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Creation and Evolution

Can a Christian believe in both creation and evolution?

Of course not. Creation and evolution are mutually contradictory. But as is so often the case, reality is not as black-and-white as you have been led to believe. There are more than two possible positions on the creation and evolution debate, forming somewhat of a continuum. Millard Erickson (Christian Theology, second ed, pp. 501-7) identifies five major positions that people take on the debate between creation and evolution:

  1. Naturalistic Evolution – The position that God does not exist, and that each species evolved by chance through natural selection alone.
  2. Deistic Evolution – The position that God exists, but did not play a role in guiding evolution. At most, God created conditions that would facilitate independent evolution.
  3. Theistic Evolution – Similar to Deistic Evolution, this position holds that God exists but allowed physical evolution to play out on its own. Where this position differs from the deistic view is in positing that at some point God added a spiritual element in order to create humanity.
  4. Progressive Creation – This position holds that God created each individual species, but allowed for natural development within each species, which Erickson calls “intrakind” evolution, or microevolution.
  5. Fiat Creation – God made each species in its entirety as a unique, direct creative act. There is no sense in which humanity developed out of other species.

Erickson himself argues for position four because he believes it takes account of the biblical data as well as the physical evidence that there appear to be transitions between species.

Erickson’s mistake is in drawing a sharp distinction between natural processes and God’s intervention. Erickson’s posits that God sometimes acts supernaturally and sometimes acts through natural processes. But I would want to press him on exactly this point. If God is acting and directing in both cases, then is there really even a distinction between the two? It would seem more appropriate to say that God directed the entire process, but sometimes His direction was more evident than at other times. If this is the case, I fail to see why we wouldn’t just call it Theistic Evolution. It is essentially evolution at God’s direction.

If Erickson is wrong, then which of the other four positions should we adopt?

I’m not sure that any of them are right. Erickson’s five categories miss some of the most important distinctions in the debate. Before deciding on an answer, consider the following questions:

  • If God exists, would it be more likely that life developed independently, or under God’s direction?
  • Is it possible that God could have guided the process of natural chance? Or is this merely a contradiction of terms? Scripture seems to leave a place for finding God’s order behind apparent randomness. Does God direct every seemingly random event?
  • Can it rightly be called creation if God worked through ordinary processes to create? Or does creation require supernatural intervention?

Erickson’s categories do not capture the importance of these questions. I suggest reworking the options as follows:

  1. Naturalistic Evolution – This position can be held independently of one’s view of the existence of God. But on this view one thing is certain: regardless of whether God exists, He was not the guiding force behind the development of life.
  2. Theistic Natural Evolution – God exists and brought about life providentially through the natural processes of chance. This view would require that it is possible for an event to be completely random and yet have the result be directed by God. What appears to be a contradiction is, on this view, merely a paradox that is difficult to comprehend but not actually contradictory.
  3. Evolutionary Creation – This position holds that life developed over time, as in Darwinian evolution, but the most important  developments were due to God’s intervention, not the ordinary process of chance.
  4. Sequential Creation – God created life sequentially, from less complex to more complex, like a master architect, building upon the previous plans. God has never caused one species to evolve into another species.

This way of drawing the map differs from Erickson’s in several key ways. First, I don’t see any relevant distinction between Naturalistic Evolution and Deistic Evolution. The essential question is whether the process was guided. God’s existence is not particularly relevant to this discussion. Either way, on the Naturalistic Evolution view, it would be a misnomer to call nature, “creation.” Second, Erickson does not seem to consider the possibility that randomness could be divinely directed through God’s providence. If such a concept is not a logical absurdity, then it is not a contradiction to believe in both “creation” and Darwinian evolution; they would be two words for the same thing. Third, the term “Progressive Creation” is misleading. Erickson’s position is really a form of evolution; it’s just that he rejects naturalism. This is why I think “Evolutionary Creation” is a better term for his position.

So which position should a Christians hold? Historically, the most important element that theologians have stressed is the divine plan behind our existence. Thus a Christian may legitimately hold options two, three, or four. Only option one may not be held consistently with traditional Orthodox Christian theology.

