blind watchmaker” and its implications for how we view the theory of evolution: “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view” (The Blind Watchmaker, 21).

The blind watchmaker thesis explains the philosophical implications of evolution. Phillip Johnson claims that he has found it “very difficult to get theistic evolutionists to discuss the blind watchmaker thesis” (p. 168). But does an appeal to God’s providence solve the problem of how random mutations can produce new species? Can we accept the mechanism of natural selection coupled with random mutations and at the same time argue that God’s providence ensured that human beings would eventually result from a cell? This type of reasoning obscures the real issue, however. Evolution cannot account for new genetic information. Indeed, providence on its own cannot account for new information, either.

Regarding the dilemma of new genetic information, the eminent French Zoologist, Pierre Grassé has proved to be a thorn in the side of Darwinians, such as Theodosius Dobzhansky, on precisely this point. Against the Darwinists, Grassé suggested that science does not know how new quantities of genetic information arrived (Evolution of Living Organisms, 2). Evolutionists still need to explain how a genetic mutation can increase information in the genome.

Theistic evolutionists could claim that the arrival of new genetic information resulted from God’s creative and sustaining energy; and they could maintain that God intervened from time to time to provide the required mutations to ensure that humans would eventually evolve. However, this view is technically not “evolution” or natural selection. And no Darwinist would accept such a construction, even if it were slightly friendlier to Darwinian evolution than typical “creationist” views.

Hypothetically, if I were to hold to “theistic evolution,” according to natural selection, Open Theism or Socinianism would be my preferred theological option.

In the end, the term “theistic evolution” is a contradiction in terms. Evolution, as understood by the scientific community is a purposeless, random process that did not have man in view. There are metaphysical assumptions that are built into the way they attempt to explain the diversity of life on earth. Christian theism is, however, teleological (Col. 1:16), and we have our own metaphysical presuppositions.

“Theistic evolution” basically means, “Purposeless purpose.” If God “guides” this process, it is not evolution. Theistic evolutionists talk about evolution as a gradual process of speciation that a Creator could have used. But the scientific community rejects this understanding of evolution. Far too many theologians have been (perhaps unwittingly) duped by thinking that “theistic” really does modify “evolution,” but this is wrong-headed. Plus, no one quite knows what “theistic evolution” means. They have no unified confession of faith.

I worry that theologians who are open to “theistic evolution,” do not quite understand what’s at stake when they willingly use the term “evolution,” as something more than what can be empirically observed (i.e., not just microevolution). They grant far more to the Neo-Darwinian scientific community than they need to. The so-called evidence for “Darwinism” rests upon a (fully naturalistic) presupposition that allows evolutionists to come to no other conclusion. No wonder they are so dogmatic about their claims. There simply is no other alternative.

Embracing Evolution: But Which Model?

By Mark JonesScreen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.13.33 PM

Contrary to popular opinion, Charles Darwin did not invent the theory of biological evolution. But his famous work, The Origin of Species, certainly gave impetus to an idea that would quickly become orthodoxy in the scientific establishment. In his work he made several significant points that have had profound consequences for how scientists understand the natural world. Darwin did not merely suggest that change takes place over time, which, technically speaking, may be called evolution (though many would prefer to use the word “adaptation,” as opposed to “evolution,” to describe changes within a given species). Rather, he questioned the concept that species are immutable (i.e., cannot change).

The idea that change takes place within a species is, of course, not controversial. But Darwin went much further than that. He suggested that new species have evolved over the course of history by a process termed “descent with modification.” On this model, all life forms have descended from a common ancestor. Somewhere, at some time, the inorganic (non-living) became organic (living), and from that microscopic ancestor we now have fish, land animals, birds, and human beings.

For this to happen, Darwin popularized the idea that this took place through natural selection, or what has commonly been termed “survival of the fittest.” Darwin’s most significant contribution to the theory of evolution was formulating the mechanism that explained the process whereby a single cell produced the variety of life found in the world today. This understanding of evolution is best described as “fully naturalistic evolution,” which is how the scientific community generally understands biological evolution.

The prominent American biologist, Douglas Futuyma provides a helpful explanation of the significance of Darwin’s theory:

By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx’s materialistic theory of history and society and Freud’s attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin’s theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism – of much of science, in short – that has since been the stage of most Western thought (Evolutionary Biology, 2).

Futuyma draws attention to an important implication of Darwinian evolution, namely, that theological explanations for origins of life, which includes special creation, are unnecessary because the Darwinian model does not simply content itself with changes within a species, but instead explains how all species came into being in the first place.

