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.

Clarifying what we’ve always confessed

14On March 11, Classis Ontario West adopted an unusual proposal from Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church: Providence wants an addition made to the Belgic Confession.

As they explain in their proposal, our confessions differ from Scripture in that they aren’t perfect or sacred…so they can be amended or edited. That has happened in the past: for instance, at the 1905 General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands a number of words were deleted from Belgic Confession Article 36 “in an effort to better conform to biblical teachings on the role of civil government.”

But why would a change need to be made now? Because “the Canadian Reformed Churches presently face a significant doctrinal challenge in the area of origins.”

What change does Providence propose? They want to replace the first line of the Belgic Confession’s Article 14 with the following to clarify “our confessional and biblical stance on human origins” (new wording is italicized):

We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and are the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre- Adamites, whether human or hominid. God made and formed Adam after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy.

As the proposal notes, many believe that our confessions are already quite clear on this topic. However, the fact is some Canadian Reformed academics have joined together to argue that the confessions leave room for a great diversity of views on how mankind came to be. This group, Reformed Academic, includes some very prominent figures: Dr. Arnold Sikkema, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer and Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff. They have a diversity of views amongst themselves, and it can be hard to figure out just what they each believe about Man’s origins. On the group’s blog they have allowed their most outspoken (and clearest) member, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer, to outline what he considered strong evidence for the possibility that man and chimpanzees have a common ancestor.

Does that mean Dr. Van der Meer is affirming the evolution of man from some relation of chimps? Well, there is a nit that can be picked here: relating strong evidence for evolution is not necessarily the same thing as affirming evolution. As Dr. Sikkema noted in a response to the proposal, even a creationist like Dr. Todd Wood has acknowledged that there are strong evidences for evolution.

But, of course, there is acknowledging and there is acknowledging. While both Reformed Academic and Dr. Wood acknowledge the evidence for evolution only Dr. Wood acknowledges that God created Man over six literal days and not via a process that involved pre-Adamites and millennia upon millennia of death, disease, and disaster, which He thereafter declared “good.” Context is key.

In his response to the proposal Dr. Sikkema argued that Providence Church had misrepresented him in supporting materials by labeling him a “theistic evolutionist”:

I don’t “believe in evolution.” It’s not about belief. I don’t believe in Einstein’s theory of gravity either, but I do believe in a good, loving, and covenantally faithful Triune God…

Dr. Sikkema uses the term “belief” here in the sense of “place my hope in.” In that sense he believes in God, but not evolution or Einstein’s theory of gravity. However, no Christian anywhere “places their hope” in evolution, so if that is what it means to “believe in evolution” it is not surprising Dr. Sikkema rejects the label “theistic evolutionist.” As he has redefined the term it can’t be applied to anyone at all.

But what if we give the term a more reasonable definition? What if we say a theistic evolutionist is “someone who argues that God-directed evolution is a legitimate possibility”? Then the term applies. In a joint blog post (responding to the charge that, “evolution falls outside the tent of the Reformed confessions” Dr. Sikkema and the other members of Reformed Academic wrote:

…God-directed evolution does not exclude the direct creation of Adam, because everything that happens is under God’s direct control. Therefore, theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity [i.e. the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Belgic Confession].

Other objections have already been raised, some of note (an edit will be needed to acknowledge that Eve, too, was made in God’s image), but very few of which wrestle with what is at stake here. To paraphrase Douglas Wilson, did Adam bring death into the world (Romans 5:12) or did millions of years of death and dying bring Adam into the world? Providence’s proposal specifically and clearly rejects the latter and calls upon our churches to do the same.

The proposal’s critics are going to fall into one of two camps. There will be:

  1. Those who argue it isn’t necessary because they believe the Confession already rules out pre-Adamites.
  2. Those who argue it isn’t necessary but who won’t rule out pre-Adamites.

If the critics all fall into the first camp, Providence’s proposed addition isn’t needed. Conversely, if there are any who fall into the second camp, that will highlight why we need to clarify our Confession.

There will also be some who make a show of being in the first camp with carefully parsed statements such as, “it could be argued that the Confession already rules out evolution.” While that sounds very first camp-ish, it can be a clever way of saying, “some people – not necessarily me, mind you – could argue…” We should view such critics who won’t be clear as strengthening the case for Providence’s clarifying proposal.

Lots of work, research, and thought has gone into Providence’s proposal, and you should read it for yourself. Along with the supporting appendices, you can find it here.

A version of this post originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Created in the Beginning


By Paulin Bédard

Was Adam created at the beginning of the world or at the end? This question may seem awkward, since the church has always considered Adam as the father of the human race. But in a context where secular theories on the origin of the world are being pushed into the church, this question must seriously be raised and answered by the clear teaching of Scripture.

Created in the beginning or at the end?

Both progressive creation and theistic evolution teach that the origin of man is much older than what the church has traditionally believed. According to these modern doctrines, man appeared on earth a very long time ago. So if man is so old, why ask such an awkward question about man’s possible appearance near the end of the world?

Both progressive creation and theistic evolution are “old earth” views, which means they believe that the earth is extremely old and that the world has existed for billions of years. On this gigantic scale, man either slowly evolved (according to theistic evolution) or was instantaneously created (according to progressive creation) after an extremely long history of the earth. Thus, man would have appeared on earth a very long time after the beginning of the world — not in the beginning.

As for the traditional literal interpretation of the days of creation, it maintains that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of the history of the world, approximately 4000 years before Christ. On this scale, the creation of man corresponds to the beginning of the world, after only 0.0004 % of the 4000 year period.

Progressive creation, on the contrary, claims that God created the world and the living creatures by successive stages spaced out over billions of years. The days of creation are said to be very long periods of time. According to this view, the universe is 13.8 billion years old, the earth 4.5 billion years old, and man was created approximately 50,000 years ago.

To help us understand the meaning of these gigantic numbers, let us imagine that we compact into one single year the whole history of the earth until the first coming of Christ. If we reduce the alleged 4.5 billion years into one year, the earth began to be formed on January 1st, and the end of the earthly ministry of our Saviour corresponds to December 31st at midnight. On this reduced scale, man would have appeared on December 31st at 11:54 PM, and the extra-biblical recorded history (less than 3000 years before Christ) would cover only the last 20 seconds of the year. In other words, Adam was supposedly created after 99.999 % of the 4.5 billion years of the earth.

As for the theory of evolution (both atheistic and theistic), it alleges that God created the living creatures by means of a very slow biological evolution from the first cell to man. According to this view, the first hominids (or pre-humans not yet in the image of God) appeared about 5 million years ago. On the scale reduced to one year, it would correspond to around 2:00PM on December 31st, after 99.9 % of the 4.5 billion years. It even took another 4 million years or more before they became real men. We are told, for example, that archaic Homo sapiens, the forerunner of anatomically modern humans, evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago, or between 40 to 25 minutes before midnight on the last day of the year, according to the compacted model.

This means that, for both progressive creation and theistic evolution, man was created close to the end of the history of the earth — not in the beginning.

In the beginning, according to Christ and the apostles

What did Christ and his apostles teach about this subject? They taught, on the contrary, that man was created in the beginning and that the human beings have existed ever since the beginning of the world.

read the rest of this article here: Created in the Beginning