It appears that Option four, Sequential Creation, sits somewhat uncomfortably with the physical evidence. But it is not as incompatible as Erickson would have us believe. “Sequential Creation” makes more sense out of transitional forms than when it is labeled “Fiat Creation.”

Options two and three sit somewhat uncomfortably with Genesis 1. But they are not as incompatible as our more conservative brothers and sisters would have us believe. There is a long tradition in Christian theology, going back at least to Augustine, that holds that Genesis 1 is meant to be interpreted as a poem (and thus we should be open to the possible use of metaphor) rather than a straightforward historical account.

My view of scripture is that it is primarily a covenantal document between God and His people. I have not found a compelling theological reason to invest  the first several chapters of Genesis  with the historical authority that conservatives want to give it. That is not to say that I reject these chapters, but merely that I am just not quite sure what to do with them. I am much more comfortable withholding judgment on the grounds of conflicting evidence than I am taking a stand either way and being forced to shut my eyes to any evidence that doesn’t fit my view.

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  1. January 13, 2012 at 10:06 am | #1

    This has always seemed like apple and oranges to me. An account of creation from a culture completely different from our own, which certainly did not have a concept of modern science, versus a scientific explanation of something observable in a petri dish. Atheists try to use evolution as a basis for which to construct an alternative creation story. Fundamentalists seem to be trying very hard to use the creation account to create alternative science. Niether appear willing to understand we humans are limited creatures. We have to live with apparent paradoxes because we are not smart enough to understand (at least not yet). My diet is consistent with evolutionary theory, which has helped me become a lot healthier, but I have yet to see a so-called ‘missing link’ that wasn’t a fraud. I think this is because paleo eating meets the nutritive needs of the bodies cells, which puts evolution back at it’s appropriate scale, whereas the missing links are attempts to construct an account of human origin. This is somewhat like trying to tear down a mountain with a screwdriver.

  2. January 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm | #2

    The evolution theory is an irrational falsehood, zealously embraced by atheists, that is a phony conclusion of the 600+ million year fossil record. There is no “valid supporting data” for evolution. In a court of law, or in a public forum, the same evidence that evolutionists would use to try to “prove” the validity of that theory, I would utilize to reveal the truth of Genesis. In order to believe in evolution, you have to purposely ignore certain facts of reality. For example, when you see illustrations of primates being pictured as evolving into humans, it can be shown in a court of law that such a premise is impossible, because certain human and primate traits are different, and could not have ever been shared. The only “common ancestor” that humans and primates share is God Himself.

    Current Creationism has refused to teach the truth of the Genesis text, and either teaches foolishness (young Earth), or false doctrines (non-literal reading of the text). Creationists thoughtlessly try to prove “Creationism”, rather than seeking and teaching the truth of Genesis. How can an untruth, ever prove another lie, to be in error? You can’t do it. That is why Creationism fails. It essentially is also a lie, and should be discarded, even by Bible believers.

    The correct opposing view to evolution is the “Observations of Moses”, which conveys the truth of Genesis chapter one.

    Those that imply that God used evolution are infidels at worse, or clowns at best, that refuse to learn the truth of Genesis. The truth has been available for more than 18 years. Such a discussion is currently silly, and shows stubbornness against learning the truth of God’s Word.

    Herman Cummings
    ephraim7@aol.com

    • January 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm | #3

      I guess no one can accuse Herman of waffling! :-)

    • February 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm | #4

      Herman, thank you for your comment. It would seem that you are arguing that it is wrong to pursue science apart from Biblical exegesis. But if this were true, then electricity is sinful, as is space exploration or development of medicine. What makes a discussion of the question of origins different from other scientific inquiry? I simply don’t buy the idea that the only relevant data one may discuss on a given topic must come from scripture. This can not be lived out consistently.

  3. January 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm | #5

    Welcome back, after almost a year! Always a pleasure to find a new post.

    • February 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm | #6

      Thanks Tom. Glad to know you’ll always be around. Want to guest post some time?

  1. January 13, 2012 at 8:26 am | #1

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