A Christian can and should affirm that in the beginning God created basic kinds of animals, which over the years subsequently diversified. The term microevolution has been used to describe this process. So, in an example that Darwin used, a group of finches happened to migrate to an island. On the island a combination of mutation, inbreeding, and natural selection caused these finches to develop different characteristics from the ancestral population on the mainland, which is known as microevolution. Even among humans microevolution occurs. God created Adam and Eve, but from this ancestral pair we see a fair amount of diversity today.

Understood in this way evolution is not controversial. As Jonathan Wells has argued, Darwinists respond to their critics by claiming that evolution means change over time. “But,” says Wells, “this is clearly an evasion. No rational person denies the reality of change, and we did not need Charles Darwin to convince us of it. If ‘evolution’ meant only this, it would be utterly uncontroversial” (Icons of Evolution, 5). But does microevolution provide an explanation for the processes responsible for creating life in the world as we see it today?

Darwinists answer that the creative force that produced complex animals, for example, from a single-celled predecessor over billions of years is in general the same mechanism that produces variation within animal and plant species that we witness today.

Critics of Darwinism, as well as Darwinists themselves, typically distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution, though both sides understand the magnitude of the distinction differently. Simply put, microevolution explains change within a species, but macroevolution explains the changes that occur above the level of species. Macroevolution explains how a species splits into two (i.e., speciation). One of the best-known Darwinists, Ernst Mayr, remarked that macroevolution (i.e., transspecific evolution) is an extrapolation of the events that take place within populations and species at the microevolutionary level. Thus, according to Darwinists the difference between micro- and macroevolution ought not to be exaggerated. The same processes that cause within-species evolution (microevolution) are responsible for above-species evolution (macroevolution). When the idea of speciation is added to Darwin’s view of natural selection the resulting theory is seen as a sufficient explanation for the rise and diversity of life.

Natural selection occurs in order to maintain and increase the genetic fitness of a population. Individual animals with genetic defects generally do not survive to produce offspring. Darwinists use this fact to build their theory that natural selection not only maintains the genetic fitness of a population, but also provides an explanation for how a single cell – or many different cells? – produced over the course of billions of years the variety of living organisms that we see today. The mutations that sometimes take place among species are almost always harmful. However, according to Darwinists, in rare cases a mutation will prove to be an advantage and thus improve the organism’s ability to survive and reproduce. If the favorable mutation spreads throughout the species it may possibly provide the basis for further improvements in succeeding generations. Speciation, via favorable mutations, can be broken down into small steps over millions of years. These steps were purposeless natural processes that did not require the belief in special creation. In Stephen Jay Gould’s much-acclaimed book, Wonderful Life (New York: Norton, 1990), he suggests that evolution could not be expected to produce the same outcome. Humans may not necessarily result a second time because evolution is a purposeless/directionless force that relies on random mutations. Richard Dawkins refers to this process of natural selection as “the blind watchmaker.”

The transitional or intermediate forms of life needed to accomplish the process of natural selection required, in Darwin’s own words, the “accumulation of infinitesimally small inherited modifications, each profitable to the preserved being” (The Origin of the Species, 74). The fossil record did not, however, provide the empirical support that Darwin wished for. He attributed the paucity of evidence to the incompleteness of the fossil record, but hoped that later discoveries would vindicate his theory.

Unfortunately for Darwin, the fossil record did not provide the evidence to support his theory, which led Stephen Jay Gould to admit that “All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt. Gradualists usually extract themselves from this dilemma by invoking the extreme imperfection of the fossil record” (The Panda’s Thumb, 189). Gradualism, while not supported by the fossil record, nevertheless remains the best explanation for the majority of evolutionists because they cannot think of a more plausible alternative. However, not entirely satisfied with the fossil record, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed a new theory for explaining both the fossil record and the present diversity of life called “punctuated equilibria/equilibrium.” This theory provided these paleontologists with an explanation for the patterns found in the fossil record.

The theory of punctuated equilibrium, coming from such eminent evolutionists, such as Gould (who often appeared on the television show, “The Simpsons”) and Eldredge, provides perhaps the most significant reason why Reformed theologians can affirm natural selection, but not natural selection in the Darwinian sense. After all, Darwin could not provide significant examples of natural selection that could be empirically tested, and so he relied on his argument by analogy. Darwinists insist that micromutations account for variability within a certain population of animals. In connection with this premise, natural selection directs evolutionary change. Ernst Mayr recognized that the Neo-Darwinian (synthetic) theory has not received universal approval from scientists. He writes:

A well-informed minority […] including such outstanding authorities as the geneticists Goldschmidt, the paleontologist Schindewolf, and the zoologists Jeannel, Cuénot, and Cannon, maintained until the 1950’s that neither evolution within species nor geographic speciation could explain the phenomena of “macroevolution,” or, as it is better called, transpecific evolution. These authors contended that the origin of new “types” and of new organs could not be explained by the known facts of genetics and systematics. As alternatives they advanced two explanations, both in conflict with the synthetic theory: saltations (the sudden origin of new types) and intrinsic (orthogenetic) trends. (Populations, Species, and Evolution, 351).

Mayr provides insight into a debate among evolutionists that maybe provides the most compelling reason why Reformed theologians, who have had little or no scientific training, should refrain from embracing the Neo-Darwinian version of origins.

Darwin’s gradualist model led him to confess, “if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down” (Origin of the Species, 142). Darwin was absolutely correct, and that explains why various prominent evolutionists have received a great deal of criticism, and at times ridicule, for suggesting that Darwin’s theory of phyletic gradualism cannot explain complex structures and organisms (such as mammalian hair). The Berkeley geneticist, Richard Goldschmidt, argued that Darwin’s gradualist model could only explain variation within the species boundary. Far from abandoning evolution altogether, Goldschmidt claimed speciation must have occurred through large-scale jumps called macromutations, otherwise known as “quantum evolution.” This idea provided the answer to the bridgeless gap separating micro- and macroevolution. In his book, The Material Basis for Evolution, he argued for a type of “hopeful monster,” a new species with the capacity to survive and propagate. Goldschmidt’s theory was initially greeted with ridicule, but Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge took up his cause with their own theory of punctuated equilibrium. Eldredge describes the problem that Goldschmidt tried to address:

No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seemed to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yields zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change — over millions of years, at a rate too slow to account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution (Reinventing Darwin, 95).

In other words, Eldredge and Gould noticed two features in the fossil record that were inconsistent with Darwinian gradualism. First, most species show no directional change; and, second, new species abruptly appear in the fossil record. Natural selection cannot account for these peculiarities, argued Eldredge and Gould.

In light of these problems with the modern Darwinian synthesis, Gould asked in the title of his now (in)famous article, “Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?” In this article Gould writes:

I well remember how the synthetic theory beguiled me with its unifying power when I was a graduate student in the mid-1960’s. Since then I have been watching it slowly unravel as a universal description of evolution. The molecular assault came first, followed quickly by renewed attention to unorthodox theories of speciation and by challenges at the level of macroevolution itself. I have been reluctant to admit it – since beguiling is often forever – but if Mayr’s characterization of the synthetic theory is accurate, then that theory, as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as text-book orthodoxy (p. 120).

As in the case of Goldschmidt, this proposal was met with a good deal of criticism. Gradualists responded that adaptive macromutations are impossible and have nothing to do with evolution. Thus, gradualists like Dawkins, who are not persuaded by the theory of punctuated equilibria, retained their belief that evolution by micromutation is the only viable alternative. Slow, gradual evolution by a combination of mutations (not “macromutations”) acting concurrently with natural selection provides the best explanation for the natural world according to the majority of Darwinists.

Punctuated equilibrium, with its claim of stasis, represents a significant departure from the standard gradualistic model that Darwin pioneered. Some scientists, even Dawkins himself, have been careful to downplay the significance of this debate. Dawkins called it a “minor dispute” that “has been blown up to give the impression that Darwinism’s foundations are quivering” (A Devil’s Chaplain, 199). But Dawkins is clearly downplaying the significance of this debate so that creationists will have one less weapon in their arsenal. Indeed, the debate warranted a book by philosopher of science, Kim Sterelny, titled Dawkins Vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2001). The very emergence of punctuated equilibrium (evolution by “jerks”) in opposition to phyletic gradualism (evolution by “creeps”) suggests that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis is far from proven.

Some Reformed theologians have perhaps been a little too eager to accept the claims of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis without understanding properly the lively debate among evolutionists on the actual mechanism of fully naturalistic evolution. Before we try to synthesize our theology with Darwinian evolution, we should at least understand the various models that we’re faced with, if we insist on making a choice between the two major schools of thought.

For my part, the contrasting models above fail to persuade me that I need to baptize Darwinian evolution with certain Christian truths that are non-negotiable…because, after all, what is negotiable and non-negotiable is a slippery slope, if history tells us anything.